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In honor of our big Top 200 game feature in the magazine, I thought I’d tackle the much less ambitious task of looking at the recent rise of the downloadable console game, and share my choices for the best titles that have emerged since the advent of this new delivery method during this current generation of game hardware. 1. Braid (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)It’s rare that a game so skillfully combines clever, clutter-free design with such a brilliant and thoughtful story. Braid’s strange existential exploration of relationships, memory, and the passage of time makes for some intriguing debates on its meaning, but there’s no debating the concise and innovative gameplay that plays into the storytelling. No matter how the game arrived to your system, Braid is simply one of the best video games in recent memory.
2. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (Xbox Live Arcade)Geometry Wars set a standard for downloadable games when it released in 2005, establishing that short form games needn’t lack in skill or challenge. Harkening back to the great arcade games of the 1980s, Geometry Wars introduced many gamers to Xbox Live Arcade, and single-handedly re-popularized the two-analog stick, multi-directional shooter.
3. Castle Crashers (Xbox Live Arcade)The Behemoth’s four-player action/RPG took the best traditions of games like Golden Axe, lovingly parodied the genre, and came out the other end with a fantastically fun and funny game. Great enemies, gorgeous cartoony art, and well-balanced combat make sure that Castle Crashers is as memorable as the classic games it is modeled after.
4. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)Puzzle Quest may have stolen its core gameplay mechanic from Bejeweled, but so much else about the game is entertaining and surprising, it still feels like a major innovation. Somehow merging the unlikely genres of colored-gem matching with classic RPG upgrading and plot. It's easy to sink dozens of hours into this incredibly fun genre mishmash.
5. Peggle (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)What seems at first a game of pure chance somehow evolves over hours into a game of skill. Peggle’s bouncy ball physics, flashy explosions of color, and ever increasing levels of challenge show off exactly what PopCap does right. The game draws players in with a promise of simplicity, and keeps them in front of the screen with hidden layers of depth.
6. Flower (PlayStation Network)Arguably the first video game poem, Flower is one of the few titles from any system that successfully integrates motion controls in a natural, free form way. The quiet meditation on humanity’s interaction with nature is quiet, engaging, and undeniably beautiful.
7. Shadow Complex (Xbox Live Arcade)Chair Entertainment’s loving tribute to games like Super Metroid is a blast. Wandering the seemingly endless corridors of a mysterious underground base, the game delights players with hidden passages, constant upgrades, and clever level design.
8. Pac-Man Championship Edition (Xbox Live Arcade)Anyone who thinks the classic design of Pac-Man can’t be improved upon hasn’t spent enough time with Championship Edition. Bringing the little yellow chomper into the 21st century, the game offers new modes of play, discrete timed chunks of gameplay, and a deeply strategic approach to a game that’s been around for nearly 30 years.
9. LostWinds (WiiWare)WiiWare’s finest entry to date has just the right mix of traditional platforming and unique motion controls enabled through the Wii. A single player becomes both the main character, and the wind that surrounds him, in an atmospheric and fun adventure.
10. PixelJunk Eden (PlayStation Network)The PixelJunk franchise continues, with each new entry a surprise. The best of the bunch so far is Eden, a strange and artistically fascinating world of tiny creatures, blossoming plants, and unusual gameplay control. Swinging wildly about the screen, every level has its own surprising twists to uncover. Honorable Mentions: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (Xbox Live Arcade), Lumines Supernova (PlayStation Network), Bit.Trip Beat (WiiWare), Echochrome (PlayStation Network), Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (WiiWare), The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai (Xbox Live Arcade), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Xbox Live Arcade)What would be at the top of your list in downloadable games?
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.