The Forgotten Gems of 2009

by Jeff Marchiafava on Dec 02, 2009 at 12:47 PM

Despite all of the delays, 2009 turned out to be a great year for video games. With the recent rush of AAA titles like Borderlands, Modern Warfare 2, and Assassin’s Creed 2, it’s easy to forget earlier game of the year contenders like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Resident Evil 5. But what about the games that never got their moment in the spotlight?

Below is a list of some 2009’s best offerings that the majority of gamers either politely refused or never even heard about. They may not be perfect games, but disregarding them would deprive you of some the most fun this year had to offer.

A Boy And His Blob (Wii)
There were a lot of quirky games back in the 8-bit days, but few were stranger than A Boy and His Blob. This gorgeous sequel captures the spirit of the original, featuring an abundance of levels, ingenious puzzles, and plenty of twists to keep you entertained. The game also provides plenty of frustration – but it’s nothing the hug button can’t fix.

Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason (PC)
The market may be oversaturated with first person shooters, but if you’re looking for a unique and psychologically weighty gameplay experience, look no further than Cryostasis. Set on a frozen icebreaker, the player relives the last moments of the ship’s doomed crewmembers, setting right past mistakes and thawing the environment around them. The action is subpar and the puzzles won’t exactly cramp your brain, but the emotional responses Cryostasis’ story evokes rank right up there with BioShock.

Drakensang: The Dark Eye (PC)
Dragon Age is enjoying the warm affections of role-playing fans right now – and deservedly so. But it’s not the only option for lovers of high fantasy. Drakensang can feel generic, but its deep rule set, engaging quests, and large game world offer an impressive amount of freedom and character customization. The combat is the only aspect of Drakensang that leaves much to be desired. If Dragon Age didn’t satiate your yearning for high adventure, this forgotten RPG is worth checking out.

House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
This is what happens when you mix light guns, grindhouse visuals, and a brazen sense of humor. With “more curse words than a remake of The Big Lebowski starring Joe Pesci” and nonstop zombie slaughter action, Overkill is one of the most mindlessly entertaining games released this year. Solid two-player co-op and a selection of four-player minigames make this adventure even more fun with friends. Just make sure there aren’t any impressionable kids around.

The Little King’s Story (Wii)
Cartoony, kiddy-looking simulation games are a dime a dozen on the Wii, but none of them can hold a candle to 2009’s much-ignored Little King’s Story. This fun and quirky Xseed title takes the pied piper questing element of Pikmin and combines it with town customization seen in games like Harvest Moon. Don’t let this game’s childish veneer fool you, as a demanding yet rewarding king simulation lies beneath. – Tim Turi, Associate Editor

MadWorld (Wii)
MadWorld is a game that was destined to fail. Being a Wii game for adults is hard enough, but add a daring black and white art style (aside from the copious amounts of bright red blood), and the audience you’re pandering to is painfully limited. Which is a shame, because those who actually played it know that MadWorld is as gleefully entertaining as it is violent. It’s essentially the video game version of an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, and if that appeals to you, MadWorld won’t disappoint.

Marble Saga: Kororinpa (Wii)
Like its predecessor, Kororinpa: Marble Mania, Marble Saga seems destined to be overlooked. It’s a shame, considering this mix of Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball makes for some excellent gameplay. Puzzle fans will have a staggering amount of content to tilt their way through – over 150 levels – and a new level editor and multiplayer modes add even more depth.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
When people talk about visually stunning games, the Wii doesn’t come up a whole lot. Muramasa is one glaring exception. From the makers of the critically acclaimed Odin Sphere, this 2D slasher packs such a ridiculous amount of overpowered weapons, hulking bosses, and nonsensical characters, it could only come from Japan. Muramasa proves polygons aren’t the only way to measure visual prowess; this game is art in motion.

Plants vs. Zombies (PC)
We’re not even sure if this one counts as a sleeper hit; whether you’ve played the free flash version, or watched the certifiably insane music video for the game, most people have probably heard of Plants vs. Zombies by now. This tower defense-esque game marries humorous style with smart gameplay progression and a level of depth and variety most gamers wouldn’t expect from a casual game, but that we’ve grown accustomed to from a Popcap offering.

Retro Game Challenge (Nintendo DS)
If you have any nostalgia for 8-bit games, Retro Game Challenge is likely to spark some fuzzy feelings in your heart. This DS title includes a great selection of fake classic games, ranging from a racing title to an action-platformer. They've even got a tiny 8-bit RPG crammed onto the cart! This game is the perfect way to relive the glory days without dusting off your old consoles. – Philip Kollar, Associate Editor

Risen (PC)
If your taste for fantasy falls more along the lines of Oblivion than Dragon Age, then Risen might be RPG you’re looking for. Risen’s dark storyline and fascinating environments will captivate players. The dialogue and voice acting are top notch, and accentuate the meaningful, multi-faceted interactions you’ll have with NPCs. The timing-based combat is the only place where Risen stumbles, but if you can overlook it, there’s a great adventure to be had.

Torchlight (PC)
From beginning to end, Torchlight is a Diablo clone – but is that really such a bad thing? Engaging visuals, clever enemy design, and deep character progression make Torchlight a solid and enjoyable dungeon crawler, and the $20 price tag is icing on the cake. Torchlight’s lack of co-op will undoubtedly turn some gamers off, but the added challenge of higher difficulty levels will suck away enough of your time as it is.

Trine (PlayStation Network/PC)
Evoking memories of The Lost Vikings, Trine invigorates the 2D platforming genre with a comprehensive physics model. Players control three different characters: a wizard, a warrior and a thief, each sporting their own unique abilities. Solving the game’s wealth of clever puzzles requires switching between these characters on the fly. The visuals make Trine as visually stimulating as it is intellectually, and the co-op mode offers a completely new take on the gameplay. Fans of physics-based action should definitely check this one out.

Guilty Pleasures:

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand (Xbox 360, PS3)
Highfalutin’ snobs can pick Blood on the Sand apart grain by grain, but that’s missing the point. The story is ludicrous (the eponymous rapper is stiffed at a Middle Eastern concert, so he accepts a diamond-encrusted skull as payment, which is then stolen), the dialogue is laughably bad and the action is B-movie fare all the way. Played with a co-op buddy and taken for what it is – a mindless, over-the-top shooter – and those failings actually make the game even more enjoyable. Even if you don’t like 50 or even know what a G-Unit is, if you like seeing stuff blow up real good, this game is for you. – Jeff Cork, Editor

Rogue Warrior (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The original description for this candidate was just going to be a list of all the bad one-liners from the game, but that would require transcribing the entire script and would make our language filter explode. Rogue Warrior is one of those games that’s so bad it’s good; Mickey Rourke voices the role of Richard “Demo Dick” Marcinko, as players track down and insult a string of terroristic evil doers. He kills them too. Fans of bad actions movies will bust a gut playing through this guilty pleasure, but with a Metacritic rating of 43, this game is a total goat f**k.

Think we missed one of 2009’s forgotten gems or guilty pleasures? Share your opinion in the comments below.