5. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Release Date: Feb 16, 2009
After a sixteen year wait, Nintendo finally delivers a port of the Japanese cult classic Dragon Quest V to American fans. And, without a doubt, the wait has been worth it. This game is going to be a must-have for old school gamers with fond memories of the days of 16-bit consoles.
Dragon Quest is visually reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda that uses all the classic console RPG control mechanics familiar to NES and Super NES owners, but it’s a far cry from its original form. This release features an expanded monster taming system, new dialog translation, a musical score, and a sleek, vibrant graphical facelift complete with 3D battles.
While younger generations are likely going to dismiss this offering as dated bit of candy-coated fluff, but for children of the eighties, it’s going to be a memory-evoking trip into nostalgia.
4. Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (The Director’s Cut)
Release Date: Mar 24, 2009
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is a point-and-click mystery adventure featuring stunning cinematic animation that will leave players with the sensation that they are directing a film rather than playing a game. It makes creative use of the DS’s dual screens by telling most of the game’s story from two perspectives – one from a medium distance and one close up.
The visuals are matched perfectly by the game’s dark and involved storyline. The game is couched in great story that is punctuated by unexpectedly comedic moments, such as a mime punching out the protagonist or a menacing clown bombing a resteraunt.
The visuals are so captivating that, superficially, the game appears to be aimed at younger audiences, but at its heart lies an intensely difficult puzzle game. The game centers around a pair of characters who must solve a mysterious murder involving the Knights Templar by exploring their environment, visa vie King’s Quest or Myst. It advances through a series of increasingly involved puzzles that, at times, can become frustrating due to the rigid and elaborate sequence in which the items must be used in some sequences. That frustration, in which players occasionally get trapped in a room, is the one major drawback to the game that serves as a reminder why the point-and-click myster genre died out. However, the average gamer should have little trouble clearing this game in under twelve hours.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars is a happy compromise between puzzle game and comic book certain likely to appeal to broad audience of puzzle enthusiast and bibliophiles alike.
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Release Date: Jun 23, 2009
Devil Survivor is a grid-based strategic RPG set in a modern day Tokyo overrun by demons. Like prior titles in the long-running cult Japanese series Shin Megami Tensei, Devil Survivor offers 3-on-3 combat in a choose-your-own-adventure-style storyline where alignment choices decide the ultimate outcome of the multi-ending game.
Combat in Devil Survivor is an unusual hybrid of fighting systems that, at first blush, appears similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but upon engaging in combat, more closely resembles something from the Dragonquest franchise. Despite the shifts between gameplay styles, the game is easy enough for young players to enjoy, while older gamers enjoy the rich visuals and the multitude of choices afforded to players right from the word "go." In particular, Devil Survivor offers an impressive amount of character customization and the ability to combine the Pokemon-like demons that characters battle with into new entities.
Fans of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise will enjoy the many ways in which Devil Survivor streamlines the franchise’s controls to speed the game along, while newcomers are certain to enjoy the way the game fuses storytelling and gaming into a pleasant day’s gaming.
2. Knights in the Nightmare
Release Date: Jun 3, 2009
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Knights in the Nightmare is the fourth episode in the Dept. Heaven series, which centers around a Valkyrie and a Wisp as they defend Castle Aventheim against a monstrous horde in a hardcore, bullet-riddled hybrid of top-down shooter and RPG strategy game.
The game carries on the series’ tradition of using unique interfaces and extremely challenging gameplay. In fact, Knights is so challenging, players can expect to spend the first half-hour of the game wading through the game’s tutorials, as its learning curve is particularly steep. As boring as that may sound, the impressive depth of the game’s tactical systems is it main draw.
In it, players control a wisp using the touchscreen through a series of battles that take place across chess-like fields of squares. Players must carefully consider a dizzying array of factors, including the item durability, the elemental alignment of each opponent, and the length of each weapon’s attack as they attack with seven knights, each of which attacks in a unique, chess-like way. The game is made even more complex by allowing each character to carry four weapons into battle, each with its own restrictions based on class and level. And, all through each battle, the wisp must be directed to gather the gems with which it uses to trigger each knight’s attack.
Sound confusing? It is. Yet, somehow, Knights in the Nightmare draws players in with its increasingly convoluted maneuvering into a highly addictive and entertaining distraction.
1. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Release Date: Mar 17, 2009
Genre: Action Adventure
The undisputed best game of the year is Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Had Chinatown simply carried on the traditions of the first twelve installments in the Grand Theft Auto series, it would have secured a place on top ten lists across the web. Instead, Chinatown takes the franchise to a whole new level and stands a very good chance of securing a place as the best game of the year in the bargain.
Chinatown stands out from its predecessors in terms of both gameplay and aesthetics. What’s more, not only does Chinatown bring innovation to the franchise, it does so without all the many loading screens seen in the PSP versions of GTA games.
Aesthetically, this is not a 2D top-down game. Chinatown features beautifully-stylized visual design, complete with cel-shading and a full 3D overhead view. What’s more, is that it’s set in the Liberty City of GTA 4.
In it, players are cast as Huang Lee, who has returned to home to avenge the death of his father, a former Triad boss and deliver a sword to his uncle, only to get caught up in the succession of the next boss. The story introduces a great deal of hands-on missions involving the touchscreen minigames, including a tattoo parlor, making molotov cocktails, hotwiring stationary cars (in one of three ways), assembling a riffle, and packing drugs. These mingames are simple but fun. The most notable feature of the game – the one that makes this a must-have – is that it isn’t enough to simpy evade the police in this game. In order to lower the game’s Wanted level, players must to crash cop cars by eighter ramming them or driving them into walls. This feature makes car chases immensely fun.
All in all, it’s had it’s hard to believe this is Nintendo DS game. It’s graphic violence, mature storyline, detailed gameplay, and it’s pastiche of all the best features of the GTA franchise lend the game the feel of a platformer. Chinatown is easily thirty plus hours of riveting play time for any dedicated gamer, even before tapping into its many multi-player options.
Honorable Mention: Pokémon Platinum
Release Date: Mar 22, 2009
Pokémon Platinum Version earns an honorable mention for being one of the top-selling games of the year to date, despite not being the most exciting offering on store shelves.
While Platnum’s gameplay is a predictable, rehashing of the series’ standard catch/battle/repeat formula, Platinum version includes a new areas, characters, and of course, fifty-nine new Pokémon.
The game’s main hook is its newly-tweaked Battle Frontier, in which players vie to tackle opponent for rare prizes. It boasts five separate facilities and a host of new restrictions to test player’s durability and problem solving skills. Through the Wi-Fi Club, players can also battle friends using a new interface. Or, players can brave Distortion World, where they will navigate Mario-style floating platforms and disorienting camera perspectives en route to battle Giratina in its new form.
It may be geared towards a younger audience, but millions upon millions of players can’t be wrong!