I have to admit, most of my year was lost in Azeroth, battling murlocs and the Horde with equal amounts of glee. Many people have likened playing MMOGs to having a second job, and, when you actually have a job, a wife and a weekly Dungeons & Dragons game, it is hard to play any other game than World of Warcraft. When I did pick up other titles, it was usually with friends in meatspace so many of my picks this year are multiplayer masterpieces on the Wii.
5. MLB 2K9 (Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, PC)
Sports games sometimes get a short shrift, but this title makes great use of the Wii’s unique control system. When you are batting or pitching, your body is going through those exact motions. You can play the game sitting on the couch and barely moving, or get up and stretch your muscles. In all honesty, the latter makes the MLB 2K9 that much more enjoyable. Nothing feels quite so good as swinging with all your might to clobber that last homerun in the derby, or whipping that fastball by your friend to strike out the side. My only beef is that hitting against the AI pitching is nearly impossible, or perhaps I’m just not a very good hitter. My experiences in little league were incredibly prescient.
4. Punch Out (Wii)
Nintendo is doing a great job cashing in on the nostalgia factor for its Wii games, while providing a new twist. New Super Mario Bros. exemplified this, but the company’s update of Punch Out earlier this year used the motion controls of the Wii while doing so. The secrets of fighting the characters from the old Mike Tyson version stay true, but have a more visceral, uh, punch. It is incredibly satisfying using the nunchuk to uppercut Piston Hondo in the face when his eyebrows wrinkle, or to smack King Hippos bulging abdomen. Beating up on your friend in multiplayer mode is enjoyable in short bursts but the real charm of Punch Out are the cartoonish opponents. I know the characters are broad strokes of stereotypes but I still giggle whenever the Canadian Bear Hugger yells, “Hoser” or the new Disco Kid encourages you to “Box-ercise.”
3. Dragon Age: Origins (PC)
It takes a great RPG to pull me away from playing WoW for any length of time. Oblivion couldn’t do it, and the time spent on Twilight Princess was negligible. Dragon Age, on the other hand, had me at the character generator. We all know the story is excellent, and Bioware never skimps on the voice-acting, but the shine for me is the party-based combat. Being a D&D gamer, there is something about assembling a team of disparate characters and forging them into a lethal strike force, able to take out waves of darkspawn and even dragons with frightening efficiency. Some tactics are easily discovered, like taking out enemy spellcasters first, but figuring out successful combinations of spells and abilities gives me a glee that I can barely contain. Also, a story with real development that will eventually come to an end is something that WoW will never provide, especially for a non-raider like myself, and I definitely missed playing a game with a goddamned climax.
2. Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
I initially bought this title for the combo pack Wii Motion Plus addons, but I fell in love with the fencing game when my non-gamer friend challenged me saying, “I’m really f’ing good at swordfighting. You can’t beat me.” Oh yeah, you’re on. She lifted the Wii Remote and flailed her arm around like a blindfolded kid trying hit a piñata. And she beat me in 2.7 seconds. We then spent the next 3 hours fencing, canoeing and shooting 3-pointers. This was a girl who has openly mocked my chosen hobby for years, and here we were enjoying each other’s company playing videogames. I don’t think that would have happened without a game like Wii Sports Resort.
1. World of Warcraft patch 3.2: Call of the Crusade (PC, Mac)
I can understand that hardcore WoW players were a little upset that their favorite time-sucking application had been stagnant since August and were desparately awaiting taking on the Lich King in patch 3.3. (When are hardcore Wow players not upset?) I, on the other hand, loved “the middle patch” as a casual player. Call of the Crusade introduced so much for my little dwarf paladin to do that I haven’t yet tired of it all. Signing on for a few dailies here or a quick Trial of the Crusader run there has been really fun for decking out my main, but the addition of new Heirloom Items which bestow a hefty XP bonus has made my alt-itis flare up like a hooker’s gonorrhea. Except in this case, I actually like the burning sensation that I get when I level my shadow priest, ice mage and demo lock.
Don’t forget to check out Lauren’s top 5 games of 2009 which is coming out tomorrow. In case you missed any, read the full list of faves here.