Rather than do one big top ten list, I thought I'd instead break things up into two separate top five lists (with a few honorable mentions thrown in): my favorite games of 2009, and my favorite games from prior years that I played for the first time in 2009. This seems like a good compromise, since I haven't come close to exhaustively playing all the "big" releases this year, and therefore any best of list from me would be loaded with caveats and qualifiers. In addition, many of my most memorable gaming experiences this year came from older titles, and I think that needs to be acknowledged. So, with games presented in alphabetical order, here are the lists.
Favorite Games of 2009
New Super Mario Bros. Wii—Some may criticize Nintendo for not innovating enough, and while I tend to agree with those criticisms as a whole, I cannot escape from or deny the fact that this latest side-scrolling Mario game is damn fun to play. 'Nuff said.
Punch-Out!!—I've always been a huge fan of the original Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! And no boxing game since, including Super Punch-Out!!, has been able to capture that same essential feel—until now. Sure, it's a repackaging of old material, but it's a pretty awesome rehash.
Resident Evil 5—Whether or not the player can move and shoot at the same time, this was still a top notch production that pushed the series forward with its unique cooperative play. If nothing else, it easily wins the award for having the most satisfying barrel explosions.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition—Yes, it's another rehash, but I’d never played a Monkey Island game before this year, which made this the perfect point-and-click storm for me. It's an amusing, laid back, brain teaser of a game, and I wish there was a bigger market for it.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves—I haven't been this impressed with a game since Resident Evil 4. I'm a sucker for big budget, heavily scripted, interactive roller-coaster rides, and Uncharted 2 is currently the most polished and refined example of that yet, and my overall favorite for the year.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2—Though less coherent than its predecessor, it still brought plenty of awesome to the table. I'm speaking strictly of the single-player campaign. I'll leave the multiplayer for others to grade.
Favorite Older Games Played in 2009
Full Throttle—How good can a point-and-click adventure game be that's built around motorcycle gangs? Surprisingly good as it turns out. Full Throttle won me over with its amusingly hard-edged vibe, clever writing, and good puzzles. The mileage hasn't done too much to harm this classic.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots—The synthesis of all that is Metal Gear. I played this fresh off of having replayed through the first three games in order, setting the stage for one of the most satisfying and rich gaming experiences that I've had in years. An amazing achievement.
Tetrisphere—Well, I actually did play this back in 1997 as a rental, but I didn't get very far. This is a fantastic 3D take on the Tetris theme. The techno soundtrack is great, and the puzzle mode is particularly brain-bending. This game is absolutely begging for a sequel.
The Curse of Monkey Island—This was the year I discovered point-and-click gaming, and so to those who know the genre this pick should come as no surprise. It's funny, clever, and the puzzles are as weird as they come (think map and suntan oil). They don't make 'em like this anymore.
World of Goo—What can I say that hasn't already been said about this game? It's brilliant, simple and intuitive, and oddly emotional at times. And I still have a hard time getting my head around the fact that it was only made by two people! Mind boggling.
Braid—An intriguing and highly commendable creation. Yet strangely I haven't felt compelled to finish it, despite having been told that it has a great ending. It made enough of an impression on me, however, that it deserves a nod, but I'll withhold full judgment until I complete it.
Policenauts—I just like the fact that I can even include this on the list at all. I haven't finished it yet, but I like what I've played. Snatcher is one of my favorite games of all time, and I've been waiting to play its successor for years. The completion of the fan translation project is worth celebrating.