From January to December, Gamezebo writers played, reviewed, analyzed and picked apart hundreds of games, so it takes something pretty special to stand out from the crowd. The following list contains our picks for the most memorable games of 2009. Some are simply best-of-breed, while others just stuck out in our minds for being particularly fun or unique.
JIM SQUIRES’ PICKS
Time Gentlemen, Please!
Fans of old school LucasArts games were all abuzz this year thanks to the re-release of classics like Loom and new stabs at old favourites like the Tales of Monkey Island series. What most didn’t realize was that the most faithful keeper of the flame didn’t come in the form of a LucasArts license, but in an independent game made by two guys who’ve played LucasArts adventures way too much. The sequel to last year’s Ben There, Dan That! offered up all of the ridiculous situations, over-the-top humor, and quality puzzling that you’d have expected from a classic LucasArts adventure. Some of the content might be a little mature, but come on – the game has time travel, coat hangers, and Nazi dinosaurs. What’s not to love?
The classic Bejeweled formula still holds up in 2009, proving its popularity with a killer Facebook app that eventually made its way onto the iPhone. Taking the traditionally solitary Bejeweled experience and making it social was a stroke of genius. I don’t go a day without firing up Blitz half a dozen times or so to squeeze in a few quick rounds and try to trump my friends scores.
Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that seem to gain the most traction. Take Canabalt for example. It’s about a little guy who’s running (from what we don’t know). As he runs faster and faster, all you can do to keep him from doing a faceplant into another building is jump. And yet that one button press to make the man jump balanced with the challenge of keeping him running as long as you can? Somehow this ended up being one of the most addictive experiences of 2009. I loved it as a flash game, but when it moved to the iPhone it officially had a way of sneaking into my daily play habits wherever I went.
DAVID BECKER’S PICKS
This strategy game might have been one of the most unique, daring and innovative entries in the casual market of 2009. The combination of building, battles, research, exploration and hidden object-gameplay could entertain patient players for at least 15 hours with the last level being the most exhausting and entertaining challenge I have experienced this year. The game itself surely is a little bit more challenging than the average casual game, but this gem definitely should be given a chance by everyone who loves games.
Playfirst surely has released a lot of good games this year, but Wandering Willows really stood out of the crowd. Desperately stranded on a strange island with even stranger inhabitants, you will slowly fall in love with this game where you have to care for different pets and fulfill a variety of quests for your fellow islanders. It becomes quite addictive to dig for recipes, collars, clothing patters, and to improve the skills of your pets. When you are finally able to leave the island you will think about that option twice.
To come up with a biting version of Build-a-lot including a vast number of twists and improvements surely is not easy, but Coconut Queen makes it look like that. After a large amount of building simulation games that could not compete at all with the original, Coconut Queen introduces the ability to build anywhere you want to, a very unusual upgrade system and hunks who are obeying only one lady. In which other game are you able to chase away sharks, to catch crabs, to deal with aggressive butterflies, and in passing create prestigious holiday resorts?
Artist Colony lives up to its name by introducing a beautiful world which plays like The Sims at an art course. The player’s basic task is to restore a once glorious colony for artists such as musicians, painters, or singers. It is a pure delight to increase the skills of your artists and look at the finished masterpieces which they create in the course of the game. An increasing number of artists to care for and new tasks will keep the player busy, while a soap-like storyline will build up a personal relation to the citizens of the colony.
VANESSA CARTER’S PICKS
The levels in hidden object games tend to look like attics that have been left unattended for a decade or two, crammed to capacity with all manner of random junk, but Pure Hidden does something very different. Its levels are so striking, beautifully crafted, and elegant that they could easily hang in your living room as pop art. You don’t so much play as you just sit back, enjoy the view, and occasionally realize that you’ve been gazing at cleverly concealed teddy bears, peppers, and basketballs.
Valerie Porter and the Scarlet Scandal
The actual game parts of Valerie Porter are really well done and lots of fun, but the story is what kept me playing. A cub reporter accidentally uncovers a massive scandal and is left on her own when her investigations start making the wrong people nervous. Sex, betrayal, murder – this game’s got it all, with great voice acting and some genuinely innovative minigames into the bargain. What’s not to love?
Emerald City Confidential
It sounds crazy: a noir mystery set in Dorothy’s Oz, but somehow this adventure game comes together to tell one heck of a great story. Petra the gumshoe uncovers all sorts of dark secrets during her investigation, but there’s always just enough Oz-ian whimsy thrown in to keep her tale from ever growing too dark. The art is gorgeous, the writing is sharp, and the acting is marvellous. If only more point-and-clickers were this brilliant.
DAVID STONE’S PICKS
One of the best games I’m sure you’ve never played. Mixing adventure-platforming with role-playing elements, Aztaka is one of the most underrated games of 2009, if not any year. The graphics and sound are incredible, with a deep and meaningful storyline. Drawing from elements of Aztec lore, the story of one man’s revenge for his family’s murder turns out to be one of the most gripping and moving experiences of the year.
Crayon Physics Deluxe
The winner of several indie gaming awards, Crayon Physics Deluxe is the ultimate playing-in-the-sandbox game for 2009. Literally limited only by your imagination, each stage can be completed in an almost infinite number of ways. The solid physics engine that powers Crayon Physics Deluxe coupled with frenetic catch-up scrawls as your plans don’t always work the way you want is guaranteed to bring a smile to all players.
Nancy Drew Dossier: Resorting to Danger
Once limited to point-and-click adventures, the Nancy Drew Dossier series ventured into the popular hidden-object genre, without forgetting its plot-driven adventure roots. And it succeeded beautifully. The second game, Resorting to Danger, managed to improve on the first game in almost every way. While there’s one terribly-difficult puzzle right at the end, that’s why Gamezebo posts walkthroughs, isn’t it?
EveryDay Genius: Square Logic
The only game that has infected my thoughts when I’m not playing it, and the only game that I have played that almost deserved a perfect score. Taking Sudoku and adding mathematical equations, logic and relationship puzzles to the mix may seem confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be hooked. True story: I was reviewing the game and my wife peered over to see what I was raving about. I made the mistake of letting her try to solve one of the later puzzles, and didn’t get my laptop back for an hour. To borrow my quote from last year: Why are you still reading this? Go download EveryDay Genius: Square Logic. Now. We can wait.
MERYL K. EVANS’ PICKS
Plants vs Zombies
PopCap Games went way out of the box with this game adding loads of humor, creativity and multiple modes that you actually want to play. I usually don’t bother with other modes except for reviewing purposes, but I played all the different modes simply because I enjoyed them as much as the main one.
Not only does Wandering Willows contain charming and adorable scenes and characters, but also humor and the freedom to do things in no particular order. I predicted this would be one of my top ten games in March (I have it in writing on my blog) and it is.
Emerald City Confidential
This point and click adventure has it all: Characters with unique personalities, strong story line that doesn’t lose you, smashing graphics and animation, humor and long play time. While some people didn’t like the heavy-duty dialogue, it was an absorbing read and actually played an important part of the game by providing clues.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove manages to keep the MCF series going strong. Just when you think it can’t get better, it does. This one is probably my favorite due to its gripping game play, intriguing legend, use of videos with subtitles (thank you!) and challenging puzzles. I hated it when the game ended because I had nothing else great to play.
TAWNY MUELLER’S PICKS
Delicious – Emily’s Taste of Fame
While capatilizing on the definition of excellent and challenging time management gameplay and an adjustable difficulty system, Emily’s Taste of Fame is the best Delicious game to date. With a wonderfully charming story that’s told through the actual characters and not a comic-strip, as well as unique daily in-game occurances, this title was a definite favorite of mine this year. Throw in a wide variety of unique shops and locations to work in, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove
It’s not often you come across titles with solid, believable real-life acting, but Dire Grove seems to have it all. Beautiful and extensive environment exploration that really sends an eerie chill, a captivating story, and hidden objects galore, it really does live up to its name. Perhaps the cherry on top of the cake, it’s also worth mentioning this game is loaded with secrets, and maybe the most challenging out-of-game puzzle I’ve seen in a casual title.
Mevo & the Grooveriders
I never thought I could get addicted to a game that uses only two keyboard keys, and then I played this one. Very easy to pick up and extremely challenging at the same time, this isn’t just a title that appeals to casual gamers, but also core gamers with a passion for games like DDR. With an interesting art direction, wide variety of levels, entire customization and boost system, as well as some of the grooviest tunes I’ve heard in the world of casual gaming, Mevo definitely deserves a mention.
Campfire Legends: The Hookman
Prior to playing this game, I had never been genuinely startled by a casual title. This game is brilliant with timing and making the player feel like they’re really there and on-edge. While short, the smoothness of hidden object areas and classic adventure gaming are seamlessly blended together. The puzzles are also very unique. Did I mention you will jump while playing this title? "Scary" in casual gaming has been redefined by this title, without the looming Game Over.
MARTIJN MUELLER’S PICKS
Delicious – Emily’s Holiday Season
This year, the Delicious-games made the jump from a good time management series, to the best. Delicious has set a new standard for how time management games tell there story: no more still screens with text balloons popping up, no, we now see the characters act the story out live in the scenes. Offering faster and smoother gameplay, more variety, and the best way of story-telling of the genre, it was especially the story of Emily’s Holiday Season, that made my year.
Campfire Legends: The Hookman
Although a bit on the short side, the first Campfire Legends game gave players the most intense hidden object game experience this year, perfectly portraying a classic story, with a bone chilling atmosphere. Combined with smart puzzles, object finding that makes perfect sense, and absolutely gorgeous scenes, the experience long outlasted the credits and made me look very forward to the next Campfire Legend.
Drawn – The Painted Tower
From your first steps in Drawn – The Painted Tower, you know this game is something special. The magical setting and story of the game keeps you interested on what’s gonna happen next, the mix of adventure game play with classic hidden object scenes and puzzling keeps the game’s pace fresh, and the beautiful graphics makes this one of 2009′s pearls.
Three Cards to Midnight
While the paranormal setting of Three Cards to Midnight did not appeal to everyone, the game did introduce a very interesting fresh new way of playing hidden object games. In Three Cards to Midnight, you get one base word, and you have to find items that connect to it. For instance, if the baseword is "light", you may have to look for a streetLIGHT, and a LIGHThouse. While it still had a few quirks, certainly considering this was the developer’s first game, we can’t leave 2009 without a mention of Three Cards to Midnight.
Plants vs Zombies
If you want Plants vs Zombies in writing, I can do it, but if there is any case where a picture says more than a thousands words, it’s this one I believe:
Avenue Flo, Dawn’s Light, DinerTown Detective Agency, My Kingdom for the Princess, Totem Tribe, Westward IV: All Aboard, QuantZ, Zuma’s Revenge!