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Our 2009 Games of the Year Revealed: Gaming Overload!

Wow.  What a year it’s been for the app store.  This was the first full calendar year that the store has been open for business, and we’ve been treated to a countless amount of games.  Now, all of us have attempted to give a summary of some of our favourite games from the year.  We’re about to list a lot of great games, so sit back and see if you’ve missed any gems from last year or disagree with any of our choices.

Matt: Overall, 2009 was a great year for iPhone gaming. My personal favorite release of the year was the re-imagined classic Space Invaders Infinity Gene, easily the iPhone’s best shoot’em-up. The stages, visual presentation, sound and gameplay combined to make this a game I found impossible to put down. The inclusion of music stages, generated from songs in your music library, make this a game with an infinite amount of new challenges, and the recent update made things even better. Space Invaders Infinity Gene is the best example I can think of of a major game publisher simultaneously revitalizing a classic franchise while doing right on the iPhone platform. Kudos to Taito for a job well done.

For me, the year held a number of other highlights. Meteor Blitz is the best dual-stick shooter I’ve ever played, with sumptuous visuals and perfect controls. Flatspace delivered the most open-ended space role-playing experience on the platform; how you outfit your ship plays a huge role in how you play the game, and you’re welcome to play in any way you like, as law-enforcement or pirate, trader or bounty-hunter, good guy or bad guy. Chronicles of Inotia: Wanderer of Luone and Dungeon Hunter offered up the platform’s best fantasy RPGs, while Rogue Planet delivered an SRPG to rival those on major consoles. Robocalypse, ported to the iPhone from the Nintendo DS, was the year’s best RTS, and IUGO’s Star Hogs was an artillery game not to be missed. GeoDefense and GeoDefense Swarm were the year’s best tower defense games. Chillingo‘s Defender Chronicles effectively tipped the tower defense genre on its side, imbuing it with RPG qualities along the way and cementing it as one of the deepest and most rewarding alternative takes on tower defense yet seen. In addition, the developer has set a new paradigm for the support of existing properties with constant and hearty updates in content. Knights Onrush is the App Store’s best castle-defense game, even beating out Gameloft‘s take on the genre. But it’s Gameloft’s NOVA that takes the crown for the year’s best FPS, highly polished with a robust single player campaign and an excellent multiplayer mode. My favorite retro fixes were the addictive Hook Champ and the lite roguelike The Isle of 8-bit Treasures. For casual games, KarmaStar was a favorite for cramming incredible depth into bite-sized portions, and Canabalt for incredible atmosphere and short, but addictive gameplay sessions. My list is long, but the last games I absolutely must mention are Rolando 2 and I Dig It 2, incredible sequels to their equally incredible predecessors. Damn, what a year!

Daniel: My game of the year would have to go to NOVA from Gameloft. Call me a first-person shooter junkie, but Gameloft did an amazing job with both the campaign and online multiplayer. There have been tons of other games that have come quite close to taking home the award though, from ngmoco’s Rolando 2 to Illusion Labs’ Sway. Com2uS also came out of the box after releasing Homerun Battle 3D along with Inotia  2: Wanderer of Luone, both of which were definite must have titles for me. Chillingo‘s Ravensword was yet another title that I was overly impressed with, along with their fun Speed Forge Extreme.

The list goes on and on, including Firemint‘s Real Racing and Flight Control, Illusion Labs’ Labyrinth 2 and Touchgrind, Gameloft’s Modern Combat: Sandstorm and Gangstar, Godzilab’s iBlast Moki, and much, much more. 2009 was a year quite improved from the initial release of firmware 2.0, and I’ll be surprised if developers keep up the same pace. I’m sure there are games that were forgotten, but either way, let’s say hello to 2010.

Nick: Going back a full year and trying to figure out the best games launched on the app store is definitely a tough task.  Choosing a single game of the year though is easy.  The game I have in mind had an impressive graphical upgrade from its predecessor, and the gameplay’s tweaked difficulty and rolling variations kept me fully interested throughout.  Yes, the game I’m thinking of is Ngmoco and Hand Circus’ Rolando 2.  After replaying levels just to grab all the items I missed on the first time through, I realized the game was something special because replaying is something I rarely do.  I initially opened this site to try and cover games that push forward the idea that the iPhone is a legimitate gaming platform, and Rolando 2 fits the bill perfectly. In trying to list other favourites from the year, I’m sure I’m going to forget many great games.  Here’s a quick attempt at other standout titles I really enjoyed: Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, Sway, Let’s Golf, Peggle, geoDefense, 2XL ATV Offroad, and Hook Champ.

Chris: 2009 was certainly a banner year for the iPhone and its gamers. In 2008 we witnessed the birth of the app store. In 2009 we witnessed it grow into something akin to a child: both awkward and wonderful; sometimes gawky, sometimes menacing, but always full of promise. This year we’ve seen everything from the great Halo clone N.O.V.A. to truly unique puzzlers like Labyrinth 2 and Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor. But for every geoDefense we also had an onslaught of forgettable tower defense games that simply were a recycled waste of time. The still incomplete Minigore gave us a good laugh while Samurai: Way of the Warrior showed us that 3-D wasn’t always needed. At the beginning of the year, who would’ve thought a simple running game like Backbreaker Football could bring so much more life to football than the iconic Madden? That’s what makes the iPhone as a gaming device so special: it surprises us. This little machine somehow manages to bring a decoupage of gaming experiences that no other device seems to match. Gamers everywhere have to agree there’s nothing quite like Zen Bound for the console. As for the best of 2009, that’s tough. The Wing Commander-esque Galaxy on Fire comes close, but ultimately I’m a sucker for the well-rendered RPG; Ravensword: The Fallen King is certainly not without its flaws, but it is the first iPhone game I found truly amazing… utterly escapist. What can we anticipate in 2010 now that the iPhone’s proverbial childhood is over? The fast track into adulthood. With Apple’s newfound success in the gaming world comes a new set responsibilities… and new competition. Also, we all have bigger expectations for this little device than we did a year ago. Things could get really interesting. So, here’s to a new and even better year of gaming in 2010. Good luck, Apple, and keep on gaming!

Jeff: What if iTunes didn’t exist? What if there wasn’t an App Store? What if the technological marvel known as the iDevice was never conceived? Each and every one of us would have missed out on something amazing and revolutionary.  It’s a worldwide store where you can buy all of the newest music of any nationality from anywhere in the world, and purchase multiple games that fit in your pocket starting as low as 99 cents and (almost) not going anywhere above 10 dollars. This universal store has brought many people happiness, and the offerings that you can choose from are astounding. Music will always be changing, and so will the future of gaming. However, I’ve never thought that gaming could change so suddenly or quickly. Five months ago, I would never have thought of the iPhone or iPod Touch as something I would play games on, much less play games on for hours on end. This year, and more specifically, these past few months, have changed the iPhone and iPod Touch into my main gaming platform. And why? Because iDevice games are the only ones that get updated, changed, and churned out so quickly, yet still maintaining the polish and quality we expect from all games.

Now that the iPhone and iPod Touch have been established as possible gaming devices, what are the best games for this “platform?” Or, what is the number one game that all iDevice owners should have? It’s a hard choice, but I have to go with N.O.V.A.. This game has the best graphics, best controls, and debatably due to multiplayer, the best replay value of any game on the App Store. It has all of Gameloft’s quality and polish, and it isn’t a game you just finish and forget; it’s an experience that you remember and keep coming back to, time and time again. On the other hand, there are many great offerings for the iDevice, including Jet Car Stunts, Asphalt 5, Need for Speed, FIFA, Inotia 2: A Wanderer of Luone and many more titles that deserve mentioning. Of course, if I mentioned all of them, the list would be too long since there are just so many different options. All in all, 2009 has been an awesome year both for myself personally and the App Store, and I can’t wait to see what new events and things are in store for me this year. Onwards, and let’s all have a great 2010!

Ryan: The app store has come a very long way in such a short time. I remember when I was impressed by the simplest of games on a mobile device like an iPod. The app store has become a whole new market now with ‘real’ games becoming more polished and fun. One signing example of this is Nova. Nova is a first-person shooter developed by Gameloft that somewhat resembles Halo (ring any bells?) Nova is the most complete, comprehensive game on the app store to date. Not only does it have an engaging single player mode, but it comes with surprisingly fun online multiplayer mode as well. It is no surprise to me that Gameloft is the company behind Nova. After all, they have proven to be strong players in the app store market and have developed a number of hits. Each game they release seems to push the envelope (and my expectations) just a little further. I now expect an iPod/iPhone game to deliver much more than I did even a few months ago. I am excited to see what the app store holds for 2010. I think Nova will be hard to top, but based on what I have seen so far, it is complely plausible.

And that wraps up the gaming year of 2009.  I’m sure 2010 will be bringing us even more impressive games from all the developers on the app store who will continue to push the limits of the platform.  We’ll see you the same time next year for another wrap up!

The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures Review: An Excellent J-Roguelike

Tecmo‘s latest, The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures, is misleadingly titled. No 8-bit system was even remotely capable of producing the number of colors or the level of visual detail here present. Visually, audibly the game is more akin to games from the 16-bit era, on the SNES for example. A minor quibble, but if you’re the sort that fears dated graphics and quivers at bits numbering in the single digits, fret not; The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is prettier than the name would imply.

The game is a roguelike, in that you will spend your time exploring randomly generated dungeons, fending off the local denizens and looting as you go. As you progress deeper into a dungeon, you will face foes of increasing strength; and should you perish at their hands, you will lose all experience and treasures accumulated in the dungeon thus far. Roguelikes comprise a subgenre of role-playing games notorious for their difficulty; The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures will not hold you hand, and it will not go easy on you.

As roguelikes go, however, The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is rather gentle. It eschews the complexity of classics such as Rogue or Nethack, which I count to its advantage. I find those games cumbersome, especially as ported to the iPhone, and so overweighed by complexity and clumsiness that they’re just no fun to play. Instead, The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures follows the mold as set by Japanese classic roguelikes such as Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer or the more recent Izuna series on the Nintendo DS. Despite being a roguelike, the game remains accessible, easy to pick up and play, and — most importantly — fun. This is a game that can be played in short bursts, or in long dungeon-raiding marathons. And it’s cute too!

In dungeons, characters level up as they fight, gaining in hit points, attack and defensive power. Upon leaving the dungeon, however, characters are reset to level one; experience gained cannot be kept. Instead, you keep your loot. You can stockpile up to 10 of each item in the game, and can choose to carry items with you into each dungeon when you embark. You can also strengthen your weapons between dungeons, changes being persistent thereafter. Therefore, any lasting advantage you have will be based solely upon your inventory.

Likes:

Characters: Three adorable adventurers await to do your bidding. The Swordsman offers the best attack and defense, but the weakest magic abilities and is recommended for beginners. The Witch excels at magic, but is weaker in attack and defense; recommended for experienced players. For advanced players, there is the Hunter; the hunter has the fewest hit points, but a middling magical ability and can attack from a distance using a bow and arrow. These different characters encourage different playing styles. And because progress is tracked individually for each character, you can take out any character you wish without losing or harming your progress with the others. All characters draw from the same stockpile of items, however.

Missions: The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is made up of many dungeons, each in a different location. Dungeons vary in design, each offer a different soundtrack, and are randomly generated. Thus can they be replayed and explored anew each time. In fact, the game encourages you to revisit dungeons using missions. On first delving into a dungeon, you must simply reach the bottom to collect the Heart of Valor. Dungeons are typically three, four or five levels deep to begin with, becoming deeper as your unlock new locations. After completing each dungeon the first time, you can replay that dungeon to meet specific mission criteria. The “Nooks & Crannies” mission tasks you to map every room in the dungeon, while other missions might ask you to slay a number of a particular type of monster, kill a rare beast, complete the dungeon without leveling up or finish the dungeon under a par number of moves. In all, the game features 60 missions spread across many dungeons.

Smithing: Your music can be used to generate new weapons. Weapons have slots that can be equipped with crystals, boosting attacks, adding elements like fire, wind or lighting, giving your weapon healing properties and more. Crystals must be found in dungeons, or purchased from the shop with accumulated loot. The weapons operate according to the Weapon Reel; think of the reel as a slot machine that advances a number of clicks with each attack. When the reel lands on an equipped crystal, the special ability is activated and added to the attack.

Dungeons: As mentioned, The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is comprised of dungeons in many different locations, including caverns, ruins, forests and more. The variety is appreciated, the tile sets are attractive, and each features its own soundtrack. Additionally, the game can acces your music library and use the songs to generate new dungeons, just as it creates weapons. Unfortunately, the game will not play your selected song during its dungeon, instead selecting one of its own soundtracks for the escapade.

Dislikes:

Lost Levels: It is disappointing that none of your experience carries over beyond the dungeon you’re presently exploring. I wish there were some small benefit retained from your efforts, even if not the full strength of your level.

Interruptions: Sadly, the game does not save your progress mid-dungeon. If you’re interrupted by a telephone call during play, or if you abruptly need to quit out of the game, you will have lost all progress in your current dungeon and will begin again from the island map the next time you start the game.

Purists may complain that The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is the roguelike over-simplified. You will not be poisoned, cursed or transformed every other step; you will not descend dungeons to incredible depths; you will not be managing a myriad pieces of weaponry and armor, potions, scrolls, wands and knick-knacks. To wit, you will not be buried beneath the abundant minutia and tedium inherent to most traditional roguelikes. Frankly, I count that among this game’s strengths. All of that stuff is fine when you have a full keyboard at your disposal, and if that’s what you want, then go play POWDER; it’s the best roguelike out there, available on many platforms and its an amazing feat of complexity. I reckon it would make a terrible iPhone game, though, because it’s just too much.

The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures distills the roguelike to its essential foundation, and douses it in charm and style. Tecmo has created a gem of a game for the iPhone, and one that I foresee myself playing well into the future. In it, I believe I’ve found my first contender for November’s game-of-the-month.

musthave

The Isle of 8-Bit Treasures is developed by Tecmo, LTD. and sells for $4.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 3G.

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