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Best of 2009 - Honorable Mentions, Part Two

And now for the rest of those unfortunate games that just didn't quite cut the mustard. In some alternate universe these could be just as deserving of a slot in the top ten, but for some reason they got left behind. They are grouped here so they can at least get some shot at the recognition they so clearly deserve.


Borderlands nearly ended up in the main list, but was just barely edged out of the last slot by the more original, surprising Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.

Still, to say Borderlands is less original is not to say it is less enjoyable. It doesn’t exactly rewrite the definition of what a modern shooter should be, but it doesn’t really need to. There’s plenty of room on my shelf for games like Borderlands, titles that don’t really try to do anything spectacularly new, but that take established conventions and make them feel fresh and fun. 

At the end of the day, if I’m having fun with a game, isn’t that what matters most? 

Borderlands takes what could have been a run-of-the-mill, bland shooter and pairs it with a memorable art style, wonderful cooperative mechanics, and addictive loot collection, turning it into something like the shooter equivalent of Diablo. It’s a wonderful combination. 

The idea of turning a genre into a Diablo-style collect-a-thon may not be a new one by any means, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t think anyone has done it before with the shooter genre, meaning there’s at least a little more innovation here than meets the eye at first.

It has that “just one more quest” pull that keeps you coming back for more, anxious to get to that next level or find that sweet new gun. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in good old-fashioned fun. 

For providing an addictive shooter with tons of mad loot to lust after, Borderlands makes my Honorable Mentions list for 2009.


Where Borderlands took the classic Diablo formula and applied it to a shooter, Torchlight takes the classic Diablo formula and applies it to… a Diablo knock-off. 

Bring it on, I say.

While there’s technically even less innovation here than in the relatively derivative Borderlands, that doesn’t stop it from being a blast. There’s a reason I don’t care that Diablo-style play has been done to death, and that’s because, when done right at least, it’s powerfully addicting. 

Whether that addiction comes in the form of adding loot collection to another genre or doing it the old fashioned way and making a top-down RPG that gives your index finger a workout as you madly click to defeat hordes of enemies in dungeon after dungeon, the formula is just plain fun.

What Torchlight manages to do is modernize these classic mechanics, give them a beautiful coat of paint, touch them up with great tweaks like the pet that can both fight for you and run back to town and sell your stuff, saving you tons of time, and put them all in a budget-priced package that’s a rather stunning value when you consider the amount of time this addicting title could end up stealing from you.

Maybe it’s not quite stunning, epic, or original enough to make my top ten list of the year, but that doesn’t mean this little gem isn’t one of my favorites of 2009, and for that it makes my Honorable Mentions list. 

Seriously. Go play it. Now.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Of all the titles in my Honorable Mentions list, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the one I most regret not being able to find a spot for on the main list.

Ultimately, though, I have kind of a love/hate relationship with the game that forced me to downgrade it to the leftovers, rather than feature it prominently.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii deserves special recognition for providing one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I’ve had this year. It brought more laughs, excitement, and good-natured cursing at my fellow player/mortal enemy in a short span of time than most games do in all the time I spend with them. It’s truly a special experience.

Why Nintendo hasn’t done this before is a mystery, but I’m glad they finally got around to it. I’ve only had the opportunity to play it with one other person, but even that turned the traditional Mario experience into a complete madhouse. It’s wonderful, though I can’t even begin to imagine how chaotic it must be with four people.

If you like platforming games and have friends to play it with, this game is beyond a no-brainer.

But there is a dark side to the game.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a game that epitomizes all of my frustrations with Nintendo in recent years. It’s a formulaic take on gameplay we’ve seen many times before (for example, when they did this exact same thing, minus the co-op and a couple of other shiny new bits, in New Super Mario Bros. DS), adding just enough new stuff to get away with doing it again and nothing more. 

There’s a few new powerups and some nifty new level tricks, but there’s also reused musical themes and a surprising lack of variety in the tunes. There’s awesome four player co-op, but players three and four are inexplicably stuck with two boring-as-hell differently colored Toads instead of more interesting characters, of which there should have been plenty to choose from. The story ditches the unnecessary complications (and atrocious dialog) of the recent modern Mario games in favor of a simplified, cartoony, funny approach, but still reuses the exact same story as in every Mario ever as if there was just no other way things could possibly be done and shame on you for suggesting otherwise.

And don’t even get me started on the inconsistent Princess Peach. One game she’s shown to be perfectly capable, fighting off rivals in Super Smash Bros. or even carrying her own platform game in whatever the hell that game’s name was for the DS. But here she’s back to being completely helpless and unable to do absolutely anything of worth other than call out meekly to the fat Italian caricature to save her.

All I’m asking for is a little consistency here.

But despite these gripes, and perhaps despite myself, I can’t help but love it. The formula is shamefully obvious but still fun and there’s bucketfuls of nostalgia that hits me in just the right place that I’m more charmed than annoyed, even if the logical part of my brain is screaming at me for it the whole time.

Just like Nintendo itself these days, New Super Mario Bros. Wii changes things up just enough and puts together a solid enough experience that I can’t help but like it, especially considering my nostalgia for Nintendo’s past, but I kind of hate myself for it at the same time. I’m getting tired of the same old formula and reused tricks and whored-out franchises, but I can’t stop liking them all at the same time, which makes me confused and angry and sad.

But you know what? Put all of that aside. It doesn’t matter.

If you enjoy fun things and have friends that also enjoy fun things, purchase New Super Mario Bros. Wii and play the co-op mode together. Even if your friendship doesn’t survive the frantic chaos, I can guarantee you’ll still think it was worth it. It’s that much fun. For that reason, and despite my many gripes, New Super Mario Bros. Wii makes my Honorable Mentions list for 2009.

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