*A Note to my dear Dtoid Community: I am terribly sorry. I meant to get this article completed and posted much earlier. A number of things have muddled my life as of late. An impromptu “promotion” of sorts at work, sporadically failing health, a terribly botched attempt at acquiring a girlfriend, and the re-entry of (and thus re-addiction to) the XB360 version of Phantasy Star Universe into my life have all distracted me beyond belief in the past few weeks. I recognize it is a tad dumb to post this now, seeing as several of the below-mentioned titles are due in about two weeks, but please read on anyway. You still may learn something about a couple of the Summer and Fall titles!
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To start things off, in my “Top 10 of 2008”
commented that the general collective of internet goofballs might be more disposed to reading my articles if I included a lolcat. I am not above appealing to the masses. I searched high and low to find a kitty that belongs in one of my write ups, and I think I have struck gold. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, grammar cat. He and I are soul mates.
. . . Now here is the article!
Friends, 2008 is behind us, and the taste of 2009 is still fresh and bearable on our tongues. As I attempted to show in my “Top 10 of 2008”
list, last year was a fantastic twelve months for the gaming industry. Several titles launched that showcased the very best in innovation, initiated steps toward perfecting established standards, or contained a delightful synergy of both.
I am pleased to say that this new-year brings equally exciting possibilities with it. 2008 allowed for all major consoles to achieve, or take those last steps toward that comfortable level of maturity wherein hardware differences begin to take a backseat, and software can truly shine. This will be a real year for games.
The coming months represent releases that run the gauntlet from obscure, hardcore gems, to big-name blockbuster titles form the best-known publishing houses. I’ve attempted to encompass a sampling of both realms, as well as the in-between in my list. Maybe you will even learn about a title or two that you have never heard of! That would make my day.
In keeping with my earlier established standards, these titles are not ranked. I consider it silly to rate games of differing genres above or below one another. I present “Mr Gilder’s 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2009.” I hope these tasty treats get you salivating. As always, let me know what you think!
Street Fighter 4
Release Date: February 17th
Console(s): XB360, PS3
There is precious little I can say about Street Fighter 4 (SF4) that the game community has not already said, dreamed about, whispered, or shouted from the highest rooftop. Initial screenshots produced a number of doubts. Would the transition to 2.5D be smooth, and how would it affect gameplay? Many long-time fans balked (some continue to) at the new art style. After SF4’s official arcade release in 2008, however, many of these negative voices were silenced.
SF4 is a unique move for the franchise, and in many ways represents a “best of both worlds” scenario. The development team made strides to back step, and undue much of the more difficult, and highly technical aspects of Street Fighter 3 (a move that I, as an Alpha fan, greatly appreciate), and create a title that harkened back to the more accessible, and even casually beloved Street Fighter 2. The addition of the more lenient Revenge system in place of 3’s harsh Parry mechanic is one such change that will provide a welcome challenge to competitive aficionados, while allowing for the uninitiated to feel less overwhelmed.
In addition to the four brand new characters exclusive to SF4, the home version of the game will feature several classic fighters not featured in the arcade. XB360 and PS3 owners will be able to get their hands on, Fei-Long, Sakura and Rose (of Alpha fame), and my personal favorite world-warrior, Cammy. Total these perks up with a handsome host of console specific collector’s editions that include figurines, and impressive efforts from Madcatz to create quality accompanying accessories, and we have a release that is bound to stick in the memories of fighting fans for years to come.
Retro Game Challenge
Release: February 10th
Retro Game Challenge (RGC) is the American version of a bizarre Japanese game called Game Center CX. Game Center CX is, in turn, based on a Japanese television show of the same name. In the program, popular comedian Shinya Arino attempts to play his way through assorted oldschool games. Shinya is admittedly not a gamer himself, so watching him struggle through the often brutal (generally 8-bit Famicom) titles can be really entertaining, especially for gamers.
RGC adapts itself from the structure of the TV show in a truly fantastic way. The developers have created several brand new games in the retro style. Think along the lines of Capcom’s masterful Mega Man 9 and you will have the right idea. These distractions include a vertical shooter, a racing game, an action RPG, and a side-scroller that evolves throughout several sequels and includes gradually enhancing graphics. Each of these is played in small chunks of incrementally increasing difficulty with varying challenges to complete.
RGC represents a really phenomenal opportunity for the hardcore gamer. Not only does it give out an excuse to slip back into one’s old, score mongering, difficulty craving shoes, but it provides fresh games while doing so. It is a unique, and purely Japanese concept, filled with innovative fun, and self-referential humor. It really is rare for a game like RGC to see an American release, and your support in February will show the folks at publisher XSEED that we want more like it!
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Release Date: July 15th (Approximate)
Small Japanese development team Vanillaware was relatively unknown in the United States. Fans of the Sega Saturn’s awesome 2D capabilities, however, are aware of their first work, the side-scroller/RPG hybrid Princess Crown. This all changed in 2007, with the release of Princess Crown’s spiritual successor Odin Sphere. Like its predecessor, Odin Sphere combined beautiful, hand-drawn 2D play with tight, challenging RPG mechanics. It was a swan song for the PS2 that made serious gamers stand up and take notice.
In 2009 Vanillaware will take another chance to show us what it can do, this time on the Wii, with Muramasa: The Demon Blade (MDB). This new title takes the soft, ephemeral, hand-drawn art that the team is known for out of European style fairtytale lands for the first time, and applies itself anew to feudal Japan. Much like Odin Sphere, MDB will allow players to control multiple characters, no doubt each with differing mechanics, as it tells the story of the titular blade as it jumps from owner to owner.
Those who deride the Wii for its lack of traditional hardcore titles would be wise to watch out for Muramasa. The 2D style will provide the perfect opportunity for the system not to overstep its bounds with outdated 3D visuals. If the folks at Vanillaware can manage to avoid the temptation of adding unnecessary waggle controls, we may have one of the console’s most defining games on our hands.
Darksiders: Wrath of War
Release Date: August 25th (Approximate)
Console(s): XB360, PS3
Generally games that boast open-ended sandbox-style gameplay get a big fat shoulder shrug from me. It is only those that distinguish themselves by having said world be unique and interesting that truly grab my attention. If the world in question was a post-apocalyptic one, torn to pieces by a Heaven vs. Hell war of Miltonic proportions, then you would really have my attention. Now if the characters that inhabited this world happened to be drawn by talented American comic book artist Joe Madureira of Battle Chasers fame, then I would be completely sold. Luckily this is exactly what Darksiders: Wrath of War (DWW) puts on the table.
DWW is the first entry from Austin based newcomer Vigil Games. The company was actually co-founded by Madureira. The game will combine the best explorative qualities of a sandbox style game with brutal, God of War style action combat. Players take on the role of War, as in the horseman of the apocalypse, as he traverses the landscape and lays waste to Angels and Demons alike in a quest for vengeance. It is important to point out that the picture above is not of the boss of the game, or any badguy for that matter. That is War. That is you. You get to be that guy. You get to be that guy, and carry around a massive sword and gatling gun that can level up and gain new skills. You get to ride his flaming horse across arid fields of despair and battle gargantuan sandworms.
I am not without a level of reservation in regards to Darksiders. Often new and lofty projects of grand scope fall short of their intended impact (see Too Human). When such a project comes from a largely unproven developer, it is important to keep your hopes level. However, I have faith in Vigil games. After all, the good people at Games Workshop trusted them enough to put them in charge of the Warhammer 40K MMO. DWW looks great, and should be on everyone’s radar. If you don’t believe me, be sure to download the cinematic trailer available on Xbox Live.
God of War 3
Release Date: October 6th (Approximate)
There is little argument that Sony’s God of War series represents the pinnacle of the 3D action genre. Both its console releases, and its handheld iteration have offered outstanding experiences in terms of gameplay and technical prowess. Despite changing directorial hands and occasionally development studios, the franchise has consistently operated on three unchanging principles that make up the heart of the star character Kratos’s quest for revenge. These requirements are brutal, visceral, combo-driven combat, simple but rewarding puzzles, and a dedication to epic-scale storytelling in the vein of classic mythology films such as Clash of the Titans. It is a formula that has not yet failed to deliver. As long as the good people at Sony remain faithful to these notions, the absence of series pioneers David Jaffe and Cory Balrog from the God of War 3’s (GW3) credits should not have too great an impact.
What little tidbits that have been revealed of GW3 via teaser trailers have been just enough to show fans that what to expect. It appears that the development team is taking the most logical, and arguably best approach to the last leg of Kratos’s journey. Gameplay snippets reveal a product that looks nearly identical to earlier versions, save for gorgeous high-definition graphics. These visuals have series creator Jaffe extremely excited
. Did I mention the existence of a new weapon that appears to be giant metal Cereberus-themed gauntlets? Because they exist . . . boy do they.
Release Date: March 10th
Console (s): Wii
When Capcom’s Clover studio dissolved after the success of their PS2 magnum opus Okami, the hardcore gaming scene wept silent tears of loss and confusion. In 2008 the development team rose from the proverbial ashes under the new moniker Platimun Games, with three exciting new titles to premier for publication by Sega. In 2009 we will get to play the sexy action title Bayonetta, from the creator of Devil May Cry. RPG and sci-fi enthusiasts will be able to check out the deep space-opera tactical game Infinite Line (Infinite Space in the US). The most widely anticipated of Platinum’s 2009 flagships, however, is the stylish and gory Wii beat-em-up Madworld.
Madworld made an immediate impression with gamers as a bastion of hardcore-hope on Nintendo’s console. Its black and white presentation, which allows for red blood as the only on-screen color, reminds many journalists of Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and film. Its promise of classic arcade style beat-em-up gameplay is an obvious nod to Clover’s previous unknown, but excellent PS2 game Godhand, while the responsible inclusion of Wii-remote motion functions throws off a vibe strikingly similar to Guichi Suda’s Wii sleeper-hit No More Heroes.
The storyline involves the struggle of a chain saw wielding toughguy named Jack, as he makes his way through a violent and twisted game of survival, similar to the classic Schwarzenegger movie Running Man, or Rockstar’s original Manhunt game. Witty announcers, one of which played by Whose Line is it Anyway comedian Greg Proops, make colorful commentary on your brutal deeds as you butcher the opposition. This prospect allows for a title that will be not only a blast to play, but one that will be filled to the brim with humor. When you pair the solid gameplay with the comically violent world filled with all these classic references, we are left with a surefire hardcore treat in Madworld.
Resident Evil 5
Release Date: March 13th
Consoles (s): XB360, PS3, PC
When Resident Evil 4 made its 2005 debut on the Nintendo Gamecube, it made a real mark in the survival horror genre that can never be undone. The people at Capcom chose to mix up the formula by building a faster moving, and more action oriented Resident Evil. A newly revamped control scheme, complete with an intuitive over-the-shoulder aiming mechanic, opened up the franchise to those previously turned away by the older titles’ sluggish methods (myself included). Finally the fear and horror made a shift away from cheap surprise tactics such as dogs smashing through windows, and began to emphasize claustrophobia and pure survival.
Resident Evil 5 (RE5) looks to capitalize entirely on the success of its predecessor. The excellent control scheme remains largely unchanged, with minor tweaks. 4’s tradition of incredibly impressive graphics is continued anew. The massive hordes of shambling enemies look even more unsettling this time around, and the fan-favorite chainsaw carrying adversaries are confirmed to make a return.
The action in RE5 will take place in Africa. As in 4, players will again have a partner; however this time we will get to work with the gun-toting and capable Sheva, instead of being charged with protecting a defenseless teen dignitary. This inclusion of a constant partner has also allowed Capcom to imbue RE5 with full-on co-op play. In a move surprising for this generation, local multiplayer is even confirmed alongside the requisite online mode. This is a big bonus for those few, like me, who are generally not entertained by the cold and strange realm of online gaming. With its promise of unrivaled technical prowess and constant, edge-of-your-seat action, RE5 looks to be one of the best blockbuster titles of the coming year.
Sands of Destruction (aka. World Destruction)
Release Date: August 12th (Approximate)
Sands of Destrucion (SD), or World Destruction in Japan, is an upcoming DS RPG that I am extremely surprised not to hear more people be excited about. The title is a traditional turn based JPRG that features classic 2D sprites on a 3D map. The battle sequences possess a brightly colored, attractive, and detailed look that is rarely seen in today’s games, save for titles produced by Gust (ie. Ar Tonelico, Atelier Iris, Mana Khemia), and promise to take advantage of both of the system’s screens.
SD is a project truly is blessed with an all-star lineup of developers. The game features staff who have previously done work on the original Xenogears, Grandia, and Etrian Odyssey. The soundtrack is composed by the ingenius Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Trigger fame. Any lover of good JRPGs should stand at attention.
Where SD really distinguishes itself from the vast ocean of other 2D heavy RPGs on the Nintendo’s handheld is with its unique story. This title tells the tale of a world wherein humans live under the thrall of a race of beast people. The main characters take a unique stance in terms of a solution. They see the situation as hopeless, and instead of crusading to win freedom for their kind, the protagonists seek to destroy the world itself to end their species’ suffering. In Japan, World Destruction has met with relative success. The popularity of its world and characters has merited its own manga and 13 episode anime OVA. It is my sincere hope that Sega’s decision to release SD in the US is one that they do not come regret.
Phantasy Star Zero
Release Date: October 13th (Approximate)
Since its Dreamcast debut nine years ago, the online multiplayer focused iterations of Sega’s Phantasy Star franchise have deeply burrowed their way into the hearts of a small group of niche fans. I am one of these dedicated few. The Phantasy Star games provide just a the right mix of the grinding and item collection elements that are so enjoyable in MMORPGS, while providing its own unique flair by adding active combat, a generally more casual feel, and undeniable Japanese style. In 2009, American gamers will get the opportunity to try out handheld versions of this franchise on both the PSP and DS. The PSP title will largely recreate the experience of Phantasy Star Universe (available on the PS2, and XB360 . . . If you want to play with me on the 360 sometime, let me know!) in portable form. Although I am terribly excited for that game, I am even more jazzed for the DS title, Phantasy Star Zero (PS0).
PS0, as is becoming of a DS title, takes a simplified approach. Those who have played the Japanese version have already likened it to the original Dreamcast game. PS0 takes its own approach to the Phantasy Star universe with a decidedly more anime inspired aesthetic. The game provides both online multiplayer play via wi-fi, and its own offline dedicated story.
The DS title will provide all the obvious perks of a new Phantasy Star; new characters to build, hundreds of unique weapons to acquire, and fresh places to explore. The game also possesses a new feature that has long time series fans very excited. Using the DS’s touch screen, players can incorporate drawings directly into their chats with other players. In many ways, this feature is an upgrade of the popular ability to use custom-built symbols while talking in the original Phantasy Star Online. It is a small, but welcome bonus that should add plenty of extra fun to the hours many will spend with this game come the Fall season.
Release Date: TBA
Platform: PS3 (via Playstation Network)
The arrival of Sony’s Fat Princess (FP) caused quite a little stir
. Once all of the silliness wore off, however, those who railed against the title’s possible negative impact did the little downloadable game more good than harm by bringing so much attention to it. FP is a clever game, with a fun premise, and a distinct visual style. It is definitely one of the gaming community’s most anticipated downloadable games for 2009.
FP revolves around two groups of between eight and thirty two medieval warriors, as they compete in a hilariously twisted version of capture the flag. Each team vies to keep a captured princess in their stronghold. They can then feed her delicious treats in an effort to fatten her up. The heavier the princess becomes, the more difficult it is for her to be absconded with, and carried away. Each member of the team can take up a range of job classes such as warrior, archer, wizard, and engineer as they contribute to the mayhem. The action is portrayed in a simple top down fashion, and humorous over-the-top violence is the order of the day.
Sony’s exciting title looks like a real treat for me. It seems to represent all of my favorite characteristics of Valve’s masterful multiplayer title Team Fortress 2. We get balanced, class specific gameplay, infinite replay value, unique visual flair, and an ever-present sense of humor. However, the game also ditches my least favorite characteristics of Valve’s game. FP is not a first person shooter, it takes place in a medieval world, and I never have to upgrade my PC or pay for an Xbox Live Gold account to play it. I dare say that I am not alone in wanting a solid release date from Sony for this unique and fun looking game as soon as possible!
Here is a list of some other games that I am super excited for in 2009 along with their release dates. I would give each and every one of these guys a full write up too if I had the time. I have mentioned a couple of these titles above in relation to other games. Some of them are well-known and some are a tad more obscure. I know if I still have a job in 2009, I’ll be picking each and every one of these guys up. Either way, these are titles that you should definitely keep an eye out for.
- OneChanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (XB360) – February 10th
- Legacy of Ys: Book 1 & 2 (DS) – February 24th
- Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (DS) – March 17th
- Infinite Space (DS) – March 24th
- Phantasy Star Portable (PSP) – March 24th
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. King Abaddon (PS2) – May 5th **Don’t forget to preorder this game from Amazon.com ASAP to ensure you get your plushie of a Jack Frost dressed as Raidou!**
- Splatterhouse (XB360, PS3) – June 16th (Approximate)
- Bayonetta (XB360, PS3) – September 1st (Approximate)