2009's best under-the-radar games

16 amazing titles you may have missed - or just ignored

Metacritic score: 85

Looks aren't everything, but in Machinarium, they count for a lot. An old-school point-and-click adventure at heart, Machinarium features some of the most stunning, hand-drawn visuals around. The incredible aesthetics make some of the more annoying aspects -- namely the fairly steep level of difficulty -- much more tolerable. It's beautiful, understated, and one of the best point-and-click adventures to come around in years.


Metacritic score:77

World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG field for over five years, but the problem is, it looks like a five-year old game. Enter Aion. This fantasy role-playing experience doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it refines the gameplay mechanics of the genre, making them much more streamlined, with plenty of Player vs Player action and a good deal of variety. And it sure does look pretty. Just be prepared to do a lot of grinding, because – as a Korean-developed MMO – Aion requires quite a bit of it to progress.

DJ Hero

Metacritic score: 86

We all laughed when Activision announced a DJ-based rhythm game. After all, this was a company that had continually released new Guitar Hero games until the market became oversaturated, and now they were trying to sell us another plastic peripheral? But then something unexpected happened: DJ Hero was good. Great, in fact. A terrific track listing combined with some satisfying, turntable-based gameplay created a truly fresh rhythm game, something that's becoming increasingly rare. Now we wait for the inevitable flood of sequels (assuming someone eventually buys a copy, that is).

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Metacritic score:93

True, Chinatown Wars didn’t exactly fly under a lot of people’s radars, but because few of you bought it, we’re throwing it in for your (re-)consideration. GTA may be one of the biggest gaming brands on the planet, but a large part of its appeal is in the massive cities you're given to explore. How exactly does that translate to the relatively underpowered Nintendo DS? As it turns out, very well. Despite its goofy name, Chinatown Wars was able to do everything that its console counterparts could do, only on a smaller scale. Throw in some cool touch-screen minigames (which sadly aren’t as fun on the PSP version), and you have one of the best games to be released on the platform – not that that convinced anyone to buy it.


Metacritic score:80

Yet another indie game we never saw coming, Trine is an action-platformer that makes up for a lack of variety with some great combat and puzzles. Featuring three playable characters that you can switch between at any time, the game enables you to choose how best to progress. Use the wizard's magic to create platforms to jump on, use the knight to bash through enemies or simply use the thief's grappling hook to swing across chasms. It's completely up to you.

Rock Band Unplugged

Metacritic score:79

The appeal of Rock Band comes mainly from two things: the ability to play with friends and to feel like you're really rocking out, even though you're actually holding an expensive piece of plastic. Take those aspects away, and what are you left with? Rock Band Unplugged. Somehow Harmonix was able to strip away some of the most important aspects of the Rock Band games and still create something that was not only playable, but fun. It may not be perfect, but it's the best rhythm experience you can find outside of a console.

The Maw

Metacritic score:75

While a lengthy adventure is all well and good, sometimes you just want something short and sweet. Like The Maw, for instance. This downloadable gem is a fairly standard action-adventure game, but with a twist: you're partnered with an indestructible, continually growing eating machine that absorbs the traits of everything it consumes, a la Kirby. The game is absolutely packed with personality, with a colorful, vibrant world to explore and plenty of goofy characters to meet. It was also the debut game for developer Twisted Pixel, who quickly followed it up with the excellent 'Splosion Man and the upcoming Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, which are similarly fun, fresh, and succinct.

Excitebots: Trick Racing

Metacritic score:77

Above: It’s almost impossible to read that in a non-sarcastic voice

Though the early Wii racer Excite Truck was somewhat bland, its follow-up was nothing of the sort. In fact, Excitebots is downright crazy. Anthropomorphic, transforming cars? Check. A bizarre Poker Race mode? Check. Minigames that range from bowling to dart-throwing? Check. This game has it all. But beneath its eccentric exterior, Excitebots is an absolute blast to play, and that’s what really matters.

Nov 27, 2009

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