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The Platinum Chalice Awards 2009

Every year we call out the prettiest gamesgarnering the least amount of attention. Muramasa, a gorgeous Wii-only slasher released at the height of ODST’s marketing push, saw reasonably high reviews but has barely pushed 100,000 units in the US (and even less in Japan). With so many higher profile releases in the same season, most with a “2” and a massive budget, it’s not hard to imagine this stunningly animated beauty slipping through the cracks.

If you’re any kind of serious gamer, one who grew up on sturdy platformers or even recent action titles like Devil May Cry, or someone who appreciates visual brilliance, you really do need to spread the word. Games sites and internet polls all show the love, but the best way you express your thanks is to buy the actual game.

Hey, remember that bitch-hard NES game from 1989 about a blob that changed shapes when you fed him jellybeans? No? Guess you won’t be buying its lavishly animated, 20-years-late follow up, will you?

We already acknowledged Punch-Out!!’s stellar comeback earlier in the article. A key part of this successful return was its outstanding, culturally vibrant soundtrack. At most we expected the classic Punch-Out!! theme from the NES version to show up, maybe with some guitars or other added flair. What we got were 15 country-specific remixes of that tune, each laced with ethnic vibes taken straight from their boxer’s homeland. The result was a robust soundtrack that’s both exceptionally diverse and strictly for the fans.

Above: Soda Popinski’s proud Russian march gets you PUMPED

Above: Canada’s Bear Hugger loosens things up with banjos and strings

Developer Next Level Games knew it was on to something with this broad range of music, as it included every single remix as a reward for completing some seriously demanding challenges. The guys there knew we’d want to listen to this piece of work outside of the game. That’s how confident they were they’d done something memorable.

All GTAs are known for their music, so why should this be something we “didn’t expect?” Well, it’s a DS game with significantly less storage space that still produced five excellent radio stations with soulful, quality tunes. The PSP version added even more, making this an OST not to be missed.

As the game industry has matured, so too has its respect for the value of a good vocal performance, and over the years we’ve seen a shift away from characters voiced by monotone amateurs and hoboes paid in sandwiches, and toward bravura performances by competent professionals able to project range and emotion through their voices alone. Even a few big names have gotten in on the act, sometimes even with amazing results.

Above: A few big names

2009 in particular has been a stellar year for the art of voice-acting, with more developers than ever before paying careful attention to how their games sound. What feels like a record number of celebrities piled on this year, bringing us treasure hunters voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper, a barbarian roadie with the voice of Jack Black, Nathan Fillion as a space marine and even a full-on Ghostbusters reunion. Even some of the crappier games, like Eat Lead and Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, featured some surprisingly stellar talent, with the likes of Will Arnett, Jane Lynch and Patrick Warburton wasting their considerable charm on awful products. Of course, that’s not to belittle the efforts of lesser-known workhorse veterans like Nolan North (starring in seemingly every game produced this year) or Claudia Black, who’ve filled out roles more memorably than a lot of their celebrity counterparts.

Rather than recognize a single game or performance, we're going to use this award to highlight some of the contributions these actors have made to making games more immersive. And to celebrate the industry’s newfound dedication to easy-on-the-ears voices, we’ve put together the following clip reel. Watch and enjoy:

And without further dicking around, that brings us to GamesRadar’s game of the year…