My 10 Favorite Gaming Moments of 2009

I'm just about done looking back at 2009 and just about done playing 2009 games. So I'm ready to share my fifth-annual list of my favorite in-game moments from the past year.

These are not the 10 best games of 2009, nor are they ranked in any special order. They are 10 sometimes spoiler-y great, playable moments that stood out among all the games I played last year. Fart-juggling didn't make the list.

...spoilers of 2009 will follow...

Nunchuk As Cleaver (Dead Space Extraction): Running out of air outside your spaceship, with an enemy monster chasing you, you've got problems. Plus, your hand is pinned. No problem. Time for the best use of the Wii Nunchuk of the year as you use it to hack your own hand off.

The Quiet Eiffel Tower (The Saboteur): EA/Pandemic's The Saboteur, which lets you blow up blimps from the ground of Nazi-occupied France and pay a few dollars in the real world to see many of its female characters topless, is not a subtle game. Therefore one assumes that the Eiffel Tower, mostly seen in the background during this adventure, will be the setting for a bombastic finale. It is the setting for the finale, but it is finale of a slow, quiet journey to the tower's top, a journey through several floors of already-dead Nazis set to the melancholy music of one man playing the piano.

Drawing For The Game Boy (Art Style: Pictobits): The DSi's download-only Pictobits remixes Tetris-style gameplay and winds up with something of a puzzle-based painting game. Each block of color you clear becomes part of a pixelated image ripped from or inspired by classic 8-bit Nintendo games. Except one level has you drawing a gray-toned image from the Game Boy instead, which is surprisingly retro even in this retro-obsessed gaming era.

Platforming At Several Thousand Feet (Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time): Platforming games have been making gamers nervous for a couple of decades, challenging them to make leaps of faith above deep pits. But they cheat by making the pits bottomless, artificially creating a sense of leaps among the clouds without putting any ground far below. Ratchet's designers fill that part in with the platforming sequences they set on several extraordinary optional stages located, each, on spherical planets. On the best one, Bernilius Delta, the platforms on which Ratchet needs to leap are set at increasingly distant heights above the planet's surface. As the game camera hangs overhead and the player begins to make Ratchet run and jump around this round world and its rings of platforms, Ratchet gets ever higher. The higher Ratchet goes, the further Bernilius Delta's surface appears in the distance below. You're platforming your way out into space, ever aware of how far that drop will be. The course ends just when you're about to get dizzy from the altitude.

An Unsteady Shootout (Uncharted 2): Early in Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake has to trade bullets with some bad guys while the building they are standing in begins to tilt. Footing is often unstable during Uncharted 2's most exciting moments, be they gun battles on rickety trains or collapsing buildings. The building battle is another of Uncharted 2's moments that make the chaos in other games feel safe and, in retrospect, less exciting.

Conquest In Three Seconds (Half-Minute Hero): Half-Minute Hero seems like it is being ridiculous when it requires the player to complete a standard Japanese role-playing game zero-to-world-saving-hero quest in 30 seconds, even as it eases up and lets that 30 seconds stretch to, say, four minutes. If that's ridiculous, then what's the bonus mode unlocked after completion of the game's adventure? Now you have three seconds to save the world (or at least to find a way to restart the clock again). It's wonderfully absurd and oh so hard to do.

You're Welcome (Demon's Souls): It is an amazing and terrifying moment to be carefully playing through a dungeon of Demon's Souls only to have some other player invade your game and rush you for the kill. Even better and more magical is the experience of getting a surprise re-fill of your health bar as a result of someone, somewhere else on Earth, having found a message you wrote into the game world, having decided that message was helpful and giving it a thumbs up. You indirectly helped someone in a game and now, right when you needed it and had no idea it was coming, you get the "thank you" in the form of a health-bar refill. Amazing.

Another Famous Building Scaled (Assassin's Creed II): It is common to finish playing a game like Crackdown or Assassin's Creed and to suddenly look at the buildings nearby in the real world a little differently. Maybe I could scale that one? Would that gutter work as a handhold? Could I make that leap? For those of us who have been to Florence, Assassin's Creed II sort of inverted that. In the game is the Duomo, a building of unscalable magnificence in the real world that stands, in the game's virtual Florence, as a jungle gym waiting to be summited. Getting to the top, either outside as game hero Ezio on one's own time, or doing it in an even harder way from within, during a mission to find a hidden tomb in its dome, is a terrific realization of an impossible feat.

Bringing Down The Bridge (Red Faction: Guerilla): There is a massive bridge in Red Faction Guerilla, set over a canyon. It must be brought down. Try to do it with a sledgehammer. Or, try shooting key pieces of it, one beam at a time, with a disintegrating ray, until the whole thing collapses. Or, as someone suggested to me, park a lot of cars on it and then blow them up. So many options, all of them amazing. And then, later in the game, there's a bigger bridge.

At Last, Motion Controls (Wii Sports Resort): It was a mistake to think the Wii Remote would work with the nuance of movement that a reasonable person may have initially expected. No, it couldn't really tell the difference between a big arm swing and a quick jolt of the wrist, discern. reliably, a vertical sword swipe from a diagonal one. Bolt on the Wii MotionPlus and try it in Wii Sports Resorts' archery game, however, and all the dreams come true. The Remote, held vertically, is the bow, as sensitive to a tilted aim as you could dare hope it to be. The Nunchuk is the bow string, yanked back for maximum pull, held steady for perfect aim. Release a button on the Nunchuk and the arrow flies. Just right. So subtle. Wii controls worth waiting for.

Those were 10 of my favorite in-game moments from 2009. I'm sure you have some of your own. Do tell.

(See my 2008 picks here, and my 2005-2007 picks here.)