Expectations can be cruel. Sometimes you expect greatness and are disappointed, and sometimes you expect nothing and are pleasantly surprised. This list covers the latter instead of the former. We looked through all of the Xbox 360 games that came out this year and focused on the titles we either had low or no expectations for that came out and rocked our world. These are the best off the radar, underappreciated, low profile games that we didn't expect much of that turned out awesome.
Arkham Asylum sort of came out of nowhere from a small dev, but the results were absolutely fantastic. Great visuals, tons of unique gadgets, a good story, solid combat – it had it all. It was great game in a sea of so-so superhero games and finally gave Batman the videogame adaptation he deserves. The lack of pre-release overhype was probably a good thing for AA since it didn’t cause any post-release letdown. You just played it, and loved it, and it was all good.
2. DJ Hero
DJ Hero had a lot of things working against it. A high price tag, a massive oversaturation of the “Hero” market, a music and gameplay style that scares people away because they don’t know any better – but it actually turned out really, really good. It is fun, and the music (even if you aren’t a hip hop fan) is amazing. It hasn’t sold well so far, unfortunately, but maybe after a price drop more people will pick it up. Truly one of the best surprises of ’09.
One of the best cult hit-type games on the Xbox 360 is Pinball Hall of Fame. It is a game that people are going to skip over for what ever reason (not pretty box art, not a big name title, it’s a pinball game, etc.), but for those that do pick it up you’ll find an incredibly addictive and satisfying and incredibly fun game that you would have never thought possible. Yeah, it is “just” pinball, but it is amazingly fun! It is one of the coolest games we played all year.
4. 1 vs. 100 LiveI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the absolute best things going on Xbox Live is 1 vs. 100. Between super slick presentation, a great host in Chris Cashman, solid trivia, and real prizes, this is an appealing game. Did I mention you can win prizes? XBLA games and MS Points are a pretty good incentive for tuning in to the live shows if you ask me. 1 vs. 100 is fun and a success beyond anything people could have predicted when it was announced at E3 2008.
5. Mini Ninjas
Another great game that people aren’t going to really give a chance but really should is Mini Ninjas. The demo wasn’t stellar, I’ll admit, and the simple, cute box art gives a bad first impression to the typical Xbox 360 owner, but the game underneath is incredibly good. It is unique and fun and funny and the graphics are distinctive and well done. It is just a good game that is one of the underrated and under appreciated games of ’09.
Street Fighter on a “Best Surprises” list? Yeah, sad to say that new Street Fighter games haven’t really been hot stuff for quite a while now (though we did really like SFIII, but that was years and years ago), so expectations weren’t super high for Capcom to actually come through. Thankfully, they did pull it off and Street Fighter IV is one of the best fighters to come out in a long time.
The best value of the year on the Xbox 360 is easily Raiden Fighters Aces. For $20 you get three full shoot-em-up games, each with a ton of options to make the game as easy or hard as you want. This is a great playing, fully featured, U.S. release title in a genre where you have generally had to import stuff from Japan to play it. At $20, Raiden Fighters Aces is a steal.
The last few X-Men movie games have been awful (heck, most of the Marvel movie games have been awful), so it was a nice surprise when X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be pretty good. They finally took the kid gloves off and let Wolverine really put his claws to use, and the result was a bloody, gory, satisfying God of War knock off starring our favorite mutant.
It was reasonable to have low expectations for Ghostbusters. It is a beloved movie license with a new story instead of remaking the old good stuff, and Atari was the publisher. Sorry Atari, but you have a poor track record. It turned out, though, to be really good. The original cast returned, the story was awesome, the presentation was spot on, and the gameplay was fun. It was a movie game made with love and care in mind instead of dollar signs and it really showed in the final product.
I had never played a Star Ocean game before The Last Hope, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was one of the better RPGs to be released in the last few years. Some folks can’t get past the generic characters (how many blogs have you seen making fun of “Edge Maverick” … lots), but the presentation is awesome and the gameplay is really, really good. I loved every second of it.