A PSN Revival

2009 was an outstanding year for downloadable games on the PlayStation Network. I had finally embraced the permanently-online, home console and had reached the conclusion that online multiplayer wasn't entirely evil, revelations that encouraged me to seek out quality downloadable titles via PSN. Before I knew it I was enjoying new found access to a collection of entertaining and affordable games across my Japanese, UK and US accounts, ensuring that I was never without something to play in a vintage year of gaming.

Shatter is one of my favourite games of this generation, Flower and Battlefield 1943 two of my most memorable, and Trash Panic had my wife and I shedding tears of both frustration and joy. Final Fantasy VII received its first digital re-release and went straight onto my PSP, becoming a summer long distraction for those nightmarish rush-hour journeys on the Tokyo subway. Experienced with a group of friends, Worms allowed me to hone my trash talking skills in preparation for Call of Duty, and Fat Princess and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 kept me entertained, if only briefly. I was a late comer to Noby Noby Boy, but it is another example of the simple charms and innovation that were to be found on PSN in 2009.

The next two years would pale in comparison. If you ignore the older games that came with the sorry-we-fucked-up, welcome back package, then I can count on one hand the number of downloadable games that I really enjoyed in 2010-11, with Pac Man Championship Edition DX and Joe Danger being the only ones of note. Each week I'd dutifully check my three stores and would invariably come away disappointed. However, things started to improve at the tail end of last year and have continued to get better and better. Two thirds of the way through 2012, and we already have a collection of games to rival some the best of 2009.

I started the year off on a high, playing a late 2011 release, PixelJunk Sidescroller. It reminded me of how much I enjoy short-burst, stylish downloadable experiences and whet my appetite for more digital gaming. Journey would follow in March, and for a few wonderful days we all put down our machine guns to consider our existence, death, companionship and how much fun it is to ride a sand dune - also scarves, big fuck-off scarves. Journey recaptured the spirit and grace of Flower, appealing to gamers of all flavours and becoming the fastest selling game in PlayStation Network history.

PixelJunk 4am gave me something to point my wand at and fooled me into thinking that I'm a chilled-beat maestro. Its appeal may be limited – you’ll already know if a virtual audio canvas and visualizer is your thing – but I found it to be a great way to wind down after a bit of Skyrimming. Sound Shapes continues the musical theme, part side scrolling platformer, part musical project, and has become the first download-only, must-play title for the embattled Vita. The tortuous death modes and their infuriating reliance on blind luck does sully the experience somewhat, but otherwise Sound Shapes is an excellent game, boasting some of the most enjoyable user generated content this side of Little Big Planet and bolstered by a campaign that varies in sound and style. Although it lacked the impact of the PS3 classic, Super Stardust Delta worked well on the Vita and this was the year that I finally completed Alex Kidd in Miracle World thanks to a SEGA, digital re-issue with a very generous save system.

A beneficiary of Sony's Pub Fund for smaller developers, Papo and Yo may be a little rough around the edges, but a lack of polish does not prevent it from leaving a lasting impression. It is a very simple adventure-puzzler that benefits from a colourful and fantastical design, behind which lurks the story of a frightened child and an abusive father. The boy’s imaginary world is all colour and sentient toys, but is corrupted by a sad reality that manifests itself as the hulking Monster, and while the narrative succeeds in being thoughtful and moving, it never forgets that it is a game and should be fun. I ran through it a second time almost immediately after reaching the finish, somewhat of a rarity these days with my ever dwindling attention span, and I would highly recommend checking it out.

While it may have been a disastrous roll-out, the PSOne Classics are now on the Vita store. This newly accessible library has already encouraged me to buy a new memory card which, considering the price, I was fully expecting to be jewel encrusted. And it's not just Sony that has me checking available memory, as the 360 has also enjoyed a bumper year for downloadable games. Trials Evolution had me completely hooked for a fortnight earlier in the summer and I've heard nothing but good things about Fez, Spelunky and Dust: An Elysian Tale.

Of the bunch, Papo and Yo would be my pick for PSN game of the year, but with a strong line-up still to follow it may yet be bested. Dyad and Counter Strike: GO have yet to arrive in Europe, Jet Set Radio and Joe Danger 2 are due before the end of the year, and let us not forget the thoroughly unique Tokyo Jungle, with its promise of Pomeranian blood baths and well-dressed Hippos. With all those and more, I once again find myself looking forward to Wednesdays and the PSN update. Along with the continued growth of PS+, PSN looks set to continue its impressive stretch; giving 2009 a run for its money, it is providing a rare bright spot for a company that is in desperate need of one.

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  1. While it has been a kind of lackluster year for retail releases for me, I think it has been a good one for downloadable games. I still need to get a few you mentioned here. I have enjoyed Shank 2, Sound Shapes and a few other PSN games. My favorites might be on XBLA with Dust: An Elysian Tail and Mark of the Ninja which I just started.

  2. Just got the Sound Shapes platinum. Those death mode levels were really frustrating, but worth it for the double plat (Vita and PS3)!

    Seems to be a lot of good games on XBLA at the moment.


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