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Which games won me over in 2008?

When a “winter storm event” shuttered businesses and foiled travel plans across the Pacific Northwest, I didn't turn into the Grinch. I just played a lot of games.
The gameplay, the sense of humor and the sense of fun in "LittleBigPlanet" kept me coming back to play it, over and over.
The gameplay, the sense of humor and the sense of fun in "LittleBigPlanet" kept me coming back to play it, over and over. Sony

When a freak snowstorm paralyzed much of the Seattle area over the Christmas holidays, I did not organize my closets. I did not clean out my refrigerator. I did not wash the dog.

I did, however, sink about 25 hours into “Word Twist,” a wickedly addictive Facebook game.

Yes, the “winter storm event” that shuttered businesses and foiled travel plans across the Pacific Northwest turned many people into grouchy Grinches. But for me, the surprise “staycation” was a great time to discover new games — and rediscover others I’d forgotten.

Like many people, I had a pile of games to play at the beginning of 2008: “Overlord,” “Super Mario Galaxy,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.” This trove of good games was almost — dare I say? — too much. I didn’t come up for air until April arrived, and “Grand Theft Auto  IV” hit my desk.

“GTA  IV” stole plenty of my time, but ultimately left me unmoved. Bored, even. This past year has found me largely unimpressed with the big budget games — and totally charmed by quirkier, decidedly independent titles. I adored the puzzle games, the word games, and the games about goo.

Yes, I’m in love with 2D Boy’s quirky “World of Goo.” Our Citizen Gamer columnist, Winda Benedetti, told me about the game months ago — but I was too busy jamming on “Rock Band 2” (more on that later). But when I finally parked myself in front of the PC to give “Goo” a go, I was smitten. And frustrated. Who knew that stacking blobs of goo could be so … freakin’ … hard?

Also deceptively tough was “Professor Layton and the Curious Village,” which I popped into my DS during a plane flight earlier this year. With its storybook-style art and its cutesy title, I figured this game would be a cinch. Three hours later, I was ready to hurl my DS into the plane’s commode.

When I went online to furtively check for cheats, I found that I was not the only gamer bedeviled by “Professor Layton.” Still, before I finally put down my DS,  I’d sunk hours into riddles, brainteasers and puzzles — and I still haven’t licked the game yet.

Around the same time, I got hooked on another game: “Scrabulous.” The Scrabble knock-off took Facebook by storm — and that was the problem. Hasbro, makers of the much-beloved tabletop game didn’t appreciate that two brothers had made an online version without their permission. So in late July, the game was pulled off the social networking site (R.I.P., little buddy).

I was crushed. I had dropped many hours (OK, OK, sometimes at work — so what?) playing online matches with my friends.  It’s how I stayed in touch with my good friend in New York (who pummeled  me repeatedly).  It’s how I learned that “qat” was a word. Hasbro rushed out a “sanctioned” replacement, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t play another game on the social-networking site until “Word Twist.”

I did fall in love with a couple of big-name games this year, though. My first love was “Rock Band 2,” from MTV Games, which stole many hours from me. The spouse and I named our band after a certain comely vice-presidential candidate and we thrashed through everything from the Talking Heads to Joan Jett. We’d probably still be spending our evenings virtually touring New York if not for my greatest love of 2008, “LittleBigPlanet.”

Image: Castle Crashers
It may look cute, but you can wreak serious havok in The Behemoth's side-scrolling Xbox Live Arcade game \"Castle Crashers.\"

I gorged on this gorgeous platformer for about a month, and I keep coming back to sample it. I love the wildly inventive levels other people have created and uploaded (provided Sony hasn’t nuked them due to intellectual property concerns). I also dig the soundtrack — especially the super-catchy “Corn Man” from the Boom Town level. And of course, there’s Sackboy, the adorable playable character that manages to walk that super-fine line between cute and contrived.

Speaking of cute, I also really liked the Xbox Live Arcade game “Castle Crashers.” It looks like a stylized Saturday morning cartoon with plenty of mayhem and melee to satisfy your blood lust. The game sells for 1200 Microsoft points (or $14.99) and is well worth it — especially now that the developers, an outfit called The Behemoth, have patched pervasive online co-op problems with the game. 

All of my game-playing machines saw lots of action in 2008 — except for my Wii. In fact, post “Super Mario Galaxy,” the console sat untouched, until “Wii Fit” arrived — and that didn’t see much play time, either. When I switched it on recently to play “Boom Blox,” I had to wait a good 15 minutes for all the updates to download.

I’m not a “Mario Kart” fan, and I don’t really get what’s fun about Nintendo characters pummeling one another in “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” But I have really been enjoying “Boom Blox,” the Electronic Arts – Steven Spielberg effort for the Wii. In it, you use the Wii remote to blow up, throw and grab blocks on towers and other structures. The single-player portion is purported to have more than 300 levels, and there’s also a built-in level editor for creating your own. I haven’t invested more than a couple of hours into this one, but I am dreaming about falling gems and detonating blocks. Always a good sign.

Which games invaded your waking (and sleeping) hours in 2008? and tell me about your favorite games in 2008. Selected responses may be published in a subsequent story.