I'll remember 2008 fondly as the first year that companies truly realized that gamers buy and play games year round, not just during the fourth quarter. Many years ago, finding a new game to play between the end of January and the end of August was a largely futile endeavor. Instead, every week from September through December was packed so full of great games that many gems were inevitably lost in the tidal wave of AAA software. Over the past few years, some games such as Dead Rising and Lost Planet have tested these month's uncharted waters and netted respectable sales due mostly to their bold release date gambles.
Finally, in 2008 game companies decided to give this gaming dead zone a true workout. During this typically barren stretch, in 2008 there was nary a month when there wasn't some highly anticipated title making its presence felt. Games like Burnout Paradise, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Devil May Cry 4, Mario Kart Wii, Grand Theft Auto IV, Ninja Gaiden II, and Metal Gear Solid 4 all kept our consoles from collecting dust during the offseason.
This was also a year that saw downloadable games really coming into their own. Every console got in on the action with excellent titles like World of Goo, Braid, Pixel Junk Monsters, Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Mega Man 9, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, N+, Castle Crashers, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episodes, and so many more. All these titles helped to legitimize downloadable games on consoles. They're more than just bite-sized gaming experiences on the cheap, but rather a constantly updating list of excellent games at your fingertips.
And what is any year without at least one completely bizarre occurrence? For me, the strangest thing that happened this year was the repositioning of the Xbox 360 as a family-friendly console with the implementation of the NXE. By pasting cartoony-looking Avatars everywhere, Microsoft is desperately attempting to reach out to the lucrative casual market that Nintendo recently discovered with the Wii. This seems a tad peculiar coming from the company that has historically been well known for its mature titles, often vulgar online community, and more brain splattering shooters than you can shake a stick at. Good luck Microsoft, hopefully changing your console's stripes mid-generation will pay off without alienating the system's current hardcore fans.
2008 was an amazing year, filled with plenty of amazing games. But above all, 2008 was the year of unexpected trends. There were so many things that happened this year that left us scratching our heads that this has to be the year of the unanticipated.
For instance, the Xbox 360 became a JRPG powerhouse this year. With not one, but two titles from Square-Enix, and the announcement that Final Fantasy XIII was coming to the console, many JRPG fans who have been used to playing these franchises on Sony consoles were left more than a little confused.
Another baffling moment in 2008 came during E3, when Sony proudly unveiled it's new PlayStation 2 bundles, and announced several new titles for the system. Although no one expected Sony to completely abandon the PlayStation 2 console, their continued push for the system two years after the PlayStation 3 debuted left many gamers wondering if the PlayStation 2 would ever die.
Nintendo was not without its strange and unexpected moments either. From Cammy Dunaways's "smile" speech at E3 to the confusing Wii Music non-game, Nintendo definitely takes the cake as the most confusing game company this year. No one really knew what Nintendo was going to do this year, and between catering to their core (or so they would have us believe) and establishing themselves as the leaders in the new casual revolution, it seems they didn't get a lot done for their brand as a whole this year, besides selling more consoles than everyone else…which is even more confusing!
But despite confusing acts from all three major console manufacturers, no one can deny that this year has been a huge year for blockbuster games. From Super Smash Bros. Brawl and GTA IV early on, to largely anticipated sequels like Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Gears of War 2, I don't think any other year has had so many must-own "AAA" titles. This definitely makes 2008 a red letter year for gamers, even if they did come out of it rather perplexed.