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Best downloadable games of 2009: A year without boxes

Downloadable games are one of the fastest-rising trends in console and handheld gaming--here's our list of the most notable 20 this year across all formats.

Flower started a big trend in 2009. Thatgamecompany

In many ways, 2009 seems to be the year download-only games hit their stride. Between the iPhone and iPod Touch dominating the portable market with the ever-growing App Store; the release of the completely disc-free PSP Go; and the Nintendo DSi--which also can download games from an online store--portable gaming has started to move beyond the cartridge and disc. Even in home consoles, there's been a continuing focus on lower-cost downloadable games and DLC sold on Sony's PSN, Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, and the Nintendo Wii's WiiWare as alternatives to pricier disc-based titles.

While download-only games can't be resold, and lack a physical hard copy for display or archive, there's no denying that downloadable games cut down on clutter. Plus, it's likely that box-free gaming will be our destiny in the next decade, so you may not have a choice either way.

From Rockstar's double-fisted set of GTA side games culminating in The Ballad of Gay Tony to Nintendo's ongoing set of experimental artsy games, it's been a great year to go boxless. While some of the games on our list are available in disc or cartridge form, we're focusing on the download versions here.

Check out our gallery of the most notable 20, and feel free to chime in on ones we might have missed.