Downloadable Games of 2009 (photos)

2009 just might have been the year that turned the corner on games going disc and cartridge free. Here are the most notable ones on all platforms.

Scott Stein
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Scott Stein
1 of 20 DICE/EA

Battlefield 1943

DICE decided to revamp its popular Battlefield game in a pared-down download-only version, paving the way for future FPS games to explore smaller-scale multiplayer releases.

(Platforms: PS3/PSN, Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade)
2 of 20 Popcap Games

Bejeweled 2 / Bejeweled Blitz

While Bejeweled 2 has been around on the iPhone since 2008, it's the recent free update that includes Bejeweled Blitz--the incredibly addictive one-minute minigame that connects to Facebook--that turns PopCap's masterpiece into a diabolical time-eater.

(Platforms: iPhone/iPod Touch, PC/Mac)
3 of 20 Aksys Games


The first of a three-part Atari 2600-inspired series of brand new retro-games for Nintendo's WiiWare, Bit.Trip.Beat combines classic Pong paddle controls with a music rhythm game, adding truly excellent chiptunes. It's a reinvention of old-school arcade gaming.

(Platform: Nintendo WiiWare)
4 of 20 Nintendo

Art Style: Digidrive

One of Nintendo's smartest moves on its downloadable DSiWare service was to release a series of Art Style games based on hard-to-find Japanese GBA titles. Digidrive, originally made by Q Games, is a beautifully simple abstract puzzler, as are all the other titles in the Art Style series.

(Platform: Nintendo DSiWare)
5 of 20 Nintendo


Originally released as a limited-edition cartridge for the Nintendo DS, the Toshiro Iwaii-designed series of biological/musical toys that comprise Electroplankton are digital art, now available on DSiWare for about $2 each. This is a side of Nintendo we'd like to see more of.

(Platform: Nintendo DSiWare)
6 of 20 Rockstar Games

Lost and Damned/Ballad of Gay Tony

Although both Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony are technically DLC add-ons to Grand Theft Auto IV, they are game-changers for the future of downloadables. For about $20 each, both fully realized spinoff games set in Liberty City were nearly as good as the original GTA IV.

(Platform: Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade)
7 of 20 Thatgamecompany


Jenova Chen's Thatgamecompany was one of the major pioneers in turning low-cost downloadable games into the equivalent of art-house movies. Simple and emotional, Flower became as celebrated as many disc-based games when it was released in early 2009.

(Platform: PS3/PSN)
8 of 20 Capcom

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Back in the days of the Dreamcast, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a shining star of mashup fighting games. Wolverine, Mega Man, and dozens of other fighters were previously available only to eBay hunters, but Capcom's decision to release the rarity as a console downloadable is a promising move for the future of rare retro titles.

(Platforms: Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade, PS3/PSN)
9 of 20 SCEA

Patapon 2

Before the PSPGo lost its UMD drive, Sony had already been experimenting with disc-free gaming. Patapon 2, a sequel to the unique rhythm/strategy game for the PSP, was released as a download-only title. Premium games without boxes are now standard for Sony, although we hope the prices will be lowered accordingly in the future.

(Platform: PSP)
10 of 20 Popcap Games


Originally a PC hit, the pinball-meets-pachinko addictiveness of Peggle spread to XBLA, PSN and the iPhone this year. While the XBLA/PSN versions have superior graphics, the iPhone edition can't be beat for price or portability.

(Platforms: Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade, PS3/PSN, iPhone/iPod Touch)
11 of 20 Q Games

Pixeljunk Monsters Deluxe

The PSP's online PSN library of downloadable games has gotten some flack for being too expensive, but hopefully more titles will find the small, cheaper groove like Pixeljunk Monsters. An adaptation of the PS3 tower defense game, it's one of the best downloadable PSP titles available.

(Platform: PSP)
12 of 20 Q Games

Pixeljunk Shooter

Sony's PSN service is ideal for weird, experimental indie games, and there's no better example of this than Q Games' colorful, clever variation on classic 2D arcade shooters.

(Platform: PS3/PSN)
13 of 20 Popcap Games

Plants vs Zombies

Playable on nearly every computer imaginable (even Netbooks), PopCap's deceptively simple spin on tower defense gaming also is the first game we can think of that pits flora against the undead.

(Platform: PC, Mac)
14 of 20 Firemint

Real Racing

To everyone's big surprise, the iPhone is a pretty great racing platform even without physical buttons. Firemint's homage to Gran Turismo has great car models and tracks, smooth graphics, and surprisingly tight controls, and proves the iPhone can be a serious game machine.

(Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch)
15 of 20 Ngmoco

Rolando 2

While a number of competitors have risen to challenge for the title, Ngmoco's Rolando game series might be one of the platformers available on the iPhone. This year's sequel has more 3D effects but the same puzzling play.

(Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch)
16 of 20 Epic Games

Shadow Complex

When Epic Games, makers of Gears of War, decided to announce a download-only Xbox Live Arcade game as a headline title at this year's E3, we sat up and paid attention. A tribute to Metroid, Contra and 2D games of the past, Shadow Complex would be worth a full-priced disc release--thankfully, it's a much more affordable XBLA download instead.

(Platform: Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade)
17 of 20 RedLynx/Microsoft

Trials HD

Call this one of 2009's biggest surprises. Microsoft sent us a download code for this accidentally instead of Shadow Complex, and we discovered a gritty, insane reimagining of ExciteBike. Simple controls and incredible physics show off how casual games can also be hardcore.

(Platforms: Xbox 360/Xbox Live Arcade, PC)
18 of 20 Frozenbyte


First released as a PC game, Trine found its way to the PS3's PlayStation Store. A 2D game with 3D graphics in the style of Shadow Complex for the Xbox 360, Trine's swappable characters add strategic elements while magical environments make for great eye candy.

(Platforms: PC, PS3/PSN)
19 of 20 Nintendo

You, Me and the Cubes

Believe it or not, Nintendo does take risks: it just does it with its downloadable games. One of several innovative WiiWare games this year, the Japan-import You, Me and the Cubes is nearly indescribable: part balance game, part Boom Blox-esque aim-and-toss, its sound and visual design is odd and completely compelling.

(Platform: Nintendo WiiWare)
20 of 20 Square Enix

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Part of the joy of the iTunes App Store's ridiculously large collection of low-cost games is the likelihood of discovering a rare import. Square Enix and Taito released a Japan-only cellphone game reinvention of Space Invaders, added a mode that generates new levels based on music tracks on your iPod Touch or iPhone, and ended up with one of the best handheld shooters of the year.

(Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch)

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