Company: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: 11/28/2007
From stopping lemmings from jumping off a cliff to jumping barrels to reach a killer monkey, gaming has a long history of addictive games that could correctly be called “silly.” While some of the most essential downloadable games have challenged both the heart and the mind, "Pain" is definitely not one of them. No, this clever title falls into the so-ridiculous-it’s-fun category as the player literally hurls human beings into the sky with a giant slingshot – crashing, banging, falling, and bouncing around an arcade landscape. Finding new ways to hurt your character and destroy the skyline at the same time became one of the first PS3 addictions, and Sony smartly used the title (sometimes even bundled in with PS3 systems) as an introduction to its new million dollar industry in the costly world that terrifies every parent – add-ons in the form of new characters, new modes, and new levels. If you’re one of the people who spent $0.99 just so you could throw an animated Andy Dick around an amusement park, you know how essential "Pain" is for everything PS3.
Company: Hothead Games, Inc.
Release Date: 11/11/2009
Arguably the most breakthrough title in the history of downloadable games, "Braid" made a number of top ten lists and won awards alongside more high-profile titles on every platform for which it was released. This ingenious time-twister proves that genre is only as limiting as the developer’s imagination. The puzzle genre has never been big on storytelling, but Hothead Games proved that the structure could be used in a new way. "Braid" is the story of a character that can reverse time and must do so to proceed from level to level. The concept of time reversal to correct past errors adds emotional and even philosophical depth where such things are usually never even a consideration. "Braid" became legendary in some circles and, to be fair, it was first released on every platform but the PS3, but just being late to the party doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games currently on the PSN. Heck, "Braid" should be considered for any list of the best games of the last few years, with or without a disc and an instruction booklet.
"MADDEN NFL ARCADE"
Company: Electronic Arts Inc.
Release Date: 11/23/2009
Most gamers with even a passing interest in sports games know the "Madden NFL" brand. We may even be close to the point where a generation of gamers will think that John Madden was a video game developer and have no concept of his actual football history. And, while nothing downloadable could ever fully replace the depth of the on-disc experience of our annual Madden addiction, this arcade version is one of the best sports games of the last few years for the casual player. The deep customization and attention to detail in most modern sports games have drained them of that pick-up-and-play aspect that we used to love about games like "Tecmo Bowl" and "RBI Baseball." "Madden NFL Arcade" keeps it simple, stripping the game down to its basics and matching fans up online. If you only have 10 minutes and you want a quick game with limited playbooks and even a few special powers, you can’t do better than this option.
Company: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: 2/11/2009
"Flower" shows gamers the true potential depth of downloadable games by introducing them to a gaming style that is like no other. In a world dominated by shooters and increasingly-violent titles, "Flower" is all about peace. And it proves that downloadable games don’t have to just be arcade replications or small versions of what players are accustomed to in their store-bought games. They can be something completely new. "Flower" is a lyrical, poetic experience in which the gamer enters the “mind” of a plant in gray world with little light or nature. What would a flower dream about? Using the SIXAXIS controller to control a swaying group of flower petals around a gorgeous landscape, the world literally comes to life. Swirling wind, beautifully detailed blades of grass, a gorgeous score, "Flower" becomes nearly a zen-like experience, completely defying the typical action-centric expectations of the modern gaming world.
Company: Zen Studios
Release Date: 12/13/2010
Developed by the same team that made the almost-as-essential "Zen Pinball", this comic-centric game perfectly blends the nostalgic experience of pinball and the golden age of comic books. The game comes with tables inspired by Spider-Man, Iron Man, Blade, and Wolverine, while tables based on The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Hulk, and a pack called "Vengeance and Virtue" (featuring four tables with Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Thor, and X-Men) have all been released as add-on content. Every single table has value as they’ve all been designed expertly for both the casual players and the pinball nuts who are willing to tilt over and over again just to get every possible point. It’s as addictive as any game released in the last several years.
Release Date: 7/18/2011
Like "Braid," "Limbo" may not have started life as a PSN title, but it’s available there now and is quite simply one of the most beautiful games ever made. Playdead proves that graphics need not be overly complicated to be gorgeous. "Limbo" is a tale told in black-and-white with a shadowy young boy trapped in a dangerous world that’s seen almost entirely in shadows. It’s a typical 2D platforming game, however, unlike most 2D adventures, it hits players with imagery that will haunt them like a barely-remembered nightmare. It’s a little lighter on story than "Braid," but it’s similar in the sense that it challenges what people should expect from a downloadable platformer, finding emotional chords in places that so many other developers refuse to even look.