2011 was a curious year for gaming. Looking at my list of favorites from this year only two are original IPs, and only one of those two stands entirely on its own. As was the case with the cinematic world the year was defined by sequels, spin-offs, and remakes. Unlike the movie world, however, I was actually stoked to see so many familiar faces.
And so, without any further ado, here are my favorite 11 games of 2011:
11. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
This game is on this list for two very specific reasons: 1. First big console Kirby game in years. 2. Multiplayer.
Kirby hasn’t had a proper new game since the spectacular Kirby 64. Despite being one of the most popular in Nintendo’s stable of superstars Kirby hasn’t had much luck as a the star of his own titles in recent years, save for his hit or miss handheld escapades. That all changed this year with both Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the back to basics Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, the latter being one of my favorites of the year.
This is by no means a difficult game, nor is it particularly deep or groundbreaking. The tried and true Kirby gameplay is here: You sidescroll, you eat enemies, and you steal their powers. Simple. Fun. But now you can play with up to four players and let me tell you, while this is no New Super Mario Bros. Wii this is still a damn fun multi-player experience that you’ll be happy to bring over to your friends house.
10. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
The Final Fantasy franchise, and Square Enix in general, hasn’t made me happy in…….a while. It’s no surprise, then, that the big anniversary title that showcases all of the older entries in the series would win me over. Seeing favorites like Kain, Terra, and Tifa beating the crap out of not-so-favorites like Lightning is incredibly satisfying and gives disgruntled Final Fantasy fanboys like me a rare opportunity to vent their frustrations. With characters from all 13 main entries in the series, and Square Enix actually put in the effort to make each one of them unique. The music that plays during battles is determined by who is fighting. Each character’s ultimate attack handles differently and is based on their own unique skills from their respective titles.They didn’t just copy and paste a bunch of characters in and call it a day; this is a true nostalgia fanboy wank fest and thankfully there is a very solid fighting game to go along with it all.
What’s more this game is jam packed with content. In fact the entire first game (this being a prequel/sequel) is unlockable! Combined with all the unlockable costumes, skins, music, stages, gear and more this is a must have! And thankfully the game is legit fun.
Plus, it’s nice to put the paperweight that is my PSP to use every now and again. I think it gets jealous of all the play my DS gets.
9. Dead Rising 2: Off The Record
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Dead Rising 2. I love it something fierce. There’s something about a game that lets you combine a moose head with chainsaws and a motorcycle and ride through a veritable sea of zombies in Las Vegas that I just can’t help but be enchanted by. And I LOVE Chuck, the incredibly sexy main character of Dead Rising 2.
Capcom took the already incredible game, made it more incredible with a ton of new content, and brought back the one, the only, Frank motherfucking West. Frank West is such a damn likable protagonist, and for me it was his job as a photographer that truly hooked me into the original Dead Rising. ‘This is like Pokemon Snap…but with Zombies!’ I thought. Dead Rising 2 was regrettably lacking in photography, but now it isn’t! The cherry on the top of this cake is that uber-DILF Chuck is right along side Mr. West for the whole ride. And both you can dress up in next to nothing.
It’s win/win for everybody. Except the zombies. Sucks for them.
8. Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
When Capcom announced Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 a couple of years ago fanboys ‘round the world rejoiced. One of the most beloved fighters of all time was finally getting a sequel. And that sequel was….well. Don’t get me wrong, MVC3 is an awesome game but when you compare it to the Ultimate edition that came out just this last November you can’t help but go, ‘Why the hell didn’t you release this game the first time around!?’
Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is what the first iteration of the game should have been. Capcom is notorious for re-releasing their fighters with a few scant upgrades and charging full price but this time around the game was discounted and the new content is actually quite the bargain when you consider how much it would’ve cost as separate DLC downloads. Granted, if you already bought MVC3 the first time around…well…sorry. #kanyeshrug.
The characters have been balanced, with some playing much more akin to their comicbook or video game roots than before. For example, Magneto has never been an in-your-face character but in MVC3 that is how most people played him. The way he’s been balanced now, it pays to play him more like his original comic book self: cold and calculated from afar. New characters like Rocket Racoon, Dr. Strange, and Phoenix Wright are all welcome additions to the already impressive roster. The only thing missing isJubileeMegaman, but thanks to DLC costumes even he’s around.
The Capcom Vs. franchise has always been about pleasing the fans, and this title does just that. I mean, where else can you see Deadpool fight a Servbot?
Everyone now and then an indie game is released that reminds people that you don’t need a big budget to make a great game. Bastion is the perfect example. Bastion is a downloadable game for Xbox Live and PCs, and is easily one of the best games of the year. It’s an action RPG with an attractive anime-esque art style and some of the best music I’ve heard all year. There’s a lot of heart in this little guy, much more so than you can find in most blockbuster titles. You can tell the developers really cared about the game they were developing.
The game centers around The Kid, who spends his time exploring the fragmented city of Caeldonia and the world surrounding it. By battling enemies and finding new weapons and fragments you begin to develop new skills, and find new areas to explore. This is a true RPG down to its core; none of the flashy J-Pop inspired watered down nonsense that has plagued the genre for years now. Simple easy to learn gameplay with a balance learning curve and loads to explore and do to keep you busy. Aesthetically the game is gorgeous, with one of the most appealing art directions I’ve seen all year. And it’s all done in 2D, no less. It looks like you’re playing a cartoon. But the most exciting thing about the game is the dynamic narration feature, which sees the wise old narrator commenting not only on scripted in-game events but also on what each individual player is specifically doing as well as their style of play.
And how could you not love a game where alcohol gives you new abilities?
6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A first person-shooter published by Square Enix is one of my favorite games of the year? Am I on crack or something? No, no crack, just an incredibly well done game that marries the FPS with the RPG, with bits of MGS-style stealth sprinkled on top. I’m not a big fan of FPS games, but Deus Ex manages to be enough of an RPG to keep me engaged and thankfully rewards stealth based gameplay as much as it does run n’ gun. You spend equal amounts of time exploring cities, talking to civilians and doing detective work, as you do running into warehouses to blow shit up. So if you’re like me and you really like to get hooked into the world, you’re in good hands as Eidos and Square Enix have crafted a fully realized one that you’ll want to see more of.
The story is a fascinating look at the not-so-far-off future, where technologically enhanced humans are commonplace. The sci-fi action/adventure…er, adventures of main character Adam Jensen are fun enough on their own but are enhancedhohoby the socio-political conflicts that serve as context for the all the headshots you’ll be trying to get. The civil unrest between natural humans and augmented ones brings up questions about stem cell research and physical ability discrimation. The control of corporations over government and the public rings all too true when thinking about the Occupy Movement. This is speculative fiction at its best, folks.
And Adam is really hot.
Though loosely related to the Persona series, Catherine is the new original IP from developer Atlus and their first foray into HD gaming. It’s also one of the most rage-quit inducing games I have ever played in my life. The bulk of the gameplay involves climbing through levels comprised of cubes. Cubes come in all varieties and you move them around to form stairs that you can climb as the floor begins to fall beneath you. It sounds simple enough, but then you get yourself stuck. And then you try to get unstuck. And then you die. This is me the entire game:
But as close as I get to throwing my controller at my tv every time I play, I manage to maintain a sadomasochistic relationship with Catherine. Which is actually quite appropriate given the game’s themes. You play as Vincent, an aimless 32 year old struggling with growing up, commitment issues, and infidelity. Of course, all of this is manifested through his nightmares, where you climb a giant BDSM-themed Cathedral-tower while being chased by demonic babies, scorned brides, and…butt-monster…things. And of course you do all of this in your underwear with a bunch of sheep.
Throughout the game you’re faced with dialogue decisions and burning moral questions that not only influence the direction of the story, but also really get you thinking. When the game bluntly asks you if you’re a pervert…well, it gets a little uncomfortable. But hey, it wouldn’t be an Atlus game if it didn’t make you uncomfortable. Will you fall for Catherine’s sultry, and psychotic, advances or will you remain faithful to Kathrine with a K, your loving girlfriend? When not climbing for your life or witnessing Vincent’s interpersonal drama unfold courtesy of anime cutscenes by Studio 4*C, you spend your time in a bar, drinking, looking at risque photos in the bathroom, getting random drink trivia, and chatting up the locals. The game is half macabre, half hentai, half three halves wait wutanime-RPG, and all weird.
Just the way I like it.
4. Pokemon Black and White
Another year another Pokemon game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the biggest Poke-freaks around but even I can admit that the series’ strength is also one of its biggest weaknesses: the working formula goes largely unchanged. This is true of most Nintendo games, but it is especially noticeable in Pokemon. One might argue if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and that seems to be the stance Satoshi Tajiri and friends have taken regarding the Pocket Monster franchise. But with the newest entries Black and White Nintendo has managed to breathe new life into a franchise that was in desperate need of it.
The core gameplay remains unchanged; you choose a starting pokemon, work your way from town to town capturing pokemon and earning gym badges, defeat some evil team along the way, and take on the Pokemon League. Rinse and repeat. Black and White, however, takes everything that you do in the game and moves it a step further. Pokemon has finally joined the world of 3D gaming with this release, combining its signature 2D sprites with dynamic camera angles and 3D models. The battle system’s upgrades continue to be largely technical and unseen, but any Pokemon trainer worth their salt knows the complicated mechanics that the developers continue to expand. The plot of the games have always been rather bare bones, but this time around there’s a little extra meat to pick at, and the characters and setting have been aged ever so slightly to provide for more drama. There are even cutscenes! Last but not least, Nintendo has made the online connectivity for the game the best it’s ever been, that is to say they’ve actually included it. The Pokemon franchise is all about trading and making friends, and now you can finally do that online. But it’s more than just trades; you can set up battles, chat, share trainer info, and even play simultaneously. Congrats Pokemon, welcome to the 21st century!
Even with all of these things the most exciting thing about Pokemon Black and White are the Pokemon themselves. While every generation has introduced new Pokemon, it always seems to be the case that the further away you get from the original 150 the less likely people are to care. There are exceptions, of course, but does anyone really care about catching a Wismur or a Pupitar? This time around every new Pokemon is exciting and unique; there are very few ‘filler’ pokemon introduced this time around, and there’s bound to be one for everyone to love. Like my new fave Scraggy:
The genius move in this game was that the 500-some Pokemon from previous generations are inaccessible until after the main storyline and a few quests have been beaten, forcing players to actually use the new characters and not just ignore them in favor of the classics.
Speaking of classics:
3. Sonic Generations
Holy shit. I haven’t enjoyed a Sonic game since Sonic Heroes on the Gamecube, and even that was more of a pity-like than anything else. If we really want to talk about the last time I enjoyed a Sonic game, we’d have to go all the way back to Sonic Adventure 2 on the DreamcastRIP. The Sonic Advance titles were amazing etc. but were sadly lost under piles and piles of awful, awful, awful games. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Sonic cycle, but if you’re not:
Thankfully, in honor of Sonic’s 20th Birthday Sega and Sonic Team actually tried and ended up delivering a game that not only breaks the cycle but manages to remind us why the cycle exists in the first place: Sonic used to be awesome, and we all want desperately for him to be awesome again. And now he is! It only took them almost a decade.
In Sonic Generations you can play as both Classic Sonic, that is 2D sidescrolling ala the original Sega Genesis games, or as Modern Sonic, a mix of 2D and full 3D gameplay that the series adopted with Sonic Adventure. Both gameplay styles are equally enjoyable, forgoing gimmicks, side characters, and unnecessary plot for fast and furious platforming. Each zone, all reimagined levels from each mostlyof the main games in the series, is played as both Classic and Modern Sonic and each has a collection of bonus challenges for both, upping the game’s replay value substantially. This is what every Sonic game should play like. Graphically the game is a stunner, with an impressive depth of field and colorful worlds that really pop. Being the audiophile that I am I’m quite impressed with the soundtrack as well; all the classics, including my fave ‘City Escape’, are here in both classic and remixed versions.
But it’s the little details that really make this game shine. Whether it’s the way the music fades behind the sound effects when you boost, how Classic Sonic expresses himself through jumps and gestures rather than dialogue, the sparse but effective use ofthe flawless Amy Roseof Sonic’s friends, or seeing Modern Sonic scarf down a chilli dog: this is a game for all us Sonic fans who thought we’d never play a good Hedgehog game ever again.
2. Batman: Arkham City
Batman Arkham Asylum was one of the best games in 2009, and the first truly worthwhile superhero video game to be made in years, so it comes as no surprise that its sequel is one of the best of 2011. Superheroes and games have a…shaky…relationship, at best but the Arkham franchise has proven that just because you’re dealing with a licensed property that doesn’t mean you can’t have a top notch game. The original title was gorgeous to look at and played like a dream, with smooth intuitive controls that complimented the challenging yet balanced gameplay. The sequel follows suit, adding yet more polish to what was already a sterling title.
The plot is wonderful, pulling together all the things people love about Batman and rolling them up into one spectacular product. All the expected Bat-faces are here, and there are even a few surprises from the rest of the DCU that manage to pop their heads in. The developers have taken the original game, which took place entirely within the walls of Arkham Asylum, and let it spread its legs a bit; we know explore a wide-open Arkham City, pretty much doing what we want when we want. It’s not quite Grand-Theft-Batmobile but that’s not an entirely inaccurate description either. Toss in playable Catwoman (with prerequisite gravity-defying cleaveg), Nightwing, and Robin and you’ve got one incredible game. As a bonus hardcore Batman fans will get a kick out of the DLC costumes which include everything from Batman Beyond, Batman the Animated Series, The Dark Knight Returns, and much more.
Oh and Harley Quinn continues to be flawfree and better than your faves in this game. Even if she is dressed like a Hot Topic hooker.
And now for my favorite game of 2011:
1. Mass Effect 2
I don’t know that there are words to properly express my feelings about Mass Effect 2. I could say that it takes the original game, one of my all time favorites, and improves upon it in almost every single aspect. I could talk about the mind-blowing graphics or the phenomenal score. Or perhaps the in-depth character creation. I could say that it’s one of the few shooting-centric games that I actually care for, which is saying a lot. I could even talk about how the game takes digital storytelling to new heights with outstanding dialogue, a living, breathing, fully-realizedworlduniverse to explore, and an engaging and intelligent plot that a casual player can sink their teeth into and a sci-fi nut like me can devour. I could talk about the controversial in-game sex which is always a big plus in my book. I could talk about Garrus Vakarian in ways that would make you uncomfortable. But as I said words do not do this game justice.
.gifs will have to suffice:
The only thing Mass Effect 2 is lacking is the same thing the first game was lacking:Garrus, Kaidan, ManShepard threewaybuttsecksProper same-sex romance possibilities. While in both games a female Shep can can romance the female-looking but technically genderless Asari, there aren’t any female-female encounters beyond that. And although hackers have found unused code and recorded dialogue for it, man on man action in the Mass Effect universe is all pretty much nonexistant up to this point. Thankfully Bioware has heard their gay and gay-friendly fans and have confirmed that Mass Effect 3, due March 2012, will have for real-real same-sex romance options for both genders.
So there you go, what were your faves this year?