As we all know, 2011 was a bumper year for games. Many long-standing franchises saw new entries this year and even a few new ones popped up. We'll be talking about the games that were released this year for a long time. I thought I'd just say which my personal favourites were.
Before I begin, bear in mind I don't own a PS3 or Wii so titles like Uncharted or Skyward Sword won't be making an appearance. Also we also have to factor in that about a billion games were released in the past 12 months and I'm a poor 3rd year student at uni. Both time and money have restricted my purchases so games I would have bought like Super Mario 3D Land have sadly not come into my possession.
Without further ado:
10: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Perhaps the best way to describe this game is 'Metroid if you stayed in the spaceship the whole time'. ITSP is a 2D space adventure, which sees your ship exploring a world corrupted by an alien influence. The player must use a variety of equipment to blast away enemies, solve puzzles and remove the infestation. The game has a really unique design, with alien creatures across the whole planet. The game is perhaps at its best when fighting massive bosses from your tiny little ship. If it's cheap on XBLA, I definitely recommend.
9: Shantae - Risky's Revenge
(Please note, this game was released in February 2011 in Europe, so it's eligible for the list)
I never played the original Shantae for the GBC, but I can definitely say its sequel is a wonderful reminder of how brilliant 2D platformers can be. The story follows half-genie Shantae as she attempts to stop pirate Risky Boots from obtaining a great power. The gameplay is the main highlight here, traditional 2D platforming fun with spells and powers to boot. The game looks a little dated but its style is nice, (I especially like the design of some characters, like the boss above) and there's some great music too. For a DSiWare title, it's fairly lengthy. It's also available on smartphones now, so there's no excuse to miss out!
8: Tales of the Abyss (3DS Port)
(Again, this is another 2011 release for Europe. Comes out in America in February)
I know some may highlight that this port is pretty much unchanged since its original PS2 release, but for someone who's only just now getting to play this game, I'm fairly impressed. The game doesn't blow me away like Symphonia or Vesperia did, but it has definitely kept my interest. The usual JRPG conventions are there, the whiny protagonist (Luke is pretty much the definition), the threat to the world, the huge monsters - it's all there. Yet it's engaging and pretty addictive. It looks good for a handheld title, though I'm fairly certain 3DS graphics can look more... refined then this. This JRPG shows some issues with aging, and it doesn't utilise the potential of the 3DS, but the core game is impressive enough to warrant appearing on this list. Hopefully Namco might give Symphonia the same treatment...
7: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (3DS Version)
'Another port!' I hear you cry. Well yes, but unlike Tales of the Abyss, this isn't a straight port. The N64 classic has been bumped up graphically to look far sharper on the 3DS. The game also makes more effective use of the 3D capabilities than most games so far. Beyond the improvements, the simple fact is that Ocarina has aged pretty well. It was fun to play in the 90's and still is now. The memorable tunes remain, though some may have hoped for updated versions, and the gameplay that defined the series is as great as ever. Throw in a bunch of extras like a boss rush and Ocarina looks damn good.
6: L.A. Noire
Few games have showed the progress of technology in the past year than L.A. Noire. The faces of the games actors have been captured perfectly to create truly realistic character models. Gone are the days of sharp noses and blocky heads. I think I truly appreciated the technology when I recognised Greg Grunberg because of a character's face, rather than his voice. Of course, L.A. Noire shows maturity in other ways, such as its story. The game follows returning war hero Cole Phelps as he tackles crime and corruption in L.A by rising through the police force ranks. The story deals with the nitty gritty of drug trafficking, robbery and homicide. It's perhaps the only time that a game has captured the drama genre so perfectly. The investigation sequences are great fun, as are the interrogations though they take getting used to. Action is where the game suffers most, with vehicular sequences often being fairly dull.
I rated this game as my most anticipated at the start of the year and whilst it didn't quite tick all the boxes, and the closure of Team Bondi threatened the future of any sequel, L.A. Noire has still been a major highlight.
5: Ghost Trick
If some of 2011's games were blockbusters then Ghost Trick was the little title no one heard off that ends up winning the awards. This DS game focused on the story of Sissel, a recently deceased spirit with no memory, who seeks to help others avoid a similar fate. The game takes a number of twists and turns, which really hooks players in. What's most memorable about Ghost Trick though is its gameplay. It involves using the titular 'ghost tricks' to change the situation at hand. Doing something such as rolling a wheel can help alter the situation and change the fate of the person Sissel is trying to save. As the game progresses, these only get more difficult. Ghost Trick may not be a big name, but if you enjoy a challenge with a good story, you could do a lot worse.
4: The Elder Scrolls V - Skyrim
Unless you've been hidden under a rock for the past few months, there's a fair chance you know about Skyrim. The big TV adverts, the reviews, the painfully unfunny 'arrow to the knee' meme (seriously, someone explain why it's funny to me) it's fair to say that Skyrim has put the Elder Scrolls into the mainstream even more than Oblivion did. It's justified too, with a truly grand world sprawled out with millions of different quests to do, huge monsters to fight and towns to save. The scale is ridiculous. I got this game for Christmas and have sunk about 10 hours in so far. I wouldn't be surprised if I was still playing it at the end of the year. Few games as fully realise their worlds as this one does.
3 - Sonic Generations
My inner-Sonic fanboy contemplated giving this game first place for simply re-establishing my faith in the series. Sega clearly realised the best way to celebrate Sonic's 20th anniversary in the retro era by blasting us with nostalgia and boy did it work. Beautifully designed versions of classic Mega Drive and Dreamcast stages were shown on current hardware, old bosses were given a new lease of life and 16- bit era music was turned into truly memorable modern tracks. The whole design of the game is grounded in 20 years of history and I loved it. Seeing some of the series best moments re-imagined was special.
More importantly though, Generations features some of the best gameplay in many years for the series. Classic Sonic's stages play in a similar style to the 2D titles, though are a little different. Shockingly, Modern Sonic's stages are just as good and, at times, are even better! For the first time in the 3D era of Sonic games, I actual feel in control of the character.
Obviously, there are flaws that kept the game in this position on the list. Some stages overuse the good old 'bottomless pit' trap or some other method of a cheap death. Sections appear to encourage speed, only to slam a wall ten metres in front. The camera remains a pain at times. Even with these flaws though, I'm fairly stunned. I can honestly say I've never been so impressed with a Sonic game since the Adventure games. I just hope Sega can carry it on.
2: Dead Space 2
With the massive blast of games released in November, it's easy to forget some that had been released way earlier on. I've seen a number of Game of the Year competitions this year but none seemed to include January arrival Dead Space 2. To me, it's wrong to ignore one of my favourite survival horror games in recent years. The title picks up where the original left off, following Isaac Clarke on an enormous vessel known as The Sprawl. Unfortunately, that's not the only returning feature, with the sinister Necromorphs spreading throughout the ship. It's up to Isaac to gun his way through these hoardes and uncover more about what exactly has happened on board the station.
Where the original was content to simply have Isaac running around a series of fairly samey corridors, 2 has more variety with Isaac going through a church, a mining area and, in a very creepy sequence, a school. This highlights just how much the game has improved graphically and in its design. New enemies help ramp up the tension and even Isaac's different now, he talks! Gory and gruesome, this game takes everything about the original and just makes it better. Which could also be said of...
1: Portal 2
I always wondered why the original Portal was so universally praised. I discovered it a few years ago, found it mildly entertaining and moved on. Last year I wasn't even interested in Portal 2. I picked it up on a whim. Now I'm so, so glad I did.
Quite simply, it improves on every single element of the original. The story is more intriguing. It starts out in similar fashion to the original, with test subject Chell forced into a battle of wits against malevolent AI GLaDOS, but grows so much more. It's difficult to explain without spoiling some amazing twists but it features a number of characters with famous voice actors whilst maintaining the lonely atmosphere of a rat trapped in a cage. It's funnier than the original too. GLaDOS remains the star but characters such as Wheatley and Cave Johnson will leave a lasting impression.
The puzzles are more unique too, leaving you completely stumped one moment and feeling like a genius the next. There's few highs in video games quite as strong as solving a difficult puzzle in Portal after what seems like hours of effort. New items like gels to increase speed and jumping ability compliment this, as well as help extend the gameplay so it's deserving of a full price title. Even graphically, the game looks far greater than it ever used to.
After beating it, I went back to the original and played it through again. I suddenly appreciated it so much more, because I knew it would lead to a game I've truly come to enjoy.
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