2011 may have been one of the biggest years in gaming. We have been blessed with 2 new handheld consoles, a dramatic increase in quality and quantity of games within the indie scene, and a slew of stellar AAA games (assuming you don’t mind sequels). We here at The G.A.M.E.S. Blog are continuing the tradition of publishing our own Game of the Year lists. Our lists are done individually, with no consensus required. Since our writers have very different tastes, don’t be surprised if you see little overlap between lists.

I finished close to 30 games this year, with games spanning many genres (FPS, Puzzle, Action-Adventure, Action RPG, and more) and spanning multiple systems (3DS, DS, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and Wii). However, I have limited my list to 11 games (I went the Spinal Tap route and turned it up to 11). The only requirement for our lists is that a game must have been released this year, and the writer must have finished the game. Because of this requirement, there are some games I will give an “honorable mention” to, since I was not able to complete every game. Also, I have not reviewed every game below (I have only been writing at The G.A.M.E.S. Blog for 3 months), but games I have reviewed will have a link, which will forward you to the review. Also, there are plenty of games I didn’t get to play this year (like Rayman Origins), so there are bound to be games I would have loved, if I had had the chance to play them.

Honorable Mentions

Joe Danger: Special Edition (XBLA) – I recently reviewed Joe Danger, and I didn’t give it a 9.5/10 for no reason. Joe Danger not only combines Mario-esque platforming with the thrills of a game like Trials HD, but it wraps its gameplay in a package that has a great sense of charm to it. The only reason I didn’t put it on my GOTY list is because this is re-release on XBLA (the original PSN version launched in 2010), and while the added content is superb, it doesn’t really justify calling it a “new game”.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) – I’ve only played 5 hours of Skyward Sword so far (curse you final exams!), but from what I’ve played, it is a great addition to the Zelda franchise. So far, I am thoroughly impressed, and I feel the motion controls and a more meaty plot really add a lot to the series.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (X360)  – I don’t own Skyrim, but I have watched various friends play through it, and I have tried it a couple of times. Simply put, it’s a very ambitious game, and it looks like the team over at Bethesda has hit it out of the park again. Now, if only they could squash those bugs and glitches.

Stacking (XBLA)Russian nesting dolls. That is all.

Trenched/Iron Brigade (XBLA)Now, I do love Double Fine, but I seem to have a knack for not completing their games (Stacking and Trenched/Iron Brigade). Nonetheless, Trenched succeeded at making me excited about a type of game I don’t usually enjoy (tower defense) , and that is a testament to how it injects a dose of variety into a hackneyed genre.

Back to the Future: The Game (PC)I have always had a soft spot for point-and-click adventure games, and for that reason, I really admire Telltale Games for continuing to develop these types of games, which many have labelled “dying” or “forgotten”. Back to the Future: The Game is an above average point-and-click game, but the fact that a good Back to the Future game has been made warrants an honorable mention. If I had a #12 slot on my Game of the Year list, Back to the Future would take that spot.

Dark Souls (X360) –  For masochists only! Dark Souls provides an experience that is so fresh and rewarding, but is very, very difficult.


Game Of The Year List

#11  Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS)

  • Most charming

Another year, another Professor Layton game, and another dose of brilliant puzzling. While it doesn’t stray to far from previous outings, Professor Layton and the Last Specter proves that an expertly crafted formula can be enjoyed year after year. The exciting story, challenging puzzles, charming graphics and fully voiced cutscenes come together to make a great game. Even if you missed the first three Layton games, as a prequel, the Last Specter marks the perfect place for new players to start.

#10  Catherine (X360)

  • Most unique

In an industry filled with sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, it’s refreshing to see a developer break the mold. Most games pretend that sex, and its potential complications on relationships don’t even exist, but Atlus has nailed a combination of adult themes, with tricky puzzle gameplay. Granted, the difficulty will be a turn-off to some, but it’s a hell of a ride, and everyone should at least give it a chance. And hey, it’s got sexy written all over it.

#9  Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

  • Best use of 3D, best platforming game

After 30 years of making Mario games, you might start to wonder how Nintendo keeps things so fresh and exciting. The answer to that question starts with games like Super Mario 3D Land. By looking at the game’s title and cover art, you might think you know everything this game has to offer. And in some cases, you might be right. But Super Mario 3D Land is a perfect example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts. This is platforming action at its finest, with well designed levels that have a lot to show without being cluttered and confusing. A triumph all around.

#8  Terraria (PC)

  • Biggest surprise, most addicting

On the surface, Terraria sounds and looks a lot like Minecraft. Its gameplay revolves around mining for resources to built structures, and using resources to craft weapons and tools, in order to progress further through the world. But Terraria sets itself  apart from it’s indie counterpart by adding an in-depth combat and weapon system, with a vast amount of creatures that are found across different biomes. There are also various NPCs that will inhabit your house when various requirements are met, and they can range from a nurse, to a demolitions expert, to Santa Claus himself. There are also boss creatures which you can summon (or accidentally spawn) for an ultimate showdown, which helps to add a sense of progression to the game. Add in the SNES inspired graphics and music, and you have yourself a game that has hours and hours of potential playtime.

#7  L.A. Noire (X360)

  • Best tech, best adventure game 

While this was published and co-developed by Rockstar Games, L.A. Noire is not the usual dose of urban mayhem that one would come to expect from this famed developer. Instead, L.A. Noire is (at heart) and adventure game, and was mainly developed by Team Bondi, a now-defunct Australian studio whose  first, last, and only game is L.A Noire. Set in 1947, players will fill the shoes of an up and coming police detective, who is trying to bring a modicum of honesty to a world of corruption, brought on by the post-war boom. And you can’t top the facial tech, which facilitate the stellar performances that keep the game’s interrogation mechanics intact.

#6  Battlefield 3 (X360)

  • Best first-person shooter, best multiplayer

Long time Battlefield veterans have had a long wait, but Battlefield 3 finally released this year. Promising 64-player multiplayer action (24 on consoles), and a myriad of weapons and vehicles, Battlefield 3 was poised to be the king of multiplayer this year. While it may not have toppled Call of Duty, I would certainly call it the best multiplayer experience this year, with a system that rewards team play over lone-wolf tactics, and adds the element of in-map destruction, which drastically changes the way online shooters are played. It might not have been the biggest leap from its “unofficial” predecessor (Battlefield Bad Company 2), but it is certainly a refined and fine-tuned experience. Plus, there is something special that happens when you manage to avoid rocket fire by barrel-rolling in a jet.

#5  Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3)

  • Best graphics (console), best third-person shooter

When it comes down to it, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and its set-piece moments don’t pack quite as much punch, especially when you compare it to Uncharted 2. However, it’s the attention to characters this time around that really makes the experience feel whole. Uncharted 3 crafts a thrilling tale, which not only engages the player through the entire single-player campaign, but adds a lot of significance and depth to Nathan’s backstory and motivations, which is not an easy feat, considering his apparent cookie-cutter persona.

#4  Bastion (XBLA)

  • Best independent game, best artistic design, best action/action-RPG game, best music, best original song

Despite being produced by a team of less than 10 people, Bastion is one of the most polished games this year. Its striking artistic style stands out the most, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a well-paced action game, with imaginative enemy design, varied weapons that pack a punch, and a dynamic narrator whose words reflect your actions. It’s very rare to find such a well put together game, let alone one that is this much fun. And the soundtrack? It’s pretty awesome.

#3  Batman: Arkham City (X360)

  • Best action-adventure game, best adapted game

I really enjoyed the open-world structure of Batman: Arkham City. Granted, Arkham Asylum was the best comic-book video game back in 2009, but Arkham City ups the ante by adding a much needed sense of freedom, allowing you to spread your cape and tackle the game at your own pace. Aside from the inclusion of multiple side-quests, the main story line is wonderfully paced, and (like its predecessor), Batman: Arkham City, has such high production values. The formula that Rocksteady layed out in the first game has simply been refined, and luckily, the charm of this fantastic series hasn’t worn off.

#2  Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)

  • Best story (tie), best graphics (handheld), best new IP, best handheld game

When I was making my Game of the Year list, I was surprised how Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective made it so high. In a year where there was an abundance of well-made AAA games, some may find it odd that a relatively unknown DS game made it’s way to number 2. However, I can’t praise it enough. Ghost Trick comes from the mind of Shu Takumi, the creator behind the popular Ace Attorney series. For those who don’t know, the Ace Attorney series is one of my favorite franchises, and Ghost Trick manages to bring the same charm, funny writing, and excitement that Phoenix Wright did. While I don’t want to spoil too much, you play as Sissel, who has recently been killed, and has one night to solve the mystery of his death, and help a detective out along the way. Since Sissel is dead, he manifests himself as a ghost, and is able to inhabit and manipulate inanimate objects in order to thwart his enemies, and prevent others from dying. It’s a classic adventure game through and through, but one that is executes its design so well, that it is one of the most imaginative and refreshing games of this year.

#1  Portal 2 (X360)

  • Best story (tie), best writing, funniest game, best voice acting,best ending, best puzzle game, best DLC, best console game, Game of the Year

Getting more of the same when it comes to Portal is NOT a bad thing. With every portal fired, every puzzle solved, and every sarcastic remark from GLaDOS, my response was never “not this again”, but rather an uncontrolled grin. And that’s not to say Portal 2 isn’t filled with fantastic new parts. New puzzle elements and characters have found their way into Aperture Science, and Portal 2 provides one of the best endings to a video game in recent memory. As a die-hard fan of the original Portal, I expected great things from this long-awaited sequel. I’m glad to say, that Portal 2 delivered, in every way.

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