Friday, January 6, 2012

Top 10 Games of 2011

Hey, it's not 2011 anymore! That means I can now make a list of something(s) from 2011. I would make a list of top 10 movies, but it would only have 3 movies on it. And I would make a list of top 10 TV shows, but that would have about 2. So instead I will make a list of things I actually did do this year. Note that not every game below was released in 2011. This is just a list of games that I actually played last year.

I'm glad we could get the one with the longest name out of the way first. I'm not a huge Penny Arcade fan, though I enjoy the comic every now and then and I appreciate the importance of PAX. But you don't have to be a big fan of Gabe and Tycho to appreciate the irreverent and often profane humor that permeates this adventure/JRPG hybrid. Episode 3 was never released, but there are plans to do a reimagining of what was supposed to be Episode 3, with a different studio.

9) Braid (2009)
On the surface it just looks like a clone of the old (and New) Super Mario Bros. But if you pay attention to the onscreen text as well as the symbolism from the different gameplay mechanics, it paints a darker, much more "adult" picture. Just in case you want to find out for yourself, I won't spoil it.

Kairosoft is now a legendary developer on mobile platforms. All their games have the very distinct retro-Japanese pixel art graphics, and they're all very well made, surprisingly deep, and addicting. Mega Mall Story puts you in charge of the new mall in town, and you have a set number of years to turn it into a huge success, garnering yearly awards and regular high-paying customers. This game is full of charm and will keep you glued to your iDevice as you keep adding more and more cool stuff to your mall in an effort to make it the best around.

7) Psychonauts (2006)
So it took me 5 years to get around to playing this Double Fine classic. Sue me. Actually, don't. Instead, play this game. The first thing that comes to mind when I think Psychonauts is "surreal". If that's your thing, the rest of the package will delight. This third person action-adventure game gives you mental powers up the wazoo, as well as a full cast of quirky characters and locations. Psychonauts is a joy through and through. It's just unfortunate Psychonauts 2 was never made.

6) Mini Ninjas (2009)
Swing a sword, throw ninja stars, free wild animals from evil Samurai, and ... play as a Panda? Yup, Mini Ninjas beat Kung Fu Panda and World of Warcraft to the punch. No, but seriously, this game possesses some amazing Far East locales, smooth control, and surprising depth. Just think 3-D Zelda but with a cast of goofy ninja kids and animals. It's funny, lighthearted, and very well made.

Hey, back to back Asian-themed games! This one is a disappointingly forgotten BioWare gem that takes the formula created for Knights of the Old Republic and refined in Mass Effect and crafts a great martial arts and magic adventure. Like those other BioWare RPGs, choice is king, as you get to shape your guy (or gal) to favor expedience or compassion in a quest to unlock the mystery of his or her past. Combat is a little clunky, but good enough that a Jade Empire 2, if it's ever made, has the potential to be spectacular.

If this were a real competition, iOS games would have the really unfair advantage of being available everywhere. That is, my iDevice is on me almost at all times, unlike my gaming computer. So perhaps it should be no surprise that an iOS game is so high on this list, merely because I've spent more hours playing this than any other game in the past 12 months. There isn't much to Jetpack Joyride: you fly continuously to the right, dodging electric zappers, lasers, and missiles while collecting coins, slot machine tokens, and vehicles (yeah, vehicles other than your jetpack). It's simple, but a ton of fun, and the mission/rewards system gives it near-infinite replay value.

It may just be a 2-D Minecraft, but it has a ton of character, depth, and replay value. Who knew that mining resources, fighting the occasional baddie, and building the virtual house (or castle, or mansion) of your dreams would be so much fun? Well, the creator, Re-Logic, apparently did. And the game is constantly being updated with more free content all the time. It may look like a game made in the early 90s, but it belongs at the top of the heap among modern indie titles.

The additional co-op levels promised by Valve as a summer release finally came out a few months ago, but unfortunately I'd moved on by then. So yeah, I haven't played those levels yet. But I assure you, while I was playing Portal 2 (both the single player and co-op campaigns), I was wishing it would never end. Valve improved upon their sleeper hit Portal in every way possible, which surprised even the most optimistic Portal fans (read: me).

Only half of this list consists of games that were released in 2011. But it should be encouraging (perhaps only to me, since I doubt anyone else really cares) that the top 4 were still 2011 games. That means a) I actually do have a little bit of time for games these days, and b) they are still making fantastic games these days. And no game I played in 2011 was more fantastic than Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If you read my list of best games of the last decade, you'll see that the original Deus Ex was very high on that list, and I also mentioned that it was my favorite game ever, before Fallout 3 came out. That means two things: DXHR was one of my most highly anticipated games ever, and that it had a lot to live up to, especially after the mediocre Deus Ex: Invisible War. Clearly the fact that I placed DXHR atop this year's list shows that it lived up to the franchise name.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution really delivers with the stealth mechanic, combat, and conversation system, as well as the amazing stylized world that protagonist Adam Jensen exists in. But the greatest thing about this game is the philosophical questions it raises and attempts to get the player to answer for him or herself. How does humanity view and utilize the technological advancements in biomechanical augmentation? If a person receives prosthetic limbs to replace his living tissue, is he any longer human? How do we deal with the idea of replacing perfectly good limbs with bionic ones, just to get ahead in our professions? These issues are addressed spectacularly in the characters, settings, and missions that comprise Deus Ex: Human Revolution, yet the writers take great care to leave the answers up to the player.

Hear's hoping that 2012 brings us some even better ones. Mass Effect 3, anyone?