Holy shit this is late. Itís the middle of fucking April. I thought it was bad last year when I posted my list mid-February. But Iím committed to finishing up with all the 2011 games I want to play before doing this. And with games like Skyrim literally taking up more than 3 months of my gaming time, you can surely understand my tardiness. I still never did get around to some of the games I was interested in like Catherine, El Shaddai, or Fishing Resort, let alone acclaimed games I was less enthused about like Deus Ex or Arkham City. But gosh. It was a good year for video games.
10. Kirby: Mass Attack
This is one of the best Kirby games Iíve played. I loved the original Kirbyís Adventure on the NES Ė itís probably my favourite NES game (having never played on an actual NES, but on Virtual Console, etc.) Ė but now what makes the Kirby series special is the uniqueness of each game. The best Kirby games these days are the ones that use the unique features of the platform itís on to create a platforming game unlike any other ever made. Somehow now, even at the end of the DSí lifespan, another Kirby game has come along with a totally fresh take on the touchscreen controls of Nintendoís 7-year old handheld. Thatís brilliant. And itís as fun and complete a Kirby experience as Iíve ever played.
9. L.A. Noire
I had totally forgotten this game came out in 2011 until I was going through my list of games I bought over the year. Is it just me or was it forgotten about by mostly everyone at GOTY awards time? Itís such an obvious choice for one of my top 10 of the year. Rockstar are the best at making open-world games that feel like living, breathing places, and I love that they took their talents to new settings with this and Red Dead Redemption, also tackling two of my favourite film genres that are barely represented in video games: the western and the film noir. Surveying the crime scene and questioning people also made for a really fun, really unique gameplay mechanic. Of course if you switch those last two sentences as necessary to the speculative future tense, youíll have exactly what I was saying about L.A. Noire in the months leading up to itís release. So basically, it just completely lived up to my expectations. The story was also quite well written and engaging. And the restrictiveness of the open-world was unexpected but bold, I thought; commendable. It was not as fun or great a game as Red Dead Redemption, but it was damn fine.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
It made me so happy to be playing this game again! Sure as, basically, a port, this game probably shouldnít be allowed on this list, but screw it, this was one of my greatest gaming experiences of the year. The N64 Zelda games are two of my favourite games of all time, even though I never finished them, and they have a certain quality to their music and visuals, their mood as it were, that evokes a frightening sense of nostalgia that no other games can even come close to. For years after abandoning those games I would be scared to return to them, and even get freaked out if I saw someone else playing them. My Hyrule was still haunted by ghosts and re-deads. My Hero of Time had failed in his quest. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Wii, I finally revisited Majoraís Mask, but did not finish it in time and I havenít really had a chance to since then. Ocarina of Time 3D was the perfect excuse to revisit that game and finally finish it. I did. Thatís monumental. And Iím happy to say that nothing of the gameís mood was lost in the translation to the 3DS. Hyrule is safe.
7. Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Well if Ocarina of Time 3D is allowed, I guess this oughtta be allowed. I bought this collection like two weeks ago, solely for Metal Gear Solid 3, and thatís the only game in this collection that Iíve checked out. But I love it. My initial experience with it was not great Ė the first two hours had basically a half hour of gameplay and the controls were baffling to me. The rest of those two hours was endless codex messages and cutscenes. I started the game over again after like 3 hours (very little while skipping cutscenes) on the normal difficulty because I didnít like how I could get shot at for a while on easy difficulty and it didnít matter if I wasnít being smart. I played Metal Gear Solid 4 a few years ago and I donít think that I understood even a fraction of the features and intricacies of the game, while playing it on easy. Now, I was determined, and I looked online to see how to do all Snakeís CQC moves, and to see how other people were playing those first couple levels, and then finally, I started to get into it. As I got used to the controls and the features of the game, I actually became addicted to it. And holy crap the bosses in this game are awesome. They have so much personality and are so over the top that they reminded me of No More Heroes. But theyíre so much more elaborate and varied in terms of how to defeat them. ĎThe Endí is a contender for the best boss fight Iíve ever played. Jesus. Iím eight years late here. I want to talk to people about how great that was. It lasted an hour and it was so intense and I found myself using features I never imagined, like at the end I saw him run by and I used my binoculars to follow his footprints to see exactly which direction he went and so I found him again real quick. Iíd tried to follow his footprints earlier but it started to rain and the rain washed them away. Seriously. Itís not a perfect game. Sometimes it felt too intense for me. I like somewhat more laid back games Ė hence playing games on easy. But thatís not really a complaint. Sometimes I felt there wasnít really a great way to approach a situation besides running and hiding under something and waiting for my alert status to go away. Sometimes Iíd go and brush my teeth or something while I was waiting. Thatís dumb. But really itís a fantastic game. And there are so many cool things you can do. I threw a rabbit at someone. It didnít do anything but I was ecstatic that I got to do it. And disguising myself as a scientist and blowing knockout gas into peoples faces from my cigarette was amazing. I also loved sneaking behind people, grabbing them, and making them tell me something along the lines of ďvultures eat dead bodiesĒ, and then slitting their throats. I also had no idea that you could push the face buttons on the controller soft or hard. How long has that been a feature?! Anyway, I must say, of all the HD-updated games, this is easily the most natural, best-looking one Iíve played. And I even started to get into the story a bit, though I was often confused. I was reading Destructoidís review of MGS4, about how perfect a conclusion to the story it is if youíve been following the story since the PS1 era (and presumably replaying them enough over the years to remember their stories clearly). If you own a PS3, now, there is no better time to get into Metal Gear Solid, with 1 on PSN, 2 and 3 in the collection, and 4 available for no more than $20. Play them in order, back to back. It would take way less than half of the amount of time I devoted to Skyrim and it would be great. I fucked up by playing 4 first, and then 3. Now I donít know if Iíll ever bother with 1 and 2. But if youíre starting fresh: do it! I can tell from 3 that the series is worth it.
6. Portal 2
Portal 2 isnít perfect the way Portal is. The song at the end wasnít as memorable, nor really the story in general. I think they kind of ruined GLaDOS character a bit by making her all passive aggressive and not funny. But they also made her a potato, which was pretty awesome. And the new characters Ė Wheatley in particular Ė were hilarious and amazing so that makes up for it. And there was one totally mind-blowingly incredible moment at the ending of the final boss fight. But forget all that. The puzzles were fun as hell. The new elements they added like the different gels and what-have-you were brilliant and the degree to which the game stayed fresh and polished and fun over its quite decent length is fantastic. And then thereís co-op. I played it locally with a friend over 2 sittings and playing that much at a time nearly broke our brains. I remember one level at which point my friend had given up thinking (so I was on my own on that, just instructing him what to do), where the solution involved the two of us flying out of opposite portals at the same time and crashing into each other in midair. It was such a preposterous solution, and coming up with it nearly killed me, but it felt so good when I finally got it. And then our little robots high-fived. And GLaDOS made a funny (she was as great as ever in this part of the game). In addition to being a fantastic single-player romp, Portal 2 ended up being the most worthwhile multi-player experience of the year.
5. Shadows of the Damned
Sudaís first new IP since No More Heroes, and his debut on high-definition consoles is something special, even if itís not quite in the same league as the original NMH or Killer7. This is as crazy, cool and funny a game as you can ask for. Sudaís take on horror is a little bit too silly to be scary, but thatís the way I like it, and it does occasionally get fairly intense. Iím tempted to describe the boss fights but theyíre too hilariously amazing, I donít want to spoil it. And then there are the little bedtime stories Garcia and Johnson read together. And the totally surreal hallucinatory levels you run through. And dick jokes. Many dick jokes. This game was awesome.
Ōkamiden doesnít have one quarter of the depth or the beauty or the brilliance of Ōkami, sure, of course. Itís a DS game. But what it does offer is a great, simplified Ōkami experience for the DS, some great boss fights, and a metric ton of personality. The grossly exaggerated expression of shock on Chibiterasuís face each time a new partner declares the nickname theyíve decided to bestow on him Ė followed by a depression so profound that a raincloud appears above his head Ė never ceases to fill me with an ecstatic happiness. And the absurd vaudevillian comedy routine that every cutscene becomes is priceless. And then thereís Manpuku. I defy you not to love his character. But seriously, this is a really fun game, there are some really great boss fights, itís fairly long, and it gets better and better as it goes along. Just as Ōkami was a wonderful swan song for the PS2 (I guess; I played it on Wii), Ōkamiden is an excellent swan song for the DS.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I put 180 hours into Skyrim, possibly the most Iíve ever played any one game ever. Certainly the most of any game of this console generation. Itís absurd how much content is in that game. I kept 92 save files. Thatís 92 points of interest over the course of the game that I thought were worth keeping, should I ever feel some inexplicable urge to return to them. Jesus. I got to level 50. I did so many dungeons. I did all the main quest lines. Cicero. No, no. Iím getting ahead of myself. For most of the game I didnít use a companion. I became a master of stealth. God, stealth is good in that game. I could miraculously get behind anybody, and cut their neck with my dagger. Enemies of such a high level that I had no business going up against were dead in one blow. Ungh. And then thereís magic. And then thereís the magic of exploring the world, and interacting with itís citizens. God. I donít feel like this even needs to be justified. In fact I should justify why itís not my #1 game of the year (although these top 3 are kind of interchangeable). I didnít like it more than Fallout 3. I felt that at 100 hours long, Fallout 3 was more ďfocusedĒ. I feel like if you add it all up, I spent literally hours staring at Skyrimís loading screen. And you know, for example when I decided I wanted to move all my thousands of things from my Whiterun home to Proudspire Manor in Solitude and it took like an hour of back and forth return tripsÖ stuff like that was a little much. The gameís massive scale is altogether too massive. That hurts it sometimes. But God, thereís so much to love about it. Thereís nothing quite like it that can even compare.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Having been playing Ocarina of Time 3D immediately before, and generally having had a steady fix of Zelda games for the last little while, it didnít fully sink in until I started playing Skyward Sword: this is a new 3D console Zelda game, a once-a-lustrum event: a proper new entry in my favourite series of all-time. Once I started playing it, it was incredible. Some reviewers have said itís the best Zelda game ever made, or at least the best of the five 3D console entries (which are the ones I care most about). Iíd put it at number 4 of 5, but the top 3 are all among my top ten games of all time, and this new game is definitely in the same league as those (and way better than Twilight Princess). In certain ways itís better. This game has a sense of humour beyond any other Zelda game and is absolutely brimming with personality. And oh man, the things you do for gratitude crystalsÖ Itís legitimately hilarious. The controls are excellent and fun and innovative and I have no complaints about that. I noticed it doesnít use the IR for aiming Ė it actually uses the motion+ for pointer controls too and itís surprisingly effective. The dungeons are perfect. The sidequests are fantastic. Thereís a good balance of dungeons and sidequests. My only minor complaint is the way the world is structured. Skyloft is pretty much the only interesting place in all of the sky whereas the sea in Windwaker was full of interesting islands including at least a couple major town-type islands. Here, there are a couple other minor locations and pretty much everything else is just boring rocks with those unlockable treasure chests on them. Furthermore, the ďsurfaceĒ is very segmented in itís three distinct locations and I miss the feeling of everything being all one world. Also, I love the art-style, where everything looks like a watercolour painting, but I think Windwaker, in itís big bright simplicity, is still a bit more beautiful to me. Skyward Sword would look incredible if it was in HD. There are other even smaller ways that I prefer Windwaker (and OoT and MM). But these arenít real complaints. Theyíre more explanations as to why I still donít like it quite as much my three favourite Zelda games. Skyward Sword is nonetheless incredible in itís own way. Probably because of the way its world is structured, I didnít miss hardly any sidequests along the way. I got all those damn gratitude crystals. It was awesome. It took me over 60 hours to get to the end of this game, probably the most Iíve ever spent on a Zelda game (and the reason why this post is so disastrously delayed). And the quality of entertainment sustained throughout that time is absurd.
1. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Ghost Trick was not on my radar at all, and it was not until about a week after it was released that it even caught my eye at all. Itís a January release but Iíve never forgotten about it. It was always the game to beat this year. Ghost Trick is the best DS game ever made. Nothing else comes close. The 3DS came out in March, but between this game and the others on this list, 2011 was the best year yet for Nintendoís 7-year old handheld. Craziness. Seriously, Ghost Trick is amazing. It doesnít have a remotely comparable scope to Skyward Sword or Skyrim, but within itís smaller scope it is perfect. And no other game of last year has the sheer charm and personality, nor the staggering originality of Ghost Trick (although Skyward Sword does have a shit-ton of charm and personality). The cast of characters is one of the best of any videogame, as is the story, but the story follows a certain logic such that I could only imagine it as a videogame. In other words, though it is a heavily narrative-focused game, somehow itís the sort of narrative you can only get from gaming, and the game is so good in this way that I feel it deserves its place among gamingís great icons. It is thoroughly and supremely delightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny. And the gameplay itself is completely unlike anything else Iíve ever experienced and it is fun and clever as hell. Ghost Trick deserves at the very least the same status as Shu Takumiís previous creation, Phoenix Wright. That game is fantastic in much the same way as Ghost Trick, but Ghost Trick is way better. Itís the ďbest game nobody playedĒ, the best surprise of the year, and my GOTY. Iíll have to replay this sometime soonÖ
So yes! I declare there were not one but three GOTY-worthy masterpieces last year. And the rest of the games on this list are truly outstanding. I dare say 2011 was the best year for gaming since 2008. The last couple of years I bitched a little bit that there were too many games, and not enough great games. But this past year everything was so good. I canít complain.