"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
The year that was 2011 has come to pass. Gaming has taken many great leaps forward this year (and some backwards), but overall the year has been another smash hit for the industry. With all the amazing things that happened this year, I figured I would take a break and highlight some of my favorites for the year.
This was my 2011.
BEST GAME I DIDN'T GET AROUND TO UNTIL THIS YEAR NOMINEES:
999: 9 hours, 9 persons, 9 doors 999 is one of only a handful of visual novels that have reached American shelves. Phoenix Wright was a series that showcased what VN's were capable of and 999 showed up and surprised western markets with a crazy story and some really smart little puzzles. Aksys did a fantastic job translating this wildly interesting title. The end result was something that was phenomenal.
Game Dev Story Game Dev Story is a small title for smartphones that tasks you with growing your company from a fledgling developer to one of the biggest studios in the world. To do so requires you to manage various different aspects of running the company to finally craft the Game of the Year. It's a fun little management game that is incredibly addicting. My phone battery is constantly low because of this game.
Nier Nier is quite possibly one of the most interesting action RPGs I've ever played. It is a combination Bullet Hell Shmup, Puzzle and Role Playing Game. It has a soundtrack that could be considered one of the best ever. It has shockingly beautiful backgrounds and design elements. This game is woefully one of the most underrated games I've ever played.
Yggdra Union Yggdra Union is a fairly simple Sting SRPG that combines Fire Emblem with card game mechanics. What makes it really smart is that it's not overly difficult in implementation and it doesn't offer a rich customization system. It's a straight forward game that allows itself to present smarter ideas in the differentiation of cards and map layouts. It's brilliant in it's simplicity and that allows the gameplay to really shine through.
WINNER: GAME DEV STORY
All 4 of these games are fantastic and are terribly underappreciated. However, I don't know what happens in the hours of my life that disappear when I'm playing Game Dev Story. I start it and then 3 hours later, I'm looking around wondering why it's suddenly dark out. This game is an addiction that I often have to distance myself from to make sure I can actually do things I need to do in life.
BEST MARKETING STRATEGY NOMINEES:
Ken Levine at E3 Ken Levine, here's an idea. You have one of the most interesting, gorgeous and well crafted games coming out for a console next year. Do you ever wonder how you can get people to remember this? Just show up to E3 like you own the fucking place. No need for expensive booths or dueling dragons. Just show up at Nintendo and Sony right after you wow everyone with your trailer.
Phoenix Wright and Ghost Trick Ghost Trick is a very interesting game with a fantastic creator in Shu Takumi. However, some people missed out on Phoenix Wright, the game that got him international notoriety. How do you gain him some more fans Capcom? Reprint the original Phoenix Wright and try to meet demand for the title from new comers. Package the thing with Ghost Trick making it one heck of a deal. Now all I can ask is that they reprint the 2nd and 3rd games.
Serious Sam Indie Strategy Serious Sam is a series that has replicated the Doom/Duke Nukem formula and created a pretty spectacular franchise with it. This year as a marketing ploy they decided to get a trio of indie developers to create Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack, Serious Sam: Double D and Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. These three games transformed the Serious Sam formula in to something new and unique. It's just smart to give us interesting new games to ramp us up for Serious Sam 3: BFE. It's as smart as this Double D trailer.
Strategy Guide Strategy Vanguard Bandits is an obscure Working Designs SRPG that has just been rereleased on PSN by Monkey Paw Games. Working Designs was synonymous with super awesome collector's editions back in the day and this game is no exception. To replicate some of that feeling, Monkey Paw decided to officially release the full Strategy Guide along with the game. That's really really cool, especially with a game that has multiple paths. I'm a big fan of Strategy Guides and this was icing on the cake for my purchase.
WINNER: SERIOUS SAM INDIE STRATEGY
Ken Levine almost got this nod for being a badass. However, I don't know anything about Serious Sam games. Well at least I didn't until this cool little barrage of awesome started happening. Best way to advertise any game? By just giving us more games. It was creative, it was smart and now I know Serious Sam. Foot Punch!
GAME OF THE YEAR (that I haven't actually played yet) NOMINEES:
Bastion Bastion is colorful, interesting and truly an audible wonderbar of gamer candy that was the highlight of the indie game scene. I just haven't actually...played it. I've been buying indies at the low low price of $1, so even though Bastion looks like a walk right up my alley, the little guys have been taking care of me. New Years resolution time: make sure stumble in to the store and buy myself a $20 MS points card and pick up this beauty.
Radiant Historia Radiant Historia has been compared to Chrono Trigger. This can only be considered as a good thing. The 3d work on the DS looks pretty amazing and it's an Atlus creation and translation so the story has to be good. It's a game that was developed with both Tri-Ace and Shin Megami Tensei teams, and I just keep adding more words that make me wonder why I don't own this.
Tactics Ogre -Let Us Cling Together- Tactics Ogre Let Us Cling Together is a remake of Yasumi Matsuno's genre revolutionizing SNES/Playstation SRPG. I have never played said game, however I would go to my grave defending the brilliance that is the Final Fantasy Tactics series. I'm a huge fan of this man's work and I have been aching to play this game for years. Now that it's on PSP and I finally own one of those, I need to get it.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Uncharted 3 amazed me at E3 with it's ship gameplay. The only thing holding me back from this game is the fact that I have yet to play through Uncharted 2. Being the chronology buff that I am, it would be obscene to try and play one with out the other. I do want to play this though. It looks like something you would hand to someone to explain the word "entertainment."
WINNER: TACTICS OGRE -LET US CLING TOGETHER-
A Yasumi Matsuno SRPG will always win out on a list unless he has another mental breakdown in the middle of development. This man is an idea man and his implementations created the most interesting things in Final Fantasy for me. I badly need to play through this, but I just haven't gotten around to pick up my copy yet. That will soon change.
BEST PUZZLE GAME OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Catherine Catherine is something you get when the Persona team needs to fiddle around with a new engine. That's pretty impressive. Catherine is a pure tower climbing game and it gets legitimately hard at some points. What sold the game was the sex appeal, but the game they created is amazingly solid. It's not a game for everyone so that attention to story created something that really pushed people to keep pushing forward to get to the top of the tower. It's probably the finest concept of taking a simple game system and making something exceptional of it.
Ghost Trick Ghost Trick is a brilliant little puzzle game. Essentially the idea is to manipulate background items to solve mysteries. This leads to a cause and effect style of gameplay and the entire system was brilliantly put together. Though the story isn't nearly as good as the Ace Attorney games, the game does have an interesting hook to keep you moving from crime scene to crime scene. This hook makes the game more fun to play through as you aren't broken up in to chapters like Phoenix Wright forced you into.
LA Noire LA Noire was a title plagued by internal issues in Team Bondi. The game that we got was something that had much of Rockstar's over the top story telling wrapped up in an interesting new crime solving mechanic. Not many games take you across mechanics like this while staying in the same engine and it is definitely a lot more interesting than Grand Theft Auto IV was. Figuring out the little ticks of a witness is pretty cool.
Portal 2 Portal 2 is the sequel to Portal, one of the greatest games crafted this generation. How do they top their predecessor? By being Valve and designing something that feels eerily similar and completely unique. For fun, they then added some co-op multiplayer just to pad the game out. If you don't quite get why people lick the shoes of Gabe Newell, the work that they've put in to this game shows why.
Cole Phelps is batshit insane and so his little interrogations usually went nothing like I wanted it. Portal 2 has somebody that's a bit too catty for my liking in the beginning which dragged the game down early on. Ghost Trick just didn't really capture me like Catherine did with it's story elements. Maybe it's my preference for dating sims or maybe it's just the fact that it was structured in such a way that broke up the tedium of the puzzles to maximize enjoyment. Catherine is batshit insane like LA Noire, it's catty like Portal 2, it's kinda brilliant like Ghost Trick in gameplay. It's something unique and even at it's laziest, I still was extremely interested with it.
SHOCKER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Corpse Party Corpse Party is an odd little horror visual novel created in RPG maker. What they do with this game is incredible. The audio work involved accentuates the exploration system and crazy story. Playing this game without your good headphones on is a crime. I'm not a fan of horror games in the slightest, but this truly shocked me with some of the smart techniques they used to get thrills.
King of Fighters XIII King of Fighters XIII is absolutely gorgeous and if you play fighting games, you know this already. What shocked me the most though is the system to unlock customization options for the characters. My only KoF game was 99 which had a terrible color customization system. The way this one works is it allows you to gain custom colors the more you use your favorite fighters. This leads to more usage of characters that aren't as popular like Chin in an attempt to create something unique. This system is really fun and keeps me coming back for more as I think up more costumes. I keep thinking new costumes for everyone and it's getting me to play and learn this system more and more.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The Legend of Heroes is like every Falcom game that has been woefully ignored by everyone but the hardest of the core in the west. Trails in the Sky actually plays more like a Japanese PC RPG than any other RPG I've gotten to play in the west. It's smart and a bit long winded, but ultimately Trails is one of the few pure RPG's I've gotten to play in a while. That's something that I found myself missing recently.
Wizorb Wizorb was something I downloaded after looking at a few screenshots. A minute after playing the game, I bought it. I don't usually do that. I usually think about my purchases, but this game was good and I wanted to give money to it. The brilliant sprite work paired with the challenging Brick Breaker mechanics makes Wizorb something fun and unique to play. It does enough to create something really refreshing.
I did not plan on buying Wizorb when I downloaded it. I did and that shocked me. All of these games are surprisingly good, but I probably could see myself buying them at some point. Wizorb really shocked me with the quality put in to it. Best $3 I spent all year.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Haganai is about a group of lonely hearts have banded together to create a club to learn how to gain friends. The first place this group of outcasts decides to start with is games. Trying to feed off the social multiplayer games, they take to Monster Hunter to disastrous effect. Throughout the season they expand on this and try dating sims and even drop in to experimental VR gaming. The first half of what should be a simple Harem Comedy turns in to an exploration of popular Japanese gaming tropes.
Imaginary Range I've written about Imaginary Range already, but it simply takes e-reading and adds a great little mini game twist to it. This breeds something interesting and with the writing style, I can't wait to try the sequel to see how they improve.
Jimmy Olsen Oneshot Jimmy Olsen is Superman's best friend. Hearing a fantastic and witty first person accounting of his day to day relationship is entertaining. With Superman on vacation, it's up to Jimmy to save the world from Alien Invasions and cross dimensional weirdos while trying to salvage his relationship with a girl way too good for him. He'll do all this just as soon as he gets off his butt and stops gaming.
The World God Only Knows TWGOK is all about the King of dating sims using his masterful video skills to capture loose souls. It's a silly plot, but this has turned out to be one of the most refreshing harem comedies in a while. This year aired the second season which handled the series as masterfully as the first. To be able to turn simple romantic tropes and give them a video game twist is brilliant.
WINNER: JIMMY OLSEN ONESHOT
Expect a Comics in Games on this bad boy.
BARGAIN DEALER OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Best Buy Best Buy decided to dissolve their Gamers Club earlier this year which reduced the amount of bonus points gamers could get. I had feared this would reduce the amount of extras I could get, but instead they retooled their games to gain a bigger advantage in the marketplace. This means they are shifting more units of games in and out of their stores. This is good news for gamers. They also started selling used games, but I don't walk in to Best Buy to buy used.
Indie Bundles The Humble Bundle was a smart idea to raise a little extra change for developers and for charity. From this concept we've now received quite a few different bundles this year which has given us great games like Jamestown, Super Meat Boy and Cthulhu Saves the World bundled with other games for dirt cheap. A deal that's good for charity is a super deal.
Nintendo 3DS Price Drop Nintendo got a lot of flak for their huge 3DS price drop. Why? The price right now is fantastic for consumers. More units moved means more games that can be created and sold. Even if you feel wronged by the plunge, you were eligible for 10 free downloadable titles on top of it, making for one of the best deals for consumers. This was one of the greatest price drops to ever happen for consumers.
STEAM Steam is steam. If you haven't heard the term "Steam" in conjunction with "deals" then you don't PC game. The deals are outrageous and developers that made ports from smaller platforms like XBLIG are able to see how much more profitable Valve can make them.
WINNER: BEST BUY
I don't PC game all that much and I'm not interested in a 3DS. I buy the Humble Bundle every time, but I'm not really paying for the games. Those are like added perks. Best Buy on the other hand has given me tons of opportunities to use my reward zone account to get bonus points with work purchases. Any time I get a $10 certificate I flip it for a $10 PSN card. Getting deals like Golden Sun and Dragon Quest IX for $5 is a steal and whatever deals their competitors advertise, I price match. Major retailers being more aggressive in the market can only be good for gamers and Best Buy was really good to me this year.
GAME OF THE FUTURE
Bioshock Infinite Bioshock Infinite looks so unlike Rapture that I'm astounded by it's beauty. Throw in the intrigue of a game built around an escort mission and I don't know what Infinite is going to be like. I just want to play it. It's like they are making something more fantastic than Bioshock. How can somebody not be excited by this.
Gungnir Gungnir is a Isometric Tactical SRPG from Yggdra Union's creators. I already have Yggdra Union in this post and I'm not even a big fan of the Fire Emblem style of SRPGs. To have Sting give me an SRPG in the style that I want greatly pleases me. Having a focused Tactical SRPG will be nice after FFTA2's unfocused mission structure.
Mass Effect 3 Mass Effect 3 is the final send off to the ME universe. If you aren't interested in how this all ends, you must be insane. I want so many things out of this game it's unreal and I can't wait to put it in my hands and judge it for what it really is. I want to kick ass with a team of aliens and save the Universe. That's it. Also, there better be a harem route this go round.
Ni No Kuni Ni No Kuni is the gorgeous new Level 5/Studio Ghibli JRPG. I for one have been itching for a real console RPG for a while now so this seems like a beautiful way to reward me. Half the games I've been buying recently, I can't play in front of my kid. I now don't have to play in secret with this and I'm excited about that.
WINNER: BIOSHOCK INFINITE
Game looks sooooooo GOOD. I mean honestly, there were only a few really big issues that Bioshock had when it came out. If the guys at Irrational Games can fix just a few of those problems, you already have a potential game of the year contender. These games all look amazing, but Bioshock Infinite looks like something fantastic.
CONSOLE OF THE YEAR NOMINEES:
Microsoft Xbox 360 The Xbox 360 has the definitive console online experience paired with the best console marketplace. That is unless you are an indie developer. Then they tucked you away somewhere on the dashboard. Gears and Halo came out to satisfy the first party while 3rd party specials still popped their head up. Not much done amazingly well this year, but they didn't do much wrong either. Since I'm silver, all these perks like Youtube mean absolutely nothing.
Nintendo 3DS The 3DS came out to lukewarm sales. Launch games like Pilotwings and a Super Street Fighter IV port were a few of the only must have games on the list. While the design and though process put in to the game was interesting, Nintendo had to push a massive year long marketing campaign to really drive sales. Eventually they were forced to offer a price drop. They have gained some choice games like Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 to really start pushing the benefit of the lower price point.
Nintendo DS The DS is still that system that keeps on chugging with Kirby Mass Attack, Radiant Historia, Ghost Trick and a new Layton game. Don't let the fact that Nintendo marketing ignored the system make you think that the thing is dead.
Nintendo Wii The Wii of course didn't fare as well as the 3DS in marketing or the Wii in games. There was roughly one good game for the system about every quarter and that is about it. The successor was announced, but with such shoddy handling of the Wii this year, did anybody really care? Following the tremendous year in games with this is kinda sad. Maybe 2012 will prove the Mayans correct and we'll get a great year for the Wii.
Sony Playstation 3 The Playstation 3 had a pretty darn good year in games. Uncharted 3 and the definitive console version of Portal 2 pushed Sony ahead of Microsoft. If only they didn't have that one nagging little outage that freaked out the entire gaming populace. If only.
Sony PSP The PSP has become a niche publisher stomping ground as Corpse Party, Trails in the Sky, and many other games proved this little baby is far from dead. PSN finally came around to be big for PSP downloads as the UMD is not accessible on the PSV. While the PSP still isn't able to grab the US market the way it wanted, the price drop certainly helped and we have some late comers still moving their way over the ocean.
I can't award anybody Console of the Year this year as I wasn't overly impressed with anyone. Microsoft did the least damage to themselves and I'm not awarding them 2 years in a row for that. Meanwhile, on the PC front we are getting deals on top of deals. Humble Bundles are offering up XBLA and PSN ports in pay what you want packages. Indies are getting really aggressive in pushing their games and I now have probably as many games on my PC as I have on a combination of 2 or 3 consoles. Japanese studios like Capcom are now trying to replicate Carpe Fulgur's success and it's really starting to get interesting. I got a virus on my computer this year and I still think that PC gaming has had a better platform. Also, Minecraft finally came out.
I'd like to take a moment and focus in on some of the worst things to affect the games industry in 2011. Obviously, there is no award for this category.
PSN Hack The Playstation Network hack earlier this year halted all business on Sony's marketplace. While this might not have played a crucial role in Capcom's side of the business, it greatly affects smaller companies solely dependent on the network like Monkey Paw Games. The hack took personal account information of many PSN users and eventually showed the weakness that is relying on major online marketplaces. Sony did make up for it by offering many rewards to customers, but the affect was a solid month of down time and it shocked the entire industry.
Japan's Earthquake Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami crippled many industries and ruined thousands of lives. The effect on the industry was immediate. Games like Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4: Summer Memories (the 4th in the Disaster Report/Raw Danger games) was canceled. Capcom was the only Japanese publisher to actually bring people to E3 this year. Games were delayed and many of the fine tuned electronic components the country makes were ruined, causing shortages.
Thailand's Flood Following the tragedy of Japan was Thailand's tragic flooding. The flood destroyed many production facilities and the toll on the country was devastating. Thailand is the 2nd largest producer of Hard Disc Drives in the world which led to an eventual shortage world wide. Any device using a built in disc drive now had to cut in to their production times throwing a delay in profitability. The industry has yet to catch up to this event even today.
Recession-era Gaming The recession is still on people's minds. While the games industry seems to have risen in the wake of the financial crisis, recession mentality is still there. Many studios were closed this year like Bizarre Creations and EA Visceral. This is because a focus on margins has become ever more present in a shaky economy. Make or break has been the name of the game and unfortunately a good studio can make a decent selling game and still get forced out like Kaos Studios.
The year has had a lot of ups and downs, but the industry is still able to prove once again that it is a more than credible form of entertainment. While I'm sure this list doesn't represent the best of the best, this is my list. It represents what 2011 looked like to me and through all of this, I'm even more proud to be a gamer.