It's that time of year again. After drudging through the torrent of great and not-so-great video games that consumed just about every minute of my free time, I've narrowed down what I believe is considered to be the best and worst games of 2011. Which games are considered gems? Which aren't even worth your precious time? The following are the best (and worst) video games of 2011.
2011's Most Clever Way to Take Your Money
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
Charging you $10 for a new character as downloadable content? Highway Robbery! Charging you $10 to buy a toy that will unlock a new character? Genius. And absolutely addictive. Activision, the company that has found clever ways throughout the years to suck money right out of your wallet, has found a clever new way for players to get addicted and fork out more money.
This is how the addiction works: the game is basically an action/adventure game in which players are able to explore exotic locales, collect gold, and typical action/adventure stuff. You've been doing this kind of thing for years. The catch is that the game is bundles with what is called the “portal of power,” which connects to your game console. By placing a Skylanders action figure on the portal, players can use that character and open up areas that only that specific character type can open. In addition, the player will be granted with new abilities and powers, and all gameplay information is tied to that specific figure. How many characters are there that can be unlocked using these figures? Thirty seven. The game comes with three, but if you want to access everything (and it's so tempting), you're going to have to buy up to 34 of these figures to access the entire game. And if you're cursed and happen to be a completionist or achievement whore, you might be suckered into spending hundreds of dollars for a simple game and a bunch of useless plastic. It's like Guitar Hero all over again!
2011's “R.I.P Award”
Every year, I like to acknowledge the most notable gaming fad that dies with the “R.I.P.” award. Last year, for example, this coveted award was given out to the death of the plastic instruments that accompanied the fall of Rock Band and Guitar Hero's popularity.
This year marks the end of the episodic gaming model. Episodic gaming was once thought of as a new, exciting way to sell games, in bite-sized episodes. Most of Telltale Games' content was released episodically. Telltale released Tales of Monkey Island, for example, one episode per month for five months. Players can buy each episode individually, or buy the whole season and save a bit of money.
However, buying bite-sized games for lower prices proved to be unpopular over time. Gamers would often lose interest in the series over time, and would stop buying future episodes. Even Telltale stopped adopting the monthly episodic gaming format- their most recent release, Jurassic Park: The Game, had all four episodes released at once, and received a single-disc retail release for the XBOX 360. In addition, episode II of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has been rumored to be reached vaporware status. Retail games are even adopting a “season pass” model in which players pay for all future downloadable content at once to save some money, simply to avoid that drop-off.
The future doesn't look too bright for episodic gaming. In the meantime, be prepared to buy your games like you always have- all at once.
2011's Best iOS Game
Halfbrick Studio's Jetpack Joyride is so damn addictive that I would often play this game over this year's major console releases such as Uncharted 3 or Skyward Sword. Yes, it's that ridiculously fun to play. There's also no commitment to get started. You don't have to get into a comfy chair or watch hours of cut-scenes before the gameplay begins. Just tap the title screen, and that's it- you've just started a simple to play yet incredibly addictive game experience.
Jetpack Joyride initially has a simple premise- fly as far as you can by tapping the screen. Once you've got the simple gameplay mechanic down, you will quickly discover that there's so much more to the game. Missions so players will always have something new to do, dozens of items to purchase to customize your game, and a Game Center-enabled leaderboard that will entice players to fight for the high-score. Seriously, when was the last time you cared for a high score, right?
The game costs less than a dollar, and considering how much gameplay you'll get out of this gem, it may be the best value you'll get all year.
2011's Best Handheld Game
Super Mario 3D Land
Sure, a lot of people complained that Super Mario 3D Land was too easy. Obviously, they haven't beaten the game yet. Once you've beaten Bowser (is this really considered a spoiler anymore?) on the 8th world, 8 more worlds open up, and this is where the real game begins. Called the “special levels,” this hard-as-hell half of the game did what Mario games didn't do for a long time- provide a true test of skill for players. Not only are these levels challenging, but they're incredibly well-designed and fun to play, too.
Super Mario 3D Land is the game that makes the Nintendo 3DS a must-buy, just make sure you don't throw your 3DS across the room when that annoying shadow Mario kills you for the 100th time.
Note: this is awarded for the best non-iOS portable game.
2011's Best XBOX360 Game
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There aren't many games this year that are as dense and satisfying to play as Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Players who have played through Bethesda's previous games, Oblivion and Fallout 3, know that once you become immersed in the rich world that they've crafted, the experience becomes immensely rewarding. Everything about the game, from the countless locations to discover to the endless combinations of pathways players can choose to progress the story are at your disposal. It's an open-world full of knights, thieves, and awkward lizard-babes.
The game runs (almost) flawlessly on the XBOX 360, but is unfortunately plagued with bugs on its PS3 counterpart. There are few games on the 360 this year that you'll enjoy more than Skyrim.
2011's Best PS3 Game
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Game reviewers criticized Uncharted 3 as being nothing more of Uncharted 2. What's wrong with that? The last leg of the Uncharted trilogy added more to what was already great about part 2- more amazing set pieces, more humor, and a better multiplayer. Looking at how cinematic and gorgeous developer Naughty Dog made their latest masterpiece, it's amazing to think how far gaming has gone. Some games feel like you're watching an action movie, but Uncharted 3 makes you feel like you're in an action movie.
2011's Best Wii Game
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword is a perfect swan song for the dying popularity of the Wii, and it's one of the better Zelda games ever released by Nintendo. With a fully-orchestrated score, a deeper fighting system that never seems to get old, and a lengthy adventure, Skyward Sword alone is worth the purchase of a Wii.
2011's Best Overall Game of the Year
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Before starting Skyrim, I knew what I was getting myself into. I had to clear as many games as I could before starting, because I knew that once I began playing this behemoth of a game, it'll be a long time before I start playing anything else. I cleared Uncharted 3, Zelda, Super Mario 3D Land, and just about every other release this year as fast as I possibly could just so I could play Skyrim without that nagging feeling that I have to play other games. Now, I'm free to wander around this fictional world of Skyrim, doing as I please, in any order that I please.
Just like Bethesda's Oblivion and Fallout 3 before, the world within Skyrim is huge. It hasn't been since the original Legend of Zelda on the NES that exploration was so rewarding and satisfying. Just around every corner, there's an opportunity to do something new, whether it's a new locale or a character presenting a mission to you. And unlike Oblivion, the main story of Skyrim is just as good as the side quests!
When I'm in the shower, I think to myself that I'd rather be playing Skyrim. When I'm spending time with friends and family, I think to myself that I'd rather be playing Skyrim. When I'm compiling a “best of 2011” article, I think to myself that I'd rather be playing Skyrim. There is no other game this year that has consumed my time and my mind as much as this game has. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the 2011 Best Overall Game of the Year.
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