Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Top Ten 50 in '11

Last year I endeavored to finish 50 games in 2011, and I did so, with relatively few asterisks and cop-outs on the list. In January of this year I thought about ranking all 50 in order of subjective quality, but ultimately decided against it. Now that 2012 is one-third over, I've decided to make part of that list into a top ten.

First of all, this is not a top ten of 2011 games, this is a top ten of the fifty games I played in 2011, although several games from last year make an appearance. And yes, I'm aware that this list is actually fourteen games, so sue me and fuck you. Also, I'm not counting games where I only played the final 10% or so of the game in order to finish up an old playthrough. Sorry, Paper Mario and Tales of Eternia. If you want to see the full menu of games I played in 2011, check out my my review from Christmas and look for the long list at the end.

Honorable Mention Primera: Torchlight

I fuckin' love Torchlight. Runic Games is a small studio of under 40 empolyees that made Torchlight in about 18 months as a predecessor to an MMO, but it ended up being so solid, acclaimed, and successful that it already has a sequel in beta and has built up a devoted following, including yours truly. So why is one of my favorite games of 2009 only an honorable mention? Well, because I beat Torchlight for the first time in 2009. I replayed it in January of '11 for a few achievements, and it was an early entry into my 50 in '11. But since it was kind of a cop out, it won't qualify for the top ten.

Honorable Mention Segunda: BioShock

These other two honorable mentions very nearly made the 9 or 10 spot over other games. BioShock is an interesting beast, as I found it extremely impressive, but perhaps not as fun as other games I played. As I explored Rapture, I marveled at the scenery, the physics, the atmosphere, and the interesting indirect storytelling; the action was that of a samey shooter at times but intense as **** at other times. But did I have that much fun? Not sure. This was near the end of 2011 for me and after a the game peaked (Fort Frolic) certain sequences felt like a chore. I was still quite impressed throughout, and I'm definitely glad I soldiered through it.

Honorable Mention Ăšltima: Bastion

This is totally unfair of me, but I have different expectations of indie games than I do of big-budget games. Indie games are supposed to be short, succinct, and meditative, while big studio games are supposed to be long, varied, and packed with content. With that expectation, Bastion is one of the best indie games of all time. I really enjoyed it, but when I compare it to other games on the back end of this list, it falls short. I didn't feel like replaying it, I wasn't compelled to achievement-hunt, and I devoted such little time to it that, well, it didn't hit that happy medium of being so long that it feels worth $60, but not so long that it wears out its welcome. I wish Bastion were longer, because at 3-4 hours it feels like an incomplete experience. But it's still very good and I might yet replay it down the line, especially since the multiple weapons and upgrades encourage different play styles.

Dishonorable Mention: Primal Rage

I played this arcade game at MAGFest on Sunday morning, a few hours before leaving. It wasn't very good. The character selection and setting were attention-grabbing enough to attract players (like yours truly), but the combat was clumsy and maybe broken, the visuals were weak at best, and the game had a puerile edge that wasn't much fun at all. Looking over my list of games played in 2011, there were several that could've been called underwhelming, disappointing, or overrated, but Primal Rage was the only one that stood out as *bad*.

Sollosi's Top Ten Favorite Games He Played in 2011

10. Sly 2: Band of Thieves

What a pleasant discovery Sly 2 turned out to be. I bought the HD collection of the trilogy in early 2011 and busted through all three games in February and March. I had played the first game ages ago as a Blockbuster rental and it was a fairly competent platformer with a lot of hidden junk. Sly 2 added two playable characters, emphasized a stealth/platforming mix with tremendous variety and interesting mechanics, and had me invested 100% of the way through. It became my first Platinum. Sly 3 was more of what 2 brought to the table, but it didn't resonate with me as strongly. All things considered, Sly Cooper is an interesting PS2 trilogy (and PS3 HD collection) that has an obvious progression of development ideas through each sequel. All three are worth playing, but Sly 2 is the brightest gem.

9. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning

Breath of Death VII is, using objective measurements, not as good a game as Bastion. But I fuckin' loved it. I dug the Dragon Warrior IV-esque visuals, I loved the wacky premise and RPG references, and I was extremely impressed with the level/ability system and timing system, which add smart, modern flavor to a game that otherwise wouldn't look out of place circa 1990. Breath of Death VII is beatable in about four hours, which is just long enough to occupy a few days of RPG nostalgia with an amusing story that has a surprisingly poignant ending. I've already replayed it once, and it won't be the last time, either.

8. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

Trails in the Sky (heh, TitS...) is a 2004 PC RPG that was ported to the PSP a few years later in Japan and finally made it to North America in 2011. It's a fantastic game that reminded me of Lunar, Grandia, and Chrono Trigger that was notable for its solid traditionalism and the best cast of characters in any 2011 game I played. TitS is the first game in a long series, and I can't wait to play the rest of them.

7. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten

Disgaea 4's storyline and characters were goofier and less solid than that of TitS, but holy shit all that content. Disgaea 4 expands and streamlines the Disgaea 3 customization systems in place, and makes your characters feel more powerful than ever - immediately balancing it out by creating the most insane post-game challenges ever. The visuals are a new level of stunning for N1 games, and Disgaea 4 is probably the one game I wish I was replaying the most right now. It delivered what fans wanted and then some.

6. Ghost Trick

Best handheld game of the year by a long shot. Great, colorful visuals with a smooth aesthetic (easy to tell that this is the Phoenix Wright team up to their old tricks), and an extremely intriguing setup and premise that draws you in. Ghost Trick's puzzles were always impressive, but occasionally convoluted or weird - that and Ghost Trick's lack of replayability are its only weaknesses. Start to finish, the best handheld adventure/puzzle game in years.

5. inFamous 2

Great sandbox that improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. Better variety of powers, better performances out of its cast of NPCs, and a more textured, interesting sandbox city with a bigger variety of locations and enemies. I really enjoyed the storyline for the most part, with a few WTF connections to the first game and a finale that was underwhelming in action, but positively stunning in emotional impact. This is the rare game that I enjoyed so much and was so conclusive in its finale that I hope there isn't another sequel. inFamous 2 stands strong on its own.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I was pretty impressed by Ocarina of Time. Interesting, entertaining dungeons and bosses, lots of powerful scenes that bring the drama, and a solid gaming experience in general. It still possesses the same strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the Zelda series, and its visuals haven't aged very well at all, but Ocarina of Time is a milestone game that is still fun, even though I played it 13 years after its release.

3. Dragon Age: Origins

Awesome game. Great storyline that balances an epic supernatural confrontation with a political edge, and one of the best casts of characters in any game I've ever played (not an exaggeration). The balance of story quests and optional quests is strong, and many of them are quite ingenious both in writing and in execution. Dragon Age's difficulty is uneven and the battle system occasionally feels too sluggish, but this is a fantastic western RPG.

2. Shadow of the Colossus

I was blown away by Shadow of the Colossus. Each of its sixteen boss encounters are worthy challenges that are fun, original, and scaled beautifully; Shadow of the Colossus's stunning landscapes and various arenas were my favorite setting of any game I played this year (sorry, inFamous 2) and riding your trusty steed through them is almost as fun as the encounters themselves. For balancing subtlety and grandiosity expertly, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games I've ever played.

1. Portal 2

How are you supposed to follow Portal, one of the most beloved games of all time? They couldn't just make it more of the same, but fans would've freaked out if they had diverged from the formula in a significant way. Valve's brilliant solution: flesh out the characters (er, character?) and setting from the original Portal with an emotional, textured narrative driven by second-person dialogue and new characters as memorable and appealing as GLaDOS. Portal 2 wasn't very long, and it's probably not as good as the original Portal, but it delivers on the single player experience, ups the ante visually, adds a few fun, acceptable twists to Portal's gameplay, and adds a deep co-op mode to boot. Portal 1+2 is in the conversation to be the best one-two videogame combo of all time.


Well that was fun. I'd been meaning to write that one for some time now, but I've had a long week of work + bachelor party + wedding and I'm dead tired from it. Now that that's all behind me, it's time to return to my favorite pastimes: games, books, and sports. Right now, that means Red Dead Redemption, Rum Punch, and pickup basketball.

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