Year In Review: Shelby’s Top 10 Games Of 2011

Over the past few years doing stuff for Nintendo Okie, I have noticed that my gaming tastes span a wider range than everybody else on the site. While some of it is personal preference, I think a lot of it has to do with me having more systems than most. I may have the ability to play more games, but lately I haven’t had the money too. There have been a lot of great games to come out this year and I have barely played any of them. I have been unemployed twice this year, so conserving money had been a top priority. Unfortunately, I have been frequently unemployed since I graduated college and that means I have missed out on a lot of games since 2009. Money has been tighter than ever this year so I have been more selective of the games I buy this year more than ever. I have played fewer games this year than I have in the last five, but for what it’s worth to you here are the ten best games I have played this year.

10. Mortal Kombat (PS3/360)
I have been away from the MK series for quite some time and I was starting to think the franchise just couldn’t work outside of the 90s. This new MK game proved me wrong. Thanks to the success of Street Fighter IV, and maybe even to the closing of Midway, new life has been given to MK. All the characters I know and love are there with every last drop of spin-ripping blood and gore. In this new age of fighting games, most of them are built with frame counting and move canceling in mind to appeal to the EVO community. Mortal Kombat managed to recapture the simplistic feel of the SNES/Genesis iterations delivering a game that doesn’t require hours of training to be competitive in. With that said, the single player can be downright brutal if you don’t know the basics of each character. Now that we have a solid MK game, I can say fighting games truly are back.

9. Catherine (PS3)
Catherine isn’t Persona and that’s okay. In fact, Catherine isn’t a lot of things and that is why it’s on this list. It isn’t another brown, first-person shooter, it isn’t a sequel/prequel to an existing franchise and it isn’t another game where one person has to save the world. The plot to Catherine sounds more like a premise to a soap opera written by Stephen King. Catherine added a much needed breath of fresh air to video games by combining an original story with a unique base with a new puzzle mechanic never seen before. Catherine is different. However, it has a few problems that hold it back; the controls can be confusing, the gameplay can get repetitive and it’s lacking the amount of polish I typically expect from Atlus. I happy this game exists and I’m glad I played it. I just don’t want to play it again anytime soon.

8. Solatorobo: Red The Hunter (DS)
Much like Catherine, Solatorobo is a game rich with beautiful art, great characters, fantastic music and a touching story. Solatorobo sets out to prove the DS can provide a grand adventure just like its console brethren and it succeeded. However, while the game triumphed with production value it fell short in the gameplay category. The repetitive two-button combat and point A to point B missions reminded all involved that no matter how grand a world you create, at the end of the day Solatorobo is a video game that’s kind of boring to play. When gameplay seems to only be there to tie story beats together, something has gone wrong. Despite the lacking gameplay mechanics, Solatorobo is still one of my favorite games of the year. That should speak to how good everything else in the game really is.

7. Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)
Epic Yarn is not a Kirby game. Without his trademark copy ability, Kirby is just another pink puff. As much as I may distrust this game for touting the Kirby name, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a well crafted and finely tuned platformer. It has tight controls, wonderful level designs and enough cuteness to make your dentist rich. More than anything, Epic Yarn proves you don’t need multiple processors and several gigs of RAM to make a beautiful looking game. I will argue with anyone that Epic Yarn is one of the best (if not the best) looking games ever created. Epic Yarn has been out for a while now so if you haven’t played it yet, you should do yourself a favor and go pick it up. Thanks to the passage of time it’s friendly to those with a limited game budget like me.

6. Monster Tale (DS)
Sadly, Monster Tale will probably be remembered as the greatest DS game nobody ever played. It combines the ability-fueled exploration of Metroid with the creature leveling of Pokémon. With a sentence like that, it blows my mind that no one has played this game! It also has the best looking sprite art this side of a Nintendo GBA game. Monster Tale does have some tall difficulty spikes and the evolution process may not be as meaningful as it could have been, but that isn’t enough to tarnish the overall experience. I like to think of Monster Tale as a Batman Begins because a Monster Tale 2 could be a smash hit as The Dark Knight was. But for that to happen, more than eight people would have to buy the first game. *sigh* Seriously, folks, lifetime sales of less than 30,000 units! I hate everyone.

5. Dead Space 2 (360)
If you think games take too long to get started, Dead Space 2 is something you should look into. DS2 takes everything the first game did and improves upon it; more environments, more creatures, more weapons, more story and more “I don’t want to go in there” moments. The seamless hud and amazing lighting effects are a sign the developer dumps their collective heart and soul into this franchise. I am surprised Dead Space 2 isn’t getting more mentions in game of the year talks. This is probably a result of it coming out in January. Visceral has reset the standard for the survival horror genre while Resident Evil and Alone In The Dark have become action games with an added dash of monsters. When it comes time to make my zombie team, I got dibs on Isaac Clark.

4. Saints Row: The Third (PS3)
I have been aware of Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto for as long as they have been around. I have never really played any of them because they never made a big enough blip on my radar. However, Saints Row: The Third showed up as a giant blimp and couldn’t be ignored. What makes The Third so good is that it’s a video game and it isn’t afraid to embrace that fact. The game uses this as a means to tie together the best collection of video game moments ever compiled; all of which is tied together with a nice sandbox to blow stuff up in. The Third also features some great character moments punctuated with some fantastic voice acting. This game embraces the goofy, over-the-top fun which has been oddly absent from most video games as of late. While I don’t want to give too much away that I ruin the experience, one of the character voice options is zombie and the game becomes Tron at one point. Yo, you should play Saints Row: The Third.

3. Persona 3 FES (PS2)
Y’all that frequent the site have been witness to my growing love for the Persona franchise. In a move that is a sign of my boredom, I have been playing through the series in reverse order. While I had to get past a few conveniences from P4 that don’t exist in P3F, by the time my 130 hours were up I was as in love with P3’s characters as I am with P4. P3F has a solid, albeit very JRPGish, story that strikes me as more than a device to tie dungeons together. The added social-link system drives you to get familiar with the characters around you. It’s an ingenious way to make you care about them. As someone that finds it hard to get into JRPGs due to a short attention span, I want to start playing P3F again right now. Thankfully I have two other versions I could play as well as three other Persona games if I succumb to the urge.

2. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land (Wii)
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is great. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land is better. As the title suggest, this is a return to form for the super-tuff, pink puff. Return To Dream Land combines all the best qualities from Kirby games of the past and puts it all in one box. Solid platforming that delivers a suitable challenge is amplified with new twists on familiar copy abilities. Then for good measure are the super abilities. There is a part where Kirby cuts a volcano in half with a giant sword! As a huge Kirby fan I know some of his games don’t showcase how fun Kirby can be. Thankfully this is not one of those games. There was once a 14 year old version of myself that stared at Kirby Super Star dreaming about the day he could play it. If he knew Return To Dream Land was going to exist someday, his head would explode.

1. Portal 2 (360)
To put it simply, Portal 2 is the sole perfect game I played in 2011. Valve created one of the best video games ever with the first Portal and many wondered if they could build upon that for a sequel. Well they did and somehow they surpassed all of my wildest dreams. Valve didn’t just create another character as memorable as GLaDOS, they made two; Wheatley and Cave Johnson. This combination of characters and voice actors as well as top shelf writing make Portal 2 one of the best things to happen to video games. Oh yeah, playing the game is really fun too. Not only did the developer knock the single player out of the park with new puzzles and a splash of new mechanics but the co-op play is arguably even better. When I reviewed Portal 2 I couldn’t find any flaws in its stitch work. In an age where some games are sold to us before they are even done, Portal 2 proves that perfection isn’t unattainable. That’s why it gets my game of the year.

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We have spent all week talking about the games we love from 2011 but come back tomorrow and we will start looking ahead to next year with a list of games each of us are personally looking forward to as well as our crazy predictions on what will happen before 2013 arrives.

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