Game of the year 2011, part 1: The honorable mentions

It's that time again. This year I've got 14 games to discuss: my 10 favorites of the year and four honorable mentions.

The latter are four experiences that I won't soon be forgetting. There's something about each of them that's unique, effective and intensely admirable, but they don't quite have the meat or holistic superiority to make it on the top 10.

Here we go!

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron -- Ignition Tokyo

El Shaddai is what happens when you give a visual artist free reign over a project. Takeyasu Sawaki, whose previous credits include lead character designer on Okami, and his team at Ignition have created the most visually spectacular game ever made.

The story, adapted from the Dead Sea Scrolls, plays out across several floors of a tower each with its own distinct art style. The true accomplishment of this game, however, is that it’s able to make those various art styles matter -- using color, design and abstraction to influence how you, the player, feel while traversing them.

The amazing art is also El Shaddai’s greatest downfall. The often abstract environments coupled with a finicky camera means you’ll have a hell of a time judging distance during its numerous platforming segments. The combat, while fun to control, becomes a burden as you slog through fights with the same enemies for hours, most of which are too far removed from the interesting art direction of the environments and feel flat by comparison.

However, El Shaddai is not a game that should be dismissed because of how it plays. It is visually arresting from start to finish, inhabiting the psychedelic, oppressive, abstract and even comforting realms of art.

Tiny Wings -- Andreas Illiger

Video game narratives are driven almost entirely by violent, interpersonal conflict. Most of them boil down to shoot a dude, stab a dude or punch a dude because that dude: has something you want; shot, stabbed or punched you first; or wants to shoot, stab or punch a bunch of innocent dudes.

Andreas Illiger’s Tiny Wings is one of the few examples of a game centered on an internal conflict: that poor little bird wants to fly so damn badly, but his wings are just too tiny small.

You as the player get to make this bird’s dream a reality and there’s just something magical about that. Not many games can produce the kind of joy I felt as I first heard the little “yahoo” he lets out as he flies between vibrant candy-color islands.

The Stanley Parable -- Cakebread

You’ve never played anything quite like “The Stanley Parable.”

The less you know about this brilliant Half-Life 2 mod the better. At its core is a deconstruction of the struggle for narrative control at the heart of the video game medium: player versus creator.

“The Stanley Parable” uses wonderfully voiced narration to illustrate this conflict. You’ll quickly learn that the player merely has the illusion of free will. Your experience is ultimately tailored by the author, and try as you may to change things, without the guiding hand of a creator, well, there is no game to play.

It’s free. It’ll take you about 30 minutes to see all of it and you’ll never forget. So go download it already.

LittleBigPlanet 2 -- Media Molecule

With LBP2, Media Molecule has created the most accessible, robust and fun video game creation tool to date. Seriously, have you seen some of the stuff people have made? First person shooters, arcade-style flight games, fighters, short films. It’s madness.

Say what you will about the controls or physics (I have no problem with them), there’s no denying this is the best available platform for user generated content. Media Molecule took a great idea – the infinite play possibilities of child-like imagination – and perfected it, adding tools that allow creators to produce games and other content across media and genre lines. Then it built a powerful community portal, allowing players to easily find the best levels and even add them to a play queue via a web browser.

And all of it is oozing with the iconic LBP art style, a look that strikes at the heart of Media Molecule’s philosophy: imagination is the most special human tool. It’s why kids might have more fun playing with a toy’s cardboard box than the toy itself and it’s why LittleBigPlanet continues to be a brilliant game.

1 Comments
1 Comments
Posted by MSG

It's that time again. This year I've got 14 games to discuss: my 10 favorites of the year and four honorable mentions.

The latter are four experiences that I won't soon be forgetting. There's something about each of them that's unique, effective and intensely admirable, but they don't quite have the meat or holistic superiority to make it on the top 10.

Here we go!

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron -- Ignition Tokyo

El Shaddai is what happens when you give a visual artist free reign over a project. Takeyasu Sawaki, whose previous credits include lead character designer on Okami, and his team at Ignition have created the most visually spectacular game ever made.

The story, adapted from the Dead Sea Scrolls, plays out across several floors of a tower each with its own distinct art style. The true accomplishment of this game, however, is that it’s able to make those various art styles matter -- using color, design and abstraction to influence how you, the player, feel while traversing them.

The amazing art is also El Shaddai’s greatest downfall. The often abstract environments coupled with a finicky camera means you’ll have a hell of a time judging distance during its numerous platforming segments. The combat, while fun to control, becomes a burden as you slog through fights with the same enemies for hours, most of which are too far removed from the interesting art direction of the environments and feel flat by comparison.

However, El Shaddai is not a game that should be dismissed because of how it plays. It is visually arresting from start to finish, inhabiting the psychedelic, oppressive, abstract and even comforting realms of art.

Tiny Wings -- Andreas Illiger

Video game narratives are driven almost entirely by violent, interpersonal conflict. Most of them boil down to shoot a dude, stab a dude or punch a dude because that dude: has something you want; shot, stabbed or punched you first; or wants to shoot, stab or punch a bunch of innocent dudes.

Andreas Illiger’s Tiny Wings is one of the few examples of a game centered on an internal conflict: that poor little bird wants to fly so damn badly, but his wings are just too tiny small.

You as the player get to make this bird’s dream a reality and there’s just something magical about that. Not many games can produce the kind of joy I felt as I first heard the little “yahoo” he lets out as he flies between vibrant candy-color islands.

The Stanley Parable -- Cakebread

You’ve never played anything quite like “The Stanley Parable.”

The less you know about this brilliant Half-Life 2 mod the better. At its core is a deconstruction of the struggle for narrative control at the heart of the video game medium: player versus creator.

“The Stanley Parable” uses wonderfully voiced narration to illustrate this conflict. You’ll quickly learn that the player merely has the illusion of free will. Your experience is ultimately tailored by the author, and try as you may to change things, without the guiding hand of a creator, well, there is no game to play.

It’s free. It’ll take you about 30 minutes to see all of it and you’ll never forget. So go download it already.

LittleBigPlanet 2 -- Media Molecule

With LBP2, Media Molecule has created the most accessible, robust and fun video game creation tool to date. Seriously, have you seen some of the stuff people have made? First person shooters, arcade-style flight games, fighters, short films. It’s madness.

Say what you will about the controls or physics (I have no problem with them), there’s no denying this is the best available platform for user generated content. Media Molecule took a great idea – the infinite play possibilities of child-like imagination – and perfected it, adding tools that allow creators to produce games and other content across media and genre lines. Then it built a powerful community portal, allowing players to easily find the best levels and even add them to a play queue via a web browser.

And all of it is oozing with the iconic LBP art style, a look that strikes at the heart of Media Molecule’s philosophy: imagination is the most special human tool. It’s why kids might have more fun playing with a toy’s cardboard box than the toy itself and it’s why LittleBigPlanet continues to be a brilliant game.