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David Jaffe's Top 10 Games of 2011

The man who brought you Twisted Metal and God of War brings you his favorite games of 2011.

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David Jaffe has a long and storied history in game development, reaching back to the 16-bit Mickey Mania, with important touchstones including the creation and his continued involvement in the Twisted Metal franchise, as well as the design of the original God of War.

A man of passion who is unafraid to speak his mind, Jaffe is currently in the final stages of development on the PlayStation 3 revival of Twisted Metal.

Before I dive in, two quick notes:

  1. There are a decent number of games I’ve yet to play from this year. With Twisted Metal being in its last year of production, I didn't have the many hours needed to dive into some of the bigger games. Last thing I wanted was to get immersed in a big monster like the new Zelda or Gears 3 online and then have to quit cold turkey 'cause work got in the way. So this list really can’t be called complete until that happens. But hey, since ya asked, I’m happy to let you know the games in 2011 that turned my crank!
  2. Some of these games came out in 2010 but they are on this list cause I just got around to them this year and/or they were my favorite games of this year, regardless of when they released.

Ok, so here we go…and in no particular order.

10. Riot Rings

The game itself is a Zoo Keeper-like take on the casual hit game Zuma. But the execution and difficulty scaling are where this shines. Game designers would be making a mistake if they don’t play this title for two very important reasons:

  1. The difficulty scaling is superb to the point that I wonder if it’s not scaling based on the individual players…this matters a lot because it keeps you in that zen-like trance of it being "almost too hard, but not so hard it’s frustrating" longer than any other game I can remember…
  2. The shell flow/progress design--and the execution of that design--is fantastic because it’s literally only 1-2 seconds from winning one stage until you are right back in the next stage and playing. So many games drop the ball on this, giving players so many opportunities to get distracted and bored. But Riot Rings (at least as it runs on my iMac) never gave me the chance, and thus I found myself up way too late on many a nights with this title.

9. Storm in a Teacup

Second best platformer of the year, behind Rayman. Great bite-sized, on-the-go gaming that still managed to have fantastic puzzles and level design. Actually got excited when me and the kids went to Disneyland and there were super-long lines because it meant I’d get 10-30 min. more with this amazing game!

8. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

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The holodeck. On my television. Not as immersive as the original Deus Ex but damn, damn close. The game frustrated my brain a bit cause even though I know you don’t have to listen to all the NPCs and read all the books, I felt I needed to in order to make sure I didn’t miss anything that would block advancement later (training I got from Dead Space 2, no doubt) and that made those sections of the game feel like work. But when it was just me, wandering the woods and battling in the dungeons, I was a 10-year-old kid again, playing Adventure on my Atari 2600. Only this time, the dragons were dragons…and not fucking ducks.

7. Dead Space 2

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Like Portal 2, this game show’d the year’s freshest, most fun geek concepts were happening in games, not movies. Even though the first game was scarier, this one played better and was better paced. Only thing that kept it from being one of my fave games ever is this annoying obsession survival horror games have of getting you stuck forever if you have not saved up the right amount of resources. It’s a damn shame this game clung to those super dated--and super annoying--genre conventions because it could have been even better!

6. Portal 2

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Great in-game storytelling. Amazing puzzles. And a fantastic title to prove to the world that games offer more creativity and fresh ideas than any other medium. When it came to the way they told the game’s story, there were a whole heaping lot of those "man, I wish I woulda thought of that and put that in MY game!" moments.

5. Words With Friends

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Played this obsessively for 1-2 months. If you ever need proof that the best gameplay occurs in your mind, this is it. Amazing that a game like this generated as much--and often times more--tension and engagement than some of the most over the top, action packed, multiplayer shooters of the year!

4. Jetpack Joyride

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Fantastic game that for a while was my constant pooping companion. So much so that my issues of Entertainment Weekly got jealous. When I get a break from our own game, I needs to teak this thing apart to figure out the specifics of how they nailed the ‘just one more game!’ thing better than any other title this year.

3. Rayman: Origins

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Best side-scrolling platformer since Yoshi’s Island. Yes, even better than the NDS and Wii Mario Bros. games. Production value and charm through the roof, silky smooth control, and really fun level design. Only fault with this game was the price. For me, it was worth every penny of the $59.99 I paid. But this game deserves to find an audience and in this day and age, most folks won’t pay 60 dollahs for a 2D side scroller. Hope it gets a digital and retail rerelease as $14.99 so the world can discover how amazing this game is!

2. Stacking

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Those crazy fucks over at Double Fine--they could not be boring if they tried. Hell, if they tried I bet their take on boring would still entertain the hell out of the rest of us. Stacking just had heart and soul and freshness, not to mention fun, clever gameplay. The length felt just right--as did the price. Nice to see in this day and age of quadruple A mega block busters, the industry still has a place for such creativity.

1. Batman: Arkham City

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Legend of Zelda gameplay structure meets a wonderfully executed Batman simulation. What’s not to love?!? Perfect storm where developer--building off an already great tech and design foundation--gets and respects the franchise and thus designs a game to best highlight all the best parts of the franchise. Just a great, great experience. I wish someone would do this with Spider-Man and Indiana Jones!