GOTY 2011

Before I get into it, a few honorable mentions:

Okamiden: A strong sequel to what I consider to be the greatest game ever made. I now know the series is in good hands over at Capcom's internal dev teams.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: I only just started this a few days ago, so I haven't had enough time to really sink my teeth into it (figuratively, of course). I'd like to see more before I claim it to be one of the year's best, so that's why I've left it out of my list. Damn good game, though. Incredibly detailed world. Easy to lose hours just on side content. In fact, it's 'cause of Skyrim that this list is going up so late. If it weren't for that, I'd have probably gotten this up a few days ago!

NightSky: A splendid little puzzler with a cool atmosphere. Maybe a bit too much abstract, though I had fun when I wasn't screaming in frustration at the absurd level of precision being asked of me.

Voxatron: I still don't know if I completely understand what a voxel is, but they certainly made a cool game. A dual-stick shooter made around user-created levels, Voxatron's got some amazing potential behind it. The game just launched in Alpha a couple months ago through the Humble Bundle, and it's been pretty cool so far. Looking forward to seeing how it develops.

And with that, onto the list!

List items

  • Oh man... where do I begin? Bastion is... a very special game. You know how there's always that one game that resonates with you so deeply that it forever sticks out in the forefront of your mind? Even consider it to be the very best the medium has to offer? To me, that's Bastion. What the folks at Supergiant Games have accomplished is, for a start-up "indie" developer, just... phenomenal. It's exceptionally well-told tale crafts a rich world with very few words. The narrator's terse speech regales Bastion's story of calamity constantly but never over does it. Every snippet is carefully doled out, his words always being used to educate the player just as questions about the world, the level, or... anything, really, arise. The developers clearly believe in "less is more," and I couldn't agree more. But its not just narrative alone that makes Bastion magical. Finely tuned gameplay brings a mixture of depth and simplicity to combat, the varied customizable arsenal bringing endless possibilities as to how play. The art and music set a perfect tone, each adding life and beauty to each and every crippled piece of reformed land. Its like a painting brought to life supplemented by an acoustic soundtrack that suits the frontier-fantasy-style of the world. Most importantly, though, every single element works in perfect harmony with each other. No one part feels less important than another, each acting in service to the other. It's rare to see that kind of collaboration, let alone for it to be done so marvelously.

  • Millions of words have already been written about what it is that makes Portal 2 such an enchanting game. From the way it effortlessly weaves story and gameplay together unobtrusively to the charming, deeply developed characters and humor and to the brilliant puzzle design itself, Portal 2 hits nothing but high marks at every juncture. The game is a master-class in stellar game design, every facet exuding only the utmost excellence. That Portal 2 was able to build exponentially upon the bare-but-still-plenty-strong foundation of its predecessor is astonishing. The introduction of characters like Wheatly, Cave Johnson, and the other personality cores (SPAAAAAACE!) add so much more to the story. It's all paced very well, keeping the intrigue and humor constant while upping the ante all the time. And that ending... oh my god, that ending! And the co-op, too! So good. And there's still more to come! Amazing!

  • Words cannot describe how happy this game makes me feel. And I'm not just talking about the evocative artwork or snazzy music. Those are great, but it's the pitch-perfect gameplay that makes Rayman Origins a joy to play. That fine balance of challenge and simplicity is expertly struck, crafting a myriad of gorgeous, intelligently designed levels to leap, glide, and wall-run through. After having gone into unexpected retirement following the debut and success of the Raving Rabbids franchise, Rayman Origins brings Ubisoft's limbless wonder back spectacularly. Now if only they hadn't been so dumb as to release it right smack-dab in the middle of the holiday game rush. Maybe then it would have found a bigger audience. Shame on you, Ubisoft!

  • Frozen Synapse does one thing that every other turn-based strategy game I've ever played (that is, very few of them) has never managed to truly capture: the intense uncertainly of battle. Being able to react quickly to an enemy's actions doesn't do well to instill fear for your units, as it turns out (Fire Emblem being the obvious exception because of the whole permanent death thing). But Frozen Synapse? Nailed it. The key lies in making your enemy's movements masked until you've locked-in your own, because that way the wait for the outcome can build appropriate tension. Here, you don't swap back and forth taking turns moving and attacking. Instead, you both act simultaneously, but don't see each other's actions until you've both submitted them. Why is this important? Because it lends ample opportunity for fear to rise, make yourself start questioning your actions. Was it really a good idea to send your shotgunner right into that den of machine gunners? Is your sniper going to be safe close to those walls? There are a lot of rocket launchers about... Things like that distill the experience Frozen Synapse brings with its take on strategy games. The best ones are always those that raise anxiety and force you to think ultra-critically of your actions, and Frozen Synapse delivers like few others can. Plus, the music is awesome. Some of the best you could ask for a game like this.

  • At this point, it's no surprise that a Legend of Zelda game would get high praise. They're well made games, regardless of your position on the series' stance on sticking to its age-old formula. Skyward Sword doesn't make any radical changes, sure, but delivers what we've come to love about Zelda and makes even makes a compelling case for why motion control matters. A little late, yes, but, like with Burnout -- better late than never, eh? Skyward Sword's combat shines brilliantly because of the one-to-one motion control. It feels like you're actually engaged in battle because you're performing the actions rather than just mindlessly mashing away on buttons. It's immersive in the best way possible, aiding the experience both on a mechanical level and a gameplay level. The only problem is that it came out so gosh darn late. If this came out earlier in the Wii's life-cycle, I'm certain the console's software lineup would have turned out much different.

  • This is the only game on the list that I haven't actually finished yet. I'm only a few chapters in, having clocked well over 12 hours into it, and am nowhere near being done. It's a puzzle game -- a very-complicated-yet-still-very-accessible one at that. What you do in SpaceChem is bond atoms together to form elements and chemicals. It's basically a game of chemistry, but without the prerequisite of having to know the subject to understand what's going on. What makes SpaceChem amazing is how there are literally thousands of possible solutions to any puzzle. Just looking at the game's leaderboards, you can see how each individual solution is truly unique. The secret lies in the fact that SpaceChem's puzzles aren't about discovering solutions; they're about creating them. And then optimizing them to climb the leaderboards, should you be the competitive type. I haven't seen all its tricks yet, but what I've played is enough to convince me of its splendor. Easily one of the best pure puzzle games in years.

  • Ghost Trick is awesome for many different reasons. It's witty writing, it's fun, quirky characters, its intriguing, well-paced story, it's fantastic puzzles -- any of which on their own would be totally applicable. But honestly, it's the premise that really does it for me. Playing as a dead guy trying to solve his own murder is a great basis for a story. That the team behind the Ace Attorney series developed it only makes it that much better.

  • Outland's biggest claim to fame is easily the new genre it crafted: the bullet-hell platformer. It's unusual mixture of projectile dodging and alignment shifting created some great, challenging levels. Fluid movement and snappy controls, as well as a ultra-stylish tribal aesthetic culminate in a fantastic platform/action game. It also had some of the best boss battles I've seen in a long time. All big on spectacle and each being worthy opponents. Sure the co-op was unfortunately plagued by game-breaking lag, but damn if those co-op chambers weren't fun to participate in regardless. Would love to see Housemarque branch out like this more often.

  • Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken so long for Burnout to have a crash mode focused game to come out. As a series staple, you'd think Criterion Games would have done so ages ago. Ah well. Better late than never, right? With Burnout: Crash, Criterion delivered a true return to form for the much-beloved mode. The concept was already immensely absurd, but since that obviously wasn't enough, the developers went ahead and upped the level of crazy ten-fold. Calling on natural disasters. extraterrestrials, and... lobster monsters to aide in your swath of vehicular mayhem is simply awesome. The clever use of licensed music lends a ton of extra personality as well.

  • Yeah, I know. This is primarily a kids game (as evident by this particular entry carrying the Sy-Fy Kids logo on it), but I don't care. I love de Blob. Sure it doesn't evolve on the formula of the first game even slightly, and sure it's ridiculously simple, but it was also some of the most fun I had all year. Bringing back life and color to the streets of Prisma never ceased to enthrall. Rejuvenating distorted lands is a theme that always resonates with me. My deep seated love for Okami is no doubt something to do with it, but I also enjoy the concept of restoring worlds to their natural state. It's a nice change from the usual themes of destruction and ruin we so often participate in. The infectious upbeat attitude of de Blob with its funky jazz and vibrant landscapes always manages to bring a smile to my face. It's a very relaxing and uplifting game. It's a real shame that Blue Tongue was lost this year, as de Blob 2 will probably be the last we ever see of that lovable guy.