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Abstract Game of the Year Awards 2011

Now in its third year running, the basic premise of the annual Abstract Game of the Year Awards remain the same as always. In these times when video game awards doled out from video game outlets are taken a bit too seriously by the masses, this list exists to take that mentality to its natural conclusion: any game, no matter how big or small, good or bad, is capable of receiving recognition. It doesn't matter how much of a logical stretch that actual recognition is; if a game exists, it has the potential to get its (un)due attention. These awards aren't going to end up on the back of any video game's inevitable GOTY edition box (or at least they shouldn't), but that's the point. Anything can be put on a pedestal here and, as you'll see for yourself, plenty of things, in fact, will be.

List items

  • Award: "Best Game to Go from Zero to 'I Want This Game to Go Back to Zero'" for going from a single, well-loved late-PS2 RPG with no out of the ordinary merchandising for it to, within the span of a few short months this year, spawning a <a href="">fighting game spin-off</a>, <a href="">anime adaptation</a>, <a href="">monthly magazine</a>, restaurant, and <a href="">special effects-laden theatrical play</a>. Oh, and that Persona 3 Portable-like Vita expansion that was originally promised to <a href="">never really be made</a> because the original game was already considered "complete" or something. While the attention to the game may have been welcome by some fans initially, its seemingly current trajectory towards theme parks and decorated trains, at least in Japan, has many people hoping things will quiet down so they can continue to enjoy the original game in peace.

  • Award: "Most Timely Use of Oversaturation" for joining the anti-zombie video game fray in the form of DLC plainly, yet profoundly titled "Trains vs. Zombies." Completely unnecessary yet completely appreciated, Trains vs. Zombies proves that video game developers do, in fact, still have a ways to go in beating the zombie trope to the ground. The actual gameplay implications of the zombies are seemingly few, but it's the thought and implied social commentary from a thoroughly derided train simulator that matters. If nothing else, it proved that there are, in fact, fewer differences between planes and trains than what was previously thought. If it's in a simulation, it must be true, after all.

  • Award: "Sega CD GOTY 2011" for its completely relevant DLC, "The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles." Almost entirely unrelated to the main game itself aside from the fact it can't be played without it, The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles contributes to video game culture and high art in ways thought have started and stopped with classics such as Make My Video: Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Zelda's Adventure. The sheer innocence, class, and artistic integrity with which the post-Heavy Rain movie game brings back FMV in style (for one time only!) is clearly the reason why Twisted Pixel because Microsoft's treasured replacement for Bungie.

  • Award: "Best Game to Rest Rez in Peace" for getting people to, if only for a moment, shut up about Rez when discussing video games at art and look at something else for once in their lives. It might be strikingly similar to the iconic Dreamcast game, but that doesn't matter; upon the game's release, pretentious art lovers were able to look at something modern and say, "Let's herald this as the pinnacle of video games." Naturally, that didn't last even as long as Child of Eden's position on sales charts, but the fact that such a momentary distraction was even possible is something to be lauded.<br><br>Runner-Up for "Best Game to Outdo Xbox Live Indie Marketplace" for letting players recreate Rez's trance vibrator by hooking up additional controllers to the game, reminding people the world over that Mizuguchi was, and always will be, the king of the highly competitive video game massage genre.

  • Award: "The Michael Dukakis Award for Finally Living Up to One's Potential" for proving that all Shadow of the Colossus needed to not have its ironically loved inconsistent frame rate was to be ported and enhanced on better hardware than the PS2. Who would have thought that a game that tried so hard to act like an HD game with its use of things such as HDR lighting would, in fact, need an HD console to run properly?

  • Award: "Best Browser Game in a Post-Farmville World" for reminding everyone that proper video games don't need fancy socialization to be good or fun. On the contrary, they should be done in isolation so you enjoy your game and your friends won't resent you for constantly reminding them you need them to exist to keep your e-real estate afloat. With Bastion, you don't even have to leave your browser to accomplish this anymore. Truly, anything goes now.

  • Award: "2011's 2012 Final Fantasy XIII GOTY" for existing so that I can continue my inadvertent tradition on these Abstract Game of the Year Awards of including Final Fantasy XIII in some arbitrary, completely witty capacity. I was really worried this would be the first year in which Final Fantasy XIII wouldn't be able to appear on the list, so god bless Square-Enix for indulging me. I was really, really worried I'd have to create some original content for this list for once.

  • Award: "Best Game Based on a Future Movie" for having its movie rights sold before the game's release. The movie might actually be based on the <s>the part of the game that's not actually in the game</s> provocative trailer that gave the game its marketing power in the first place, but that's beside the point. If you don't think in terms of the present being the past for the future, it makes sense that the game is, in fact, based on a movie and not the other way around as it normally is. It's just that the movie it is based on will actually come out later and be based on the content of the game that's going to be based on the movie because that's how logic works.

  • Award: "Best Game to Take it to the Insect-Man" for making ants, both gigantic and tiny, one of the central antagonists in a game that revolves around a mech that can shoot 1000 missiles at a time. Whole levels revolve around the ever-populous bug and it is their tenacity to survive and royally break your mech and morale that makes them a force to reckon with. Killing them hasn't been as satisfying as it is in this game since that one time you were that psychotic child who just had to set them on fire with a magnifying glass to remind them who their god is.

  • Award: "The Capitol Hill Award for World-Class Politics" for compelling a bunch of people to start an "Occupy Nintendo" movement in the seemingly-vain hope of satiating their entitlement complex. Actual (potential) quality aside, few games are notable enough to warrant vast mailing campaigns and petitions, but this one was apparently worth the support/cult. Judging by the fact it's actually gotten localized and published outside of Japan, apparently those fans who are fans without actually playing the game were louder than the ones who begged the same thing for Mother 3. <s>Personally, I wish this support was being given to Rhythm Heaven Fever, which is almost certainly Nintendo's real swan song for the Wii, but maybe I'm just a little bitter or something.</s><br><br>Runner Up for: "Chaos Wars Award for Best Retailer Exclusive Game" for getting an exclusive GameStop brick-and-mortar deal in the US. Limiting it to one store outside of Nintendo's online shop (wouldn't want another Electroplankton here!) is certainly not a one-way ticket to being dead on arrival, after all.

  • Award: "Best Game if it Actually Ever Came Out." At least that's what the fans seem to be implying. Those same people also seem to want Capcom to burn in a fire and therefore erase any all traces of the game with it, but, I digress.

  • Award: "Best Bioware Game of 2011 According to Itself" for having employees masquerade as regular users on places like Metacritic and insert glowing user reviews to rig the overall score. Nobody can exactly stop that from happening, but it's about as subtle as conventional marketing for any other "AAA title," judging by how easy it is to find a paper trail behind it all.

  • Award: "Best Game I Just Had to Spend $100 On" for making me go against my better judgement in waiting for a (relatively) cheaper localized edition and instead import the game as soon as it was fresh off the presses in Japan because "I can speak Japanese, so why wait?" I like to tell myself that I justified it by providing one of the first English reviews of the game to an audience that was certainly interested in reading more, but in the end, it was nothing more than an exercise in paying a hearty tithe to the Church of Atlus and Latter Day Chies.

  • Award: "The Spartacus Award for Having More than One Self" for Capcom being so Capcom-y in its knack for fighting game re-releases that two editions of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 came out in one year, thereby forcing both games to naturally compete against each other in genre awards for GOTY proceedings that aren't this one.

  • Award: "Best Game You Just Read About" because I decided to make the two games fight for each other on this list as well after all.

  • Award: "Best Game to Remind You Clover's Still Dead" for being a sequel to a game made by a pretty well-loved studio in the previous generation. I mean, yeah, they're basically Platinum Games, but they didn't make Okamiden and that's pretty apparent to anybody actually interested in the game.<br><br>Runner Up for "That Other Award Should Have Probably Actually Gone to one of the MvC3 Games... Award" for being what it says in the title. Technically, that game has even more reminders of the long-dead Clover since you play as Amaterasu and Viewtiful Joe in that game. But that game also wasn't a sequel to a game that was made by Clover, so we'll let it slide.

  • Award: "Best Use of Region Locking" for being programmed such that if you imported the game from, say, Japan and attempted to play it on an American DSi, it would prevent you from doing so while, naturally, being perfectly playable on any and all vanilla DSs. I would call this a fruitless endeavor, but so much effort seems to have been put for what's such an easily bypassable feature by design that it's difficult to describe what it really is other than "interesting."

  • Award: "The Black Market Licensing Medal" for having easter eggs involving cameos of the main characters from iconic 1990s anime Cowboy Bebop that are almost certainly without the original Japanese studio's permission. No, <a href="">seriously</a>. There are even achievements that revolve around finding the ragtag bunch of kidnapped characters.

  • Award: "The Disney Straight-To-VHS Award for Soul-Sucking" for doing such a thorough job of revamping the visuals that all traces of the original NES-esque style are gone, all for the sake of justifying yet another re-release of a game on a new platform. Cave Story might be a classic, but no amount of effort is probably going to change its place in the overall pantheon of games either commercially or critically, for better or for worse.

  • Award: "The Scribblenauts Award for Pioneering Proper Spelling in Gameplay" for (purposely, of course) including a mechanic where the game might not spell your answer completely for you if you select a term from the menu during survey prompts, thereby hindering your efforts towards virtual fame, success, and happiness. Anybody who wants the game to spell terms such as, I don't know, "Declaration of Independence" will think twice after seeing the game automatically use just three letters come hell or high water from the subsequently enraged player.

  • Award: "Best Game to Kill Time While Waiting for Beyond Good & Evil 2" for reminding people that Michel Ancel was once known in the video game industry for reasons other than making a game about Bush-era political intrigue. Despite somehow achieving the miraculous feat of getting his sequel greenlit after the original game was eventually being packaged with string cheese, he instead opted to release a proper Rayman game again once more and, judging by the sheer joy it brings to one and all, the world is a much better place as a result of it.<br><br>Runner-Up for "Best Game to Justify a Saturday Morning Cartoon" for showing people the sort of soul a proper, sprite-driven game created in the HD era can possess. Now whether a Rayman cartoon could live up to the pedigree of other Saturday morning adaptations based on games such as Viva Pinata and Donkey Kong Country is another question entirely, but that's another matter for another day. The point is that if you were to play the game on a Saturday morning with a bowl of, say, Rice Krispies, you'd objectively be in for a perfect day.

  • Award: "The Earthbound Award for World-Class Anti-Piracy Measures" for its use of an invincible scorpion enemy that will haunt you until either the end of time or you hand it a $40 bill or an equivalent amount in smaller denominations. When you've got people contemplating playing the pirated version deliberately for the challenge and making colorful speedruns, you know you've got a winner on your hands.

  • Award: "The Hail To the New King(?) Award" for outselling Final Fantasy XIII-2 in week one sales by a <i>definitive</i> 1000 copies, provoking many on both the English and Japanese-speaking sides of the Internet to declare Final Fantasy dead as a franchise despite its ongoing profitability in favor of Japan's new RPG lord and savior Tales. Personally, the coffin won't really be nailed until the now-inevitable Tales rhythm game outsells Final Fantasy Theaterrhythmohmygodiknowtheyhaveactualwritersatsquarewhocandobetterthanthattitle, but jumping to conclusions is way more fun. I should know. I'm American.

  • Award: "Best Review Scores" for apparently having such good multiplayer that reviewers a plenty just outright ignored or brushed aside the totally existent single player content because why should the scope of such critiques ever include all of the content available on the main menu? There's a way to laud the multiplayer and recommend people to go play it for that reason while also telling DICE, "Hey, either take your solo content more seriously or just don't put it in at all." But maybe that's me.

  • Award: "The Cow Clicker Award for Excellence in Micro-transactions" for trying to transplant the in-game store of Team Fortress 2, a game with hundreds of hours of potential gameplay and socializing time, into the cooperative campaign of a game that, barring any mods, lasts five, six hours at most and is a consistent, unchanging experience. If you actually think you can get enough bang for your buck in buying hats and animations for that, then more power to you, but then you just might have a bit too much economic power in the first place.

  • Award: "Best Game to Get with the Times" for having a significantly quicker turnaround time between release and DLC than, well, you know, all the time leading up to all of that. For a game so rooted in the past, Gearbox sure was quick to make sure that at least the economic side of it was modern.

  • Award: "The Cheetahmen II Award for Best Game You Might Not Actually Be Able to Play" for implementing a thoroughly inelegant save system that makes the frame rate in the PlayStation 3 version keel over before one might be "done" with it. Sony's platform has historically played host to gimped versions of Bethesda RPGs previously, but none of them managed to be so potentially unplayable and, apparently, relatively unfixable. How such an issue wasn't caught over the course of normal QA testing is anybody's guess.

  • Award: "Best Toilet-Related Imagery Since Plumbers Don't Wear Ties" for having the gall to charge $60 so that players might experience the grandeur of a third-person shooter as a literal potty-mouthed protagonist, if only briefly. The fact that you can also potentially make that toilet talk like a zombie, too, is also worth heralding.

  • Award: "The Hikikomori Award for Most Relevant Single-Player Content in a Fighting Game" for actually giving people who don't want to be associated with the multiplayer scene reasons a plenty to play the much-vaunted revamp of Mortal Kombat. Single-players are gamers, too, and it's rarer than it should be to find a fighting game this side of Capcom that actually remembers that fact.

  • Award: "Nicest PC Game to Not Go Immediately on Sale for 50% Off After Release" for Frozenbyte's considerate mentioning (in a totally capitalist sort of way) of assuring fans on the Steam forums that, unlike, say, LA Noire, a game released for $50 in November that then dropped rapidly during the Thanksgiving Steam sale, Trine 2 would not be undergoing a similarly shocking discount soon after its release. It might ultimately be a way for Frozenbyte to get the most bang for its buck while it can, but at least players will have enough time to enjoy their game and feel like they got their money's worth before the, ah, less fortunate get the chance to purchase the game for less.

  • Award: "Best Game That Has No Idea What it Wants to Be" for, once again, leaving it up to the player community to create the content and mold the game into whatever they want to be. Should it be about more cliche Mario recreations with floaty gravity? Cool, that's covered. Want it to be a Geometry Wars clone when you could just buy the actual games combined for cheaper? Great! Enjoy that experience! As the developers were keen on trumpeting, LittleBigPlanet 2 can even play like a real-time strategy game, in case you had the ambitions to take on Blizzard's juggernaut, but were too lazy to generate your own assets or code.

  • Award: "Most Jumbled Title" for tricking everyone into thinking the game shouldn't be called "Super Mario Land 3D." Bucking the trend of putting Nintendo numbers as suffixes starts by inserting the numbers in the middle of titles instead!

  • Award: "Best Game To Use As a Substitute for a Plane Ticket" because, dude, I can't tell you how much they got the scenery of urban Japan right in that game. Ironically, you can't begin to understand just how eerie the setting of the game resembles the real thing without actually going there, but take my word for it. Although, rest assured, the pedestrians in real life are better textured.

  • Award: "Most Likely to Make You Ashamed You Still Have an Inner Child" for having a sizably older fan-base that is distinctly not the target of the game's marketing. Being an adult who's a fan of Skylanders might yield the most fulfilling experience of all, though, because not only do you get to feel like a kid who gets to play with a new toy every time a new one comes out, but you get to feel like the bitter parent who has to look at the ensuing credit card statement and actually pay the price of liking the game. It's like commentary on the whole scope of the human existence!

  • Award: "The Team Ninja Award for Most Integral Use of Breast Physics" for Ubisoft and iNis' keen understanding of why people like The Black Eyed Peas: Fergie's <s>sex</s> <s>chest</s> sex appeal. Without that, the game, let alone the band, has no reason to exist.

  • Award: "Best Game to Get in Line for at TGS" because, man, it sure was nice of ArcSys' organizers to say that the line, despite snaking around itself several rows deep, would only have a half-hour wait, only to take up two and a half hours of everyone's time before being allowed to touch it for five minutes at most (and that's assuming you won your first match and got to play a second). Even if you were, say, me and tried to make a bee-line for that booth as soon as the doors were more or less open at the show, good luck getting ahead of the hordes of other fans that thought it was a great idea to play the game first thing.

  • Award: "Best Game to not Get Derisively Called a Q-Bert Clone" for Intelligent System's somehow being able to release their (probably pretty damn charming) block-pushing 3DS downloadable title unscathed while some other game by Atlus wasn't so lucky. Pre-release critiques of games are nothing if not consistent.

  • Award: "Best Game That Isn't Cave Story That You Could Buy For Cheaper on PC" for coming out on 3DSWare with fewer overall features and costing more than what the game currently asks for on PC. Anybody that can afford a 3DS can also probably afford a PC that can run the original VVVVVV, which is to say, most any computer that can run Flash. That's not a very tall mountain to climb, financially speaking.

  • Award: "Best Game to Come Out with its Tail Between its Legs" for getting a re-tweaked version released on PSN and XBLA that proved that, contrary to popular thought, the essential Crysis 1 experience could, in fact, be done within the constraints of console hardware. It was just that those pesky graphics previously got in the way. Curses. If there was any time in the original game's life when it was probably good for PC owners to stop using it as a benchmark/bragging point for how good their rig is, it was probably when the console versions came out.

  • Award: "Most Nebulous Release Date" for confusing review sites the world over with whether it was worth the time and effort to review Minecraft and give it the necessary 10/10 when it "came out" this year. The team said that the 1.0 update was when you should get your evaluating on, so clearly there's no time better than the present to get your thinking on about the game. Just in case you hadn't done enough of it already.

  • Award: "Most Likely Game to End Up on Somebody's Game of the Year List" for giving PS3 owners a shot at putting the game on their own personal lists just so they can confirm to you that, they, too, among millions of other players, think the game is pretty dandy. But unlike last year, when they couldn't do that, they can do it this year, in the event that you had forgotten just how much everybody liked it and why you probably should, too.

  • Award: "Most Justified Entry on Any GOTY Awards List" because when <a href="">this guy</a> puts it on his, that's when you know all bets are off.<br><br>Runner Up For "Best Clover Game That Didn't Get Represented in Marvel vs. Capcom 3" for being technically the only Clover game that didn't have characters appear in the crossover fighter to some capacity despite the original game being about brawling, customizable movesets to enhance said brawling, spanking, chihuahuas, and other such relevant things. If you asked IGN, they might also chirp in that the game also qualifies for the award "Worst Clover Game That Didn't Get Represented in Marvel vs. Capcom 3," but it's best to let that sleeping dog lie as much as it can, beings as I just woke up it yet again in mentioning it. That being said, maybe it's just me, but I'd figure Gene would be an easier character to convert into a fighting game character than Phoenix Wright and we all know how that went.

  • Award: "The Anti-Left Behind Award for Okay Biblical References" for being a game based on Christian lore that doesn't require you subscribe to any particular faith to play it. Granted, the actual lore in question it's based off isn't accepted as canon in any but the most obscure sects of Christianity, but when your other options for Biblically-grounded games that aren't Shin Megami Tensei consist of such classics as Sunday Funday, Bible Adventures, and the previously-mentioned Left Behind RTS, there's certainly room for expansion in how that religion and its mythologies are explored.

  • Award: "Best Skeeball Simulator" for having a multiplayer component that lets you relive the best aspect of arcade culture, all within the confines of the Renaissance era in which the fine sport was originally born. Now you don't have to buy some version of Carnival Games that probably has it just to relive the good old days of skeeball playing, even if Rock of Ages is distinctly lacking in ticket dispensers.

  • Award: "Best Game Sponsored by SyFy," for not only not being the only game sponsored by the SyFy channel to come out in 2011, but for also not being Red Faction: Armageddon. In light of games such as Portal 2, the amount of actual science to be found in the game is probably minimal at best. However, unlike Valve's game, the fact that a television network about science gave it some marketing dollars, which is basically like being sponsored by science in proxy, automatically makes it more legitimately scientific than some indie puzzler about potatoes and hobos.

  • Award: "The Atlus USA/8-4/Nintendo Treehouse Trophy for Most Unlocalized Game Somebody Will Probably Ask Pepsiman to Translate at Some Point" for being the third installment in a relatively beloved third-person shooter/strategy series that Sega has gone on the record saying it will not bring to the US. That probably won't stop English-only players from trying to find the nearest Japanese student to implore to translate the game and, in this site's case, I wouldn't be surprised if it was me. Considering that this game is distinctly not Valkyria Chronicles 2, I at least know that my morale while translating it would probably be higher than if I had to work on that game.

  • Award: "Least Amount of Snow Cap Zone" for having even less content related to the classic Sonic 3 level than non-Sonic the Hedgehog games released this year. We all make mistakes and, at the very least, they also did not make the mistake of including Shadow the Hedgehog levels (that'll be in Shadow Generations), so if that's the price we all must pay to keep that stuff at bay, then so be it, I suppose. I'm not the one running Sonic Team, so I can't change reality, but then again, I'm also not the one running Sonic Team.

  • Award: "Largest Number of Angry Kirbys on the Box Art" for having more than the default one Kirby that most localized Kirby games sport on the box just by sheer virtue of Mass Attack's premise. It's not enough that people know that Kirby is adorably pissed; people have to know that even when he has family in the mix, they can get cute and angry, too.

  • Award: "Best Non-Vaporware Game to be Missing in Action Up Until Release." Duke Nukem Forever doesn't qualify for this award because it was actually publicly cancelled at one point instead of just disappearing into the ether. Kirby's Return to Dreamland, on the other hand, started life on the GameCube before going on to be reinvented no short of three times, with most of the forms not being openly acknowledged by Nintendo until after the game's long-awaited release on the Wii. Never outright declared to be dead by Nintendo despite the long gap between the original GameCube game's announcement and the time when they reminded people it still actually existed in some form by saying, "Oh, hey, we actually put this on the Wii and it's coming out, like, tomorrow," Kirby's Return to Dream Land went to great lengths in ensuring it came back to life from the ashes with next to no fanfare whatsoever.

  • Award: "Most Passive Aggressively Chastised Fanbase" for Nintendo's subtle efforts through Skyward Sword's art design in implying to the diehard Twilight Princess fans that maybe the realistic graphic style in the vein of that one GameCube tech demo might not actually be the best fit for the series after all. Traces of Twilight Princess can indeed still be found in the visuals, but so can Wind Waker and other less realistic styles. If Twilight Princess had been as defining of a Zelda game as OOT was, like many people had argued at the time of its release, some semblance of its art form would have probably permeated the larger series instead of having virtually the exact opposite happen. Even Ocarina's aesthetic lasted longer in the form of Majora's Mask, but perhaps that's one tangent that's best not explored.

  • Award: "The Chie Satonaka Certificate for Best In Class Adaptation of Video Game Character to Steak" for giving Japanese consumers (and those who otherwise lived in Japan) the chance to purchase meat buns shaped, colored, and otherwise full of life like the iconic Dragon Quest enemy. As I lovingly detailed in my <a href="">review</a> of the meat bun, it is an object with meat inside that will not kill you. When considering that the Final Fantasy-derived potions/energy drinks <a href="">could not necessarily achieve that much</a> in years past, this is to be considered progress.

  • Award: "Most Accurate Simulation of Wall Street" for proving once and for all that it really is true that when housing prices have plummeted and the rich have gotten richer off the stock market and are on the verge of cashing in on their newfound fortune that's not quite newfound but is really just a larger fortune than before, a totally metal remix of Bowser's theme song from Super Mario World plays. When people accuse Obama of being a Russian-loving socialist, it's because he's not triggering the song often enough during his battles with the American economy.

  • Award: "Least Offensive Title in a Square-Enix Game" for the developer's apparent effort in actually consulting a nearby Oxford dictionary to verify that every word in the title was, in fact, a valid part of the English language. It didn't exactly lead to a revolution among the company's writers to actually make it a consistent trend given the existence of Theatrythm, but it was a pleasant reminder that somebody could write a title in something that could be called a valid language.

  • Award: "Most Likely Game to Become Somebody's Election Issue" for being named after an ever-controversial mercenary group. The existence of this game now means that whenever a candidate discusses Blackwater specifically, it's anybody guess as to whether they're making an issue over the actual group or the game. I mean, yeah, you could use <i>context</i>, but who does when it comes to politics?

  • Award: "The Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Award" for featuring... two of those things. Now, I know Mario Kart always needs another gimmick to justify the creation of another game, so clearly trains will have to wait for another release, but enough progress is made towards it being an inadvertent licensed movie game that it's still worth noting. At the very least, the addition of playable trains would automatically make it the most relevant Japanese train simulation since the absolutely riveting Densha de Go.