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Top 7 Games of 2011 (Earl’s Picks)

Sure, we do our own Game of the Year podcast like any other gaming website, but we thought it would be nice to share each individual’s own Top Games of 2011. For the most part, the show will just have us fighting out our number 1 pick to see which wins the overall GoTY (and hopefully no tie this year!) And much like our List of Movies, we’re doing 7. Why 7? Why not!

But before I list my picks, here are three honorable mentions and why they didn’t make the cut.

  • Swap Notes– Nintendo is a quirky company, sometimes this is for the better, sometimes its for the worse. They can never do exactly what people want them to do, but for the most part you forgive them. SwapNotes is only the most recent example. When I first heard of this little app, it was being sold as the system-wide messaging app for the 3DS. Something both the DS and Wii lacked, Nintendo was finally getting with the times it seemed. Then they released the app, and its a terrible messaging system. Your message don’t get sent nor do you receive them instantly. And even when you DO get them, you still have to download them when the app loads. There’s so much wrong with that. Then why does it get an honorable mention? Because while it lacks the core component, it is so much fun to mess around with. I mean sure most of the stuff is standard practice, writing notes, attaching voice or photos, but just giving gamers an open canvas to present this messages is awesome. I’ve gotten a ton of creative drawings and messages using the various stationary. I honestly thought it be a fun diversion for a day or two and people would forget about it, but its game like structure (unlocking more stuff for your letters as you send/receive them) really keeps you coming back. Its not close to a game nor is it a great messaging service, but if you own a 3DS you need to download this little app!
  • LA Noire– I’ve gone on the record saying this isn’t a great game. It has way too many flaws for my taste including game play that becomes highly repetitious, a plot that has some of the worst pacing, and a last act twist that while an improvement really blindsides you. Then why would I give it an honorable mention? As I noted on the show before, I think when the dust is settle, this will prove to be the most influential game of 2011. The tech used for the facial and body animation is second to none, and I can see this becoming the standard for many games going forward. So it isn’t the greatest, but worth a play just to see the tech on display.
  • Xenoblade- I’ve raved about this game time after time. For my money, it is one of the best RPGs ever made, its a fantastically crafted game that really advances the genre. And honestly is a contender for my GoTY. Then why didn’t it make the cut? Really, its the release date. If Nintendo of America, didn’t announce one would have been on my list no problem, but since they did I want to keep the list to games released in North America in 2011. While it isn’t as common anymore, we still do get games that release in diff calender years based on country, and this is one of them. I will recommend everyone picking it up when it hits GameStop in April.

Now that its out of the way, let’s focus on the Top 7 games I’ve played this year. I will admit to cheating a bit, one of the reasons we didn’t hold our GoTY podcast in Dec like everyone else was to make sure we got through our Christmas gifts, but the other main reason was so that the afterglow of a freshly finished game didn’t taint our opinions of them. So yeah, one of the games on my list was something I’ve completed less than 12 hours ago… oops!

7) Uncharted 3

Uncharted is the type of experience, gamers are looking for when they want a game that blends the quality of cinema with the interactions of a video game. It has likable characters (Nathan Drake is perhaps one of the best new characters introduced this generation), it has amazing set pieces and it has memorable dialog. Uncharted 3 continues down the path set by the first 2 with a bigger focus on the relationship between Nate and Sully.The multi-player has returned with new modes and tricks, and the co-op is much improved over part 2. While it remains a one of a kind experience, there’s just something off about part 3, which is why its much lower on the list. That said, if you own a PS3, you owe it to yourself to check out the game.

6) Gears of War 3

Gears of War 3 is more Gears of War. That’s not a bad thing, its not an insult, but its the truth. If you were a fan of the first 2, this game just gives you more of the same on a bigger scale. And it works. It is a fine foundation to build upon, and unlike most other 3, they do attempt to close the trilogy they have been building on. In addition to a solid single player (or co-op) campaign, they’ve also expanded the multi-player component of the game. Beast Mode was a fun diversion even if it was just a bit short, and think would have been awesome with competitive elements. Horde Mode returned bigger and badder than before. And trust me, getting to Wave 50 was one of my favorite challenges this year. Gears of War won’t be known for re-inventing the wheel, but is a damn fine game.

5) Portal 2

Portal 2 is everything one would hope for in a sequel for Portal except its longer. That’s both good and bad because Valve was charging 60 bucks for it, but some of the padding is just a little off-putting. That said, outside of certain segments this is a solid puzzle game that really stretches your ability to comprehend your environment. While the single player was as solid and fun as the original, I feel the game really shined with the co-op mode. Get together with a friend, and you have one of the most ingenious games of the generation, which is just a blast to play. It also helps that Valve was kind enough to give out free DLC for this title as well expanding the co-op charm. And who doesn’t love robots hugging!

4) Saints Row: The Third

The 3rd Street Saints are back, and this is perhaps their biggest, most over the top and zany adventure yet. And I loved it. There’s something to be said for a game that never attempts to take itself seriously throwing you into one bizarre scenario after another. Whether its robbing a bank dressed as yourself with a giant mascot head or free falling out of a plane in a tank, this game seems to always one-up the last mission. In addition to that, this is perhaps the single best example of using licensed music in a video game to date. Believe me when I say, you will never forget the moments associated with some key musical selection. Add in co-op and whored modes, and you have the best open world game in years.

3) Batman: Arkham City

The Caped Crusader glides into action once again as he looks to thwart the plans of Hugo Strange and The Joker. I honestly don’t know what to say about this game that hasn’t been said before. It is the best video game based on a comic book character, and perhaps best use of a licensed property in gaming. It has one of the most vicarious combat systems in all of gaming, making you feel like a true bad-ass with the littlest of effort. It has a terrific score with probably the best menu music of the year. The voice acting is top-notch with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles. And its bigger and bolder than its predecessor. If there’s one game you want to play, this is it.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Legend of Zelda had a lot to look back upon this year. 25 years is a long-time for anything, and Skyward Sword had a lot to prove. I think it pulled it off in spades. The motion-based combat finally began to sell many on the merits of the control scheme. The art style hid the Wii’s technical limits while crafting a wholly unique look and experience for the franchise. The story while not the grandest of scopes told an interesting tale of love and destiny. The music, while not everything is memorable, was top-notch and had some truly amazing tracks. The dungeon design was ace, the characters were interesting and the Legend lives on.

1) Super Mario 3D Land

I go through an internal debate every time a new Mario game is released. The Super Mario franchise was what got me into gaming so a piece of me will always hold it dear for that, but how much of it colors my impression of the franchise. Mario has never been the most story-driven franchise nor has it been the technical marvel. But each time, it comes down to the same thing. Nobody, in my humble opinion, does pure game play better than the plumber. Super Mario 3D Land proves it once again. Sure, you’ve heard the tales of how this is the game that proves 3D in gaming, that boat doesn’t matter to me. What was truly impressive was Nintendo’s melding of 3D and 2D game play into an experience that feels so familiar but fresh and different at the same time. The level design, again is usually without competition, and some of the finest platforming stages in some time. The use of 3D to test not only your depth perception but even spatial distance is really like none other on the market. We have the return of classic suits and all new ones. And even more impressive, after you finish the game, Nintendo snuck in an entire second adventure for you to complete alongside everyone’s most neglected brother.

My personal feelings are, there was no other game that had as much charm, personality and refined game play than Super Mario 3D Land, which is why I’m awarding it my 2011 Game of the Year.

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Earl Rufus

The owner of this little chunk of the internet. Enjoys having a good time and being rather snarky!

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