The Ten Best Games of Q2 2011
Well, the second quarter of 2011 is in the can, and because the countdown of my ten favorite games from Q1 2011 proved to be popular with readers, I’ve decided to do the same thing with this one (and probably with Q3 and Q4 once they are finished). It’s hard to believe 2011 is halfway done, and it’s even harder for me to believe that I’ve played over sixty new releases this year – thirty seven in this quarter alone.
Like with all “Top Ten” lists, I like to add some caveats. The first is that, obviously, I am not you. That means my list will more than likely not look like your list. We all have different tastes, so don’t be offended if games you like aren’t on the list. As well, even though I managed to pack thirty-six games into twelve weeks, there were far more games than that released during that time frame, so if a game you played didn’t make the list, it could very well be that I just didn’t get to play it. Two examples of this are Wizardry and LA Noire – both games I really wanted to play, but that I just haven’t had the chance to yet. Hell, I STILL haven’t played the first Dragon Age or Fallout: New Vegas. At the same time, since I play a lot of obscure or indie games, this is a great chance for you, the reader, to discover some really fun games that you might have missed due to their lack of an advertising budget.
Now with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the ten games I found to be the best releases of April, May and June 2011.
Honourable Mention: Alpha Polaris
Alpha Polaris was a game I waited all year for and that I was really excited about. Like the number five game on this list, AP made my list of the ten indie games I was most excited about in 2011. It was a fun, slow burning horror game for the PC, made by a brand new Finnish studio, Turmoil Games. It looked and sounded great, and so far, it’s the best pure horror game of 2011. The downside is that the game had some pretty out there puzzles that made the game only accessible to the most ardent of PC point and click adventure game fans. Which of course… is me. It’s definitely a game worth checking out, but a lot of gamers WILL need help from the ol’ Internet to get through it. If you’re a fan of Lovecraftian or Victorian style horror, then this chilling tale (pun not intended) set in the frozen arctic will be right up your alley. It only has a price tag of $19.99 to boot!
#10: Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix
At the start of the year, I could only think of a single Wii game that I was going to pick up – The Kore Gang as it is the precursor to WiiWaa – the game you play with a puppet. Little did I know, though, that in Q2 2011 alone, that there would be three Wii games I had to pick up, and that two of them would make this list. Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix is the first of those games.
Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove is a WiiWare title with a price tag of only five dollars. This was what first piqued my interest. The fact it was made by Natsume, was a dancing game AND featured monsters quickly became reasons two through four, and I snatched it up. Although the game was only an hour or so long, my girlfriend and I had a blast with it. We loved the characters, the art style, and it was one of the few Wii dance games that a) actually worked right and b) was fun. In fact, this was my favorite dance game since DDR Hottest Party 2 because of how well made it was. Monster Mix is proof that a game can be short and cheap and still be incredibly good. Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix serves as a wonderful introduction to the cast of characters that will be their upcoming 3DS game this fall, and if it’s as good as the WiiWare title, it’s almost certainly assured a spot in one of these top ten lists. Now the real question is whether or not Natsume will be releasing some more WiiWare versions of this game, or (crossing my fingers here) a full length release so that my Wiimote and Nunchuk can get a little more use out of them this year.
If you’re looking for a game that offers four player co-op/competitive, won’t break your bank account and will let you burn a few calories to boot, GGG:MM is a really whimsical all ages game that is well worth checking out.
#9: Stacking: The Lost Hobo King
In last quarter’s countdown, Stacking took the #2 spot on the list. I absolutely loved that game, but I’ve always been a sucker for DoubleFine Productions. This was the best puzzle/adventure hybrid game that I had played in years, and the fact I got it for free via Playstation Plus just made everything better. When I learned there would be a DLC bonus chapter for the game, I knew I had to get that as well. Like the first game, The Lost Hobo King makes my top ten for the quarter, but as the expansion was much shorter, had a price tag that was half the price of the full game, and the story wasn’t as good, it doesn’t get to climb as high as its forebearer. That said, if you own Stacking, you really should invest in The Lost Hobo King, as it’s funny, weird and requires you to be as quick with your wits as you are with your fingers.
The plot of The Lost Hobo King has Charlie Blackmore (the protagonist of Stacking) traveling with his friend Levi to an island where the challenges of the Hobo King await him. Whoever can solve the three trials of the island will become king of the hobos. Charlie doesn’t want to become king, but he is willing to help the man who DOES. Factor in the game then involves Matryoshkas, zombie vampire thingies, playable raccoons and other such weird characters, and you have an expansion that is just so endearing it still warms my heart when I think about it. Like the number ten game on this list, The Lost Hobo King is a bit short, but it’s jam packed with quality from beginning to end. If you like puzzles, stylish visuals, and that old classic Lucasarts adventure game sense of wit, than pick up The Lost Hobo King… unless, of course, you haven’t picked up Stacking at all. Then get both!
#8: Record Of Agarest War Zero
I didn’t like Agarest War Zero as much as I enjoyed the first game, Generations of War. This is because Zero is mostly a rehash, much shorter and without as many options. The game does feature more customization of your protagonists and it’s nice that you can import characters from the first game into this one (even though this is a prequel…), and I love the engine, so that was enough for the game to make my top ten for the quarter. Of course, it also helped that I am a HUGE Red Entertainment fan and these games are as close as we will get to new Sakura Taisen titles, so that gives the Agarest a huge sentiment boost in their favour.
I’ve always been a big fan of SRPGs and dating sim style games since I was a kid. Tactical RPGs were always my favorite, due to the Shining Force series, and unfortunately, these days RPGs are mostly action games or (ick) turn based, so I pretty much have to rely on the Disgaea series for my grid based kicks. The fact that the Agarest series finally came stateside gave me a chance to play these games again (I’ve imported all three from Japan to date, and the first from Europe, since it was actually in disc form for the PS3 there), but in English. The characters are a lot of fun, the story combined some pretty grim realities of war with a good dose of romantic comedy, and the engine is just fabulous. It doesn’t completely reinvent SRPG gameplay, but it does make things feel fresh and fun. I wish that there were more than two generations to play through (the first game had four), but the Limited Edition comes with some very nice items, include a soundtrack, deck of cards and a character guide, and all for the price of a no-frills game to boot. That helps to make up for the lack of depth that the first game had.
The first Agarest game was overlooked in the states due to Aksys horribly screwing up in terms of how the game was released and marketed, but don’t let Aksys’ blunders make you pass by another quality Red Entertainment game. We don’t get a lot of them stateside, and if you are an RPG fan at all, you owe it to yourself to see why they are considered one of the best companies across the pacific.
#7: Mystery Trackers: Raincliff
I don’t know about you, but I primarily play video games for the story, and since the 80s, there’s been no genre with a more consistent level of high quality story telling than point and click adventure games. Sure, the graphics are a little more static, and the gameplay isn’t as involved, but these games tend to make you think while also rewarding you with wonderful stories. Is there anyone that doesn’t love games like Maniac Mansion or Shadowgate? Well, Mystery Trackers: Raincliff is the first of three straight point and click adventure games for the PC on this list, which says to me that the genre is having its best year since 2008.
Raincliff boasts a very neat story that kept me glued to my PC from beginning to end. A group of paranormal investigators decide to solve the mystery of the town of Raincliff. Apparently everyone fled the city at once due to supernatural happenings, and it has been a ghost town since. Well, those meddling kids went in… but they never came back out. As a private dick, you’ve been hired to see if you can find them, or at least what happened to them. The end result is a wonderful little game that is equal parts science and supernatural, with some wonderful uses of Full Motion Video (which has really come back into vogue these past few years with PC games) and some fun little puzzles ranging from brain teasers to hidden object games. Even better is that the collector’s edition is only $19.99 (13.99 for Big Fish Games members) or $9.99 for the regular edition ($6.99 for BFG). The CE’s edition boasts video outtakes, a full strategy guide, a soundtrack, and two bonus epilogue games. Can you imagine a CONSOLE GAME offering you all that for under twenty dollars? It’s because of games like this, that you can only get on the PC, that I have forever been torn between the two worlds of gaming.
Again, Mystery Trackers: Raincliff is a game that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages and skill levels. It gives you a fun story but it primarily tests your mental mettle. It’s hard not to have fun with this thing and the level of quality combined with the low price tag has me beseeching you to pick this one up.
#6: Midnight Mysteries: Devil on the Mississippi
So, everything I said about Raincliff can be applied to Devil on the Mississippi and then some. Like Raincliff, this game has an extremely affordable collector’s edition in addition to the regular version of the game. Both games boast incredible stories, fun puzzles and some great visuals. Both are a wonderful example of how adventure games have evolved to please both casual and diehard gamers alike, and both games are not only amongst the best adventure games of 2011 so far, but amongst the best games period. With Devil on the Mississippi you’re getting one of the most out there and yet totally awesome and off the wall stories I’ve ever seen in a video game, and English majors or literary lovers alike should be foaming at the mouth to pick up this PC title after I explain the plot.
In Devil on the Mississippi, you play as a detective who is visited by the ghost of Samuel Clemens, AKA Mark Twain. It seems that he is in a bit of a war from beyond the grave with William Shakespeare and the loser of this battle becomes the eternal property of Mephistopheles himself. Dude, it’s Shakespeare Vs. Mark Twain in an undead battle of literary greats for their immortal souls. How insanely cool is that? It also helps that the game is wonderfully done, with some beautiful graphics, enjoyable puzzles and a lot of love for the source materials of both authors. Now the game does play on the constantly disproven crackpot conspiracy theory that Williams Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays, but it’s just a game, not real life, and the answer to the conspiracy theory put forth here is a hell of a lot more interesting and believable than most of the papers written by the nuts that think the Bard didn’t do his own work.
The collector’s edition of Devil on the Mississippi offers a ton of extras with budget pricing, and it really is one of those games anyone can have fun with. It’s just a work of art from beginning to end. You can really see that the dev team loves both authors and the history that surrounds them, and it’s great to see such an outside the box idea coupled with such excellent gameplay.
#5: The Next Big Thing
I love Pendulo Studios. They gave me Runaway and Hollywood Monsters after all. Now they’ve given me The Next Big Thing, and not only is it neck and neck with Gray Matter for the best point and click game of 2011, but it’s easily the best looking game I’ve seen this year. Seriously, you have to play this game to even remotely understand how gorgeous this game is. It’s like playing a cartoon. Remember how amazed gamers were with the visuals of Dragon’s Lair back in the early 80s? It’s the same jaw dropping quality here. The animation, the fluidity, and the sheer beauty of this game not only blew me away, but showed the world that an adventure game CAN have visuals that are able to compete with (and beat) major multi-million dollar budget titles. Just thinking about how the game looks like a hand drawn animated movie rather than a video game gives me goose bumps.
The voice acting is incredible as well. About the only place the game suffers is in the story, and that’s due to a) it being a reboot of Hollywood Monsters and b) the translation into English from Classical Spanish not being the best. Still, the game has given me some of the most original puzzles that I’ve played through in years, a wonderful cast of characters I fell in love with (Give me a sequel, damn it!) and the game is one of the few titles I might actually make a case for in regards to actually being art. Although the price tag is a little high for an adventure game these days ($29.99), it really is up there with Gray Matter as the best adventure game of 2011, and it’s great to see a longtime adventure game developer like Pendulo sticking to what they do best – making some of the best point and click games ever. The Next Big Thing is funny, sublime, breathtaking and, if either PC or adventure gaming were still as popular as they were in the 90s, this really would have been the next big thing.
#4: Virtua Tennis 4
Virtua Tennis 4 is easily the best pure sports game I have played in years. It helps that I used to play tennis from middle school through college (unfortunately I don’t know anyone that plays here in D.C.) and although I never watched the professional aspect of the sport, I really enjoyed playing it. I loved the first two Virtua Tennis games, and when I learned AM3 was back doing the fourth, I jumped at the chance to play it. Out of all the games on this top ten list, I was most obsessed with this one. The reason it’s at number four, however, is that it also made me angrier than any game I’ve played this year to boot. Not because it had problems, but because I’d get really pissed at certain calls that I knew was bad judgment from the ref. This is one of those things that, after earning every trophy in the game save for online ones (due to PSN being down for so damn long), I knew I had to trade it in. After all, I’d beaten World Tour mode twice and the game still made me angry with a bad call. I took it way too seriously – something I never do with video games these days – and so as much as I loved it, I knew I needed to trade it in.
I absolutely loved World Tour mode. There were so many things to unlock and so many ways to customize your character. Playing mini games gave your character experience points and improved them in various categories. It was a lot like playing a sports RPG, and I love that. I honestly haven’t enjoyed a season style mode in a sports game like this since MLB Power Pros. As I said, I took the development of my character, BooBoo KittyF*ck, pretty seriously, and would scout out the best routes to take, what power-ups I needed and more to ensure my character would be nigh unstoppable. Of course, this being a sports game meant I had to back up that strategy with actual playing skills, and it was good to see I was better on the virtual court than I was on the real thing.
Virtua Tennis was an excellent game in all respects. It looked and played like a real game of tennis, the various modes game you a lot of options and replay value for your buck and it was nonstop fun. The only real negatives I can think of are that the game’s powered up shots would almost always get by the computer and that the Move functionality in the game was rather crappy. Aside from that, Virtua Tennis was one of those rare sports titles that anyone could enjoy – even non sports fans. Even our own Chuck Platt adored the Wii version as much as I did the PS3 one.
#3. Dungeon Siege III
I was a fan of the first two Dungeon Siege games for the PC, but I was very skeptical about DS3. I mean, I love Obsidian (once part of the greatest game studio ever, Black Isle), but their games are pretty buggy. Not Bethseda bad, but still games that you know will need patches for weeks or months to come after release. They also weren’t the original team behind the DS series, and after I saw how bad Throne of Agony (the first non PC Dungeon Siege game) was, I was worried that DS3 would be more of the same. Finally, Square-Enix was picking up the publishing reigns after Microsoft and 2K Games had given up on the series. To say that I don’t have a lot of faith in Square-Enix and their revival of dormant series is a huge understatement. The icing on the cake was when I played the Dungeon Siege III demo and found it to be a pretty generic hack and slash game. So I am as surprised as you are when I found that Dungeon Siege III was one of my favorite games of the quarter.
Dungeon Siege III fit right in with the combination of action and light comedy that the previous two games were known for. The game played amazingly well on a console, so much so you would have trouble believing that the series’ roots (as well as Obsidian’s) were on the PC. The game had a few minor bugs, but it was an incredible improvement over what we normally see in an Obsidian game, and the four playable characters were distinctive enough from each other that you could easily replay the game and get a very different feel (along with very different dialog choices). With two player local co-op and up to four player co-op online, the replay value of Dungeon Siege III was through the roof and it was easily the best RPG that I played in the second quarter of 2011. This was the most fun I’ve had with a pure hack and slash RPG this console generation and while it was no Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2, you could definitely feel shades of that classic game in this one.
I know. I’m as shocked as you are that a Wii game made it up this high, especially as my Wii sat dormant from November 2010 until this May 2011. I’m doubly shocked that it is an exercise game as I am extremely hypercritical of these games and have well earned a reputation in the industry as the best reviewer in the business when it comes to these games. That being said, I loved Exerbeat more than any workout game since Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout. Now Exerbeat isn’t as good as Get Fit With Mel B., but that’s because Deep Silver’s exercise game is as close to perfection as this genre can achieve right now. That being said, the fact that Namco Bandai was able to make sure a deep and rewarding exercise game that can teach you correct workout moves without actual video footage and all for a price tag of under thirty dollars, and you have a game that simply can’t be beat by other exercise games for the Nintendo Wii.
So where to start with what makes this game so awesome? Well, it’s only the second workout game to incorporate a dual controller motif. Most games only have you hold one controller (regardless of console) or a Wiimote/nunchuk combination. The former means only one half of your body is being tracked correctly and the other greatly restricts your upper body movement, making it nearly worthless for a lot of exercises. By having a controller in each hand, your body can be tracked more accurately and ensure that movements are fluid as well as being done correctly. Even better, Exerbeat focuses almost exclusively on the upper body, which is great for someone like me who loves to go running. This way I have a one-two balanced workout if I choose to do Exerbeat instead of say, weights, resistance bands and what have you. The game also offers a wide range of exercise types that you can engage in, from Karate to Yoga. The options are wonderful and you can mix and match an insane number of reps to form your perfect workout. Some of the longer routines can go for an hour without any sort of break, so this game can be pretty intense. I love it. I absolutely love it.
Lastly, finishing exercises give you access to “world tour” mode where you earn “steps” based on how well you did. Making it to various landmarks not only unlocks new options and exercises for you, but you get world history information as well. As a history and folklore buff this was just all the game needed to put it over the top for me and ensure that Exerbeat has become my exercise game of choice. Hell, my girlfriend has nothing but disdain for the workout games I am constantly set to review and this is the first one she said she would want to play. Good thing it has two player co-op mode, something people have wanted in an exercise game since the genre first began. With all this in mind, it’s no wonder Exerbeat scores the unexpected #2 slot on this countdown.
#1: Mortal Kombat 9
…and just like last quarter, a fighting game takes the top spot on this countdown. What can I say? I’m showing my own roots as a gamer. Street Fighter II and Fatal Fury were the games that really made me a Diehard GameFAN (ho ho ho) and Mortal Kombat 9 isn’t just the best MK title I’ve ever played, it’s the best game I’ve played all year. I feel so dirty saying I enjoyed this more than Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, but there – I said it. As I noted throughout this countdown, story is a big part of why I game and the story mode of Mortal Kombat 9 blew away anything that MvC3 had to offer. I loved every moment of the story, and even took notes on who all died and who would be playable in Mortal Kombat 10 based on who is left and what characters haven’t been touched. I also found online play of MK9 to be more fun (and less problematic) than MvC3 and there was so much more replay value in MK9. With MvC you just had three-on-three play, combo learning for each character and…that’s it. MK9 has story mode, arcade mode, tag team mode, the tower, the Krypt, multiple fatalities, babalties, statistical tracking of your characters, hidden “classic Kombatants” and so much more. Hell, for the first time I can remember in the MK series, you could actually do KoF style frame rate counting and have it matter. As a long time Geese Howard player, this brought a huge smile to my face.
I loved clearing every character’s arcade mode and seeing their endings. I loved the challenge of double perfecting Shao Kahn on the highest difficulty setting and being able to do it three times – with Smoke, than Mileena and finally Stryker. In MvC3, I could only do that with one particular team to Galactus: Akuma/Ryu, Hsien-Ko and Wolverine (although there mainly because the game seemed designed to purposely make that impossible. Well, suck it Capcom!). Is MvC better balanced? Yes. Does it have a better overall engine? Yes. Does it have characters I like better? Yes. But somehow, Mortal Kombat 9 manages to beat it by a hair to become the best game I’ve played in 2011 and by default, the best game I’ve played this quarter. Hell, I was playing the game at the start of Q2 2011 and I’ve still playing it regularly now that we’re into Q3 2011, and that’s the only game on this list I can say that about. That alone should earn it the top spot.
Look, the fact I am a dyed in the wool Capcom and SNK fighting game nutcase and I love this game should be able to convince even the biggest MK skeptic to try it. The quality, replay value and amount of content is through the roof with this game and if you haven’t played it yet, than you are missing out on one of the best fighting games of this console generation.
Now the only question is if King of Fighters XIII can nab the top spot next quarter…
There we go. The ten best games of Q2 2011…at least according to me. I’d love to see your own personal top ten lists for the quarter and hear your own thoughts on some of these games. Here’s hoping this list inspires you to pick up some of these titles. Now let’s close things out with the full list of the thirty-seven games I’ve played this quarter in the order of best to worst.
#1. Mortal Kombat
#3. Dungeon Siege III
#4. Virtua Tennis 4
#5. The Next Big Thing
#6. Midnight Mysteries: Devil on the Mississippi
#7. Mystery Trackers: Raincliff
#8. Record of Agarest War Zero
#9. Stacking: The Lost Hobo King
#10. Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix
#11. Alpha Polaris
#12. Streets of Rage 2
#13. Black Mirror 3
#14. Marvel Pinball: Captain America
#15. Back to the Future Episode III: Citizen Brown
#16. Marvel Pinball: Fantastic 4
#17. Pokedex 3D
#18. Red Johnson’s Chronicles
#19. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes
#20. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
#22. 3D Classics: Excitebike
#23. Resident Evil: The Mercenaries
#24. Red Faction: Armageddon
#25. Tales From Dragon Mountain
#26. Back to the Future Episode IV
#27. Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident
#28. Duke Nukem Forever
#29. Magic The Gathering 2011
#30. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance
#31. Infamous 2
#33. Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion
#34. Space Raiders
#35. Virtual Console Tennis
#36. Thor: God of Thunder
#37. The Tiny Bang Story