As we look back on 2011, there are lots of things we can say about it. It was the year where the Xbox 360 finally morphed into the Sega Saturn with games like Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes and a lot of traditional shoot ’em ups. It was the year where the Playstation Network was shut down for over a month due to hackers. It was the year where Nintendo launched a new portable system whose initial stumble worried some that this version of 3D gaming was following the same path as the Virtual Boy. It was a year where nearly every major release required a patch on the day of release and console gamers meekly took it as a fact of life, when in previous generations it would have been found unacceptable and then some. It was a year that where the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS let loose their death rattle as the PS2 did the year before. When all is said and done though, the year can be best summed up with three words: Older is Better.
Where a lot of brand new releases stumbled due to bugs, game ending glitches or severe issues related to online play, the most notable games seemed to be ones that were originally released well over a decade ago. While some games like Tactics Ogre and Guardian Heroes were originally released to English speaking/reading audiences in the mid 90s, their remakes drew more attention than a lot of new releases. Other games like Radiant SIlvergun, Corpse Party and Persona 2: Innocent Sin were originally made in the 90s as well, but for various reasons never made it to the United States or Europe until this year. Yet gamers worldwide discovered not only that these games well deserved the acclaim they have held for so long, but that in many ways they were better than a lot of modern products. In fact, as we look at the thirty-two awards we hand out this year, TWELVE of them (that’s 37.5%!) are going to games that were originally released in some way, shape or form between 1996 through 1998. As well, only three award winners were titles that weren’t remakes, reboots, re-releases or sequels. That says a lot of different things about the year that was 2011. We’ll leave you to form your own opinion as to what it means for you.
Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all debated, squabbled, eventually voted and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head…but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2011.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3 EXCLUSIVE GAME
This wasn’t the PS3’s best year. The Playstation Network was down for a month, a lot of exclusives for the system failed to live up to the hype and Move still hasn’t lived up to the hype. The good news is even after all that went wrong for Sony in 2011, there were still a few bright spots for the PS3, with Disgaea 4 standing out as the best of the year.
Disgaea 4 turned everything on its head. The graphics were the best we’ve ever seen in a Nippon Ichi game and arguably the best for any SRPG EVER. The story was fantastic and in my opinion was the best in the series yet, featuring wonderful new characters and a plot that was totally different from the previous titles. Add in the usual zany humour to be found in NISA titles and a wonderful parody of the democratic system, and you had an adventure you couldn’t help but fall in love with. You also had the ability to make your own dungeons, Cam-Pain headquarters, the ability to send your characters into someone else’s game (either as pirates or ambassadors) and it’s no wonder Disgaea 4 took this award. There’s never been a deeper, more involved or intense SRPG and out of all the exclusives for the PS3 this year, nothing came close to matching Disgaea 4 in terms of quality or sheer fun.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME
The PSP is slowly beginning to wind down as a console, as we’re seeing less and less releases and developers are moving onto developing for the upcoming PS Vita, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some quality releases for the console this year. Gods Eater Burst, Dissidia 012, Fate Extra and more came out for the console this year, giving the console a solid release roster across the entire year. While the release schedule was… strained, what did come out this year was generally very good. The one game that stood out from the pack, though, wasn’t the game that was the most technically proficient or expertly produced, but instead the one that did the most with the least. Corpse Party, a visual novel that combined old-school adventure game concepts with sprite-based visuals and static images to create what turned out to be the best PSP game of 2011. Crafting a product that invests the player in the experience is no easy task, as developers still have trouble with this even with all of the technological tools available to them, but Corpse Party does this so effortlessly that it’s amazing. With a tale featuring likable characters experiencing truly horrifying situations and a presentation that actively compliments the experience at every turn, at a budget price no less, Corpse Party still shows that the PSP has some life left in it, and very much deserves its accolades across the board.
BEST XBOX 360 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Radiant SIlvergun first came out in 1998, although it never made it stateside. It was widely considered to not only be one of the best shoot ’em ups ever made, but one of the best games of all time. Thirteen years later, Radiant Silvergun finally received a worldwide release as an Xbox exclusive. The fact that this game not only holds up nearly a decade and a half later but also blew away anything else released for the Xbox 360 this year speaks volumes about its quality (or perhaps the lack thereof of 2011 releases). The 360 version takes the best bits of the Arcade and Sega Saturn versions but also adds new content to the game, such as “Ikaruga Mode,” high definition graphics, and true alpha blending. When you also take into consideration the game has only a fifteen dollar price tag, which is about a 90% discount from the older, Sega Saturn version, it’s no wonder Radiant Silvergun took this award. It’s one of the best games ever with a budget price to boot. Nothing else even came close to touching it this year.
Radiant Silvergun is a game everyone should experience. If you own a 360 and haven’t purchased this game than hang your head in shame because you’ve missed out on one on not only the best 360 exclusive game of 2011 but one of the best games of all time. See firsthand why this game has maintained its cult following and critical acclaim since the days when Arcades were plentiful and Sega still made hardware.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME
The Next Big Thing
The PC had a really strong year in 2011, with point and click adventure games making an especially strong showing. When all was said and done though, The Next Big Thing lived up to its name and proved to be the best game of the year for the oldest “gaming system” still going today.
The Next Big Thing remains the most beautiful game I’ve played all year. The graphics are a high definition hand drawn animated cartoon come to life. The characters are as amusing as they are endearing and I laughed almost constantly at the madcap shenanigans from beginning to end. Pendulo Studios were all but typecast into being “that company that does the Runaway series” before this game and it’s great to see they were able to break out of that with The Next Big Thing. Liz Allaire and Dan Murray are two of the most likeable characters of 2011 and it’s a damn shame The Next Big Thing didn’t get more attention from the gaming press as this little gem flew under the radar of a lot of gamers that would have otherwise well in love with this thing. The Next Big Thing not only proves that point and click adventure games are still as viable a genre as ever, it one of the funniest and best looking games of the year. Even if you’re the type of gamer that prefers to stick to a console, break out of the constraints you’ve made for yourself and spend five or six hours with The Next Big Thing to see what you’ve been missing. You won’t be sorry.
BEST NINTENDO WII EXCLUSIVE GAME
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
While there wasn’t much in the way of Wii releases this year, particularly those of the first party variety, there was definitely a high level of anticipation for Link’s latest outing. While Twilight Princess may have been the first Wii Zelda game, Skyward Sword was the first to be designed from the ground up with motion controls in mind. It was a bold move on Nintendo’s part to make the Wii Motion Plus a requirement to play, but it turned out to be a great showcase for the technology and ensured that every encounter had to be approached with caution as wildly swinging the Wii remote around will generally lead to disaster.
Even more impressive was the game’s presentation. While it may look a bit dated when stacked up against something like Skyrim when the Wii can’t even output in HD, when you consider the limitations of the hardware, you’ll realize how splendid it looks as a Wii title. It mixes the cel-shaded graphics of The Wind Waker with the more realistic approach of games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess and you’re left with a compromise that looks very storybook in nature and complements the Zelda origin story very well. The musical score is also one of the best in the franchise which makes the inclusion of a CD soundtrack all the more exciting. There are a few remixed tracks to be sure, but much of it is new material, including a vocal track sung by Zelda herself in the game.
The storyline has grown up a bit with this release as well. The opening sequences set the stage for the adventure to come and there is more of a relationship built between Link and Zelda this time around, which makes the blind chase for her more personal than it otherwise would be. I’ll admit that I had my doubts about this becoming the new beginning of the timeline for the franchise, but by quest’s end everything is so well tied together, you wonder how it could be any other way.
– Sean Madson
BEST NINTENDO DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
When Radiant Historia came out, it drew comparisons to Chrono Trigger due to time travel serving as a driving force of the game’s events. In some ways, it’s an apt one given you use time travel to try and prevent disastrous, the end of the world chief among them. However, it was used in a different way, and the time periods traveled covered a smaller scope of time. It worked well with the plot, and the reverberations from tinkering with events at one point in time could be observed at other points. As such, there were multiple endings scattered throughout the timelines, encouraging going down every decision path to see the outcome for each.
It employed a turned based battle system that featured a variation on the grid system commonly found in SRPGs. It differed in the sense that only enemies were moveable, while your characters stayed lined up on one row. This made battles feel a bit less monotonous in that you couldn’t always just rely on hitting attack over and over. In addition, Yoko Shimomura produced a score that was aurally pleasant and suited the context in which each track played. It was a compelling RPG that used the time travel concept well and retained aspects of traditional JRPGs’ appeal while also introducing enough new features to make the experience feel fresh.
BEST NINTENDO 3DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
Nintendogs and Cats
While Nintendo has never been shy about returning to the familiar when it comes to releasing new games on one of their consoles, they really drove this point home on the 3DS. Much of their first party offerings were ports or remakes in some form or fashion and while they were generally well done, didn’t need the 3D to be enjoyable. While it could be argued that Nintendogs didn’t need 3D to succeed when it originally released on the DS, for a game that is supposed to simulate owning a real pet, it certainly helped a lot for the 3DS update.
What makes Nintendogs and Cats such a stellar launch title and our winner for best 3DS game is that it uses most every function the console has to offer and utilizes it as a strength. You use the microphone to give voice commands, the camera to use the included AR cards, and the touchscreen to do most everything else. The dog or cat that you decide to call your own can be pet, washed, walked, or played with using a combination of the stylus and the touchscreen. And if you’re fortunate enough to not get headaches while looking at 3D visuals, the pets really come alive on the top screen, particularly when a puppy comes over to slobber all over you. Good thing it doesn’t simulate doggy breath.
BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME
In theory, Dark Souls is a hard game to really recommend to people; from a video-gaming standpoint, it is the equivalent of a bully who thumbs you in the eyes for even daring to interact with him and only escalates the torture the longer you try to tolerate his presence. In practice, however, describing the experience of the game to people generates a certain immediate response in the listener, something that can be described as a giddy curiousness when you begin to explain exactly how often they will die whilst playing the game. As it turns out, apparently, a large amount of people thirst for the sort of challenge Dark Souls provides, in a way that’s interesting to see in action… it’s almost like some people are looking to be defeated by a video game, to have their heads kicked in by their electronic entertainment product on purpose. That would certainly explain the popularity explosion of Demon’s Souls and the surprisingly large amount of love given to From Software, a company who has spent the better part of their existence making games that appeal to a small but loyal fanbase almost exclusively, and the fact that they have managed to attract a sizable audience is both surprising and pleasing.
Dark Souls continues the tradition of its predecessor of being challenging to a large degree, often to a point where the game might as well exchange the “YOU DIED”Â text for “LOL U MAD BRO?”Â every time you die… which will be a lot, but there’s something endearing in the game if you can accept this thing. The challenge is almost refreshing if you’re an older gamer, as after slowly watching games decrease in challenge as the console generations changed, Dark Souls basically comes up you, slaps you around a bit and says “Hey, suck it up and deal”Â right from the beginning. The changes added to the game only make it better, from expanding the game world into an open-world environment to adding in new exciting ways to kill and die at the hands of your enemies and other players, and they serve to make an already strong concept even better as well. Dark Souls absolutely deserves recognition as the best multi-console game of the year, and while it can certainly be a polarizing experience, more than anything else, it’s absolutely a memorable one either way. Prepare to die.
BEST SPORTS GAME
Virtua Tennis 4
I’ve always been a big fan of video game tennis ever since the days of Real Sports Tennis for the Atari 2600. My love of this sports subgenre peaked with Virtua Tennis 1 and 2 on my Sega Dreamcast. As a person that played on tennis for his middle school, high school and college, I could be a “bit” hypercritical on how these games played. Hell, it’s been a decade since I’ve found one worth playing. With the release of Virtua Tennis 4, the drought of high quality tennis titles has ended. The game looked and played wonderfully. I was thoroughly addicted to “World Tour Mode” where you create a character and run them through an entire season of playing tennis, watching your stats ebb and flow based on the choices you make. It was basically a full length RPG disguised as a Sports game and I haven’t had this much fun with a modern sports title since I originally discovered MLB Power Pros.
Simply, put, Virtua Tennis was great fun whatever system you played it on. Chuck loved the Wii version as much as I adored the PS3 one. Sure Virtua Tennis 4 wasn’t perfect, but it was a really good game and definitely the best sports title of 2011. Here’s hoping AM-3 gets to make Virtua Tennis 5.
BEST FIGHTING GAME
If you were to go back to 2006, when Mortal Kombat: Armageddon was released, and told fighting fans that the series was going to be rebooted, they would have believed you. If you told them that the game would be awesome, they would have been skeptical. If you had told them that 2011 would see a new King of Fighters game, and TWO new Marvel vs. Capcom games, and yet Mortal Kombat 9 would be outright better than all of them, they would have laughed in your face.
However, here we are, and there’s no denying that Mortal Kombat may have just had the single greatest comeback of any franchise in video game history. Not only is it the best fighting games of the year, but it’s also one of the best overall games of the year. MK9 provided players with a return to 2D gameplay, a return of the stylistic gore and fatalities that fans craved, and packed more “Kontent” then most players knew what to do with. With new additions to the series, great multiplayer, and a fantastic new fighting engine, the battle for Earthrealm was the place to be in 2011.
The only question remaining is what NetherRealm Studios can do for an encore.
BEST ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Dragon Age II
I know some fans were a bit disappointed with Dragon Age II‘s new direction. But you know what? I applaud Bioware’s daring take on following up their 2009 epic. Rather than focus on saving the land/world/universe like every other RPG before it, you are but a character that goes from rags to riches over the course of several in game years and eventually wind up in the midst of all the politics going on around you. And this is all on top of the typical Bioware method of character building: talking to your follow party members, building relationships, and making choices that affect the outcome of the entire game. The way the story was presented was clever as well, being told by the perspective of one of your party members who sometimes skews the truth in some scenes (leading to some amusing results).
The combat system was more involved this time around. Having to hit a button for each attack made you feel like you were actually doing something during the fight rather than passively allowing your pre-programmed A.I. Characters to duke it out while you sit on the sidelines. Many of the menus were streamlined as well, as you didn’t have to worry about spending an eternity on the menu screen equipping each and every single character (which for me meant equipping my best people and giving the hand-me-downs to everyone else.) You could instead be putting that time towards questing or talking to townsfolk.
Here’s hoping that the inevitable third entry follows the same impressive pedigree as the games that preceded it.
BEST FIRST PERSON GAME
Some games work better than others in the first person perspective. First Person Shooters are a prolific example, the mechanics therein having been honed and refined over time. Conversely, Mirror’s Edge was a failed experiment in using the first person persepective for a platformer, given the loss of proprioception, which made timing jumps and positioning yourself right for jumps and landings more difficult.
The Portal games do require plenty of aerial manuveurs, but pulling those off felt less like a tedious exercise in frustration and more like challenges that were satisfying to overcome. The fact that you’re immune to deaths from high heights (unless you fall into a pit or into toxic liquid) helps mitigate the frustration factor while retaining the challenge. While the nature of the game could wreck havoc for some who are easily afflicted with motion sickness, the overall experience works and is rather enjoyable to play through.
BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER
2011 was a very good year for shooters, almost all of which were exclusives to the Xbox 360. We had games like Otomedius Excellent, Child of Eden, a new Bangai-O and even a sequel to last year’s winner – Deathsmiles. In the end though there was only one clear choice as this particular game blew everything else away. Sure it might not be fair that this shooter was thirteen years old and considered to be one of the greatest games of all time, but 2011 was also Radiant Silvergun‘s first true release in North America and Europe (unless you had a Sega Saturn, a ST Key, and well over $100 to burn on a single game).
Any fan of shoot ’em ups could babble on endlessly about why this game is so good and what makes it so different from any other traditional shooter out there. But honestly? It’s a game you have to experience to understand. Radiant SIlvergun is the measuring stick by which all other shooters are measured and as it’s a first time release in much of the world, it has to be treated like any other game new to our market in 2011. With that in mind, every other shoot ’em up released this year was basically a pale mockery of this game. This is generally considered to be one of Treasure’s two Magna Opera -an amazing feat considered most only have one. Radiant Silvergun has everything you could want in a shoot ’em up. It’s beautiful to look at, has incredibly fast and frantic gameplay, and a unique feel to it. Hell, it even has a quality story behind it. How often do you see that in a shooter?
Just trust me. This is the second of four awards this game has won. Again, it’s thirteen years old and it’s winning four awards in 2011, blowing away the competition of modern era games with million dollar budgets. There’s a reason for this. You owe it to yourself to see why.
BEST ACTION GAME
Batman: Arkham City
I made no secret about my disappointment with Arkham Asylum. I let the hype get to me, and I set myself up for a fall. In particular, I didn’t feel the combat and predator sections were as strong as they could have been.
Well, any misgivings I had were done away with by Rocksteady’s second effort. Arkham City is a thriving concrete jungle filled to the brim with enemies to beat and riddles to solve. The boss fights were a huge step up, giving you the likes of Solomon Grundy and Clayface to deal with. New gadgets opened up new possibilities, and tighter controls with more variation made the whole thing feel tight and exciting. More importantly, this game made you truly feel like the Dark Knight, and that Gotham was your playground.
This was one of my favorite games of the year, and easily the best action game of 2011.
BEST ADVENTURE GAME
Adventure games, at this point, have mostly settled into existing on the PC platform almost exclusively, save for the odd console releases here and there. As such, it’s always interesting when an adventure game makes its way to the consoles and handhelds, especially when it turns out to be a standard bearer for the genre. Corpse Party doesn’t seem like it’d be that game at first, due in large part to its presentation and mechanics. The game looks like an upscaled SNES game at first and features many of the same mechanics adventure games have been using for years, where you need to hunt for some item to progress only to repeat the process ad infinitum. Further, the game is a “visual novel”Â, which only compounds the issue, as that concept implies a lot of reading and less puzzle solving, even if that’s not specifically the case, and with the spotty track record of visual novels in the US, well, the deck was stacked against Corpse Party in a few different ways.
That just makes this verdict all the more interesting, however, because when it all comes down to it, Corpse Party is excellent, and it’s easily the best adventure game released this year, for a lot of reasons. The game forgoes convoluted and often out of context puzzles in favor of more organic puzzles, and its text-heavy presentation works in its favor, as its characters are excellent and the heavily descriptive death sequences call back to games like Shadowgate, in a good way. Corpse Party is a triumph, an adventure game that came from an RPG Maker mod and grew into something awesome, and if you’re a fan of adventure games and haven’t played it yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice, one that you should rectify.
Guardian Heroes is my favorite game of all time. Nothing even comes close. The storyline and all the branching paths. One of the best soundtracks of all time. Multiple playable character, each of which is noticeably different from the last. The ability to have six people play at once in an era where more than two gamers on the same system at the same time was basically unheard of. This mix of an RPG, side scrolling beat ’em up, and fighting game blew me away when I first played it on the Sega Saturn and even to this day, nothing comes close to capturing the magic I felt when I first played this.
It appears I’m not alone in my love and adoration for Guardian Heroes for the high definition remake of this game is winning not one, but two awards this year. In a year where we saw tons of high quality remakes including another Ocarina of Time (this time in 3D), Guardian Heroes was still untouchable in terms of pure quality and outright fun. The Guardian Heroes remake is a wonderful tribute to the original 32 bit era version and you can even use the old Sega Saturn graphics if you want to be purely retro instead of viewing the game in HD goodness. The gameplay is still quite unique and with all the different options for playing the game (characters, difficulty, style of control), you can experience Guardian Heroes dozens of times and keep encountering something new.
The original Guardian Heroes is one of the best games of all time. There’s no arguing this fact. The same can be said for the remake. If you missed the original game back in the 90s, you’ve got a second chance to see why this game is so beloved…and for a fraction of the cost of the original Sega Saturn version to boot.
Kirby: Mass Effect
Everyone’s favorite pink hero did exactly what he did five years ago. He starred in a great game that could only exist on the Nintendo DS. Like Canvas Curse before it, Mass Attack used intelligent touch screen controls and strong level design to create one of the best DS games of 2011. With great production values, bonuses, and replayability, it had the total package. It even managed to outshine Kirby’s other appearance this year, and that was on a full console!
While Mario, Link, and Fox have all moved on to the 3DS in some form or another, Kirby gave DS owners one last hurrah worthy of a Nintendo mascot. Here’s hoping when he makes his inevitable move to the new handheld, he brings this kind of quality with him.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST HORROR GAME
As is seemingly becoming a trend anymore, this year wasn’t a particularly good year for the horror game genre. While we saw a couple of good releases on the consoles, like Dead Space 2 and a re-release of Resident Evil 4, most of the good horror releases were PC adventure games exclusively, which is why our nominations are mostly made up of such games. Promising possibilities like Fatal Frame 4 are condemned forever to Japan, while Silent Hill: Downpour was pushed back to 2012. Even Resident Evil saw only a remake of an older game and an expanded version of the combat-heavy scare-light Mercenaries mode drop on the 3DS. While there were more than a few horror-themed elements in games this year, including Alice: Madness Returns, Dead Island and Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, the scares (or even possibilities of such) in these games were often minimal, at best. While many promising games await us in the future, including an Alan Wake sequel, I Am Alive, Amy and The Last of Us have been announced for the future, this year the pickings were slimmer than fans might hope, but even so, one game stood out above the rest.
Well, you’d think with a name like Corpse Party it’d be obvious, but this is very much the sort of horror experience that truly represents the genre. It’s not a game about picking up some guns and fighting your way through the evil horde; it’s a game about surviving a horrible haunted school where a whole lot of people have already died, some of them right in front of you, and you could just as easily die in an unpleasant way. It’s a game where even your friends could be your enemies, where there are numerous possible ways to be rent asunder, and even the good endings are hardly that at all. It’s a game that makes you care about your characters and fear for their lives, and for that reason, it’s an excellent example of horror done right, in a way that many gamers have likely never seen before, and it’s that reason beyond any other that Corpse Party deserves the Horror Game of the Year award.
BEST ALL-AGES GAME
Pokémon Black and White
One thing is for certain – when it came to reader interest, Pokémon Black and White was the biggest game of the year. Four of the five most read articles on this site were about Pokémon Black and White. It’s plain to see that our readers love Pokémon and I can’t say I blame them.
Pokémon Black and White was more than just another entry into the core RPG series where you are a single digit aged child capturing animals to fight at your behest. We saw not one but two new forms of battles introduced, we saw new Pokémon, and most of all we saw two new theme introduced – both of which are far more mature than anything the series has tackled before. The first was nature Vs. technology while the other was Pokémon Vs. Humanity. Yes, after all the jokes and snide remarks, Game Freak took a serious look at whether or not Pokémon were just “cock fighting seizure monsters” or something more. Then end result was a well done affair, highlighting the relationship between a Pokémon and its Trainer. It was an adult enough storyline that was able to shake the naysayers who refer to Pokémon as a “kid’s game” and inviting enough to youngsters that it still captured the essence and angst-free nature the series is known for. It’s one of the few games to earn a perfect score from Famitsu. While Pokémon Crystal is still my own personal favorite rendition of Pokémon, Pokémon Black and White was still an excellent game in all respects and for the second year in a row, a Pokémon game wins our “Best All Ages Game” award.
BEST RACING GAME
Mario Kart 7
Generally speaking, Mario Kart games are like pizza, in that even when they’re bad, they’re pretty good anyway, and Mario Kart 7 is no exception to that rule. While Mario Kart 7 doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel in the same way that Mario Kart: Double Dash! did, it also doesn’t ruin the mechanics of the series in any fashion, which is king above anything else. The gameplay the series is known for is still intact, and the competing play styles of “race like you mean it”Â when you’re leading the pack versus “trololololololol”Â when you’re in the back are intact and in prime condition. It also helps that the ability to customize your karts is a pretty exciting option, and while it’s hardly a new idea when compared to the genre, more variety is always an awesome thing to have in any game. Mario Kart 7 probably would be a hard game to use as an argument on why you need to own a 3DS if you’ve yet to acquire one, to be certain, but if you have the console already it’s a very easy game to recommend; while it might not be the strongest entry in its own franchise, it’s still a fun and furious racing game that’s lots of fun, whether you’re winning or griefing.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME
Physical copies of Radiant Silvergun could go above $200 before this year. Why? Well, it’s considered one of the best games of all time, it was only released in Japan in limited quantities and then only for the Sega Saturn. It was a hard game to come by and because of the sheer quality, people were willing to pay copious amounts of money for it. Now, if you have a 360, you can buy the game for a measly fifteen bucks – and that’s with added content and updated graphics. How crazy awesome is that? Radiant SIlvergun was easily the best deal of 2011 and it was one of the best games to boot. Clocking it at only 613 MB, you can download one of the best games of the year in under fifteen minutes and for less than it costs to park at a sporting event. As gaming becomes more and more about digital downloads instead of physical copies, it’s interesting to see that the winner of this year’s award was originally on the very first system to have internet access…even if it didn’t take advantage of it.
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME
Back in 1996, most games still only offered two player co-op/competitive. Sure there were some that offered four player action, but those were rare. Then came Guardian Heroes. Story mode let you play as two characters but the full blown melee version let up to SIX people take each other on at once – all on the same console. It was completely insane and a lot of fun. Now in 2011, the remake lets you have up to four play via online co-op in addition to two player co-op on the same system. Melee mode though? If you thought six humans playing characters at once in a knock down drag out fight to the death was impressive in 1996, now you can have up to twelve people playing the game. No other beat ’em up, RPG or fighting game even comes close to letting you have this many characters going at it at once, and as Guardian Heroes is a mix of all three, it’s going to be interesting to see to see how or even IF this can be topped.
Fifteen years after its originally release, Guardian Heroes is still proving why it’s one of the best games ever and even the best multi-player experience of 2011.
BEST PUZZLE GAME
Portal built on the concept of using portals as a central means of solving puzzles first introduced in Narbacular Drop. Gravity and momentum play a central role and must be used in creative ways in order to proceed to the next area. “Flinging”, which takes advantage of the fact that momentum is retained while in one portal and out the other, is a commonly used example. At times you also need to be able to shoot a portal in the right spot while in midair.
Portal 2 continues to built on those concepts by introducing new tools to use, namely the gels. They provide more possibilities in changing momentum and direction in order to reach different places. Other new features, such as the hard light bridges and Excursion Funnels, also opened up other options in transporting yourself and objects to where they’re needed. More variations in environment provide more contexts in which to use these new features, which helps set this game apart from its predecessor. Playing with another person in co-op also introduces other approaches to puzzles, as you have to be able to coordinate actions with your partner to progress, as well as figured out how to manage two sets of portals.
Backdropping all this is a familiar sadistic AI, as well as some new voices. There’s also plenty of backstory to be inferred through environmental clues, encouraging exploration. While some may have been skeptical as to how the original game could be followed up, Valve manages to produce a sequel that retains the appeal of the first game while adding in more content (including free DLC) to make the experience feel fresh.
Wizardry: Red Shadow of the SIster
As DLC content goes, Red Shadow of The Sister is an exceptional add-on for Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, the main reason being that it complements the core product so well. Without beating around the bush, this add-on content continues to serve even the most seasoned dungeon crawling fan with a wealth of new adventures and challenges, and adds an excellent amount of content to the game to boot. Too often, add-on content fails to really retain the feel of the main game and leaves the player disappointed, but Red Shadow of the Sister not only maintains the feel of the main game, but expands upon it greatly as well. The $7.99 admission price is practically a gift, considering the hefty amount of content included in this DLC, and it’s mandatory if you intend to mold your Wizardry heroes into true dungeon legends. Red Shadow of the Sister, in short, is an excellent add-on to an excellent game, making it an easy choice for DLC of the year.
WORST GAME OF THE YEAR
Thor: God of Thunder
Let’s be honest – 2011 was not the best year for video games. A lot of the best games of the year were remakes of older titles. Many of the new titles were as buggy as they were fun to play and when the games were bad, they were downright terrible. Of them all though, Thor: God of Thunder was considered the worst of the lot. God, I still remember playing through this thing and hating every minute of it. The voice acting was sub-par, the graphics were amongst the worst of any game for this console generation, much less this year and playing the game was like pulling out your own teeth. The game was littered with bugs included more than one game killer. Getting through the game was almost impossible due to how poorly made the title was. When passing a level is based on being lucky enough not to get a bug instead of a gamer’s skill, well, that’s just unacceptable. At least Skyward Sword was given a work around for its big issue and Skyrim is stilling be patched (although if it’s anything like the issues with Oblivion, Bethesda will stop trying in a few weeks/months and leave the game as is). With Thor, God of Thunder, it was obvious that no one involved cared. The actors from the movie phoned in their lines, the dev team half assed the entire game, there was obviously no quality control and the end result was a horrible mess that will live in infamy.
Liquid Entertainment should be downright ashamed of making this game and Sega should be doubly so for allowing it to go to market. Thor: God of Thunder was virtually unplayable at times and sadly in retrospect, that was when the game was at its best. Congrats Thor: God of Thunder – you were the worst game of 2011 and you definitely earned this.
CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
So let’s see if we can get through this without making the obvious joke, shall we?
Frank West has had a surprisingly solid run for a character that, by all indications, wasn’t meant to be nearly as endearing as he became. He looks like Dan Aykroyd, acts like a jerk and brags about the fact that he’s taken photographs in combat zones to anyone who’ll listen. Yet somehow, gamers gravitated to his over the top character and turned him into the face of the Dead Rising franchise. So much so that Chuck Greene ended up as almost an afterthought. Not that Chuck wasn’t well received, or even liked, but Frank was basically the guy everyone wanted, to the point where Capcom not only said “Hey, let’s make an expansion pack with Frank in it,”Â but further followed that idea up with “Hey, forget Chuck, let’s remake Dead Rising 2 with Frank as the star,”Â and it actually worked. Couple that with his appearance in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and hey, Frank’s been having a pretty good year, all in all.
Frank’s appeal basically comes from the fact that he’s the jerk with a heart of gold, in a lot of respects. He does a lot of good even though he’s supposedly only interested in getting his scoop and getting out, and while his jerky behavior is often so over the top that you can’t help but laugh, at the end of the day he’s basically not a bad dude. Sure, he says outlandish and dumb stuff and he seems like a creep sometimes, but he’s saved lives, exposed the truth of the zombie plague to the world, and he can rip a zombie’s intestines out with his bare hands, that counts for something. Frank West certainly isn’t an everyman character, and his fall from grace (and subsequent inability to really grasp why this happened) in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record really seems like it was deserved, but at the end of the day, anyone who can headlock a zombie and take a BFF pic as a joke is probably someone worth being a fan of, and he has covered wars, you know.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin
Much like Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun, the fact Persona 2: Innocent Sin won this award is either indicative of these older games being SO GOOD that they still hold the test of time more than a decade later, or it says that the completely new games of 2011 were a bit lackluster. Perhaps it is both. No matter how you choose to look at 2011, gamers outside of Japan finally got to see the first half of the Persona 2 story and just why gamers have viewed it with such reverence.
I’ll admit, it’s a bit weird for me to do the write-up for this award. Unlike the rest of my staff and 95% of gamers out there, I played through Innocent Sin when it first came out and I adored it. I was one of the first to write a translation for it as well as a walkthrough, so for me, this isn’t really a 2011 game. However, it’s obvious that the rest of the staff loved it as much as I did back in the day, voting for this over games like Skyrim and Arkham City – even though the translation is…a bit mangled and there are some odd censoring bits going on that only longtime Megaten nuts would even know about, much less catch.
The core story is an impressive one. It’s a direct sequel to Be Your True Mind with an incredible sense of continuity. It continues themes like “What is reality?” or “Carl Jung Vs. Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” The game is super saturated with folklore and mythology and you pretty much need a Master’s Degree in either subject to catch all the references to both. You have homages to everything from Franz Kafka to Mage: The Ascension. You have highly memorable characters, and a story that it saying multiple things at once similar to Gulliver’s Travels – it all just depends on which tale you want to hear. Persona 2: Innocent Sin is simply a masterpiece of storytelling that was able to withstand even Atlus’ localization team to come out on top with this award. Sure the gameplay hasn’t aged as well in this era where turn based RPGs aren’t as popular as they once were, but the story of Innocent Sin is finally in English and that’s something whose quality will never subside.
When you look at a game like L.A. Noire and what they were trying to accomplish, bringing a technique that’s usually reserved for films like Avatar or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you can see some pretty interesting things in video gaming’s future. L.A. Noire looked to destroy that uncanny valley you get with CG characters where they look real but off enough to be disturbing. The game characters are designed off real actors, and it’s their emotions coming through in the characters faces, their emotions, and through motion capture, their actions and it brings a sense of gritty realism that really helps sell the game as a gritty noir piece.
Los Angeles from the 40s is brought to life through some amazing details, and if you want to go even further for that noir film feel you can even play the game in black and white. Team Bondi outdid themselves with the new technology bringing real faces and emotions to the game instead of animators trying to mimic the real thing, and while it may have been expensive, the effect was well worth it.
Man, writing up award commentaries for all these games that were originally out in the 90s is making me feel like I should go to a Switchblade Symphony concert or go get cracking on Jesse Ventura’s campaign for Governor. Of course, on the way to either, the CD player in my car was more likely than not to have my Guardian Heroes Saturn CD in it. One of the great things about Saturn and Sega-CD games was that you could listen to the discs in a regular CD player and hear all the tracks. As Guardian Heroes was definitely the best video game soundtrack I had heard up to that point, it’s not a surprise that I listened to it even while doing things like working out or on car trips. The soundtrack was so good, I’d get requests from people to burn then a copy of the disc. These were not gamers mind you, but friends I had at the time. Girls I dated. People I knew that worked in the tabletop RPG industry. People I played sports with. DJs and performing artists. That’s how good this soundtrack was. Back in the mid 1990s when video game still had a negative stigma to some, the Guardian Heroes soundtrack stuck in people’s head much the same way the main themes from Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda did (and still do). The difference was that this wasn’t just one song that stuck in your head – but an entire soundtrack.
Now it’s 2011 and not only is the soundtrack as good as it ever was – it won this year’s award for “Best Audio” beating out games like L.A. Noire, Innocent Sin, Arkham City, Child of Eden and more. There’s a reason why many people city the Guardian Heroes soundtrack as the best score in the history of gaming. I’ll admit I’m biased since Guardian Heroes is my favorite game of all time, but I honestly was pleasantly shocked to see this get the same level of praise from the rest of the staff here at Diehard GameFAN. Every track in the game is a auditory masterpiece. Sure you can’t rip the soundtrack in the same way you could from the Sega Saturn version, but after winning this award, here’s hoping someone involved with the remake of the game decides to put out an MP3 collection of tracks.
Gameplay can make or break any game, and that point is especially apparent when discussing a game like Dark Souls. From Software as a developer has a very particular way of doing business when it comes to game design, as fans can tell you, and as their King’s Field and Armored Core franchises can also attest, those design ideas don’t always result in games that play ideally. Dark Souls is definitely a game that follows in those footsteps, as its systems are very particular and very much woven into each other, to the point where if any one of them was poorly designed the whole experience would fall apart. Thankfully, the opposite is true, and from a pure mechanical level, Dark Souls is amazing. The game is all about learning how to work with every possible tool available to you as the game slowly supplies and strips away your options to force you to learn and improve, and the game offers you so many different and viable ways to play that it’s amazing. You’re not forced into fighting through a location or taking on a boss with a particular combat style or weapon, and while some combat types will work in situations better than others, the fact that the game is balanced in a way that promotes and encourages experimentation is, on its own, great.
It’s when everything comes together in the gameplay that Dark Souls really starts to shine, however. Simple things like neglecting to take out one enemy in the area before taking on a boss can have devastating consequences if said enemy happens to buff the boss to a level where it can kill you in one hit. Bosses that are purposely designed in a way that allows you to cheese them out, to a point where they feature actual animations designed for this purpose, reward the inquisitive player for their creativity. Learning how much more awesome your abilities become once you get to a level where diversifying your combat capabilities is a rewarding experience, as is realizing you just dropped a boss in one run during your second playthrough that you were stuck on for hours in your first, even when said boss has been jacked up themselves. Dark Souls isn’t simply a game that’s mechanically sound, it is a mechanical marvel, and all of its mechanics and components fit together in a way few games can achieve, a point that the Best Gameplay award underscores perfectly.
– Mark B.
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
Microsoft Xbox 360
It’s interesting to look at the line-up of consoles this year in contention for the “System of the Year”Â award and realize how odd the field really was. The PS3 was ineligible this year for what should be obvious reasons, and the 3DS spent most of the year celebrating 3D remakes of older games, leaving the field to three dying consoles, the always vital PC, and the 360. From that standpoint, it seems like almost a no-brainer that either the PC or 360 would take this spot; while the PSP, Wii and DS all saw some interesting games come out, the releases were often few and far between in comparison, and as all three consoles are nearing the end of their lifespan, well, developers are starting to save their best projects for the newer consoles.
That’s a shame, too, as it also undermines the fact that the 360 actually had a pretty good year. Now, the Kinect still hasn’t quite come into its own yet, and is still bogged down with cash-in titles, games that don’t get the concept of the Kinect in a way that works with the game, and dancing games, but even with that misstep, 2011 saw a whole lot of excellent gaming find its way to the 360. Multi-console games like LA Noire, Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Oblivion, Dark Souls and more made their presence felt on the console, generating lots of positive responses across the board. Further, the 360 saw a sizable amount of awesome exclusive content, between Gears of War 3, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes, Ms. Splosion Man, The Adventures of Shuggy and more, which only helped to make it an even more exciting console this year. 2012 promises to be another competitive year between the various different consoles, with new competitors launching and existing products ramping up their performance, but for the year of 2011, the Xbox 360 did a fine job, one worthy of the highest honor we can award for the year.
GAME OF THE YEAR
TIE: Radiant Silvergun/Batman: Arkham City
This is the first time in our history that we’ve ever had a true unbreakable tie for an award, which is all the more dramatic because it’s for the most important award of the year – the game of the year. Sure we’ve had some close GOTY calls before like when Katamari Damacy won in 2004, but those tend to be passionate affairs where one side absolutely demanded a particular game won. This year however when the votes were counted and we saw Batman: Arkham Asylum and Radiant Silvergun tied the issue of a tiebreaker came up. The problem was, both games were worthy of the award and I honestly, as Editor-in-Chief, couldn’t decide between the two. After all, they both played exceptionally well, they didn’t have bugs that deleted or ruined your saves and they were a blast to experience in every way possible.
I first broached the idea of a tie privately to Mark B., saying that it seemed like the best solution but that I was worried it might be seen as a cop-out by both staff and readers. Unexpectedly, Mark agreed with the idea. In fact his exact response to my suggestion was, “I don’t think an official tie is a cop-out at all, actually… At the end of the day, both games were legitimately solid pieces of work, and it gives us a chance to really talk about how both games impressed the staff so much that there was no really easy way to choose between them. Hell, it’d be a staff unity thing, even; given the choice between the two, we decided to allow both games their moment to shine here because they were both almost universally chosen as GOTY by the staff and it seemed like the right thing to do.” Since Mark was down we brought the idea of a tie to the entire staff and even more surprisingly, everyone was unanimous with the idea. No drama. No rancor. Just “Yeah, I’m cool with it” from everyone. So here we are with our first ever tie. There are also several other firsts around this award. This is the first time a franchise has won two GOTY awards back to back (2009’s Arkham Asylum and now Arkham City. This is the first time a digital title has won instead of a disc or cartridge. It’s the first time a 360 exclusive has won the GOTY. It’s the first time a game that had been released previously has won the (although since Radiant Silvergun has never been released stateside and it was the first chance for many to play it, we counted it as we would a new game, unlike Guardian Heroes which had a previous stateside release and was relegated to “Best Remake/Re-Release”). When all is said and done, both games were the overall titles released in 2011 and to give one the award without recognizing the other would be a grave injustice.
So why Radiant Silvergun? Well as you’ve seen, it’s won three other awards from us this year: Best Downloadable Title, Best Xbox 360 Exclusive and Best Traditional Shooter. For fifteen dollars, you get what is considered to be one of the best games ever made, but now with more content, HD graphics and the ability to play it legally on a US or European system without an ST Key and a lot of disposable income. Microsoft fought for years to get Treasure to do a high definition update to the game. The fact one of the largest companies in the world all but begged and pleaded for an Eastern style shooter to appear on their very Western oriented console not only says something about the mystique surrounding this game but just how important Microsoft felt it was to get this game on their console. Thirteen years after its original Japanese only release, Radiant Silvergun still holds up better than nearly everything else that was brand new to 2011. It delighted people the same way it delighted Saturn owners and Japanese arcade enthusiasts in 1998. It managed to stand out in a year where we were either apathetic or outright disappointed with a lot of games this year. With all that in mind, how could we NOT give our highest honour to this game?
So why Batman: Arkham City? Well, lots of reasons. It was a direct sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year, Batman: Arkham Asylum, except it was bigger and better in every way. You had a much larger world to play in, the graphics were mind blowing, it had the best voice acting ensemble of the year and there were so many things to see and do, this beat ’em up/stealth hybrid meant you’d spend more time with it than most RPGs. Then there’s the fan service. Playable Catwoman from the get-go as long as you bought the game new? Awesome? Playable Robin if you purchased the game from Best Buy? Equally cool. Downloadable playable Nightwing? Rocksteady basically fulfilled each and every request people had for the game and they did an amazing job. Nearly every A to Z list character from Gotham City appears in this game, save for Ragman and Jason Blood/Etrigan. Who knows though? They might end up as DLC at some point themselves!
Batman: Arkham City not only lived up to the hype – it surpassed it in ways we rarely see in this day and age of mass marketing. Even people on staff that didn’t love Arkham Asylum loved this game. Just ask Aaron Sirois. It offered simply to learn but hard to master gameplay, a ton of customization, a roller coaster storyline with some unexpected moments that shocked even the most hardened Batman fan and most importantly – the engine was rock solid. There was absolutely nothing this game did wrong. Sure it wasn’t the absolute best in every category we rate games by here at Diehard GameFAN, but when all is said and done, it WAS the best overall experience across the board for a disc based release this year. For example, L.A. Noire had better visuals, but Arkham City boasted a better story, more things to do, it’s “catch ’em all” aspects were better integrated into the game and it was simply a more enjoyable experience as a game. So on and so forth. There really was nothing this year that came close to Batman: Arkham City no matter how you looked at things – be it from a technical, analytical or emotional standpoint. All this from a licensed game too. Take not all you developers and publishers that just churn out a game with a movie, cartoon or comic book license. No longer will people be able to use the old line, “Well what did you expect from a licensed game?” After two straight GOTY wins for Rocksteady, expectations for licensed titles are far different then they were when we played terrible titles like the Justice League fighting game.
So here we are. In a year where remakes were kings, Batman: Arkham City was able to to come out on top. Yet at the same time, none of us could honestly say that it was a “better” game than Radiant Silvergun. So that left us with only one possible solution and you’re seeing that result here first hand. For the first time ever in the history of Diehard GameFAN, we’ve got an ubreakable tie. When you look at the games, it’s almost impossible to deny either is unworthy of the award, so let’s rejoice that 2011 offered us two truly incredible games instead of how in most years, there is a clear cut winner. Now, let’s get Treasure to make a Batman themed shoot ’em up.