Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Video Games

2011 was a big year in gaming for me. It was both a return to the games of yesteryear and an exploration of newer titles that, in some ways, made up for the lackluster feelings I had towards many of 2010's releases. The titles I played in 2011 present a wide range of genres, and a few I consider to be quite groundbreaking - two of the titles I played this year earned perfect '10 out of 10' scores. Without further ado, the play-by-play of every video game I reviewed in 2011.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Fate of Two Worlds: Presented through an art style very much reminiscent of comic books, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pits characters new and old against one another. Each character is balanced to near-perfection, a welcome break from the unbalances found in some other fighting games. There are only a handful of stages presented, and while the single player arcade mode is pretty straightforward, most of the replay value comes in the form of training challenges (which is to say, the replay factor is somewhat limited). Still, it's a solid multiplayer experience, even if the online lobbies force players to stare at a semi-blank screen instead of a match in progress. My rating: 8

Beautiful Katamari: Not much has changed since the original Katamari Damacy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The King of All Cosmos once again calls upon the Prince to roll up as much random junk as he can to replace planets and meteorites. This time, the world is much more open and expansive, preventing many of the collisions encountered in the first games. The soundtrack and art style are just as zany as ever, a perfect marriage to a game that has an intro scene which features dancing pandas and kaleidoscopic flowers. My rating: 8

Fallout 3: Arguably one of Bethesda's best games to date, Fallout 3 puts players in the shoes of the Lone Wanderer as he/she escapes from the confines of Vault 101. What lies beyond is a post-apocalyptic retro-future, where tunes from the forties and fifties carry across the rubble that was once Washington D.C. Combat is divided between real-time and the freeze-frame VATS, the latter of which allows players to take precise aim at specific body parts of an enemy to inflict greater damage. There are moments of inconsistency with regards to the game's difficulty factor, though a bevy of sidequests can help players level up and surpass these, so long as they're willing to put in the extra effort. The main story is well-developed, though rather short. That said, the simple act of exploring the Capital Wasteland can present plenty of adventure in and of itself. My rating: 8.5

- Operation Anchorage: 6.5

Devil May Cry 4: A hack-and-slash game with plenty of gothic imagery and religious undertones, Devil May Cry 4 destroys its competition by having one of the most involved combo chaining systems in the genre. Players can upgrade Nero and Dante's movesets as the game progresses, and revisit levels on higher difficulty settings. The boss fights place the most emphasis on strategy, and are often preceded by cutscenes that rival Hollywood action. The main game is a bit on the short side, but the finesse in sword and gun combat is unrivaled. My rating: 8.25

Portal 2: Chell returns to the Aperture facility, this time aided by robotic companion Wheatley, whose quirky nature rivals GLaDOS' dark humor. While the puzzle layouts in the original were mind-bending enough, Portal 2 adds new elements like Light Bridges, Aerial Faith Plates, and Speed and Propulsion Gels. The single player mode benefits from more narrative backing this time around, while cooperative play introduces some real head-scratchers. In the end, it's a brilliant mix of puzzles and platforming. My rating: 10

Sonic Rush: The story of two Robotniks from alternate dimensions is a sign of the inspiration drawn from new school Sonic games. The level design, on the other hand, is largely inspired by the original Genesis games. There are a few puzzles here and there that slow down an otherwise breakneck pace. Levels are unfortunately accompanied by what is possibly the most obnoxious soundtrack in the series. 3D boss fights are cleverly planned out, and serve as some of the game's highlights. It's not a perfect Sonic game, but it doesn't take itself too seriously either. My rating: 7.5

New Super Mario Bros. (DS): Sticking to the classic Mario formula from the NES and SNES, the DS version is quite nice to look at, with every enemy and environment rendered in 3D models. A nice variety of level design and lack of a story will certainly make this handheld Mario appealing to fans who want to revisit the plumber's roots. My rating: 9

Transformers: War for Cybertron: Unlike the movie-based games, War for Cybertron takes greater creative liberties, building its own origin story for the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. High Moon has done a great job with their new spin on the Transformers story, though they do slip in a number of references to Generation One. The multiplayer is a ton of fun to play, with character classes that are well-balanced. It's not a perfect, but still a great first entry that High Moon will no doubt improve upon with the sequel. My rating: 8.75

Resident Evil 5: A follow-up to the wildly acclaimed Resident Evil 4, RE5 puts players in control of Chris Redfield as he travels to the Kijuju region of Africa. He and his partner Sheva Alomar quickly discover the locals to be infected with Plagas, as well as longtime villain Wesker's plans for world domination. It's an intense experience from start to finish, trading out the classic horror for more action-packed segments. While the item management is less-than-stellar, the level design, lighting effects, and environmental ambience make the experience all the more engaging. The game serves as a fitting end to the main Resident Evil story arc that has been running for over a decade. My rating: 9

- Lost in Nightmares: 10

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Ocarina of Time is a tough act to follow, and while it might not be as wildly revolutionary as its predecessor, Majora's Mask brings plenty of new content to the Zelda series just the same. Easily the darkest story in the entire series, it's also one of the best told, as Link must stop Skull Kid from using the power of Majora's Mask to crash the moon into the land of Termina. The game puts more emphasis on pre-temple and post-temple tasks, while each of the four temples is brilliantly designed and presents a nice challenge just the same. Often overlooked when compared to other titles in the franchise, Majora's Mask is one of the most polished, most challenging, and most enjoyable games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. My rating: 10

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Part stealth game, part brawler, Arkham Asylum puts players in control of the Dark Knight as he attempts to return order to Arkham Asylum, after Joker has set all of the inmates loose. Aside from some very creative boss encounters with Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy, players can seek out Riddler Trophies to unlock character models, and beat up baddies to their heart's content in the extra challenges. It has a few flaws, but by and large Batman: Arkham Asylum is a prime example of how to approach licensed material the right way. My rating: 8.75

Sonic Adventure: Twelve years after its initial release, Sonic Adventure still holds up as a solid adventure platformer. The story is one of the best in the entire Sonic series, and while it may look somewhat primitive by today's standards, the 3D graphics were a standout element for the 1999 release. The voice acting is downright terrible, and any mission involving Big the Cat will ultimately lead to frustration. while much of the gameplay feels like a test bed for what would come in the sequel, Sonic Adventure is still a lot of fun to play. My rating 8.5

Halo 2: A game that not only made a giant impact on online gaming, Halo 2 also had a huge impact on the way the series would be shaped through future entries. While some might not have been so keen on playing as the Arbiter for some of the game's missions, it certainly helped add depth to the Covenant and UNSC forces alike. The gameplay was much smoother than in the original Halo, and the graphics are some of the best on the original Xbox. There are a few hitches here and there, particularly with 'bump-in' objects during cutscenes, but it's a great gaming experience nonetheless. My rating: 9.5

Halo 3: ODST: The black sheep of the Halo franchise, ODST is an unusual FPS game. Chapters of the larger story are presented from the various squad members as they try to regroup, while the streets of New Mombasa act as an explorable overworld hub. The Rookie is the main character, and in the style of Master Chief, is left a shell of a character for player to imagine as whomever they wish. The rest of the cast fleshes out nicely, given the six/seven hours it takes to complete the campaign. The soundtrack is gorgeous and the voice acting top-notch. My rating: 8.75

Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition: Classic arcade fighting at its finest, Street Fighter III: Third Strike rounds out its roster with many new faces since Street Fighter II. All of the 2D character models are vibrantly colored and highly animated, while the levels and soundtrack make the game's atmosphere. Combos prove much easier to chain than in other games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, though the element of strategy is not sacrificed in the process. Throw in online multiplayer and you have yourself one excellent recipe for a fighting game. My rating: 9.25

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: A Gamecube title ported over to the Wii, Twilight Princess takes on a darker tone than some other Zelda games. The story of the Twili presents a fresh and interesting spin on Link's story, though much of the game tries to identify too heavily with Ocarina of Time. The motion controls respond well enough, but there's nothing wildly revolutionary presented through the items or weapons. Most of the boss fights will prove quite simple for veterans of the series, but there's no denying that Twilight Princess is among the best adventure games on any console this generation. My rating: 9.0

Sonic Generations: Drawing some of the best levels from the Sonic series, Sonic Generations delivers to both old-school and new-school fans. Each level is tackled twice - one as side-scrolling retro Sonic, and again as third-person view new age Sonic. The boss fights are cleverly designed, while the challenges present players with plenty of replay material. A few level choices seem a tad uninspired, but if this is a sign of things to come, SEGA's mascot hedgehog might just be on the fast track to a great revival. My rating: 8.5

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: The greatest Zelda game in over a decade and the single best Wii title, Skyward Sword is one game not to be missed. It's super-precise controls respond like a dream, while the gameplay mechanics as a whole draw from the tried-and-true methods of previous entries, while adding some new-school flair to round out the package. The game is quite lengthy, offering up 35 to 40 hours depending on the number of sidequests players choose to tackle. The storytelling is phenomenal, providing a great precursor for the rest of the series. My rating: 10

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: With a vast world to explore and a variety of character classes to choose from, the Elder Scrolls IV has something to offer every RPG fan. The level up system is a bit awkward, and the Cyrodill seems a rather generic medieval realm. But for an early release on the current-gen systems, The Elder Scrolls IV looks and plays pretty solid, with sidequests going the extra mile to flesh out the experience. My rating: 8

- Shivering Isles: 9.25

Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver: DS remakes of the Gameboy Color releases, Heart Gold and Soul Silver retain their identities by placing emphasis on the Pokémon from generations I and II, while utilizing the generation IV engine (Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum). The result is a beautifully-rendered Johto region that is as colorful as it is teeming with quirky characters. The gym layouts have been updated to incorporate puzzle mechanics, and the soundtrack sounds fantastic to boot. Heart Gold and Soul Silver showcase the improvements to the user-friendliness in the Pokémon games, the primary reason that the DS versions are improvements over their Gameboy predecessors. My rating: 8.75

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