Around this time of the year all of the gaming outlets start talking about Game of the Year (GOTY) and everyone has their top picks. The problem with us is that none of us have played a lot of the same games. Which is great most of the time since that gives you a variety of news and features to read. But it's really hard to talk to each other about the best game of the year when most of us haven't played what everyone else thinks is the tops. So we're going to do a top three and it's going to be everyone's top three games of the year.
Bryan: I'm going to blow a few people's minds here and let everyone know that my first 3D Mario was Super Mario Sunshine. I tinkered with the N64 Mario before but I didn't really get into the nitty gritty of 3D Mario till I owned a Gamecube. Sunshine was a great game (and so was Super Mario 64) but they both didn't feel like Mario games to me. Even the Galaxy games were missing something. Super Mario 3D Land fixed my problem with 3D Mario games. And apparently that was always the health/power up system and I can't imagine going back for any of the future 3D Mario games on Console or Handheld.
Shaun: Strategy games are near and dear to my heart. Unfortunately the real gems of the strategy world don't get much attention in the press at large. AGEOD's Pride of Nations has very quietly put out a wonderful game that will have an impact on the genre - but it's an impact that will be very subtle. Unprecedented levels of management, ruthless A.I., a much-improved U.I. (arguable better than that of Paradox titles, the game's publishers), and a surprisingly pleasant soundtrack all make this best and brightest in modern strategy titles. However due to the complex nature, this one is tough to recommend to players that aren't seasoned veterans.
Brittany: Sarcastic witty robots, deathly obstacle loaded puzzle rooms, and a silent and strong female lead - put that together and you've got Portal 2. I've always loved games that make me think and Portal 2 does just that. You think the game will go one way and it goes in a completely different direction. If you're on the fence about the gameplay, the dialog and story will be sure to win you over. While I haven't yet finished the game at this exact moment, I hear it has a great ending. I'll just have to finally finish it and see, but I thought it was worth mentioning as one of my picks for 2011 game of the year.
Bryan: Sometimes games make it worth it to buy a system. And then other times games are so good you not only buy the game system you also buy the expensive $150 controller that's required to play it. The Gunstringer is a game like that. It requires an Xbox 360 and a Kinect and it's one of the best games you could be playing. Do you remember when you'd hold out your hand like a Pistol and play Cowboys and Indians? It's like that except when you fire it actually does something. It's like magically transporting me to when I was 6 and making all my dreams come true.
Shaun: Skyrim was a tough second place. It might be the best looking game I've ever played. The main story was short but well told. The voice-acting... left a lot to be desired, but the combat was greatly improved. I would still argue that Dark Messiah's combat was better in terms of feedback and immersion. The greatest aspect of Skyrim, though, is its level of depth. The developers recognized how important the smaller quests and the unique environments were to building this depth and they clearly spent the greater part of their time on this. The end result was one of the richest game worlds ever seen. Passing up Skyrim is unacceptable.
Brittany: I'm not sure how you could be a lover of imagination and not love Little Big Planet 2. Once again I get to run around the craftworld with my little Sackboy, collecting stickers and decorations - but wait! I also get a gun that shoots cakes! And I get to ride huge weird fuzzy animals in futuristic mazes! Unlike the first game, this one has an obvious villain, a vacuum cleaner dubbed the Negativitron (he's a fun sucker, get it?) that you must go after and defeat. I love the attention to detail in this game, especially the very obvious materials and textures that Sackboy's world is made out of. As a kid I always dreamed about building structures like these out of found materials - and now not only do I get to see them, but I get to play through them as well. So if you didn't enjoy Little Big Planet 2, you're probably just getting old.
Bryan: It's rare that a game comes along that does everything right. But I have played through Portal 2 several times now and I haven't found a single negative thing to say about the game. There is no "but it would be better if" scenario. As a fan of the first game I came into it with as much hype as anyone could have. It not only met expectations but went leaps and bounds to overachieve and every time I played a new game this year I kept thinking it's good but it's not Portal 2 good. If I could, I would vote to put this as the best game ever.
Shaun: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is not perfect, but as far as I am concerned it is the best game to come out since Bioshock. The game looks wonderful and the soundtrack has made it on to many an iPod. The plot feels toned-down in terms of the outlandish conspiracy and is instead reinforced with concepts involving the power of modern media and the imminent issue of trans-humanism. Philosophy - genuine, moral questions - are excessively rare in the modern game market. When we're fortunate enough to get a game that challenges our concepts in such a way - and does it all couched in a genuinely great game - we should consider ourselves lucky. True to the original, but unique on it's own, there is no better game you could play in 2011.
Brittany: I'd have to say my favorite game for 2011 was Okamiden. I went bonkers over the first (Okami) and at first I was a little skeptical about the second, but once I got my hands on it, I couldn't put it down. Everything I loved about the first game was in the second and so much more. This time through I was a chibi version of Amaterasu (so cute!) and the game allowed you to have different partners that rode your back throughout the game. I adored this handheld version - it meant I could take it everywhere I went and with the help of the stylus it was much easier creating images with my celestial brush. A true sequel, you got to visit most of the same towns and villages that were in the first game, only 9 months later. Beautiful Japanese watercolor scenery, cute chibi wolf god, humorous sidekicks, and nasty demons - this game gets the gold star.