Best Video Games of 2011 – Honorable Mentions
Pads & Panels will soon be counting down its Top 10 Video Games of 2011, but before we get to that point, we’d like to pay mind to 10 other games that stood out as top contenders for the year. They were all part of our discussion and all deserve some recognition for their achievements in gaming, even if they didn’t quite make the cut of the illustrious Top 10. All 10 of these titles were games that earned our attention and respect in one way or another in 2011, the list of them effectively serving as our 11-20 choices, presented here in no particular order.
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (XBLA)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios—Developer: Ska Studios
The little talked about but excellent sidescrolling beat ‘em up improved everything that made the original great — the dark, inky visuals, tight controls and a batshit insane storyline — and fixed everything that was not so great, while adding a whole new set of insane to boot. Not only does Vampire Smile look leaps and bounds better but also isn’t so unforgivingly difficult, has a new, FPS-multiplayer-inspired perks system to make gameplay even more varied and adds a whole second playable character. Now players can play as either the Dishwasher or Yuki, his one-armed sister. Don’t worry – She can switch between having a minigun or a chainsaw where the other arm used to be. It’s outlandish, hyperviolent and more than a little insane, but The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile hits all the right notes and has deep enough gameplay to make it worth playing again and again.
Gears of War 3 (360)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios—Developer: Epic Games
Gears of War 3 was surrounded by an impressive lineup of games when it emerged in the latter part of this year. Although the team at Epic has attempted to inject some emotion in the tale of Marcus and Co. in previous games in the series, Gears 3 is perhaps their most successful take on storytelling to date. Sure, the graphics are pretty and the game has enough action to satisfy even the most diehard action game fan, but this release is the first that feels like the game’s story isn’t just there to move the players to the next horde shooting sequence.
That’s not to say that Epic has slouched when it comes to features in the game. Horde mode has seen a number of enhancements and is as addictive as ever. The four-player campaign co-op works like a dream, and the gameplay has been polished to sheen. It’s no doubt that this was one of the best games of the year.
Bastion (XBLA, PC)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment—Developer: Supergiant Games
With a gameplay style that recalls the great action RPGs of the 1990s, Bastion looks and plays perfectly for the type of gamer who cut his gaming teeth on games like the Secret of Mana and Illusion of Gaia, or even A Link to the Past. Its interesting end-of-the-world tale is backed by dynamic-narration that tells the story without stopping the action to read walls of text. And it has a fantastic soundtrack. As the isometric worlds unfold beneath the player’s feet, it’s an interesting visual trick that will make players want to explore every corner of each area to see what else appears while they’re playing. Bastion is the type of game that may be short and sweet, but with multiple weapons and upgrades, it should have players coming back for multiple playthroughs. It’s just that good.
You Don’t Know Jack (360, PS3, PC, Wii, DS)
Publisher: THQ—Developer: Jellyvision
Jellyvision revived its bizarre trivia series and refills the void it left more than 10 years ago. You Don’t Know Jack reminds the other trivia games like Scene It and Buzz that adding humor and personality to the game makes it memorable. The razor sharp tongue of host Cookie Masterson delivers insults with such ease that contestants will want to answer wrong just to absorb all the humor lying on the disc.
The Binding of Isaac (PC, Mac, Linux)
Published and Developed by Edmund McMillen & Florian Himsl
The Binding of Isaac combines the dungeon crawling of the original Legend of Zelda with the twin stick controls of Robotron or Smash T.V. and follows a demented story of a child running from his mother, who is trying to sacrifice him as part of God’s will. The two-man team of Florian Himsl and Edmund McMillen crafted this hard-as-hell game as a mystery that unfolds through a few cut scenes and player’s mistakes.
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game (360, PS3, PC, Mac, 3DS, DS, PSP)
Publisher: Disney Interactive—Developer: Traveller’s Tales
The LEGO series of games has been both cute and fun to play. The Pirates of the Caribbean version is no exception to the rule. The little LEGO men and women have such great facial expressions and capture the characters’ mannerisms without speaking – even Jack Sparrow’s crazy way of running. Players can go through all four movie plots portraying several characters from the series. As with the previous LEGO games, certain characters have tasks only they can perform, and characters are unlocked during different stages of gameplay. This encourages players to go back after unlocking other features and increases the replay value. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is a great way to experience the world of Captain Jack Sparrow and his cohorts.
Sonic Generations (360, PS3, PC, 3DS)
Publisher: Sega—Developer: Sonic Team (360, PS3), Devil’s Details (PC), Dimps (3DS)
The phrase “good Sonic game” might seem like a joke to players burnt by the last decade and a half’s worth of the franchise, but Sonic Generations finally breaks that vicious cycle. Featuring nine worlds in total, Generations cuts the game design right down the middle, giving players one zone designed in pitch-perfect 2D, and the other one tastefully done so in the style of Sonic’s more maligned 3D titles. The 18 levels are all inspired by worlds from 9 of the games in the Sonic series, and while it’s easy to call out some of the levels inspired by more recent titles as being not as technically sound, it never really makes the full jump into ‘bad Sonic game,’ like so many of the 3D titles have. Combine that with a total of 90 game-changing challenges split between all of the levels, and Sonic Generations provides hours of fun and finally answers gamers’ prayers for a respectable title.
The Gunstringer (Xbox Kinect)
Publisher: Microsoft—Developer: Twisted Pixel
The Gunstringer probably should have been a digital release, and it’s got a few other minor drawbacks. But for the most part, Twisted Pixel’s latest maintains the special charm for which the studio is known and turns the year’s only undead marionette cowboy game into one of the best experiences we’ve had with Xbox Kinect. The puppet controls are a bit silly but altogether amusing, and the humor is enough to keep driving gamers forward. It is a unique experience that did its best to stand out among the year’s best.
Publisher: Ubisoft—Developer: Housemarque
The first thing that will catch the attention of gamers with Outland is its visual style. It is visually arresting, not only in its blue/red polarity device, but also in its silhouette-like characters and backgrounds, with beautiful colors pushing through from the backgrounds. It also features the type of fun open-world explorative environments made popular by the likes of Super Metroid. It’s an absolutely fantastic platformer that rose above the competitive pack that has become the world of digital download games.
Battlefield 3 (360, PS3, PC)
Publisher: Electronic Arts—Developer: EA DICE
It’s tough being the underdog when the competition is Modern Warfare 3 — a series that sets new sales records with each release. It becomes paramount to for a game to give players an experience they can’t get elsewhere. The Battlefield series has long been known for its emphasis on team play, vehicles and large-scale destruction. Built on DICE’s new Frostbite 2 Engine, Battlefield 3 retains the series’ trademark gameplay and destruction that it’s known for, while also lending the visuals some much needed punch. While the single-player somewhat falters in comparison to some of the other entries in the series like Bad Company 2, the sheer amounts of variety to the game’s multiplayer more than makes up for it. Battlefield 3 is without a doubt one of the most impressive multiplayer experiences to come out of 2011.