With 2011 drawing to a close, the MTV Geek staff took a look back at the many games that the year brought us. From stories fighting franchises rising from the ashes, to blockbuster shooters doing what they’re going to do, I can honestly say it’s been a year of more pleasant surprises than disappointments. While we didn’t see any big-time experimentation or anything out-and-out strange or new this year among the major releases (no beautiful failures like Mirror’s Edge or completely insane masterpieces like Bayonetta), the return of quite a few tried and true titles still provided some pretty spectacular peaks in console and PC achievement.
#10 Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword (Wii)
Our own esteemed Jason Cipriano has already chronicled the rocky road to the latest Zelda title’s arrival to the Wii–from a clunky showing at E3 to a lack of love from some in the gaming press. But it’s here now and as just about always happens when Link hits the stage in his fitted tights, everyone is paying attention (not in a weird, way, settle down). The high-flying, Motion Plus-enabled game is the first true Wii Zelda taking advantage of the aging hardware in a way that its predecessor, Twilight Princes didn’t near the Wii launch. The release this week will see if a new Zelda game can bring Wii owners back to the console for a little while at least until the arrival of the Wii U.
#9 Bastion (XBLA)
This 360 downloadable title is one of those games that gathers enough word-of-mouth that you end up just dumping some points into your account and buying it on your friends’ advice. And I have to say, this top-down, isometric action-RPG title delivers. Developed by Super Giant Games creates a rich world for you to explore and hack your way through with a clever storytelling conceit where your actions are accompanied by the smooth, knowing voice of the narrator, Rucks. Along the way, you’ll dual-wield an impressive arsenal of melee and ranged weapons as you attempt to restore your floating world in the aftermath of the mysterious Calamity. Its music, art design and simple but deep combat make it one of the biggest and best surprises among this year’s downloads.
#8 Marvel vs. Capcom 3/Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Arriving just a hair over ten years after the last entry in the franchise, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (and its Ultimate update from this week) have yet again proven that the 2D fighting game still has some life in it. With an impressive roster of characters (again, bulked up in Ultimate), Capcom has again picked through some of the popular and obscure corners of both comic and gaming history, allowing you to face the likes of Dr. Doom, Wesker, and Strider against Ghost Rider, Phoenix Wright, and Nova in intense three on three tag battles. While a certain amount of button-mashing is allowed, you’ll quickly be dominated by rival players (or the CPU) when it knows its stuff as 100+ hit combos take you for another ride.
#7 Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
What would a new Nintendo console be without a new Super Mario game? Bringing the 3D gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy to Nintendo’s latest handheld, Super Mario 3D Land is pretty much what’s advertised on the side of the box. And despite a noticeable decrease in difficulty, this latest adventure featuring the mustachioed plumber might be just the ticket to move 3DS hardware this holiday season.
#6 Mortal Kombat (PS3, Xbox 360)
“MORTAL KOMBAT! Dun dun dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun dun!” Some of you out there heard that in your heads the right way.
Mortal Kombat was a franchise that many of us had written off years ago. Attempts to go 3D, 2.5D, adding weapons, and inflating the roster took the series new and interesting directions, but ultimately alienated players who loved the very specific 2D brutality upon which the franchise built its name. After the unlikely success of T-rated Mortal Kombat vs. DC, developer NetherRealm went back to the core elements that made the beloved early arcade entries in the series work, even incorporating the complicated, sometimes conflicting timelines as part of a actually kind of engaging story that traces the entirety of Mortal Kombat history. With spot-on fight controls, a roster of all of the characters you love–and Freddy Krueger added as DLC to sweeten the pot–Mortal Kombat has breathed new life into the series and made some of us excited about where the series will go next.
#5 Portal 2 (PS3, PC, Xbox 360)
It’s easy to take for granted making humor work in a game. I don’t mean the caveman sounds that double as jokes in Duke Nukem, but actual, honest-to-goodness humor with setup, build up, and execution that you’ll remember more than a day after encountering it. And that’s one of the many strengths of Valve’s sequel to the standout hit from their Orange Box compilation, Portal 2. During the development process, the writers and designers were aware of the number of memes and in-jokes generated by the first game, and were very vocal about not going back to the same well(s) in the sequel. Indeed, Portal 2 is its own thing, opening up the decrepit Aperture Testing facility as you’re accompanied by your talkative, incompetent helper AI, Wheatley (Stephen Merchant). It also helps that Valve brought along more brain-twisting puzzles to keep you hooked through the relatively short campaign, while adding a co-op mode if you’re the type that likes doing puzzles with friends.
#4 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PS3, PC, Xbox 360)
If the best game of the year was simply determined by sales, Modern Warfare 3 would handily take this year’s title. As it stands, the latest shooter from Infinity Ward–with its iterative tweaks to the CoD formula–will simply have to take fourth place. Featuring a globetrotting, heavily art designed campaign whose story works a lot better if you don’t think about it too long, Modern Warfare 3 brings resolution to the third World War brought about during the second game. But the real meat of the experience is the highly addictive multiplayer, which doesn’t so much overhaul the effective elements from MW2 as add a layer of polish and refinement, making one of the best shooters on the market even better.
#3 Dead Island (PS3, PC, Xbox 360)
When the slow-mo, rewind trailer for Dead Island made its debut earlier this year, without showing even a hint of gameplay, the Techland-developed open world zombie-killing action-survival game met with a flurry of internet interest. And then confusion. What was it? Left 4 Dead on a tropical island? Dead Rising from a first person perspective? Oddly, it was kind of sort of a mix of the two (minus the co-op), dropping you onto an island in the midst of a deadly island outbreak and tasking you with helping survivors holed up in the various resort locations. Gamers seemed quite taken with the brawling, pipe-wielding, driving, run-and-gun action Dead Island had to offer, helping keeping the zombie game alive–or living dead, at least–for another year.
#2 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3, PC, Xbox 360)
I’m surprised you’re actually here reading this and not playing Skyrim. Honestly, so much of my Twitter feed involves friends coming up for daylight, for food, and for air in between marathon sessions with Bethesda’s sequel to the critically-acclaimed Oblivion. Not so much an evolutionary leap as a nudge beyond what made the last game so great, Skyrim gives you an exponentially larger world to explore with a refined interface, more kinetic combat thanks to dual-wielding, a useful companion system, and badass dragon fights. That’s right, you get to take down dragons.
#1 Batman: Arkham City (PS3, PC, Xbox 360)
You’re trapped in a city of thieves, murders, lunatics, and bona fide supervillains–and all you’ve got are your wits, your nerve, and billions of dollars of Waynetech at your disposal. You are Batman, and this is your number one game of the year. While it might not have been the top seller on this list, it was certainly one of the most anticipated and talked about games this season. Expanding upon the groundwork laid by 2009’s Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady’s follow-up gives you a wider canvass to do what we all loved about the first game: smash criminal scum and be Batman. And while I had some concerns about the effect of the open world on the gameplay, the core experience was still one of the most thrilling of the year.