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The Top 10 Videogames of 2011

By / Posted on 16 December 2011

The Top 10 Videogames of 2011

Sometimes it’s hard to remember all the things that happen in a set period of time. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when we started discussing nominees for our top videogames of the year list that we and our colleagues realized that 2011 was a ridiculous year for games. Big action AAA gamers had new Battlefield, Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex, Batman, Uncharted, Elder Scrolls, and Modern Warfare titles, indie gamers had brilliant new experiences in Bastion, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Jamestown, the Binding of Isaac, and the “proper” release of Minecraft, and there was a whole new Nintendo handheld which closed out the year with the double-fisted attack of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. That’s a damn good year to be playing videogames.

And none of those games made our top ten. That’s an uncharacteristically good year to be playing videogames. here are the ten titles that left the strongest impact on us with deft combinations of gameplay and presentation that kept us coming back and telling all our friends until they were sick of it.

10. Rayman Origins (360, PS3, Wii)

Rayman Origins

A long time ago, before Call of Duty, Resident Evil and Gears of War, videogames were joyous celebrations of fun and play. Michel Ancel remembers this, which is why he brought his once-popular Rayman franchise back to its roots, crafting and old-school 2D platformer with all the shine and smiley-happy-wonder of baby’s first acid trip mixed with the 21st century trappings and world-shattering challenges of perception of… well… baby’s first acid trip. Rayman Origins delighted with its extremely expressive art style, rhythmic play style, and complete disregard for expectations. “Players are going to die over and over in the first twelve seconds of this room until they figure out the exact moment to jump over one spiked worm and under another.” “Well then, just give them infinite lives, quick respawning, and a cute death animation, like Rayman inflating like a balloon until he bursts.” “You got it, boss!”

9. Catherine (360, PS3)


Despite the packaging, marketing, and one of the earlier bosses being a giant rear-end with a face begging for your filthy love, Catherine was not a game about sex. The storytelling, of course, was fantastic and deeply human, but the part about Catherine that stuck with us was the gameplay itself. The nightmare puzzles haunted our daydreams and Stray Sheep bar with it’s conversation trees, cell phone text messaging, cocktail trivia and Rapunzel arcade cabinet was the most fun we’ve had doing little more than talking in a videogame in years. We actually found ourselves wanting to skip the gorgeously animated and well-performed story to get back to the inventive bar sequences.

8. Radballs (iOS)

RadballsAs a graphic designer with an unironic fondness for the aesthetics of the 1980’s, Radballs infuriated me. The dozens of intro animations before each stage in this sliding block puzzler made the whole techno-noir Miami Vice graphic style look so formulaic and easy, and I hated them for it. They still looked awesome, the soundtrack by Neil Voss, OK Go and Com Truise was positively triumphant, and the power-ups and record-scratching mechanics added an exciting degree of spontaneity to an overdone genre. Basing level progression on a “radness” meter rather than score or filling the screen meant players focused on being consistently awesome rather than simply staying alive, and honestly, that’s a lesson more games should be teaching. Also, crazy addictive. Crazy.

7. Trauma (Mac, Windows, Linux)


Krystian Majewski’s indie game about recovering her memories after a car accident may have looked like a standard fare point-and-click adventure, but the experience itself was so much deeper without any of the unnecessary padding that plagues so much of the p&c genre. Exploring the beautifully photographed environments felt simultaneously alien and familiar while the lightwriting mechanic added a hint of the supernatural. We couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful these elements would feel with a Wii remote or Playstation Move in hand, drawing shapes in the air to lift heavy stones off of our beloved teddy bears. That each of the four scenarios had multiple solutions to find and hidden polaroids to discover only made us love this quick little experiment of game design all the more.

6. Kirby: Mass Attack (DS)

Kirby Mass Attack

Nintendo’s pink puff was already cute, and it’s common knowledge that anything can be made cuter by making it smaller. Thus, Kirby: Mass Attack was super cute by giving players control of ten tiny Kirbys. Cuter by miles, perhaps, were the unlockable minigames, which stuck closely to the Kirby characters, relationships and storylines by cramming those ten tiny Kirbys into pinball, shmup, and turn-based combat. Mass Attack on its own was already an excellent platforming experience, but the gestalt of all the unlockable content made for a package that was truly more than the sum of its adorable parts.

5. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

We expected the new game from Shu Takumi, director of the Ace Attorney series, to be smart, funny, and have a captivating story with charming characters. What we didn’t expect was for this story-driven Rube Goldberg puzzle game exclusive to tiny portable screens to feature the most dynamic, expressive, and lively animation we’ve seen all year. After only a few moments of playing Ghost Trick, it was impossible not to be swept up in the intrigue, mystery, and unbridled fun of the experience. Relatively short scenes meant puzzle solutions were never too far away, and the abbreviated time frame for each solution and variety of options in each scene meant even failing was fun, especially when it meant watching those expressive character sprites pantomime their overly dramatic deaths again.

4. Jetpack Joyride (iOS)

Jetpack JoyrideEver since Tetris came bundled with the original clunky grey Game Boy, developers have been trying to perfect the mobile videogame. What sort of gaming experience is most ideal for pocket-sized playing-on-the-go rather than the increasingly blockbuster AAA titles of the home cinema experience. Halfbrick’s Jetpack Joyride may be the closest we’ve come to a perfect portable game. The controls are simple enough to be operated one-handed while straphanging through another morning commute, the ever-present online leaderboards keep friends constantly looking over each others’ shoulders, and the inventive achievement system encourages experimenting with playstyles while dangling the carrot on a stick of always having a new goal to accomplish. Repeated suicide by laser has never been quite so engaging.

3. Portal 2 (Mac, Windows, 360, PS3)

Portal 2

Forget Modern Warfare, this was the most anticipated game of 2011. Colleges around the world cancelled classes in anticipation of their students skipping school to play with science from the comfort of their dorms. The puzzles were thrilling, the story was deep and remarkably human, the humor was consistently fantastic. It takes a special kind of game to make you laugh and think while simultaneously trying to kick its ass. And then there was the co-op campaign, with fiendishly clever puzzles that required delicate teamwork and communication. Good luck trying to play this without a bluetooth headset. No, shoot a portal on this wall. The one I’m pointing at. Over here.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward SwordZelda games are special. They’re held to a different standard than most other games simply because Zelda repeatedly raises the bar and sets itself as an example for all games that may follow it. With a fancy 25th anniversary logo in the opening sequence, Skyward Sword promises great things and oh holy cow does it deliver. The traditional Zelda formula that’s been in place since Ocarina of Time is tinkered with, allowing for some new experiences, a much more personable supporting cast, and a generally more action-packed experience. Skyward Sword also finally begins to take cues from the games that imitate it, incorporating elements of inventory management, freerunning, item crafting, and basic save points (yeah, remember how Zelda games never had those before?). It’s the changes that stand out, but the heart of a Zelda game is still what keeps gamers begging for more after twenty-five years, and the overwhelming consensus is that Skyward Sword may just be the best yet in the series, making it a contender for best videogame of all time.

1. You Don’t Know Jack (Windows, 360, PS3, Wii, iOS — the less said about the DS version, the better)

You Don't Know Jack

There came a point in 2011 when I was at my parents’ house with a home console, a couple of controllers, and a copy of You Don’t Know Jack. It took barely any arm-twisting at all to convince my father to play a game with a title he remembered from casual PC gaming in the ‘90s and, despite having not held a game controller since Dr. Mario in the early ‘90s, the completely intuitive controls of You Don’t Know Jack, along with its ever-present humor and irrepressible personality, created that rare instance of having absolutely no learning curve at all. He would have won that first game if not for my quick reflexes in the Jack Attack. And then we played three more episodes. And then my mom played. And then I brought it to a friends apartment and we had a heated tournament. Never once did any of us stop laughing. You Don’t Know Jack was our go-to good-times game of 2011, and the only console release this year we gladly bought all the DLC for (adding an additional 40 episodes to the disc’s already impressive 73 episodes of game show awesomeness).

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.