I thought 2010 was a rough year for me, but it was nothing compared to my 2011. I think I might have played maybe fifteen games this year, not counting a couple of throw-away DSiWare titles picked up out of boredom, quickly consumed, and then discarded. Only about five of these were on the Wii, which is to be expected given my limited genre interests (and the equally-limited offerings on that system of late), but what really hurt me this year was my lack of interest in the 3DS.
Not that the 3DS had a bunch of world-rocking titles or anything, but the industry’s shift of focus drew attention away from the DS and my options suffered accordingly. Also not helping was the industry’s continued inability to release quality titles (of my interest) between April and October. Nearly three-fourths of the titles I enjoyed this year were released between January and March, which made for an especially long, dry summer. I don’t expect this to change in 2012, especially if I keep avoiding the 3DS, but a man can dream.
Honorable Mention: Lost in Shadow (Wii)
Lost in Shadow was one of my rare forays into platforming this year. The two-dimensional aspect intrigued me, and I’m something of a sucker for themes of shadow and light (as will perhaps become evident below). As platformers go, I’m sure there are better offerings out there (probably with the names Mario or Kirby attached) but the experience of Lost in Shadow was interesting, if a bit flat.
10. You Don’t Know Jack
One of the Wii’s enduring genres is that of the party game, which has evolved somewhat into a more general family/casual form over the last four or five years. YDKJ‘s screwball trivia and in-your-face humor provide a more immaturely mature experience than most other titles, and the lack of online play on the Wii version actually enforces the party aspect. Sadly, it also means no DLC, so you’re stuck with what’s on the disc.
9. de Blob 2
The series that began on the Wii branched out to the other consoles for its sequel, which actually helped the game play for the Wii version as there was less unnecessary waggle this time around. As a result, de Blob 2 seemed more focused, more solid than the already-great initial offering. Not a challenge by any means, but solid, colorful fun.
8. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
Also more fun than challenge, Solatorobo broke my summer drought with some much-needed action and an interesting story. A bit more button-mashy than I prefer my RPGs, Solatorobo provided some amazing visuals on the aging DS hardware and a solid thirty-plus-hour adventure. It also provided a free soundtrack CD that greatly enhanced the entertainment value, which was a recurring theme for some of my favorite games this year.
A WiiWare puzzler that I had been anticipating for several years, Liight finally arrived at the beginning of 2011 for 100 levels of colored lights and a pulsing soundtrack. I have no idea what delayed this for so long, but the puzzling experience was well worth the $5, if not the wait.
6. Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Puzzles I don’t have to wait for come every year courtesy of Professor Layton and friends, and they have yet to disappoint. Last Specter turned back the clock on the somewhat-implausible Layton universe to give us more background on the relationship between the Professor and his young apprentice Luke, adding his assistant Emmy to the mix along the way. It also gave a bonus game in London Life, a quirky Animal Crossing-style life sim, for added value. Truly a gentlemanly offering.
Fluidity came out of nowhere in the beginning of the year, putting the Wii’s motion controls to use in a puzzle-platformer that will see you splashing, sliding, and sailing all over its storybook environment. Tilting the remote to shift your water is childish fun, like playing with one of those marble labyrinths, but the skills you will need to complete the game are anything but kid’s stuff. At $12 its definitely pricey for a WiiWare title, but there are worse ways to spend those points.
4. Pokémon Black & White
In my opinion the best generation of the Pokémon universe, Black & White made everything old new again. With an entirely all-new cast of critters for the initial run, some impressive visuals (particularly Skyarrow Bridge), a philosophically interesting storyline, and a number of gameplay enhancements, Black & White continues Game Freak’s habit of far exceeding expectations for their enduring (and admittedly cash-cow) franchise.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
As I write this (shortly after Thanksgiving), I have just received the Goddess Harp and have begun the journey to enhance Link’s sword into what I’m sure will eventually be called the Master Sword. That may not seem to be deep enough into the game to justify this high ranking (just over three “dungeons” in), but the Zelda legacy of solid titles is almost unimpeachable, and I can already see Skyward Sword joining its brethren in excellence. The reliance on MotionPlus-enhanced gestures is a mixed bag, fun for strategic swordplay but needless for, say, flying the beetle, but overall the experience has been a fun one.
2. Radiant Historia
When I wrote my review of Radiant Historia back in March, I hoped that it would be the herald of a continuing DS RPG bonanza that made up most of 2010. As it turns out, it was really just one of the last entries in the first-quarter overflow that couldn’t be packed into last year’s overstuffed offerings. Still, I’m glad I didn’t have to try and rank this among everything else that occupied my attention last year. Radiant Historia‘s take on time-travel and alternate realities gave it a memorable story, and it’s grid-based battle system remains one of the most fun I’ve ever had in a turn-based RPG. The icing on the cake came in five piano tracks of the game’s soundtrack included on a 20-minute CD. The total package ensured that I would remember Radiant Historia long after other games had made their presence known this year.
1. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
It’s not often that a January release holds up to end-of-year reminiscing, but Ghost Trick left a lasting impression on me ten months ago and never left. One could dismiss this as a simple lack of competition, which in my case is partially true, but I don’t think that anyone who experienced Ghost Trick will ever forget it. Well-developed (and well-animated) characters, an engaging story, and simple yet deep gameplay combine to earn top honors for Ghost Trick. I strongly hope we get a sequel, but even if we don’t, Sissel and the other characters will forever remain one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.