For many, this was a year of high-powered franchises and blockbuster releases. I had fun with a few of those, but most of my time was spent with things a bit off the beaten path.
10. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This game is truly an accomplishment. It’s enormous, scenic at all times and much easier to get into than previous Elder Scrolls games. It’s not higher on my list because it’s hard to call an experience that is so open like this a “game,” but it’s a marvel of interactive entertainment and sure to provide a distraction to people for months on end.
9. Pokemon Black and White
The core series gameplay is still as fun as it always has been, but there have always been a few nagging issues that get frustrating over multi-hour experiences. This was the installment that fixed most of those problems, and the decision to hold back all old monsters until late in the experience managed to keep things fresh.
8. L.A. Noire
While it lost much of its luster over time, L.A. Noire was still a wonderful little detective adventure. It’s best experienced one case at a time, as in that way it’s the most engrossing procedural ever. (Sorry, Monk.)
7. Dungeon Defenders
I’ve gushed about this game before, and more time spent with it keeps proving this: while there are some elements that are a little tedious in the way loot-based games are, the interesting arenas and defenses make for actual strategy decisions that aren’t found in the here’s-the-optimal-setup world of tower defense.
6. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes HD
The 2009 DS release remains one of the five best games on the system. The HD remake added lush visuals, which is nice, but the real change was the addition of a 2-on-2 mode that was much more interesting than you’d initially think. I still prefer the DS version because it doesn’t have the painful load times, but it’s a great way to check it out if you haven’t.
5. Radiant Historia
Another great example that the best, most original games come at the end of a system’s lifespan. It’s familiar enough to people who have been playing Japanese RPGs for years, but it makes enough changes to make that kind of game engrossing again.
4. Mario Kart 7
Did you want another Mario Kart? Because I did, and this is one. The retro track selection more than pleased me, and the new ones included some gems like Music Park. As someone who has played each installment of the game to death (and even gave the arcade versions a fair shot), I had high standards, so I was more than okay with the game just meeting them.
3. Rayman Origins
Gorgeous, yes. But it brings to the table all the things that make New Super Mario Bros. great, adds in a lot more game to get through and puts in a few LittleBigPlanet-style buddy-slapping tactics for good measure. You probably didn’t play Rayman Origins, but you should.
2. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
If you’ve been following our roundtable features and podcasts, this is not a surprise to you, as you know about the interesting characters, cool 3D effect and nice cover mechanics. If you haven’t, just know that this is Fire Emblem with guns and know that you should buy it. Seriously, I don’t care if you don’t own a 3DS. Get it anyway.
1. Portal 2
This has been a phenomenal year full of great games, but Portal 2 is the only one I can say this about: everything it attempts to do, it does flawlessly. Magnificent puzzles make sure to keep the focus on figuring them out and not stupid shot timing, writing blows you out of the water when this game could have gotten away with no writing at all and the co-op courses are great fun with a buddy.