Many games have come and gone in the last 12 months as I've continued my slow, inexorable slide toward the great hereafter. Yes, it's hard to believe that another year has gone by, and as such it's my sworn duty as an unpaid, unlicensed, unwanted member of the internet media brigade to regale you with list after list recapping the year that was.
Around this time of year, most sites like to recap their top games of the year. We don't have a big enough staff to review every game, and a lot of times we get to games very very late, so I personally prefer to recap my favorite games that I played in the last year, regardless of when they were released. My list from 2010, for example, contained a game that's more than 12 years old. I kept it slightly more recent in 2011, but not much. Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my favorite games that I played in 2011.
If I had to pick a singular best game of the year, it would be the one game that made my list this year that isn't part of an established series: Catherine. But see, I don't have to pick just one game of the year, and you can't make me.
When I first saw Catherine I knew it was going to be an early pick-up for me, rather than my typical style of waiting months for the price to drop. Something about the hazy dream aesthetic and the cryptic nature of the trailers really had me hooked, and the fact that it came from Atlus reassured me that it would be great. Rebekah picked it up for me the week that it was released, and I threw myself into it head-first.
I found it to be surprisingly difficult, so I could only play for a little bit at a time and wasn't quite as deeply immersed as with Portal 2, but it was overall the best gaming experience of the year for me. The storyline was unique and entertaining, the writing was sharp and the dialogue believable, and the gameplay, once I got the hang of it, was as addictive as any game I've ever played. The learning curve is steep, but if you're willing to invest the time to understand the ins and outs of the puzzles, Catherine offers an incomparable experience.
Mario Galaxy 2
A natural continuation from where the original Mario Galaxy left off, Mario Galaxy 2 did a great job of adding some new gameplay mechanics to keep everything fresh, and then ratcheted up the difficulty for good measure. I got almost every star in this game (except for the last one) and loved every exasperating moment of it.
Mario Galaxy 2 holds a special place in my heart, and also a very strange one. Rebekah and I played it together in February and March and had a great time with it, but were interrupted close to the end by a medical emergency. Eventually we got back into it and finished it off, and the actual gameplay experience was great, but due to some bad memories that I suspect will forever be inextricably tied to Mario Galaxy 2, I may never play it again. Call it "the best game I'll ever hate."
I boarded the Orange Box / Portal ship well after it had sailed, but enjoyed it immensely when I finally got around to it. Even though "the cake is a lie" had become a ubiquitous annoyance of a catchphrase, I still enjoyed the snappy writing and clever gameplay. Still, when Portal 2 came out, I had some reservations, as I doubted whether Valve could recapture the magic. Fortunately, I was wrong to doubt them.
Portal 2 is more of the same, but the original was so good, who really cares?
Portal 2 may take the title of "Most Engrossing Game of the Year" for me. Not only was it a rare day-1 purchase for me, but from the time it arrived until I was finished with the game, I gave every free moment that I had over to it. Portal 2 is like one of those great physics engine toys, except that it includes a fully-realized puzzle game, great music, and awesome writing. All of which reminds me that it's high-time I give this one a replay.