1. Batman: Arkham City (15)
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (15)
3. Frozen Synapse (12)
4. Super Mario 3D Land (11)
5. Renegade Ops (11)
6. Atom Zombie Smasher (9)
7. Realm of the Mad God (9)
8. Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (7)
9. Mortal Kombat (6)
10. Star Wars: The Old Republic (5)
I was tempted to bump Arkham City and Skyrim from my list, considering how well-known both games are, but The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword changed my mind. My thought after 20 hours of Z:SS was, “I’ve already played better Zelda games this year.” Arkham City and Skyrim’s mixes of enormity, power and heart are what we elitist gaming snobs have been wanting from our Gamestop purchases for so long, and I think they each nail the promise of titles like Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption—both of which were grand but lacked what I sought in pacing and emotional resonance.
Frozen Synapse, meanwhile, is the best digital board game of the year. I could imagine playing the game in a bygone era; players would write out their squadmates’ moves and maneuvers, measuring them on a home playboard with tape, then mail them out to see whose operatives were seen or killed as a result. Yet somehow, the game also feels ahead of its time. I assume reddit’s successor’s successor will have a slew of nostalgic, arcane image posts about FS that confuse 95% of the readership.
Super Mario 3D Land and Renegade Ops are the two best “pure fun” games of the year. Bite-sized thrills that are accentuated with 3D and physics tweaks, not overloaded by them. I have repeatedly recommended this one-two punch to every gamer type I meet, from novice to diehard. Strangers on the street are confused by this; too bad for them.
Atom Zombie Smasher is the best iPad game of the year… only it’s not on a touchscreen device yet. I reserve the right to relist the game at #1 next year upon an iOS port. Still, in its current state, I’d be happy if this were the last zombie-related video game ever made; then, the genre would go out on top. (Like that would ever happen.)
Realm of the Mad God is the most accessible MMO in the world. Free to play from any web browser. The tutorial is maybe three minutes long. The shmup-in-a-guild questing advances quickly and sensibly. In-game purchases enhance the game without breaking the importance of grinding for loot. And yet RotMG’s hardcore leanings and perma-death consequences almost—ALMOST—make Dark Souls look like a joke.
Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions? Did you even know this game existed? You should, because buried in this game’s hodgepodge of Namco remasters was the best modern Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay of the past decade. Pac-Man takes to a side-scrolling quest that’s all about speed and perfect lines. You have to try it.
Mortal Kombat was my party game of the year. I was equally surprised by the reclamation of violence as by the long-awaited smoothing of the series’ wooden play mechanics. Star Wars: The Old Republic, meanwhile, squeaked onto the list after a last-minute assignment covering its beta weekends. No way am I going to get sucked into this one for months and months, because the game is too WoW-like to thrill me into sticking around that long. But the writing, voice acting, character classes and atmosphere are worth commending, and it’ll be long forgotten by the time I mark up a best of 2012 list, so here you go, Bioware.
I didn’t play The Witcher 2 or Deus Ex: HR, and I didn’t get far in Dark Souls, yet I enjoyed a lot of games that didn’t quite make this list. Consider this mobile/indie addendum my #11, considering its combined price is probably, what, $15? I played more Drop7 (iOS, Android) than all games on this list combined, but it’s a 2009 game and, as such, wasn’t allowed. I heard about SpellTower (iOS) from some Kill Screen writers, and it’s as dangerously addictive as described. The touch-screen mechanics in Tentacles (WP7) are the best in a mobile action game by FAR, and they would’ve landed the #10 spot if SW:TOR didn’t charm me over the past month. Dark Dot (iPad), another tip from KillScreen contributors, was just about as impressive in terms of how it employs a touchscreen. Shot Shot Shoot (iPad) is the ice hockey of the future. The Binding of Isaac (PC) proves that random-gen dungeon games should’ve been mixed with old-school Zelda play a lonnng time ago. Triple Town, the best Kindle game ever made (yeah, Kindles have ’em), launched on Facebook a few months ago, and its mix of Bejeweled and Animal Crossing should be banned in this country.
Oh, and one last honorable mention: DiRT 3 was really fucking badass. Until other high-end racing gamespour some decent mud or snow into their visual and physics engines, this is my go-to for silly, straight-up speed.
Back to High Scores 2011