The Gods of Cheap Content Demand A Sacrifice: Bryan’s Ten Best Games of 2011

I promised in the most recent episode of Geekspeak that we would try to put more content on this here blog. As you may or may not know, content is difficult to generate and even moreso to write. That’s why so many people are so bad at it. What usually happens in this situation is that hacky writers fall back on year-end retrospectives, pithy commentary on things they enjoyed or meant something to them. It’s a pretty pathetic practice, really, one anyone ought to be ashamed of stooping to in the name of pageviews

Naturally, we will embrace it wholeheartedly in this post.

See, I like video games. We even have a podcast to that effect. But I get tired of all the end-of-year Game of the Year lists that propagate themselves throughout the Webosphere. I find them commercially crass, ethically bankrupt, and wholly deficient for one simple reason: They are not my opinions. To that end, I propose that this a definitive list of the ten best games of 2011, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. That’s the power of the Internet.

10. Jetpack Joyride

I have been known for my general disdain for the concept of the App Store and its “anything-goes-no-matter-if-it-sucks” approach. I stand by that statement – if the future of handheld gaming is Angry Birds, I want no part of it – but there are some gems that poke through the rabble now and then. Jetpack Joyride is one of them – it’s simple, challenging, addictive, and most importantly built for the platform it is on. I cannot stress that last part enough, as like many of you I am tired of console or handheld experiences being shoved onto the iPhone in the hopes of making some filthy, filthy lucre. I think all game designers should resolve not to include virtual buttons, joysticks, trackballs, or anything of any sort in their iOS games. Make them cheap, make them for the platform, and give it its own identity. Jetpack Joyride fits the iOS system perfectly, and I found myself losing a surprising amount of time to it when I first picked it up (and even still now).

9. Pokemon Black/White

On the complete opposite of the handheld spectrum is the dichotomous Pokemon Black & White. Where Jetpack Joyride is a fun way to kill a few minutes while you’re waiting for an appointment or trying to go to sleep, this latest entry in the Pokemon series continues the franchise tradition of devouring hours of your precious time. What’s more, it improves on its predecessors in virtually every regard – battles are faster, sprites animate, an interesting “seasons” mechanic has been added, and the online play is dramatically improved. I think I sunk somewhere between 80 and 90 hours into this game, which earns it a spot on this list by default.

8. Bastion

Bastion is a weird game because it is so thoroughly reliant upon its hook. You take away that hook, and you’re left with a pretty good but not outstanding hack-and-slash RPG/dungeon crawler. But the hook is there. And it’s wonderful. Bastion gets a lot of mileage out of an amazing soundtrack and  reactive narrator that comments upon your actions and progress as you cut your way through its brief but infinitely replayable campaign and side missions, with an amazing vocal performance by Logan Cunningham. Towards the end of the game, I found myself running past enemies just to trigger the narrator’s next bit of plot exposition. I was literally hanging on this game’s every word. And that’s why it’s great.

7. Mortal Kombat

For the longest time, I hated Mortal Kombat. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Capcom fanatic. Chun-Li ‘Til I Die. MK was stilted, hard to control, and relied too much on its gore and shock value compared to the beautifully animated, easy-to-control Street Fighter series. Sure, the series improved over time – I was actually pretty fond of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, even if I am the only one – but I had no real intention of ever actually taking the franchise seriously. Until this year, that is, when Netherrealm Studios got it right. Here was a deep, beautifully-designed fighter. Gone were the awkward, jerky animations and overly precise combo system. The team tweaked and polished the core Mortal Kombat gameplay, throwing enough wrinkles in to keep things interesting, and topped it off with probably one of the best single-player campaigns of the year. This was a fighting game that actually took its story seriously, and other developers can probably learn a thing or two from it. There’s so much to see and do in this game that it took some companies two tries and a lot of squandered fan goodwill to match it.

6. You Don’t Know Jack

I am better than you at You Don’t Know Jack. Always have been, always will be. So when I found out that THQ was releasing a new version of one of my all-time favorite game series (right alongside Mario), I was stoked beyond words. This game is great as a single-player experience, unmatched as a party game, and not too bad over Xbox Live. The gameplay is as simple as ever and the writing is just as sharp as you remember, with some really cool additions (specifically the Wrong Answer of the Game, which is just so You Don’t Know Jack) and a cool, minimalist presentation. In short: it’s great. I just hope we don’t wait another 8 years for the next one.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It’s pretty good. You might have heard about it. Had to be on the list somewhere.

4. Portal 2

This, like Skyrim, is one of those “it has to be on there somewhere” picks. Even so, like Skyrim, this game was pretty great. Valve pulled off the unenviable and frankly until now thought impossible feat of turning Portal into a full-fledged retail game. I was cynical as all get-out but by the end (OH, THAT ENDING) I was a believer. Even a sort of sluggish first act can’t tamper the gleeful sting of Portal 2’s story and gameplay, and it probably has the best writing and voice acting on this list. And by the way – I think the ending credits song is better than the first game’s ending credits song. You heard me.

3. Super Mario 3D Land

It took nearly half a year but the 3DS finally got its killer app with Super Mario 3D Land. Nintendo brought the best elements of the contemporary 3D Mario games and combined it with the best of what the classic 2D games had to offer for a game that’s just the right amount of Galaxy and Super Mario Bros. 3. This game is in equal parts exhilarating, heartwarming, teeth-gnashingly frustrating, and addictive.  Any other year, it probably would have been my number one pick.

2. Batman: Arkham City

If you’ve listened to Geekspeak at all over the last few years, you’ll know that I (and frankly, everyone else on the show) am a soft touch for Batman. Doubly so for Arkham Asylum. All they had to say was “yeah, we’re making another one of those” and I would have put it on this list sight unseen. But Rocksteady kept upping the stakes – A (sort of) open world! Playable Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing! – to the point where you wanted to take their hand, stroke it reassuringly, and tell them:

“It’s OK. We are already your friends. You don’t have to impress us anymore”.

But they wouldn’t have listened. And that’s why Arkham City is so great.

1. Saints Row: The Third

You’re rumbling down the street in a stolen tank, vans full of angry luchadores with guns and paramilitary goons at your back. Your companion warbles out some auto-tuned words of encouragement as you leap out of the tank to unleash the hell fury of a laser-guided airstrke on your pursuers, using your magic wrestling mask that can set people on fire to take care of any that are left. Just minutes earlier you were parachuting out of a helicopter toward an enemy gang’s penthouse with the strains of Kanye West’s “Power” urging you on towards destruction, and minutes from now you will be going into cyberspace to do battle with a precocious, smart-mouthed hacker gang leader that likes to turn your avatar into a toilet.


In a year and a time when too many games became overly pretentious, dull experiments in aping cinema that aren’t really games at all, Saints Row: The Third does it right. It’s polished, it’s hilarious, and I don’t know if I should but I do love it so very, very much.

So that’s my list. If I didn’t include your favorite game it’s because I don’t care. Happy New Year!


3 Responses to “The Gods of Cheap Content Demand A Sacrifice: Bryan’s Ten Best Games of 2011”

  1. January 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Seriously? Saint’s Row? I don’t know you at all, sir. I thought you were above such crappy. Yeah, I’m going there.

    • 2 Bryan Carr
      January 29, 2012 at 5:54 am

      Cluck your tongue and stroke your beard all you wish. SR3 was the most fun I had with a game in 2011. If you played it, I bet you would also have fun. I grow weary of everything trying to be the next big epics cinematic interactive adventure as I get older, and I highly prize any game that decides to be fun above anything else. See also Bulletstorm, another game that should have been on this list.

      • January 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        I’ll admit that I haven’t played Saint’s Row: the Third, but I’ve played other Saint’s Row games, and they seemed like generic “crime open-world games,” like GTA, which I also hate. For me to like an open-world game, it needs something more than hours of running around doing the same basic thing over and over again. To me, all that emphasizes is how not fun they are. I agree that the whole “widescreen action” mentality in games (and comics and movies and everything) has gotten very old, but I seriously don’t get these games, at all.

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