2011 was a big year for the videogame industry, and whether you’re scouring the retail shelves or clicking through your favorite online store, finding just the right game can be a tricky proposition. With publishers spending millions on advertising to hype up their less-than-stellar product, you’ll want to make sure your hard-earned cash is spent wisely, and this is where those helpful folk on the Popzara team have got you covered; Consider us your personal guide through the very best of what’s available for your gaming console and PC with our best-of choices.
Heck, we’ve even included a little info why it made the cut, and even links to reviews when they’re available. And we’ve got just about every genre represented, including Action, Platforming, Adventure, First-Person Shooters, Fighting, Racing, Dance, Mobile, Younger, and even a special “games to avoid” section for when those bargain-bin specials start looking good.
Special thanks to Brittany Vincent, Chris Mitchell, Herman Exum, Nathan Evans, and all the rest for their valuable input!
2011 Best Games Handy Buyer’s Guide
Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360, PS3) – Full Review HERE!
If you thought Arkham Asylum was big, wait until you get a load of Arkham City. Batman returns in Rocksteady’s incredible follow-up to the 2009 blockbuster that proved just how great a comic book game could really be, upping the ante by giving The Dark Knight all-new challenges to face, mysteries to solve, and even more famous villains like Penguin, Dr. Freeze, and the criminally ambiguous Catwoman to face off against. Even better, series favorites Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return to voice Batman and Joker, with the latter supposedly giving his final performance as the Clown Prince of Terror.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3)
Fearless adventurer and trendy jeans connoisseur Nathan Drake returns for his third winning adventure in developer Naughty Dog’s stirring action-packed series, continuing the explosive combination of shooting, ledge-jumping, puzzles, and of course, humor as only Drake and Victor “Sully” Sullivan can. While the game doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards set by Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it still packs more visceral thrills, chills, and excitement than most games could ever dream of having. For the most cinematic bang for your gaming buck, look no further than Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception on PlayStation 3.
Action Genre Honorable Mentions:
Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360), Saints Row: The Third (Xbox 360, PS3)
Super Mario Land 3D (3DS)
What would a Nintendo console be without a proper Mario game? Nintendo’s mascot makes his 3DS debut in style, seamlessly blending the world-scouring fun of Super Mario 64 with the sensibilities of New Super Mario Bros. in one dimension-shattering package. And he’s packing a whole wardrobe of new power suits, including the Boomerang Suit, Question Box Suit, and even the return of the beloved Tanooki Suit, furry tail and all. Mario’s first 3D adventure may just be the best game ever made for the third-dimension, and it’s definitely one of the best games yet for the young 3DS console.
Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Ubisoft’s jointless hero returns in one of the most visually spectacular and playable side-scrolling 2D platformers in years, proving there’s more life in the aging franchise than the lunacy of Raving Rabbids. Perfect controls, outstanding 2D artwork, and hilarious sound effects make Rayman Origins one of the most vivacious platform games since the original Earthworm Jim, with up to four humans all playing together in (relative) harmony.
Platforming Genre Honorable Mentions:
League of Evil (iOS), Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (Wii)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
If you’ve got a few hundred hours to waste, or maybe a lifetime, tear into Skyrim like the rest of the RPG community is doing. With a plethora of classes, missions, and pretty much anything you could ever want to do in a video game, there’s something about this RPG behemoth that sucks you in and simply doesn’t let go. Go to war with bandits on the road to the next town, call forth destructive force with your voice, kill dragons…sounds like a high fantasy fairy tale that any hardcore RPG fan should enjoy. Oh, and did we mention the world is absolutely massive? If you choose to tear into Skyrim, your added bonus is you likely won’t need to buy another RPG for the whole of 2012…that is, unless you buy another copy.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) – Full Review HERE!
Nintendo celebrates the 25th Anniversary of their beloved franchise with the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, quite possibly the final ‘big’ release on their diminutive ii console. With watercolor-dripped visuals, an orchestrated soundtrack, true 1:1 motion-controlled swordplay through MotionPlus, and a storyline that reveals the origins of the Master Sword, the Wii’s final swansong may just be Link’s biggest and most dangerous adventure yet. True, the controls may not always work like they should, but what’s a few missed cues when you’ve got one of the year’s most imaginative and magical adventures waiting for you?
Adventure Genre Honorable Mentions:
Dark Souls (Xbox 360, PS3), Lord of the Rings: War in the North (Xbox 360, PS3)
FIRST-PERSON SHOOTING GENRE
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii) – Full Review HERE!
The premiere “modern warfare” experience returns for another year with a fresh coat of paint, patriotic-as-all-get out campaign, and the resurgence of some of your favorite Call of Duty cast members as well. It remains the multiplayer game to buy this year if you’re looking for full-featured options and leveling up, as well as someone to play with at any time of day. Call of Duty Elite is an additional option to make playing online with friends an even bigger event, so consider tossing in a subscription for the hardcore gamer on your list.
Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Battlefield 3 is the choice for anyone who’s tuckered out from the consistent releases of Modern Warfare every coming year, providing its own brand of explosive modern combat (complete with tanks and plenty of multiplayer options) for hardcore first-person shooter fanatics looking for a challenge. Though a little barebones on campaign and plot, it still serves up hyper-realistic action and drama to keep you cheering until the very end.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Xbox 360, PS3)
Back in the day fans would have to wait years, if not decades, to get a new edition of their favorite Capcom fighting game. But that’s no longer the case with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as they’ve accelerated the process tenfold; the second MvC3 game this year, hardcore fight fans are treated to new characters, new stages, new challenges, and even a new lower price. There’s 12 new playable fighters to the mix, including Avenger Hawkeye, Strider, Dead Rising’s Frank West, and even the all-powerful Galactus, who’s now fully playable. And it’s hard to argue with that budget-friendly $39 price.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D (3DS) – Full Review HERE!
Nintendo’s shiny new 3DS portable didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it launched earlier this year, but among the smal handful of launch titles available, few were better at demonstrating what the 3-D powered hardware was capable of better than Capcom’s beefed-up port of their hit high-definition franchise. Everything from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version is here, with every fighter, move, and special all showing up in beautiful 3D-enhanced gameplay. There’s even solid online multiplayer for when you need to be reminded just how slow you’ve gotten over the years, and why Street Fighter is still the best fighting game franchise ever made.
Fighting Genre Honorable Mentions:
Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, PS3), Dead or Alive Dimensions (3DS)
Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)
Microsoft’s premier racing franchise gets its fourth and biggest installment yet in Turn 10 Studios’ Motorsport 4, giving fans even more cars, more tracks, and more reasons to keep coming back for more. While it does lose the beloved Porsche brand, it gains some hot new electric action through the Tesla Roadster. There’s even smart implementation of the Kinect sensor for those rocking Microsoft’s motion-controlled accessory, and with Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson around for company, you won’t find a better racing experience this year.
Real Racing 2 (iOS)
Probably the closest you’ll get to playing Gran Turismo on a non-Sony portable console for a long time, developer Firemint unleashes the first sequel to their best-selling auto sim on iOS devices in grand style with over 30 licensed vehicles from the likes of Chevy, BMV, and more. But that’s not all, as you’ll get to play the game with the bigger boys on your beautiful HDTV through Apple’s new AirPlay Mirroring. It might not be the cheapest game available on the App Store, but it’s definitely one of the best.
Racing Genre Honorable Mentions:
Death Rally (iOS), Need for Speed: The Run (Xbox 360, PS3)
Just Dance 3 (Xbox 360, PS3) – Full Review HERE!
Those looking for a little less “serious” dance experience would do well to check out Just Dance 3, which allows much more room for error and more silliness for you to rock out with friends to. Chart-topping hits and fan favorites ensure there’s something for every kind of music lover, and inect support makes this Just Dance the most accurate one yet. Just looking to flail around at your holiday party rather than picking up a choreographed dance number? Just Dance 3 should top your list.
Dance Central 2 (Xbox 360) – Full Review HERE!
Just Dance 3 may have the party game market cornered, but Dance Central 2 ensures you actually retain the dance moves you’re shown on-screen. Take your Kinect experience to the next level and strap yourself in for a workout and prepare to learn. Check out real, professional dance routines ripped straight from your favorite music videos and bring a friend along to see who’s actually the best backup dancer out of the two of you. Harmonix’s darling returns to be crowned once again the king of the dance genre in the most addictive outing since the birth of Dance Dance Revolution.
Dance Genre Honorable Mention:
Dance Dance Dance Revolution II (Wii)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (iOS)
A beautifully surreal retro-styled experience that simply must be experienced if you’re a fan at all of the adventure games of yore. If not for its gorgeous graphics and addictive y, be sure to try it for its hypnotic soundtrack. In fact, pick it up simply because it’s one of the most refreshingly different experiences in gaming you’ll have or have had in the past few years.
Jetpack Joyride (iOS) – Full Review HERE!
Five minutes is all you need to love and understand this fantastic mobile arcade experience. Barry is propelled by an awesome jetpack through never-ending corridors filled with scientists running for their lives, crazy machines, and all kinds of hazards. Think Canabalt with a twist. Keep Barry going and collecting coins until you run into a roadblock, then rack up the points and spin the slot machine for some sweet bonuses. Then do it all again. Games can take anywhere from a few seconds to as long as you can play, period. And all for 99 cents. You can’t go wrong.
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (Xbox 360)
Who knew that the Xbox 360 and Sesame Street would go so well together? As the Kinect sensor enters its second year of existence, few games have demonstrated just what innovations it could bring better than Double Fine’s Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, which pairs favorites Cookie Monster and Elmo in a storybook-style world of minigames that the whole family can enjoy. With The Muppets heating up the box-office, it’s a perfect time to introduce the younglings in your life to Henson’s other creations, and while Microsoft may not be telling you how to get to Sesame Street, but for those of you looking for something a little different, today’s word of the day is “Awesome!”
Kinect Disneyland Adventures (Xbox 360)
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the Xbox 360 console getting one of the best family-friendly games this year is Microsoft’s machine getting TWO of them. Kinect Disneyland Adventures is the second Kinect game on this list for much of the same reason, in that it uses the Kinect sensor to make one of the most magical places on the planet come alive like we’ve never seen before, as many of the most memorable and exciting rides like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course, Splash Mountain, are now available in the comfort of reasonably-sized living rooms everywhere.
Younger Games Genre Honorable Mentions:
Raving Rabbids: Alive & Kicking (Xbox 360), Skylander’s Spyro’s Adventure (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, PC)
GAMES TO AVOID GENRE
RAGE (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Despite the years of endless hype and internet saber-rattling telling us that it would be the most revolutionary game ever, id Software’s post-apocalyptic monstrosity was anything but. Was it supposed to be more of a first-person shooter? Or a role-playing game? And what was up with all that road racing, anyway? Sure, the game did look pretty good on the home consoles, but poor PC users were left dealing with a botched PC launch that made driver downloads and other fiddling with settings a real time-waster. Hard to believe this was from the same developer that gave us the original first-person shooters with Wolfenstein and DOOM, and something tells me that RAGE won’t be among their most treasured accomplishments in the future. It’s sad when a $.99 iOS game is more entertaining than its $60 inspiration.
Duke Nukem Forever (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) – Full Review HERE!
Time hasn’t been kind to Duke. Dated mechanics, unfunny jokes, and childish attempts at humor just aren’t doing it anymore. Unforgivably terribly gameplay and an abrupt story mode rob Duke of any possible replay value — not to mention you’d be better served simply playing through the original game and its various spin-offs. Proof positive that ludicrously long incubation times don’t always mean an acceptable end result. When Duke commands you to “Come Get Some!”, you might want to tell him “No thanks”.
Avoiding Dishonorable Mentions:
Dead Island (Xbox 360, PS3), Go Vacation (Wii), Dragon Ball: Ultimate Tenkaichi (Xbox 360, PS3)