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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

2011 in video games: the best of a decent year

Published: January 19, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

2011 presented a dearth of great new video games, despite the many new editions of established franchises. Nonetheless, below are my top 10 favorites from last year.

“Dragon Age II”: The second game in the highly successful “Dragon Age” franchise sold a million copies within two weeks of its launch. While the game is generally considered worse than “Dragon Age: Origins,” the game it follows, it still tells a compelling story about a refugee who rises to become a leader in his city.

“Portal II”: “Portal” was a surprise hit that was packaged in a bundle with two other games. It was a game filled with puzzles that a player solved through the use of a gun that creates portals to move from point A to point B while also using an amateur knowledge of momentum and other elements of physics. “Portal II” is similar, but bigger and better. The game is noticeably longer, features voice-acting from well known actors such as J.K. Simmons, and adds new features such as gels that can either allow the protagonist to run faster, jump higher or place portals on surfaces that normally wouldn’t work.

“Pokemon Black and White”: While the fad element of the “Pokemon” phenomenon has come and gone, the games are still popular. It’s easy to say that the games are made better in each successive generation. The current generation’s pair of games is also recognized as the 15th game ever to get a perfect score of 40 (scores of 10 from four separate panel judges) in Famitsu, a well-regarded Japanese video game magazine.

“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”: Skyrim is another game that got a perfect score from Famitsu, but part of what makes Skyrim notable is that it is the first game made by an American developer (Bethesda Softworks) to get a perfect score.

“Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary”: The game isn’t exactly new, other than the few changes from the original release 10 years ago. But, even with only a few new features, it’s one of the best games of the year with an engaging campaign and new maps for online multi-player.

“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D”: Another re-release, “Ocarina of Time” has proven to be a gold standard in video games. While earlier re-releases began to feel dated, this latest edition featured a graphical update that allowed it to look like a 2011 video game. After playing through it, it luckily didn’t feel like an old game with annoyingly difficult controls as compared to more modern controls. It fit in well among more modern games.

“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”: Yes, another “Zelda” game. This time it’s a new game and this time it’s on a console and not a handheld. Spoiler alert: “Skyward Sword” has a great story that tells the origin of the “Master Sword,” the weapon used by most of the heroes in the series. It even establishes how Link, Zelda and their eternal enemy, usually known as Ganon or Ganondorf, manage to keep being reborn throughout time. The only complaint I can raise is that the game requires the use of motion controls. While the motion controls are an interesting and somewhat fun option, it’s the one problem with the game that keeps it from being perfect.

“Super Mario 3D Land”: Mario is back and better than he’s been in a long time on a portable system. While the “Super Mario Galaxy” games were great on the Wii, it had been a while since Nintendo truly reinvented the wheel that they built an empire with but that’s exactly what they accomplished with “Super Mario 3D Land.” It’s a near perfect hybrid of the linear level maps that the handheld games are known for combined with 3D environments that allow Mario not only to walk left and right, but also into the foreground and background.

“Star Wars: The Old Republic”: I generally avoid computer games and it can be chalked up to personal bias. That being said, “The Old Republic” has not been short of hype since its first trailer, in which an army of Sith lay waste to the Jedi temple as well as the capital city of Coruscant. Now that it’s finally out, the biggest complaint around the net is the long wait times to access the servers. This only adds to the strength of the game that the most notable issue is that its more popular than expected.

“MineCraft”: One of the biggest reasons that “Minecraft” makes the list is because it is a great game that is in no way connected to an already established series or franchise. “Minecraft” has been around for a couple of years now in alpha and beta releases but in November the full version was released with very favorable reviews. The game is basically a giant sandbox where you are limited only by your creativity.