10. Pokemon: Black Version
How do you take a franchise that's been utterly successful since the mid-90's and make it feel fresh without completely changing how the game is played? The developers of Pokemon Black/White tried to do some new things with the most recent entries in the Pokemon series and they succeeded on several levels. With some updated graphics, new 3D models, and a story that was deeper and darker than any other Pokemon entry we'd seen before, Pokemon Black gave me some hope that there could be some huge, incredible changes for the series in the near future. At the very least it got me pumped for an incredible Pokemon game that I'm sure will hit the 3DS soon.
Who the heck doesn't love Legos? And who the heck doesn't love video games? So needless to say combining the two should make something that a lot of people enjoy right? Well Markus Peterson (Notch) was apparently the only person smart enough to come up with that idea and so he created Minecraft. Millions of sales later, his small little indie game was not only one of the most talked about, but one of the most successful video game titles of the year. My time with Minecraft has been incredibly enticing. The idea that a world is entirely your own and the limits of what you can create are simply your imagination is something that I think all gamers can get on board with.
8. Mario Kart 7
I haven't been playing it long but Mario Kart 7 has already given me some of the greatest enjoyment of any title this year. With ingenious maps, enticing 3D graphics and some steps in new directions for the franchise, MK7 proved to not just be what the Mario Kart series needed, but what the 3DS needed to get back on track. Racing against opponents online feels like it has been the missing link in the Mario Kart series and the Kart customization gives you more control over your racing destiny. Definitely my favorite Mario Kart entry to date.
7. Modern Warfare 3
Yes, I love the Modern Warfare games. I'm sorry but I know they're incredibly formulaic and repetitive but it's a formula that works for me. A single player campaign that pumps your adrenaline from beginning to end without ever taking its foot off the gas is exactly what I want from my Modern Warfare games and it's exactly what MW3 gave me. The multi-player took some getting used to, with a much faster gameplay system and more confined maps, but it's grown on me and it looks like I'll be able to dump hours into leveling up just as I did with the first two entries in the system. For me the old saying holds true for the Modern Warfare series, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
6. Gears of War 3
A grand finale for Marcus and Dom was exactly what the Gears series needed and it's exactly what they got. I have only played the Gears of War games for the campaigns as I find myself drawn to the all out bloodbath and brotherly comradery that holds the campaigns together from epic set piece to epic set piece. Gears 3 was no different providing a straightforward plot that took our heroes to the most epic locations to fight seamlessly endless waves of baddies. The new enemies in the form of the Lambent were formidable foes who offered the most satisfying explosion of golden emulsion upon being killed that it truly never got old blowing them up. But Gears 3 also knew how to tug at the heart strings even if it was a bit cheesy. The send offs for some of these characters that we've grown to love over the first two entries were emotional scenes that actually caused me to feel something. Gears 3 was an all around good time.
5. Super Mario 3D Land
Yes, I've only been playing it for a few days but it's already in my top 5 games of the year. Super Mario 3D Land has done such an absolutely unbelievable job of combining everything that has made Mario great in almost every other entry in the series and blending them all together for the ultimate Mario experience. With a perfect use of 3D on the 3DS, the worlds have never felt more realized and the hearkening to old Mario experiences is enough to make any old school gamer smile (I even noticed a Zelda reference last night). In short, along with Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land may be looked back on as the game that saved the 3DS and proved to everyone that the system was worth purchasing.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (3DS)
If this wasn't a remake of what most people consider to be the greatest game of all time it would probably be number one on my list. Some people were upset that OoT was really the only game worth purchasing with the 3DS in its early life, but I was completely satisfied. I easily pumped about 50 hours reliving what was one of the fondest memories of my childhood. The way they updated the game for the 3DS, slightly improving the graphics while making excellent use of both the 3D and gyroscope made this return to Hyrule more than welcome. This is a game that still holds up after all these years and it was waves of nostalgia to relive its epic story once more.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The excitement I had for Skyrim I think was the most I have ever had for a video game. What the game promised, a massive fantasy world where you could completely lose yourself, was more than enough to make me drool over the prospect of playing it. After waiting for hours at the midnight release I rushed home to play it and it truly didn't disappoint. I'm still not done with the campaign and I'm probably less than halfway through the game's content and I feel like I've accomplished so much. I've spent some time mastering the destructive nature of magic but also the stealth and deadliness of the bow and arrow. I've crafted potions, bought a house, saved towns, slain dragons, discovered caves, killed thieves, hunted animals and so much more. The richness of Skyrim's world and the very nature of the exploration it provides is simply breathtaking. Bethesda raised the bar for whatever they move on to next with this one.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Let me make this very clear; this is probably actually my favorite game of 2011! However, I have not spent enough time with it to make a definitive decision. Everything I've experienced so far, blasting enemies as a bounty hunter, flying my own ship, exploring Tatooine, dealing with Hutts, walking through Cantinas, flying speeders and so much more has been a perfect gaming experience. Star Wars is my favorite thing in the world and the way SWTOR brings me into the universe that I love so much is something I almost could not have dreamed of. It is, without a doubt, my favorite Star Wars game of all time and it's steadily creeping it's way up my list of favorite games of all time.
1. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City has to take the cake for me and for several reasons. First of all I was not even looking forward to it, having not played Arkham Asylum, and I bought it on a whim. Going in with no expectations set me up to be completely blown away by what AC had to offer, and I was. To me, a game is damn near perfect when it makes you feel like the protagonist. I mean that in the sense that I truly felt like I was Batman while playing through AC. Hiding in the rafters while a group of thugs patrolled the room below me; swooping down to silently take one out and shooting back up to the shadows above to look on as the others discovered his body. Sitting quietly as their moods changed to nervous and waiting for one of them to break off from the group was enough to get my heart racing and my face smiling. A plethora of classic villains, even if some were only around for a short time, made Arkham City feel like a place completely overrun with evil where Batman had to do whatever he could to take out as many as possible. Batman: Arkham City was my favorite, complete experience of the year and it comes out on top for me.