So that’s another year over. Done, dusted, gone.
As 2011 slinks away, 2012 comes bounding into view like an over-enthusiastic puppy- which means that it’s once again time to offer up our annual run down of our top ten downloadable games for 2011.
All in all it’s been an undeniably odd year for the console download services. After being shaky for a good while now, 2011 was the year that Nintendo’s content finally fell apart, going from mediocre at the start to appalling by the end. As we don’t count teaching kids how to count, nor massage and car parking simulators as games, there was very little of note. In fact Nintendo fans, we’ll warn you right now, there’s not even anything that breaks into our top ten.
Hopefully with the launch of WiiU in 2012 things might take a turn for the better…
That said Sony and Microsoft also seemed to find themselves in something of an aimless rut during parts of this year. The PSN produced some memorable titles, but the majority of these seemed to be multi-platform. Even with Sony’s `Only on PlayStation` promotion in the latter part of this year, there was little in the way of stellar exclusives. It was also a year where Sony continued to make a complete mess of getting the content out between the regions, meaning that it still managed to feel like it was trailing behind Microsoft’s efforts.
That said the big M’s service also seemed to falter on times this year. Aside from the annual Summer of Arcade event there were fewer launch promotions than recent years. In fact even the Summer of Arcade seemed to cause a weird sort of backlog and resulted in some particularly dodgy scheduling towards the end of the year, hearkening back to a time before XBLA actually took off. Going from an excessive three or four releases in a week, down to just one smacked a little bit of a directionless (and rather scattergun) approach.
But all of that becomes insignificant when you consider the most important aspect; the games themselves. So without further ado, let’s take a look at those we though were well worth your time and money.
10. Mercury HG (PSN / XBLA)
Puzzle game Mercury had a little bit of a revival this year and rightly so thanks to the fantastic Mercury HG. Offering plenty of mind bending puzzles with an aesthetic style that was pitched perfectly for the modern era, what made it notable was that it was also incredible value for money.
Click here to read our full review.
9. Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury (XBLA)
Even this long after their launch, one of the most interesting uses of the current download platforms remains that it can bring players titles that they wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to play. Gamer’s tastes change over time which means every now and then you fancy something a bit different which you either weren’t around for at the time, or overlooked on release and can’t get any more.
Bangai-O is a good example of this. The niche following the original game garnered has elevated it into something of a cult following (just like another release from this year, Guardian Heroes). Bangai-O: Missile Fury is probably as niche as it gets too, but that didn’t stop it from being thoroughly enjoyable.
Fast paced and manic enough to make your eyes bleed, you can read our review by clicking here.
8. Iron Brigade (XBLA)
Poor Trenched… er, I mean Iron Brigade. Pulled at the last minute from its European launch due to the issue with its original name, it didn’t get a rebrand outside of America for several months. Even when it finally arrived it still ended up a rather schizophrenic launch, showing up with the wrong name and boxart and no doubt causing the lawyers to go into a frenzy.
But none of that little saga should deter from the fact that Iron Brigade was a highly competent Tower Defence title, with a setting that was undoubtedly DoubleFine through and through. Their efforts certainly made it unique and interesting enough to raise it above other titles in what’s becoming a rather tired genre.
If you’re in Europe and didn’t bother to pick it up when it was released, then do yourself a favour and give it a try (and be sure to read our review by clicking here).
7. Joe Danger Special Edition (XBLA)
This isn’t the first year that Joe Danger has made a crash landing into our annual rundown. In fact he scores slightly higher this year than last with his arrival on XBLA .
The release might have happened at a very late stage on 2011, but the additional content crammed in by Hello Games firmly cements the stunt man’s antics into the 2011 list. And with the promise of Joe Danger: The Movie for PSN and XBLA in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see if Joe can make it a hat trick this time next year.
Click here to read our review.
6. Half Minute Hero (XBLA)
If there’s ever a concept that could only have been pitched in Japan, then it’s Half Minute Hero.
By all rights an RPG game whose levels take 30 seconds to play just shouldn’t exist, but thank God it does. With a lovely HD makeover to accompany it, the game proved that the concept can be done and, more importantly, done well. You’d think the whole thing would get repetitive, but frankly if you have trouble staying engrossed in something as fast moving as this then you’re either a hummingbird or need some sort of strong pills to get you to calm down.
Click here to read our review.
5. Sideway: New York (PSN)
Half way through the list and, at last, a PSN exclusive! And what an exclusive it was.
Yes, Sideway: New York was one of the better titles in Sony’s` Only on PlayStation` promotion. Taking a rather different spin on the platformer, the game oozed a style which meant it not only caught your eye but was fun to play. Full of interesting little ideas it was something of a breath of fresh air for the platform that seems to have become hamstrung by XBLA’s runaway success.
Click here to read our review and see why the game is worthy of your time.
4. Outland (PSN / XBLA)
Just like Half Minute Hero further up this list, Outland is a game which must have been hell to pitch. Crossing an action-platformer with Ikaruga and making it look like Tron sounds like an utter train wreck, but thanks to HouseMarque’s ample talents it worked extremely well.
Visually stunning, the title ended up a classic example of how style and substance can help propel your title over any preconceptions and barriers in its way.
You can read our review from earlier in the year by clicking here.
3. Bastion (XBLA)
In the year when everyone seemed to fall over themselves to praise SuperGiant Games’ XBLA release, it may surprise people to find it isn’t at the top of our list.
There’s no denying that the title was entertaining, with a strong visual style and an interesting take on how to tell your story to the player, but ultimately the game fell a little short of Game of the Year round these parts.
Of course that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great game. Far from it in fact, and you should check out our full review to see why you should still play it (if you’re one of the few who haven’t already of course).
2. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (PSN / XBLA)
Capybara made a welcome return in 2011 with the HD port of the Clash of Heroes title. Part puzzler, part RPG it was a fusing of genres that hasn’t been seen since the original Puzzle Quest. Except, with all their usual flare and panache, Capy ultimately stole that crown. Something that even the makers of the original Puzzle Quest couldn’t do with the release of their own sequel last year.
The Might and Magic HD title wasn’t just a looker either – thanks to its puzzle element, it was utterly involving and real value for money / a time sink if you let it.
Click here to read our review from earlier in the year and see just why Might & Magic is a very worthy runner up to this years gaming highlight.
1. Renegade Ops (PSN / XBLA)
Here we are at first place with a game which was so action packed it was bursting at the seams.
Fast paced, furious arcade action with plenty of challenge, Renegade Ops was the perfect embodiment of just what you want from your download titles. And if anyone can do action right then it was Avalanche Studios, who perfected their shtick of blowing things up with the Just Cause games.
Finley tuned, tightly focused and incredible fun to spend time with, blowing stuff up simply never gets old. For that reason, along with its riotous multiplayer, Renegade Ops was something of an understated triumph that deserved to do incredibly well.And that’s it… well, aside from some very honourable mentions for titles which were still great / memorable but didn’t quite squeeze into our top ten.
First on the list has to be the fantastic The Adventures of Shuggy, a criminally overlooked little XBLA platformer which was probably the best game you didn’t play in 2011. PSN users probably overlooked the excellent Rochard too, a game which ultimately deserved to do far better than it actually managed.
Then there were the titles which had a bit more weight behind them, such as the incredibly stylised Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and a welcome return from Eric Chahi with his title, From Dust.
There was also some very notable HD makeovers, with Guardian Heroes getting the chance of a wider audience, Stranger’s Wrath HD making a slight return in the closing weeks of 2011 and the fantastic Beyond Good and Evil HD reminding us why we all fell in love with the original to begin with.
And of course there were also some rotten fruits of digital distribution – the games that should have been good, but somehow managed to turn out to be stinkers. This was the year that the badly broken Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, tragic waste of ideas that was War of the Worlds, and the utterly pointless Burger Time World Tour, all did their best to try and stink things right up.
But rather than end on a sour note let’s not forget, for services to the continued support of their titles with DLC, Zen Studios and Pinball FX2 / Marvel Pinball which received a plethora of great new content throughout the year and showed other companies how to do it.
Now that really is it…
Agree or Disagree with our selections? Why not let us know what was your game of the year in the comments section below.