As our top ten countdown of 2011’s finest videogames turns into a top twenty five list for the second year in a row – and that list is due to appear here on Christmas Eve, incidentally – it’s easy to conclude that gamers have never, ever had it so good. The unfortunate downside to all this round-the-clock AAA software is that far too many misjudged pretenders end up getting lost in the shuffle, and an unusually large roster of terrific titles didn’t get a look-in by anywhere near enough people this year. Here’s our look at ten of 2011’s most underrated….
And if you missed our recent countdown of the ten best games of 2011, you can find that by clicking here. You can also win all ten of those games (plus four consoles) by entering our latest competition which is here.
10. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Despite rabid praise in some quarters, 2011’s second most oddball affair had to settle for status as a cult favourite in the making. El Shaddai was a game that was primarily about its own design and atmosphere, and it was easily the most visually arresting game of the year: perhaps even the decade. We’ve honestly never experienced anything like it before and the beautiful, crackpot aesthetics were as essential to its success as the gameplay was; which means that describing it as an “experience” rather than a videogame is the only proper way of accurately communicating the far-out pleasures of it. El Shaddai was quite marvellously idiosyncratic, and distinctive didn’t even begin to cover it. However, all of this would be for nothing if it wasn’t engaging as a videogame. And it was. [FULL REVIEW]
9. De Blob 2
Most videogames (like movies) are now largely pre-judged on review scores and opening weekends, and the majority of gamers appear to follow established brands, franchises and well-promoted artists more wholeheartedly than even hardcore film aficionados do. In short; it has never appeared to be so difficult for the little guy to prevail, and that’s part of the reason why Blue Tongue’s original De Blob game (a Nintendo Wii exclusive) was so thoroughly refreshing. Despite appearing on four different console formats instead of just one, sadly De Blob 2 didn’t make the same kind of splash as its predecessor, though it so clearly deserved to. Enhanced visuals, bigger levels and more of that thoroughly ineffable charm, De Blob 2 was the greatest Nintendo game of 2011 that Nintendo never made. [FULL REVIEW]
8. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
The unsung elite of the Nintendo 3DS launch line-up. A turn-based strategy game that offered up an uncommon degree of both narrative flair and gameplay depth, Shadow Wars was the kind of hideously compelling enterprise that seemed as if it had been specifically designed to cause sleepless nights; and for the too few 3DS owners who took the plunge, it almost certainly did just that. With slick presentation and a thoughtful (and un-intrusive) usage of 3D effects, Shadow Wars may not have been the next Advance Wars title that some were clamouring for, but it came far closer than anyone could possibly have been expecting. [FULL REVIEW]
7. Motorstorm Apocalypse
Motorstorm Apocalypse may not have stood as a massive departure for the Motorstorm franchise – with the series’ most fundamental gameplay mechanics remaining very much in place – but a new emphasis on action movie bombast and an even more breakneck pace seemed to suggest that developer Evolution Studios had taken quite a few stylistic cues from 2010’s similarly underrated Split Second: Velocity. Although consequently the game had a louder and much more belligerent aura than its predecessors did, it was definitely no less enjoyable for it. The perpetually banging (original) dub-step soundtrack was a bit of a classic too, and the COD-aping multiplayer suite was utterly compulsive. And continues to be. [FULL REVIEW]
6. Kirby: Mass Attack
HAL Laboratories (the outfit responsible for almost all of Kirby’s games since his debut on the original Game Boy) really hit their creative stride during the GBA era, and almost every Kirby game released in its wake has been a reliably sturdy work of near-boundless charm and imagination. Mass Attack was definitely no exception. True to recent form it was yet another Kirby game that bore scant resemblance to any of its predecessors, with every aspect of the gameplay involving the correct utilisation of a fluctuating little posse of mini-Kirbys. There was definitely an element of Pikmin about it, and losing just one of your little pink cadets in battle was every bit as painful as watching a single, ghostly Pikmin soul rise into the ether. He may not be Mario, exactly, but if HAL continue to make Kirby games like this, universal respect for the jolly pink puff surely can’t be too far away. [FULL REVIEW]
5. PES: Pro Evolution Soccer 2012
In the face of the stiffest competition in the industry, Konami’s Pro Evo series continued to stand its ground, offering up the reckless yin to FIFA’s meticulous yang. Gamers who’d only ever played FIFA were as sniffy as ever about the lack of licences and the comparatively sketchy visuals, but never before were they more likely to be galvanised by the gameplay. Pro Evo still has that rousing magic that’s almost impossible to define; the unquantifiable flutter that compels you to leap from your couch in noisy jubilation. A match of FIFA is always more likely to surprise you – because luck has always played a big part in FIFA – but in some ways Pro Evo is the more rewarding experience because luck almost never plays a part. In its own unusual way PES 2012 was as adept a recreation of football as FIFA 12 was. It just took a completely different path to get there. [FULL REVIEW]
4. Alice: Madness Returns
Although the core gameplay was instantly familiar, the two conflicting worlds that featured in Alice: Madness Returns were anything but. Set more-or-less immediately after the climax of the first game, this sequel constantly leapt between two contrasting environments; the grim, smog-tarnished hell of Victorian London, all hookers, drunks, broiling chimneys and stray children; and the spectacular (but always foreboding) subconscious Wonderland that Alice periodically escapes to from her makeshift home in a run-down insane asylum. Both worlds were populated by a colourful assemblage of attention-grabbing grotesques, and despite the odd finicky moment (precision jumping was prevalent) for the most part the gameplay was fluid, straightforward and highly enjoyable. The completely whacked-out atmosphere and ubiquity of reflective adult themes made it stand inexorably apart from everything else that we played this year. [FULL REVIEW]
3. Child of Eden (Kinect)
Aside (possibly) from Microsoft’s own Kinect Sports, no single game made the Xbox 360’s Kinect device look better than Child of Eden did. Despite its small (and successful) parade of gameplay modifications it was every inch the Rez sequel that so many of us had been waiting so long for; only faster and (visually) considerably more vibrant and rich. The tone of play was also generally much easier to understand – with a coherent life bar being one of the most fruitful new additions – but because the Kinect experience was so different from the standard pad-based one, it was essentially two fantastic games in one. But that slogan on the box really wasn’t nonsense in this instance. Child of Eden really was better with Kinect. [FULL REVIEW]
The campaign was blunt, derivative and far too short-lived, but Homefront’s multiplayer component never earned the kudos that it deserved. It may have been slavishly based on DICE’s inimitable Battlefield template, and largely viewed (even by its allies) as little more than a make-do stopgap, but once the online teething problems of its bungled launch had subsided, it soared. It boasted impeccable map design across the board and a faultless XP system, but the new stuff – like being able to buy all of your weapons and vehicles on the fly – truly set it apart. DICE’s monstrous latest may have poached the majority of its community, but Homefront continues to offer a genuinely singular (and recommended) online experience. [FULL REVIEW]
1. Shadows of the Damned
The match of Vanquish and Resident Evil 4 maestro Shinji Mikami with Killer7’s crackpot engineer Suda 51 was almost too tantalising to fathom, and yet Shadows of the Damned was every inch the collaboration that fans of both men had been rabidly anticipating. Which is to say, it was less a match made in heaven, and more of a match made in a Tokyo opium den. The game’s hero Garcia Hotspur was an arrogant, sex-obsessed dipstick to be sure, but you were only ever stuck in his extraordinarily goofy vision of purgatory, and nobody was more aware of what a gigantic tool Hotspur was than Suda and Mikami. You came across demons that urinated pure darkness, broad and brilliant references to movies like The Evil Dead, and more juvenile toilet humour than you could shake a Johnson at. Tight, engaging and heroically immature, Shadows of the Damned had the term ‘cult classic’ written through it like a stick of coc…. a stick of rock. [FULL REVIEW]
If you missed our recent countdown of the ten best games of 2011, you can find that by clicking here. You can also win all ten of those games (plus four consoles) by entering our competition which is here.