Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages – it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! After a solid month of looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2011, we at Gamezebo have put together our picks for the 10 best games of 2011.
Unlike most of our previous lists, today’s was a collaborative effort based entirely on the opinions of our three lead editors, Erin Bell, Andrew Webster, and Jim Squires. As such, you may notice that our picks don’t necessarily line up with our picks for individual platforms. For example, while Bastion was #1 for PC, Grand Prix Story was #1 for Android, and Order & Chaos Online was #1 for iPhone, none of these made our overall list. Why? Because each editor had their own votes, and when tabulated, these top titles simply didn’t make the cut.
They say variety is the spice of life – and our editors’ opinions certainly are spicy!
So without further ado, here are our picks for the best games of 2011.
#10 – The Tiny Bang Story (PC, Mac)
When an asteroid hits your little world, the planet breaks up and scatters everywhere – like a toddler throwing a jigsaw puzzle. The Tiny Bang Story is a point’n’click adventure that tasks you with recovering these scattered pieces, hidden amongst the gorgeous hand-drawn scenery created by Colibri Games.
Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but it’s also instrumental in telling the story. For you see, there are no words in The Tiny Bang Story – simply scenarios that help you paint the picture and force you to read between the lines. It’s this uniqueness that made The Tiny Bang Story stand out as not just one of the best adventure games this year, but as one of 2011’s best games overall.
#9 – Woodland Heroes (Facebook)
Woodland Heroes manages to strike a fine balance that makes it a truly satisfying strategy game. It's approachable, with an intuitive take on Battleship-style combat that's easy to grasp. But it's also deep, allowing more skilled players to tweak their strategies however they see fit. Couple this with a lengthy campaign and you have a recipe for some great strategic gameplay. And it doesn't hurt that it's one of the best looking games on Facebook, with a great, cartoon art style filled with memorable character designs. Not bad for the debut game from social studio Row Sham Bow.
#8 – Where’s My Water? (iPhone, iPad, Android)
Ever since Angry Birds struck it big, there's been a deluge of fun and charming puzzle games starring cute little critters. So many in fact, that it can be hard to tell one from the next. But Disney's Where's My Water? manages to buck that trend.
Yes, its structure is somewhat formulaic, but its physics-based gameplay – in which you need to guide water to help an alligator shower in the sewers – is fun, challenging, and, as with all great puzzle games, downright addictive. And it has all of the charm you'd expect from a Disney production. Swampy is even getting his own animated web series!
#7 – Ticket to Ride (iPad)
There’s no shortage of board game adaptation on the App Store, but every now and then, one comes along and raises the bar for every other board game that follows. In 2010 that game was Carcassonne. In 2011, it’s Ticket to Ride.
The iPad version of Ticket to Ride not only captured all of the fun of the tabletop trains game, but it connected to Days of Wonder’s existing Ticket to Ride Online multiplayer community, looked stunning, and even allowed players to download additional maps as low cost in-app purchases. Considering that new maps in the tabletop version can run upwards of $50, paying less than $5 here gives the tablet version of Ticket to Ride instant appeal for fans of the series.
And newcomers? Well, I’ll just say this – while I don’t have the numbers to back it up, something tells me that this app has probably helped move more than a few copies of the original boxed game. (On a related note, though – we strongly recommend the iPad over the iPhone version, which feels a little like Ticket to Ride Lite).
#6 – Tiny Token Empires (Mac, iPhone, iPad)
Take a dash of Civilization, a pinch of Risk, and a sprinkling of Bejeweled, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the best genre mash-ups since Puzzle Quest. Tiny Token Empires is a game of Old World domination, tasking players to take over Europe and North Africa with Greco-Roman armies and match-3 skills.
The whole experience feels a little like Risk, but with match-3 combat and unique troops instead of a simple dice roll. With plenty of missions, a strategic-twist on gem-busting, and great art and humor, Tiny Token Empires sucked far more hours out of our lives than it had any right to this year.
#5 – Portal 2 (PC. Mac)
Portal 2 took everything that made Portal great and made it even better. The puzzles are more challenging, the story is deeper, and the humor is even funnier. To quote our reviewer, “the only real gripe we have with this game is that is eventually ends.”
For those not familiar with the series, Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle game from the creators of such popular first-person shooters as Team Fortress 2 and Half Life. So what’s the different between an FPS and an FPP? Well for one thing, your gun in Portal 2 doesn’t shoot bullets, but portals. Shoot one on the wall in front of you, another on the ceiling, and walk through (if you want to take a heck of a tumble back to the floor.) It’s a unique mechanic that not only lends to some amazing puzzles, but also works as a gentle point of entry for those that remain skittish about first-person gaming.
#4 – Gemini Rue (PC)
Old-school, traditional point-and-click adventure games are somewhat of a dying breed. Most games add more modern touches, like hidden object scenes or built-in hint systems, to make them more appealing to today's audience. Gemini Rue doesn't do any of that. If it was released 15 years ago, it would be hailed as a classic example of the genre. But even today, it's clearly something special. With a terrific, Blade Runner-inspired world and story coupled with traditional adventure gameplay, Gemini Rue proves that the classics still have life left in them.
#3 – Drawn: Trail of Shadows (PC, Mac)
A wizard has trapped a young boy in a painting, and it’s up to you – the unnamed hero – to follow him, rescue the boy, and help him return to his life of creating painted worlds to explore. And did we mention that all of this takes place inside a bedtime story that’s being read by a grandfather to his little girl?
The third entry in the Drawn series is just as cinematic, challenging, and gorgeous as its predecessors. If you’re looking for a great puzzle-laden adventure, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one this year. There’s a reason we named it the best sequel of 2011.
#2 – Triple Town (Facebook, Google+)
A match-3 game that started out life on an e-reader before being ported to Facebook doesn't exactly sound like the recipe for a hit. But Triple Town is no ordinary match-3 game. It takes a familiar concept and builds on it, creating an utterly unique puzzle experience that's absolutely impossible to put down. It's the kind of game where the phrase "just one more game" is followed by hours of trying to beat your high score.
#1 – Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (iPhone, iPad)
It's a cliche to be sure, but it's hard to explain just what makes Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP so great with words. It plays out somewhat like an old-school adventure game crossed with The Legend of Zelda, but it's not so much the way the game plays that makes it so unforgettable, as it is the way all of the elements come together to create a uniquely absorbing experience. From the dark, haunting soundtrack to the low-fi pixel art visuals, it's a game that needs to be experienced to be understood fully. But it's an experience that's well worth having. And it's Gamezebo's favourite game of 2011.
Wondering what other games almost made the list? Be sure to check out our reviews of Royal Envoy II, Phantasmat, A Day in the Woods, Virtual City 2, Delicious – Emily’s True Love, DragonVale, Panda Poet, Dream Land, Order & Chaos Online, Grand Prix Story, Bastion, and Shadow Era.