Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Games You (Probably) Didn't Play in 2011

With the number of "monumental" can't miss titles that often come out in a year, it's entirely understandable that you'll pass up on some of the games you're not sure about, and miss a few of those pesky lesser known titles. That's why it's handy after the holidays, when you have a bit of extra cash, to have a list of the games you (probably) didn't play.

Here, Megabits suggests 10 of the best gaming gems of 2011.

(10) Outland

Developer: Housemarque
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Action-Adventure

Outland has three major driving forces, platforming, boss battles & color shifting. The platforming is pretty standard stuff. It's solid and it animates nicely. But what sets it apart from the similarly competent platformers out there, is the color shifting mechanic. Platforms of blue can only be used when your character is blue, red only when you're red. It's a simple idea, used to surprising results. Running and jumping at top speed, timing your shifts perfectly can be an exhilarating feeling. Combat utilizes this shifting to great effect as well. Enemy projectiles phase through you if your color matches, but you won't be able to inflict any damage unless your colors conflict. But perhaps the most amazing aspects of Outland are its bosses. Partly because each one is a spectacle of awe, but more importantly, because they always incorporate all of the game's best mechanics. You never know quite what to expect when the colossal door to your next boss encounter opens... and I'm not about to spoil anything here. So go buy it and see for yourself. With online co-op modes and single-player arcade challenges along with the Castlevania-esque adventure, it's a surprisingly reasonable price for what you get. Check our review after the jump.

(9) Bloodrayne: Betrayal
Developer: WayForward
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Hack & Slash, Action

The first thought that came to my mind when playing the Bloodrayne: Betrayal demo was, "Well, these are some nice graphics". Immediately following was my second thought, "Meh, this is kind of dull". However, I played through the demo a few more times to experiment with the controls, & discovered that the move set was more varied than my initial playthrough had led me to believe. Suddenly I was making blood bombs out of vampires, juggling my foes to bloody bits, and dancing on faces with dagger heels. Realizing I was having fun, I decided to buy the full game. Further advancement into Betrayal had me continuously appreciating the "retro-lution" style, a lovely melding of new & old. With ever-increasing challenge as the levels progress and a healthy checkpoint system, this is the kind of game that forces you to become a better gamer, while keeping you from pulling your hair out. The combination of simultaneous platforming and combat in later levels are a particularly interesting set of challenges that should create some of those enjoyable palpitating moments we all hope for. And top it all off, Betrayal's boss battles can be a very "Castlevania" cool experience. A good combination of interesting character design, epic scale and pattern memorization, so we'll just ignore the two times we have to fight mecha-crab. Old school platforming challenge, smooth analog stick controls, sharp anime sprites and an unlockable 8-Bit soundtrack. All of this in one attractive, quaint and entertainingly hyper-violent title that truly stands out... if you actually play it.

(8) Hard Corps: Uprising
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Arcade, Shooter

Hard Corps: Uprising (my personal favorite downloadable title this year) is one of the most action packed games I've played all year. It truly never lets up and as a prequel to Contra Hard Corps, I should hope that would be the case. Arcade mode holds eight stages of chaotic projectile dodging, frantic high speed chases, intimidating multi stage boss battles and bastard hard difficulty. Arcade difficulty aside, (seriously though, if you're easily enraged, your neighbors may call the police), Rising mode provides a more manageable experience for novice players, allowing you to spend your hard earned points on a hefty number of interesting and powerful upgrades. All of what is listed above, plus online/offline co-op, leads me to believe Uprising is a nearly perfect action title. The only significant complaint I could have, I can't really hold against it... The sound design is god awful, I mean really damn bad, but it's hard to care when you're laughing at just about every sound clip. I actually found myself looking forward to the next bit of bad. Perhaps the best of these moments was when a giant mech erupted from the earth, opened its serrated jaws and (instead of the expected tyrannical roar) let out what sounded like a homeless man screaming into a trash bin by the alley outside. For those that want to test it out first, there isn't really a bad level to try, no matter what part you play through you'll get a good idea of what to expect. Though the difficulty will probably be a bit much for some, if you can be patient, you'll find a very fun and rewarding experience with Hard Corps: Uprising.

(7) Rayman Origins
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platforms: PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Action-Adventure

With all the games on this list so far, it's starting to feel a bit like the year side-scrollers returned. And while it may feel that way (to the old schoolers playing them), these games are sadly overlooked by many console gamers. But with Ubiart (it's a developer platform, look it up), there may just be hope yet. Rayman Origins is an incredibly fresh and nostalgic adventure, with a big name designer behind it - creator and director Michel Ancel. And let's not forget the game's brilliantly talented composer Christophe Héral, both men of Beyond Good & Evil fame. As always, their works complement each other perfectly. Almost everything you do in the game is instantly met with a musical piece of the just the right fit, just play the demo and you'll see. Although Origins is clearly old school, it doesn't feel old. It feels like the cartoon side-scroller never died out on the home console, a natural evolution of the genre and one of the best games of the year.

(6) El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platformer

Definitely not for everyone, I can't even certainly say if it's for me. What I can say though, without hesitation, is that El Shaddai is the most visually striking game I've played since Okami. Nearly every moment your eyes gaze at the screen, you'll be struck with some form of beauty. But with beauty comes the beast, and with El Shaddai, that beast is the gameplay. It's too simplistic for its own good, and because this game is mainly a hack and slash platformer, that simplicity isn't helping to avoid repetition. I'm not saying this isn't a good game, I'm only saddened that the game's visual beauty isn't matched by it's interactive fidelity. If you enjoy art and can ignore the game's faults, you owe it to yourself to experience this retinal feast. Check our El Shaddai review.

(5) Catherine
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: ???Puzzle, Platformer, Survival-Horror, Dating Sim???

I can't really say much about Catherine, I think it's because I don't have the full game yet. I've only played the demo... but the demo of of this game is so remarkably different, it certainly seems enough to warrant a purchase. I am now patiently waiting for my order to arrive. If you want to gain a deeper insight on the madness that is Catherine, check out the full review.

(4) Shadows of the Damned
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action-Horror, Third Person Shooter

Goichi Suda, Shinji Mikami, Akira Yamaoka. If you don't know who any of these people are, you are most likely one person out of about 6,980,999,002 others that don't pay attention to the important men and women of the gaming industry, for shame! Shinji Mikami was the director and co-writer of Resident Evil 4. That little piece of info alone should have been enough to get you to buy this, but just in case it wasn't, we still have two other guys you don't know. Goichi Suda is (a bit eccentric) the creator of Killer7 and No More Heroes... okay, not many of you know about those... moving on. Akira Yamaoka is the incredible sound designer and composer of the Silent Hill series. All of these great minds come together to create a title that is... almost nothing like any of the games any of them have worked on before. I'm not disappointed though, this is a great game. I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever that dream may have been, the actual outcome was far more obvious. A proper stack of their talents, rather than a perfect mixture. They all have their respective works shine through at different times, but it can feel like the game is competing with itself for attention... Though, that may have actually be intentional, it does add to it's whacked out acid trip charm. Shadows is a bit of a demonic filth-fest, but if you can handle the offensive and immature dialogue, along with a few overtly sexual situations... Oh, who are we kidding? Of course you can! Good times are sure to be had with Shadows of the Damned.

(3) Yakuza 4
Developer: Team CS1
Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action-Adventure, Brawler, RPG

Let me make something clear, I want you to play the Yakuza series. Not just this entry, but the whole series... Good now that we've gotten that out of the way I can talk about Yakuza 4 specifically. Don't play the demo, it doesn't even kind of show what the game truly is. Don't try it for an hour and say it's not your thing, just buy it. Buy it, play it, and give it time. You won't regret it. It's got fantastic brawler gameplay that continuously improves for each character through an RPG style upgrade system, as well as a campaign (spanning 15 hours or more) with a story full of action, emotion, intrigue, maturity, immaturity and humor. And a massive number of completely optional side missions (many with impressive stories themselves) and mini games, that can easily last an additional 30 hours at least. All in all, a unique and authentically Japanese game. You get a lot with Yakuza 4, and (if only to a core group) it's one of those "monumental" can't miss titles mentioned in the intro of this very list. And now that you can get it on the cheap, there's no reason not to try this remarkable addition to the gaming world.

(2 & 1) The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection
Developer: Team Ico
Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platformer, Art

Okay, I'm cheating a bit here by adding this to the list, obviously these games didn't originally release in 2011, and I'm making it count for two. But I feel that it's important to remind the many people who passed on this years HD/3D collection, just how significant and incredible these two titles are. Actually, it's a damn fine set of games and there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said, so...

Conclusion... Buy it. No seriously, go buy it people, it's good.

Well, that concludes this particular list of games you probably didn't play. But unless you're some kind of gaming wizard, I'm sure there are plenty of other games out there you missed, I know I haven't played them all. So go explore, keep your eyes & mind open to new opportunities in all aspects of life & gaming. Enjoy your New Year, & all it has to offer.