It’s that time of year again, where gamers everywhere break out their credit cards so they can enjoy the year’s best video games, whether they were released with a ton of publicity during the holiday rush or months prior under the radar. I’ve got my Christmas list good to go, so it’s with confidence that I bring you my favorite games of 2011, which as in years past are organized into categories so you’ll know how to use them to serve your patrons best.
Best Video Game for Pure Nerdtastic Fun:
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
Released for Playstation 3 & Xbox 360
Published by Capcom
Most fighting games demand exacting discipline and rigorous training; gaining proficiency demands almost as much training and focus as acquiring skill at a sport. Although there’s something to be said for complexity in games, that quality tends to marginalize casual gamers as well as those who love to compete, but not on the professional level. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 streamlines the complexity of fighting games with a pick-up-and-play style that lets even novices do amazing moves that look spectacular and feel great, all while rewarding those who do put in some hard work and memorize the complete move list. On top of this, as the title implies, the list of playable characters is made up of heavy hitters from both Marvel comics and Capcom video games, and this lets us gamers revel in our true geekiness and live out those fights that we never knew we wanted to see. It’s fast, flashy, chock-full of inside jokes and references, and great for a game day or a tournament. Note that an updated version of this game, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, with new characters and game play modes, was recently released.
YA Factor: Iconic characters, especially those from Marvel Comics, and loads of personality are enough to attract any comic-loving, game-playing teen. The crazy matchups and dream team-ups they can create are just icing on the cake.
Best Video Game for Thinkers and Philosophers:
Released for Playstation 3, Xbox 360 & PC
Published by Valve
It’s easy to forget that not all video games are about big explosions and heroic moments. Some offer subtlety and a singularly challenging experience that stimulates parts of the brain usually touched only when engaging in critical thinking and artistic interpretation. The original Portal is an outstanding example of that category, and its sequel retains those qualities in every way. By bringing back one of gaming’s most terrifying and chillingly real villains and adding a new AI partner, Valve built on the original game’s sparse stories. New mechanics and environmental challenges make the game even more satisfying and challenging than its predecessor. There’s even a multiplayer mode, which brings this stellar work of art into the mainstream but not at the cost of its individualistic charm and wit.
YA Factor: The original is a modern classic and has invaded pop culture in a very real way‚ if you’ve ever heard the phrase The cake is a lie, you’re already familiar with Portal. The unique game play invites social interaction as teens work together to solve puzzles in the co-op mode.
Best Video Game Thrill Ride:
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Released for Playstation 3
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s no surprise that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception received universal critical acclaim for its heart-stopping game-play moments, impeccable design, and (perhaps most refreshingly) top-notch writing and voice-acting‚ it’s part of a series known for delivering edge-of-your-seat thrills and excitement. Many video games can lay claim to being action movies that you play, but the Uncharted series also boasts engaging characters with unique personalities and motivations along with genuinely challenging scenarios that never make it feel like the player is on-rails. It’s a genuine cinematic experience that empowers gamers without coddling them and delivers satisfying fun.
Best Free-to-Play MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games):
Released for PC
Published by Perfect World
There are so many good things to say about Forsaken World that I’ll go ahead and get its greatest quality out of the way: it’s the only free-to-play game I’ve experienced that is truly free to play. Most such games let players set up accounts and explore the early portions of the virtual world they serve up for free and offer premium content, but that premium content often comprises the bulk of the game, so it’s nearly impossible to enjoy any free-to-play game without coughing up a little bit of cash. With Forsaken World, however, gamers get just about all of the content at no cost‚ only a few extra items and cosmetic upgrades are for purchase. Add to this very sweet morsel the rich design of characters and locales, the fast-paced combat and questing (no need to spend hours leveling up your characters here), and the supremely balanced and forgiving difficulty curve, and you’ve got a game that is approachable and democratic in all the right ways. Download the client to your public use PCs, advertise its availability, and enjoy some increased gamer traffic.
YA Factor: The character design and art scream manga and anime, and the social aspect will be a huge draw for teens. It’s a role-playing game, so teens will have fun coming with their own stories for their characters. Use this game to ignite their creativity.
Best Game of 2011:
Batman: Arkham City
Released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC
Published by Square Enix
The sequel to one of 2009′s best games is my pick for 2011 top dog. It’s earned universally high marks from every publication and features many more varied experiences than its predecessor‚ not an easy task. Arkham City presents a vibrant virtual world for exploration, has nearly unlimited replay value, and packs in even more of the personality and tone of its source material than Batman: Arkham Asylum. It is, if the critics are to be believed, a near-perfect video game. If you order only one video game this year for your circulating collection, make it this one. It’s a solid title based on one of the most popular entertainment franchises out there.
YA Factor: It’s Batman! Who doesn’t love Batman? Familiar characters and game play that lets you act out all of your superhero fantasies will attract any gamer, but teens will especially love the dark and urban tone of the game’s design and setting.
It’s always hard to select the year’s best games because there are always so many great ones that cater to gamers’ wide-ranging tastes. Here are a few solid contenders to consider for your collections if you’ve got the budget to acquire beyond my top five.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the latest addition to Bethesda’s excellent line of open-world fantasy RPGs. Boasting a huge virtual world to explore and an epic fantasy story line, this game lets players custom-design and develop their ideal fantasy hero (or villain) as they see fit.
Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 are the latest releases in the three most popular competitive first-person shooter genres. There will likely be much tournament play seen with these games in 2012, so libraries need to get in on the action!
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the sequel to one of the most universally praised RPGs ever made. It’s based on the popular fantasy stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, so it’s a natural fit for book-loving gamers. With more action than its predecessor and the year’s most amazing graphics, it’s bound to draw in a more diverse crowd.
While not new, Guardian Heroes and Resident Evil 4 saw release on digital markets this year, which will no doubt attract a new generation of fans. Guardian Heroes is begging to be played at a library event‚ its multiplayer mayhem is legendary.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the latest entry in Nintendo’s epic series. Motion controls help gamers feel a part of the action, and the saga’s trademark puzzles, combat, and vibrant character design will catch many gamers’ eyes.