It’s been a fascinating year for games. From LittleBigPlanet 2 early in the year to Skyward Sword last month to hundreds of Apple games, you never had to look far to find something good. That just makes it more difficult to pick the best games of the year. But ta-da, after a lot of blood, sweat and game playing, here are this year’s winners!
BEST WII GAME
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
The action-filled puzzles, the touching adventure story of Link and Zelda, and the smooth way you fly on the back of your loftwing! All of these combine to create a world you’d have so much fun living in. Since creator Shigeru Miyamoto might be retiring soon, this could be the last great Zelda game of this era. Sure, there are some camera-angle issues. But overall, this is a superior game.
BEST XBOX 360 GAME
Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (Activision)
Skylanders heralds an amazing comeback for Spyro. The ambitious adventure story has all the cool elements of a role-playing game. But here’s the key: When you buy Skylanders, you can use your characters and your saved game on your pal’s system via the Platform of Power – whether it’s Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, PC or 3DS. And those computer-chip-enhanced action figures are nicely detailed, too.
BEST PS3 GAME
LittleBigPlanet 2 (Sony)
So many people these days want to be game designers. With LittleBigPlanet 2, you can make all kinds of games — from platformers to shooters to role-playing games. If that weren’t enough, the story mode featuring Sackboy and an intergalactic vacuum cleaner is one of the most engaging tales of the year.
BEST NINTENDO 3DS GAME
Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo)
This Super Mario is just super inventive. From the get-go, the way the levels are designed make you smile and wonder, “How’d they do that?” The 3D works well (unusual for a 3DS system that has had its problems to overcome). And it’s the world’s greatest Mario in all his heroic, comedic glory.
BEST NINTENDO DS GAME
Professor Layton and the Last Specter (Nintendo)
The Layton games always bust your brain. But they make you think while you have fun – and that’s hard to do. Here, you deal with a giant, long-fingered, dark specter as you solve the mystery of Misthallery. It makes you feel like you’re in a world that’s slightly creepy. But it’s one full of artistic graphics and superior music, too.
BEST COMPUTER GAME
Portal 2 (EA for Mac, PC)
The great writing makes you laugh constantly. The puzzles leave you slapping your head, but always make you come back for more. If you love science fiction, Portal 2 lures you into its strange world, a world you don’t want to leave (well, except when you can’t figure out a puzzle). This is a game to savor; you never want it to end. A couple of puzzles each day did it for me and made my time with that excellent wit and sidekick Wheatley last even longer.
Nicktoons MLB (2K Play for Kinect)
It’s really a game that’s pretty darn smart. Combining a vast selection of kooky Nicktoons characters like SpongeBob with real-life baseball players like Big Papi, it’s a total blast to play. It’s also probably the first game to let you pitch, bat and field by using Kinect. While it has a few flaws (sometimes it’s too easy), it feels like the real thing – in a hilariously inventive Nicktoons world.
BEST OVERALL SPORTS GAME (TIE)
NBA 2K12 (2K Sports for PS2, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, PSP, PC)
There’s just so much to NBA 2K12. If you like old-school basketball superstars, you can match up Michael Jordan against Magic Johnson. If you’re a hardcore fan, NBA 2K12 lets you tweak and coach to your heart’s content. Go deep and start out before the draft as coaches interview you for a life in the pros. It only gets better from there.
NCAA Football 12 (EA Sports for PS3, Xbox 360)
In some respects, NCAA Football 12 is better than this year’s Madden. The attention to detail is admirable. When you type your last name in your profile, it not only goes on your player’s jersey, the announcer also calls your name when you play. You can play as your high school team, too. And that’s just the beginning.
BEST RACING GAME
Forza Motorsport 4 (Microsoft for Kinect)
Boy, is this a smooth game or what? You can play it casually and just use your hands as a controller to steer via Kinect. Or you can get as complex as you want and make it a real racing simulation. If you dream of being a racecar driver who travels the world for speedy adventure, this is the game for you.
BEST GAME FOR YOUR LITTLE BROTHER OR SISTER
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster (Microsoft for Kinect)
You’ll have fun, too, as you play with your younger siblings in an interactive storybook. The graphics are like something from a fairy tale – beautiful and mysterious. Because many characters from the show are here, it’s a great way to start young kids out with games.
BEST WRAP UP OF A GREAT SERIES
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5 – 7 (WBIE for PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, 3DS, DS, PSP, PC)
They didn’t reinvent the wheel, that’s for sure. But they didn’t need to. The last Potter books and films were pretty dark. But the intelligent people who made this game were able to add a humorous lightness to that darkness – without any dialog. That’s not a simple thing to do. Plus, the graphics, puzzles and magic are really terrific.
BEST MOVIE ADAPTATION (TIE)
Cars 2 (Disney Interactive for Xbox 360)
Here’s a case in which I think the game was better than the movie. Full of thrills and spills, Cars 2 even has an enjoyable tutorial. Each Car has its own personality, and the addition of a spy story is often full of drama. The replay-ability is really high, so you have fun beyond the story mode. Too bad you have to pay to go online.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Game (Ubisoft for Xbox 360)
Here’s another case in which the game sometimes exceeds the action within the movie. Before it was released, I had my doubts. After all, the Tintin movie is based on an old kids’ book that’s more popular in Europe than in the U.S. But the gamemakers combine a real love for boy journalist Tintin with some truly hair-raising adventures. The result is entertainment that’s as good as the movie – and, once or twice, even better.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME
Bastion (Microsoft for Xbox 360)
It’s almost worth buying a 360 just to play this little game that could. The big-voiced narrator is both dramatic and hip. The cool weapons do all sorts of crazy things. The music is so memorable, you’ll be humming it when not playing. The epic story and smart dialog is better than those in more expensive console games. If you haven’t gotten it yet, what are you waiting for?
BEST iPAD/iPHONE GAME
Contre Jour HD (Chillingo)
This little game that costs a buck is as much fun as Cut The Rope. But there’s something about that little one-eyed blob you control. It feels like a friend. That’s because its expressions change slightly as you play. On the surface, there isn’t much of a story here. But the soft, effective music and atmospheric artwork makes you feel there’s something bigger going on here.
GAME OF THE YEAR (TIE)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Runner Up: Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure
Runner Up: Portal 2