I have a soft spot for the bizarre and the esoteric. If something is complicated, either through the machinations of its mechanical workings or through the intricacies of its conceptual nature, its hard for me to focus on anything else until I feel like I really understand what I'm looking at. Catherine gave me something to think about, and also made me think about myself, which isn't something I can usually say about puzzle/dating games.
The experience is complicated in both the literal and metaphorical sense; its ever-changing puzzle gameplay and surprisingly deep, multifaceted story are the result of brilliant design decisions, exceptional writing and an amazing localization job by Atlus. Catherine managed to satiate my craving for the intellectually surreal while immersing me in the delightfully idiosyncratic world of Japanese storytelling.
One of (if not the) biggest surprises of 2011, Driver: San Francisco did something no previous Driver game has ever managed to accomplish. Well, two things: Not only is it the first Driver game in recent memory to forego Grand Theft Auto conventionalism and forge its own path, it's also the only game in the series to ever find its way into my heart.
Tanner's fantastical, ludicrous journey through his own subconscious is so refreshingly inspired that I was enthralled and delighted from beginning to end. Driver: San Francisco is a perfect example of the good that can be done when a developer decides to quit taking itself so seriously and start from square one.
Despite some lingering balance issues, Ultimate MvC3 took great strides in correcting many of the problems that plagued the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3, both literal and conceptual. The DHC glitch was corrected, for instance, and Jean Grey's fiery reign over the character roster was brought to a swift and brutal end, while new (and even viable) fighters were introduced to the cast.
For most of the fighting game community, the jury is still out on whether or not this kind of update should be a boxed release, paid DLC or a free patch. Regardless, it's this kind of support and updating that keeps fighting games alive, and as such UMvC3 won't be leaving my rotation any time soon. After all, underneath all the balance, character, system and presentation changes, it's still Marvel vs. Capcom.
The King of Fighters series has always been trapped in its own little bubble of the fighting game design universe, ignoring the trends and innovations made by other developers and pushing ahead on its own rails. It's that determined, isolationist attitude that has kept the series so "pure" over the years, and King of Fighters XIII is no different.
Playing this game is like being transported back to the unforgiving days of mid-90s fighting game design, a time when combos required frame-precise execution and there were never more than two fighters on screen at a time. It's rewarding, yet frustrating, in a heartwarmingly nostalgic way that invokes the long-gone arcades of yesteryear.
Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2011 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal, impassioned picks in Best of the Rest roundups.