Here's six games that took up a lot of my free time over the last year, and some brief thoughts on each.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12
I had a chance to go to Augusta back in college; to attend a real-life Masters. A friend of mine's father had tickets and invited me to go, to which I politely declined. Talk about a life's regret! This is one that's especially haunted me over the past few years as I've gradually picked back up the sport that meant so much to me when I was younger. Anyway, I've always been a fan of the Tiger series but I never thought EA Sports would pull this one off. Forget its seemingly eternal exclusive with the NFL and NCAA. Finally landing Augusta National in Tiger 12 was the coup of the decade for the company in my book. It does beg the question though: Having delivered golf's Holy Grail to such fine effect, where on earth do they go this year?
NBA 2K12 owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sony. The first time I popped in 2K12 in my 360 and dove into "My Player" mode, the first thing I thought of was Sony's hoops games from the mid-2000s. You remember those, right? No? Well, you're probably not alone there. Featuring narrative-fueled tales dubbed "The Life", these games were as inarguably ambitious as they were deeply broken. These were bold (or, perhaps, foolish) takes on sports gaming; titles whose innovations were ultimately overshadowed by their prodigious fundamental flaws.
In 2011, 2K12 finally took those same ambitions and nailed it. "My Player" mode is an engrossing look at the life of an NBA player--both on and off the court. The key difference here is that, unlike Sony's melodramatic narratives, 2K still keeps the focus on the business of a ballplayer. There's no hangers on, no seedy agents, or any other superfluous subplots. Instead, "My Player" keeps the focus tight on your NBA career: what happens on the floor and immediately afterwards in the post-game press conference (where, to my eternal joy, you have a wealth of options--from being the fan favorite to being a locker room cancer. Think of it as Bioware focusing its talents on 7-foot-tall multimillionaires instead of Grey Wardens, Jedi, or people named Shepard). It's a fascinating and well-executed mode with a huge amount of variety and, this year, it felt really well-balanced.
I fear that, in a few iterations from now, 2K Sports will evolve "My Player" in one of two ways: deeper into the "traditional" NBA experience, resulting in something truly authentic and (dare I say it?) resonant, or they'll go the easy way and inject some of that trademark cheap 2K silliness into the mode--"My Crib 2.0" perhaps? Still, the possibility of overkill in the future certainly doesn't detract from the promise that's on display right here and now. Far and away my best sports game of 2011.
Forza Motorsport 4
Probably no explanation needed here, right?
Grand Prix Story
I devoured Game Dev Story with a sort of devotion I normally reserve for Scarlett Johansson. So, I was primed to love Grand Prix Story. But I only liked it. Liked it a lot, mind you; enough to sink tens of hours into the game. But something about the balance felt off to me. More to the point, I suppose in the end my passion for the Game Dev Story formula had already been properly sated by the original.
Developer Kairosoft continues to pump out these charming eccentricities, all seemingly cut from the same cloth--"Oh! Edo Towns" (Game Dev Story with samurai), "Epic Astro Story" (Game Dev Story in space), and so on. And as much as I love their commitment to their niche, I feel like I've seen it all. In other words, there's really only one Scarlett… everyone else, no matter how easy on the eyes, feels like a cheap knockoff.
Magic the Gathering -- Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012
Don't you dare judge me.
Ticket to Ride
Based on an old boardgame of the same name, Ticket to Ride is a charming game about the railroad business, where the goal is to control as much of a particular country's rail system as possible.
I never played the original Ticket to Ride boardgame and I'm actually glad I didn't. Having experienced experienced it on the iPad--with its gorgeous artwork, evocative soundtrack, and rewarding fast-paced gameplay--I suspect that, as with Magic the Gathering, playing Ticket to Ride in its original form would be a pretty unsatisfying experience. I mean, who wants to count mana cards and do the math needed to calculate damage in Magic? Who wants to keep track of remaining train cards in Ticket to Ride?
Forget online play or portability. The real reason retread games like these succeed on modern platforms is two-fold: 1) Time-tested gameplay and 2) The automation of tedious mechanics. After all, games are about relaxation, aren't they? In the immortal words of Butthead, "If I wanted to do math, I'd go to school."
So there you go. That's a handful of games that meant something to me in 2011. Here's hoping for an even better 2012!