Gamasutra's Best Of 2011: Top 5 Console Downloadable Games

Gamasutra contributor Ryan Langley looks at a year that brought us standout downloadable titles and a flood of content alike, highlighting his favorite games for XBLA, PSN and WiiWare.
[Gamasutra contributor Ryan Langley looks at a year that brought us standout downloadable titles and a flood of content alike, highlighting his favorite games for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare.] 2011 was a weird year for the digital space for consoles, almost to the point of a backlash. With developers having issues with creators of the Xbox 360, and developers finding more incentive to leave for iPhone and PC marketplaces, it's been a difficult time to keep the enthusiasm high for the budding console digital indie developer. Still, developers are handily creating some quality games in this sixth year of Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare titles, and publishers like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts are becoming more aware of the possibilities the system holds for them. We've taken a gander at all of the games for all systems this year, and we've determined the Top 5 best console downloadable games of 2011. 5. Outland (HouseMarque/Ubisoft, XBLA/PSN)
Housemarque made waves with Super Stardust HD on PlayStation Network, and after the creation of Golf: Tee It Up and top-down shooter Dead Nation, they jumped onto another genre: platforming bullet hell. The polarity gimmick the game revolves around is very cool, and something we haven't truly seen since Treasure shooter Ikaruga, or its limited (but awesome) use in Donkey Kong Country Returns. It makes each jump that little bit more difficult, and getting everything right in a row feels like a big accomplishment. The game feels much like a "Metroidvania" title, finding nooks and crannies throughout the world to get more coins and helmets, which we haven't seen the likes of since Shadow Complex. A game with some very inventive jumping puzzles, fun combat, and a dazzling silhouette graphic style, Outland shows that Housemarque has what it takes on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network, and has excelled in any genre it takes on. 4. Rock Of Ages (Ace Team/Atlus, XBLA/PC) top52011rock.pngAce Team's second title behind the unique Zeno Clash is a great re-invention of the "ball rolling" genre, and includes one of the coolest art styles seen in a game. Playing as Sisyphus, the ancient Greek king who was punished to roll a boulder up a hill over and over again, you break out of your endless, damned life and into artwork from across the ages. It's also played for laughs, in one of the few "funny" games of the year in which each new level provides a cutscene that could have come out of a Monty Python sketch. The game is also more than just a funny premise -- flying down intrinsic levels avoiding obstacles to squish your opponent at the end, while also setting up towers, cows and barrels to distract your opponent, is a lot of fun. In a world where Marble Blast Ultra no longer exists on a storefront, Rock of Ages was a great addition to Xbox Live Arcade. Hopefully it pops up on PSN some time in 2012. 3. From Dust (Ubisoft, XBLA/PSN/PC) top52011fromdust.pngEric Chahi's return to the video game world was a welcome one. From Dust is a visually unique and creative title in which you take on the role of a god, whose abilities allow you to manipulate the earth itself -- sucking up and spitting out sand, water, and lava in order to save villiagers from the elements. While far simpler than most "god games" prior to it, it's been a great experience to play. Removing and replacing elements in order to solve these world puzzles has never been done in such a way that makes you feel powerful alongside such fragile people. While most games on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network are an attempt to return to a more "classic" style of game, From Dust tried to define a new genre, which is what the downloadable space should really see more of. 2. Trenched / Iron Brigade (Double Fine Productions, XBLA/PC) top52011trenched.pngDouble Fine has been on a roll these past two years with its download initiative, and no game has proven that more than Trenched, now known as Iron Brigade. In Doublefine fashion, the storyline is as bizarre as they come -- your side has figured out how to give a dug-in trench mechanical legs, and the other is trying to take over the world with walking televisions. This mixture of tower defending complete with an elaborate custom trench mech system is fantastic, allowing you to determine your style of play before you fight the enemy. Want to go with six machine guns? Fine, or perhaps you'd prefer one giant missile? Go ahead. Even better, you can fight against hundreds of enemies alongside your friends in the 4-player co-op mode. In my opinion, the game truly stands above the rest in the action-TD genre, like Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die, and was one of the most fun I've had this year. 1. Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes (Capybara Games/Ubisoft, XBLA/PSN/PC) top52011mamcoh.pngMight & Magic: Clash Of Heroes for DS was Gamasutra's second best handheld game back in 2009. It was an absolute surprise to most players, with the game all but ignored by Ubisoft's PR and found by the fans of Capybara, who was mostly known at the time for its casual Critter Crunch puzzler. That underground push, along with numerous awards from websites, allowed Capybara to develop an HD version of Clash of Heroes -- making it my favorite digital download game of the year. Now it may be a game that already existed prior, but I believe it's still the best game this year for digital downloads. It's an amazingly unique puzzle game -- you fight by pitting wildlife, demons, and soliders against each other by merging three or more together, and having them charge off to battle after predetermined amounts of turns, and when the opposition is waiting to charge in your direction, you'll be setting up walls and opposing forces to take them down. Clash Of Heroes was gloriously redrawn with amazing 2D artwork, to the point that the original game is almost unrecognizable. The stunning musical score complimented the action perfectly, and it featured a campaign that took me over 30 hours to complete. What this list also proves, at least to me, is that of all the publishers out there trying this whole digital download thing, Ubisoft has the right idea. And that might sound crazy with all the discussion on Ubisoft DRM and all its weird PC game shenanigans, but whoever is in charge of the company's smaller download games initiative should keep doing what they're doing. Honorable Mentions Bastion (Supergiant Games, XBLA) Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (Ska Software, XBLA) Full House Poker (Microsoft Games Studio, XBLA) Ilomilo (SouthEnd Interactive, XBLA) Moto Heroz (Redlynx, WiiWare) Ms. Splosion Man (Twisted Pixel, XBLA) Orcs Must Die! (Robot Entertainment, XBLA) PixelJunk Shooter 2 (Q-Games, PSN) Stacking (Double Fine Productions, XBLA / PSN) Please note, both Fruit Ninja Kinect and Raskulls were not mentioned due to me also working at Halfbrick Studios. Due to this conflict, they were unable to win awards. [Other 2011 retrospectives: Top 5 Major Industry Events; Top 5 Major Industry Trends; Top 5 Controversies; Top 5 Most Anticipated Games Of 2012; Top 10 Indie Games; Top 5 PC Games; Top 5 Overlooked Games; and Top 5 Social Games.]

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