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Of Scrolls, Swords, and Ponycorn Adventures

The year in gaming

By James Renovitch, Fri., Jan. 6, 2012

<i>The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim</i>
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

1) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks) It might appear to be a standard role-playing game at first glance – what with all the dragons and swords and spells – but Skyrim merited and rewarded exploration. And with the amount of virtual square mileage at your disposal, it was easy to while away days, weeks, months, and probably years talking to everyone, discovering hidden loot, and conquering monstrous beasts. As scads of YouTube clips can attest, half the fun was finding the oddities and kinks in the system. However, the true test of any open-world game is that it feels all-encompassing. Skyrim succeeded in that regard, and how.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo) The last time we were put in charge of Link, he looked good but didn't fully comprehend the Wii's motion controller. Skyward Sword changes the design just enough to exploit the Wiimote's abilities without compromising the series' consistently flawless design. The swordplay felt natural, the puzzles were intriguing, and the overall effect was pure gaming joy. This is Nintendo firing on all cylinders.

3) Sword & Sworcery EP (Superbrothers) The release of S&S was a master class in how to develop and distribute a game outside the studio system. Social media spread word of this beautiful interactive story that managed to make players' hearts race and soar with the help of the most evocative soundtrack and visuals of the year. All on your touchtronic device.

4) Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo) It took just less than a year, but Nintendo finally released a game for the much-ballyhooed 3DS handheld system that lived up to its extra-dimensional promise. Leave it to Mario to make jumping exciting again.

5) Portal 2 (Valve) While I'll admit to missing the isolation of the first Portal, it was impossible to resist revisiting the genius, nonlethal game mechanic that is the portal gun. The humor that accompanies the harrowing leaps and complex puzzles was unmatched, with J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant voicing unforgettable one-liners.

6) Bastion (Warner Bros. Interactive) Voiceover narration can be a crutch, but Bastion's deep-voiced, omnipotent guide along your journey through a beautifully impressionistic world revealed just enough to keep players exploring and entertained. Watching the world literally rise to meet your feet made for deliberate steps and rapt eyes.

7) Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive) It's a big, dark world that Batman inhabits, and taking control of his supreme fighting skills and exhaustive arsenal of gadgets made swinging around the city and stomping henchmen all the more fun. And if Batman was a little too butch for you, you could get in touch with your feminine mystique as Catwoman.

8) English Country Tune (Increpare Games) Stephen Lavelle, aka Increpare, has been making simple puzzle games and releasing them on his website for years, but he finally put everything he's learned together into an oddly named app and wrapped it up with stunning minimalist art design. Your phone has never been so engaging or brain-bending.

9) Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Sony Computer Entertainment) It's about as big-budget as it gets, but when the money goes to a decent story, jaw-dropping set-pieces, and top-notch voice acting, you get what you pay for – in this case an adventure game that barrages all of the senses.

10) Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure (Untold Entertainment Inc.) It's not as if this supercute, simple, free-to-play game doesn't have enough going for it to make any Top 10 list, but the story behind the game will hopefully inspire other would-be developers to go for it. Dad Ryan Creighton and 5-year-old daughter Cassie made memorable characters out of some crayons and programming moxie.

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