2011 had its fair share of yearly modern mainstays (Dynasty Warriors 7 - Xtreme Legends, Samurai Warriors 3 - Empires, Dead Rising 2 - Off The Record), but what defined this year was the modern treatment of classic IPs. Every year we see developers trading-off bringing back old IPs, but in 2011 we saw them resurrect some long-awaited classic IPs with Rush N' Attack: Ex-Patriot, Sonic Generations, and WWE All-Stars. It was great to see these titles keep the essence of what made the originals classic titles. Some even consider the Mortal Kombat reboot to be a resurrection of that series. EA even approved of NBA JAM - On Fire Edition (an obvious throwback to the old Tournament Edition revision). Looking at all this as a whole, 2011 was really a year of classic Midway IPs from the 32-Bit era. When the dust has settled and time has passed, these are the quality titles from 2011 you'll want to get your hands on...

Rush N' Attack: Ex-Patriot
[Konami / Vatra Games]

I love nothing more than when classic IPs are resurrected with current technology. Rush N' Attack - Ex-Patriot is a perfect example of this. It still carries-on traditional gameplay elements of the series, but with additions to keep it fresh with the hardware. By its design and gameplay, you can tell they got the right guys on board for the long-awaited return of the series. I always wondered why Konami kept so many older franchises alive (Contra, Gradius, Frogger, etc.), but only gave Rush N' Attack a recent HD makeover. Well, that makeover must have been well-received, because Konami went and brought it back, and it was probably the most hard-core game of the year. Sure, the Unreal 3 Engine is mostly defined by titles like BulletStorm and Mass Effect, and least by stuff like Shadow Complex and my personal favorite, Monster Madness. It's that nostalgic approach that made Rush N' Attack - Ex-Patriot a standup standout title, though.

The character design was probably the best I saw all year. No girl pants, no emo shit, no glasses, no bullshit. Just good old-fashioned, 90's-inspired ultra-cool super-soldier designs straight off the cover of an All Out War album. They have all sorts of designs that range from commie crusaders to burly bionics, and even German Shepherds (which are just as unpredictable as in real life). I have really grown to dislike that breed of dog more and more with each coming year, and this does nothing to help it. At any rate, Morrow is the coolest character of 2011. The retro slicked-back prison hairdo, the bandanna over his face, tattered fatigues, killer blade; now this character is a hero.

A variety of stealth and combo attacks to bring it up to speed with the evolution of the action genre since the first game was released back in the 80's. Konami essentially put the CQC system from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater into a mix of other satisfying abilities like dragging dudes off platforms by their feet. The game doesn't know how to fake it, and even with additions, sticks tight to its roots. Fuck what Metacritic or some other media bullshit says, because Rush N' Attack - Ex-Patriot is one of the best IP resurrections, ever. Not that I have anything against Shadow Complex, but why not keep a classic IP alive by getting Rush N' Attack - Ex-Patriot, first?


Mortal Kombat
[Warner Brothers / Netherrealm Studios]

Some time back, I predicted that the Unreal 3 Engine would be home to some great titles once it hit its stride, and these two titles at the top prove that. When I first saw Gears Of War back in the day, I knew it would take time, but I couldn't wait to see what my favorite developers could do with it! We are finally to the point, with titles like Rush N' Attack - Ex-Patriot, Dark Void, and Mortal Kombat showing what the engine is capable of. More than anything, these titles are a testament to everything critics said it wasn't capable of, and that's why I hold them so high. They said the Unreal 3 Engine was only FPS-capable. They said it was only capable of "muddy" textures and dark visuals. These titles drove the final nails into the coffins of these baseless arguments, putting them six-feet in the ground. The engine put the west on the map again, leaving Japanese developers seemingly discouraged. And for good reason! Only Capcom's MT Framework, Taito's Type X2, and PS3-compatible SEGA and Namco titles even come close.

This brings us to Mortal Kombat. The impurity of Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe was an obvious experimental ground, and it really paid off when you look at the immense success of Mortal Kombat. Though the game is a far cry from the "old-school" style they were going for (which I have no problem with at all), the game it came to be played just as well as the most recent ones (exactly as I had hoped it would). They said the game was supposed to be like Mortal Kombat II from back in the day, but I was glad to see it actually played more like the newer games; there's beauty in simplicity, yes, but why take such a big step back? Street Fighter IV took a step back, but you rarely hear about the real fan complaints about the removal of essential concepts like air-blocking and throw-landings. These are the types of things that can be lost when a game "returns to its roots." Thankfully, the highly-anticipated ninth Mortal Kombat didn't have that problem. The only thing it really lost was the title; the title really should have had been numbered to avoid confusion. Too bad "fans" probably had them thinking a series could only be reborn without a number attached to it.

Sonic Generations

Am I the world's biggest Sonic fan? No. Did I think this one was better than everything you see under it on this list? No. But the game deserves a lot more credit than it's given. Sega bends over backwards for Sonic fans, but it never seems to be enough. If it's not about bandwagon "3-D" hate, then it's about "werehog" hate, or some other contrived bullshit. Like Sonic 4, Sonic Generations is supposed to be the new 2-D Sonic game fans have apparently wanted, yet their appreciation is questionable at best. Sega can't win. I think it's funny how re-done HD versions of the old 16-bit Sonic games have had better reception than the new 2-D ones. In theory, wouldn't that make such "fans" ultimately just fans of 16-Bit itself, rather than the Sonic series? Either way, the music is awesome in Sonic Generations, and there's an intriguing alternate 2-D take on previously 3-D stages (and vice versa). Even the loading screen looks cool! Great game with great concepts!

Dead Rising 2 - Off The Record

I already liked Dead Rising 2 a lot, and the only things I didn't like about it were mostly all the same things I didn't like about the original (obligatory first-person view button, backtracking, escorting). I liked the idea of Dead Rising 2: Case Zero and Dead Rising 2: Case West as prologue and epilogue upgrades, too. That being said, the Off The Record follow-up version is more of the same zombie-splattering, brawling madness from DR2. DR2OTR features a number of much-needed additions and improvements that complete the incomplete DR2. The host of additions include (but are not limited to) new weapons, items, and areas. Weapons like the katana were sadly left out of DR2, so it was great to see that they were not only added to the DR2CW upgrade, but that they were carried over into DR2OTR. Also new in the gameplay department is an added emphasis on platforming like DR2CZ. The story stayed essentially the same, but tweaks were made to make things (even more) interesting playing through as Frank.

The most important change I think was made to the game is the long-awaited inclusion of checkpoints; this demand fans made clear for a long time, so nobody could make sense of its exclusion in the original DR2. I was also relieved to see they finally fixed the co-op play. No longer is it a disappointing spectacle of two Chuck Greenes fighting side-by-side; one player is Frank, the other is Chuck, and that's how it was meant to be! This version probably should have been the Platinum Hits version, but then how would they get rid of all those unsold copies of DR2? Ultimately, though, DR2OTR is the fourth Capcom title now on that Blue Castle engine, which should leave any fan of the beat-'em up genre begging for them to use it for more...

NBA Jam - On Fire Edition
[Electronic Arts]

I've been vocal about my feelings toward EA. They're scammers and scheming bastards. Which is fine, because I've never liked them to begin with. What do you do when one of your favorite all-time series gets swallowed up by them, though? In a perfect world, the NBA Jam IP would have been carried over in a seamless, painless transition from a crumbling Midway to Netherrealm Studios. But our world sucks, and so NBA Jam would likely not even have been resurrected without being branded by EA. The HD upgrade of the original NBA Jam made for the Wii was released retail, so the only way around EA getting paid was to buy the game preowned at your local independent game store (or steal it from GameStop). But, what about the On Fire Edition? Hopefully, there's a retail disc release. That way, independent business gets the support it needs, while EA (or GameStop) doesn't get the support it doesn't need. Maybe this will continue to send the message straight to them that we're not buying the game to support them, and then hopefully Netherrealm Studios can get the IP (back). More Jam is always a good thing, though, and I loved the Tournament Edition upgrade back in the day, so On Fire Edition sort-of brings back that feeling. It's great to see the series back and even getting upgrades, but EA still doesn't deserve a fucking dime.
Super Street Fighter IV - Arcade Edition
[Capcom / Dimps]

Evil Ryu makes a return after a long hiatus, making SFIV all the more closer to SFA. Yun and Yang make an appearance to both the dismay of many, but I think Dudley's inclusion was a much greater travesty. Either way, it's still worth playing, and still worth owning.

Muchi Muchi Pork! / Pink Sweets

There's no denying the finesse Cave approaches the shooting genre with. A lot of developers approach the genre with a feminine touch, but few in the manner Cave does. Instead of relying on the cliche "Japanese cartoon chick" approach, Cave changes it up by adding stuff like giant insects, true fashion, and psychic warfare into the mix. The Mushi Hime Sama, Ibara, and ESP Galuda series (respectively) were instant classics because of this. Cave bold next (and my most favorite) approach to the feminine shooting game was Muchi Muchi Pork!, a title with female characters nothing like any you've ever seen in any game.

Again, no stereotypical game girls here; these ones are buxom and top heavy, just the way we like them! Who wants the tiny, typical supermodel game girl when you can have a full-figured game girl with big titties and child-birthing thighs?! The game was dedicated to the BBW fan, and the HD release in 2011 featured additions sure to keep fans hard to years to cum. As if that weren't enough, Pink Sweets was included in this double pack for those with an eye for fashion (and shooting games). The rose-themed sequel features a fashionably-sexy cast of females thin to thick, pleasing those of all tastes. They should have just called it the "Romance Shooting Pack," because this is a shooting double-dose of love in every way.

Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3

I vowed not to get Marvel VS Capcom 3 new, at full-price if the balance issues that plagued its predecessor weren't addressed. They weren't, and I bought the game used as promised. Changes were supposed to have been made with the Ultimate upgrade, so I thought of getting it new based on that alone. It wasn't quite enough, though, and ultimately it was the inclusion of Strider that sold me. How could I not own a title with Strider in it? I couldn't, so I went out and got it at full-price. Strider was glorious (as expected), the new modes are cool, and the new take on the stages looked great. The sound and balance, though, were disappointing. Put the controller down if you don't get the first hit, because you won't be able to move any time soon (unless you count the measlyone chance you're given with X-Factor). This major flaw made Marvel VS Capcom 2 a competitive joke, and it just may make a joke out of UMVSC3, too. The game has yet to go and only time will tell. Hopefully some patches or something will change it, because having each of your team members decimated from taking a single hit really sucks. Be ready for a lot of Frank West and Vergil copycat teams until then; the scene lacks originality now. Hey, look at the bright side! At least both MVSC3 and UMVSC3 have different modes to enjoy, so you have a reason to own and play them both.
Monster Hunter - Dynamic Hunting

Monster Hunter on iPhone/iPod Touch?! Without the stilted controls of past?! Awesome!

Smackdown VS RAW 2011
[THQ / Yukes]

I am one of the only people I know who puts wrestling games in the fighting game genre. They're not throwing fireballs in wrestling games, but they are throwing chairs, tables, and ladders. Further, they're definitely not baking cakes! Wrestling have been some of our least favorite fighters, and BADCP has a complex relationship of love and hate with them (as seen in our "American Sad-Ass" article), but this is one of the good ones. That being said, after seeing the ridiculous amount of customization and community user networking options available, I was impressed. Why? Because over the years they've put more and more into that part of the series, but the level of technicality they've arrived at in the HD generation is just ridiculous! You may not be able to decide whether or not your wrestler is circumcised or not, but you can customize virtually everything else! Not just appearance, but individual moves, move animation, and even signs spectators and fans hold up in the crowd. I've always been a fan of customization in fighting games, and this game does it well. If you're like me and not a fan of the tights and tight little pants, the necessary tools are available to design wrestlers (like Mike Haggar) from other games, too.

There are dizzying story parts, some battles seem impossible to win, and the technical gameplay has a steep learning curve, but these things are all nothing in comparison to the one absolutely intolerable thing about the game. The one thing I couldn't ignore about this game is the truly abysmal music. If what they say is true, the only thing worse than Rage Against The Machine is an equally-bad cover band with more conviction. Killswitch Engage is good, but they alone can't make up for all the garbage entrance themes that compose this game's soundtrack. The only other game with an equally-miserable soundtrack is WWE All-Stars. Everything else isn't too bad, though (even if the game is a lot less impressing when compared to the almighty WWE All-Stars). Metacritic shows some unhappy buyers, but for wrestling fans, technical game fans, and/or fans of chaotic multi-player battles, Smackdown VS RAW 2011 is good. Lending most of itself to technicality makes Smackdown VS RAW 2011 not quite as impressive as WWE All-Stars, but its definitely worth a bargain buy.


WWE All-Stars

I am one of the only people I know who puts wrestling games in the fighting game genre, and the only one I know whose favorite one of all-time is Wrestlemania - The Arcade Game. Back in the mid-90s, Midway unleashed the game upon the masses as a sister title to Mortal Kombat to dominate the turbulent wrestling sub-genre. There was nothing quite like it as far as wrestling games go, and I've always thought nothing after it really came close to it. Sal Divita was part of the development staff for that game, and with him at the helm for WWE All-Stars, it was like a dream come true. Finally, a title that can match the timeless arcade classic! It may not be the realistic, technical wrestler Smackdown VS RAW 2011 is, but its simple, uniquely-animated, over-the-top style actually makes WWE All-Stars more fun. You don't even have to be the biggest fan of wrestling to enjoy it; anybody can jump in and enjoy flashy pyrotechnics and thunderous special effects from even the simplest of moves. Mortal Kombat fans especially will be able to appreciate that WWE All-Stars runs on the same engine (Unreal Engine 3) with identical collision, grabs, juggles, and effects.

It suffers from the same garbage soundtrack as Smackdown VS RAW 2011, but at least the heavy, bone-breaking sound effects do the game justice. It's cool, too, that THQ isn't afraid to release more than one wrestling title a year. Smackdown VS RAW 2011 and WWE All-Stars are two different games with two different approaches, with the latter being faster, flashier, and more comical than the former. They say there's beauty in simplicity, and fans have got to love THQ for enlisting great staff to make a great game. It was awesome that WWE All-Stars and Mortal Kombat were released not too far apart; it will really remind longtime fans of the 32-Bit era. If you liked the old arcade game, enjoyed the new Mortal Kombat, or want a more inspired, unforgettable wrestling experience, you should get this one at all costs!

Bloodrayne: Betrayal
[WayForward Entertainment / Majesco]

Bloodrayne has always been one of the best non-Japanese action series. I look at it as a sort-of rival to Devil May Cry (which itself is essentially a Strider clone). I'm not a big fan of shit with vampires, but the Bloodrayne chick has great character design. She did back in 128-bit era in 3-D, and she still does now in 2-D. She seems to have kept her charm in the dimensional jump, and it was nice to see it in cartoon form. They could have went several ways with the presentation, but the choice to go animated was a great one because she was always suited for it. I couldn't believe I didn't hear more about this game!
Galaga Legions DX

Galaga always was a classic series like Pac-Man. Even my mom knows Galaga (if that's any indication of the game's popularity)! That is why I really like to see Namco bringing the game to a new generation with a new approach through the Legions series. They were smart to fuse the manic shooter (or "bullet hell") approach with the classic design of the series. Galaga Legions DX is probably seen as "more of the same" to some, but that's fine because the original was a good game (as we covered in 2011 on "DIY Gaming With A Vengeance"). Namco also did better at promoting this one, so will be able to draw newcomers despite popular belief that revisions and/or updates can't do so.
X-MEN: The Arcade Game

Konami made a reputation for themselves as one of the kings of the hack & slash genre by putting The Simpsons, X-MEN and other licensed titles in Pizza-Hut restaurants and arcades everywhere. They probably had aggressive marketing, but they didn't really need it because the crazy revenue they brought in really spoke for itself. Kids and adults alike couldn't resist the allure of licensed characters brilliantly brought to life in games that were easy to play. No, these games were nothing like the licensed tripe the consumer was stuck with at home back then; Konami's licensed arcade games were instant classics because they were fun and easy to play. Games are supposed to be all about fun, right? And Konami must see something in that, because they have graced us with an HD version of X-MEN that anyone into chaotic multi-player madness absolutely must buy!
Samurai Warriors 3 - Empires
[Tecmo / Koei]

Tecmo/Koei designing this one specifically on Wii hardware was probably the most surprising thing I saw in 2010. This move was all the more interesting amidst Warriors Orochi Z, Fist Of The North Star, and other PlayStation 3-based development they had going. Fans had to go out and buy non-Sony hardware (for once) if they wanted to play the game, though, so that might not have did them any favors. Nonetheless, Samurai Warriors 3 was great for unfamiliar Wii owners to get into the series and experience the sword-fighting mayhem that has gathered such a following over the years. As far as the genre goes, some consider it to be the best, and if you go by that then Wii owners were in for a real treat. Lucky for stubborn PS3 owners, Koei had a change of heart and brought the Empires version to the PS3. The original game's Wii debut was already surprising, and Koei going across hardwares for Empires made things even more interesting. Anyone who wanted the original Wii version in HD or with more depth should highly consider this enhanced PS3 upgrade.
Dynasty Warriors 7 - Xtreme Legends
[Tecmo / Koei]

Tecmo/Koei's approach to the hack & slash genre has been the same for a while, and that approach is to deliver as much of their signature brand of manic hack & slash action as possible, every year. And for all the fans they have worldwide, that's not a bad thing at all. I liken it to all the fans Konami has from the niche they carved out of the genre with a host of unforgettable licensed classics, from The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to X-MEN and Bucky 'O Hare. Koei has done similar, and their host of manic Empires and Xtreme Legends revisions are a testament to this. Koei has put out yet another Xtreme Legends revision to the dismay of paid game reviewers everywhere, but its because there are fans everywhere who buy them year after year. There are players who enjoy these games year after year, whether some reviewer calls them rehashes or not. Koei keeps making them year after year, and its great to see they do it despite what some paid frat boy writes about a game in a genre he never had any interest in. They may not be quite at Konami's level, but thank Koei for keeping the genre alive by buying Dynasty Warriors 7 - Xtreme Legends (or any of their other 2011 Warriors efforts, for that matter)!

Gears Of War 3
[Epic Games]

This one's probably on everyone's top games of 2011, but it's with good reason. The thing I noticed most of all is how Epic perfected the Unreal Engine 3 with it. Gears Of War 3 pushes the Unreal Engine 3 to its absolute limits, and that's both in visuals and stability. Environmental details and character design are even more refined than before, yet the game still keeps is stability! This is especially noticeable in classic locales like Gridlock that have gotten a dramatic overhaul. Going through the game in 4-Player is also great (even if the action is interrupted too much by dialogue). Though it's not the last entry in the series like many thought it would be, it sure would have been a grand departure.