5. Rayman Origins
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platforms: PS3/Xbox 360/Wii
I'm amazed, frankly, that Rayman Origins even got made. The high res art was clearly a huge undertaking, with massive care paid to its every nook and cranny.
The music thematically matches each scene, and the voice acting all fits within the ridiculous world. Everything in the game is alive -- it's absolutely lovely, but I'm not surprised nobody bought it. At $60, it was a tough sell for what nowadays "looks" like a downloadable game. That's why it topped our Top Overlooked Games list.
Of course, Rayman Origins isn't in our overall top 10 for that. The game is just so generous and lush, in all respects. It asks the player to enter a world that we might have imagined in our childhood, and rarely since. And it controls perfectly -- some may tout the inertia-filled controls of the new Super Mario Bros., but I'll take good old fashioned "stick to the ground" pixel perfection any day.
The best thing about the game, though, is the free-for-all that is co-op multiplayer. There are very few co-op sidescrolling games nowadays, and even fewer that support four players. But Rayman Origins does so with ease, letting players slap each other around, toss each other off cliffs, and revive each other in a madcap dash for the end of the stage. This is the game I wanted to exist when I was 10 years old. My hope is that a number of current 10-year-olds will find their way through to playing it. -- Brandon Sheffield, senior editor/EIC Game Developer magazine
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
There's something to be said about a game where you can get lost for 30 hours, aimlessly wander the countryside, and make absolutely no progress on the main campaign. That kind of experience is plenty common in Bethesda's latest open-world role-playing game, which succeeds not in providing a tightly-directed thrill ride, but by letting players guide the game at their own pace.
Nothing forces you to travel to one area over another, or adopt a certain playstyle, or even to follow the game's story. There's plenty of joy to be found simply hunting mammoths, exploring tucked-away ruins, or otherwise just exploring what the province of Skyrim has to offer. With such unrestrained freedom, it almost guarantees that each player will carve out his or her own, unique experience.
Some of this might sound familiar to those who have played other Bethesda titles like Oblivion or Fallout 3, but Skyrim offers a more compelling experience through and through, offering more variety in the game world, a more robust combat system and a more efficient user interface (for console players, at least). It's the small things that make Skyrim stand out from its predecessors, but these changes go a long way toward establishing a consistent and seamless experience.
When so many games take pains to hold the player's hand and provide precise and guided experiences, Skyrim's freeform play comes as a distinct breath of fresh air. -- Tom Curtis, news editor
3. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo EAD
There's a sense of wonder that the Legend of Zelda series captures in the hearts of its devotees, lifetime fans who remember their first adventure in the original NES game, or running out into Ocarina of Time 3D's Hyrule Field, or discovering that Nintendo somehow fit a complete and amazing Zelda game into a portable screen with Link's Awakening.
Skyward Sword is full of that wonder and new thrills. Director Hidemaro Fujibayashi and his team made something as simple as leaping off any ledge exciting, while also crafting some of the most inventive dungeons of the 25-year-old franchise. You'll see puzzles that ride you across different eras in a mine cart, and traps that send cursed creatures chasing behind you as you scramble to climb a thin line of thread (a scene seemingly inspired by Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "The Spider's Thread").
The Wii game's fourth dungeon boss is one of the most fun you'll fight in any game. A six-armed automaton swings giant axes and cutlasses at you, pausing after each ground-shattering swing. There's your chance to flick your Wii Remote/whip to grab hold of its joints and unravel the machine's limbs. Sheathing your own sword, you can hoist one of its massive cutlasses onto your shoulder, and make short work of the rest of the boss's legs and arms. Even then, as you dismember this robot that laughs with a child's voice, there is wonder in this dance. -- Eric Caoili, news editor
2. Batman: Arkham City
Platforms: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
In 2009, a relatively unknown London studio called Rocksteady did what no others could before: it released a game that actually made me feel like Batman.
Note that when I say this, there is some added weight to the statement. I am a nerd. I think Batman is rad, and even now as an actual adult with an actual job and house of my own, I still have conversations with other adults (some of whom work here) about how great he is. I have spent an unhealthy amount of time pondering the character's motivations, his world, and what inhabiting his body would be like.
I have therefore, as you might imagine, always had a horribly unrealistic vision of what a proper Batman game would be like. And while I won't be as bold as to say that Rocksteady met that vision, I can easily say that its game is way more fun than the jumbled mess I came up with.
This year saw a sequel that took what some might describe as an "open world" approach, putting the Dark Knight in his natural habitat: standing on rooftops and looking introspective. And it's in this open world that Batman: Arkham City truly became magical for me.
I don't know how they did it but somehow, no matter where I was and what I was doing, I always seemed to be in the right place, with something to do. Yes, most open world games have tons of content to keep you going, but somehow everything I did in Arkham City seemed immediately relevant and important (even if it wasn't), and that to me is game design magic. -- Frank Cifaldi, news editor
1. Portal 2
Developer: Valve Software
Publisher: Valve Software
Platforms: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
When I first watched a demo for Portal 2 a few years ago during a closed-door session at E3, I was a little bit worried. What Valve appeared to be doing was over-complicating this finely-tuned idea that was expressed in the original Portal by adding, well, lots of stuff.
That "stuff" included more story, more voice acting and more game mechanics involving gels, lens blocks and light bridges. When viewed out of the context of the entire game, as I did back before the game came out, these new aspects of Portal 2 seemed intimidating, and worse, unnecessary.
But in typical Valve form, once the final product released, all worries were laid to rest. Turns out that Portal 2 has spot-on pacing, and by the end, you feel like a virtuoso, whose instrument of choice is the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device.
Every tough puzzle that you solve, you feel empowered to soldier forward and take on the next challenge, which usually is even more difficult. The ratio of difficulty to player satisfaction is virtually perfect, and something that Valve's contemporaries might want to closely study.
That's not even to mention Portal 2's excellent story and voice acting, which are extremely effective in urging the player to move forward and solve these puzzles. And the co-op (which also allows for cross-platform play between PC and PS3) is more than a nice bonus, as playing this game with a friend tends to be just as hilarious as it is challenging. This game is bursting with personality, and it begs to be played.
So all that extra "stuff" isn't just superfluous -- every new addition has a purpose, and has a meaning. They made Portal 2 better than the original. Leave it to Valve to screw up the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." -- Kris Graft, editor-in-chief