Best downloadable games of 2011

Just because it’s not on a disc doesn’t mean it’s not great

As internet speeds and digital storage gets cheaper and cheaper every year, downloadable games get closer and closer to matching the experiences provided by their retail counterparts. They also offer the chance for smaller development teams to experiment or stray off the beaten path; we doubt that EA would ever publish a game featuring a dead fetus is a power-up. They draw the line at killing unbaptized babies in hell thank you very much.

Above: Check out our ten favorites in action!

And hey, there’s no better way to detox from a 100 hour Skyrim binge than with a quick, fun five hour game. In anticipation of our year end Platinum Chalice awards, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite 2011 downloadable titles across all platforms to help you separate the w00t from the chaff.

Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike Online Edition

XBLA/PSN

Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike Online Edition full review

3rd Strike is an oddity in that while many regard it as one of the best fighting games ever made, the only perfect port of it was available exclusively on the Dreamcast. Capcom rectified that problem this year with SF3:3SO, an arcade perfect port of the classic with online play, missions, and unlockables. While the relaxed inputs and comeback mechanics of SFIV have been key in that game’s successful revitalization of Fighting games, 3SO is a nice example of a classic fighting game where the only way to win was to out play your opponent. More than any other game, 3rd Strike represents a fighting game where every character has the tools to win.

3SO was a passion project developed in part by tournament veterans, and it shows. The multiple aspect ratios, streamlined character select and GGPO netcode are all things only a seasoned player would know to ask for. As a result 3SO is the ultimate version of the game, pleasing the die-hards while still letting new players get a foot in the door.

Outland

XBLA/PSN

Outland full review

Love it or hate it, "Metroidvania" is a pretty accurate genre descriptor. In that vein, the most accurate descriptor for Outland would be "Metroidarugavania", or possibly "Ikacastleoid". Rolls right off the tongue. A sidescroller that takes place over a huge interconnected map, Outland adopts the light/dark mechanic of Ikaruga, a Shoot em' Up that allowed your character to switch colors. Mixing platforming with this mechanic puts an interesting twist on having to jump through clouds of colored bullets while simultaneously swapping your color.

Outland is a particularly pretty game as well, with its high contrast colors, layered nature backgrounds and Shadow of the Colossus-esque bosses. At about eight hours long, the game feels just right, though completionists can add on a few more hours nabbing all the collectibles. Outland represents one of the things downloadable games can do best, it reinvigorates a genre by injecting it with a fresh idea or a concept too niche for a major release, and as a result it stands out for all the right reasons.

Infinity Blade 2

iOS

Infinity Blade 2 full review

Infinity Blade was just what iOS needed to convince gamers that it was a real system and not just an Angry Birds delivery device. Infinity Blade 2 is just as impressive as its predecessor, but now it’s much larger in scope. IB2 puts a focus on story, incorporating dialogue and new areas into the game, a big relief for players who got sick of the first game’s repeating castle.

A new weapon system also allows you to brandish heavy weapons or dual wield swords, and each option alters how the game is played. Dual wielding is much faster and allows for huge combos, though you sacrifice your shield for the privilege, heavy weapons do huge damage though their large size prevents you from dodging. It’s a nice change up that keeps the game’s Punch-Out style combat fresh. As before, the game is gorgeous and its graphical prowess pushes iOS devices to their absolute limit.

The addictive experience system requires you to constantly switch your gear out, forcing you to modify your tactics as opposed to just leaning on your favorites. The combat has also been tweaked to reward more accurate players, letting you perform perfect blocks and putting a big focus on parries over the traditional dodging and blocking. Few games on iOS are mandatory buys, Infinity Blade 2 is one of them.

We recommend