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Every system has games that can’t be found anywhere else. Sometimes those titles are good enough to stomp their huge, multiplatform rivals; sometimes not. Either way, they’re guaranteed to be beloved by system loyalists, and they deserve recognition for being the best of what’s unique to their respective platforms.
The PC may not have seen a bountiful crop of exclusives this year, but even if it had, The Witcher 2 would still be at the top. Want to show your friends why the PC blows away consoles? Show them this game. Want to show that games can have mature, witty writing and nuanced acting? Look no further. If you're tired of RPG clichés, The Witcher 2 is the cure. Its combat is fast, brutal, and difficult. Its world is not one of gauzy, bright fantasy where humans, elves, and dwarves work together to combat ancient evil – it's a dirty, mean-spirited place where elves are terrorists and humans are racists and there is no ancient evil, but rather a complex plot of political scheming and hidden enemies.
At one point in the game, you must decide which side to take in a small conflict. This seemingly minor decision leads you on a path to an entirely unique area filled with unique quests, which takes up a third to half of the entire game. One choice means the difference of perhaps twenty hours of content, and as is the case with most choices in the Witcher series, there are no black-or-white options, just shades of gray where you know that no matter what you do, somebody you care about will get hurt. Like real life, sometimes there is no right choice.
Skyward Sword was this year’s reason to dust off your Wii. The first and last Wii-exclusive Zelda truly delivered, with advanced motion controls for 1:1 sword-swinging, shield-bashing, and arrow-flinging precision that feels like the real thing. The game pushed the series forward, changing the overall formula and rehashing the overworld layout into a combination of Wind Waker’s open ocean and Metroid-style backtracking. Series staples like the boomerang and light (or silver) arrows are no-shows. Instead, we’re treated to puzzles that force players to think outside the Zelda box, using the more unusual items at hand. Even the characters are better fleshed out than ever before, with Zelda actually presented as someone Link would actually want to save, rather than just that princess in that castle over there.
For any Zelda fan, Skyward Sword is a must play. It brings a fantastic origin story to the series – even answering a few questions about the series timeline. And for those who’ve never played Zelda, what better way is there to experience a Legend than from the beginning?
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Pokemon is one of the deepest, most strategic RPGs of all time, and it's a shame it often doesn't get credit for how hardcore it can be. Black and White continues this tradition, with more Pokemon, more multiplayer features, and a better story than ever before. In terms of the sheer amount of content it contains (it can't even be measured in hours – try a few hundred to start), and the level of polish on every last pixel, B&W is unrivaled among all other DS games.
Black and White introduces 156 new Pokemon – more than any Pokemon game before it – bringing the total number of Pokemon to 649. With countless ways to train each Pokemon, the balancing nightmare this must have posed is truly staggering, but somehow developer Game Freak managed it beautifully – enough to support a thriving community of competitive battlers. O.G. Pokemon fans tend to have a nostalgia-fueled love for the original 151, coupled with an irrational hatred for all newer Pokemon, but if you're able to put those biases aside, B&W's Pokemon are some of the coolest in the entire series. Just saying – we'd take Volcarona over Venomoth any day.
Super Mario 3D Land isn’t just a vitally important game for the 3DS, although it has single-handedly transformed the machine from an abortive misfire into a legitimate successor to the great Nintendo handheld line. It’s also a very important entry in the Mario series. Instead of a cut-down, simplified 3D Mario, as some initially had it pegged, Super Mario 3D Land is actually the first Mario game in 21 years to feel like a genuine part of the original, 2D NES/SNES series.
Put simply, it’s the product of everything Nintendo has learned about the creative possibilities of 3D game design, filtered through the lens of the original games’ values. What 3D Land chooses to leave out is just as important as what it includes. With climbing, punching, kicking and ledge-dangling gone, it leaves the more general action-adventure vibe of the recent games behind and returns to the intricate, densely layered level design and disciplined, pixel-perfect platforming demands of old. With a light, optional objective system closer in tone to Super Mario World than Super Mario 64, and literally a whole game’s worth of unlockable extra content, it’s as large and challenging an undertaking as you want it to be. Or not. Whoever you are, it’s perfect.
The best reason to own a PS3? Damn straight. Naughty Dog really went above and beyond to serve up the most epic Uncharted to date, simply by making everything bigger. From the enormous scope of the shipyard level and its beached super-tankers to the jaw-dropping plane crash in the desert, everything here has been super-sized. The flow between these stunning levels, and the game’s dramatic set-pieces, is superb and sucks you through without ever leaving you feeling bored.
While some idiots are already wishing their lives away for the Wii U, Xbox 720 and PS4, the mix of intense action, nigh-perfect dialogue and incredible visuals in Uncharted 3 showcases what’s still possible “this-gen.” Sony can finally be proud of a platform exclusive that makes its competitors look on in pure envy, and this year, with the third outing of its poster boy, Nathan Drake, it cemented the Uncharted series as an all-time classic.
Sony’s waning handheld has been home to some of the best tactical RPGs of the last few years, and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is arguably the best of them yet. The original Super Famicom/SNES release of Tactics Ogre popularized the "tactics" genre of isometric strategy games, and inspired its even more famous successor, Final Fantasy Tactics. Sadly, though, it's a classic that's been largely overlooked in the US, so we were pleased to see that this year's PSP remake was impeccably executed.
Because the original is still among the best in the genre, Square Enix could have done a straight port of original developer Quest's work, but instead it went all-out, with brand-new, gorgeous, hand-drawn art and some welcome tweaks that modernize the gameplay without dulling its hardcore edge. Most notably, the PSP remake features a rewind function, called Chariot Tarot, that allows you to undo up to your last 50 moves, so you can erase any silly mistakes you make and call a do-over anytime. Can all tactics games have this option from now on?
After the underwhelming Gran Turismo 5, all Forza Motorsport had to do to take the crown was not trip over its feet and crack its head open on the way to the stage. Fortunately, Turn 10 put in the work and made a great thing even better. Multiple configurations for every track, a great car list (sans Porsche, sadly) and a much-improved community interface make FM4 the best iteration of the series, and the best console racing-simulation game available. Add to that the car porn of Autovista, the Top Gear races and the constantly updating online challenges, and Forza has something for even the mildest racing fan.
While hardcore players may not care, the game also puts a lot of effort into making itself accessible for casual gamers. Kinect controls and a huge array of assists mean even your grandma can lap around the Nurburgring at 200 MPH.
3DS? Pah. PS Vita? Pah. Yes, PAH. Infinity Blade II on iPhone looks better than anything yet seen on these handhelds, meaning the best graphics you can play with on the bus come from a humble cell phone. Gasp in awe at the new “rays of light” effect, which silhouette your character against a halo of amazingness. Regardless of what hardware it’s on, this is a true showcase for computer-generated imagery. Take that, dedicated gaming machines!