This article is part two of a three-part series of awards. Click here for Part 1 and Part 3.
Welcome back to our sixth annual celebration of all the amazing things the gaming industry brings us. Welcome back, indeed, because now that the feel-good Special Awards and console exclusives are out of the way, we're about to start on the real Platinum Chalices. And if you're looking for categories like Best DS Shooter or Best Kinect Game for Working Moms, it's possible you're in the wrong place.
Our Platinum Chalices are different. We're not interested in tediously grouping these awards by genre, platform or other such technical categories – not when there's so much other fun stuff to concentrate on, and so many games that deserve awards for delivering said stuff. So if you're looking for the most satisfying gore, the best sidekick or the game that surprised us the most by not sucking in 2011, you've definitely come
to the right celebration. Let's get it started…
MOST BESTEST GRAPHICS: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
honest: to get the best (and therefore
most) graphics out of The Witcher 2, you'll need a steroid-infused PC. Even on
medium settings, though, you'll get a game that looks significantly better than
anything consoles can dish out. PCs at this point are already a generation ahead
(at least), and The Witcher 2 is absolutely on the forefront of that push. We
can say without hesitation that, from a technical standpoint, The Witcher 2 is
the best-looking game ever made.
not to say the game merely sports fancy effects and hi-res textures – the art
design is equally sublime. It’s all in the subtleties; characters' outfits have
exquisite quilting and detailed seams. A forest has massive, looming trees and
lush, varied undergrowth to the point that your brain accepts it as a forest
designed by nature, rather than a level designer. A shabby town has muddy
puddles in the streets, laborers going about grimy work, and guards patrolling
amongst the soft glow of torches. The Witcher 2 has an artistic impact that
doesn't knock you over the head, instead worming its way in over time as you
realize just how detailed and beautiful every facet of its world is.
Runner-up: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
lie. You know you’ve stopped in the middle of Nathan Drake’s wise-ass
shenanigans and snappy banter to look at the jaw-dropping vistas and gorgeous
landscapes off in the horizon, or those scary abysses that’ll send you back to
a checkpoint. You’ve marveled at how expressive everyone’s facial expressions
are, and how they speak as much as dialogue. But don’t worry, your secret’s
safe with us. We’ll let you tell your friends how much you prefer ventilating
faces. That’s why you play Uncharted, right?
MOST STYLISH GRAPHICS: Rayman Origins
Origins may have been overlooked during the busy holiday rush, but we were
nevertheless completely blown away by its vibrant, festive colors and
breathtaking art style. Sure, this traditional, 2D platformer teeters a bit too
much on the difficult side, to the point where we want to hurl the controller
at the television – but we don’t, because we’re spellbound by all the lovely,
hand-drawn, beautiful landscapes.
experience might not be nearly so enjoyable if it weren’t for all the tiny
details going on in the background, which some artist had to painstakingly draw
and animate. When we weren’t completely distracted by the chaotic four-player
co-op, we would stop and watch, in awe, at what was going on in the world. Each
level is carefully designed and feels alive as we bounce from one exotic
platform to the next. Whether you’re watching vines unravel or undersea flora
bloom, Rayman Origins is a visual masterpiece, and should be played – or framed
above your living room couch.
Runner-up: Trine 2
The first Trine was
already a jaw-dropping visual spectacle, and the sequel does not disappoint,
with its dreamy, glowing, magical world. It’s so pretty we can’t help but just
boot up the game and drool over this moving digital painting. And stare. Then
stare some more. No matter where we are in the game or who we’re playing as,
the soft lighting, exquisite detail and everything in the background make Trine 2,
without question, a memorably detailed and wholly unique work of art.
MOST SATISFYING GORE: Mortal Kombat
Kombat has a long and bloody history of providing some of the best gore in
gaming. In fact, it’s safe to say that blood and guts are what put the series
on the map in the first place. But after Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe left us
high and dry by stripping out its gore for a Teen rating, we started to worry
the bloodbath was over. Luckily, with Mortal Kombat, the series not only
brought back its signature edge, but went above and beyond our most gruesome
appear in real time during matches, leaving both combatants looking like
mauled, bloody messes when the battles are over, but where Mortal Kombat really
stepped it up is in its X-Ray attacks. After building up a meter, fighters can
initiate a special move to greatly wound their opponents, and we get an inside
look as the bones break and the spleens are ruptured. And of course, the game’s
Fatalities raise the bar to new, horrific heights, as each fighter’s unique
anatomy and separately modeled organs are taken into account to spray maximum
gore during the exceptionally bloody kills. It’s that sort of attention to
detail that really makes us squirm.
Runner-up: Dead Space 2
Dead Space series was built from the ground up for gore, with its focus on
strategically dismembering enemies and cutting necromorphs to bits with
different weapons, but Dead Space 2 ramped up those nasty sensibilities to astonishing
heights. Enemies also required additional prodding to drop their items, meaning
we had to violently stomp on just about every corpse in order to extract all of
the available money and ammunition. That alone would have put it on the list,
but there’s one segment in particular near the end that made it a sure thing.
We won’t spoil it, but we still get nauseous thinking about it.
MOST HEART-ACHINGLY ADORABLE: Kirby's Return to Dream Land
knows Kirby is adorable – that's not anything new. But Kirby's Return to Dream
Land takes cuteness to another level even by Kirby standards. Oh, you thought
Kirby's Epic Yarn was cute? We did too – it was last year's winner in
But Kirby's Return to Dream Land makes Epic Yarn look like scat porn in
other game elicited as many "squeeeee"s and "d'awww"s in
the office this year as Return to Dream Land, in large part because of its
continuous barrage of uniquely adorable animations for Kirby and pals. It's
more than just seeing characters who are usually enemies put aside their
differences to team up; it's the little things, like the way Dedede clings to
Kirby's head with his gigantic feet to form a little totem pole, or the way
Kirby dons a little life preserver when he floats on water. The relentless
hugging was what really made our hearts hurt with adorableness though, and
seeing Kirby press his squishy body into Meta Knight to share his health is
truly not just adorable, but heart-achingly, unapologetically sweet.
Runner-up: Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
around with Elmo, shooting hoops with Oscar’s trash, and singing a magic story
into the sky with a cute little magical-story-singing monster are definitely
some of the most adorable things we’ve done this year, and it’s all thanks to
Once Upon a Monster. If that’s still not enough cuteness, then observe the
Puffalopes – the pink-furred, wide-eyed bunny-antelopes who scamper towards you
as you hand out treats. The game just oozes adorable characters, dialogue, and
music, and it’s a great excuse to get off your couch and use your Kinect, too.
BEST FAN SERVICE: Sonic Generations
Was there really ever going to be another winner for
this one? Generations' very reason for existing is to celebrate the past 20
years of Sega's blue mascot. And boy, is it fan-service heaven! For starters,
it gives us the 3D re-creation of Green Hill Zone we always wanted (and could
see in the background of Super Smash Bros, annoyingly), with a joyful, lush
side-scrolling version for classic Sonic – and perhaps the greatest Sonic level
ever for his modern equivalent.
Then there are the unlockables, which allow you to
race through Chemical Plant Zone to the sound of Super Sonic Racing, or Sky Sanctuary to
the unforgettable Palmtree Panic from the Japanese/UK
Sonic CD. Add in cutscenes full of knowing nods and one of the best final-act
reveals ever, and you've got yourself utter fandom on a plate. Fortunately, it
plays rather well too, and if it's good enough to please our resident Sonic fans,
it's done better than most.
Runner-up: Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
The first version of Marvel vs
Capcom 3, which hit in February, was so overflowing with tributes to its shared
mythology, it seemed impossible that Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 could top it.
Yet UMvC3 packs in even more winks and nudges for the hardcore. Unlikely fighters
like Phoenix Wright and Rocket Raccoon joined Ryu and Spider-Man, while new
stages were introduced that were bursting with shout-outs to iconic games and
comics. Add to that single player endings lavished with unexpected cameos and
other asides, it’s hard to think of any Marvel or Capcom fan that wasn’t
serviced by the title (just so long as you don’t bring up Mega Man, anyway).