The Platinum Chalice Awards 2011, Part 2 – The Best Games of 2011

3D OR NOT 3D: Super Mario 3D Land

The 3DS seemed like a shoe-in for greatest handheld ever following its E3 2010 premiere, but once it launched this March, doubts set in. Most of the launch games were substandard at best, and the lack of an eShop was a disappointment (and arguably became a bigger one once it materialized). Worst of all, the 3D had gone from an industry-redefining feature to a poorly integrated gimmick. It seemed like the third dimension would never be more than a cute trick. Then Mario came along and proved everyone wrong.

Super Mario 3D Land was made from the ground up with 3D in mind, with each stage built with the idea of portraying depth, distance, and environments in a whole new way. Taking a concept everyone knew, the developers used each level as a way to introduce players to eye-catching features. Top-down stages had Mario jumping upwards at the player, Cheep-Cheeps flew out of the water toward you, and Bowser’s fireballs never seemed more menacing. Beyond those obvious examples were all the subtle ways the stages were designed to incorporate the third dimension. Just as Mario did on every system before the 3DS, his newest game showcased everything that’s special about the handheld while still being one of the most fun games of the year.

Runner-up: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection

It may have gotten knocked out of the running for Best Facelift, but the stellar Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection nevertheless did something impressive: it turned us from 3D skeptics into believers. Adding the technology to Shadow of the Colossus made its massive scale much more tangible, turning an already impressive last-gen game into a breathtaking spectacle of soaring architecture and impossibly huge Colossi. Other games might have since done cooler things with 3D, but it didn’t feel like a vital feature until we’d seen it used here.


In a genre filled with massive heavy-hitters towing popular licenses and pre-established fan bases, Rift was an anomaly. When it released earlier this year, it was doubtlessly one of the most stable MMORPGs to launch in some time, and had more content than a majority of MMOs that had already been out for a few years. On top of that, the developers found ways to not just emulate – as is often the case with MMOs – but to innovate, by adding dynamic content in the form of both Rifts and Invasions, both of which provided us with some of the most thrilling, exhilarating experiences we’d ever had in an MMO.

Even more important is the post-release coverage, which Trion hit out of the park. Every month has seen a slew of new quests for high- and low-level players, adding new instances, new quests, new game mechanics, and an entire zone that would be considered a paid expansion in any other game. Rift surprised us, and did a good job at proving that while the industry might be moving toward more games supporting the free-to-play model, there’s absolutely room for premium, subscription-based games as well. And if they’re this good, we’ll gladly pay for them.

Runner-up: DC Universe Online

After Champions Online failed to wow us, we weren’t all that optimistic that DC Universe Online – developed by the hit-or-miss Sony Online Entertainment – could really bring that much to the MMO-space. Wow, were we wrong. DCUO’s physical, visceral combat made it feel wholly unique in the genre, and the focus on story-based missions that let us fight side-by-side with our favorite DC heroes (and villains) provided a fantastical fanboy experience we don’t often get to indulge in.

BEST OF A BAD SITUATION: Nintendo’s 3DS Ambassador Program

Usually, people are happy to hear about price cuts. But when Nintendo announced that the retail price for the 3DS would be dropping from $249.99 to $169.99 just four months after the system’s release, it risked angering early adopters who paid full price to support the console at launch. To sweeten the price-slash slap in the face, Nintendo pulled some impressive sleight of hand by pairing the announcement with the unveiling of its 3DS Ambassador Program, which offered early adopters, for free, 10 NES classics and 10 Game Boy Advance games via the Nintendo eShop.

By banking on the nostalgia factor with free treats like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, what might’ve seemed like a desperate attempt to boost sluggish 3DS sales became compelling reason for many to purchase a 3DS at full price. Here’s a big, blocky 8-bit pat on the back for understanding your fanbase, Nintendo.

Runner-up: Sony’s Welcome Back initiative

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But what do you do when you’re Sony, and life gives you hackers that steal personal data from 100 million of your customers, and possibly 12 million credit card numbers? As it turns out, you apologize to your customers, shareholders, and various governments. Then you suck it up, and announce a “Welcome Back” program, offering fans the gift of free downloadable games, including PS3 and PSP titles like LittleBigPlanet, InFamous and ModNation Racers. And it looks like it worked; according to Sony Corporation CEO Howard Stringer, 90 percent of PSN users have returned since April’s cyber-attack.


It ain’t over ‘til the… well, you get the idea. To be clear, this isn’t our Game of the Year Award – that’s coming just a little later. Instead, it’s an award for the best ending song in a game, and if you suspect we invented the category simply so we could turn around and immediately hand it to “Want You Gone” in Portal 2, you’re as clever as the artists behind the music. Jonathan Coulton didn’t just write lyrics. He formed the soul of the sequel into words, both summarizing what had happened in this game and already hinting at what could happen in the next. Ellen McLain didn’t just sing. She broke your heart – somehow transforming an emotionless computer voice into a thing of haunting beauty. We still get chills every time the [REDACTED]

“Want You Gone” is the official winner here, but we can’t move on without also honoring “Exile, Vilify” (a track so damn pretty that Valve must have decided we couldn’t handle it, hiding it as an Easter egg) and the Turret Opera (warning: translating the Italian lyrics will lead you down an inescapable wormhole of mind-blowing Portal 2 secrets and possibilities).

Runner-up: Batman: Arkham City

After the explosive rollercoaster of emotions that was the story of Arkham City, we’re left feeling elated, tearful, and incredibly satisfied. As a fitting coda to everything that transpired, the credits roll to a haunting, a cappella version of R&B classic Only You (And You Alone) sung by The Joker. It’s at once wistful, tragic, comedic, malevolent, and sums up the complicated relationship between him and Bats that drove the plot. Joker taunts Batman one last time, while Mark Hamill takes a final bow for his appreciative audience.

There’s just one more round of Platinum Chalices to go, but it’s a biggie. Check out our Game of the Year winner right now! (And while you’re at it, be sure to check out our Special Awards.)


  • Thequestion 121 - January 7, 2012 9:32 p.m.

    What a fantastic article!! All really great games that got the awards! :)
  • Jedipimp0712 - December 22, 2011 4:28 a.m.

    i have listened to the "Exile, Vilify" song probably 100 times, if not more. I would say it is on par with Trentemoller's "Miss You" and goddamn do i wish i will be able to work at Valve one day... Here's to hoping my bachelors in animation and minor in computer science will get me there! ha ha
  • rongunz - December 20, 2011 3:43 p.m.

    no song describes Joker and Batman best the way Deranged by Coheed and Cambria did.
  • kamikaziechameleon - December 20, 2011 2:16 p.m.

    Witcher 2 is a gorgeous game and perhaps my fav of the year but they are lieing if they say it looks better than BF3, firstly the animations in BF3 are peerless and witcher 2 has apparent blending problems. Witcher 2 doesn't even have as good of animations as the like of HL2. there are a number of other absences in the witcher 2 category that carry the case that it is not as good as BF3. I do love the character models for sure, just look the the clothes in the above pic.
  • M_Stachio - December 20, 2011 9:44 a.m.

    So I want to know what ever happened to LA Noire. I thought that was a great game, it had great sidekicks, and memorable characters. it had good gameplay and a well done story. It was also the first of its kind, so why has everyone forgotten it?
  • newgames128 - December 18, 2011 7:43 p.m.

    This is one of the best group of GOTY award choices yet for 2011. Fitting to have best looking PC game followed by best looking console game. I think Gamesradar is the first to get this right.
  • mockturtle - December 18, 2011 2 p.m.

    "[...] It’s hard to think of any Marvel or Capcom fan that wasn’t serviced by [UMvC3] (just so long as you don’t bring up Mega Man, anyway)." Except diehard Ace Attorney Fans were serviced in all the wrong ways (dear god that sounds dirty). Capcom has the nerve to put Phoenix Wright in, while simultaneously denying Ace Attorney Investigations 2 an English release? Ask any AA fan which they'd rather have, and I guarantee you 100% would say AAI2 over Phoenix in UMvC3. Hypocritical bastards, I'll tell you one thing, they're not getting any more of my money till they make this right, that's for sure.
  • LordZarlon - December 18, 2011 8:02 a.m.

    Ironically I don't remember you guys thinking that El Shaddai was all that great when you talked about it on TalkRadar.
  • lemur - December 18, 2011 4:37 a.m.

    OoT got better graphics than halo: CEA?! seriously?!?!?
  • mattwang - December 18, 2011 7:03 a.m.

    It's not better graphics. They are comparing the amount of improvement made between the two iterations of the same game. OoT won because it improved more on the original than Halo: CEA did.
  • FVDub - December 17, 2011 11:08 p.m.

    I want to thank you GR for: 1. Having innovative and entertaining end of the year awards instead of the generic junk thrown around everywhere else. 2. Posting these awards in a timely manner and not dragging it out over a matter of weeks. 3. Giving love to Rayman Origins and Bastion, two of my favorites from this year!
  • closer2192 - December 17, 2011 5:28 p.m.

    I know most people will disagree, but I found Human Revolution to be better than the original Deus Ex.
  • talleyXIV - December 17, 2011 12:55 p.m.

    Ahh by the way, these games that die beautiful deaths also shoot themselves in the foot with their names. Okami has a cool name but it is a different language, it might have sold better if it was called Wolf. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, that game's name is just way too ridiculously long. The only series that pull this off are Metal Gear Solid and Call of Duty, but they both have developed their name and everyone knows them. Instead of calling it "Different language bla bla bla bla bla." Just call it The Ascension. These are just my ideas though.
  • talleyXIV - December 17, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    Wow, I love you guys for saying Dead Island was the best worst game. I couldn't agree more. One of the only games I have ever bought for full price, only because a lot of my friends were getting it. We did one playthrough and bam! The box is now collecting dust! The story was quite laughable.
  • gonzalo29 - December 17, 2011 9:26 a.m.

    Best Game You've Already Forgotten: BULLETSTORM Seriously, you've completely forgot about this game, and it was a pretty good one, maybe it wasn't a heavy hitter like Portal Skyrim or Arkham City, but it was incredibly fun and full of non-stop action.
  • FVDub - December 17, 2011 11:10 p.m.

    Bulletstorm got a 10/10 and was an editor's personal Game of the Year, that's more attention than a lot of other high profile games.
  • HankVenture - December 17, 2011 6:33 a.m.

    Great, it's time to take over the VGAs!! I have to say I agree with you on most of the awards. I do think Jaws shouldn't have gotten best worst game at least from the way way Mikel talks about it, maybe it should of been the game we wanted to be good but didn't turn out that way. but, I never played it that was just the way the review and talk about it on Tdar seemed to lean towards. Best soundtrack we didn't expect...why wouldn't you have expected that? Saints Row 2 had an amazing soundtrack with various artist that were very popular at the time. The Winner for Best of a Bad Situation wouldn't have been the winner without the recent batch of games, I literally just sat in bed for an hour playing yoshi's Island last night (I have never played it before) I really feel like Batman should have won the fat Lady sings. I mean I love both of the endings but with Batman, there was more emotion to it. You had the image of Joker sitting in his office slowly going crazy due to the illness, starting to come to terms with the fact that he might die and then deciding to call batman up and sing him a song basically saying hey without you there is no me. Just hits you hard after you watch the ending and are already shocked.. But from just a musical stand point I understand why Portal 2, it was more impressive as a musical composition. so there you are, I only feel like one of them should have been switched :)
  • mikeylawson - December 17, 2011 3:23 a.m.

    I didn't like Lydia. She was unpleasant. Which is why I sacrificed her to a Daedra.
  • CitizenWolfie - December 17, 2011 3:08 a.m.

    I'm so glad I stuck around for the credits in Arkham City instead of getting up to make a cup of tea or something. I had chills when I heard it and had chills when I just read the last bit of this article. Hamill's performance aside, even the lyrics fit perfectly and it was an inspired song choice. But yeah, "Want You Gone" is pretty much perfect.
  • tiben36 - December 16, 2011 9:49 p.m.

    i cant agree with the soundtrack award, saints row's soundtrack could have been a lot better if they had "better" station (like real reggea instead of that product placement called "the swim")

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