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Pocket Gamer's Staff Picks of 2011

The Dirty Dozen
Product: Top 10 iPhone charts | Format: Android, DS, iPhone, PSP, iPad, 3DS
Top 10 iPhone charts Multiformat, thumbnail 1
As the 12th month of the Gregorian calendar draws to a close, it's nice to have a look back at the last 365 days and think about what happened.

No, we don't mean natural disasters, overthrown despots, and global protests. We mean our bread and butter: video games you can fit in your pocket.

We've already reflected on the biggest news stories of the year on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, 3DS, and PS Vita. And we've already chosen the best games from 2011 on iPhone, iPad, Android, Xperia Play, 3DS, DS, and PSP.

But, just before we ring in the new year and drink ourselves into a coma, we wanted to tell you a little about our personal favourites of the year. Not lists chosen by committee and safe top tens that won't anger the commenters too much. Nope, these are our single favourite pocket-gaming morsels from 2011.

So, sit back and let the staff of Pocket Gamer, Steel Media, Qi, PocketGamer.biz, and any other websites we happen to acquire or launch this week talk about their favourite handheld game of the year.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll carefully note which writers ignored the 200-word limit. Enjoy.


Peter "Station Portable" Willington - Handheld editor

New Year's resolution: I really want to learn how to make fudge. This is the year I realise that lofty ambition.

Game of the Year: Where Is My Heart? (PSP Minis, by Die Gute Fabrik)

goty-2011-staff-face-peterFor a title with so much against it - a distribution service few people care for, a small budget, an off-kilter art style - Where Is My Heart? achieves so very much. Superficially, it's just another retro graphics-adorned platformer with a twist: the twist being that its action is presented by broken-up and out-of-sequence windows that let you peer into its warped and menacing game world.

Look closer, though, and it's a story about a family working past - and indeed with - their individual differences in an effort to return home amid a crisis. Its controls are spot-on, the puzzles are ingenious, and the sound is pricked with melancholy.

This is not your usual Minis effort: it's a mature and sophisticated piece within the framework of a simple genre. Yes, it's short, but who cares when what's here is so full of invention, awe, and wonder?


Mark "Top 10" Brown - Features editor

New Year's resolution: To protect my sanity, I vow to never commit to a 50-game list in the week before Christmas ever again.

Game of the Year: Ghost Trick (Nintendo DS, by Capcom)

goty-2011-staff-face-markHaving your main character be murdered in the opening cutscene would normally pose a problem to a typical game. But, Ghost Trick is anything but typical - it's a topsy-turvy universe of ghosts and time travel and yappy Pomeranian dogs, all of which steadfastly refuse to be squished into an obvious genre.

An apparition of the recently deceased Sissel has a single evening to dabble with fate, save a few lives, and figure out exactly how he ended up as a stiff in the first place. His ghostly body can zip from object to object, using fridges, bikes, sausages, and hats as stepping stones.

It all comes together in one of the most wonderfully off-the-wall stories on the DS, and exactly the sort of harebrained, skew-whiff tale that Phoenix Wright-creator Shu Takumi would spin if he had an entire game (and not just a court case) in which to spin it. Ghost Trick is unlike anything you've ever played before, and one of the most memorable adventures on the DS - of any year.


Richard "Back Of The Net" Brown - Production editor

New Year's resolution: My New Year's resolution is to cultivate a Mario moustache that can go toe-to-toe (and whisker-to-whisker) with Mike Rose's splendiferous growth. That is all.

Game of the Year: Hard Lines (iPhone, iPad, and Android, by Spilt Milk Studios)

goty-2011-staff-face-richardOnce upon a time, there lived a gamer called Richard. Every evening at the stroke of midnight, Richard would review his position on the Hard Lines leaderboards in a quasi-panicky state. Survival, Gauntlet, Deadline - 3rd, 5th, 982nd.

No one knows - least of all Richard - exactly what compelled Richard to perform this shameful act night after night. Fear? Pride? Insanity? Insomnia?

What was apparent, though: Spilt Milk Studios's horrifically addictive game had gripped him. And this little devil of a reflex puzzler wouldn't let Richard go.

The End.


Chris "Miyamoto" Schilling - Writer

New Year's resolution: To provide editors with all required material on time and on budget, including the "New Year's resolution".

Game of the Year: Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo 3DS, by Nintendo)

goty-2011-staff-face-chrisThe most welcome backwards step of the year, Super Mario 3D Land saw Nintendo get the closest it's ever been to distilling the essence of 2D Mario in three dimensions.

For all its qualities, Super Mario 64 was as much about open-world exploration as platforming; Sunshine likewise. Galaxy widened the scope while trimming the fat, but here Nintendo hones in on the tight, focused level design of Mario's earlier adventures without it ever feeling like a compromise.

It's been criticised for its difficulty, but while the first run-through is simple enough for Mario veterans, there's still much to enjoy just negotiating these beautifully constructed worlds. Then you reach the credits and realise you're only halfway there, the later Special Worlds providing a test of any hardcore player's mettle.

The surprises keep coming: the final test is simultaneously a thrilling reward for your efforts and perhaps the hardest 3D Mario level ever - and it's arguably the first 3DS game where you'll really want to keep the 3D slider up throughout. Joyous.


Rob "Oxford Comma" Hearn - Reviews editor

New Year's resolution: Write a book. Run a marathon. Learn carpentry. Learn joinery. Draw a portrait of somebody. Save more money. Learn how to cook more meals. Learn more German. Learn a martial art. Beat up a git.

Game of the Year: Async Corp (iPhone, by Powerhead Games)

goty-2011-staff-face-robDespite my long list of resolutions, I'm actually a reasonably self-disciplined person. Async Corp is the first game in my life that I've ever had to delete in order to guarantee that I wouldn't lose any more time to it. Partly this is down to the arguably over-long, open-ended stages, but it's also down to novel and ingenious puzzle game design and charming presentation.

There are five modes, I think, each with different aims, but the core gameplay in all of them involves swapping coloured blocks from one side of the screen to the other in an attempt to turn small blocks into larger blocks. At first, the parameters are frustratingly hazy, and you'll aimlessly swap tiles back and forth like a cat idly trying to break into a fish tank by pawing at the glass. Then, partly through reason and partly through osmosis, you'll start to spot patterns and form strategies.

The presentation is basic, with flat planes of crayon-box colours and clean edges. Aside from a few simple emoticon-like expressions on the larger tiles, there's nothing to it but quadrilaterals and colours, which makes for a stripped-down experience in which success and satisfaction can be measured entirely in block size.

As you advance, you gain the ability to play in different colour schemes. It's a testament to the game's ability to pull you into its little world that you'll genuinely be pleased to earn this utterly trivial perk.


Will "Won't" Wilson - Deputy editor

New Year's resolution: 1920x1080 @ 60fps.

Game of the Year: Ticket to Ride (iPhone and iPad, by Days of Wonder)

goty-2011-staff-face-willOfficially the winner of "The First Game I've Voluntarily Bought In-App Purchases For" trophy (not the snappiest of awards, I admit), Ticket To Ride on the iPad is pretty much the best boardgame conversion you can get for the most boardgame-friendly platform around.

Yes, it's technically a game about trains in the 19th century, which might sound about as exciting as a six-hour wait in the Post Office queue to a lot of people out there, but remove those prejudices about the subject from your mind. This is a crafty, and often quite exciting, strategic boardgame.


Why, yes: picking that long-distance ticket and seeing your route dissolve in front of your eyes only to craftily nip around at the last turn to craft possibly the world's worst train journey is oddly invigorating, especially when played in the excellent online multiplayer mode.

In fact, in terms of features, only The Coding Monkey's Carcassonne can get even remotely close to Days of Wonder's title. For one thing, Ticket to Ride boasts a large and friendly online community, which draws on players from both the iOS and PC versions of the game. Oh, and they're ready to play at all hours of the day.

Given that the game has also received numerous updates since it was awarded a Gold Award - including pass-the-handset multiplayer for that true boardgame experience - it's safe to say Ticket to Ride should be on top of every iOS boardgame fan's must-have list.


Jon "Bizzybody" Jordan - PocketGamer.biz editor

New Year's resolution: It's about time I started smoking a pipe.

Game of the Year: Space is Key (iPhone, by ChrisJeff Games)

goty-2011-staff-face-jjI find it a little strange that I reviewed the two games Apple US and Apple Europe listed as their iPhone games of the year. But, for all their good points - and both reviewed well - I didn't warm to either Tiny Tower or Tiny Wings in terms of playing them after my reviewing duties were over.

Bizarrely, then, the game that really got under my skin, if only for a couple of weeks, was Chris Jeffrey's iOS adaptation of hit Flash game Space is Key, in which you have to tap at the right time to jump a moving pixel through 43 side-scrolling levels.

Some levels are easy, while a couple felt like they were impossible, but either way, the pacing was both demanding and satisfying.


Harry "Not From EastEnders" Slater - Freelance

New Year's resolution: Buy some sweatpants. Learn to raise my goals.

Game of the Year: They Need To Be Fed (iPhone, iPad, and Android, by YoYo Games)

goty-2011-staff-face-harryGaming isn't always about glitz and glamour, killstreaks and beefcakes, or anthropomorphic creatures being used as weaponry.

Sometimes, it's about the simple pleasure of leaping from one platform to another, and few games captured that feeling this year as well as They Need To Be Fed.

It's platforming distilled into fiendish pocket-sized chunks, with an added gravitational twist and a unique cartoon style that sets off the package perfectly. Plus, it's less than a quid, and features a bobble-headed alien with a cowlick.


Matt "Big In Japan" Sakuraoka-Gilman - PocketGamer.biz writer

New Year's resolution: To stop playing my future PS Vita long enough to take a picture of the Apocalypse.

Game of the Year: King of Dragon Pass (iPhone, by A Sharp)

goty-2011-staff-face-mattDespite harbouring a lifelong fear of mathematics, I have a tender spot reserved in my heart for games with numbers and figures.

It's a tough task, though, separating one number-crunching time sink out from the rest, especially given the bazillion (almost identical, yet universally brilliant) Kairosoft titles out there.

In the end, then, I think I'll plump for King of Dragon Pass, which contains enough engrossing high fantasy and village-management-based digits to alienate all but the most worthy (read: geeky).


Simon "Pixel-Perfect" Reed - Sales executive

New Year's resolution: Same as last year's: to stop buying defunct, low-quality retro handhelds. Against my better judgement, I sadly couldn't resist asking for a refurbished Game Gear as one of my gifts this Christmas.

Game of the Year: Quarrel Deluxe (iPhone and iPad, by Denki)

goty-2011-staff-face-simonI haven't played much that's new this year, but I was impressed with how Quarrel Deluxe on iOS mixed two old games (Risk and Scrabble) and somehow ended up making one that feels fresh. Quite the achievement.

There were a lot of good word games released on iOS this year, and this was one of the best - even if the presentation wasn't quite as dazzlingly adorable as some of Denki's previous titles, such as Go! Go! Beckham! or Denki Blocks.

If 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors on the DS had been released in Europe this year, that would have been my winner for sure, though. Sadly, it still hasn't arrived on these shores. Booooooo.


Keith "903-year-old Time Lord" Andrew - PocketGamer.biz news editor

New Year's resolution: To learn fluent German, to keep attempting to get fit with my exercise bike, and to try and talk Nokia into sending me lots and lots of Lumia 800s for free.

Game of the Year: Siege Hero (iPhone and iPad, by Armor Games)

goty-2011-staff-face-keithTechnically, I suppose my "top game of 2011" could and should go to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing given it was the one and only title to receive a perfect 10 review score from me this year. It's definitely the most accomplished, ambitious smartphone game I've ever encountered.

But, in terms of hours spent playing, my favourite game this year has to be Armor Games's Siege Hero on iPhone.

It manages to take the Angry Birds model and turn it into something much more entertaining. Firstly, it switches the view so that you're attacking from the front rather than the side. It also prioritises proper understanding of how the structures in question work over lucky smashes.

Plus, my mother is addicted to it, so that's some recommendation.


James "Rhymes With Couch" Nouch - Editorial assistant

New Year's resolution: Relearn the musical instruments I have forgotten how to play.

Game of the Year: Bike Baron (iPhone and iPad, by Mountain Sheep)

goty-2011-staff-face-jamesFor the last few months, Bike Baron has been the only app I fire up when I've had some time on my hands.

Waiting for the bus? Bike Baron. Date running late? Bike Baron. Biological father didn't show? Bike Baron.

With a structure that's perfectly suited for mobile play and addictive 'just-one-more-go' gameplay that forbids you to put down your iPhone, Bike Baron is my handheld game of 2011.

Its physics are spot-on, the controls never let you down, and there's a wealth of content to explore. Okay, so it's basically just Trials HD for your iPhone, but it turns out that's almost exactly what I wanted.

Reviewer photo
Mark Brown 31 December 2011
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