Have you ever bought a game without hearing or reading anything about it? I mean nothing, not even a bad review?
That happened to me this year. I picked up a Nintendo 3DS game that I heard absolutely nothing about, and I ended up playing it longer than any title on any system. More on that experience later. To start things off, let's go over some other underappreciated 3DS offerings.
1) Dead or Alive: Dimensions
I've always been a huge fighting game fan, but the Dead or Alive series rarely tickled my fancy. Don't get me wrong, I love scantily clad girls engaged in combat more than the next man, but the deceptively deep fighting system has a pretty-steep learning curve that I had been unable to master with any other installment of the franchise. As a point of reference, I usually spammed kick combos with Tina in Dead or Alive 2 and 4. Through Dimensions' Chronicle mode, I was introduced to each of the game's mechanics, and I could gradually notice some variation in the techniques that I used.
When I took the fight online, I felt confident in my abilities and even notched a few wins. If it weren't for the connectivity issues, sound direction, and puzzling narrative, this title would have been a real contender. As it stands, it's a great fighting game in its own right and one of the best games available on the 3DS.
2) Sonic Generations
This wouldn't be a discussion about surprisingly good releases without addressing the elephant in the room, Sonic Generations. I've been playing Sonic games since I was six years old, and more than 10 years have passed since I've been able to play an installment of the series without enduring physical and/or psychological trauma. The latest iteration thankfully allows players to experience the best of both worlds: 2D levels that handle just as series aficionados remember and more thoughtfully designed levels with dynamic camera angles. The game is far from perfect, but Sonic Generations is so unbelievably good that it nearly drove me to tears.
3) Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Even with girl-on-girl action and Sonic's return to form, another game ambushed me with its understated brilliance. The most surprisingly good Nintendo 3DS game of 2011 is Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
When I pre-ordered my 3DS, I could choose between bundles that included either Rayman 3D or this turn-based strategy gem. Thankfully, I went with the unknown and found Shining Force for gun nuts.
To set the scene, apart from knowing that Shadow Wars was a launch title, I didn’t know much about this game. I searched far and wide for information, and apart from the optimistic musings of an old friend, I had no idea what I was in for.
The presentation might be a bit lackluster, the narrative mild, and the inclusion of 3D questionable, but Shadow Wars is a great game. It's also the meatiest game on Nintendo's new portable with a campaign that could easily absorb 20 hours of your time along with additional challenge maps. I can remember times when my system's battery gave out without me noticing the red lights. Customizable loadouts, different classes, and solid mechanics made for the most addictive and enjoyable option available during the handheld’s launch. It might not have been the best game of the year or even the best on the 3DS, but it's well worth a shot.
Which games surprised you this year? Leave a comment with your thoughts.