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Plenty to go around: Geek Speak's video games buyers guide 2011

Last year about this time, the world of video games was all about motion-control peripherals, but decent software releases were hard to come by. This year we have the exact opposite problem, and the industry is better off for it.

Indeed, instead of pushing even more Move or Kinect peripherals to clutter the family room, Sony and Microsoft have devoted themselves to pushing out quality titles. But with so many stellar choices, how could you possible decide what's worth blowing that 60 bucks? Well, here are a few suggestions.

This was the year everything good came in threes: Gears of War 3 wrapped the Xbox trilogy in October while Sony sprinkled Resistance 3, Killzone 3 and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception throughout the year, upping the ante threefold in the exclusives department. Assassin's Creed: Revelations may be the fourth in the series, but it's the third and final title following Ezio through the Renaissance, so that counts.

But the main event was the showdown between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, which were released this fall within weeks of each other. The pair are so similar, cash-strapped households may only be able to afford one, so as I said in my November review, Battlefield 3 should be the victor. Its expansive multiplayer maps, cinematic story presentation and varied campaign mode all added up to a winner over a slick but ultimately derivative CoD entry. Bonus: You don't have to pay for Activision's Elite service, which hasn't been working well, anyway.

Speaking of derivative, that's still the name of the game at Nintendo, where lack of quality software continues to plague the Wii. Luckily, before Kyoto completely abandons the console in favor of the forthcoming Wii U, we wrung The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Rayman Origins out of 2011.

The company's new 3DS handheld especially floundered, garnering a steep price-cut ad relying on its own established franchises, the best of which featured The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Pokemon Black/White and Star Fox 64 3D. It wouldn't hurt to create some new characters once in awhile, guys. As for the 3DS itself, well, it's a nice gimmick, but the original DS still works just fine.

The Playstation Portable's offerings also waned as the next-gen Vita neared full-scale production. Threes appeared there, as well, with Patapon 3 and The 3rd Birthday, harking back to the PSOne's Parasite Eve, leading a pack of mostly forgettable JRPGs.

There were plenty of twos well worth the wait: Portal 2 improved on the original in almost every conceivable way, while Sony's Little Big Planet 2, released way back in January, built on all the level-producing features its core audience loves. Also from January, Dead Space 2 terrorized Isaac Clarke, the lone survivor of the USG Ishimura, quite a bit more with style to spare. And last month's Batman: Arkham City followed up Arkham Asylum with another full-scale love-letter to the world's greatest detective. It's obvious the boys and girls at Rocksteady Studios are major league DC geeks.

The 360-exclusive Forza Motorsport 4 is now neck and neck with last year's PS3-only Gran Turismo 5 for the title of best racing game, and millions of RPG nerds are spending every waking moment playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latest installment in a series dating back to the original Xbox and beyond.

Speaking of which, a couple retro retreads are worth a look this season, as Sony rolled out God of War Origins to hide the fact they still haven't figured out what to do with Kratos post-God of War III, and team Ico reworked two signature titles for the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. Microsoft, meanwhile, decided to freshen up the Master Chief for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, throwing in some easter eggs and eye candy for the original's 10th birthday.

So while Kinect and Move shovelware continues to be hit or miss (The Gun Stringer on Kinect is especially fun), there's no need to fret. With an abundance of titles like these, you'll be playing well after New Year's.

But hurry, because Mass Effect 3 concludes Commander Shepard's saga on March 6. Then you really won't have any free time left.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

Plenty to go around: Geek Speak's video games buyers guide 2011 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 3:54pm]

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