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Best of the Rest: Jess' picks of 2011


To the Moon
Sometimes we play games to ease real-life frustrations, to cure boredom, to slaughter enemies or to participate in a captivating story. To the Moon, developed by Freebird Games, can do all of these things. It doesn't require you to murder any foes, although its very foundation is in death, and it offers a soothing, philosophical story with more depth than its pixelated graphics initially suggest. As a point-and-click adventure, To the Moon is more of an interactive tale than a full-on game, yet it is so engaging that the lack of quests, boss fights or bullets becomes irrelevant.

To the Moon chronicles the last day of an old man's life, but that day includes a Benjamin Button-style adventure through his past as a duo of snarky scientists attempt to change his memories. Why? So that his final wish can come true, at least in his mind, before he dies.

In the end, To the Moon is a beautiful and complex love story and, though I don't want to give the entire plot away, I'll tell you his final wish has something to do with interstellar travel.

Alice: Madness Returns
With recent fads involving trendy pop-goth boutiques and psychedelic horror, a sequel to American McGee's Alice could have played like Tim Burton and Walt Disney's love child on a bottle of Nyquil, and before playing Alice: Madness Returns this is precisely what I feared. It comes close -- Alice's wardrobe looks to be clearly inspired by Avril Lavigne's "dark period," but otherwise Madness Returns offers a rich, stylized experience through what could have been for Alice, post-American McGee.

Madness Returns incorporates a manic range of weapons, including the Teapot Cannon, Hobby Horse and of course the Vorpal Blade, and supporting characters are wacked out to match. When Alice is close to death in a battle, she can activate hysteria mode, her darker, invincible alter-ego that may be related to the dead girl from The Ring, and it's fantastic every time.

Alice's backstory and psyche is also revealed to be twisted in a way that could easily make Lewis Carroll proud -- after all, Spicy Horse could have made Alice dream the entire thing. Now that would have been cheesy.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
I'm not particularly good at fighting games, but I enjoy playing with familiar faces from some of my favorite franchises, and at times getting extremely lucky with a 50-hit combo to K.O. -- which is why I'm not talking about Mortal Kombat here. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is bright, energetic and fun in a local-multiplayer setting, which is still my favored way to play any multiplayer game.

The new lineup of characters -- Iron Fist, Frank West, Phoenix Wright, Ghost Rider, and all the rest -- is a solid addition to the franchise, even if I haven't quite been able to do any real damage with Phoenix Wright. I'm a fan of Dante anyway (he isn't even broken!), and I enjoy that his speed can still trump slower-moving, massive characters such as Sentinel or Thor.

I don't play UMvC3 for the challenge or achievements, but in a room full of (slightly drunk) friends, nothing beats the charm of Deadpool wobbling a hit to C. Viper in crisp, clean and explosively confusing graphics.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Modern Warfare 3 is like embracing an old friend after their annual trip abroad, when they come back tanned, smiling and wearing foreign designer clothes -- and you're still in your Rush t-shirt and jeans. The hug is the same, but their appearance has shifted, and in a good way, you grudgingly have to admit.

Activision doesn't try to change the formula for Modern Warfare 3, probably because the formula works so well to begin with, and I personally appreciate the consistency. It's comforting to pick up a new game and know the controls, have a basic understanding of the strategy and apply that to a new map or game mode. In this sense, Modern Warfare 3 could be classified as a $60 DLC pack, but it's one that I feel is truly worth that price. The new Kill Confirmed mode almost makes it worth that by itself.

So yes, it's more of the same, but when the same is entertaining and cleanly built, I'm OK with that -- until about the 15th installment. Then you'll need to wow me, Activision. Keep that in mind.

Hello Kitty Blocks
I bet you only get to level three. I. bet.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2011 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal, impassioned picks in Best of the Rest roundups.

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