2011 has brought us some massive games and shattered sales records with merry abandon, but the fact is that a huge number of deserving titles managed to slip under our gaming radar into pitiful ignominy. So, in the true spirit of Christmas, it's time that we championed the underdogs: the games you probably didn't buy - or even notice - throughout the last twelve months.
Before we begin, you need to understand that this list is not an objective measure of raw quality. Instead, we passed these games though a
hungover discussion after our Christmas do totally amazing top-secret algorithm that also takes sales figures and how little a splash they made in the mainstream gaming consciousness into account.
10: Steel Diver [3DS]
Steel Diver is by far the best handheld submarine sim on the market. Erm, which is probably a good thing despite the complete lack of competition. Shigeru Miyamoto's pet project completely failed to make a splash (ha!), but for a niche audience, it's really rather compelling.
9: Sideway: New York [PSN & PC]
Many gamers were probably deterred by Sideway's too cool for school urban vibe, but the fact is that Playbrains crafted a superb downloadable platformer that blends Jet Set Radio's funky style with the most imaginative premise we've seen in some time: being a work of art on a brick wall. The unique gravity shifting and multidimensional mechanics should have ensured that gamers treated this title with respect and eagerly-opened wallets. Check out our 8/10 review.
8: The Cursed Crusade [PS3 & Xbox 360]
The Cursed Crusade was a terrible singleplayer game, and Tom has chronicled each and every one of its myriad failings. But Kylotonn designed it to be a dedicated cooperative game, and when played with a mate, it's actually rather serviceable indeed. More to the point, it would have sold like hot cakes had it released in the dry summer months... and was thoroughly unable to compete with the holiday season's biggest titles thanks to its slipped release date.
7: Afterfall: InSanity [PC]
Nicolas Games arguably aimed far too high when they asked for ten million $1 pre-orders. Or it was a shameless publicity stunt. Either way, what's important is that Afterfall: InSanity is an effective horror game that provides massive value and solid mechanics if you're open-minded enough to ignore the horrendous voice acting.
6: De Blob 2 [Multiplatform]
De Blob 2 is a vibrant, colourful and cute experience that also happens to be excellent. And yet, prices tumbled within days of launch and gamers simply didn't get involved. Is there no justice?
5: To The Moon [PC]
To The Moon is an outstanding indie title that tells possibly the most compelling and heartbreaking story to ever feature in a videogame. Really, ever. Factor in the gorgeous artwork and soundtrack and you've got yourself a recipe for true brilliance. Not enough people have bought it. Because everyone should buy it.
4: Serious Sam 3: BFE [PC]
It's impossible to know exactly how well Serious Sam 3: BFE is selling, since most official charts don't factor in PC downloads. What I can tell you, though, is that Croteam created the best FPS of the year, as well as my personal GOTY. One taste of its hectic combat, fantastic pacing and outrageous sixteen player cooperative modes will ruin all other shooters for you, forever. Get Serious.
3: El Shaddai: Ascension Of The Metatron [PS3 & Xbox 360]
We love El Shaddai. It's an outrageously avant-garde artistic experience that bombards you with cacophonous explosions of colour, religious iconography and all manner of unpredictable insanity. The three weapons and repetitious core gameplay did it few favours, but the fact of the matter is that you owe it to yourself to dive in head-first. It's biblically beautiful.
2: Rayman Origins [Multiplatform]
Rayman Origins is one of the best games of the year, and I'd go as far to say that it's perfect. More than that, though, playing it will make you genuinely happy - and that alone earns it a perfect ten from us. Rayman Origins finally entered the Top 40 charts a couple of weeks ago, but it unquestionably deserves more.
1: Shadows Of The Damned [PS3 & Xbox 360]
I don't understand why Shadows Of The Damned didn't sell. Really, I can't get my head around it. Suda51 and Shinji Mikami put their heads together and played to their strengths in order to create a zany, solid and immensely satisfying shooter that's hectic and hilarious in equal measure. It should have charted. But it didn't.
It's clear that gamers were put off by the fact that it only offered an 8-10 hour singleplayer campaign for its asking price, but we don't buy into the oft-repeated lie that all games need a multiplayer component. Shadows Of The Damned is immensely replayable, immensely enjoyable and properly bonkers - so this Christmas, why not give an unloved little gem a home?
So that's a wrap, folks - but there are plenty of other unsung games that deserve their day in the sun. Let us know what we should be playing in the comments!