While 2011 brought us a number of outstanding retail games, it also opened the doors for several great downloadable efforts. Xbox Live Arcade saw its fair share of these games this year, with such innovative titles as Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Daytona USA, From Dust, and Torchlight. Surprisingly enough, those titles in particular managed to barely JUST miss being in our top 20 Xbox Live Arcade games of 2011 list. It was THAT close, people. But the ones we did pick are phenomenal efforts in their own part, whether they’re a high-end remake of an old favorite or a brand new game that ushered in a new kind of competitiveness. They’re all wonderful So sit back, relax, and enjoy our little countdown!

20. Renegade Ops (Sega)– This top-down shooter, which reminds us an awful lot of the old-school NES game Jackal, has you controlling elite soldiers in gun-toting vehicles as they take down enemies and complete objectives. This is classic shooting fun at its best, and the graphics and dialogue really shine.

19. SkyDrift (Digital Reality)– What could’ve easily been just another lame flying knock-off is instead the best airborne combat/racing game we’ve seen since Diddy Kong Racing. Plenty of great tracks, sharp power-ups and single/multiplayer racing fun can be found here – all for $10. Talk about a great value.

18. Fruit Ninja Kinect (Halfbrick Studios)– Could the touch-screen favorite become a success with motion controls? The answer is yes. Fruit Ninja is easily one of the better Kinect efforts out there, and the fact that it’s insanely cheaper than most of the retail efforts makes it an even better deal. Slice and dice for sensei!

17. Section 8: Prejudice (TimeGate Studios)– Though the original didn’t really get much love from the hardcore community, the follow-up to Section 8, Prejudice, fares much better. The level designs are better, the gameplay has been tightened up, and the multiplayer component is much better. The $15 price point doesn’t hurt either.

16. Marvel Pinball: Vengeance and Virtue (Zen Studios)– Though it’s really more of an expansion than a full-on sequel, this Marvel Pinball sequel still has plenty of tilt behind it, between four new tables, plenty of online leaderboard action and lots of fun for dedicated Marvel fans. Hope these guys work on a Gears of War table soon.

15. Hard Corps: Uprising (Konami)– It was kind of odd for Konami to turn to the studio behind Guilty Gear, Arc System Works, to produce a Contra game. But man, did it pay off. Uprising looks amazing, and has great gameplay to boot. Plus, like any good game in the series, it’s tough as nails. Just try to survive in one play through. Go on. Try it.

 

14. Guardian Heroes (Sega)– Kudos to Sega for giving another Treasure classic its just desserts. This remix features all new HD visuals (along with the original Saturn appearance), great online multiplayer, memorable characters and a unique combat system. Plus, the soundtrack is simply dazzling. Don’t miss these Heroes the second time around.

13. Trine 2 (Atlus)– This long-awaited sequel, which finally debuts on the Xbox Live platform December 21 (in time for Xmas!), features a lot of the amazing platforming/puzzle-solving fun the first one delivered, along with a brilliant new art style and plenty of new surprises. Now we just need the original on XBLA. Please?

12. Trenched/Iron Brigade (Microsoft)– Despite the unnecessary name change, this strategy/action game is sure to please mech lovers everywhere. Featuring a heavy dose of enemy blasting and strategic weapon placement, Double Fine’s latest is definitely a gem that shouldn’t be missed. Plus it’s actually pretty funny, too.

11. Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition (Capcom)– Capcom once again shines through with another addictive-as-hell online fighter, this time based on Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Featuring a unique fighting system, tons of competition and high-definition touches galore, it’s definitely worth checking out.

10. Bejeweled 3 (PopCap Games)– Oh, come on, it’s BEJEWELED. Did you really think we wouldn’t give this game a mention? It’s uber-addictive with its new modes, and the ability to challenge others via online leaderboards simply adds to said addictiveness. Plus, it looks and sounds great. Not a bad deal for $15…and it’s longer lasting than Blitz.

9. Ms. Splosion Man (Twisted Pixel)– There’s probably a number of reasons why Microsoft picked up Twisted Pixel, and Ms. Splosion Man is definitely a primary one. This sequel goes off the deep end with larger level designs, neat little presentation touches and challenges galore. And the Donuts song returns. Yay! When’s Son of Splosion Man coming out?

8. Crysis (Electronic Arts)– At one point, Crytek thought that Crysis was too powerful to come out for consoles. Silly developers. They managed to do that impossible task with this HD port, packing tons of firepower and great visuals. Sure, the multiplayer’s missing, but who cares when you get to launch cars at idiotic gunmen? Not us.

 

7. Beyond Good and Evil HD (Ubisoft)– We have to give credit where credit is due to Ubisoft for giving this long-lost favorite a second chance at life. Jade and Pey’j give quite an adventurous time here, with lush visuals, plenty of variated gameplay and exciting moments galore. Well worth the $10 investment. “Stay zen!”

6. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition (EA Sports)– I will be honest, I loved NBA Jam when it came out last year. But On Fire Edition addresses many of the criticisms of that game, with a lower price point, improved gameplay mechanics, more features and online play. Plus, Honey Badgers and Isaac from Dead Space make appearances. Gotta love that.

5. Orcs Must Die! (Robot Entertainment)– What do you get when you put all the best elements of a tower defense game into an action-packed affair where Orcs drop at your feet in bloody piles? One of the best downloadable games around. Hilarious, competitive and exciting, Orcs Must Die! is simply a must-own.

4. Crimson Alliance (Microsoft)– Torchlight was a great game in its own right, but Crimson Alliance toppled it with even better co-op play, some outstanding puzzles to solve, great characters and lots of enemies to bring down. Plus the visuals are absolutely fantastic for a downloadable game. Sequel please.

3. Radiant Silvergun (Microsoft)– Finally, U.S. gamers get the opportunity to see what all the commotion was about in the old Saturn days. Radiant Silvergun is one of Treasure’s toughest games, a monumentally awesome top-down shooter with epic boss battles, great music, and pumped-up HD visuals. The online leaderboards rock too. Don’t miss it this time around.

2. Outland (Ubisoft)– Talk about a different kind of platformer. The inventive Outland features exquisite visuals, great level layouts, smart gameplay techniques (love the nods to Ikaruga’s color change types) and hours worth of replay value. It makes us hope that this is the start of a bold new series – one deserving of various sequels.

1. Bastion (WB Games) – Like Limbo and Braid before it, Bastion simply knocks the formula out of the park and creates a bold gaming experience that no Xbox Live subscriber should be without. The gameplay is sharp and incredible, the art design is bold and really stands out, and that live-running narrator is something else. He should narrate everything. Take a trip down to the Bastion, you won’t be sorry.

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