2010 was a pretty great year for XBLA games. It’s hard to think it could be topped. Yet here we are at the end of 2011 with a crop of games that are arguably even better than last year. XBLA has continued to grow throughout 2011 and the diversity of games continues to rise.

We saw the year kick off with unique games like ilomilo, zeit2, and Stacking and it ends with impressive titles like Dungeon Defenders, Joe Danger: Special Edition and Trine 2. We’ve come a long way since the days of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.

As a result this year’s XBLAFans Game of the Year awards were even more hotly contested than last year, with a few of the categories coming down to just a couple of votes. The list of nominees for the grand prize was almost excessive and could easily have gone into double digits. So without further ado, we are proud to present the second annual XBLAFans Game of the Year awards.

The Adventures of Shuggy is a game that wasn’t on anyone’s radar before it released. But this little purple hero sure did charm the pants off any gamer that actually gave him a shot. And although the current amount of sales is fairly under whelming, this truly is one of the best kept secrets on the XBLA marketplace today.

With over 100 levels of fantastic platform and puzzle action, this game gives you serious bang for your buck. Unbelievable amounts of game mechanics are constantly being introduced keeping the experience fun and fresh all the way through. Add in a separate co-op campaign, unique boss battles, intense multiplayer matches and top-notch leaderboard competitions and you have yourself a must-buy game that shouldn’t be ignored any longer. If you skipped over this one, we urge you to go back and give the trial a shot. You might just find your favorite XBLA game of the year, we did.

Andrew Crews – Community manager

Runner up: Bastion

During our E3 2011 awards, we awarded this game with Best Geek Dream Come True. There were a lot of high hopes with this game. With narration from Patrick Stewart and a bleak art style to represent the H.G. Wells book it sounded like a unique product for XBLA. But sadly, it felt more like “War of the Controls and Imprecise Platforming”.

It’s one thing to make something immersive but it’s another thing to have elements that completely destroy the notion of it. Every time you feel like you’re sucked into the world, running from enemies, a cheap death occurs. After three or five more tries, you still haven’t accomplished it and feel like throwing your controller. The worst part of it, Patrick Stewart’s narration tries to help you but does nothing but hinder you with expository paragraphs. If one game this year had incredible promise but ended up dull, it was War of the Worlds.

Perry Jackson – News editor

Runner up: Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime

Beyond Good and Evil is fondly remembered as a highlight from the last generation of consoles. Created by Rayman creator Michel Ancel, it painted a world full of conspiracy, aliens and investigative reporting with an action/adventure feel. It sadly didn’t sell well in 2003 but thanks to XBLA, it’s been brought over again with fresh new paint.

For an HD Remake, it smooths out a lot of the textures and graphics and anamorphic widescreen for better sense of immersion and no black bars from the original. Not to mention it’s 800 MSP which is a steal at that price (unless you were one of the people who got it on sale). Beyond Good and Evil is still a fantastic game experience eight years ago as it is today. And hey if you buy it, maybe we’ll get the sequel?

Perry Jackson – News editor

Runner up: Guardian Heroes & Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition

Coming out of E3, Bastion garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz due to its unique narration style. The praise was not misplaced, as the narrator’s dulcet tones do an amazing job of guiding you through the game and giving voice to the world and its inhabitants. It’s the thing that stands out most about the game while playing it, and rarely has there been such an effective and entertaining use of narration than as in Bastion.

But Bastion’s incredible sound isn’t limited to the narrator. The beautiful soundtrack stands on its own as well, even outside of the game. “Build that wall” is one of our favorite songs of the year, and the rest of the album of what the composer describes as “acoustic frontier trip-hop” is something that will be on regular rotation for many of the XBLAFans staff for a while to come. Between the narration, the soundtrack, and the general sound design, nothing came close to Bastion this year in the audio category.

Nick DePetris – Reporter

Runner up: Iron Brigade/Trenched

In mid-July, most XBLA gamers were focused on the upcoming Summer of Arcade. Although the SOA was fantastic, it cast a large shadow over possibly the best platformer of the year. What Twisted Pixel delivered was what everyone would want from a sequel and more. They didn’t take the easy way out, they invented a whole new character. Some find her annoying, but the female Splosion Man is just as crazy as the original.

Everything from the first game was preserved, but so much more was added. Beautiful sets replaced the drab science labs, trampolines and cannons were used in tangent of explosive barrels, and the improved co-op had much more variety. Everything old and new came together perfectly to make a fun game that could challenge any Super Meat Boy fan. Although it re-uses many surprises from the original, the final boss is the most surprising, epic, and creepy moment of gaming this year. Many may have forgot about this game, but it’s still one of our favorite XBLA games of this year.

Nathan Bowring – Reporter

Runner up: ilomilo

The clear winner in the Best Game Design category was Orcs Must Die! A brilliant mix of third person action and tower defense strategy, it excels at both without cutting any corners. Made by the same developers who brought us the excellent Halo Wars, Robot Entertainment this year gave us the perfect blend of high quality game mechanics at a budget price. The controls are simple and intuitive and trap design is wacky and entertaining yet deadly accurate.

The difficulty gets tough at times but with so many different ways to complete a level you’ll never feel stuck or frustrated. New traps and weapons are unlocked at the end of each stage allowing you to progress at a nice pace or go back to the earlier levels with your new arsenal for some evil fun. Throw in some of the best integration of leaderboards in an XBLA game, and this is one that keeps us coming back again and again to kill those orcs.

Christine Mitchell – Reporter

Runner up: Bastion

There’s no doubt in our minds that Section 8: Prejudice is one of the finest multiplayer experiences you’ll find on the 360, and we’re not just limiting ourselves to Xbox Live Arcade. In terms of quality it’s up there with the likes of Call of Duty and Halo. Its Tribes-like gameplay yields itself to every type of player, all at the same time. Want to run ‘n gun? No problem. Are you more the support guy? You can do that, too. Its expansive maps and overlapping objectives mean you can do what you want, when you want, how you want.

Further refining that experience are the ability to customize your character and weapon loadout and the various ‘quick traverse’ options. Every player can active a suit overdrive mode which will allow them to run across vast distances quickly at the expense of holstering your weapon. If that’s not your style you can find one of the game’s vehicles to wreak havoc.

Steve Melton – Managing Editor

Runner up: Iron Brigade/Trenched

Caelondia was fractured and almost destroyed by The Calamity, yet it is still the most beautiful and visually enthralling places we visited on XBLA this year. A simple and unique watercolor-esque art style makes Bastion instantly recognizable. The environments and many creatures who inhabit them are vibrant, colorful and a joy to look at. It all combines to create a post-apocalyptic world we actually enjoy spending time in.

It’s not just the style that’s unique in Bastion, the way the world is presented to you has a twist too. As The Kid roams Caelondia the world rebuilds itself around him. Meaning the mere act of walking forward rewards you with more amazingly vibrant visuals. It’s an incredibly smart design choice and one which makes you appreciate the amazing art all the more.

Ross Adams – Podcast producer

Runner up: Stacking

Each of Double Fine’s XBLA ventures has been wholly unique but Iron Brigade is perhaps the most unique of the bunch. With its customizable World War I themed mechs used to fight hordes of robot televisions. When we reviewed the game (still called Trenched at the time) back in June we loved it. To the extent that one of our only complaints was that there just wasn’t enough, even though the game was eight hours long with tons of content and stuff to unlock.

All games need a hook to keep players interested in progressing further. Iron Brigade piles these on, with multiple leveling systems, new unique environments to see, random loot drops and a simple but very funny story. Oh and to access all this content you have to play a masterful combination of third person shooting and tower defense gameplay.

In a year filled with stellar XBLA games Iron Brigade stood above the crowd with it’s high production values, charm, incredibly fun core gameplay and the all important pull of getting more awesome loot. For bringing us our XBLA game of the year, Double Fine we analog salute you.

Ross Adams – Podcast producer

Runner up: Bastion