2011 feels both forever ago and just a few days ago… for me (Nick), it was a year that would come to represent the end of an era in my life – big changes were coming in 2012, which I’m sure I’ll talk about tomorrow. It was the year when planking was the latest thing (it’s only remembered now for a joke on The Office and exercise) and Jersey Shore was one of the most popular shows on a thing called “cable.”
For this series, we’re going to walk through the years and go through some of the touchpoints that we’ve been through in the big focuses of our site… movies, video game, and of course… LEGO.
While 2010 was a game where it seemed like so many hits came out, 2011 feels like a year defined by highs, lows, and slow downhill slides. The last Star Wars game for quite some time, The Old Republic, an MMO, came out. I actually played a lot of games that year, but for some reason it didn’t stick out to me until I actually googled it. After doing that… wow, it was a year where sequels really dominated the landscape.
Ace’s Pick: At the risk of appearing lazy, I will refer you to Nick’s pick below as we have both picked the same game, he wrote up his pick before I got here, and we both liked it for the same reasons.
Eric’s Pick: Hoo boy. I get to write about Dark Souls.
Okay, so Dark Souls hit me at a really pivotal time in my young adult life, where I realized all sorts of important stuff. And to reflect that change was this gritty, dark, realistic game that beat you down time after time. After time. And yet with all the hundreds of deaths comes this overwhelming sense of victory that propels you forward. And you don’t stop because you know you can beat this boss, this area, this one stupid giant mushroom enemy. And when you do, when you spend literally – actually yes I did this – spend 10 hours one Saturday trying to fight Ornstein and Smough by yourself without summoning in any help, and when you succeed, you feel like you can do anything. It’s the game that changed my life, and for that I am overwhelmingly grateful.
Dark Souls also changed video gaming for me, as I imagine it changed gaming for anyone who’s tackled it. And by changed, I mean spoiled, because damn near every other game feels wasted and awkward by comparison. Not to say Dark Souls is a perfect game – it’s not. Many of the games on my list here are far from perfect; there are bumps and scratches all along them. Half of the game feels rushed and unfinished, and one area is so copy-pasted it feels like my high school essays. Compared to newer From Software games, the combat feels clunky. The movement janks sometimes, especially in regards to jumping or falling. The menu navigation is a bit tiresome. Some of the bosses are legitimately cheap. But there is so much good about it that all of those bads I just listed feel completely irrelevant.
Not to mention the killer DLC – Artorias of the Abyss, which added some of the best bosses in the series.
I won’t review Dark Souls. I don’t think I can, not the goods, anyway. Hundreds of game journalists have tried, and, I think, missed the mark in some way. Dark Souls is an innately personal experience, and it’s hard to describe it objectively. A great view, I think, is by YouTuber NakeyJakey, in his video Dark Souls Saved Me, where his life experience was completely different from mine, but I 100% understand what he’s describing.
Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t, and play Dark Souls. You’re only doing a disservice to yourself otherwise.
Nick’s Pick: There were some really heavy hitters that came out this year. The obvious choice might be Skyrim, a game that I have put an absurd amount of hours into yet never finished. Truth-be-told, while I like the Elder Scrolls games, a lot of that is in the customization and modding, not for the game. Uncharted 3 came out that year, and it’s a fantastic game, but still probably the weakest of the series.
One sequel among a sea of sequels, though, just stands out in 2011…
It’s weird to think of Portal 2 being eight years old. The original was a revelation of gameplay design, tight writing, and stupidly fun gameplay… which was all just amplified by the fact that Valve put it into a bundle exclusively at first because they were unsure it would sell well. Given that it, all by itself, was worth the price of the Orange Box… we can see how that went.
Following up to one of the greatest games ever made is always a shaky proposition, but back then, Valve actually made games and they had generally been great to excellent. Still, could they capture lightning in a bottle twice? Spoiler alert… yes.
There are a myriad of reasons that it worked, but the most amazing thing is that they managed to catch the charm of the original as much as the gameplay. J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson is probably the greatest character to never actually appear as a character in a video game, and the game itself represents a rarity in a video game, where comedy worked so well. You know… I really should go play this game again.
While video games were all about sequels in 2011, there were actually a lot of new and unique films that hit in 2011… and also a lot of sequels. Harry Potter was still the biggest franchise going, and of course there was the still acclaimed Kung Fu Panda 2… yeah, I don’t know where that joke was going. It was the real explosion year for Marvel movies, as the last two pre-Avengers movies, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, both came out. At the other end of the comic book spectrum, Green Lantern came back and people honestly wondered if Ryan Reynolds career was over. Some real hits like Hugo, Bridesmaids, and Super 8 were big but be honest… when was the last time you watch any of them?
Okay, I admit, I watched Bridesmaids just a few months ago. It’s still hilarious.
Ace’s Pick: Going over the list of movies released in 2011, the pickings were pretty slim. I didn’t get out to see movies much with a baby in the house, and still don’t have much time these days either. But looking it over, I’ll have to tip my hat to Super 8.
A modern-day (at the time) Goonies, it was highly enjoyable. Looking back, this could be considered a precursor to the Netflix series Stranger Things. I should go back and rewatch this as it’s been years since I’ve seen it. But I’ll stick to that claim.
Eric’s Pick: I’m a pretty simple guy. I like Tom Cruise when he’s acting, but not so much when he’s praising the cult of Scientology. Which is a shame, because from everything I’ve heard of Tom Cruise, minus that one tiny cult he’s in, he’s apparently the nicest guy ever. Anyway, this isn’t From Brick to Tom Cruise, so let me get back on topic.
I’ve already done my list for the entire decade, and this is my only franchise movie on this list, so looks like those two years of film school are really paying off. Anyway, I’ve seen every Mission Impossible multiple times, but I keep coming back to M:I4. M:I3 has the far better story, and M:I5 and M:I6 manage to keep things extremely fresh somehow in a 20 year old franchise. But M:I4, or so I don’t have to keep using colons, Ghost Protocol, is the perfect blend of thriller and action. As usual, the entire world is against Tom Cruise, and he gets to use that as an excuse to do things such as, you know, climb up the Burj Khalifa. It’s awesome. Here’s to you, Tom. If only you weren’t in a cult.
Nick’s Pick: Okay… I bet this is the movie pick that no one would have guessed coming from me. I might have mentioned a certain series that’s a guilty pleasure of mine before, and 2011 is the year when the series went from “oh, that’s fun” to “this is ridiculous and I LOVE it”… Fast Five.
I won’t pretend this is a great movie (but it is a great movie)… but it is a movie that knows exactly what it’s doing and going to be about. It’s unabashed stunts and action, with a plot that’s part heist movie, part “let’s stare at the Rock and get lost in those pecs.” I’ve long maintained that adding Dwayne Johnson to a movie is worth two letter grades, and it works perfectly here. When it comes to good action series that you just turn your brain down for a bit and enjoy, Fast & the Furious does it the best, and this is the movie where they started to turn it to 11.
If this decade for LEGO could be defined with anything, it would be “licenses.” It’s strange to think that licenses have only been part of LEGO for twenty years, when Star Wars was first introduced. Even after Star Wars simply exploded, the licenses were more short lived and niche than anything. It was in 2011, though, when DC and Marvel Super Heroes was announced, Pirates of the Caribbean sets first arrived, as did Cars. It would only keep blowing up from there, with Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and TMNT all showing up in the next year.
Ace’s Pick: Overall, not a lot of strong stuff to take note of in 2011 but there is one set that I still enjoy looking at to this day: 8677 Ultimate Build Mater.
There were three Ultimate Builds from the Cars line that year: Mater, Lightning McQueen, and Francesco. Mater was tops and his worn out, run down, rusty, aged look was captured perfectly in LEGO form. It was the best set in a theme riddled with terrible sets.
Nick’s Pick: Not going to lie… this was a rough year for quality LEGO stuff. The Collectible Minifigures were still going strong and hadn’t worn out their welcome yet, but Star Wars had a weak year. Even Modular Buildings, one of my go-tos for great sets, was down, as it had two Pet Shop and apartment two-part building… and remains one of the weakest modulars ever done.
There was one set, which I reviewed for the site, that I loved… 7962 Anakin’s and Sebulba’s Podracers.
I don’t know how a movie that I enjoy crapping on so much (though, I’m going to admit, I’ve softened on in recent years) has produced so many sets that I really love. This was a huge upgrade over the original, introduced a lot of unique parts, and was just a swooshable joy to play with.
Eric’s Pick: I’m showing up on the bottom here because Nick and I have the same favorite set for this year. 2011 was the year right before I really stopped enjoy Legos as a kid, and this set captured a lot of the magic of Lego for me. A remake of the set I always wanted but was way too young to get at the time. A remake of the very rare Watto figurine. And, plus, the set ruled! To this day, this set reigns as one of my favorites.
As a side note, 2011 is the year I joined FBTB on the forums, and look at me now. Still nerding out of video games and Legos with the rest of you.