The video game industry never stands still for very long but looking back at the past ten years, it’s probably been one of the most disruptive periods of time in the industry with dozens of transformative moments shaking up the way people play and enjoy games. The market leader in home consoles changed back and forth between Sony and Nintendo. Streaming and esports became a multi-million dollar business. Virtual reality headsets entered the market. Fortnite became the biggest thing in the world. The way we buy and own games may be about to change thanks to Microsoft’s Game Pass service. And Google is giving us a glimpse of the future with their streaming service Stadia.
On a personal level, my gaming habits changed substantially from the start of the decade when I had all the time in the world to enjoy my hobby to the end of the 2010s when I became a parent and my gaming time shrunk to a handful of hours per week.
Of the hundreds of games I enjoyed from 2010 to 2020, these were my top 100.
100. Alan Wake [Remedy Entertainment, 2010, Xbox 360]
Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake was an entertaining Stephen King inspired horror story that had a great cast and memorable atmosphere. Writer Alan Wake arrives in Brightfalls, Washington and his vacation quickly turns into a nightmare as his wife disappears and he suddenly finds events from his latest novel are suddenly coming to life.
Stephen King film and television adaptations are very much in vogue at the moment and I would love to see Remedy return to this franchise one day soon. Alan Wake is an inventive and enjoyable horror game which paved the way for other great cinematic titles this decade such as Until Dawn.
99. Sound Shapes [Queasy Games, 2012, Playstation Vita]
Sounds Shapes was one of the most charming independent games releases early in the life of the ill-fated Playstation Vita. Ostensibly a music-infused platformer, players would move around levels where music beats would chime in time to the player’s movement and jumps. The stage set to Beck’s Cities is an absolute highlight (seriously, look it up).
The game also allowed players to create their own levels too which was a nice touch.
98. Journey [thatgamescompany, 2012, Playstation 3]
Journey is probably one of the best style-over-substance games of all time. Players control a wordless cloaked protagonist as they travel from a vast expansive desert to the top of a mountain peak. Along the way they encounter other human players online and communicate with one another through movement and singing.
Visually, the game offers an eye-catching, minimalist style that compliments its simple gameplay beautifully. The game isn’t especially challenging and nor is there much discovery to be gleamed from moving through the world. Instead the enjoyment largely comes from the fluid and elegant movement of the characters as they surf across sand dunes and deftly glide around the environment with their magical scarves billowing behind them.
You couldn’t find a more therapeutic and calming game on the Playstation 3.
97. Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros Edition [Gungho Online, 2015, Nintendo 3DS]
Puzzle & Dragons started out as a Match-3 puzzle game on mobile phones before eventually landing on the Nintendo 3DS, reskinned with Super Mario characters. These type of puzzle games are a dime a dozen but the 3DS iteration is one of the best thanks to the stylish presentation and the total absence of microtransactions. This game was a fantastic time killer on many long haul flights and commutes on the train.
96. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [Nintendo, 2011, Nintendo Wii U]
Skyward Sword is probably one of the least loved games in the Zelda franchise thanks to its cumbersome tutorials and overbearing hand-holding of the player. While there’s no doubt that many better Zelda games arrived later in the decade, Skyward Sword still offers some excellent dungeons to explore in its near 60 hour long story mode. A sprawling, flawed epic that still has some notable highs (soaring around the sky on birdback was a thrill).
The game also gave us Groose, one of the best side characters in the Legend of Zelda pantheon.
95. Batman: Arkham City [Rocksteady, 2011, Xbox 360]
Developers Rocksteady turned heads in 2009 with the excellent Metroidvania title Arkham Asylum, a thrillingly claustrophobic Batman game set inside the titular home for the criminally insane. Fans clamoured for an open world successor and they got it with Batman: Arkham City. In retrospect, I think most people would agree that the series declined in quality the more expansive it became (Arkham Knight was a sore disappointment) but Arkham City struck a pretty happy medium between setting Batman loose across a small-scale version of Gotham City and revisiting the tense, close quarters action of Arkham Asylum.
94. Deadly Premonition [Access Games, 2010, Playstation 3]
Swery’s Deadly Premonition is a truly weird low budget horror game that is evocative of Twin Peaks – sometimes purposefully and other times maybe by a happy accident.
Deadly Premonition is a genuinely strange experience. The characters, dialogue and janky animations are all absurd, straddling a line between comical and confounding. It’s one of those serendipitous occasions though where the appeal of the game’s quirkiness overrides its considerable shortcomings in playability and design. It was a memorable time playing as FBI agent Francis Morgan York as he tries to track down the Raincoat Killer in Greenvale.
For reasons I can’t fully fathom, a sequel has been green lit and is due to arrive a full decade later.
93. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit [Criterion, 2010, Xbox 360]
One of the most crushing disappointments of the past ten years was the collapse of the excellent series Burnout and the transition Criterion has taken away from creating arcade racers into being a support dev for EA’s other franchises such as Battlefield and Battlefront. The lastly truly great game of the Burnout lineage is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit which is a Burnout game in all but name. It moves along at a blazing fast speed, cheerfully tosses players back and forth between a variety of fun modes and has the spectacular slow-motion crashes that fans loved.
Seriously though, its a crime we never got a proper Burnout 5.
92. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West [Ninja Theory, 2010, Xbox 360]
I’ve always enjoyed the books and films of Alex Garland, the man who gave us The Beach, Sunshine, 28 Days Later and Annihilation. You may not know it but he also helped pen the story and dialogue for Ninja Theory’s underappreciated gem Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Although the gameplay is pretty conventional (it plays like a low budget Uncharted), it has two fantastic lead characters in Monkey and Trip and the quality of the storytelling will be immediately appreciated by anyone who is a fan of Garland’s other works.
91. L.A Noire [Team Bondi, 2011, Xbox 360]
L.A Noire is, to my knowledge, the only open world video game set in the noir genre. Inspired by the works of Phillip Marlow and films such as The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, players cruise around Los Angeles in the Forties as Detective Cole Phelps, investigating various homicide cases, some of which were inspired by famous real world cases. The game let players interrogate suspects, engage in wild card chases and have deadly shoot outs with crooks. The game is also noteworthy for its incredible facial animation technology which heightened the experience of the interrogations as you tried to uncover who was telling the truth and who was bluffing.
Team Bondi collapsed shortly after the release of this game so who knows when we’ll next see a game with this sort of scale and budget in the noir genre again.
90. Bastion [Super Giant Games, 2011, Xbox 360]
An isometric RPG with a distinctive painterly art style, Bastion is a compact, well-designed adventure game that explores a world destroyed by the Calamity, through the perspective of the Kid.
Bastion was a solidly put together narrative based game that was made especially memorable thanks to the presence of the gravelly voiced Narrator who dynamically told the story of what your player was doing in real time. It was a really novel style of presentation that gave Bastion an outstanding Western look and feel and to be honest, I’m kind of surprised no one else has aped this style nearly a decade later.
89. New Super Mario Bros U [Nintendo, 2012, Nintendo Wii U]
Not many people remembered New Super Mario Bros U but then thats probably because not many people bought a Wii U. The game is enjoying new life as a re-released title on the Nintendo Switch. Revisiting the game seven years later, I was pleased to find my opinions of the game increase substantially. It’s not as ambitious as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Odyssey but there’s no doubting its finesse in offering players some finely crafted, 2-D classic Mario platforming. If you’re game to collect all the hidden coins on each level, the game takes it up to 11 with the excellent Star Road stages.
88. No Man’s Sky [Hello Games, 2016, Playstation 4]
Everyone was mad at developer Hello Games when they released No Man’s Sky in 2016 with seemingly only a fraction of the promised content that was offered in previews. But to their credit, Hello Games weathered the considerable shitstorm of fan blowback and diligently plugged away at adding new features including base building, multiplayer and a VR mode. The No Mans Sky of today is a game that is much closer to the original vision and there’s no doubting the impressive technology under the hood that allows players to explore a platform, board a spaceship and travel into space, all without encountering a single load screen.
87. Puyo Puyo Tetris [Sega, 2017, Playstation 4]
Puyo Puyo is one of the greatest puzzle games ever made. So is Tetris. This game is a mash up of the two. You can play more or less perfect copies of either game in a single player mode. You can also play multiplayer with up to four people. Lastly, you can mix it up and play the game with both puyo puyo blobs and tetriminoes. So it’s basically the perfect puzzle game.
86. Persona 4 Golden [Atlus, 2012, Playstation Vita]
The best game on the Playstation Vita is this excellent adaptation of Persona 4, originally a JRPG on the Playstation 2. Persona 4 has a fantastic storyline where you play as a high school student who moves to the countryside, spends a year in school and tries to solve the mystery behind a series of murders in the local town. The game is perfectly suited to its handheld format as players can break down their play time to days spend in school, mixing up study, socializing with friends and tackling dungeons fighting demonic monsters. Classic JRPG fare that has rarely been done better.
85. Limbo [Playdead, 2010, Xbox 360]
A spooky, monochromatic platform with nihilistic overtones, Playdead’s Limbo is one of my favourite platform games designed by an independent developer of the last decade.
The game sees you navigate a series of perilous environments as a nameless protagonist. The game has a harsh, broody presentation style that is only amplified by its sparse, ambient score. Despite the game’s shadowy aesthetics, the creatures in Limbo still manage to raise the hairs on the back of your neck thanks to the excellent animation and the evocative sound effects.
Like its successor Inside, I also like the abrupt and memorable ending to Limbo. It sticks in your mind.
84. Assassin’s Creed: Origins [Ubisoft, 2017, Playstation 4]
I had been more or less indifferent to the Assassin’s Creed franchise which Ubisoft had been pumping out annually since 2007. That was until Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Origins finally hooked me thanks to its attractive setting (open world ancient Egypt!), the introduction of light RPG elements (skill trees, loot, character levelling) and a surprisingly decent story involving new protagonist Bayek and his quest to avenge his son.
83. Alpha Protocol [Obsidian Entertainment, 2010, Playstation 3]
I love Alpha Protocol. So often we assume RPGs should have either a sci-fi or fantasy setting but Obsidian do a fantastic job showing just how entertaining RPG mechanics (character creation, dialogue trees, morality choices) can be when applied to other genres – in Alpha Protocol‘s case, a spy thriller. The game had a troubled development cycle and is plenty rough around the edges but it is a genuinely underappreciated gem and worth tracking down a copy.
82. Phoenix Wright – Ace Attorney: Spirits of Justice [Capcom, 2016, Nintendo 3DS]
When it comes to Capcom’s long running defence attorney series Phoenix Wright, the general consensus is that the original trilogy is the best. They’re 100% right but Spirits of Justice is still a welcome new chapter and I enjoyed seeing both Phoenix and Apollo share the stage as well together. The ‘divination seance’ mechanic is kind of clunky but overall the game still has oodles of charm and likeability.
81. Mark of the Ninja [Klei Entertainment, 2012, Xbox 360]
Mark of the Ninja came out of nowhere and blew me away with its absorbing 2D stealth oriented gameplay and impressively robust design that allowed players to approach levels using stealth, violence or pacifism. One of my favourite games in a year that was otherwise pretty average for gaming.
80. Steamworld Dig 2 [Image & Form Games, 2017, Playstation 4]
I love what Image & Form have done with the Steamworld series, tackling a completely different genre with virtually each game they make, with the throughline being its oddball cast of android characters. Their best work has to be Steamworld Dig 2, a game that combines elements of Castlevania, Mr Driller and the original Dig.
There’s something very satisfying about its gameplay loop of digging for loot, finding treasures, cashing them in at the surface for new equipment and then returning to the chasm to explore even further and deeper.
79. God of War [SIE Santa Monica Studios, 2018, Playstation 4]
God of War is a surprising and pleasant reinvention of Sony’s angry demigod franchise which appeared to have run its course on the PS3 years ago. By injecting some humanity into Kratos’ character and fleshing out the gameplay with an open world and RPG mechanics (a common theme amongst many games on this list), Santa Monica Studios were able to inject new life into the God of War games.
78. Spyro Reignited Trilogy [Toys for Bob, 2018, Playstation 4]
I never actually played much of the Spyro games on the original Playstation. Certainly never came close to completing them. But thanks to Toys for Bob’s excellent modern remakes, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to properly play through this beloved range of games and have been genuinely surprised at how well the level design has held up over the years.
Having completed all three, I’d rank them 3 > 1 > 2. But the whole trilogy is worth a play through.
77. Control [Remedy Entertainment, 2019, Playstation 4]
Remedy Entertainment have had a lot of ‘nearly’ great games. Alan Wake and Quantum Break are both entertaining titles that either lacked depth in how they played or didn’t quite make the best of the concept that they tackled. Control feels like the title where it finally all came together. Set in the Federal Bureau of Control, players take the mantle of Jesse Faden, the bureau’s newest director as she locates various Objects of Power to take on The Hiss.
Control has a genuinely interesting paranormal, science fiction narrative that feels like it shares the best qualities of X-Files at its peak. Better still, this is probably the most fun Remedy game to play thanks to the wild powers that Jesse acquires in the Oldest House. When you get the ability to telepathically fling objects at your enemies about an hour into the game, the combat really begins to shine. It only gets crazier and more entertaining from there as Jesse unlocks even more abilities. Control is Remedy’s best work by some margin.
76. Her Story [Sam Barlow, 2015, PC]
Sam Barlow’s Her Story is a unique mystery game in which player’s trawl through a video archive of a woman being interviewed in a police investigation surrounding a man who went missing in 1994.
Most games of this genre tend to lead you by the nose when drawing your attention to clues on how to solve the mystery. Her Story manages the difficult feat of making the investigation feel much more organic and driven by the player as they decipher just exactly what happened to Simon Smith and how he was murdered.
75. Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Eidos Montreal, 2011, Xbox 360]
In 2011, Eidos created a cyberpunk video game about the near future where cities are near-permanently gridlocked by protesters rallying against major corporations and climate change. Players take on the role of Adam Jensen, part man/part machine. Players can choose whether Jensen is sympathetic to the corporations or the activists and can navigate the environment tackling enemies using brute force or stealth.
Human Revolution is an entertaining cyberpunk thriller that is also impressively prescient about modern day geopolitics.
74. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch [Level-5, 2013, Playstation 3]
Ni No Kuni is an animation fan’s dream video game project – a big budget RPG that involves legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli.
The tale of a young boy escaping into a world of fantasy as he copes with the passing of his mother might be rather standard JRPG fare but it is elevated thanks to the gorgeous art style and memorable cast of characters (Mr Drippy is seriously great).
73. The Walking Dead: Season One [Telltale Games, 2012, Xbox 360]
This decade saw the dramatic rise and fall of Telltale Studios, a company that rose to prominence originally off the back of the excellent Walking Dead: Season One. This episodic narrative driven series introduced us to two fantastic characters in Lee and Clementine, as they try to survive a hostile zombie infested world. Just like the comics and the tv series, its often other humans that are the biggest monsters in the series.
Telltale Games would go on to expand rapidly after the success of The Walking Dead but some serious mismanagement lead to their abrupt demise in 2019. But that original Walking Dead season remains a highlight.
72. Rise of the Tomb Raider [Eidos Montreal, 2015, Xbox One]
The past decade saw the welcome return of the Tomb Raider franchise after it had a number of years in the wilderness. Although the latest trilogy has had a mixed reception critically, I’ve personally really enjoyed what Eidos has done with the series. I think the latest games are a terrific evolution for the series and I find the bow and arrow a particularly satisfying weapon to engage enemies with. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the middle chapter of the series and its probably got the best balance of story driven content and exploration thanks to introduction of a semi-open world environment.
71. Mortal Kombat XL [NetherRealm, 2015, Playstation 4]
Like most people, I think I fell off the Mortal Kombat series somewhere around MK4 but improbably NetherRealm have succeeded in bringing the series back to prominence over the past few years. Mortal Kombat XL is a fantastic package that offers one of the best rosters the series has ever had (including terrific guest characters such as Predator, Leatherface, Xenomorph and Jason Vorhees) and offers a wonderfully cheesy story mode that is tons of fun and never takes itself too seriously. The fatalities, as ever, are comically and absurdly gruesome.
70. Playstation VR Worlds [Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2016, Playstation 4 – Playstation VR]
Playstation VR Worlds is the Wii Sports of virtual reality games. It offers six different interactive experiences that showcase what modern VR is about and I can vouch first-hand for its effectiveness in introducing the technology to newcomers. Crucially, Ocean Descent can be enjoyed without using a controller at all which is perfect for people who never play video games. For the more seasoned player, the British gangster shooter London Heist is the way to go.
69. Dragon Quest Builders 2 [Square Enix, 2019, Playstation 4]
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the game for anyone who has had their curiosity piqued by Minecraft but decided that an open-world sandbox game where you can literally build anything with no guidance or instructions is a tad too daunting to dip your toe into. DQB2 offers players a more guided experience and hands them the equivalent of a Lego building manual, to help you build your very own village with cottages, kitchens, temples, saunas, pubs and more.
This is a game that cobbles together the mechanics of Minecraft (block building), Stardew Valley (farming), Pokemon (monster hunting/collecting) and of course Dragon Quest (narrative).
It might sound like a hodge-podge of systems and gameplay-styles but happily Square Enix makes it all come together just so.
68. Firewatch [Campo Santo, 2016, Playstation 4]
Firewatch’s plot synopsis about a man having a midlife crisis sounds more like a screenplay for an Alexander Payne film than the set up for a video game. Which is probably why Campo Santo’s title turned so many heads earlier this year and received polarizing reviews from critics and audiences alike. It’s a game that has the story beats and ambiguous nature of an arthouse film. For some, it was a revelation. Others wondered what all the fuss was about.
For me, Firewatch was an absolute joy to play. Like a good book or a thought provoking film, the characters, the mysteries and the ending stayed with me long after I completed the game. The quality of the script is what elevates Firewatch amongst its contemporaries. Campo Santo writer Sean Vanaman has created a fascinating pair of lead characters and the overall presentation of the game – the sun baked Wyoming forest, the musical score, the distinctive keepsakes of the Eighties – gives it a vibrant, distinct identity.
67. Dead Cells [Motion Twin, 2018, Playstation 4]
I was this close to giving up on Dead Cells when it got its hooks into me.
Developer and publisher Motion Twin refers to Dead Cells as a a “roguevania”, which is a pretty fair summation of what you get with the game. It’s rogue-like in that every time the player dies, the environment is randomly regenerated. And it’s a Metroidvania style game where you aquire new abilities which gradually expands your moveset and subsequently how much of the island you can explore.
Not unlike Hollow Knight, Dead Cells takes part of its inspiration from Dark Souls and prides itself on its difficulty. There’s a pretty steep learning curve you have to get to grips with and I can see how some players will bounce right off it. I was pretty close. Then on one particular run the combat mechanics began to click with me and I went on a decent run, making my way through the Promenade of the Condemned, the Ramparts and ultimately the Black Bridge where I was easily defeated by the first boss. By that point I was hooked.
Over time I came to appreciate everything from the tight controls, the charming pixel art style, right down to the soundtrack which is well suited to a game that demands constant repetition. It’s hard as nails, I don’t know if I will ever finish it, but I respect the hell out of what Motion Twin have created.
66. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker [Nintendo, 2015, Nintendo Wii U]
It took way too long for Toad to get his own game but happily, it was worth the wait. Captain Toad is a delightful action-puzzle game where Toad and Toadette navigate their way through intricately designed stages looking for three diamonds and an end of level star. This is a game that is sure to bring a smile to your face with its cheery presentation, jaunty soundtrack and clever level design that strikes the right balance of accessibility and challenge.
After being exposed to a small audience on the Wii U originally, I was happy to see Captain Toad return as a remake on the Nintendo Switch and reach the wider audience it deserves.
65. Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception [Naughty Dog, 2011, Playstation 3]
While Uncharted 3 doesn’t quite hit the heights of Uncharted 2, it is still an outstanding game. In the past decade Naughty Dog set the benchmark for quality graphics and presentation, and Uncharted 3 is no exception. For a game that involves huge explosive Michael Bay style set pieces, it is often the little details in how Nathan Drake and the rest of the cast are animated – how they holster their weapons, little twitches in facial expressions etc – that impressed me the most.
The sequence involving the plane crashing in the desert remains one of the action high points for the entire series.
64. Ratchet and Clank [Insomniac Games, 2016, Playstation 3]
A visual sumptuous and eminently playable remake of the original title. Insomniac Games have always done a fantastic job with this series and the 2016 remake of the original game is one of their finest moments. Ratchet and Clank looks absolutely gorgeous, is full of colour and life, and basically plays like an interactive Pixar movie. The character design, voice acting and presentation are all top notch. The platforming and shooting gameplay, which involves cycling through two dozen outlandish weapons, remains as fun as ever.
63. Dead Space 2 [Visceral Games, 2011, Xbox 360]
I can’t remember who came up with it, but I always liked the analogy that compared the Dead Space games to the Alien franchise. The first game has a smaller scale and is focused on a small number of alien creatures that stalk Isaac Clarke aboard the USG Ishimura. In the sequel, its more like Aliens where the action ramps up, there’s slightly less tension but still a goodly amount of horror. This is a very impressive sequel that really builds on the play mechanics of the original. Once you really get going and start having battles against multiple enemies where you’re targeting limbs, using a slow-mo attack, a gravity gun to harpoon objects scattered around the level and an assortment of different weapons, you really appreciate just how much depth and quality Visceral Games have put into Dead Space 2.
62. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy [Vicarious Visions, 2017, Playstation 4]
Activision famously underappreciated how much nostalgic demand there was for Crash Bandicoot when they made this budget priced remake of the original Playstation trilogy. They were expecting modest sales and instead N.Sane trilogy sold like gangbusters to the tune of 10 million+ copies. And in retrospect, its easy to see why. The Playstation 4 lacks backwards compatibility, the Playstation Mini didn’t feature any Crash games and a new coat of paint does wonders for drawing back fans of the series. The original game is actually pretty challenging in a Super Mario Bros 1 kinda way. Crash 2 & 3 trade away some of that difficulty for broader appeal but honestly, all three games are still fantastic.
61. Wolfenstein II The New Colossus [Machine Games, 2017, Playstation 4]
The New Colossus is the much anticipated sequel to Machine Games’ excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order. It takes up where the previous game left off as Blazkowicz and his crew travel by U-Boat from Europe to America, hoping to liberate it from the Nazis. Just like The New Order before it, this latest Wolfenstein is a thrilling shoot ’em up splatterfest. If you’re looking for a game where you get to lay waste to Nazis, a dozen at a time, then this is your game. But what elevates this series to new heights is the strong writing and voice acting. A surprising amount of care and attention is given to the narrative in Wolfenstein II and Machine Games has really found its voice with The New Colossus. The game has a distinct narrative style that is wildly erratic in tone. The game leans hard into some very dark subject matter and then veers away with some unexpected, over-the-top comedy, often in the same breathe.
I cannot believe some of the stunts they pull in this game. There are about three sequences in The New Colossus that had my jaw on the floor. To best enjoy Wolfenstein II it is vital to come in unspoiled. It is a bombastic action game for the ages.
60. This War of Mine [11 Bit Studios, 2016, Playstation 4]
Historically speaking, the video game industry does not have a great track record when it comes to social commentary about warfare. The vast majority of titles are couched in a simple, patriotic presentation style with explicitly defined heroes and villains. Holding a gun mean that you – the good guy – shoot a bad guy to complete a mission and ‘win’ the war.
In recent years, this has begun to change. Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Spec Ops: The Line are two examples of games that viewed warfare with an uncommonly measured and weary gaze.
Which brings us now to 11 bit studios and their civilian-focused survival game This War of Mine: The Little Ones. The game includes the original title released on PC in 2014 as well as some additional content – namely the inclusion of child characters.
Inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War of the mid Nineties, This War of Mine portrays everyday men and women who are caught in a crossfire in the fictional city of Graznavia. The player controls a handful of individuals who take refuge in a shell-shocked house that has been abandoned by its original inhabitants.
This War of Mine has sky-high ambitions for the emotional register and atmosphere they’re trying to build and on the modest budget of an independent game it could have easily fallen flat. But the narrative passages, the distinctive charcoal art aesthetic and the well-designed game mechanics successfully bring that ambition to life.
59. Super Mario Maker [Nintendo, 2015, Nintendo Wii U]
Super Mario Maker is a dream video game concept come to true. It’s something I’ve wanted for the better part of twenty five years, ever since I first finished Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo. An official Nintendo toolkit to make your own Mario levels. I can’t believe they finally did it.
In many ways, the game is even better than I had ever hoped or imagined it could be. Firstly, Nintendo have been very generous with the content. You can make games that have the graphics, physics and objects of Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. That’s four games! Every major 2D Mario platformer in its 30 year history is represented here. The game is also extremely flexible and has an easy to use interface. Most people should be comfortable putting together their own stages in a matter of minutes. Practically every Mario gameplay mechanic and power up is available too – thwomps, P switches, doors, pipes and every permutation of ‘?’ block is available for you to use.
As you’d expect, the game has an incredibly active community that has produce millions of levels. The trick of course is cutting through the crap and getting to the good stuff. Like Splatoon, Nintendo have heavily iterated on Super Mario Maker post launch and focused on improving the search functionality of the community levels.
Its a game that has resulted in endless Mario levels. There are hundreds and hundreds of great levels to try. Making your own stages is a piece of cake. What more could you want?
58. Metal Gear Solid V [Konami, 2015, Playstation 4]
Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear swan song – his final involvement in a series he was worked on for over a quarter of a century – is as entertaining and innovative as one could hope for. It’s the first open-world title in the series and the results are outstanding.
Infiltrating military outposts as Big Boss is an exercise in careful strategy and adaptation for the player. Each mission genuinely has dozens of different permutations that can be factored into the players approach including weaponry, vehicles, weather conditions and time of day. Each soldier you encounter in the game can be tackled in a myriad of ways. You can sneak past them. You can shoot them. You can tranquillize them. You can interrogate them. You can divert their attention. You can knock them out and hide them. I can think of few other games that grants so many different types of interaction.
New gameplay mechanics include the addition of a buddy that can aid you on your mission (ranging from sniper, sniffer dog, horse to mech walker) and an addictive collection mini-game which involves ‘fultoning’ – removing enemies, vehicles, containers and artillery out of the hot zone via a parachute. I’m convinced that fultoning stuff is the most satisfying and endlessly entertaining mechanic to be introduced to video games in the last ten years.
With over a hundred hours of gameplay, its a fitting final chapter for Kojima and his time at Konami. It’s a pity that the game doesn’t come close to matching the spectacle of the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 but then what game does?
57. Halo: Reach [Bungie Studios, 2010, Xbox 360]
The final Halo game from Bungie sees the developer go out at top of their game. This is easily one of the most cinematic and expansive campaign modes of the series and I loved how they tied the ending to the game directly to the opening scene of the original (it is to Halo what Rogue One is to Star Wars). The introduction of powerups into the multiplayer mode gave it a new lease on life and the quality of the multiplayer maps and the size of the community playing it at the time made it one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences to be had on the Xbox 360. Since Bungie left the franchise to develop Destiny, it has never soared to these heights since.
56. Grand Theft Auto V [Rockstar Games, 2013, Xbox 360]
Grand Theft Auto V was a game four years in the making and a title released to sky high expectations. Thanks to its cinematic and creative new heist missions, inter-changeable leads and exhaustively detailed new locale, its safe to say those lofty expectations were met and then some. Since its release the game has showed incredible staying power, sitting in the top ten software sales every year since its release which is an insane feat. It was so popular it negated the need for Rockstar to make a GTA 6 on the Playstation 4/Xbox One generation.
55. Mario Kart 8 [Nintendo, 2014, Nintendo Wii U]
Mario Kart 8 won’t win any awards for innovation. It’s been a gradually process of iteration since the first game power slided onto the Super Nintendo 21 years ago. And yet Mario Kart 8 is so supremely polished in its presentation, so generous in its content and so endlessly fun to play, it easily became the most popular game on both the Wii U and the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo EAD have crafted a visually stunning game that wowed fans with its butter smooth frame rate, colourful racing tracks and hilariously animated kart racers. An enduring video game meme from 2014 was the infamous Luigi death stare that he fires off when he blasts his hapless opponents with turtle shells. A game that oozes character and charm.
54. Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled [Beenox, 2019, Playstation 4]
This might be blasphemous but after pouring hours and hours of time into Beenox’s excellent Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, I think it might be the better kart racer than Mario Kart 8. Sure it doesn’t have a patch on the cast of characters on offer in Nintendo’s legendary racer, but the level design and the finesse required to master its triple-boost drifting mechanic makes it a more enjoyable experience for me.
Nitro Fueled has also been absurdly generous with the amount of content on offer, with not just an initial massive selection of karts and tracks but new monthly content that could be unlocked post-launch, by playing the daily/weekly/monthly challenges.
53. Bayonetta 2 [Platinum Games, 2014, Nintendo Wii U]
After the poor sales of the original game and indifference from prospective publishers, we never thought we’d get a Bayonetta 2. Salvation came from the unlikeliest source – Nintendo, who invested in the game as an exclusive for the Wii U. I’m glad they did however as Bayonetta 2 shows Platinum Games at their creative best.
For the uninitiated, Bayonetta is a sort of spiritual successor to Devil May Cry and the reigning queen of spectacle in the action game genre. The first level of the game has the eponymous witch standing on the back of a fighter jet, battling demons from another dimension as a hailstorm of bullets and explosions envelope the entire city. I repeat – thats the first level. It only gets crazier from there.
Bayonetta 2, like the original, is a game with a highly sexualized and fetishistic tone that is mixed with religious and spiritual iconography. Bayonetta herself is an all-conquering, take-no-names bad ass who has gun-stilettos and casually goes about her business whooping ass and taking down skyscraper sized inter-dimensional demons.
52. The Last Guardian [Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2016, Playstation 4]
It was delayed for years and years. It was in development for nearly a decade. No one knew whether it would ever see the light of day. But in 2016 we finally got The Last Guardian, the long awaited successor to Shadow of the Colossus. The game’s art style reflects its long development cycle. Trico looks and animates impressively but some of the environments straight up look like an early PS3 game.
But what matter is that they finished the game and it matches the same emotional heights that players experienced with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. An ambitious game that offers an experience like very little else out there.
51. Ori and the Blind Forest [Moon Studios, 2015, Xbox One]
One of the most gorgeous games of the year was Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest. This Metroid-vania style game starts off as a simple platformer before gradually unlocking new powers and abilities, throwing the player headlong into a challenging, gauntlet of levels whose difficulty belies the game’s genial art style.
A long awaited sequel is just around the corner in 2020.
50. Dragon Quest VIII [Square Enix, 2017, Nintendo 3DS]
Ask fans of the legendary Dragon Quest series which is the greatest and most accessible game and they’ll probably tell you either VIII or XI. Both have fantastic stories and an incredible cast of characters. For those who want to check out VIII, the best way to experience the game is the recent 3DS version which takes the already great PS2 original, and vastly improves it with a number of significant quality of life improvements including the removal of random enemy encounters, a fast-battle option, easier access to quick travel, an improved alchemy system and some additional balancing of enemy difficulty.
Dragon Quest VIII is a superb JRPG that features a brilliant central cast, a memorable villain and some of the most enjoyable turn based combat you can find in the genre.
49. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening [Nintendo, 2019, Nintendo Switch]
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a remake of the 1993 Gameboy Zelda title, a top-down 2D Zelda that plays in a similar vein to A Link To The Past on the Super Nintendo. The game has received a substantial graphical overhaul but beyond that, Link’s Awakening is actually more or less faithful to the design of the original.
It’s an enormous feat of game design by Nintendo’s developers from the early Nineties that this game still holds up as well as it does. It’s not merely ‘playable’, its unreservedly fun and the balance of accessibility and difficulty doesn’t feel out of place when compared to modern action RPG standards.
48. Tekken 7 [Bandai Namco, 2017, Playstation 4]
I used to love the Tekken series on the original Playstation but I’d fallen off the bandwagon and hadn’t really played much of the series since Tekken Tag Tournament. Tekken 7 is a great jumping in point for anyone in a similar position. The game has an absolutely massive roster of fighters with most of my favourites from the previous games. It also is terrific nostalgic trip – every single cutscene from the previous six games are accessible as an Extras bonus.
Most importantly of all, Tekken 7 is just plain fun to play and very accesible. It has a decent story mode involving the never battle between the Mishima clan, a very active online community and plenty of customizable gear for your characters. If you shell out for the DLC you can also play Tekken Bowl!
47. Cuphead [Studio MDHR, 2017, Xbox One]
The first thing that has to be said about Cuphead is that it looks like a work of art. Drawing inspiration from the art style of animated cartoons from the Nineteen Thirties, StudioMDHR absolutely nailed their visual and animation ambitions. If it takes four years to get Cuphead to look and run like a playable Steamboat Willie then so be it.
Famously, the game is absolutely hard as nails. In some ways, this seems a pity. The game looks so gorgeous that I’d prefer as many people as possible see every single stage that the developers cooked up. I still think the game should have a casual mode for that very reason.
But if you’re up for the challenge, Cuphead is a delight. It is absolutely as brutally hard and unforgiving as you’ve heard, but the controls are pixel perfect, there are unlimited lives and you respawn after death in just a fraction of a second.
Cuphead, particularly the later levels, is a masochistic but enjoyable war of attrition where you record progress in inches, die a hell of a lot, and learn each level slowwwly. What feels impossible at first, becomes achievable over time. StudioMDHR keeps you on your toes by changing up the boss animations and the attack patterns too which helps keep things fresh.
It was a long time coming but worth the wait.
46. Pikmin 3 [Nintendo, 2013, Nintendo Wii U]
Despite being a proud Gamecube owner, the Pikmin series had somehow passed me by in the early 2000s. I’m glad I finally had a chance to get on board with Pikmin 3.
The game has all the charm and quirks you’d expect of a Nintendo real time strategy game. You control the eponymous Pikmin as they explore alien planets, fighting off weird bug eyed insects and collecting food and supplies for your stranded astronauts.
It has boundless charm for days and its been way too long since Miyamoto made mention of a Pikmin 4 in development. Where is it Nintendo?
45. Hotline Miami [Dennaton Games, 2013, Playstation 3]
Hotline Miami probably has the best soundtrack of any game in the past decade. Well, maybe not the best, but its up there. There was nothing better in 2013 than cranking the pulse pounding synth soundtrack on this game and tackling its deviously challenging shoot ’em up challenges which almost played out like a puzzle game. Towards the later stages, you really had to master your movement and accuracy with almost no room for error.
Hotline Miami was a hyper-stylized, thrilling top-down shooter and one of the best of its kind in the 2010s. The sequel is no slouch either.
44. Fire Emblem: Three Houses [Intelligent Systems, 2019, Nintendo Switch]
It’s pretty incredible to see the huge upswing in popularity Fire Emblem has had ever since the series hit it big internationally with Fire Emblem Awakening. The latest instalment on the Nintendo Switch, Three Houses, is the grandest version of the game yet.
The core turn-based strategy game is still at the beating heart of the game but it has sharply increased the sophistication and fidelity of the art style. There’s now a multitude of additional options to customize the game experience to your personal liking (options for toggling perma-death, auto-movement etc) as well as a storyline that is centered around teaching at a college, which now comprises a substantial portion of the gameplay and makes Three Houses feel like a cross between traditional Fire Emblem and the Persona series.
43. Destiny [Bungie, 2014, Playstation 4]
At launch, when I anticipated playing some magical hybrid of Mass Effect, Halo and World of Warcraft, I felt crushingly disappointed with what I got. A terrible story, forgettable characters and four barren planets that suggested a game that would have limited replayability.
Over a hundred hours of gaming later and its safe to say I’ve been hooked by the peerless shooting mechanics and the rewarding loot mechanics. The game is a weird mix of skill (in combat), planning (which activities you do daily to harvest the necessary Ascendant materials) and luck (the dreaded RNGesus who randomly doles out new weapons). Bungie have made substantial improvements to the game over time which have made it even better, with greater content and accessibility.
At launch I wrote a review and rated this game 2 stars. I haven’t been able to stop playing since. Destiny is one of the most devisive games I can ever recall. I was once one of the detractors. Now, I’m a believer. Destiny wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, but Bungie still ended up crafting a memorable experience.
42. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [Naughty Dog, 2016, Playstation 4]
Naughty Dog’s final chapter to its popular Uncharted series was a fitting send off. Graphically, it stands head and shoulders above its peers. There is no game on home consoles that looks as lush, detailed and vibrant as the world Naughty Dog have created. Those same production values also carry across to the superb story telling, voice acting and art design which genuinely rivals the output of Hollywood blockbusters.
Gameplay wise, Naughty Dog didn’t rest on their laurels and made Uncharted 4 the most entertaining game in the series to date. Critics have occasionally been sniffy about the Uncharted games as being a matter of style-over-substance. With Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog has taken some steps to address this by significantly expanded the scale of the levels, giving the player greater flexibility to explore the environments as well as introducing some additional stealth-oriented mechanics to tackle the myriad of enemies. Of course, the signature bombastic set pieces remain a feature of Uncharted and some of the craziest action sequences (the motor cycle chase sequence in Panama) can be counted amongst the best in the series.
Explosions, chases, hidden treasure and sinister enemies. Uncharted 4 is an emphatic final adventure for Nathan Drake and in case fans were wondering whether the series would continue on from here, the game’s prologue gives us a pretty clear idea of where the game’s future could lie.
41. Red Dead Redemption [Rock Star North, 2011, Xbox 360]
This open world Western from Rock Star has a tendency to overwhelm at the start. There is just so much to see and do. Yet despite the scale of the environment, there is plenty of care that has gone into the minutiae of the world with dozens of secrets to unlock and some wonderfully imaginative side quests and characters. The highlight of the game for me though is the memorable ending. Although most people should be able to pick what will happen, it makes it no less thought provoking or interesting to experience. I only wish more games would put the time into delivering such a satisfying closure.
On a final note, the soundtrack is also of an uncommonly high standard.
40. Horizon: Zero Dawn [Guerrilla Games, 2017, Playstation 4]
I think the concept art (pictured above) sells the game better than I ever could. Imagine being a crossbow wielding warrior on horseback, drawing your weapon on a gigantic mechanical sabre-tooth tiger in a post apocalyptic planet Earth. This is why we play video games, right?
Guerilla Games dreamed big with the proof of concept for their ambitious new title and happily, it delivered the goods. Horizon draws players into a gorgeous future-Earth landscape (its my pick for best looking game of 2017) and tasks players with guiding an orphaned outcast named Aloy through a world populated by mechanical dinosaurs and warring tribes of humans.
I like pretty much everything about Horizon. The characters and world building in this game is a refreshing change from the video game norm. The combat is absolutely amazing and really comes into its own with some of the later battles with the larger beasts which take a lot to bring down. The difficulty curve is just right. Lastly, it spins a good yarn, with a story that asks many questions and actually answers most of them by the time the credits rolled.
Horizon: Zero Dawn deserves every bit of success that comes its way. I look forward to the next chapter immensely.
39. Inside [Playdead, 2016, Playstation 4]
Very few video games know what to do with their ending. Inside is that rare instance where the ending makes the game. You have to experience it unspoiled.
Inside has a similar wordless and monochromatic aesthetic to its predecessor Limbo (okay, there’s a smidge of colour in there) and trusts the player to work out what it is going on for themselves both with the gameplay and with the narrative. There are also simple platform and box-shifting puzzles not unlike Limbo. And had that been the entire game, I think they still had something that would be fondly remembered and appreciated.
But its that final act, which turns the game on its head and goes in a direction I can’t really ever recall seeing in a game before that truly makes it something special. It’s hard to fully express just how memorable it is without giving the game away. Needless to say, if you didn’t play Inside in 2016, you should definitely do so and you should go into the experience knowing as little as possible. It’s weird, broody and quite wonderful.
38. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze [Retro Studios, 2014, Nintendo Wii U]
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the outstanding successor to Donkey Kong Country Returns and is arguably the benchmark for 2D platformers on both the Nintendo Wii U and Nintendo Switch. The game has tight and responsive controls, excellent level design that is challenging but not punishing and honestly the best bosses ever designed in the genre. If other platform games could move away from the “3 hits and they’re dead” boss design popularized by Super Mario Bros and take a page out of Tropical Freeze‘s playbook, I would be one happy camper.
Honestly, this game is just about perfect when it comes to 2D platforming and there’s a growing sense of anxiety around the continued silence from Retro Studios since this game’s release. Is the studio in trouble? Surely a new chapter must be on the horizon eventually?
37. Fez [Polytron, 2012, Xbox 360]
Phil Fish’s long delayed indie platformer finally saw its release in 2012 and happily, it was every bit as good as we all hoped. The game has a charming art style and catchy soundtrack that makes Fez feel like a throwback to games of yesteryear. But even though the game clearly wears its influence on its sleeve from a handful of Nintendo classics, there are few games that I can think of that compare to the experience of this strange, complicated and meandering universe. Fez is one of the most personal gaming experience that I’ve played in a long time. It’s really apparent that it is the vision and design of a single person and that person clearly has a love of exploration and is slightly demented and obsessive.
Fez is unique, otherworldly and rewarding.
36. Splatoon 2 [Nintendo, 2017, Nintendo Switch]
In 2015, Nintendo made this great online shooter called Splatoon. You played as these zany looking kids with colourful hair who could transform into squids (you heard me). Each level pits four on four as they engage in the mother of all paintball contests. The whole thing played great, was coated in this quite magnificent Nineties aesthetic and it had an absolutely bitchin’ soundtrack. But here’s the thing. It was released exclusively on the Wii U which was owned by me and about a dozen other people in the world.
The good news is that Nintendo bounced back and their new system, the Switch, is a roaring success. So it was only right that Nintendo published a successor to Splatoon which has even more levels, new weapons and a bunch of new modes, to give the game the audience that it deserves.
You should probably check out Splatoon 2. You won’t regret it.
35. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy [Naughty Dog, 2017, Playstation 4]
Is this the last ever Uncharted game? I’m not so sure. In 2016, Naughty Dog retired protagonist Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4 and with this spin-off, Lost Legacy, they’ve given Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross the chance to shine as the new leads.
You know what? It works a treat. Lost Legacy was put together in just twelve short months (a phenomenal achievement) and what it offers is a lean, mean Uncharted experience which might be just the ticket for many fans of the series who struggled with Uncharted 4‘s occasionally laboured pace. Exploring ancient ruins, discovering treasure, fighting goons and hanging off the side of moving vehicles. All the classic Uncharted tropes are here. Only it takes half the time it usually does to see it through from start to finish.
I thought I had my fill of Uncharted but after Lost Legacy I’m not so sure. There are some great treasure hunting characters in the Uncharted series. I think I’d quite happily visit a few more exotic locales with them as they look for the next big score.
34. Super Mario 3D Land [Nintendo, 2011, Nintendo 3DS]
Super Mario 3D Land is soooo good. It’s one of the few games that I think is genuinely enhanced by the 3D functionality on the 3DS, but no matter whether you play it with that mode turned on or off, you’re in for a treat with this fantastic collection of 3D levels that are amongst the finest Nintendo have designed. I don’t think 3D Land gets the love it deserves because it lies in the shadow of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Odyssey but honestly, it’s still one of the very best 3D platformers ever made. And just when you think you’ve seen and played it all – wham! – it pulls back to reveal that there’s a whole other set of more challenging levels that basically doubles the content. A game of both incredible quality and value.
33. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [Nintendo, 2013, Nintendo 3DS]
This welcome sequel to A Link To The Past is an absolute treat to play for anyone who ever played the Super Nintendo classic. A Link Between Worlds revisits the timeless, top-down, action RPG gameplay and gives it a modern twist with the wall-merging mechanic, non-linear design and fast travel. In short, it’s the perfect tonic for anyone who misses Nintendo gaming from the early Nineties.
Honestly, creating a spiritual successor to A Link To The Past, which I consider to be a perfect game, sounds like a fools errand and yet A Link Between Worlds ends up being a more than respectable effort.
32. Life Is Strange [Dontnod, 2015, Playstation 4]
Life Is Strange is an interactive and episodic mystery show in which two teenage girls, Max and Chloe, navigate their way through a turbulent week at the sleepy seaside town of Arcadia Bay.
Life Is Strange is one of the first episodic video games that I can recall that genuinely had fans generating ‘water cooler conversation’ about the experiences they had and where they guessed the story would lead. There were some absolutely sensational storyline twists and the ending of Episode 2 & 3 in particular really helped to ensure Life Is Strange drove strong word of mouth from its devotees.
Developers Dontnod really take the ‘time warping’ concept that Max has and push it in interesting directions. The game riffs a lot on the ‘butterfly effect’ theory and so choices that the player makes throughout the game both big and small constantly affect what happens in future chapters of the story.
Quirky, heartfelt and with a bookish charm not unlike its protagonist Max, Life Is Strange deservedly turned heads with its creative concept and solid execution. Mystery, murder, unexplained phenomena and new friendships – that week in Arcadia Bay had it all.
31. Super Mario 3D World [Nintendo, 2013, Nintendo Wii U]
Super Mario 3D World is not only a terrific game in its own right with eye-catchingly colourful, expansive level designs that can be enjoyed by up to four players at once, it also introduced the Cat suit which is one of the best power ups Mario has had in a generation. Having the ability to scamper, climb and swipe like a feline is one of the most fun new ways to play as Mario and lead to some great levels that took advantage of this new ability.
Super Mario 3D World has some wonderfully designed 3D levels that begin to really test your skill in the later stages of the game and holds the distinction for being the most enjoyable multiplayer Mario platforming experience.
30. Celeste [Matt Makes Games, 2017, Nintendo Switch]
Celeste is a platformer with rudimentary graphics and gameplay mechanics that could technically have been made twenty, even thirty years ago.
But beneath the surface is a deep platforming game, which draws inspiration from the likes of Super Meat Boy and speed run videos on Youtube, and the narrative package surrounding the game is a surprisingly thoughtful story about a young woman named Madeline who wants to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain, but struggles to overcome her anxiety.
Video games can be many things. They can be toys and they can aspire to be art. To take a retro-styled platformer and wrap it around a storyline involving mental illness could have gone very poorly if executed clumsily. But I think Celeste’s careful handling of its subject matter earns the game the right to go down the paths that it does. In fact, the way the game ties some of its narrative themes to its game design is particularly commendable, taking full advantage of the interactive nature of the medium.
Celeste may look slight at first glance but it quickly reveals itself to be a cleverly designed platform game with plenty of warmth and wit in its storytelling beats. Don’t pass up the chance to give it a go.
29. Resident Evil 7 [Capcom, 2017, Playstation 4]
Resident Evil 7 is one of the scariest games ever made.
After the wayward RE 5 & 6 had fans wondering if Capcom had irreversibly lost their way with the series, Resident Evil 7 arrived with a bang. The game boldly goes a different direction by introducing a first person perspective for the first time in the series and going back to basics with its setting. Steering away from the multi-character, globe trotting experience in RE 6, RE 7 puts the player at the terrifying abode of the Baker family, with a real atmospheric emphasis on horror over action. The results were incredible.
Not only is RE 7 a memorably terrifying game in its own right, it has the added bonus of being fully playable in VR which takes the game’s scariness to a whole other level.
28. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life [Sega, 2018, Playstation 4]
Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, has been fighting yakuza, singing karaoke and playing arcade games in the streets of Kamurocho for seven titles over the last thirteen years. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is his final chapter.
I have absolutely adored Toshiro Nagoshi’s crime saga and nothing pleases me more than the recent success of Yakuza Zero which seems to have introduced a whole new generation of fans to this franchise. There really is nothing quite like Nagoshi’s incredible mix of crime melodrama, absurdist humour and appreciation for the little things in Tokyo – ramen joints, karaoke clubs and whisky bars.
Yakuza 6 offers more of the same. It’s not really a suitable game for newcomers to jump in on as the story assumes knowledge of the previous six chapters. But for longtime fans who have enjoyed Kiryu’s exploits for over a decade (i.e me), this is a brilliant final instalment that has all the ingredients that make a great Yakuza game – a compelling mystery, hundreds of goons to fight, quirky humour, entertaining side quests.
If this really is to be Kiryu’s last stand (I can’t quite believe it), I think Nagoshi has sent him off in style. What a series it has been.
27. Super Smash Bros: Ultimate [Nintendo, 2018, Nintendo Switch]
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is packed with a wealth of content and is a fine piece of fan service to decades of gaming history. At times there is so much to see and do that the game threatens to overwhelm you. But patience, persistence and the occasional look up on Google should ensure even newcomers eventually uncover the treasure trove that this game has to offer.
Combat is quick and easy to learn. The beauty of the game is its accessibility. There’s only one button for attacking and another for special moves. In other words, even a four year old can pick up and play Smash Bros and have a good time. And yet although the game is simple to learn, it has an incredibly high skill ceiling which is why it has become one of the most competitive fighting games in esports circles.
What started as a franchise that was a homage to Nintendo characters has expanded into something much broader. The roster for Ultimate includes many popular non-Nintendo video game characters including Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega), Pac Man (Namco), Ryu & Ken (Capcom) and Solid Snake (Konami). In that sense, its clear to see part of the reason for Smash’s enourmous success – it’s become a one-stop destination to pit dozens of classic video game characters against one another. There’s little doubt that Ultimate has one of the greatest roster of characters ever assembled for a fighting game.
26. The Witness [Jonathan Blow, 2016, Playstation 4]
Sometimes, I wonder what it must be like in the mind of Jonathan Blow. The man is a puzzle game auteur who has created some of the most intricate, high concept video games ever designed. He did it once already in 2008 with the incredible time-bending game Braid. And now he has done it again.
Blow’s long awaited game The Witness drew its inspiration from the popular Nineties puzzle title Myst. Eight years in the making, the game is one of the most ambitious puzzle games I have ever seen created. By refraining from including any text or instruction, the game teaches the player how to solve puzzles through symbology. Each puzzle in the game uses visual language that builds upon a previous puzzle. Over time, the player comes to learn and speak a language of puzzles. Increasingly abstract and visually dense challenges become understandable utilizing a combination of symbols and puzzle algorithms that the game has taught the player. It’s quite extraordinary.
Just like Braid before it, Jonathan Blow has not just a handful of mechanics up his sleeve but dozens, possibly even hundreds. Some of the puzzles involve pattern recognition. Some make use of colour palettes. Some use audio cues. Some use perspective tricks. Some use path-finding. The rabbit hole leads down pretty deep with this game.
Of course it goes without saying then that The Witness can be hard and downright infuriating at times. But a wise piece of advice that I frequently saw shared online for players stuck on a puzzle was to take a walk. Simply put the controller down, clear the mind and come back. The puzzle that had you stumped after you sat there staring at it for an hour suddenly becomes solvable in minutes. And the feeling of overcoming a tricky puzzle you couldn’t get your head around before? There’s nothing quite like it.
One of the most mind bending but satisfying games to play in 2016.
25. Fire Emblem Awakening [Intelligent Systems, 2012, Nintendo 3DS]
Fire Emblem has turned into quite the franchise for Nintendo. The series is nearly thirty years old but its only in recent years that it has taken off in the West and become a million seller worldwide. With that success has come bigger and more ambitious sequels. Fire Emblem Fates was released as three different full-priced games at once. Fire Emblem Three Houses has lush 3D graphics and 150+ (!?!) hours of gameplay in its sprawling epic tale about three warring nations.
But I think those games pale in comparison to Fire Emblem Awakening, the game that I think hits the happiest sweet spot in the series. It has the best cast of the characters, a simple but effectively told story, and a charming art style that still feels connected to the sprite animations from the earlier games. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed plenty of the bigger titles that have come out since Awakening but honestly, it’s the pick of the bunch.
24. Until Dawn [Supermassive Games, 2015, Playstation 4]
A hidden gem from 2015 was Super Massive Games’ teen horror game Until Dawn. Eight unsuspecting kids spend a weekend at a remote holiday retreat up in the mountains and find themselves under attack from a deadly masked killer with a vendetta. Until Dawn is a cut above most ‘interactive movie’ style games thanks to its canny script, tight play mechanics and flexible storytelling which can potentially see the story play out with no survivors, everyone surviving or somewhere in between.
I had a lot of fun with Until Dawn. The teenagers each represent some fun and recognizable genre staples and subsequently I found myself really rooting for certain individuals to survive and almost willfully endangering others so they’d get their come uppance. Genuinely scary in parts and also unexpectedly funny at times.
23. The Banner Saga Trilogy [Stoic Studio, 2017, Playstation 4]
The Banner Saga series remains criminally overlooked in my opinion. A tactical turn-based RPG that was originally produced off the back of a Kickstarter campaign, Stoic Studio’s series draws the player into a gorgeous fantasy world with incredible Ralph Bakshi inspired artwork and a sprawling narrative that is filled with interesting creatures, cultures and landscapes.
In the original game, the player would lead a caravan of villagers and warriors, desperately trying to guide them to safety away from the marauding Dredge. The play mechanics involved battling hostile enemies, deciding on food rationing, making choices on when to stay on the road and when to make camp, and lastly, juggling diplomacy with the various races and species that your troupe would come across.
In the sequels, the size and scale of the game shifted to adapt to the ever-expanding narrative. There are multiple heroes, multiple caravans, intertwining stories and all new creatures and species to play as. It’s a fine continuation of the foundations built in the original.
I can’t quite put my finger on why The Banner Saga series doesn’t have a bigger following. It plays like Final Fantasy Tactics. It looks like The Lord of the Rings animated film. It’s one of the best fantasy games going today.
22. Red Dead Redemption II [Rockstar Games, 2018, Playstation 4]
Rockstar Games’ long anticipated sequel to Red Dead Redemption is an epic in the truest sense of the word. It has been eight years in the making. It is rumoured to have cost over a quarter of a billion dollars to make and has over three thousand names in the credits. The fruits of this labour is an enormously detailed open world environment the likes of which has never been seen before. Even ignoring the hundreds of activities, side quests and hours of exploration you could do in Red Dead, the main story will take most players somewhere north of fifty hours to complete. This thing is absolutely gargantuan.
I was very much in awe of Red Dead Redemption 2 right from the opening chapter. The production values are absolutely astounding. The wide variety of different environments – the snowy mountain peaks, the arid desert, the dense forests, the foggy bayou – all look extremely impressive running on the Playstation 4 Pro. Rockstar Studios are now well versed in creating convincing, cohesive open world environments and Red Dead is no exception.
Once the game loosens the reigns on the player and lets you begin exploring in Chapter 2, it really is a joy to just get out and immerse yourself in the world. I quickly realized that a lot of the game’s systems – your hygiene, camp morale, bonding with your horse – are generally window dressing features that encourage role-playing life in the Wild West. Nothing in the game will actually break if you decide to completely ignore these trimmings. Its all there to provide the player with a sense of place. When I made that discovery, I found even though they weren’t a necessity, I still enjoyed making time for Arthur to do these optional activities – fishing, gambling, singing around the camp fire – because I so enjoyed that feeling of immersion.
One of the high points of Red Dead Redemption 2 is that not only does Rockstar have the ambition to tell a meaningful tale with genuine emotional weight and grativas about it, we have arrived at a point with technology that these characters are able to communicate subtle, nuanced expressions to the player. Just look at Arthur’s eyes as it begins to dawn on him the type of man that Dutch Van Der Linde is. Or revisit a scene when John and Abigail Marsden exchange verbal spars about his choice to remain an outlaw. We can see they have a heated but loving relationship not because they say so, but in their body language.
When this game hits its highs, it is unmatched amongst its contemporaries. Arthur Morgan is one of video gaming’s most brilliantly conceived protagonists and the grand adventure that he goes on – which explores themes of greed, corruption, family and of course redemption – is told to the player with a level of cinematic flair and sophistication that is finally beginning to rival its contemporaries in film and television. Maybe this isn’t the video games industry’s Gone With The Wind but its not far off it.
21. Super Hot VR [Super Hot Team, 2017, Playstation 4 – Playstation VR]
When considering the potential for what VR can offer video game enthusiasts, ‘an interactive recreation of the Matrix shoot outs’ is a pretty good elevator pitch if you ask me. This is exactly what Superhot VR is. As far as I know, this is the first ever virtual reality first person shooter puzzle game.
The mechanics work like this: the bullets in the world only move when you do. Say a level starts where you’re in a stand off with three armed gangsters. You might fire your gun at the first guy, whilst dropping your shoulder in slow motion, watching the bullet whizz by right in front of your face. It you successfully dodged it, you’ll slowly turn to your side and fire two more rounds at the other guys, dropping them both in one smooth, super cool action sequence.
VR is an exciting new frontier that offers so much potential. Superhot is one of those games that delivers on a sliver of that.
20. Hollow Knight [Team Cherry, 2018, Nintendo Switch]
Hollow Knight was developed by a small Aussie studio but it represents probably the greatest value proposition for any game I played this decade. It was a measely $17 bucks when it launched on Nintendo Switch and for that you get an incredible Metroidvania style game with charming visuals and incredibly satisfying gameplay that lasted me around 40 hours.
I was left in awe of Hollow Knight the further and deeper I explored the game’s cavernous underground worlds. Just when I thought I had seen all there was to see, it just kept on going. Some of those boss fights were an absolute bitch too and felt amazing once you beat them.
19. Clash of Heroes: Might and Magic [Capybara Games, 2011, Xbox 360]
I don’t know how they did it but Capybara Games, the creators of the excellent Sword and Sworcery and Critter Crunch, created a variation on the match-3 puzzle game format that is so good and so addictive that it ended up as my favourite game of 2011.
Two opposing players are given a limited number of pieces which they must navigate on a tiled board. You are allowed a fixed number of moves each turn and are given a variety of playing pieces, some of which have special powers. The object of the game is to simply strike your opponent until their health reduces to zero. It sounds stupidly simple but it is so addictive and well designed that I could lose hours playing this game. I ended up playing this game’s 30 hour story mode over and over – on 360, on iOs, on PS3 and then again on Xbox One when the 360 version became backwards compatible. I am kind of obsessed with it.
18. Rez Infinite [Enhance Games, 2016, Playstation 4 – Playstation VR]
When it comes to recommending a killer app for Sony’s Playstation VR, there are two choices. For non-gamers, the Ocean Descent in Playstation Worlds VR is the perfect introduction for anyone new to virtual reality. For gaming enthusiasts, it’s hard to go passed Rez Infinite, which takes Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s fifteen year old Dreamcast classic and re-purposes it in virtual reality with glorious results.
When revisiting Rez, even without the virtual reality perspective, it’s remarkable how well the game has held up. It plays and feels as sharp as it ever has. There would only ever be a precious handful of video games released sixteen years ago that you could re-release into the market today but Rez is one of those games. It’s striking wireframe, minimalist design aesthetic has aged well. The pulse pounding synth soundtrack still gets the heart rate going. And the elegant, tightly designed game mechanic of chaining attacks together to unlock music beats still satisfies.
Revisiting Area 1 – 5 in Playstation VR is a revelation. Each level is instantly recognisable to fans of Rez, from the distinctive running man boss in Area 4 to the evolution-themed level design of Area 5. But the experience and sense of immersion is heightened by an order of magnitude when viewed through the lens of Playstation VR.
What I think it boils down to is this. When playing a game that has realistic visuals, it’s still very easy to see the rough edges of what is effectively a first generation VR product. In most games, your movement is generally very restricted by game designers for fear that the player will step out of the viewing field of the camera. You can’t really interact with anything except in the most rudimentary fashion via a Move controller. But with Rez it’s different. Because of the game’s abstract design, nothing feels out of place or isn’t exactly where it should be. Using a Dualshock controller feels natural because that’s how we’ve always played the game. It’s a game that offers all the benefits of virtual reality and none of the negatives.
17. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [Bethesda Studios, 2018, Nintendo Switch]
I was very, very, very late to the party with Skyrim. It’s one of the most popular fantasy games in a generation, is more or less available on every device known to man and somehow it took me until the Nintendo Switch version in 2018 to finally get around to playing it.
But the thing with the real classics is that they have timeless appeal and that was certainly the case with Skyrim. Although graphically it may no longer be the benchmark that it was in 2011, the incredible vast and expansive world that Bethesda have made is so enjoyable to lose yourself in. There is just an astonishing amount of content when you look at the variety of character classes, side quests and activities you can do.
As a side note: there’s no way I’d play the entire game this way but the Playstation VR version is an entertaining novelty. That opening sequence with the dragon attack is pretty amazing when it feels like you’re actually there in person.
16. Portal 2 [Valve, 2011, Xbox 360]
Easily one of the funniest games of the decade and a strong contender for game with the best ending. Portal 2 offers more of the mind melding puzzles from the original game and also more of the charm. The highlight of the original game was the mute protagonist’s relationship with the passive aggressive GlaDOS. This time around you keep the company of Wheatley, a dim-witted robot companion voiced by Stephen Merchant.
It’s a great tale, is full of challenging and enjoyable puzzles and as I mentioned before…that ending is pretty special.
15. Resident Evil 2 [Capcom, 2019, Playstation 4]
Resident Evil 2 is a remake of the hugely popular Playstation One title which expanded upon the original game by including two playable characters – Clair Redfield and Leon Kennedy – as they fight for survival in a police station overrun by the Umbrella Corporation’s zombies.
This new iteration of RE2 retains the basic premise of the game, the two playable leads and the same distinctive setting, and then modernizes it for a 2019 audience. Capcom manages to thread the needle and successfully make a game that should delight fans of the original game and also introduce a whole new generation of fans to one of the best titles in its back catalogue.
Not only is it successful, it absolutely blows any and all expectations out of the water. We can give the game some time and perspective to decide where it ranks in the pantheon of Resident Evil titles but I genuinely think this game should also be in the conversation for being one of the best remakes of any video game. It’s that good.
14. Yakuza Zero [Sega, 2017, Playstation 4]
I’ve followed the fortunes of Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi for years. Back when he made Super Monkey Ball for the Gamecube and wrote about his whisky habit in Edge magazine over a decade ago. I’ve played and enjoyed each chapter of his storied Yakuza franchise which first arrived on Western shores in 2006.
But every game series will go through its peaks and troughs and after Yakuza 5, a solid but hardly inspired effort, I thought Nagoshi-san had done all he could with the series.
How wrong I was. By going back to where it all started and creating a prequel set in the Eighties, Yakuza is back and as good as it ever has been.
Yakuza Zero tells the story of how the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, came to be. It is an absolutely riveting Japanese crime caper, filled with twists and turns and high melodrama. This is supplemented with an absolute goldmine of gameplay to enjoy. The basic combat is as crunchy and satisfying as its always been (slow motion fists to the face, using your environment as a weapon etc.). The side quests are some of the funniest and most outrageous I’ve ever played in a video game. There’s a real estate management mini game. A cabaret management mini game. Playable arcade Sega games from the Eighties. Collectable cards. A fight club tournament. Mahjong. Karaoke. Dancing. Dating. Whisky drinking. You will never run out of things to do in this game.
But much like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one of the best things about Yakuza Zero is the setting itself. No matter what you’re doing, its made all the more enjoyable because its set against the backdrop of the Eighties with its incredible hairstyles, bright neon lights and fantastic outfits.
13. Marvel’s Spider-man [Insomniac Games, 2018, Playstation 4]
At long last we have it. Another great Spider-man game. A spiritual successor to Treyarch’s Spider-man 2 on the Playstation 2.
I don’t know how long the development team put into making the swinging in Spider-manfeel right. Was it a hundred hours? Was it a thousand? Whatever it was, the investment has paid off handsomely. Insomniac have brought to life a brightly lit and faithfully reconstructed digital version of Manhattan which the player can explore at their leisure by swinging around from high rise to high rise. You want to swing over to the Empire State Building? No problem. Did you want to wall-crawl up the side of the World Trade Center building or see the view from the top of the Avengers headquarters? You absolutely can.
The graphics on the Playstation Pro look absolutely stunning and the orchestral score is exhilarating. The story told in Spider-man absolutely nails the essence of Stan Lee’s original series, as Peter Parker struggles to balance his time and attention between fighting crime, his relationship with Mary Jane and being a good nephew to Aunt May. Not only that, the game also includes a decent subplot involving Miles Morales, the heir apparent to the Spidey mantle. I really appreciated that the game avoided retelling his origin story and actually explored some new villains. Having said that, with the monumental success of this game, I do look forward to future iterations that could potentially feature the likes of the Green Goblin and Venom.
Marvel’s Spider-man is a sensational game. It is Insomniac Studio’s finest game to date and is just reward for a studio that has produced some decent games in recent years that haven’t received the recognition they deserve.
12. Tetris Effect [Monstars, 2018, Playstation 4 – Playstation VR]
Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a genuine video game auteur with an impressive resume starting from his early days at SEGA producing Sega Rally titles to his recent work producing interactive music titles Rez and Lumines.
With Tetris Effect, Mizuguchi has brought the Lumines formula to Tetris. In Journey mode, players run through a ‘playlist’ of stages, each bursting with colour and sound. Dropping tetriminos produce a musical note so its possible for the player to provide a beat to the soundtrack as they play. This interplay of music and gameplay will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Rez or Lumines. Each time the player clears thirty lines, the playlist moves onto a new stage. The soundtrack changes, the visuals shift and the journey continues.
Conceptually, it sounds pretty simple. What makes Tetris Effect such a sensational experience is the ability to play the game in virtual reality and immerse yourself in Mizuguchi’s light and colour show. The man has an incredible talent for composing music tracks that are emotionally engaging and meld with the visuals in a way that is genuinely affecting. Reading player feedback on social media, its not uncommon to find people who have been moved to tears by the Tetris Effect experience. It is perhaps one of the few examples I can think of of video game induced synesthesia.
11. Rock Band 3 [Harmonix, 2010, Xbox 360]
Rock Band 3 came out in 2010, about a year after the plastic musical instrument craze crashed and burned. But I love Rock Band 3. It’s the biggest, best and most complete version of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band experience. This might well be the game I put the most hours into this decade. I have something like 500 songs downloaded for it. I imported the soundtracks from Rock Band 1, Rock Band 2, Lego Rock Band and Green Day Rock Band. For several years, this game was an obsession.
It’s pretty clear this whole thing is now well and truly dead and won’t be coming back. After a few years had passed, they tried again with Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4 and they had absolutely miserable sales. That makes me terribly sad. My plan is to have a dedicated Xbox 360 hooked up in my garage so I can play this game still. I might need to start buying up more plastic instruments because who knows how long my existing ones will last.
10. Super Mario Odyssey [Nintendo, 2017, Nintendo Switch]
In any year other than 2017, Super Mario Odyssey is my Game of the Year. Which just speaks to what a ridiculously stacked software lineup Nintendo had in 2017 for the Switch.
Super Mario Odyssey is a sensational 3D platformer starring Nintendo’s signature character and is a spiritual successor to the classic Super Mario 64. In Odyssey, Mario navigates a variety of different worlds, collecting moons to power his airship with his new pal Cappy. Each level is a wide-open sandbox style environment where finding a moon or completing an objective can lead to the environment transforming and unveiling new areas to explore.
Depending on how you look at it, Super Mario Odyssey has only one power up for Mario, or fifty. The star of the game is Cappy, a sentient hat that Mario can toss onto enemies which allows him to possess their bodies and absorb their abilities. As you can imagine, the possibilities feel limitless. One could tell how confident Nintendo was in this new feature as they give you a goddamn tyrannosaurus to possess in one of the first levels of the game. It’s a statement of intent. If you think this is crazy, just wait till you see what’s next. What’s next includes Mario transforming into a caterpillar, a bird, a bolt of electricity and even a slab of meat (!).
The controls in Super Mario Odyssey are razor sharp. The levels are superbly designed, chock full of secret nooks and crannies to discover. The fan service is reverent and taps into the series’ rich history in a way that will enthrall anyone that has played a Mario game in the last thirty years.
It’s the best Mario game in a decade. A must play.
9. Animal Crossing: New Leaf [Nintendo, 2011, Nintendo 3DS]
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the most chill, crowd-pleasing video game of the decade. Like the other games in the series, it doesn’t sound like much when described on paper. You move into a new town. You get into crippling debt with a predatory raccoon real estate agent. Then you go about enjoying your life by hanging out with animal friends doing activities like picking fruit, fishing and furnishing your home.
That’s kind of it. But it’s interwoven with about ten gallons of Nintendo Magic™ and so it gets its hooks into you in a way where you blink and a couple of hours have gone by. The soundtrack, the idle pacing, the eclectic cast of characters. It comes together just perfect.
8. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission [SIE Japan Studio, 2018, Playstation 4 – Playstation VR]
Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a killer app for virtual reality gaming. It is, by some ridiculously large margin, the best game on the Playstation VR platform.
Venture Beat games journalist Jeremy Horowitz turned heads back in September when he announced a teaser that the Playstation VR was going to have its ‘Super Mario 64’ moment.
It seems like an absurd statement to make and an unfair burden to shoulder on a game. Super Mario 64 is one of the most critically acclaimed and influential games of all time. It established and popularized analogue stick controls and 3D movement as we know it today. It sold millions of copies. What hope did Astro Bot Rescue Mission have to compare?
Having played the game since it launched, I think I understand Horowitz more clearly now. I think he was being much more literal about what Astro Bot Rescue Mission accomplishes and how it compares to Super Mario 64. It is a 3D platforming game that has incredible level design and ridiculously charming character animation. It gets right so many of the little things. The way the Astro Bots interact with the player. The pixel perfect controls. The jaunty music. The visually arresting worlds that you explore.
All of it comes together beautifully and feels like a game that has that Miyamoto touch. The Nintendo magic. After a session with Astro Bot Rescue Mission (particularly stages like 2-2), it’ll feel like you’ve played a Nintendo platformer in virtual reality.
It’s that good.
Let’s be real. Astro Bot will be lucky to sell a million units. It will only be played by a fraction of the audience that it deserves to reach. Its clear that at the current price point and with the current technology available (wired headsets, limited movement) that virtual reality gaming won’t become a mainstream form of entertainment. Yet.
But when that time comes, I hope SIE Japan and Astro Bot are re-released so it can reach that wider audience. It really deserves it. It’s maybe the best designed game I’ve played in 2018.
7. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age [Square Enix, 2018, Playstation 4]
I love JRPGs. Well, I say I do, but if I’m honest, I mostly love Super Nintendo era JRPGs. Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana. The classics. There was something about the later Final Fantasy games that lost a lot of the charm and mystique of those titles. As it turns out, I was simply playing the wrong games. Despite being a three decade old series that is revered in Japan, it somehow took me until 2018 to play my first Dragon Quest game.
Dragon Quest XI is very obviously a game that traces its lineage back to the NES/SNES era of JRPGs. The game has a bright, vividly-realised open world but it paints its heroes, villains and creatures in the same broad brushstrokes that stir the imagination the way Earthbound or Breath of Fire does.
The game is an almost perfect distillation of what made those old games so great and is also sprinkled with modern quality of life improvements (skill trees, fast travel, checkpoints) that make it hugely enjoyable to play. It’s one of those titles where everything just clicks. The cast is awesome, the storyline is engrossing and the presentation (particularly on the Switch version with the orchestral score) is outstanding.
A modern day JRPG classic.
6. Mass Effect 2 [Bioware, 2010, Xbox 360]
We just want a gigantic sprawling space opera where we captain a spaceship of bad ass warriors, some of whom we occasionally romance. Is that too much to ask?
Mass Effect 2 is a magnificent game and we didn’t know it at the time, but it may well have been the peak for legendary software developer Bioware. Mass Effect 1 set the template for what this sci-fi RPG was about. Then Mass Effect 2 perfected the formula by wiping out the clunky driving sections, cleaning up the combat and then putting together an array of some of the most loveable, entertaining alien sidekicks in video game history.
The over-arching story of Commander Shepard leading a battle against thousand year old space aliens isn’t necessarily anything earth-shattering. Its everything around it that make the game shine. The cast of characters are memorable, with well developed stories of their own. Commander Shepard, particularly the female version, is one of the most enjoyable lead characters ever designed in a Western RPG. And the world-building is outstanding. You can have a great time simply conversing with your crew and exploring the Normandy and the Citadel.
Mass Effect 2 appears to be a case of lightning in a bottle. Everything came together just right for this game and Bioware have since struggled to recapture the magical formula. It really was something special.
5. Super Mario Galaxy 2 [Nintendo, 2010, Nintendo Wii]
The Super Mario Galaxy games need to be playable on a modern Nintendo console pronto. It’s kind of nuts to think it hasn’t happened already.
Super Mario Galaxy 1 blew our minds and seemingly came from out of nowhere in 2007 (seriously, the previews for this thing barely hinted at what was to come). Classic 3D Mario platforming applied to a series of tiny planets in space. Everything about that game was perfect – the controls, the soundtrack, the level design.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is to the original as Super Mario World is to Super Mario Bros 3. It doesn’t do anything too radical with the original template but it simply ups the ante with even more interesting concepts, challenges and welcome additions such as the Cloud Mario power up and Yoshi.
Galaxy 2 feels like Nintendo developers flexing and showing off their awesome creativity and mastery of platform games. A decade later and not only are they best in class, no other developer has come anywhere close to what these games achieved. They are a joy to play and offer hours of entertainment.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild [Nintendo, 2017, Nintendo Switch]
Breath of the Wild was an important video game for Nintendo. It’s not an exaggeration to say the fortunes of the company rested heavily on the success of its latest Zelda title. The Wii U had been an absolute disaster for Nintendo and their new system – the Switch – was launching with only a handful of games, of which Breath of the Wild was undoubtedly in the spotlight. It needed to deliver.
A couple of years later, its safe to say that the game did exactly what it needed to do. The Nintendo Switch is a huge success, selling nearly ten million units by the end of 2017. Breath of the Wild was a critical and commercial success, giving the long-standing series a much-needed shot in the arm.
I put over eighty hours into Breath of the Wild. The game entertained and it surprised me from its opening minutes to the very final battle with Calamity Ganon. I played a ton of amazing games in 2017 but none of them were finer that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was truly something special.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [CD Projekt, 2015, Playstation 4]
No game was bigger, badder or better than CD Projekt’s sprawling fantasy epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The final chapter in the story of Geralt of Rivia sees the silver haired witcher at his very best, navigating his way around the enourmous and densely packed city of Novigrad as well as the surround farmlands and islands.
The game is ridiculously generous with the sheer volume of content it contains. There are hundreds of missions, side quests and bounties for the player to explore and experience. Better still, the game’s storyline and dialogue is consistently of a high standard and a cut above the usual fantasy RPG fare. Even the most inconsequential sidequest or bounty taken off the beaten path still has interesting characters, an uncommon eye for detail and often a clever plot twist to keep players on their toes. No game has been as ambitious or successful in its world building than The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3 is one of the most impressive open world games in recent memory, rivalling the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V with its enourmous depth and quality. CD Projekt have been amassing a following of admirers ever since their first Witcher title but there’s no doubt that Witcher 3 is their coming out party marking them as one of the premiere game developers in the world today. It is the highest selling game in the series to date and the best work that they’ve ever done. One of the first real classics of this console generation.
2. The Last of Us [Naughty Dog, 2013, Playstation 3]
Naughty Dog proved themselves to be at the forefront of storytelling in the video games industry over the past decade. Their catalogue of titles – The Last of Us, Uncharted 3, Uncharted 4, Uncharted Lost Legacy – showed a level of cinematic craftsmanship and finesse that stood head and shoulders above their peers.
Of this suite of wonderful games, The Last of Us is their finest work. Set in a dystopian near future where society has collapsed after a viral plague wipes out most of humanity, players follow the fortunes of Joel and Ellie, a special teenage girl who appears to be immune to the deadly infection.
The Last of Us has outstanding production values that really bring the game to life. The voice acting by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are superb. Their chemistry as Joel and Ellie are the key to making this game what it is, especially when it aims for some emotional highs and lows that are pretty ambitious by video game standards. They are both wonderfully rounded, likeable characters.
The gameplay itself, a combination of stealth and survival horror, is also no slouch and is capable of producing some genuinely tense and gripping moments.
The final product is one my of favourite video games I’ve ever played. I think Last of Us is a genuine classic that will be revisited by players in years to come and paints an exciting picture for the future of video games as a story telling medium.
1. Stardew Valley [Eric Barone, 2016, Playstation 4]
A four year project built and designed by a single person, Eric Barone’s Stardew Valley is my favourite game of the past deacde. Inspired by the popular Harvest Moon series, Stardew Valley tells the tale of a glum jobsworth working a dead end office job who inherits a farm from their late grandfather. The player moves to Pelican Town where they spend their time growing crops, tending to livestock, fishing, exploring caves and socializing with the locals.
Conceptually there are plenty of games that offer a similar experience to Stardew Valley but I can’t think of any that are as well honed and compulsive to play. The games oozes charm and personality, with the 28 denizens of Pelican Town each having a distinct personality and story arc to follow.
The day-to-day gameplay loop in Stardew Valley is an utter delight and what makes this game a masterpiece. Waking up, feeding the chooks, harvesting bok choy and kale, brewing pale ales, making goats cheese and then fishing at the nearby lake. Maybe some cave spelunking in the afternoon and then catching up with the mayor’s daughter Penny in the evening on horseback. That’s a typical day in Stardew Valley. When you factor in the additional variety that the game introduces by changing weather patterns, different seasons, time-specific festivals and events, constantly developing storylines with the residents of Pelican Town…the game is absolutely packed with content to keep you coming back. Which – it bears repeating – is an extraordinary feat considering that this is the work of a single person.
Open-ended, lovingly crafted and constantly surprising, I didn’t play a better game than Stardew Valley in the 2010s.