Top 100 Games of All Time (25-1)

Here it is, my version of a top ten list…times ten. As can be expected, you’ll disagree with many of my selections, and be upset at some of my omissions, but my hope is that you’ll enjoy this journey down memory lane. I haven’t owned every system or played every game, but I’ve spent 27 years gaming and there’s a lot to love here.

How did I make this list? I tried to be smart about it, but you can be the judge as to whether or not I succeeded. At the end of the day these are my opinions, nothing more, nothing less. Back to the point. I made a spreadsheet with well over 100 of my favorite games of all time, and created ratings using the following categories. I weighted some categories more heavily than others, as described below, due to the level of importance I assign to each variable. Again, this is just my best attempt at trying to be unbiased about assigning value, and you’ll certainly disagree with some (or all) of my decisions, but it is what it is. I rated each game on a scale of 1-10 for each of the following categories, multiplying the total for certain characteristics based on my perceived importance (for example, I view “fun factor” to be by far the most important variable). Here’s my formula:

Fun(*4) + Replayability(*2) + Story + Control + Importance for that period + Graphics/Sound for that period = X/100

I decided against assigning 0.5 values, so this means that in a list of well over 100 games, sometimes games ended up with the same total. In those situations, I used my best judgment.

Without further ado, enjoy!

Related entries:
Top 100 Games of All Time (100-76)
Top 100 Games of All Time (75-51)
Top 100 Games of All Time (50-26)
Top 100 Games of All Time (Full list)

Top 100 Games of All Time (25-1)

25: Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Without a doubt, one of the most fun local multiplayer experiences out there, even to this day. At first, it didn’t seem like such a big improvement over Super Mario Kart, but dozens of hours later I realized it was something special. The one glaring problem with the best Mario Kart out there (MK 8) is its battle mode, and MK 64 simply nailed it. Yes, there were only four tracks, but at least three of them were so well designed that they proved you don’t need dozens of maps to have tons of fun with a game. It introduced the skidding speed boost that became a trademark for the series, providing a nuanced experience over its predecessor, and I can’t begin to say how many times it ended up being the fallback game to play with my friends.

24: Megaman X4 (PS1)

I wasn’t a playstation kid, so my X series experience ended with X3 when I was growing up. Fast forward to today, and I had heard nothing but good things about X4. I decided to give it a shot and played through the campaign as Zero. At first, I really didn’t care for it. Something felt off (besides the fact I wasn’t using a buster!), and I was struggling progressing in the beginning despite being a seasoned Mega Man veteran. I put it down for a few months and picked it back up. After I obtained the jump/spin attack, everything just fell into place and the game became amazing. It’s hard to believe how disappointed I would have been in the game if I hadn’t gone back to it and found that upgrade, but much like the metal blade from Mega Man 2, it really made things click (ok, it wasn’t that useful, but it still make a big difference). I found myself flying through the campaign and having a blast all the way. It was still challenging, but that jump upgrade really leveled the playing field, and I enjoyed this version of Zero much more than any of the Zero series games that followed on handheld devices.

23: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

This was a surprise hit. I’m usually not a huge fan of this lore – I liked the movies enough, but I was bored to death by the first book and didn’t even finish it (though The Hobbit was great) – but what little story is present in this game really sucked me in and hooked me. It’s a conventional enough story of revenge, but the novelty of the arrangement makes all the difference. You can alter between characters when performing certain types of actions, and the game introduces the “nemesis” system where you actually make real enemies that hold grudges against you. And you form grudges against them.

I remember an Ogre named Pumpkin Spice Head or something like that and he would just repeatedly slaughter me. I’d keep trying to go after him as I got stronger, but time and time again I would get defeated. But there came a point in the game where I was sufficiently powered up that I was able to demolish that bastard, and the sweet stench of decapitation never smelled so good as it did that day.

In addition to a interesting story and novel enemy system, Shadow of Mordor completely nailed the combat, essentially making a game with Rockstar’s Batman combat but with swords. Which is awesome.

This was my GOTY in 2014.

22: Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360)

Wait, RE5? But, but why? While not the RE experience that many fans were hoping for, RE5 completed the transition from survival horror to action for the series, and it was a magnificent game in its own right. I bought an Xbox 360 to play this game, and in addition to the main campaign, I spent dozens of hours racking up scores in Mercenaries mode.

Once you get past that it’s not the type of game you might have wanted, you’ll see that it’s a brilliant package of co-op third person shooting at its finest. Everything about this game screamed big-time: big budget, big characters, big muscles, big guns, big swarms of enemies, and the list could go on. The systems for switching weapons and interacting were expertly crafted and worked just as intended, and I honestly don’t have any complaints about the game at all.

Yes, it’s not the first Resident Evil. Get over it, and if you like action games then you’ll enjoy this game.

21: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U)

Twilight Princess is yet another game that surprised me, as I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Many people claim its one of their least favorite Zeldas, but I really don’t understand why. Then again, I listed Ocarina of Time at #79 on this list, so I’ve probably lost all Zelda cred at this point anyway.

Moving on, I think one of the reasons I like TP so much is because of Midna. She’s the first companion character in a Zelda game that felt authentic, that I really didn’t find annoying. Yes, she helps out a fair amount in the early going, but she really does shut up after that and just interact with you for key sequences or when you request her feedback. In fact, she might just be my favorite Zelda side character ever, and that says a lot.

Of course, it’s also neat to play as Wolf Link, though I’m not sure why the game decided to have you play as Wolf so often in the beginning and then so infrequently in the second half of the game. Also, Wolf would have benefitted from a larger move set, as combat wasn’t especially robust. Still, I appreciated the novelty of the experience.

It’s a little long-winded, but I really appreciate all that TP tried to be (and for the most part succeeded), so it earned a high spot on this list.

20: Danganronpa (Vita)

As you can probably tell at this point, I’m keen to talk about which games persuaded me to buy a system, and for the Vita, it was Danganronpa. Actually, I’m really happy that it did convince me to buy the Vita, because it’s an amazing device. But back to the game, Danganronpa is different. You’re shacked up in a high school and you have to kill your classmates without getting caught to escape. Oh, and if you succeed, then everyone else dies. Happy fun day!

No, the dialogue isn’t always great, but the writing of the story is superb. For both Danganronpa games, once I started them, I played literally nothing else until I finished them. Which is a bit of a shame as I’d have liked to drag them out more to enjoy them, but it’s a testament to the quality of the writing and the gameplay that I wanted to continue.

Once a murder has been committed, you’re assembled in a courtroom and you need to judge who committed the crime, who tells the truth and who lies. It’s not a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination, but you do have to think critically at times. Gameplay is simple but, like the next game on this list, it doesn’t matter. It’s the enjoyment of the experience, and Danganronpa scores incredibly high on that front.

And, you have Monokuma…a black and white talking psychopathic bear who creates opportunistic scenarios for children to commit murder so that he can punish them in ironic ways. Winner!

19: Steins;Gate (Vita)

Visual novels might seem pointless to play as a “game” to some, but not me, and Steins;Gate is a great example of why. With tons of different endings based on the choices you make, you do have influence, and the way the game introduces you to its main cast makes you really care about how it all turns out. The main protagonist, Rintaro, is hilarious for starters, and the supporting crew all have their quirks that make them unique individuals that I continually wanted to learn more about. Plus, there’s a lot of advanced concepts about time travel at the center of the plot, and though you have to suspend your disbelief for some of it, none of that affects the overall enjoyment of the experience.

I think what really makes this stand out is the quality of writing paired with fantastic Japanese voice acting. I’ve seen some clips from dubbed versions of the anime, and it’s not the same at all. The Japanese performances are stellar, and in conjunction with the writing caused me to really care about the characters and the world, and that’s saying a lot. It’s also rewarding to have the central topic be an intelligent one that challenges your beliefs in the universe instead of just another bland stereotypical game story. I look forward to playing this again when I have the time.

18: Until Dawn (PS4)

Until-Dawn-cover
It was a tough call, but I put Until Dawn on the top of my list of favorite games of 2015. As you’ll see with several of the entries on this top 100 list, my opinions have changed in the five months since I made that original list, and in conjunction with my scoring formula listed at the top of this page, that resulted in this coming in slightly further behind than before. Still, it’s a fantastic game.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a part of a cheesy teen cabin-in-the-woods style horror flick, then this one’s for you. Supermassive Games has created a true achievement in video games, managing to bring a unique experience in living out a storyline with choices that truly matter and affect the outcomes of who lives and who dies.

Not only that, but everything is incredibly polished, the voice acting is phenomenal, and the visuals are breathtakingly accurate. The frame rate stutters at points and really remains the only low point in the game, but it’s easily overcome with all the other positives.

The story takes place overnight, and if you can manage, I highly recommend playing this over the course of a night as it’s very manageable to finish it in that time period. Playing with friends really adds to the experience as you can all enjoy the narrative unfold like an extended movie. For more thoughts, see my full review.

17: Zelda 2: Adventures of Link (NES)

Yes, this is the point where you decide this list is rubbish and move on to the next top ten list. But if you’re curious as to why I would hold this game in such high regard, stick around for a minute and find out. Slight spoilers for this game ahead.

I recently replayed through this game for one reason: to beat shadow link. When I had beaten the game in the past, I could never beat shadow link. It drove me crazy. Old NES games are often brutally unforgiving with save locations, and going through that entire final dungeon to continually face him just about made me rip my hair out. The labyrinth of a final dungeon is frustrating enough on its own, but then you’re forced to beat multiple final bosses, the first of which requires you use half of your magic. And then, you face yourself. Your dark self. And he’s freaking terrifying.

After endless bouts of frustration and slamming the NES controller down (god bless whoever invented those sturdy bricks), I gave up. That is, until I found the power. Nintendo Power, of course. A cheat that we all likely know if you’ve beaten the game is that you can duck in a corner and just keep stabbing your sword and beat him that way. It’s lame, but it gets the job done, and that allowed me to finally conquer a game that had frustrated me for what seemed like forever.

Fast forward 15 years, and my conscience is burning a hole in my brain. I had to go back. I had to beat dark link legitimately. There was no other option.

Having sold my NES and all my games when I moved (stupid, stupid), I bought the game on 3ds and played through the whole thing one more time. Yes, I cheated this time too – I used the virtual console save option more than I should, and you better believe that I did so when facing dark link. It took about twenty battles, but I finally took him down. I don’t care that I cheated to restart right before him; it only mattered that I beat him, fair and square. No ducking and stabbing bs, this was mono y mono, and to the victor go the spoils. And that victor was me.

This game just rocked. A huge departure from the original Zelda, you were doing all sorts of creative crazy shit in this one. Going to town, RPG’ing it up all over the place, action sequences, fun dungeons, neat enemies, hard challenges – this game had it all. And for some reason Ganon would laugh it up when you lost, but they totally forgot to put him in the game. Which is awesome. I would fire it up again in a second if there weren’t so many other good games on this list.

16: Transformers: Devastation (PS4)

Transformers-cover
A close second for my GOTY in 2015, Devastation was, finally, the Transformers game that I always wanted. Featuring not only the original voice of Optimus like so many other games, it has many of the original voice actors from the G1 series contributing their special blend of charisma to the experience. The Autobots and Decepticons are expertly modeled after the G1 series as well, but include a modern flourish of cell shading that provides just the right amount of polish to their frames.

With just the above, I’d be stoked to play this Devastation, but upon finding out that Bayonetta developer Platinum Games had control over the game, I was flabbergasted. So many of my favorite things in one place, my childhood memories of watching G1 on a 13-inch black and white analog TV, the best action game developer out there, my ideal art style reminiscent of Wind Waker – it’s hard to beat the combination that this game offers.

The campaign is short, but you’re encouraged to replay it all using one of five different Autobots. And replay it I will, and you should too. Read my full review.

15: Bioshock (Xbox 360)

I never thought I’d like this game. In fact, a friend of mine had me play it for five minutes at one point, and I hated it. Absolutely hated it! Plunging needles into my wrists? No thanks!

It was only because of some ridiculous sale where I could get the game digitally for $5 that I picked it up, pretty much only on principle. I figured it was one of those games that everyone seems to really like, and I try to give such games a chance before dismissing them. I anticipated picking up the controller and setting it down after 20 minutes never to return. Boy was I wrong.

Starting the game from the beginning, I was completely hooked. This was a truly unique world and game! The story gripped me, as did the atmosphere. It was just scary and creepy enough not to turn off, and I remember deciding that I had to play the game at night with the lights off and headphones on. It was life-changing. I never knew that video games could create quite an experience like that inside my mind, and this one threw me for a trip. I was actively sneaking around the corner, listening for any faint sounds…and then I’d hear some insane laughing and arguing and my heart would skip a beat.

I know there are lots of other games that mess with your mind, many of which I have yet to play (I missed Eternal Darkness, Amnesia seems neat but I haven’t played it yet, stuff like that), but I think this one will hold the test of time as a must-play for any gamer.

14: Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

To be fair, this list could probably include a bunch of other Mario Karts. The first one has a certain place in my heart, but going back to that today is painful. Mario Kart 64 was unforgettable and my most played Mario Kart – that battle mode was just awesome. I can’t tell you how many shouting matches erupted on the couch…but fun shouting matches.

But really, this latest version is just outstanding. There’s so many good things about it that I wouldn’t even know where to start, so I’ll begin with its one failure: Battle Mode. Nobody likes racing around entire tracks; forums are overflowing with people begging for a return to the older arena formats. Hopefully Nintendo will add some variations in the future, and make this a truly perfect Mariokart game.

Which is a distinct possibility, seeing as how Nintendo has stepped up and delivered an excellent piece of DLC that involved eight new tracks in November 2014, and eight new tracks six months later. Not to mention additional characters and cars, this is DLC done right.

Battle mode aside, I found a big smile breaking out on my face the first time I booted up the home screen. The opening tune is catchy, and the characters and environments are really pretty, but how does it play? I jumped in, and boy does it play well. The controls are just impeccable, and I was instantly hooked.

The game consistently improves throughout the entire experience. Cup after cup, track after track, it just keeps getting better. That awesome music on the intro screen? Every single song in the game is amazing. The beautiful presentation? Every single track seems prettier than the last. Characters? Tons of choices, though I feel a bit burned that they used all the koopalings, which to my knowledge no one really cares about. The koopalings and the battle mode – seriously, those are the only faults in this game.

Online works pretty well, and for someone who rarely plays online, it’s a ton of fun to race people from around the globe. As I mentioned earlier, they’ve also release just jam-packed DLC that couldn’t be more worth the $12 or whatever they charged – it’s like getting another 50% of the game! I can safely say that I’ll be playing this for years to come, and you should be too.

13: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

MarioGalaxy2
The first game that I’ve ever given a perfect 10/10, Mario Galaxy 2 is the complete package. From start to finish, I never found myself getting upset at the game, or bored, or frustrated with controls; it’s a near perfect experience.

I dislike motion controls so much that I pretty much skipped the entire Wii generation. But Mario Galaxy uses them in a way that doesn’t annoy me, and in fact contributes to the enjoyment of the experience. Much like the spiritual predecessor to the Galaxy games Mario 64, the controls feel like they’re built for this game and fit like a glove. It’s a joy to play.

Add in the expansive list of different power-ups and the continually impressive level design, and you begin to see the genius behind the game. It also features the most inventive boss fights in any Mario game that I’ve played, creating a sense of anticipation upon reaching the end of a stage, instead of one of boredom. I’d have a lot more to say about this, but if you want to read more you may as well read the full review.

12: Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube)

For some reason, I might have played more RE4 than any other title on this list. OK, well, the most after Goldeneye. It’s one of very, very few games that I’ve actually gone through and completed the entire main campaign a second and third time. That might not sound like much to many of you, but I just don’t replay entire game stories (at least when they take more than a few hours), as I always have a backlog of games I’ve never experienced that I want to try.

On top of that, I wasn’t consumed by the story. And I never really felt scared, though there were some creepy parts that I enjoyed. The controls are solid, but it still had the annoying need to stop in order to shoot that plagued every single RE game until the latest mistakes, I mean games, in the series. OK, to be fair, RE5 was fun for what it was, but it definitely wasn’t traditional RE. RE6 was a mess and didn’t know who it was trying to appeal to. Revelations was ok but I had a lot of issues with it. RE ORC? Let’s not talk about that one.

But, that’s the power of this game. It didn’t excel in any one area, but it just all came together to create an unforgettable experience. Yes, it also deviated from the traditional RE formula, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it still keeps some of the best elements of the series intact. Solid atmosphere and a decent story combine to form a game that will have you coming back again and again – it’s just so much fun to play! Very little quicktime button mashing and solid gameplay mechanics combine to make me feel like I’m in control of whether I succeed or fail. Truly, this is an game I recommend to any gamer.

11: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD (Wii U)

toon link
I love how expressive Link is in this game. At one point he’s chasing a cat and hides behind a wall, and his upcoming expression made me stop playing I was laughing so hard. It’s burned into my brain! I’ve wanted Zelda game to return to this look for a long time, which is one reason I’m so excited for the next Zelda game on Wii U.

Looks aside, the game felt like a true adventure. You’re sailing the high seas on quests, and you have tons of side missions to undertake if you so choose. It really felt like a gigantic world, much more so than any other Zelda game, and I think that’s a mighty impressive accomplishment.

Combat was beautifully fluid, and dungeons had just the right amount of twists and turns to invigorate the sense without pushing the frustration meter too far (water temples, I’m looking at you). It did come across as too easy at times with regard to how much damage you could take, but that’s a small complaint on an otherwise almost perfect Zelda game.

10: Super Metroid (SNES)

I’ve actually just replayed this one for the first time in almost 20 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I smiled to myself and thought “see, this is how games should be made!”

Seriously, I don’t think another game on this list or on this planet so skillfully and plentifully introduces cool new gameplay elements to the player. Huh, I just got an upgrade called a morph ball…what do I do with that? Oh wait, I can shoot that brick – ahh, I have to morph to escape? Brilliant! What’s that you say, a speed booster? Well, what what do I need that for? Oh shit, the lava’s rising, I better ru…ahh, I see! It makes so much sense!

In an era of handholding and inane tutorials, this game shines through like a beacon of hope, proof positive that games can instruct without treating you like a child. You could make the argument that games today have so many more buttons and so many more actions that tutorials are warranted, but really it just comes down to laziness (or release deadlines, whatever you want to call it). There’s no reason that a modern game can’t use this same system to introduce most if not all gameplay mechanics.

From the get go, deep and foreboding tones introduce you to the erie space atmosphere, transmitting you to the intergalactic world of bounty hunter Samus Aran. Even her name is badass. We get some back story and boom, we’re just throw in. I’ve already established how well the game teaches you, but it’s worth mentioning just how good the ambiance is in this universe. I never imagined a SNES cart could create such a fantastical world. No, I’m not going to be fooled into thinking I am that bounty hunter, but I sure as heck lost track of time while playing, which is the mark of a quality game. Every time I’d get even the tiniest bit bored or frustrated, I’d run into a new ability or something that kept me playing for “oh, just another 10 minutes…”

9: Persona 4 Golden (Vita)

I’m as surprised as all of my friends were that I liked this game, but here we are. Persona 4 puts you back in high school, but in a really good way. I personally hated my high school experience, and this gave me an opportunity to revisit those times in an environment where you form strong bonds and embark on meaningful journeys together, complete with special Persona powers and perfectly awkward dialogue.

I’m still not entirely sure why I invested 75 hours in this game, but the fact that I did is a true testament to its successes. Not only that, but it motivated me to play Persona 3, Persona Q, and Persona 4 Dancing All Night, all of which are excellent games in their own way.

Persona 4 Golden is gorgeous on the Vita. Between building your social links with various characters in the game and a robust expertly executed RPG battle system that managed to feel fair and balanced throughout the entire game, there’s a lot to love here.

8: Velocity 2X (Vita)

Velocity 2X
Music is really important to me, and not enough games put time into developing strong qualities in this area. Not the case with Velocity 2X, as the tunes are simply monster tracks that perfectly complement the action.

Velocity 2X doesn’t seem like an especially complicated game, but it’s proof positive that you don’t need to have an immense world to create an immensely pleasurable experience. You’re constantly switching back and forth between speedy ship combat and exploration and 2D run and gun environments, and you’re tasked with doing it all as quickly as possible to reap rewards and progress to later stages. The format reminded me of The Guardian Legend from the NES, except sped up with amazing electronic music. Once you get the hang of using the transportation system of speed bursts, you really, truly feel like a badass.

To top it all off, the story is actually light hearted and funny, something that I didn’t expect and that really, the game didn’t even need. It’s a nice feather in a cap for Velocity 2X. I can’t recommend this game highly enough. Read my full review.

7: The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)

I literally bought into the Playstation ecosystem to play this game, and I did not leave disappointed. I had avoided PS for years because I just didn’t gravitate toward the games and couldn’t stand the controller – my 360 had just about everything non-nintendo that I needed. But I’m a sucker for a good story, and with all the neat advancements that came with the PS4, I made the plunge knowing that I could play the newest version of this classic.

As a side note, I know that many people get annoyed about the gravitation toward remakes of late, especially when the original game was released recently. Last of Us is about as recent as you can get for an HD remake, but I’m glad they did it. I think it was really smart; there’s obviously a huge buzz around the game on the PS3, and what better way to entice people to a new system that has a shortage of good games at launch than to bring back a Game of the Year in HD? It secured my decision to buy the system.

Back to the game itself, this one is a monster. The story had been heralded as the best in the biz, so I knew what to expect, but wow this one delivered. Joel and Ellie just felt so real; some of my favorite parts of the game were when you could have optional side conversations, and when Ellie did things like tell a joke out of her book.

The gameplay’s great but not without it’s flaws. Occasionally I felt like I was just going from shootout to shootout, but it never lasted too long and some of that great story would butt in to bring me back into the experience. This isn’t a review for the game so I won’t go into more detail, but just a fantastic experience – a must-play game.

6: Bayonetta (Xbox 360)

I was conflicted if I should list this or Devastation higher. After all, Transformers is, well, Transformers! But at the end of the day, I decided to put Bayonetta higher on the list because it was a pioneer in its field.

Without a doubt, Bayonetta’s combat is second to none. It’s the most silky smooth, intense, and fluid action that I’ve ever experienced. Devastation did a great job with combat, but it’s still no Bayonetta. Easy to pick up but extremely challenging to master, it’s a deep system that is incredibly rewarding for every style of player, and that’s a tough feat to accomplish. It’s simply astonishing how beautiful the game runs with such fast action all over the screen.

Platinum also created new IP with Bayonetta and really gave her style all her own, style which, while not exactly the way I would describe my ideal heroine, made her all her own. She’s a strong female lead that kicks ass and takes names, and I’m really happy they gave her a sequel. It’s unfortunate that the game was exclusive to Wii U as many people didn’t get to experience it, but thankfully this original is available in all its glory for all to play.

5: Goldeneye (N64)

So. Many. Hours. I can’t tell you how many nights were spent huddled around my crappy 29” Samsung playing four-player matchers on this N64 gem. It got to the point where my friends and I just knew the levels so well that we had to set up rules (no guarding body armor!) and spend most of our time just trying to trick each other.

The crazy thing is that I despise first person shooters. I really don’t like them! For one, I tend to suck at them – I do much better with the over the shoulder perspective. But another problem I have with modern FPS is that they often feel too real…in COD, it feels like I’m shooting another human. I don’t want to shoot real humans! Give me a game about zombies, ok, well, I find it pretty hard to argue for their right to exist, so I’ll shoot them and have a damn fine time doing it. I’m not a prude. But those overly realistic FPS games where you’re running real missions that have you shooting and killing in a real-world setting? No thanks.

But Goldeneye somehow overcame these obstacles. It’s blocky enough to not seem realistic at all, but it’s based on a movie which sorta makes it like real life but not in a consequential way. It’s hard to describe. I know video games are fake just like movies are fake, but being distant from the action in a movie is different from actively doing things like killing in video games. So somehow this all worked out and it didn’t bother me. It was just pure fun.

People complain about the control in this game now that everything has dual analog sticks, but for me it’s perfect. I love using those C buttons to strafe around corners! The fluid movement (frame rate aside), the action so real but still fake enough to not make me uncomfortable, the famous characters, the fan service, the neat weapons, intelligent mission design, difficulty options, unique cheats, and the fact that you’re playing a part in a movie, and a secret agent – ok, the best secret agent ever – just makes this game a phenomenal part of my gaming history.

4: Megaman X (SNES)

Disclaimer: Megaman is my favorite character of all time. Link, you’re second – sorry about that. Samus, get a new game out on Wii U and we’ll talk.

Anyway, back to the game. This_game_is_amazing. After spending the better part of a decade growing up with Megaman, playing all his games and anxiously awaiting the next one (if you can’t relate to this, you probably weren’t playing games in the late 80s/early 90s), to see him take this evolutionary leap was one of the most exciting developments of my childhood. Megaman was always a badass…but now he’s a mega-badass!

Seriously, Megaman X had everything you could want from this franchise and then some. You start off kicking ass in a tutorial disguised as a real level. How cool is that? No boring “press X to extend your hit range” explanations, just pure unadulterated fun. Super Metroid did this better than any other game I’ve played, but this game does a darn good job of it as well, although not nearly in as much detail as Super Metroid.

In this game, you get to upgrade your armor. Not just to get another Rush accessory, no, this was the real deal. And you found these upgrades in hidden locations. And when you found them, you stepped into this neat futuristic pod and got to see a holographic Dr. Light. And then there was this awesome “ching!” sound, and you were more badass than before. So good!

As always with Megaman games, level and boss design is phenomenal, and the sound fits the levels well. It’s not quite as catchy as the Megaman 2/3 tunes, but really, what is? I honestly have no complaints about this game whatsoever. I’d say I wish it was longer, but I really don’t. One of the reasons I love Megaman games is because they’re difficult but not unfair, and they are linear but not boring. I know what I’m getting, and I expect to finish the game in a timely manner. I’m especially appreciative of this type of game now that I’m older and have real-world responsibilities – I (usually) don’t have time for 50-hour campaigns anymore! Frankly even 20 is a pretty big stretch for me. So I appreciate these types of games.

Hadouken!!!

3: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Full and embarrassing disclosure: I haven’t played this game in over 10 years. Haven’t even touched it! I actually bought it again recently on Wii U and am going to pick it up soon, but it created such a strong impression on me during the 90s that I am still putting it on this list. I had considered replacing it with A Link Between Worlds, which is also a stellar game, but there’s a few things that this game just got right where I feel ALBW stumbled a bit, so I’m sticking with the classic.

Again, unbelievable game design. Writing up this top ten list, I guess that’s my most valued component of a game, because pretty much all of my entries have really good design. This one starts you off waking up in your bed with no sword, only to hear that your Uncle has left to do something important. Well, I want to do something important! So you go looking for him. You eventually find him in a dungeon, where you’re immediately thrust into the action. Move over, stupid boring tutorials!

I’ve forgotten many of the specifics, but who could forget that first time that they found out about a dark world. I remember the first time I ventured into that realm and found new, powerful enemies to face – I was so excited, it was like a whole different game! Not to stop there, the game then expertly forces you to use your mirror to enter/exit the world at special locations. And the music! The Dark World theme is among my favorites of all time.

Not be outdone, the rest of the music in the game is phenomenal as well. Easily one of my favorite soundtracks, I would absolutely love to hear these tunes remastered, if they ever decided to remake the game. I got some of that in ALBW (how cool was it to play tunes over and over in the milk shop?), but it wasn’t quite the same.

Speaking of ALBW, I should explain why I didn’t select that game instead, since I have played it so recently. Simply put, I think that is an amazing game as well, but it had a few things which I subjectively felt took away from the experience. First and foremost, the whole renting thing just didn’t do it for me. Yes, it added more meaning to your death, but I think I only died once in the entire game – it’s not a hard game at all. In fact, that’s another complaint about ALBW – it was a little too easy for my liking. I want bosses to kill me (in a fair way of course)! But back to the items, I loved loved loved finding cool new items in each dungeon in ALTTP, but that aspect was absent in ALBW. It was what I most looked forward to while finishing dungeons – not knowing what power you’ll get or how that will help you with the boss makes it exciting when you finally find that big chest that has a new item. ALTTP uses this formula masterfully, and I personally favor that approach for this franchise.

If I go into more detail this will start being a review instead of a list, so I’ll stop there. Must_play_game.

2: Mario 64 (N64)

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This was a tough one for me. Mario is not my favorite character. In fact I’ve never especially liked the guy. I mean, I’ve dealt with it because Mario games are usually pretty amazing (except in certain circumstances – see my article on the new Mario games), but I never liked him. And as a big story/atmosphere buff, Mario games tend to be lacking in areas that are otherwise really important to me. I mean, I love Mega man games, but that’s partially because I love the character, and the simple linear approach is what I want from that series. Mario? Not so much.

But, here it is, residing at #2 on my list. After 25+ years of gaming, how did Mario 64 overcome the odds? Because this_game_blew_my_mind.

I remember very clearly going to Toys R Us just to play the demo kiosk. Like any good little Nintendo tyke, I had a subscription to Nintendo Power and had been following the dolphin, or Ultra, or whatever name they were going to give to the next gen system. I saw the N64 Disk Drive and thinking about the capabilities prepared me for what promised to be a new era of gaming. And that crazy controller? I had to try this.

And it completely and utterly blew my mind. I literally remember my mouth hanging open as a kid – I had never seen anything like this! I just ran in circles with Mario until the next kid in line poked me to see if I was still alive. It was so liberating to have a full range of motion that I just couldn’t get enough of it. When I finished my session I went straight over to the counter with my pre-order ticket to ensure I had it day one. I was 13 years old in 1996, which means it was the first year I had a summer job caddying for a highbrow snobby country club, dealing with rich people who couldn’t be bothered to give a $5 tip to someone who was just their little servant for 5 hours on the golf course. I really hated that job, but it gave me expendable income for the first time in my life. And you better believe that went straight to the N64, along with one game: Mario 64.

It’s weird now to think that I just started with the one game. Nowadays there are so many options that it’s easy to be overwhelmed, but back then, I didn’t have any money and games cost basically the same as they do now, so I couldn’t afford them. I bought Wave Race when it came out, but otherwise it was just me and Mario for a few months.

I don’t even really know where to begin with how well this game just works, but suffice to say it’s simply amazing. It has a bit of a story (not much), but really it’s just, like RE4, how everything comes together as a whole that makes this game so special. I personally loved the innovative N64 controller, and this game plays like the controller was built for it (I think I’ve read that to actually be the case). The use of the analog stick to run in circles or around corners, and the ability to adjust camera views with the C buttons, was all just so unique and fresh that it’s burned a favorable impression on my brain for life. This game just clicked for me.

I’m sure that nostalgia played a large role in this pick. After all, the N64 was the first console I bought with my own money, and for that reason it will always have a special place in my heart. Heck, I even recently re-bought a Japanese N64 and started acquiring my favorite old games…and I’m not the collecting type. But Mario 64 has stood the test of time and plays just as great today as it did back then.

1: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)

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Until just a few months ago, Mario 64 had reigned supreme at the top of my list of favorite games for almost 20 years. And then The Witcher 3 happened.

The quality of this game didn’t really hit me at first. Being a newcomer to the series, I was put off by what seemed like complicated systems galore, tons of reading, and really jerky combat. In fact, I had bought it when it first came out, and the combat was so bad that it was literally unplayable. I remember not being after to beat the first griffin because my character just wouldn’t respond when I pressed buttons, and I gave up and sold it. Several patches later, I decided to give it another shot, and wow was that a lesson: Don’t buy games like this on Day 1 and expect the same polished experience you’ll get several patches later. It literally played like an entirely different game.

An entirely different, absolutely massive, game. CD Projekt Red has created a magnificent experience, with so many things to do that I think you’d be set on games for years if you’re a casual player and want to do everything. I’ve spent near 100 hours and I still have tons and tons of things to do, and the quality is still extremely high. To say nothing of the upcoming expansions, the scope of the game is impressive.

What really stands out to me is the quality of the story and the dialogues. I’m used to big RPGs like this being rife with boring, nonsensical side quests, and that’s always turned me off from them. But the quests in this game in conjunction with stellar writing and voice acting really make you feel like you’re a part of the Witcher universe. Yes, there are a few fetch quests here and there, but you rarely are forced to do them. The main quests tell interesting stories and introduce you to surprising scenarios and characters that you’ll learn to love or learn to hate, and I never, ever felt bored.

It’s hard to say enough good things about The Witcher 3. It’s truly something special and unique, and CD Projekt Red deserves every bit of praise they receive for this creation. On top of a stellar game, they give everyone who buys the game the equivalent of a mini special edition, including stickers, maps, and even a soundtrack CD.

You simply must give this behemoth of a game your time and attention. Push through the early going, and you won’t be disappointed. Read my full review to learn more.

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