Saturday, October 13, 2018

My Top 10 Video Games Of All-Time

In case you've never noticed, I really like to rank things, especially video games. However, I've never sat down and really taken inventory of what my top 10 games of all-time would be. I had a rough idea of what I would consider my top 5, but I wanted to take an honest and critical eye to some of these games and truly nail down the 10 games that I think are the best I've ever played.

I wanted to make sure that nostalgia didn't play into this list too much, and after compiling my final list, I was delighted to see that I have games ranging from as early as 1991 to as recent as 2016, so I feel like I've got a solid mishmash of both genres and eras of gaming.

What should I do if I don't see my favorite game on your list?
Shut up about it. Seriously, though, I had periods of time in my life (specifically the PSone/N64 era) where I didn't play many video games. I've also never been a huge JRPG fan, though that is changing as time goes on. With that said, you won't see classic, beloved titles like Final Fantasy VII or The Legend of Zelda series making the cut. I've done my best to find time to play games that I missed out on as I've gotten older, and while I've enjoyed them a great deal, not having played them in their heyday is a detriment to how I feel about them today.

Without further ado, let's get to my Top 10 Video Games of All-Time!

10. Stardew Valley
When I was whittling down my list, I didn't expect Stardew Valley to even be in consideration. Having never played a "life-simulator," I bought Stardew primarily for my wife, who has always been a fan of games like Harvest Moon. Little did I expect that it would be a game I would become obsessed with and invest well over 100 hours into. It has become a game that I return to every few months and is definitely one that I'll never get rid of.

What's really unique about Stardew is that each time I return to it, I focus on completely different aspects of the game. When I first began playing, I just wanted to understand the farming aspects. Simple enough. Then I got really into restoring the community center. Then I focused on relationships with the townsfolk. Then I actually finished what would be considered the "story." Then I caught every fish, and so on, and so on. I had put about 75 hours into Stardew Valley before I even began getting into crafting items.

That's what's so amazing about what seems like such a simple game, there's so much to do that you may miss major aspects of the game without realizing it. When I inevitably return to my farm, who knows where it might lead.

9. The Simpsons: Hit & Run
A lot of people consider the last great season of The Simpsons to be seasons 7 or 8. I'm a bit more of an optimist, and I would say that season 11 is where you start to see a significant drop in quality, which is shortly before The Simpsons: Hit & Run hit store shelves. For those of you that don't know, I consider myself a superfan of the show up until that point. My knowledge on all things Simpsons between seasons 3-10 would astound you, which plays a big role in my enjoyment of Hit & Run, it was made for people like me.

There are so many minor references to the show that casual viewers would miss. I wind up playing Hit & Run once every few years, and I still discover new little Easter eggs that I missed on my previous trips through Springfield. Speaking of Springfield, I really love the way the city is set up. Rather than having one, sprawling open-world like Grand Theft Auto, the town is broken up into three smaller areas and I think that really helps with the overall pace of the game. The areas are big enough to feel significant, but small enough to remember where everything is.

There really isn't much in the way of combat, and each mission boils down to little more than a timed race, but The Simpsons: Hit & Run is more about exploration and collecting than anything else, and being able to explore such a well-realized version of Springfield (something fans had been wanting for a very long time) never gets old.

8. Picross 3D
It may surprise you when I say that I've probably sunk more hours into Picross 3D than any other video game in my life, and it was a $20 game at launch. That's what you call value! I've always enjoyed puzzle games, and I really enjoy the standard versions of Picross as well (to this day, Pokemon Picross is the only "Pokemon" game I've ever played), but there was something about Picross 3D that grabbed me like no other puzzle game ever has, not even Tetris.

I became obsessive over completing each puzzle perfectly. I downloaded each additional puzzle pack (of which there are over 100) and found myself starting new profiles just so I could restart from scratch.

When Luke Roberts and I did our Top 10 Nintendo Games episode of the Error Machine Podcast, I fought harder to get Picross 3D on that list than I did any other game. In case you were wondering, Picross 3D is the 8th best video game that Nintendo has ever made. While I absolutely loved Picross 3D Round 2, I didn't get nearly as sucked in by it, and it never became an every day kind of game for me like the original did.

7. The Last of Us
The Last of Us had this weird thing happen where several years after its release people suddenly decided they didn't like the game, citing clunky combat as the culprit for their newfound revelation. Personally, I find that criticism unfounded, as I've never had a problem with the combat. In fact, I find very little to criticize in the overall package. With only one exception (which I'll speak about later), I've never been as engrossed in a game's story from beginning to end as I was with The Last of Us. It's the closest you'll get to a good Walking Dead game that doesn't begin with "Telltale Games Presents."

I grew to love Joel and Ellie despite not liking either one of them very much in the beginning. As the two of them begin to warm to one another, so too does the player begin to warm to them. I loved the original take on the post-apocalyptic story where only society had fallen into disrepair while vegetation continued to flourish and overtake its surroundings.

I love the ambiguous ending. I love the brutality of the combat. I love the catharsis at the end of Winter (if you've played the game, you know what I'm referring to). I love that Naughty Dog wasn't afraid to write a story devoid of hope. So many games try to make you feel like all hope is lost only to have the knight in shining armor pull off a miraculous victory and save the world. I credit Naughty Dog for having the guts to make a game where you don't feel good at the end of it.

6. Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy is the antithesis of The Last of Us. Everything about it is awesome and makes you feel awesome. The Last of Us makes you want to take a shower. Super Mario Galaxy makes you want to adopt a puppy named Buster and then buy matching sweaters for you and your new friend as you frolic in the autumn foliage.

Seriously, though, Super Mario Galaxy was the reason I had to have a Nintendo Wii. If you ask me, Galaxy is the pinnacle of 3D platforming. Like many Mario games, the challenge comes not in beating the game, but in completing it. Acquiring all 120 stars and unlocking Luigi makes the game feel new again, as Luigi plays much differently than his older brother.

The soundtrack is completely outstanding and fits the game as well as any video game I've ever played. The word "whimsical" could not be more apt. The gravity aspect adds a new level of variety to the traditional Mario formula and the controls are perfect for the newfound abilities.

As much as I've loved every 3D Mario game before and since, Super Mario Galaxy hits all the right notes for me and is the reason I still own a Nintendo Wii.

5. Borderlands 2
Perhaps my love of Borderlands 2 is more influenced by the fact that Borderlands is a series that my wife and I still play regularly to this day. Sometimes your memories are influenced by the people you play them with, but I don't think that's a reason to discredit them, though I've definitely put a lot of time into Borderlands 2 single-player and had a blast. If memory serves me correctly, it was the first full 1000 achievement points I ever earned on the Xbox 360. I say "earned" because a lot of us have Avatar and TMNT looking back at us, and those don't count.

There are better shooters, better open-world games, better western RPGs, better loot games, games with better writing, games with better characters, but Borderlands 2 is the perfect amalgamation of all of those things. There's something extremely addicting about picking up new guns, shields, class mods and grenades and equipping your character to your play style. What's even better is that regardless of how you play, it still works as an amazing co-op experience. My wife is more meticulous and I'm more of a Leroy Jenkins.

The enemy design is very fun and as you continue to level up, you don't just get leveled up versions of the same enemies. While you do get that, you'll also encounter new, bigger, and more imposing versions of those enemies. The game has suffered from revisionist history over the past 6 years, as it seems the internet suddenly decided that they hate Handsome Jack and Claptrap, but I can't imagine the game being as good as it is without them.

The game can be snagged for very cheap, and what's even better is that the season pass doubles the size of the game and provides some excellent content.

4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Games 2, 3, and 4 are where my list really gave me problems. I knew what the games were going to be, and going in I thought I knew what the order was, but then I came to Symphony of the Night and I realized that it could be in any one of those spots. I pulled my hair out over this, which makes me a very lucky man when I consider this is the type of stuff that stresses me out. Do I really like Symphony of the Night more or less than this other game? Oh, woe is me!

The one thing that SotN has working in its favor is that I don't have nostalgia for it. I didn't play the game for the first time until almost 10 years after its initial launch. Now I buy it every time it's re-released. Yes, I will be buying the PS4 version of SotN and Rondo of Blood this October, so don't ask. Every year around Halloween I get the hankering to play it again, and I've played it at least once every year since my first time through.

Each new playthrough I do or find things I've never done or found. For instance, last year I took the time to grab the Shield Rod and Alucard Shield and break the game. The year before that, I got the full 200.6% map completion for the first time. Despite knowing almost everything about the game, it always feels fresh and has aged better than any other game of the era (with the exception of the voice acting).

We're all well aware of the big twist halfway through. The inverted castle is a brilliant way to double the size of the game you're playing without actually doubling the size of the game on the disc. Additionally, the inverted castle features completely new enemies and bosses, and entering new, inverted areas is disorienting, somehow making it feel like a fresh section of the game to explore.

Much like Super Mario Galaxy, Symphony of the Night's soundtrack is expertly crafted. Each track fits its area so well that it becomes its own character. The heavy metal guitar of "The Tragic Prince" when you reach the area just before the clock tower makes you ready to fight while the foreboding tune accompanying the Abandoned Pit leaves you uneasy. This is the type of soundtrack I could listen to on a constant loop. Well, aside from the fact that it has what may be the worst end title song of all-time.

The combat is simple enough for anyone to jump right in, with spells that can take a little practice to nail down but well worth the increased damage they'll induce. If there's anything wrong with the game, it's the difficulty. By the time you reach Dracula you're so overpowered that you can barely call it a fight. Outside of the early hours and a couple of boss fights, the game presents little challenge. When that's the only complaint I can levy against a game, you know it's a winner.

3. Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid was the first game where my hype level was through the roof. A friend of mine received the Japanese demo through one of the PlayStation magazines of the era, and despite just being the dock and heliport area of the game and being all in Japanese, I knew this was a game that I had to have. We must have played the demo 30 consecutive times. We had so much fun peeking around corners, knocking on walls to lure enemies, snapping necks, and hiding in cardboard boxes. It seemed to us that we discovered new tricks at our disposal on every run.

Not only was my hype level at an all-time high, but this was also one of the few times where the game met and exceeded my hype. I did extra chores around the house for weeks to convince my mom to stop at the mall on her way home to pick the game up for me on release day. I made it to the battle with Gray Fox before calling it a night, and Metal Gear Solid had already done things that I didn't know video games were capable of.

Regardless of what you think about the Metal Gear lore, I had yet to experience a game that came anywhere close to presenting the kind of story that Metal Gear Solid was. Having played each Metal Gear several times by now, I just skip over cutscenes, but on the first playthrough, I was glued to the TV set awaiting the next shocking revelation about Foxhound and Solid Snake's mission on Shadow Moses Island.

Much of what seems silly about MGS was revolutionary at the time. Hiding under the bed or using ketchup to make it seem like you had committed suicide in order to escape your holding cell? That blew my mind! Breaking the fourth wall by using the back of the game's CD case to find Meryl's Codec frequency? Genius! And of course we can't forget the battle with Psycho Mantis, which remains one of the most groundbreaking moments in gaming history.

Recently, I wrote about how the abstractedness of the game adds to its charm, and I'll stand by that until the day I die. I still prefer the sharp-edged polygons of the original PlayStation game over the crisper visuals of the GameCube. For an early 3D game, Metal Gear Solid has aged much better than most other games of that generation, and still very much worth playing today.

2. Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 holds a special place in my heart because it got me through a very rough time in my life. When RE4 was released on current consoles, I picked up the PS4 version and eagerly anticipated being bombarded by chainsaw-wielding, parasite-infected psychopaths. It hurts to say this, but RE4 is one of those games that maybe I shouldn't have tried to replay.

When you go back and try to play some old favorites, sometimes you're amazed at the kind of things you were able to look past. RE4's camera controls is one of those things for me. Using the right analog stick only allows you to glance left and right but snaps back to center when you remove your thumb. It wasn't until the (highly underrated) sequel that the series finally gave the player free camera control. This isn't a popular opinion, but Resident Evil 5 plays much better than its predecessor.

However, Resident Evil 4 remains the the gold standard of the series in terms of story, action, horror, environment design, and atmosphere. It skewed more toward action but still has a level of uneasiness the series is known form. The big difference is that you now have enough firepower to defeat the things that go bump in the night instead of stressing about where you can find your next 5 bullets.

One of the many aspects of Resident Evil 4 that makes it so great is the way I can't tell if the game is being self-aware with how campy it is or not. Did they purposefully write Leon S. Kennedy to be as big of a dork as he is? Are his terrible one-liners supposed to be funny or did the writers know that they were terrible? Is Saddler really as small-time as we're led to believe? Were the ganados actually going to Bingo? I don't know!

Trudging through the bleak villages in the woods, the airy corridors of the castle, and the aggressive halls of the commando base make for three very unique settings that each offer a different type of fear and challenge. Each area has memorable encounters, such as the Night of the Living Dead inspired shootout in the farmhouse, making your way through the castle's clock tower, getting trapped inside a cage with the claw-clad Garrador, the hedge maze, your first encounter with a Regenerator, and avoiding Krauser as he stalks you throughout an area.

The game was innovative in many ways, but most of all in the new, over-the-shoulder perspective that has become the standard for third-person games. While I criticized the camera for not giving you full control, it does make for a more tense experience by forcing you to use the quick turnaround and possibly coming face-to-face with another abomination.

Osmund Saddler is the man pulling the strings and the final boss, but he's perhaps the least memorable villain in the game. Bitorez Mendez (the town chief), Ramon Salazar, and Jack Krauser are the baddies that you remember long after you've stopped playing, not only because their fights are better, but because they're also more interesting characters.

Resident Evil 4 may not have aged as well as I expected it to, but it's still a landmark game and one of the best of all-time.

1. Super Mario World
I'm not sure if I have enough words to properly explain why Super Mario World is my all-time favorite game. I've already tried, but I'll try again.

Some might say that it's cliche to have an early Mario game as my favorite of all-time, but no game before or since captured my imagination the way World did. To me, it's the zenith of 2D platforming. Gaming is subjective, so there's no way to quantify what a perfect video game would be, but Super Mario World is still the closest thing to perfect that I've found. The only real gripe I have is the level "Tubular," which is several times harder than any other level in the game. But that gripe is a small one, as I believe it's the only level that relies more heavily on trial and error than platforming skill.

There's still a debate between which game is better: Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3? Don't get me wrong, SMB3 was an integral part of my childhood and my favorite game on my favorite system, but I believe it's a silly debate. Super Mario World takes everything that SMB3 did and cranks it up to 11. While SMB3 blew my mind with how many levels it has, Super Mario World blew my mind with not only its size, but its contiguous world, allowing the player to replay levels, which would prove to be a valuable strategy for a young Dustin Thomas. Any tough level required a trek back to Donut Plains 1 to get a cape from the first caped Koopa and then a restart to grab another for my backup inventory. Speaking of which, the cape is the single greatest power up in Mario history. Shut up if you disagree.

Newcomer Yoshi went on to become a Nintendo mainstay and star in great games of his own, but this was his debut and he is more than just an animal companion, he is crucial to the entire experience. Having the different colors of Yoshi (or using the standard Yoshi and slurping up the different color Koopas) presents you with the ability to fly, shoot fire, or stomp, making combat and traversal much more versatile. Let's also not forget that certain secret exits can only be reached if you have Yoshi in tow.

Speaking of secrets, there are more in Super Mario World than any other 2D Mario game (probably), and in 1991, finding all 96 exits was a daunting task and required you to think outside of the box. You MURDERING YOUR NEW FRIEND! 

The Koopalings were given more personality, and I personally find the fortresses to be much more fun than the airships of SMB3. Bowser's castle requires you to choose 2 of 8 different mini-levels before encountering the King of the Koopas, promoting multiple playthroughs. Bowser and his clowncopter make for an excellent final battle, which is proceeded by the kiss from Princess Peach that Mario worked for for so long.

Then we get the best ending credits/theme song in video game history. I wish more games would have an enemy roll call at the end, because it's always a treat.

There isn't a lot more that I can say about Super Mario World, and anything that I could say would be something you probably already know. It's an all-time classic and still just as fun to play today as it was in 1991, which is why it stands as my single favorite video game ever.

Thanks for reading,

Here's other stuff I do and where you can find it.
Error Machine Podcast
Error Machine YouTube Channel