Hylke’s Top 100 Favorite Games

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A while ago, my best friend made a video series of his top 100 games of all time, and it inspired me to make my own. So after about a month and a half of ranking and a lot more time writing it, I decided to make my own. So here’s something you should know about this list. I can’t guarantee I’ve finished all of these games. There are only so many hours in the day, and through various circumstances I’ve also lost access to some of them. What I will promise is that I’ve played enough of them to give myself a satisfying experience. Also, this is a subjective list. I chose my words in the title carefully. Agree or disagree, either one is fine. Just be aware I’m not making a statement about objective quality here. Just what these games mean to me and how much I like them.

100. Remember Me

Starting the list off with a bit of a weird one, eh? This game is probably not very good, but I always maintain that a game that tries and fails is always more interesting than a game that doesn’t try. I don’t entirely know what went wrong here. Did they run out of time? Money? Something else? Whatever happened, I think we can all agree that Remember Me didn’t really live up to its potential. It had some pretty cool mechanics, like a system for building your own combos and memory hacking puzzles. But it was all a little awkward and clunky, and it did suffer from being pretty derivative. A really cool world and some neat ideas let it squeak onto the list, but only just.

99. Verde Station

This is one of the few horror games on this list, and it’s pretty neat. It manages to be scary without blood, jumpscares, or turning off the lights. That alone was enough to make it worth mentioning, but what put it on the list was how good it is at disorienting the player. As you wander the hallways of the space station trying to find out what happened, you and your avatar really start to feel the loneliness. I would have rated it higher if it was had more ways of telling its backstory than text logs. There’s some amount of environmental storytelling but most of it is through text boxes. Having to read all of that can kill the pacing sometimes. But it does enough interesting things to make it worth a look, and the ending is great.

98. Team Fortress 2

I don’t actually like multiplayer games all that much. There’s a lot of terrible people out there that can make the experience miserable. But with the right server and the right people, Team Fortress 2 can be a blast. The jokes are good, the art style has held up super well since it was released in 2007, and the gameplay is solid all around. Most importantly for me, I never felt pressured to succeed or play competitively. It was all goofy fun with friends, and that’s all it needed to be for me. I don’t play it anymore, and I don’t really feel any need to, but I have fond memories, and that’s enough to make it onto the list.

97. Knytt

Knytt is an atmospheric 2D platformer that I played a lot in high school. The fact that it was free definitely helped me find it, but it stuck in my head because it’s just a great game. The minimalistic music, gorgeous low-fi graphics, and mysterious world hooked me pretty quickly. This game is platforming simplicity at its finest. You play as an adorable little alien who crashed on a distant planet and has to find all of the parts to rebuild their UFO and get home. That’s basically it. The smooth platforming and wonderful aesthetics are this game’s biggest proverbial selling points. If it did more, it would definitely be higher up on the list.

96. Metroid Fusion

I haven’t actually played a lot of Metroid games. This is the only one, in fact. And I admit that I kind of struggled with this one. I played it when I was quite young, got stuck trying to find one particular destructible wall, gave up, and never came back to it. But this game stuck with me for a long time. Partially because I could never beat it. But also because the atmosphere it set was so powerful. Even now, I can still remember the murky caves and decrepit biomes of the research lab you’re exploring. I would probably remember it more fondly if I didn’t hit such a brick wall, but I can still recognize a good game when I see it.

95. Dragon Quest V (DS)

This game was such a turning point for me. I think it was the first time I got legitimately emotionally attached to the characters in an RPG. This game introduced me to the Dragon Quest franchise, a series I love to this day. Before that, my only exposure to RPGs had been Pokemon and Final Fantasy, and this was a blend of both, but at the same time just so different from them. The monsters you encountered in the wild could be added to your party. You could have a family! I’d never seen that in a videogame before. The moment you started playing as the children of the character you’d been playing as up until that point blew my mind. Unfortunately, that’s where my save file got corrupted and I never came back to it. I should give it another go sometime.

94. Undertale

This is a really good game that I wish I liked more. The writing in this game is really damn good. The characters are well-developed and memorable and the jokes are all pretty great. I think its meta-commentary on games is something I’d really like to see more of in other games. I just wish I liked the gameplay more. Bullet-hell dodging and twitch reflexes are both things I’m quite bad at, and this game requires a lot of that. The Mettaton EX fight in particular was where I threw in the towel. I really wanted to see the end of this game but I just don’t have the ability to, and that makes me sad. If I could have gotten further and explored the rest of the world, I feel like I would’ve liked it a lot more.

93. Red Dead Redemption

I was honestly expecting this game to be way higher up the list, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just didn’t really like it as much as most people. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about it. The writing is solid, the atmosphere is great, and John Marsten is a good character I remember even years later. But that’s where it ends for me. The gunplay wasn’t particularly interesting, and I didn’t really feel like the open world added much. I did really like the setting, though. We’ll be seeing another game with a similar setting much later in the list.

92. Mirror’s Edge

This game is so cool, and I wanted it to be better. When this game is at it’s best, it’s really good. The way the red colors guide you through the world is simple but excellent design. The sense of flow you get into when you’re doing the parkour perfectly is among the best I’ve ever experienced in a game. Unfortunately that sense of flow is really hard to actually attain, especially on your first time through a level. It’s also held back by some pretty bad forced combat sections and a story that isn’t particularly interesting or original. I’m still not sold on first-person platforming, but this game gets pretty close.

91. Marvel Ultimate Alliance

This will be the first of many games that are on here because of their value as co-op experiences. This one, while low on the list, is still worth mentioning.. I played it a lot, both single player and multiplayer. This game was my main introduction to the Marvel universe, and getting to experience the stories and characters without having to read seven thousand back issues of comics was definitely a relief for someone who had very little disposable income at the time. Seeing the world and characters, especially the crossover-style interactions of this game’s massive case was what convinced me to start reading comics.

90. Spiderman: Web of Shadows

Most people say Spiderman 2 is the best Spiderman game, I say Web of Shadows should at least be in the conversation. I admit it’s a pretty blatant ripoff of Prototype, but since I’ve never played that, I can’t really complain. This game’s just a really fun superhero sandbox game. The webswinging is great, the switching between red suit and symbiote suit makes the combat slightly more interesting, and the story is simple but entertaining. It’s not an especially interesting game, but I played a lot of it and I had a lot of fun, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

89. Broforce

This is a really conflicting game. I think it’s very good, but I also think it’s good for a different reason than one might think: this game’s design is interestingly deceptive. On the surface, it looks like a balls-to-the-wall explosion fest, but it’s actually closer to a puzzle platformer. You have a lot of destructive power but you have to be very careful with how you use it. You die in one hit, so if you go in guns blazing you’re probably going to die. You can even destroy the terrain too much and brick yourself. I think the way this game plays with your expectations is just really cool. It’s also a lot of fun in co-op. I highly recommend it.

88. LEGO Racers

This is a bit of an odd pick, I realize. This game combines two things I love: kart racing and customization. I’ve also just been a fan of LEGO since I was very young, and getting to actually race with the cars I built was so much fun. This game did a few unique things with the kart racing formula. The type of car you build has influence on how it performs. The tracks are pretty cool, too, with a lot more emphasis on the shortcuts built into the tracks. The weapons system is also pretty clever, with three power levels of each weapon type to collect through the course. This won’t be the last kart racer on this list but it’s a very good one that’s worth playing.

87. Tearaway

Oh Playstation Vita, we hardly knew ye. The failure of the Vita is really tragic, because if a game like Tearaway can be a launch title, then I can’t even imagine what could have come out for it. Tearaway is the definition of charming. The papercraft art style combined with the integration of AR features and the back touchscreen made for a really memorable game. It’s a real modern update on the 3D collect-a-thon that I thoroughly enjoyed all the way through. I’m really glad that it got remastered for the PS4 so more people get to play this game.

86. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2

It’s pretty wild that for a short time, this series was doing Pokemon better than Pokemon. As I said before, I love the Dragon Quest franchise, so when I happened to find the first one of these in a store, I was pretty over the moon. It was a monster-collecting game in a fully 3D world that I could play on DS? Sign me the hell up! You could even combine some of the monsters you collect into bigger and stronger monsters. I put the sequel on the list because the story interested me a lot more than the first one’s, but they’re both definitely worth playing. They don’t get nearly as much love as I feel like they deserve.

85. Kirby and the Crystal Shards

This is such a cool idea for a Kirby game and I can’t believe they didn’t revisit it until Star Allies. I’ve loved Kirby games since I played Nightmare in Dreamland on GBA a long time ago, and when I found a copy of Crystal Shards, it blew me away. Being able to combine the powers from your copy abilities into new and more powerful ones was so exciting. I loved experimenting and finding my favorite combinations. It is unfortunate that it plays slightly awkwardly, though. If it wasn’t so weirdly slow, it would have placed a lot higher on the list. Its visuals, like all N64 games, also haven’t aged super well.

84. Contrast

This game got on the list on its aesthetic alone. The visual style and especially the music are top of the line. I’m a big fan of dual world gameplay and switching between corporeal and shadow state and using perspective to solve platforming puzzles are exactly my jam. Unfortunately that’s sort of where my compliments end. The actual platforming is slightly clunky and I didn’t really like the story all that much. It mostly felt like an excuse to go between the different areas. But I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous this game looks and sounds. I have the soundtrack on CD. It’s seriously that good.

83. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds

This is another nostalgia pick. This might be the first “real” game I ever played after Disney edutainment. I know it’s basically a Star Wars reskin of Age of Empires 2, but that’s honestly what I like about it: it’s a solid RTS game with the added bonus of being Star Wars themed. The campaign is a lot of fun to play through with some quality voice acting, and the factions are all different enough to feel fresh through multiple replays. But the coolest feature is the scenario editor. You have access to all of the game’s assets to create your own maps and even design your own missions with dialogue and triggered events. We need more stuff like that.

82. Ibb & Obb

I hope you’re not sick of hearing about adorable and minimalistic games yet, because I have a doozy for you here. Ibb & Obb is an adorable cooperative puzzle platformer where you and a partner play as two monochromatic blob creatures who have to work together to navigate obstacles and solve puzzles. This game is perfect for playing with someone who might not play a lot of videogames. The combination of the visuals, music, and relatively simplistic gameplay made this game a super relaxing experience that I can heartily recommend to anyone. Just don’t expect it to blow your mind or anything.

81. The Unfinished Swan

This is a game I have some very conflicted feelings about. On the one hand, I think it’s super clever. On the other hand, it feels like a game that knows how clever it is and revels in it a bit too much. I don’t want to use the word “pretentious” but it feels like something in that direction. I think its gimmick of using paint splatter to reveal the world around you is super rad. It makes the game immediately memorable and have a striking and distinctive art style. On the other hand, I have no idea what it’s actually about. I played it all the way to the end, but I don’t really know what its themes are, and I only have a vague idea of what happened in the story. It’s tough to evaluate this one for me, but it’s still definitely worth playing.

80. Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth 2

Now here’s an RTS I don’t see people talking about anymore. No RTS game has nailed the feeling of large-scale battles better than this one. You produce units in batches of up to like, 30. All of the skirmishes are between armies numbering in the hundreds. It’s perhaps one of the best translations of the movies to videogames that exists. Two things that are really interesting are the progression system for individual squads, and the fortress maps. Squads can level up by fighting enemy armies and surviving. This makes your units slightly less expendable than in most other RTS games. You have to think more tactically and be less hesitant to retreat because keeping your strong armies around is often more important than building new, weaker ones. The fortress maps are maps that take place in some of the iconic fortresses from the books and movies. Think Rivendell or Isengard. You have a ready-made base with high walls that you have to either defend or lay siege to. I can’t really think of any RTS games I’ve played that has that as an option, and I think it’s just really neat.

79. Action Henk

This game deserves mention for being one of the few games that have gotten me to be competitive. I rarely feel the need to go back and improve my times, beat my friends’ times, or climb up the global charts. But I’ll be damned if Action Henk didn’t make me want to do all of those things. If you’ve never heard of it, I would describe it as Trials by way of Toy Story. But what puts it over games like Trails for me is the sheer amount of personality it has. All of the playable characters are exaggerated and full of charm. Despite the fact that it does remarkably manage to awaken my competitive spirit, it doesn’t get higher on the list because I’m not actually that good at it. I hit a wall pretty quickly. I can never get the timing quite right on some of the trickier jumps. A fraction of a second can make all the difference.

78. Yu-Gi-Oh: Legacy of the Duelist

I love trading card games. I’m more of a Magic guy nowadays, but Yu-Gi-Oh was my first love. Legacy of the Duelist is a surprisingly fleshed out game, especially for a budget title. Its single player is very robust, covering all of the major events from the first four Yu-Gi-Oh shows with decks as accurate as they could realistically make them. It also has a massive database of cards you can open in packs and build your own decks and test them against the storyline opponents. It’s also got online functionality. None of this is particularly exciting or new, but for someone who doesn’t have the time or money to devote to the card game anymore, this is a pretty solid replacement.

77. Bloons Tower Defense 5

I have a weirdly long history with this franchise. I played the early entries on the Ninja Kiwi website way back in middle school. They were my idle games before idle games really existed. So when this game was announced to be released on Steam, I was all over it. The Bloons Tower Defense games have always combined a cute and humorous art style with a surprisingly deep level of strategy that I definitely appreciated. Or if you’re me, you find exactly one strategy for every map and brute-force it until you win. This entry in the franchise by far the best one I’ve played, with the most variety in towers and maps, and a consistent trickle of content even years after its release. It’s a relaxing fun time that I feel flies under the radar a lot.

76. Marvel’s Spider-Man

If I had to summarize this game in a few words, I would say “fun but not exactly spectacular.” Look I promise I’m funny at least sometimes. But this game’s main problem is that while I only started playing is somewhat recently, I feel like I’ve already played it all the way through. An open world to explore with story missions, side missions, and collectibles is not exactly the most groundbreaking game design. But where this game really shines is the traversal of the world. Web-swinging as Spider-Man is just inherently very fun and well-designed, requiring some amount of skill and timing to master. The rest is all competently executed. I’m not the biggest fan of the Arkham-style combat but it’s good enough. That’s what this game is. Good enough.

75. LEGO Marvel Superheroes

I have a lot of fondness for the LEGO games, despite, and partially because, they’re easy games made for children. Marvel Superheroes is probably my favorite one, for many of the same reasons that I enjoyed Marvel Ultimate Alliance. But it’s the LEGO aspect that I wanted to talk about here. The LEGO game formula is infinitely replayable because they keep putting interesting and fun mechanics in the games and adding to the formula, and backing it up with solid writing and a goofy sense of humor. This one is probably my favorite because of how fun it is to navigate the open world, and how many cool puzzles and interactions there are in that world. I prefer my open worlds to be dense instead of massive, and this game definitely meets that criteria.

74. Alphabear

Cute puzzle games are the best kind of puzzle games. I’m pretty garbage at puzzle games, to be honest. If I was better at them I would probably have more of them on this list. But Alphabear gets a special mention on this list for being the exact kind of puzzle game that I love: word puzzles. The premise is simple: you have a board full of letters and your job is to make words with those letters and clear the board and get as many points as possible. It sounds easy enough, but finding the words in a jumble of scattered letters requires a lot of thinking, something you can’t always do because of the occasional time limits. The adorable art style and music push this game over the top for me though. The presentation is simply top-notch.

73. WWE 2K17

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put at least one wrestling game on this list. I’m a huge fan of professional wrestling, and playing these games is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being involved with the industry so I’ll take what I can get. Why specifically 2K17? Well, to be honest it’s the most recent one I’ve played so I haven’t gotten to play with an updated roster in quite some time. But what I love most about this game is what I love most about wresting in general: creating stories. You can create your own character and follow their career to the main event of Wrestlemania in a surprisingly deep and involved mode. Or you can take over the booking decisions and run your own versions of Raw and Smackdown. Or you can just act out your own matches with your favorite wrestlers. It’s a digital version of playing with action figures is what I’m saying, and it’s damn good at doing that.

72. Defender’s Quest

Bloons may have introduced me to tower defense games, but Defender’s Quest perfected the formula with a legitimately excellent plot and some fun bonus RPG elements for some extra strategy and replayability. I was honestly pretty surprised when I played it the first time. I was just not used to having a story in a tower defense game, but as the game went on I found myself getting decently invested. The RPG elements that allow you to upgrade your units add a level of depth to the game that I also wasn’t prepared for. I do have some nitpicks that kept it from getting higher up the list though. I don’t really like the art style all that much, and while the story is good, some of the twists lose their gravitas a bit when they’re delivered in giant blocks of text and exposition.

71. Ridiculous Fishing

I wish I was better at Ridiculous Fishing than I am, but in my defense this is a tricky game to play. It is just a whole lot of fun though. The basic idea is you use your smartphone’s gyroscope to dodge fish and get your hook as far down the as possible ocean as possible. It requires a lot more skill than it sounds, because there’s hundreds of obstacles getting in your way on the way down, and as soon as you catch a fish, you’re going back up. If you’ll excuse the bad joke, there’s a lot of depth to this game, as higher scores will net you currency that you can use to upgrade your hook and get further down. There’s also different locations with different obstacles and fish to hinder you progress. If you’re in the market for a good mobile game, give this one a shot!

70. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

There’s a goblin part of my brain that loves big numbers and flashy colors, and I think that’s one of the reasons I like this game so much. That’s not all there is to Odin Sphere, of course, but it’s what’s kept me playing the game. The combat requires a lot of skill but not so much that I can’t play the game anymore. It’s immensely satisfying to beat a large, gorgeously animated boss monster with a combination of combos, special abilities, and well-placed items. The story is no slouch either, telling tales of retribution, betrayal, and switching allegiances in a high magic world. I’m also a big sucker for cooking mechanics and this game lets you combine ingredients to make scrumptious-looking meals for bonus XP. It’s just a really fun game to play. Thank goodness it didn’t only come out on the Vita so more people can actually experience it.

69. Cookie Clicker

All hail the king of incremental games. I thought long and hard which game from the genre would take this spot, but it was basically always going to be Cookie Clicker. Its design as an initallly harmless-looking game about collecting cookies that takes some twists and turns to become a harsh criticism of capitalism is very smart. The transition is pretty seamless, which speaks to the excellence of Cookie Clicker’s writing and design. Incremental games have fascinated me ever since I found this game. From Universal Paperclips to Clicker Heroes to Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, I’ve played a lot of them. But Cookie Clicker is the one I keep coming back to. No other game in the genre has connected with me quite like it has. Even writing about it has made me feel like booting it up again.

68. Kameo: Elements of Power

I enjoyed this game probably more than I should have but I can’t deny having an absolute blast with this game. I’m a big sucker for elemental powers and turning into different creatures, and this game has both! I must have played this game all the way through at least five different times (back when my Xbox 360 still worked, that is). The story is admittedly fairly generic, but what I really liked about this game is the visual design. All of the “elemental warriors” you can switch between look really interesting, and the color palette is so vivid that it was one of the best-looking games I’d ever seen at that point. I don’t doubt that it probably hasn’t aged super well, but this is another nostalgia pick that I just had an absolute blast playing and replaying because it pushed so many of my buttons. I’d really like a PC port of this for old times’ sake.

67. Bit.Trip Presents…Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

I’m not exactly a big rhythm game fan. I found Guitar Hero games pretty fun but never particularly mindblowing. But the exception to this rule is Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. I instantly clicked with this game when I booted it up for the first time. The adorable art style, the tight controls, the fun premise; everything just works. But the real star of the show is the phenomenal music that adapts to how well you’re doing. The better you perform, the more layers and instruments appear in the backing track. This is pretty standard for rhythm games, but it just worked so well for me here. I only wish I was better at it, because I could never get very far into it.

66. Stick It To The Man!

If you like Psychonauts (and spoilers, I do) then you owe it to yourself to give this game an honest look. This puzzle game may not be the most well-known game out there, but it deserves as much praise as I can give it for being a clever and funny puzzle game with a highly unique art style and gameplay idea. The main character, Ray, has a special pink arm sticking out of his head that he can use to read people’s minds and use their thoughts to solve puzzles, influence people, and answer questions about the crime he didn’t commit that he’s running from. This game is full of charm and great ideas and you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

65. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

It wouldn’t be right to make this list and not include at least one Castlevania game. I may not have played a lot of Symphony of the Night but I played Dawn of Sorrow all the way through to the end. Igarashi knows how to make a hell of a game, and despite not having the context of Aria of Sorrow, I still thoroughly enjoyed this game the whole time I was playing it. Slick platforming, excellent environment design, and the classic Igavania trope of collecting new powers from your enemies and bosses to use in battle were the highlights of Dawn of Sorrow. The glue that holds it together is the character of Soma Cruz. His direct involvement in the events of the plot kept me wanting to find out what would happen next.

64. Etrian Odyssey 4: Legends of the Titan

This might be the closest videogames have come to recreating the dungeon crawling aspect of Dungeons and Dragons that I’ve ever played. I just wish these game weren’t so goddamn hard so I could actually finish one of them. I’ve played four of these games at this point, and never finished a single one because I always got stuck at a particularly challenging boss fight and had to put them down. But my favorite thing about these games is the map system. There’s something so satisfying about cataloging your own progress and making notes on a map of your own creation. Seeing the labyrinthine dungeons slowly reveal themselves to you is just so rewarding. I do wish the art design was less… exploitative though.

63. Fable 2

I never decided whether this game was good or not. On the one hand, it was an interesting world with lots of systems I’d never seen before in an RPG (like weight fluctuations or visual differences in what alignment your character was). On the other hand, it was a piss-easy game with bad writing, goofy voice acting, and an absolute joke of a final boss encounter. Like most of Lionhead Studios’ games, it really felt like they had a lot of ideas that didn’t make it into the finished product. But what was there was stuff I undeniably had a ton of fun with, often in spite of its shortcomings. If nothing else, I really had a good time pretending to be a landlord for the entire country and setting my rent prices as low as I could get away with and living the fantasy of actually having money.

62. Dragon Quest Builders

I always liked Minecraft okay, but for me it always lacked something the French call “I don’t know what”. Shoutout to the two people who will get that reference. That certain something was apparently a more interesting world with a story and characters. Crafting systems are slowly becoming ubiquitous but this game really nails it. Everything you craft has a purpose, be it a better weapon or a piece of food. But what I found especially interesting was that even your buildings all have a purpose as well. Guard towers, defenses, rooms in your base that house kitchens or teleportation circles. It all makes sense within the context of the world. I do wish it was less of a survival game though. Item degradation and food bars are two of my least favorite mechanics in videogames, and while they’re not too disruptive, they are definitely an annoyance.

61. A Hat In Time

I was never the biggest fan of the Rareware collect-a-thon games, partially because I only ever played Donkey Kong 64, but partially also because I was always too obsessed with collecting literally everything to enjoy them. That all changed when I played A Hat In Time, though. I was initially sold by the adorable art style and sense of humor, but I kept playing for the imaginative level design and surprisingly deep gameplay. I found myself appropriately challenged by some of the trickier jumps and interesting levels. The humor is a little corny but it hits more often than it misses, which is important in a game that relies so heavily on it. I liked all of the levels, but Alpine Skyline was the clear standout.

60. Megaman ZX Advent

This is my favorite Megaman game, and it’s also the only Megaman game I’ve ever played all the way through. I’m a big sucker for being able to switch between powers at will, which I understand is a major feature of most Megaman games. But this one is special to me because of the surprisingly compelling story and interesting characters. For a game I picked up pretty much on a whim, and a sequel to a game I hadn’t played, for the record, I had a ton of fun with this one. Transforming into bosses after you’ve beaten them and using their powers against other bosses is an inherently satisfying gameplay premise, and it’s all held together by some rock-solid platforming and quality writing.

59. Halo: ODST

This is such an underrated game. Often considered the black sheep of the Halo franchise, ODST is a Halo game not about Master Chief. Instead, it’s about a still relatively elite group of soldiers (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) who get shot down and scattered during a mission. Unlike the mainline games, you’re a mere mortal instead of a super-soldier, so you have to think a lot more tactically than you normally would in a standard FPS. You die a lot quicker and there’s no regenerating health, but the enemies are just as deadly as they would be for the Chief. Ducking in and out of cover and picking your shots carefully are crucial in this game. The gameplay was a welcome change of pace for the Halo franchise, and its moody atmosphere and excellent writing kept me engaged the whole way through.

58. Dauntless

Something you might not know about me is that I love Monster Hunter. Spoiler alert, it’ll be appearing later on this list. But come with me on this journey: what if it was free to play? Enter Dauntless, the free-to-play monster hunting MMO that I’ve been playing since it went into alpha. You and some number of friends get together, pick up some fancy weapons, and go to town on a big colorful creature, break parts off it, make new and fancier weapons, and take on even bigger monsters. It’s a very satisfying gameplay loop that is an absolute delight to play, especially with friends. I wish it didn’t have a free-to-play economy attached to it, though.

57. Portal

What is there to say about Portal that hasn’t already been said? It might be one of the most elegantly-designed games ever. It’s been said that this game is about 80% tutorial, and while that sounds like it would complete agony in a lesser game, it’s actually done in a very clever way here. It continually drip feeds new mechanics and ideas throughout the game. I especially appreciate that it’s a very short game, too. It’s common for puzzle games to wear out their welcome with repetition or frustration, but Portal’s svelte three hour runtime is perfect for something like this. It also backs up its great puzzles with some engaging writing and a dark sense of humor.

56. Timesplitters: Future Perfect

Just when you thought first-person shooters were too serious, Timesplitters rolls in driving a muscle car from the 1980’s and tell you to get in to go shoot zombies in a haunted house with a quick detour to do some Nazi-hunting in the 1940’s while wearing a giant colorful afro wig. I love this game’s sense of humor above everything else. Sergeant Cortez is total doofus who is an absolute joy to play as. This is the kind of silly fun FPS that Bulletstorm wishes it could be. The script may be full of jokes but all of the frankly ridiculous time-traveling shenanigans are played fairly straight, meaning you can still get invested in the story of traveling to the past to try to save the future. It’s also a bundle of fun to play in co-op. Split-screening this with a friend is a primo way to spend an evening joking around and having a blast.

55. Age of Empires 3

I’m always down for a little mystical influence in my historical fiction, and the story of this game has that in spades. It tells the story of three generations of the Black family fighting to keep the Fountain of Youth out of the hands of various evil factions and I loved every second of it. I even bought the expansions because I couldn’t get enough of this game. A cool feature that I haven’t really seen other RTS games do very much is the ability to customize your civilization. You earn XP by playing the game and you spend that XP on shipments and upgrades. This way you can build a custom deck of bonuses you can deploy in your games so nobody has the exact same factions when playing against each other. Plus, you can play as the Dutch!

54. Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon

I’ve been to an arcade ones of times in my life, and if I’m completely honest I’ve never seen the appeal very much. But if there’s any game series that makes a lot of sense as an arcade game, it would be Earth Defense Force. I originally heard about this series from Extra Credits, and this was the first game in the franchise I played. Admittedly it is pretty different from the rest of the series, but it made me fall in love. This is one of those games you don’t have to think too hard about. Grab your gear, grab your gun, and blast some giant insects from outer space. Everything from the budget to the presentation makes this the perfect B-movie videogame that I can heartily recommend to almost anyone who likes shooting things.

53. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Trials and Tribulations

It’s hard to describe Phoenix Wright without making it sound terrible and stupid but I’ll give it the old college try. Let’s start here: I love a game with a good sense of humor, and this game has it in spades. Every character has their own moment to shine with some good jokes and quality development. This is true for all of the Ace Attorney games, but what makes this one my favorite is Godot. This prosecutor who loves coffee is the real star of this game’s show as far as I’m concerned. He’s cocky, and ruthless in a way that a good antagonist should be but he’s also as calm and reserved as his smooth jazz theme song.

52. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron

The early 2000’s called, they want their nostalgia back, please. This might be the first proper videogame I ever played. I have fond memories of hooking up a joystick to the family computer (remember when that concept existed?) and trying and failing to take down an AT-AT on Corellia. It was also the first time in my then-very-short life I’d been able to immerse myself in a game. Going into first-person view with the joystick really felt like I was piloting an X-wing over the various planets in the Star Wars universe. It gets on the list for that feeling alone, but I also want to make a mention of the fact that I played it again recently in research for this list and found that it still mostly holds up after all this time. Sure, it doesn’t look as good anymore but it still plays super well,

51. Luxuria Superbia

This game deserves a lot of credit for being as imaginative as it is. There’s no other game on this list, or I would argue in general, that I could compare to Luxuria Superbia. Made by Belgian developers Tale of Tales, this mobile rhythm game has you contorting your fingers to follow tracks and interact with nodes inside various colorful flowers. That sounds pretty simple, and on first glance it really is, but what’s so interesting about this game is the undeniable yonic themes of the visuals, music, and encouraging messages you receive as you progress through the levels. It’s an utterly fascinating game that made me feel things I’d never felt before while playing a videogame. Highly recommended.

50. Mass Effect 2

Right at the halfway point is a stone-cold classic in the videogame canon. There’s so much to like about Mass Effect 2 that I’m frankly amazed it’s not higher up on this list. Arguably the best of the Mass Effect games, this one is well-written, exciting to play, and takes place in a fascinating world where your actions actually feel like they have consequences. Whether it’s the personal relationships between one of your crew mates and your Shepard or the entire galactic government having different people in leadership roles, everything matters. The highlight of this game, in my opinion, is the loyalty missions for your crew members. Getting to know the people you’re trying to save the galaxy with was my favorite part of the game by far.

49. Mario Kart Double Dash

I never owned a Gamecube or a Wii so I haven’t actually played a lot of Double Dash, but the time I did get to spend I always thoroughly enjoyed. I’m a big fan of cooperative games. I’d much rather be working together with a player than working against them. So to have a Mario Kart game where you could work together with a partner to drive the same kart blew my mind when I played it for the first time in middle school. One player drives the kart, one player throws the items. This was also the first time that you could hold more than one item, allowing for additional strategy as you have to think about which items to use at which point.

48. Thomas Was Alone

I didn’t like this game as much as a lot of other people did at the time, but I can still recognize it as a phenomenal example of narrative design and dynamic narration in videogames. I found the controls slightly finicky, and the ending section where you play as different characters all of a sudden was a lot weaker of a conclusion than the game probably should have had, considering its big emotional payoff was earlier in the game and probably should have been the ending. This game deserves a lot of credit for doing a lot with very little. The writing is solid enough and delivered well enough by the narrator that I did feel a genuine emotional connection to simple geometric shapes. If you want a good cry, play this game.

47. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

I think this is a very underrated Zelda game. I don’t see people talk about it a lot, and I think that’s a real shame. It’s a lot more interesting than I think a lot of people give it credit for. Zelda games love their dual-world gameplay, and shrinking down to the size of the Minish and pushing around objects or navigating tiny tunnels to access new areas of the world was a very clever spin on dual-world gameplay. I loved the sense of humor in this game as well. The dialogue is funny, especially the lines written for your companion and hat Ezlo. Vaati is a villain that I really wish they would bring back again because I thought he was pretty damn cool, and it was a nice change of pace from fighting Ganon all the time. Lastly, I absolutely love the adorable art style. Capcom did a great job bringing this version of Hyrule and its characters to life.

46. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is a terrible game but I love playing it. I hope that makes sense. On a pure technical level, this game is a complete trash fire. It’s amazing it doesn’t set your computer on fire because all of the overlapping and malfunctioning systems can get really complicated really quickly. The combat is boring, the combat spells suck, the progression system is obtuse, and the writing is pretty dire. But the actual gameplay loop of exploration and finding treasure and completing quests is satisfying in a way no other game I’ve played can replicate. This is my go-to game when I need to relax. It’s perfect for listening to podcasts or music. I use Skyrim the same way others use Euro Truck Simulator, and it deserves a lot of credit for that.

45. Uncharted 2

In this world of increasingly large sandboxes and sidequests, it’s nice to get a focused and linear experience in the there sometimes, and of the Uncharted games I’ve played, this one is definitely my favorite. The reasons I put Uncharted 2 on the list are fairly simple: It improved on the control scheme from the first game, and of the first three I liked the story on this one the best. It’s been said before, but Nathan Drake is a damn charismatic player character, and the stellar writing of this pulpy adventure novel in videogame form. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is that despite knowing I had a great time with it, I’m actually having a hard time remembering specifics about it.

44. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is pure joy in videogame form. It’s the first 3D Mario I’ve legitimately enjoyed, and boy did it deliver on almost every aspect. The controls are tighter than they’ve ever been, making the game extremely satisfying to exist in. The mere act of traversing the various worlds is fun in and of itself. And those worlds are the real stars of the show. Each one has a unique gimmick that doesn’t wear out its welcome, and they’re all packed with stuff to do and moons to collect. I kept playing this game long after finishing the main story because I was just having too much fun collecting everything. I will say that I wish there was a way to turn off the frankly intrusive motion controls though. If that were an option, it would probably be much higher up on the list.

43. Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

I appreciate a good sense of humor in a videogame, and this one has it in spades. It really has everything, from classic slapstick physical comedy to well-written jokes, to inherently silly situations. The gameplay isn’t half bad either, taking the turn-based combat of a standard JRPG and adding some more interactivity to it. There’s also platforming and puzzles that require the use of your overworld powers. Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is a charming game that’s an absolute delight to play and replay, as I have done multiple times by now.

42. Stardew Valley

I never found this game quite as relaxing as most people seem to, but when I started playing it with other people, I finally found the appeal. What’s so impressive is that this game can be as stressful or relaxing as you want it to be. It has a surprising amount of content and gameplay styles that you can experience. It’s mostly a farming simulator, but fishing, foraging, and mining are all equally valid ways of making money and progressing in the game. All of the NPCs have stories and relationships with each other that you can explore if you want to, and there are advantages for doing so. But it’s equally valid to, as I have done, keep to yourself and do the work that you love doing. I’m a fan of fishing and mining, myself.

41. Transistor

I love Supergiant Games. Their art and sound design are a cut above the rest as far as I’m concerned. And don’t even get me started on the quality of their writing. Transistor is just an excellent game all around. The only reason it’s not higher up on the list is because I personally couldn’t really get into the gameplay, despite recognizing that it was very good. I just don’t gel with turn-based tactics games all that well, which Transistor definitely was. Not full-blown Fire Emblem, but still a bit of tactics. It’s a testament to this game’s quality that I still enjoyed my time with it a lot. The standout here is definitely the writing, though. Red and her sword were compelling characters all the way from the beginning, and discovering what happened to the world was an absolute delight all the way to the end.

40. Torchlight 2

Hot take alert incoming: I think this Diablo clone is better than Diablo. It has a more appealing art style, a really interesting world, and a far superior inventory system. Why any game uses the Resident Evil-style grid inventory, especially a loot-heavy one like Diablo, I will never understand. Torchlight 2 is just a bunch of fun, even if my long breaks between play sessions mean I don’t always know what’s going on. I’ve never beaten it, but I pick away at it slowly with long but infrequent sessions. Similarly to Skyrim, the core gameplay loop of exploration, combat, and loot is inherently fun and rewarding, and the ways you can build the different classes requires a lot of thought and skill to find an optimal build. Most of all, I find this game very rewarding, with a good difficulty curve and interesting abilities to use at opportune times for maximum effect. It’s also just a bunch of fun in multiplayer, too, even if getting it to work is slightly janky.

39. Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors

This is a weird one. It’s a visual novel puzzle game about nine people trapped on a sinking ship that have to solve diabolical and occasionally lethal puzzles in order to escape. In the process, they learn more about their captor, each other, and themselves. Also baccarat and number bases and a lot of other random factoids. But this game is very good and more than a little creepy. The decisions you make over the course of this game really stuck with me because of how strong the writing and characterization of your fellow captives is. I had to think long and hard about who to take into which rooms, and few games have managed to do so much with so little. It gets a lot out of its confined and claustrophobic setting and does an excellent job setting a grim and frantic tone. If you’ve never heard of this game, go into it as blind as possible. The story really is something special.

38. FEZ

This might be one of the most creative games on this list. As I mentioned in the Contrast section, I absolutely adore puzzles that use perspective, and FEZ has those in spades. The gimmick of this stellar puzzle adventure game is that you can rotate the world around you to access areas previously impossible to reach by repositioning platforms or other things you would be jumping on. This may seem simple at first, but I experienced some real head-scratchers, especially later on in the game. It’s all held together with some gorgeous 2D pixel art and a stellar soundtrack that I don’t regret buying for one second.

37. The World Ends With You

This game is the reason my DS Lite screen is scratched to all hell because I played the heck out of it. Everything about this game just screams “cool” to me. From the innovative touch-screen based control scheme, to the anime-inspired visual style, to the story about a misanthrope being thrust into an alternate dimension and being forced to learn how to trust people, it ticks a lot of boxes for me. The controls are very interesting, requiring you to move your stylus in different ways and patterns to fight the monsters attacking Shibuya, making your loadout of magic pins that have different powers a very interesting and difficult choice. But most of all, I loved this game’s story. I won’t tell you too much here because you should really seek this game out for yourself (but maybe don’t play the Switch port as it’s apparently not very good) but the twists, turns, and well fleshed-out characters makes this game gripping the whole way through.

36. Chrono Trigger DS

Handheld devices are the perfect system for playing JRPGs, so what could be better than a Nintendo DS to play one of the best JRPGs of all time? 35 other games, according to this list. But that doesn’t mean this game isn’t still excellent. I’m a big fan of time travel storylines and this is one of the best ones out there. Seeing the effects of your own actions having ramifications to the entire world. Few games have done this better. I especially remember the trial scene showing off all of your early-game actions and the consequences of those actions. It blew my mind when I played it the first time. I want to give special mention to the DS version here, having all of the UI on the bottom screen, leaving the top screen for the absolutely gorgeous pixel art. Best version of this phenomenal game, in my opinion.

35. Kirby Super Star Ultra

We all love Kirby, right? That funky little dude just loves eating so much. Super Star Ultra might very well be the best Kirby game ever made. The sheer amount of content in this remake of the SNES classic is almost mind-boggling. Alongside new graphics and an expanded main story, there are a number of mini-games and extra story missions. They’re all great fun, but the shining (super) star of the whole collection is Milky Way Wishes. I love absorbing powers on the go as much as the next person, but having all of your powers available to you at any time? That’s such a brilliant idea! It allows for some imaginative level design that I had an absolute blast playing through.

34. Just Cause 2

Few games have managed to nail the feeling of pure and absolute mayhem than Just Cause 2 did. Suiting up for a night on the town with an LMG and a helicopter can be exactly the kind of stress relief that the doctor ordered. Combine that with a surprisingly engaging plot about overthrowing a dictator in a large and fairly dense archipelago in South East Asia. The raucous antics you, your grappling hook, and your satchel of explosives can get up to in this playground of easily-destroyed radio towers and other assorted building is something that has to be seen to be believed. I’ve never felt like a game scratched a creative itch through wanton destruction before, but here we are.

33. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag

Who’s ready for an adventure? I know I am! This is such a polarizing game for me because its highs are so high but its lows are so low. I love the story and characters so much, but the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. Exploring the various islands on the open seas is a ton of fun, but some of the missions are the hottest of garbage. I love the naval combat but I hate the stealth. But it made it on the list because of the overall feeling of adventure it gives me through its phenomenal score and generally solid writing. I’ll put up with a bunch of tailing or eavesdropping missions if it means getting to clash with a Royal Navy frigate off the coast of Florida.

32. Layers of Fear

Similarly to rhythm games, I’m not actually a big fan of horror games. I don’t consider getiing scared to be a good time. But my one exception to that rule is Layers of Fear. This game scared the absolute pants off me and I loved almost every second of it. I talk a lot about environmental storytelling and this game has it in spades. One of my favorite moments was walking through the kitchen, and picking up the grocery list. Just seeing the number of wine bottles scratched out and changed multiple times tells you so much about the protagonist. This game also does my favorite horror game trope of architecture that changes itself around, leaving you constantly disoriented. The only thing holding this game back is that some of the puzzles are a bit finicky and drag some moments out a bit too much.

31. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate might have been my first, but this is the game that got me hooked on the franchise. The better tutorials, more colorful aesthetic, extra focus on story, and the introduction of the Insect Glaive made this an absolute joy to play. It was smoother, faster, prettier, and just more fun. It’s also the first appearance of my favorite Monster Hunter monster, the Zamtrios. It’s an excellent introduction to the series that I spent a lot of train rides happily playing.

30. Assassin’s Creed 2

I’ve played a lot of Assassin’s Creed games but none of them have ever topped Assassin’s Creed 2 for me. What sets this game above the rest is the quality of the writing. Ezio, more than any other protagonist in the series, is such a well-defined character with clear motivations and relationships with the other characters. Seeing the evolution of Ezio from a delinquent rich asshole to an honorable and intelligent Assassin was an absolute delight. It’s also from the period of Ubisoft games before they were crammed with meaningless collectibles and sidequests, meaning it’s not nearly as cluttered as some of the later entries in the franchise. I wish Desmond was a more compelling character, though. The modern day segments were a definite black mark on this otherwise excellent game.

29. Monument Valley

Puzzle games may not entirely be my jam, but I loved everything about this one. I’m quite a big fan of the works of M.C. Escher, and an entire game based around those works? Sign me the hell up! This game is simple, elegant, challenging, and gorgeous. Where it shines is definitely the level design. Using bizarre architecture and perspective for puzzle solving is something I’m always a big fan of, and this game has it in spades. It also helps that it all makes sense in the context of the story. The Journey-esque story of a mysterious lost civilization is a compelling one, especially considering how short the game is. That is unfortunately also its downside. Even with the DLC, I still found it ended way too soon. I definitely want to play the sequel.

28. SUPERHOT

It’s easy to dismiss this game as being style over substance. That would be an incorrect assessment, for one thing. Both the style and substance of SUPERHOT are second to none. It’s a puzzle game disguised as a first-person shooter, and that fakeout alone deserves mentioning. But that’s not where SUPERHOT’s genius ends. I think where it truly shines is the presentation. The powerfully bright color-coding makes everything in this game immediately recognizable, which is super important in a game where timing is as important as it is here. I also want to make a special note of the story in this game. The framing device of hackers and forum friends finding this weird game called SUPERHOT is super intriguing and takes some pretty exciting turns.

27. Metal Gear Solid 3 (3DS)

This is basically the perfect stealth game. Entire essays have been written about how great this game is so I’ll try to keep this brief. It’s astounding what you can do in this game to give yourself an edge in sneaking past your enemies. Sure, tranq guns are always the safe backup, but have you ever tranquilized a snake, brought it with you through most of the game, and then thrown it at a boss to give yourself a few seconds of breathing room? Have you ever made a crocodile swallow a grenade and watched smoke billow out of its mouth after detonation? That’s just two examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. I also really dig this game’s story. It has enough cool twists and deep enough lore that I’ve happily played this game all the way through multiple times.

26. Kid Icarus: Uprising

So this game is a hard one to recommend, mostly because of its completely wretched control scheme. I have no idea why a game with a control scheme so taxing on your hands that they had to give you a stand was shipped at all. But I seriously love it so much. It looks great, has a fun soundtrack, and an excellent sense of humor. The mentor/student relationship between Pit and Palutena gets some fun development with some solid jokes and banter between the two of them. It’s also one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a while.

25. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

I think this game is super interesting because it’s one of the few examples of a genuinely unreliable narrator in a videogame. We’ll be seeing another one later on this list. This one is just a load of fun. I especially love the creativity in narrative presentation that having an unreliable narrator creates. You play as Silas Greaves, an old bounty hunter telling wildly exaggerated tales of his adventures to an increasingly suspicious audience of bar patrons. Probably my favorite part of this setup is how the situation can change on a dime when Silas changes his story and anything from the environment to the number of enemies changes. It’s also just a blast to play. The run-and-gun action is fast-paced enough to be exhilarating but short enough to not wear out its welcome.

24. Mario Kart 7

Double Dash may have been my first Mario Kart love but 7 is my favorite. Everything about it just works for me so well. The tight gameplay, the selection of tracks, the kart customization, the mostly functional multiplayer, everything is top-notch. It’s hard to know what to say about a game with as simple a premise as Mario Kart, it’s just pure and wholesome kart racing fun. This entry did come with a few new features that pushed it to the top: gliding sections and long tracks. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy game though. There’s a surprising amount of nuance and strategy involved in top-level play that I’ve only really sort of scratched the surface of. I was moderately successful in the online mode, having won a couple of races here and there but nothing too spectacular. No Waluigi though.

23. Actual Sunlight

I read a very good article about this game that convinced me to give it a try, and I was definitely not disappointed. This is an absolutely heartbreaking and powerful story about adulthood and depression that I can heartily recommend to anyone, with some caveats. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a very realistic and poignant depiction of what being depressed can do to a person, to the point where I wonder if it’s not at least partially autobiographical. This game really spoke to me, as I could relate a lot more to the protagonist than I was expecting, which was a little bit of an awakening for me. Just be careful when playing this game. This has been your official trigger warning.

22. Gone Home

From one emotional gut punch to another, let’s talk about Gone Home. Once I finished playing it, I told my best friend that it had no right to affect me the way it did and I still stand by that. This game is absolutely phenomenal in its storytelling. The way you piece together what happened to your younger sister based on environmental clues is probably the best I’ve seen in a videogame. This is really one you should know as little as possible about before playing it, so I won’t tell you about the story too much aside from telling you that it’s excellent and you should definitely play it. There were some misconceptions going around that this was a horror game, but you don’t need to worry about that. It may be emotional, but fear is not one of those emotions. Do yourself a favor and play this game if you haven’t already.

21. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Some people had given up on Zelda games ever becoming truly innovative again. And then A Link Between Worlds came out. This game is absolutely one of the best Zelda games ever made. Its idea of letting you rent items and do the dungeons in a less linear order breathed fresh air back into the Zelda formula. That nonlinearity continued on in Breath of the Wild, a game sadly not appearing on this list. But back to A Link Between Worlds. Of course it has dual world gameplay. It is still a Zelda game. This time it’s merging into wall by becoming a living painting. This gets used for some clever puzzles and timing based skill challenges alongside being just another traversal method. A Link Between Worlds is a worth successor to A Link To The Past, and an absolute gem in the Zelda franchise.

20. Rime

Rime is everything The Witness should have been. It’s an atmospheric puzzle adventure game set in a gorgeous and mysterious world. What I really loved about this game is that all of the puzzles made sense. I find pretty often that puzzles in games feel a little arbitrary, but all of the puzzles in Rime felt like they were a logical part of the world. And what a world it is. Everything about it is so well-constructed and beautiful. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny. I especially loved the storyline in this game. I don’t want to spoil too much about it, but I thought it was a powerful and clever use of metaphor. It honestly reminded me a lot of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s use of an external journey mirroring an internal one, a comparison that I’m going to assume was intentional, given the name of the game.

19. Jackbox Party Pack

This is the perfect party game. It’s ideal for basically any social situation where you have access to a TV. Everyone I’ve introduced it to has seriously enjoyed it. What I especially find worth noting is the low barrier for entry. We take videogame literacy for granted these days, but not everyone actually knows how to use a controller or a WASD keyboard setup. But almost everyone has a phone or mobile device that can connect to the internet. Using that as the controller is an ingenius and inclusive solution that Jackbox Games should be commended for. Like, I’ve played this game with my parents, who play few to zero videogames, and they understood it perfectly. And in case you were curious, my favorite of the games is Fibbage.

18. Age of Mythology

What do you get when you combine my loves for world mythology, real-time strategy games, and excellent single-player experiences? Why, you get Age of Mythology, of course. I may not be very good at it in multiplayer, but this is still one of my favorite RTS games of all time. The storylines from both the original and the Titans expansion tell good stories with interesting characters and some inventive and clever levels. I especially like that all of the factions play so differently from one another. It keeps the game feeling fresh even after hours of playtime. I also really appreciate the level of choice you have as a player when doing tech research. Every time you move to a new tech level you get a choice between two deities to worship, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve happily played this game all the way through multiple times, trying out different strategies and finding my own playstyle.

17. Horizon: Zero Dawn

I was not expecting to like this game as much as I did. Upon first inspection, I saw just another open world game with light stealth, crafting, and climbing towers to reveal portions of the map. A typical Ubisoft game, in other words. But in reality… okay it still does all of that and more, but it does it all so well that it didn’t really bother me. See, normally I don’t like crafting systems, stealth, or post-apocalyptic settings, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this game. It really comes down to the quality of the writing, the exceptional art direction, and the fascinating world. This was a post-apocalypse I was more than happy to spend time in. The politics of the factions, the backstory of the world, and the gorgeous areas made me more than happy to play this game all the way to the end.

16. Rayman Legends

This might be the best 2D platformer I’ve ever played. Everything about it just works. The art is gorgeous, the music is fantastic, but the real stars of the show are the gameplay and the level design. The combination of those two put you into an incomparable sense of flow. Few things feel more satisfying than nailing a series of tricky walljumps and keeping your momentum going to the next section of the level. But I want to make special mention of the music levels. For those who don’t know, there are levels in this game that are set to Rayman versions of well-known song, and if you do them right then you get to do the level on the beat of the song. When done right, it’s pure platforming bliss and one of the best feeling things in gaming.

15. Saints Row: The Third

If pure fun mayhem were a videogame, it would look a lot like Saints Row: The Third. I could never really get on with Grand Theft Auto games but I’ve been a fan of the Saints Row games pretty much since the first one (and that was a pretty mediocre game to be quite honest with you). There’s always been something appealing about the presentation and sense of humor that the Saints Row games have in spades. What makes the comedy work so well is placing the characters in an absurd situation and playing it almost completely seriously. I also love the strong characterizations in this game. I know exactly who Shaundi, Pierce, Kinzie, and the rest are, and I like all of them. Still don’t get the appeal of Johnny Gat, though. Maybe it’s because I never played Saints Row 2.

14. Halo 3

This is another nostalgia pick for me, but I can’t help but love this game. I love every Halo game I’ve ever played, honestly. But this one gets on the list because of a memory. A memory of booting up this game on my Xbox 360 (back when it still worked), a game I’d already played many times by that point, sat down next to my older brother, and plowed through the whole thing on Legendary difficulty. It was a moment of a simpler time, where we both still had the time and proximity to each other to do stuff like that. Despite the nostalgia goggles I still think this is an excellent game. The story is super engaging, the weapons are creative, the gunplay is satisfying, and the vehicles are just a lot of fun.

13. Little Inferno

I’m genuinely surprised to see this game so high up on the list, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s the exact kind of relaxing puzzle game that I enjoy, with a bonus of a powerful message and an excellent story with some great twists. It’s also worth noting that this game is pretty insidious in its design. It’s pretty obvious that mindlessly burning stuff in your fireplace is a bad thing to do, but the feedback you get from burning stuff and finding the combinations on your list is immensely satisfying. It’s such an excellent example of immersive gameplay lining up with the story. It’s ludonarrative harmony, if you will.

12. Journey

Everything about this game is so beautiful. The music, the visuals, the smooth controls, the world, the storyline. All drop-dead gorgeous. How are controls gorgeous? By just being that damn good, that’s how. I’ve only played this once, but I feel like you really only should play this once. Replaying it feels like it might dilute the experience. There really is nothing quite like Journey. The very experience of playing this game is something I have a hard time describing because it’s really something you need to experience for yourself. The voiceless cooperation with other players is especially genius.

11. Pokemon X

Like most people, I basically grew up playing Pokemon games. I started with Ruby, and played every game since then. But none of them felt so fresh as Pokemon X did. The moment I stepped into the world of Kalos, I knew I would love it. The extra power the 3DS offered gave us a fully 3D world with an absolutely gorgeous France-inspired aesthetic. The sheer amount of nature in the beautiful environments made this game an absolute joy to explore. Finally being able to move diagonally was such a revelation after over a decade of the four cardinal directions. But what I loved the most was that it had such a good blend of old and new. Right off the bat it was clear that there was more emphasis on storytelling and characters, but it still followed the classic eight gyms and Pokemon League structure of yore. I also want to specially mention the addition of character customization. Each city stocking different clothing options made progress feel just that more exciting, as I got excited to go shopping. This game has everything you’d want in a Pokemon game, both for new players and enfranchised players, and it’s my favorite Pokemon game of all time.

10. Psychonauts

Psychonauts has charm in spades. That’s not the only reason I like it but I wanted to get that out of the way right off the bat. But this is a phenomenally good game aside from that. The best thing about this game is definitely the writing. The story does a very good job of getting you invested by making it all about the excellently developed characters. Seriously, almost all of the campers have a unique and memorable personality. The level design is also fantastic. The dream logic of all of the imaginative levels inside the various characters’ heads is probably the one of the biggest highlights in this game that is basically all highlights. They all represent the person’s entire personality, each with their own gimmicks and creative twists. My personal favorite level is Lungfishopolis, thought they’re basically all great. I only wish The Meat Circus was a little less unforgiving, or I would have put this even higher. But this is an absolutely excellent game worth its spot in the top 10 regardless.

9. Earth Defense Force 4.1

When people talk about arcade-style games, I can think of no better example than Earth Defense Force 4.1. It might be a little bit… buggy… but that hasn’t stopped me from loving it all the same. It’s pure, insect-blasting fun. The story is also a little ridiculous. Aliens are bringing giant insects from underground to try and either take over or destroy the world, presumably whichever one comes first. It’s far from the deepest or most interesting game on the list, certainly in the top 10, but it’s the gameplay that draws me to this game time and time again. There’s a lot of strategy to consider with your loadouts and classes, especially when playing co-op. The co-op experience is excellent, for the record. It’s been my go-to co-op game for a while now, because everyone understands “shoot the bugs until they fall over.” This is my favorite entry in a franchise that I already love. You should definitely give this a try if you haven’t already.

8. Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne

This might be the best single-player experience of any RTS I’ve played. The blend of RTS and RPG that the campaign of Warcraft 3 offers is something that no other game I’ve played has managed to replicate. Having a hero character whose progress and gear carries over between levels makes playing and replaying this game extremely rewarding. I also love the emphasis on story in this game. The world of Warcraft (no, not the MMO) is tropey as hell and way too serious but the characters, particularly Thrall and Gromm, are memorable enough to keep me invested. It would be remiss to not mention the multiplayer aspect. I’ve spent hours upon hours happily playing both the default maps and the user-created content. It’s a game I’ve replayed countless times and still had a ton of fun every time.

7. Borderlands 2

There are few co-op experiences better than Borderlands 2. The sheer number of hours I’ve spent playing this game is downright impressive. I must have finished the main story at least four times. It’s the perfect game to sit back, fire up your voice chat service of choice, and play with a friend for a few hours. The shooting is solid, most of the jokes still land after multiple playthroughs, and it still looks excellent after 7 years. It’s got some small downsides though. Claptrap can get pretty grating pretty quick, and some of the jokes are a bit… meme-y. But these are tiny nitpicks in the face of the extreme entertainment value this game has to offer. I never felt like I wasted my time with this game. It was always fun, be it in single or multiplayer.

6. Octodad: Dadliest Catch

This game is probably the best example of a pure comedy game I’ve ever played, and it’s for multiple reasons. The first is that the writing is rock-solid. The inherent absurdity of the situation aside, the actual jokes in the script all land. But where this game truly shines is creating comedy through its gameplay. Actually playing this game is frustrating on purpose, so trying to do anything in this game causes excellent moment of hilarity. But the reason this game is so high up the list is that there’s a reading of this game as a story about living with disability that really spoke to me. The comedy gets put into a whole new light when examined in this perspective, and it becomes a pretty powerful and personal story. It really spoke to me, and if you’ve never played the game like this, I highly recommend giving it another look. It meant a lot to me.

5. Monster Hunter World

Boy what a welcome surprise this game was. I’ve been a Monster Hunter fan since 4, but this is by far the best one I’ve ever played. The main problems the 3DS games had were the awkward control scheme and the small screen. But with World, both of those problems are solved, and they’ve included a few more quality-of-life improvements. There’s a training area, an in-game trail to follow to destinations, a better camera, and more tutorials than ever before. Not only is this the most beginner-friendly Monster Hunter game ever, it’s also the best one I’ve ever played. It’s so rewarding to prepare your equipment, make a game plan, and execute it in fights against massive and dangerous creatures. Something will go wrong very often, and adapting is key. And it’s doing that that makes Monster Hunter have the perfect difficulty for me: challenging and unpredictable but not unfair. Every time I’ve died in a fight, I could immediately see where I went wrong, and I was more than happy to jump back in and try a different strategy.

4. Saints Row 4

On a technical level, this game should be way further down the list. It’s kind of buggy, the combat is very style over substance, and the side missions are recycled to high heaven. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of my favorite games of all time. To have seen this franchise come from a decent GTA clone to a sci-fi superhero sandbox game has been something beautiful to behold. It’s hard to do scripted comedy well in videogames but Saints Row 4 completely nails it. A generous helping of pop culture references combined with some quality lowbrow jokes and some powerful satire makes this an absolute joy to play and replay. But for me the best part is the Saints. The connections they build and reinforce over the series are strongest here, and I’m a sucker for the found family trope. All of these broken and terrible people found each other to form one giant, chaotic, dysfunctional family. I love that so much. I honestly think this game is a lot smarter than it looks. It, like the Saints, has a lot more layers than you’d think at first glance.

3. Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is well-trodden ground in videogame criticism so I’ll try to keep this brief. I straight-up adore everything about this game. The beautiful empty vistas provoke a feeling of melancholic loneliness that I don’t think any other game has really captured as well as Shadow of the Colossus does. I loved basically all of the Colossus fights, even some of the admittedly less impressive ones because they all had something interesting going on in them. What pushes this game over the edge of greatness is its minimalist but highly effective story. Every time you take down a Colossus, something is very clearly wrong, and discovering what’s going on with that is one of the game’s biggest payoffs. The ending sequence is burned into my mind as one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever had in a videogame. It’s the one PS2 game I still own after getting rid of my collection because it’s such an important game for my development. This game is one of the reasons I got into games criticism in the first place, a subject we’ll be revisiting again in this list.

2. Spec Ops: The Line

What can I say about this game that hasn’t been already been said? This game kind of blew my mind when I played it. I had already read and watched a number of the analyses of this game before I had even bought it, but I was still taken aback at what transpires over the course of this game. It’s another example of an unreliable narrator in a videogame, but where Call of Juarez: Gunslinger played it for laughs, this game is deadly serious. The fact that it’s heavily inspired by Heart of Darkness, one of my favorite books of all time, definitely helped sell me on Spec Ops: The Line. I’ve never seen a military shooter, or really a lot of games in general, directly criticize you for playing them. To say that I enjoyed myself playing this would be incorrect, but it definitely felt like an enriching experience that changed the way I started looking at games and their design. I’ve spent a long time just looking for different people’s takes on this game. I still don’t feel like I’ve found everything this game has to say, even years later. It’s a game that will be talked about for years to come, and for a very good reason.

1. Bastion

This was the game that showed me that games could be more than just fun entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, this game is genuinely a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun experimenting with the different weapons and special abilities to find what works for me. But it’s the story and aesthetics that make me love this game so much. It’s one of the most hopeful post-apocalypse stories I’ve ever seen, with the emphasis placed heavily on rebuilding the world instead of fighting over what’s left. Everything about it is indescribably gorgeous as well, with a very colorful, almost painted art style and an absolutely stellar soundtrack by Darren Korb that I’ve very happily listened to all the way through multiple times. What’s so special about this game is how it has an in-universe explanation for New Game Plus mode. It’s this twist, combined with the rest of the game’s excellent writing, that opened my eyes to an entire world of gaming that I hadn’t considered before. They could be intelligent, interesting, and rewarding beyond just being mindless fun (not that there’s anything wrong with mindless fun, for the record). Games could be beauty, emotion, and most importantly, art. Thank you, Bastion, for being amazing.

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