As if writing an intro for The Games of the Year wasn't hard enough.
It was easier to narrow down a list of Games of the Decade than I thought, to be honest. I was worried I'd forget about some of the best games I've played these past ten years, but then, they wouldn't be on this list if they were forgettable, would they? Each of the games on this list has had some impact on me, be it emotionally, mechanically, or in terms of pushing the medium of videogames forward as whole — or all of the above. Some of these games probably won't come as a surprise. Some of them might make you scratch your head. My taste is weird. Some caveats:
- For this list I did not allow myself any remakes barring one selection. So games like Ocarina of Time 3D and the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus are a no-go. That said, if there's a bundle for a pair of games, I did in fact count them as one entry.
- I limited myself to 30 games, but like my GOTY list I did not rank them in any order, because it's 2019 and in my very humble opinion weighing games against each other like that is a worthless endeavor.
Also, thanks much to @projecttiger_ for the Peppermint art!
So. Let's start!
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The Wii is the very first console I ever learned how to hack. It was the easiest one to do it to, and it was a boon for a 16 year old who wanted to play tons of videogames but didn't have the money for any of them. All this to say, I pirated Super Mario Galaxy 2.
And then I beat it.
And then I bought it anyways.
That's how good SMG2 was. It felt like a culmination of every quality aspect of a Mario game up to that point. The platforming was sublime. The music was sweeping and catchy. Every level added a new mechanic that changed the game and kept things fresh. I had 100% completion of that game, and to date a Mario title has not topped it since. I don't know if we'll ever get another Mario game as good as it, if we're being honest. That's how good Super Mario Galaxy 2 was.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I didn't think Ocarina of Time could ever be topped as my favorite Zelda game. I love them all, really (except for Skyward Sword, sorry), and I completely acknowledge that a big part of my love for OoT stems from nostalgia, but even then, I didn't think another Zelda game could make me feel as strongly as that one did. And then Breath of the Wild came along. I don't like most open-world games, but BotW changed that. It made exploration fun in its own right. It used topography to encourage it, as opposed to a bunch of glowing markers on a map that you beeline to to do open-world things. It had a melancholic, Princess Mononoke-esque atmosphere to it that made traveling meditative and beautiful. I don't know if I can ever go back to Breath of the Wild — I finished it completely in a few hundred hours, and I can't see myself doing that again — but I loved the time I spent with it.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
I wasn't that excited for SSBU when it was first announced. I didn't care that all the old characters were coming back, and none of the new characters were ones that I was interested in. But then I had it in my hands, and the changes to the game's systems were enough to make all of that criticism go away. Ultimate is the best-feeling Smash Bros game by a long-shot. It's the perfect speed, has the best balance, and most variety. The DLC characters have all been entertaining in their own ways as well. A Smash Bros game was going to be on this list — it's a celebration of gaming in and of itself, after all. But even putting that aside, Ultimate deserves to be on this list because it's just plain good.
I don't tend to go to games for self-improvement. In fact, I feel bad a lot of the time when I'm playing videogames — I can't shake off the feeling that I'm wasting my time, and could be doing something more productive. But Celeste didn't make me feel that way. Here was a game that asked me to be kinder to myself, that encouraged me not to quit, that told me that it was okay to ask for help when I needed it. Celeste taught me to be a better person, and that, coupled with its fantastic music by my celebrity crush Lena Raine, along with pixel-perfect platforming that people are still mastering to this day, is why it deserves a spot on this list.
As I've said on this blog many times before, I'm not the biggest Souls fan. Hell, I would barely call myself a fan at all, despite understanding the series' merits. Bloodborne got me close, though. I spent hundreds of hours in this game, marveling at its Gothic aesthetic, discovering its secrets, and unraveling its plot. For once, I understood what drew people to Souls games. It helped that I got to use a cane-sword to turn into a whip, to be honest. Bloodborne worked for me in a way other Souls games didn't because it was easier to follow and had a fast-paced, aggressive version of combat that meshed well with me, the guy that only plays rushdown characters in fighting games. I still posit that it's better than any Dark Souls game, and I ask that you forward any hate-mail for this take to my P. O. Box.
I mean. It's Undertale. What can I even say about this game that hasn't been said already? It sprung out of nowhere and took the entire world by storm. Hell, Sans himself is in Smash Bros! Regardless of how you feel about this game, it had to be on the list, right? I was lucky enough to play Undertale before the hype crashed over everyone like a wave, and I'm happy I did. What made Undertale so interesting to me was how unassuming it first was. I was nearly bored with the first section of the game. I had no idea what I was getting into. And then I, uh, killed Toriel. And I felt really bad about it! So I restarted my game. The rest is history, heh.
Undertale is undoubtedly an important game. It asked interesting questions about how we treat violence in the games we play. Sure it was a little hamfisted at times, but it had heart (pun intended). Plus, even disregarding all of that, it deserves a spot on this list for the soundtrack anyways.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Fan purists are fun. And by fun, I mean extremely annoying. I bring this up because if you ask a Fire Emblem fan if they like Fire Emblem Awakening, there's a 50/50 chance they'll spit at your feet. These people are bad and wrong. I am right. Listen to me.
Fire Emblem Awakening saved an entire series of videogames, and if nothing else, I owe it for that. I used to have to perform a seance to pray for a Fire Emblem game to come stateside. Now the games release simultaneously with Japan. There's a Dynasty Warriors crossover. A gatcha game with 4 variations of Lyn in it. If you told ten-year old me that was the case, he'd laugh in your face in disbelief. The way Fire Emblem Awakening made the series accessible to so many of its fans and introduced itself to a generation of new ones is one of the things I loved most to happen in the game industry this decade.
Much has been made of whether videogames are art or not — Geoff Keighley is still trying to convince everyone that they totally are on Twitter to this day. We never needed to have this conversation, but even if we did, Journey should have immediately ended it. A game with very little in the way of words, it was a short, sweet, beautiful experience that has inspired so many games like it since its release. The music is on another level, and the emotional catharsis of the final level of the game is something that I still think about to this day. I kind of feel like Journey has been lost to the shuffle of time as the medium has progressed, but I don't think that progression would have been possible in the first place without it.
Final Fantasy XIV
Before Final Fantasy XIV, my experience with MMOs didn't extend beyond a brief stint with FFXI, and F2P Korean games like Maple Story, O2Jam, FlyFF, Trickster Online and so on. They were fine for a kid with no money, but they also soured my taste for the genre, as all of the games I mentioned were heavy on grinding to encourage spending on microtransactions. Even then, I started XIV on 1.0, which didn't help warm my feelings on MMOs.
I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because FFXIV has not only gone on to be my favorite social experience in videogames, but also one of my favorite Final Fantasy games, period. It captures the spirit of the series in a way that we've been missing since Final Fantasy X, and each expansion has only improved on its quality. It's helped me make some great friends, too. Plus, it lets you play a bunny girl! Do I really need to explain further?
Bayonetta 1 + 2
I couldn't pick between the two Bayonettas, so I'm just including them both. They compliment each other well, with the first game having the best last boss but the second being tighter mechanically overall. Bayonetta is what got me into character action as a genre, helping me go back to classics like Devil May Cry, too. It's a reminder of the fact that vidoegames can just be fun, and it's the kind of wacky, over-the-top thing that could only ever exist in this particular medium (although I've heard the Bayonetta anime is pretty good too). The titular character is one of the best chaotic good protagonists ever. Okay Kamiya, now that I have your attention, where is Bayonetta 3, I swear to God—
Hatsune Miku's greatest creation besides Levan Polka, Minecraft is the kind of game that doesn't show up very often. It's a cultural phenomenon, a game literally everyone on planet earth has played, and one that everyone can enjoy. It's a game that I think has been genuinely been good for the world, one that can be used as an educational tool or a conduit for creativity. I can't build at all because I have the imagination of a goldfish, but I love exploring the randomly generated biomes and seeing what kind of interesting flora and fauna get created. Even now, years later, I get a thrill entering a cave in Minecraft, and I think that says something of its longevity.
Spec Ops: The Line
There are lot of problems with Spec Ops, if we're being honest, but playing through it I didn't notice any of them at first. I still think about this game because whether its message landed or not, at least it tried to say a single interesting thing about shooters and violent videogames in general. It's a game that stays with you once the other shoe finally drops, and frankly, kinda did the Undertale thing before Undertale. If FPS games were even half as interesting as Spec Ops, I'd probably play them a lot more.
Before Titanfall 2, I had a brief relationship with multiplayer shooters. I dabbled in Halo, ran games of Gears of War with friends, and was really into Timesplitters 2 when I was ten, but that's about it. After Titanfall 2, I'm surprised they still even make multiplayer shooters. I mean, why? You literally cannot beat running off a wall to punch another guy in midair before jumping into your mech and taking out another enemy team. I put hours and hours of my time into Titanfall 2's multiplayer. And that's just the multiplayer! The campaign is one of the best I've seen in the genre, with outstanding level design and gimmicks that shake things up without overstaying their welcome. It's tragic how slept on this game is, and just talking about it makes me want to play it again. Just. Play Titanfall 2, please.
The Walking Dead: Season One
What happened to Telltale Games was tragic, especially considering their pedigree. The game industry is worse off to have lost it, and The Walking Dead: Season One is proof of that. A game with an interesting protagonist that was Black? Sign me the hell up. The slower, narrative-focused pacing of TWD was something unfamiliar to me when I first started the series, but it was good for me to delve into. The writing was fun and snappy, and the relationship Lee had with Clementine felt real. Very few games make me cry, but if they do, they probably deserve a spot on this list.
Doki Doki Literature Club
I started DDLC at 10PM on a weekday, then playing it until 3AM in the morning before going to sleep for 3 hours so I could be ready for work. It is, in my opinion, the only way one should experience Doki Doki Literature Club. It's a game that implanted itself into my brain for months, and one that still crosses my mind to this day. Hell it's literally the only videogame I've ever actively contributed to the wiki of. It's hard to talk about this game without spoiling it, but it really did affect me in a way that most videogames haven't. If you enjoy horror and/or meta-commentary in your media consumption, then I implore you to give it a shot.
Gravity Rush 1 + 2
How shocked are you to see this series on the list? Really, how surprised could you possibly be? I never shut the fuck up about Gravity Rush. I've literally run out of ways to explain why it's one of the best games ever made and one of my favorite games of all time. I thought nostalgia might have blinded me, so I replayed them both recently. Incorrect: they're still fantastic games. One of the characters of my novel has Kat as their namesake. When they put my cold, lifeless body in the ground, my tombstone is just going to read "Play Gravity Rush 2 You Damn Animals." And that's really that on that.
I love it when games are just unabashedly weird. Dragon's Dogma fits that bill perfectly. It is just a clunky, strange game. It's esoteric in its quest design and its systems are sometimes incomprehensible without reading a lot of external documentation to figure it out. None of that matters to me though because Dragon's Dogma is a kind of weird that we don't see from AAA developers in the industry anymore. I'd even call it the last of its kind. It's a game that really did try to be different, a blend of Western mythos and scale combined with the sensibilities of a quirky SNES JRPG. This game has released at least 4 times, and I've rebought it every single time. I only wish there was a sequel I could put on this list as well.
It could easily be argued that Tetris is the greatest game ever, and you'd probably win. Luckily Tetris Effect is technically a different game, and thus I am not cheating adding it to this list. It's kind of hard to explain why this game is here, other than the fact that Tetris is amazing. However, if you appreciate a e s t h e t i c in your games, then Tetris Effect has you covered. Tetsuya Mizuguchi has mastered the ability to sync music and gameplay in tandem, and Tetris fits into that loop perfectly. The way clicks and clacks pair up with the soundtrack create an experience in your brain that's hard to top, and one I always go back to whenever I want to relax.
Also, as an aside, this game narrowly beat Puyo Puyo Tetris for a spot on the list, mostly because I suck at Puyo Puyo. But you should play that too!
Pocket Card Jockey
I know what you're thinking. "This isn't real, Mint. You made this game up." To which I say, congratulations! Assuming you have a 3DS, I am now introducing you to one of the best games of the past ten years. Developed by Game Freak, resident Pokemon devs, Pocket Card Jockey is a game where you win horse races by playing solitaire. It sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. And makes its quality all the more incredible. I am actually too embarrassed to share with you how much time I've spent – and continue to spend – on this game. Despite its difficulty, and the fact that it takes a while of breeding good horses before I was finally winning races, none of that mattered. The core gameplay loop of pairing cards and strategically maneuvering your horse around the track is so satisfying that I could do it forever. Literally. This is my "If You Could Only Play One" game, easy.
It feels like Nier got thrown into the bin for good when its hotter sibling with the nicer ass entered the scene two years ago. I'm here to remind everyone that despite being the ugly, clunky one, Nier is still one of the best games of the past ten years. It's a game that's hard to forget (pun intended, sorry for this one), and its strangeness is part of the charm. Nier and his pals are some of the most interesting characters in games, especially Emil, my precious son. Nier is one of those games that I feel actually use literary technique in its storytelling, and it's a big part of what helped me be more critical of games as a whole.
Like I said, Nier Automata is the hot sibling, and despite the fact that it left its brother in the dust, it still deserves the praise it gets. Automata got the budget that Yoko Taro deserved, and it shows. PlatinumGames finally allowed it to reach the level of polish in its gameplay systems that the series was missing. Nier Automata was a game that I needed when it first released, its ending one of the most emotional, impactful experiences I've ever had playing videogames. Sometimes I get extremely depressed about the state of the game industry, but 2B and Co.'s adventures are proof that games can be something more, and that they still have more to say.
There was a period in my life where my interest in games was outpacing the amount of money I was making — and by that I mean I was 14, so I had no money at all. This was decidedly a boon for me, though, because it led to me delving into places like the TIGSource forums, playing indie games like Cave Story, and, in 2008, the original version of Spelunky. The game introduced me to the concept of rougelikes, genre-blending, and the idea that one person can create something really special. In 2013 we got the remake of Spelunky, which in my opinion represents everything great we've received from indie games ever since. It's a game that's designed with perfection in mind, with every system interlocking to provide an experience that's actually very difficult to put down. Spelunky also gets the award for "Game of the Decade I've Only Managed to Beat Once," other than Breath of the Wild, heh.
Bravely Second: End Layer
I fell off the JRPG bandwagon for a while, despite it being my genre of choice when I was younger. It was a combination of the lack of interesting mechanics, the bland, anime-harem stories, and cheaply developed games that were flooding the market. Seriously, outside of remakes, this decade was not kind to JRPGs. For the most part. Bravely Second not only got me to appreciate the style again, it also proved to me that games like it don't have to waste your time to be considered entertaining. It let you change your enemy encounter rate at will, chain battles together to get experience faster, and speed up battle animations as much as you want. It's a game that respected me, and in turn I beat it to show the same level of respect. Couple that with one of the coolest twists I can think of in a game, and you have a recipe for some of the best JRPG goodness since the PS2 days.
Being honest, any of Supergiant's games could be on this list. I narrowed it down to Pyre, however, because it's a game that actually made me scream. About my choices, I mean. Pyre makes you go through the cruel process of getting to know dozens of amazing characters and then deciding their fates. No choice feels right. Every choice feels right! I was constantly tearing my hair out over what to do next. I'm being vague about this because the choices are a spoiler in and of themselves, but I'll put it this way: I finished Pyre in one day, and played the multiplayer mode on top of that for another few months. Everything Supergiant makes is gold, but Pyre might be their game with the most luster.
The Last Guardian
Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favorite games ever made, but surprisingly, I didn't play The Last Guardian until last year, long after the game had released. I don't know why. Maybe it was the price tag, or the fact that I wasn't sure if the game could meet my expectations. But it did. This might be a spicy take, but The Last Guardian is just as good as The Shadow of the Colossus, and in some ways, is even better. More than that, The Last Guardian is one of the best games of this decade because frankly, I don't know if we'll ever get another game like it, given the current state of the game industry. A short, artful game from a AAA studio that's $60 and doesn't have microtransactions or expansion packs or isn't a "live-service" experience on the PlayStation 4? Maybe in another 15 years.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
We're lucky Birth By Sleep came out in the past 10 years, or I don't know if I'd have been able to put a Kingdom Hearts game on the list at all. The other games are good and fun if you're a fan, sure, but BBS stands apart because of its surprising amount of focus and a simplicity to the story that hasn't been found in the series since...uh, the first Kingdom Hearts. Aqua, Terra and Ventus are all endearing (or in the latter two's case, endearingly stupid) characters, and their relationship is one that I appreciated. There aren't very many games about family out there, I think. The Command Deck is also the best version of the Kingdom Hearts combat system. No I will not be responding to this post, thank you.
Watch Dogs 2
Do you know how many games let you play as black men? Do you know how many of them let you play as nerdy black men? How about nerdy, well dressed black men? When you narrow it down that far, I can only think of one game, though I wish there were far more. Watch Dogs 2 is great because of that reason alone, but it's also prescient in its message and also unabashedly fun. The character interactions are great, the game never takes itself all that seriously, and it feels authentic in its understanding of technology — well, for the most part. There are very few games that represent the kind of person I am, and for that reason Watch Dogs 2 is on this list.
Persona 4: Golden
Okay, look. My relationship with Persona is...tumultuous at best. Regardless, this game came around when I was in a very difficult spot in my life, and I give it credit to get me out of it. It helped me to break out of my shell a little bit, be more confident in myself, to try and make friends and say yes to things more often. The idea of the social link system isn't exactly novel — it's just a gamified version of anime's favorite conceit, "My Friends Are My Power" — but damn if it wasn't the message I needed at the time. So I owe Persona 4: Golden. Not the other ones, though.
Rune Factory 4
"Stardew Valley?" you say? Huh, what? I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the 400th hour I've spent on the best farming/dungeon crawling simulator in videogame history. I bought Rune Factory 4 on a whim during a sale, not thinking I'd spend too much time on it. God, was I wrong. So, so wrong. Everything about Rune Factory 4 feels so good to actually engage in. Farming crops to make money to get stronger to go dungeon crawling to unlock new farming items to farm better and so on and so forth. Plus there's an actually interesting plot to delve into, even if it's fairly standard JRPG fare, along with a huge cast of characters to get to know in detail. Not to be dramatic, but I'd die for Forte.
"Wonder Team, diplomacy has failed!" And unfortunately, so did this game's sales numbers. Wonderful 101 deserved better than it got. Critics lambasted it for its esoteric character action mechanics. It was released on a system that me and two other people bought. It's one of Platinum's messiest games. But I'm here to tell you: none of that matters!!! Wonderful 101 is a joy on every level, a kaleidoscope of everything that makes Platinum and character action games great. It has the strongest finale in any videogame I've ever played (Mash A to Save the World), and some of Platinum's greatest set-pieces. It's a celebration of the kind of ridiculous that only videogames can pull off, and I hope it gets the chance to shine again someday.
Holy shit!!! That was so goddamn long. Thank you for reading about the thirty games I liked most these past ten years. Here's hoping the next ten are just as good, in terms of the games we get to play, and our lives in general, really. As usual, tell me your faves, as well as how wrong and/or right I was, either in the comments below or @mint on Mastodon! And if you like any of the stuff I write, please consider hitting up my Patreon or Ko-Fi. Thank you and see you in 2020!