I saw another writer put up a journal of their top 20 video games, and I thought “hey, I made a list of those a couple months ago.” So I put together mine with some descriptions for each of my top 20 entries. A couple of notes – one, yeah, this is a long one. 20 entries, each with quite a few words describing it. Feel free to pick and choose entries to read if you don’t want to read it all (though I promise it’s worth reading the whole thing!). Also, these are my top 20 favorite games of all time. Basically, my list will be super different from yours, and that’s awesome! I hope more people do this, I love seeing what games people enjoy the most and why. I’ll also have a few honorable mentions at the end. I hope you enjoy this! (Also, no pictures, since this is long enough as is)
20. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Xbox 360)
I’ve always been terrible at shooter games. I’ve also always loved them. I have no clue why. This was a tough call between this and Black Ops/World at War, but I really only play those two for Zombies, so MW 3 won. The gameplay is as good as ever (for all the hate Call of Duty games get, their controls are about as perfect as humanly possible). The Special Ops and Survival Modes are what clinch this game for me. I love co-op in any game, far more than competition. The Spec Ops missions can be done with a friend, which afford some really cool tactical coordination, and Survival is you and a friend against waves of increasingly numerous and powerful enemies. The strategy and co-op goodness of this game cannot be overstated.
19. Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning (Nintendo 3DS)
I’ve always enjoyed the Harvest Moon games. They’re such a great way to relax, kick back, and have some good fun. This one, though… it’s also great for wondering where the time’s gone. I frequently sat down and played this game for eight hours straight without even realizing it. And yet it’s also great for short sessions, where you can play for just a single day in game-time (about thirty minutes or so). The farming, the animal care, and all the interactions with the townspeople are just so relaxing, adorable, and delightful.
18. F-Zero GX (Nintendo Gamecube)
I used to be amazing at this game. Who knows what happened? I still enjoy it (even though I’m terrible after not playing for almost a decade). It’s the most fast-paced, completely insane racing game I have ever played. Depending on purely reaction time is folly – track knowledge is the key to winning races here. Speeding along at 1200 kph with 29 other racers, and with the threat of falling off the track meaning you have to start over (Mario Kart’s Lakitu isn’t here to save you) offers an intensity that can’t be matched.
17. Fantasy Life (Nintendo 3DS)
This game is just adorable. I already put up a review about it, but to sum it up, it’s an RPG that you can play at your own pace, with adorable and hilarious writing, and an insane amount of things to do. Crafting, mining, combat, even fishing are all insanely fun and you can easily spend hundreds of hours whiling away time in this game. A must-have for RPG lovers who want something more gameplay-focused than story-based.
16. Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
I LOVE strategy games. RTS games like Battle for Middle Earth and Age of Mythology, and turn-based games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem are fantastic. Speaking of which, Advance Wars just barely missed this list (sadness). I think my love of these stems from my love of chess, which my dad taught me before I even knew video games existed. Awakening continues all of the great things about Fire Emblem – training up specific units, wonderful personalities and characterizations, and fantastic strategy gameplay – but adds in wonderful new gameplay mechanics like pairing up units, class changing, a massive world map, and having a second generation system where some characters have children who take on their parents’ qualities and skills – along with having fantastic personalities. This would be ranked much higher, if there weren’t another Fire Emblem game that is about as perfect as possible in my eyes.
15. Metroid Prime (Nintendo Gamecube)
I’ll pass up all the accolades and descriptions thrown this game’s way – the immersion, sense of loneliness, exploration, blah blah blah. Point is, it’s all true. Plus, this game’s fun. The gameplay is amazingly good for being a first-person shooter without dual-stick controls. Figuring out enemy weaknesses is great, battles are crazy intense and so fun, and yes, it’s incredibly immersive and full of exploration and adventure. There’s an incredible story here, and the beautiful thing is – it’s entirely up to the player how much they learn about it. You can speed through the game guns blazing, or take your time and scan and read everything, and either way you’re guaranteed a fun, exciting time. Plus, for a Gamecube game, it sure looks like it could fit right in on the Xbox 360 or PS3.
14. Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)
I finally got a chance to play this game this year, and oh man. No one was kidding about how great it is. Although I have some quibbles with the camera (it seriously feels like the Mario 64 camera, which is pathetic at times), this is definitely one of the best Mario games ever – one of the best Nintendo games, too, from a purely gameplay and developmental standpoint. The level design always just amazes me in Mario games. The people who put together these levels are creative and clever beyond anything I could imagine. There are surprises at every turn. Like most Mario games, the story is simple and takes a back seat, but who cares? What’s there is probably the best story in a Mario game, and the gameplay, being the focus, is stellar. Gravity-based gameplay along with classic Mario platforming goodness blend together so well, it’s a wonder they only made two of these games.
13. Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green (Nintendo Gameboy Advance)
There was bound to be a Pokemon game on this list. These guys make it purely by nostalgia (though they hold up really darn well even today). The Kanto region has never been better (okay, maybe in Heart Gold/Soul Silver, but I haven’t played those yet… don’t shoot me), and the addition of the Sevii Isles makes for a wealth of possibilities and a huge world to explore. My Fire Red game file still has over 200 hours on it (and it’s the second file I started on that game).
12. Golden Sun (Nintendo Gameboy Advance)
I love all three Golden Sun games, but the first one is definitely my favorite (you can include Lost Age with it, though, as they technically were designed to be one giant game). The world is gigantic, the graphics are amazing for a GBA game (I still have trouble believing it was made for the Gameboy Advance – that little handheld could work wonders), and the gameplay is so fun. Combat is exciting, the dungeons are vast and full of clever, mind-bending puzzles. It’s like a Zelda game if it was an RPG with a full party of four. So it’s not like a Zelda game. Whatever. Next game!
11. Skies of Arcadia: Legends (Nintendo Gamecube)
Geez, for not enjoying RPGs, there sure a lot of them on this list, huh? Yeah, well Skies of Arcadia makes it for the same reason as others do: the story is delightful and charming enough to keep me engaged, and also never gets in the way of the gameplay. And speaking of gameplay, this game plays like a dream. The battles against monsters on foot are fun and inventive with special skills, but the ship battles kick it up a notch. Yeah, you get a freaking pirate ship, you can customize its weapons and shields, and you get to battle against other pirate ships in a combination of strategy and turn-based RPG combat. I love it. And did I mention the two main characters? Aika and Vyse are so relentlessly optimistic and cheerful, I wish all RPG main characters were like this. All the angst of Final Fantasy games seriously gets me down. This is a perfect game if you need to be cheered up on a rainy day.
10. Tales of Symphonia (Nintendo Gamecube)
The run of RPGs continues! The Tales series as a whole has honestly the best battle system I’ve ever seen in an RPG. It’s like Smash Bros. in RPG form, with A and a direction for regular attacks, and B with a direction for special skills. It’s fast-paced and exciting. Oh, and the story’s fun, too, if that’s your thing. Lloyd, the main character, is a total brat at the beginning, but goes through a delightful change throughout the 40-odd hour game. The world is beautiful – but not the overworld map. That thing is ugly. Thank goodness the towns, dungeons, and character models are gorgeous, with a wonderful cel-shaded art style.
9. Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64)
I haven’t played the 3DS version yet, or it would undoubtedly be here instead. This is a really short game. Cool thing is – it never gets boring to replay it. The space combat is fast-paced, frenetic, and so much fun. There are multiple paths to take, and it makes for a really clever difficulty system. Three paths, one of which is the “easy” path, one the “normal,” and one the “hard,” with each path requiring progressively more challenging tasks to be completed to be able to follow it. I enjoy Star Fox Adventures and Assault a lot, but 64 is still the king.
8. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Nintendo Wii)
This will likely be replaced by Smash Bros. Wii U when I get it, but it might not. The reason? This was the game my brother, myself, and tons of our friends would play over and over, day after day, for hours on end. That friend dynamic isn’t there anymore, with us more distant than high school, which is a bummer. Smash Bros. games really thrive on local multiplayer, and this was the most chaotic, delightful fun I’ve ever had with local multiplayer. It’s fantastic.
7. Fire Emblem (Blazing Sword in Japan) (Nintendo Gameboy Advance)
This. This is the king of strategy games. The story is still my favorite in a Fire Emblem game, the characters are the most delightful ever, the support conversations are fantastic and well-balanced (Awakening had a little too much of a focus on the romantic side of things, and not enough platonic support conversations between what should be obvious friendships). And the gameplay is amazing. It’s far more linear than today’s Fire Emblem games, but that’s fine by me. Each level is perfect. Okay, not all of them – the battle against Erik on the plains of Laus can go burn forever. But otherwise, the level design is amazing, and a true test of strategy and skill. I’ve replayed this particular Fire Emblem more times than I can count… I still have yet to beat either Eliwood or Hector’s stories on Hard Mode. Those are brutal.
6. Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo Wii U)
This was one of the first games I got when I bought my Wii U (bought the Wind Waker edition back in January). I was actually kind of “meh” about the game for the first few levels. For about two months, I played this game off and on. One note – I’m AWFUL at platformer games. I died over and over, slowly making progress. Something happened in that third month of playing this game. I don’t know where I was in the game, but it was like a light went on. I was laughing more at my failures. I was more excited about my successes. I started seeing the levels and just how amazingly they were designed – a perfect blend of the 3D Mario gameplay and 2D Mario level design. There’s so much insane variety and style and things I’ve never seen combined together in a Mario game. I was hooked. I played this game non-stop, almost entirely single-player (everyone talks about this game for its multiplayer, but it holds up PERFECTLY as a single-player experience. I can’t stress that enough). I played with every character, got every star, stamp, and the top of every flagpole. I love that this game has a death counter – I died over 700 times. Yes, you read that right. And I don’t regret a second of it. This game is pure gaming and platforming gold. I still haven’t beaten Champion’s Road – I’m not even close, that place is brutal – but every second getting me there was amazing. I love it. I’ll be coming back to this game for years. Mario 64 used to be in this space on my top 20 list – 3D World just recently supplanted it. If you’ve been on the fence about this game because you don’t have friends to play it with, but you love Mario games, get it. Don’t even hesitate. You will not be disappointed, not for a second.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo 3DS)
To preface this, I have the 3DS remake here, but the Nintendo 64 original is one of my earliest gaming memories (I didn’t really get into video games until I was 8 or so, sue me). I have beaten that original over 20 times, along with my brother and sister. It was a gaming fixation in our home (I think they both now favor Majora’s Mask over it, but not me). The 3DS remake came along, and oh my word. It takes everything I love about the original and makes it better. It adds the Master Quest, which I never had a chance to play before this. The graphics have a beautiful facelift. The controls are even better (except the Ocarina, but it’s hard to fault them for that), with the touch screen making all the difference in the world, and gyroscopic aiming becoming my new favorite. Side note about gyroscopic aiming – I got so used to it in OoT 3D and Wind Waker HD that when I went back to play Twilight Princess on the Gamecube, it took me a few hours to not have my first reaction when I pulled out my bow to move my controller to aim. Fun times were had by all. Also, playing this remake made me realize… Ocarina of Time still holds up as a video game today. It doesn’t feel like an outdated experience from a decade plus ago. It feels like it was made for today, and that’s why I think this game still hits the top of so many “best games ever” lists. It feels like it really doesn’t age at all.
4. Mega Man X
The Wii U virtual console is a beautiful thing. I never had a Nintendo Wii, so my first experience with the virtual console was with the Wii U. I saw there were a wealth of Mega Man games. I’d always loved Mega Man, but mainly for the cartoons and for Mega Man X: Command Mission (yeah, I have a secret love of that game), so I wasn’t sure where to start with the old school games. After looking online, I settled on X because it was said to be the easiest for newcomers. And oh my gosh this game is brutal. I died over and over again. It took me twenty-odd tries to beat Chill Penguin, the “first” level. It took me twenty more tries to beat my second boss. But I kept playing. And the crazy thing is, I kept getting better. I died less. I knew how to handle enemies that came at me. I fluidly switched from running and gunning to jumping to dashing. This game deserves every iota of praise it gets. It’s as flawless of a video game experience I have ever played. The level design is perfect (I know I talk about level design a lot, I’m a nerd like that). Monster placement, boss attack patterns, it’s all designed in a way that is challenging but fair, in a way that makes you get better at the game. Every single failure is your own fault, and you can learn from it all. I have never been more rewarded as a gamer for beating a game than this one. It’s made me better at everything in video games – reflexes, coordination, anticipation, and just learning and understanding complex patterns and overcoming any challenge. It’s also made me realize – and be warned, we’re getting into cheesy territory here – that I can do anything. It was so hard at first – I can’t even stress how difficult it was for me early on. But I beat the entire game, start to finish, and I can’t wait to play it again. This game just makes you better. If you’re looking for examples of near-perfect game design, this is it. It blows my mind.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD (Nintendo Wii U)
What, after all the praise of Mega Man X, it’s not number one? Nope. And that’s because this is a very subjective list – my favorite games. And as picture perfect as Mega Man X is, I’ve had more fun with three other games. Wind Waker HD is one of them. I enjoyed the Gamecube version, but there were things that held it back. The HD remake fixes everything. The Triforce collection quest is streamlined and not a chore anymore. Exploring islands is easier than ever, with the map right there on your Gamepad at all times, meaning that knowing where islands are and what things of interest are there is so simple. With the Gamepad, it really feels like you’re on an adventure. Look up, and you have the endless ocean. Look down, and you have your map, slowly filling in with places you’ve ventured and discovered. I finally get why Wind Waker is so well-regarded – it’s an adventure, as pure as it gets since the original Legend of Zelda. Each island is a mystery waiting to be dared, discovered, explored, and conquered. There are secrets galore, hidden in the great deep ocean. The dungeons are fewer than normal, but each one is a delight, full of inventive puzzles and challenging enemies. Also, having Link be a kid I think to me is one of the things I love about the Zelda games – the hero is never some battle-hardened, grizzled veteran. He’s a kid, usually untested and unready, thrust into challenges that should be too much for him. And yet he conquers them. He overcomes. And here we go with more cheesy territory, but this is why Link is my favorite video game character ever – because he inspires. He’s just some kid, thrown into craziness that no kid should ever have to expect to face. And he overcomes, without complaint, without fear. I love it.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)
I’ve been playing through Link to the Past for the first time thanks to the Wii U virtual console, and it’s a fun time. But for years, I’ve always had the same issue with the top-down Zelda games – the controls. They just always feel clunky to me. I enjoyed Link’s Awakening, but it didn’t make this list either. ALBW fixes every single issue I have with top-down Zelda games. The use of the Circle Pad and analog movement makes every action, every bit of exploration and combat and puzzle-solving feel more fluid than ever – even more than many of the 3D Zelda games. Also, the way that this game strips back all the complexities of modern Zelda – the handholding, the helper companion character, the excessive tutorials, the fancy combat moves and parry maneuvers – makes it pure fun. The thing about fun is that often time less is more, simplicity trumps complexity. Yeah, this is coming from someone who adores the complexities of strategy games like Fire Emblem. But the simplicity of ALBW, along with the nonlinear nature of it, being able to rent items, it all captured what I feel Zelda games are meant to be, at the very core of their nature – an adventure. It’s about exploring a vast world, solving puzzles, braving dungeons, discovering hidden treasures, and, of course, saving the day from evil. The stripping away of complexity and barriers to player choice makes this game the most pure Zelda game I have ever played (I’ve barely touched the original Zelda, sorry guys). I hope Zelda U takes a ton of cues from this, because it’s freaking fantastic. I played it for the first time in January, and I’ve already beaten in three times.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo Wii)
And this will feel like I’m taking back everything I said in the Number 2 entry. Oh well. Skyward Sword is much more complicated than ALBW, much more linear, much more story-focused, it’s ridden with handholding and tutorials and all kinds of extraneous nonsense. And I love it to death. This game has had me nearly throw my controller in how annoyed I was by Fi repeating things I literally just read/saw/heard/thought, by how the game reminds you every single time what the different materials are, by the way the camera makes the start of puzzles so freaking obvious a child could do it. And yet I don’t care. It doesn’t take away from what I feel is the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. The story is delightful, and I desperately wanted to rescue Zelda and save the world, more than I’ve ever wanted to in any other game. The soundtrack has had me teary-eyed over and over with how wonderfully orchestrated and perfectly it fits the context of the game and story. The world above the clouds, while emptier than the Great Sea of Wind Waker, is a beautiful expanse I love to explore. Flying on the Loftwing, performing silly maneuvers and listening to that adventurous music that evokes memories of Skies of Arcadia never gets old. And the controls. The controls are everything to me in this game. Using motion controls to swing my sword, fire the bow, roll and throw bombs, felt more like I was in the game than any other game I have ever played. It’s exactly what I’ve always dreamed of – being Link, being the hero in this incredible journey. Like with Mega Man X, the nature of the controls in this game found me gradually getting better – not because of leveling up or arbitrary gameplay measurements, but because I was learning and improving at maneuvers and sword swinging. The controls worked flawlessly for me – any time they freaked out, I could repeat the issue easily, proving that, at least for me, it was always human error that caused problems, not the controls. Combat is perfect in this game. Absolutely perfect. And the world below the clouds is delightful as well. It looks linear at first, but there is so much to explore and discover, so many reasons to come back even when the story isn’t telling you to come back, to find things and use new equipment in old areas to find Goddess Cubes and unlock treasures above the clouds. The stamina bar also allows Link to be so versatile and athletic, and I love it. I love this game so much. This game is the most perfect example of how this list is pure subjective, just about my favorite games – not what’s “best” by some scale. Just my favorite games. Skyward Sword takes the cake, for being constantly stunning, breathtaking, heart-wrenching, and immersive in every possible way. And Fi, for all the times you frustrate me, I still love ya.
So there you have it, my top 20 favorite video games of all time! When I first put together the list, 3D World wasn’t on it, and there were a few others in different spots or on the list that aren’t anymore. Just goes to show that this kind of list changes constantly. The top five are almost identical, though. A few honorable mentions go to: Mario Kart 8, Diddy Kong Racing, pretty much any Mario Party game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, Journey.
Hope you enjoyed reading this! Any comments about my entries? What’s your list of favorite 20 games? Let me know below, and thanks for reading!