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Forums - Gaming Discussion - The Discussion Thread | The 12th Annual Greatest Games Event

15 – Pokemon – 9.6/10 – GB, GBA, DS, 3DS, Switch

Gotta catch 'em all, am I right? Here, we have another entry that encapsulates an entire franchise rather than a single game because I feel that Pokemon works better as a collective whole than individual regions. This is due in large part to the growing roster of Pokemon and the slow but steady evolution of the game's mechanics. I know the latest game gets a lot of flack for not having the full 900-entry pokedex in the game, and I understand why that upsets a lot of people, but I knew it was coming multiple generations ago and I don't really see it as a problem. An unfortunate side effect of being such a huge franchise, but not unreasonable. Honestly, I felt that it made Sword and Shield better, and I'll explain why in a bit.

Some games are great because they tell a great story or have a deep and engrossing world to explore. Some games are great because they demand the world of the player and offer a sense of pride or ego.

Some games are great because they bring people together and are part of the social experience we share. Pokemon is great because it's the perfect balance of 'anyone can learn it' while 'only the best can master it'. They're games mostly for kids, but with enough depth and nuance and hidden gameplay mechanics that to this day I still don't fully understand all of them even though I've spent 1,000+ hours just on Sword and Shield. They're an 'easy to learn, tough to master' style game that not only is fun for all ages but knows exactly how to keep you hooked without feeling too tedious.

I separate the franchise into two distinct eras. The first Era was generations 1-5, the time when it was relatively simple and fun but focused more on getting your gym badges and finishing the game than anything else. Sure, the 'gotta catch em all' mantra was there from the beginning, but generations 1-5 were entirely enjoyable even without the quest to collect everything the game had to offer. Just beating them was satisfying enough. Generations 6-8 (X/Y, Sun/Moon, and Sword/Shield) shifted that focus to the completionists of the series. Beating those games was easy as can be, hardly demanding anything of the player. However, by this point the overall roster was massive and the game had drastically changed its focus to be more about the completionist aspect than just finishing.

And you know what? I love both eras. Capturing all the pokemon, having a living dex, and breeding competition-worthy pokemon is engaging and rewarding without being too demanding. It doesn't feel as rich as, say, finishing Dark Souls or something, but with as many pokemon as there are in the game, there's always something to be accomplished right around the corner. Do I wish that they married the two focuses into something truly great? Yeah! I'd love a game where just being it is hard and rewarding where the post game and completion challenges are just as engaging and rewarding, but I also acknowledge that such a feat is a LOT of work. The early gens were a bit too obtuse and inconvenient to complete but fun to beat, whereas the later gens were easy to beat and rewarding to complete.

I'm going back and forth. The point is, all these years later I still love Pokemon and still put hundreds of hours into each new game that comes out and I don't feel bad about it one bit. But with the recent re-release of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl alongside Sword and Shield, I've come to compare and contrast and accept that there's room in this world for Pokemon games that are actually kinda hard and reward you for finishing the, (Diamond and Pearl), and room in this world for simpler games that aren't as obtuse and reward completionists (Sword and Shield.)

If anyone's asking, my favourite gens are Red/Blue for the nostalgia and purity of it all, Black/White because I feel that's the generation that blended the two ends of the spectrum the best, and Sword/Shield because it's the one I spent the most time on. My favourite of those was in fact Generation V, because it had a great story, 150 new pokemon that were engaging to catch and breed, and the ABILITY to get every pokemon up to this point, meaning it balanced simplicity with depth.

14 – Ratchet & Clank – 9.6/10 – PS2, PS3, PS4, PS5, PSP

Not gonna lie, after that lengthy diatribe about Pokemon and how much I played it and how much I internally justified its flaws and weak points, I'm having a hard time putting Ratchet & Clank as a series ahead if it. I confess, it might just be recency bias because the best game in the series – Rift Apart – just came out on PS5 this year and I'm still riding a high off that. But then, I go back and I look at the series and realize there are no weak spots. Sure, there are ups and downs, but even the downs are great and the ups are slightly higher than Pokemon. While Pokemon is engaging and rewarding and compelling, Ratchet & Clank is more fun, even if it's not as long. I've not spent nearly as much time on this franchise, but the time I spent on it has always been fantastic.

While there are a handful of games in the Ratchet & Clank series that I feel are clearly superior, I do feel that it works better as a collective whole because I wouldn't want to mess everything up or make half my top 25 just Ratchet & Clank Games. When it comes to the score of 9.6/10, there are six Ratchet and Clank games that hit that mark for me, personally. Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Tools of Destruction, A Crack in Time, the PS4 remake, and Rift Apart are all outstandingly amazingly fun titles to play that I can go back to any time and enjoy. And even outside of that, Deadlocked, the PS2 original, Quest for Booty, and Into the Nexus are all 9.5/10 and either bite-sized bits of brilliance or a nostalgic favourite. Of the games I've played, only Full Frontal Assault, All 4 One, Secret Agent Clank, and Size Matters would be outside my top 50 and even those were various levels of fun.

So yeah, I'll keep it simple and say that when it comes to pure fun and consistency, few franchises reach the same heights as Ratchet & Clank. They've got fun if rudimentary platforming, they've got toony and stylized violence, they've got humour to spare, and have added increasingly rewarding RPG elements as the franchise went on. It's probably the most 'video game' a series has ever been incorporating elements from multiple genres and marrying them together nearly flawlessly. If I am ever asked to present a single game to a random stranger, this would be the game series I'd recommend. If I ever need to show how purely fun games can be, literally any game in this series is eligible and a great show of not only its own time but all time.

My favourite actually is the most recent one, Rift Apart. Rivet is a cutie, the dimension hopping is new and interesting, the Audio and Visual fidelity are on a whole new level, and the DualSense controller functionality is head and shoulders above the crowd. Like I said, Ratchet & Clank games are basically the entire ambassador for the medium, as far as I'm concerned. Any new Playstation Console, I guide people towards whatever is the most recent Ratchet & Clank game; they've never been disappointed. That said, with each new number ranking (9.5, 9.6. 9.7. etc.), the entries within that rank are all interchangeable. Some days I might prefer Dark Souls to Pokemon, or God of War to Wind Waker. So while this is what my heart is telling me now, that might change when Pokemon Generation 9 arrives.

13 – Super Smash Bros. - 9.7/10 – N64, GCN, Wii, WiiU, Switch, 3DS

Now we're getting into the heavy hitters. I've loved every game on this list (obviously), and they all have a special place in my heart (Also obviously), but everything from here on out is what I'd call, definitively, my favourites list. Anything 9.7 and up is a masterpiece, nearly flawless in my eyes. I've been gaming since the 80s and these are the games that I feel are either transcendent or otherwise outstanding in their field or genre. The perfect blend of being a game that you can pick up to play virtually any time and get something out of it or spend hundreds of hours mastering the mechanics and replaying it infinitely. For me, personally, all of the remaining games fill that niche.

Smash Bros is and always has been my most played game on any Nintendo console. I make no qualms about the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the 5th generation (PS1 and N64), but I still spend hundreds of hours of Super Smash Bros. My buddy Chris and I would sit in his room, 50% damage and 99 stock, just him vs me all afternoon, most afternoons. My buddy Lethias and I could do similar things in Melee or Brawl. I was at one point so good I only lost a tournament at my college because I had to forfeit due to having to do an exam. Some of my favourite and best memories of all time were when I played for 15 hours straight completing the Subspace Emissary in Brawl or unlocking as many characters as I could on day 1 in Ultimate.

To this day, this is really the only game that I don't mind playing competitively aside from Mario Kart. Sort of. I don't play Call of Duty or Halo or anything because it pits me against someone else and I don't like losing. So, as time went on, I preferred cooperative games. Stuff like Rock Band or Dark Souls. I don't do a lot of multiplayer in general, but if I am, it's either Smash or Rock Band or Soulslikes or Mario Kart. Because it's fun. Smash is a game that anyone can pick up, anyone can play, and anyone can enjoy. You can put all the stage hazards on and crank up the item drops for anarchy and chaos or you could do Final Destination, Fox Only purity and the games regularly cater to both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

There are few games that give so many options and can still feel fresh and fun and great for parties. Like I said, the balance between the hardcore and casual is basically perfect; That makes it fun for just about anyone. 20+ years later and I'm still playing these games regularly. I actually wish I was playing them more! Honestly, the only thing keeping me from playing Ultimate – the best in the series – is that Nintendo Online is not as good as it needs to be. Sure, it's MOSTLY fine, and if you get multiple people with great connections it's almost like playing local, but it's not quite the same. I personally prefer playing with all items, all levels, timed, because I just like playing for fun. However, a lot of people I pair up with online like stock, no items, final destination. I'm not playing for glory, I'm playing for fun. That's great for them, but I just wish I could control who I played with more.

With me being an introvert and this darned plague making social interaction difficult, my ability to play Smash has been compromised. Yet, despite those setbacks, I'm always down to play. As a franchise over the course of every generation, I've put thousands of hours in and I'd be more than happy to keep playing if anyone wants to. No game has balanced casual and hardcore so well, and the replay value is off the charts. There's a reason this game is ranked so high for me.

12 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – 9.7/10 – Switch

The Legend of Zelda series is an odd one. Like my experience with the original Dark Souls, I found that with Zelda I either love it or hate it. More specifically, it's either an outstanding game I love and replay multiple times or one I resent or think is overrated. There's little room for middle-ground with this franchise. But, the games I do like are very highly regarded by me, with three on this list (one comes far later) and multiple more within my top 50, but Zelda as a franchise also has a game on my 'games I hate in franchises I otherwise love' list, alongside Final Fantasy XIII and Grand Theft Auto IV and Mega Man X7. I also don't care much for Ocarina of Time, but I think that's less about the game itself and more a side effect of it coming out on the N64 and not being as polished as I'd like while also gathering resentment that comes from genuinely disliking a game that everyone else thinks is a masterpiece and one of the best of all times. I promise I'm not bitter.

That said, something about Breath of the Wild clicked with me. Like the other games this high on the list, it's a game I can pick up and play and enjoy without any sense of obligation, but it's also a game I can focus on for months, dropping hundreds of hours at a time and still feel compelled to finish. After Skyward Sword's strict linearity and focused story and characters, it was nice for Nintendo to go in the opposite direction and give its players near-endless freedom. While I usually prefer the more curated experience, Breath of the Wild was so well made and its world so well-developed that it didn't matter.

It's so impressive to have a game go back to its roots while still modernizing those elements. It's so fresh to see a game that gives you a simple tutorial area, then just says 'go for it'. You can literally go fight the final boss as the first thing you do after finishing the tutorial, and while I'll never do that personally, it's a great option for speed-runners and it's a great show of how open the game actually is. There are collectibles and mini-dungeons everywhere you go, there are countless side quests and things to do, and all of it is glued together with some of the best physics and game mechanics ever seen in an open-world game. Sure, you only have a handful of special items in the form of your sheikah slate, but those abilities are so perfectly woven into the experience it gives you near-limitless options.

Seriously, there's truly something special about this game. One that has more content than any other Zelda game by a wide margin and yet never grows old or stale. Like the Pokemon games, there's so much to do and collect that you're never far from accomplishing something new. You're always just a few shrines away from expanding your health or stamina. You're always just a few koroks away from expanding your weapon and shield slots. You're never far from a new piece of specialized armor and the natural progression of fighting enemies and collecting monster parts means you're never far from another upgrade.

The survival elements like cooking and potion making give you freedom and creativity. The different elements and environments mean you will have to be adapting your use of armour and status buffs. The many mini-bosses and enemies are constantly challenging you as you grow stronger. And all of this is on one of the prettiest and most expansive world maps ever seen in the medium that simultaneously feels packed with content and serene in its emptiness. This game is an experience from top to bottom.

11 – Red Dead Redemption II – 9.7/10 - PS4

Likewise, Red Dead Redemption II is an atmospheric experience along with the best of them. One that is as much about its world building and cowboy simulation aspects as it is the gameplay and story. I confess, upon first playing Red Dead Redemption II, I didn't love it. I liked it, sure, but I felt that it wasn't as fun or as engaging as its predecessor. It was too weighty, it focused too much on being realistic. There were dozens upon dozens of gameplay mechanics and I regularly got confused and felt that this game was a perfect reminder of why I like gamey games, not realistic games. Little things like how your character wouldn't stiffly move to where you wanted but would instead take an actual step and you had to adjust accordingly made sense in real life but not in a game.

But then I kept playing. It took a long time, but I eventually came to appreciate the game's dozens of interwoven mechanics. I began to enjoy that there's a whole 'minigame' where you....just watch and observe birds (Seriously, a huge part of the game's collectibles just involves 'studying' the various forms of wildlife you see throughout the game). I enjoyed just riding my horse around. I enjoyed cooking and doing stuff for my buddies at camp. All those things that made the game feel less fun from a gameplay perspective slowly drew me into what has probably become the best and most detailed game world ever. And yeah, once it clicks, even the gameplay feels good. It takes a long time to get there, but once you do there's nothing quite as immersive.

I got about halfway through the game, feeling that its predecessor was better and feeling that John Marston was a more interesting protagonist than Arthur Morgan. But then, when I realized I at least liked the game enough to want to TRY and get the platinum trophy, I fell in love with it. Because I hated getting that trophy and yet I persisted. Playing Red Dead Redemption 2 is immersive. Experiencing the story is emotional. Living within that world is relaxing and stressful in perfect balance. Everything about the game just playing it is rewarding and fun, but getting 100% on it and getting 70 gold medals is one of the hardest and most time-consuming things I've ever done. And yet, despite finding it tedious and frustrating, it's what made me like the game.

Because it wasn't until I went for that platinum that I learned the games systems and learned to appreciate the fine balance of gameplay and world. It wasn't until I got those gold medals that I mastered the shooting mechanics. It wasn't until I got all the various in-game tasks and goals that I Realized just how fleshed out the world was. It wasn't until I finished the campaign that I came to fall in love with Arthur Morgan. It wasn't until I played the online mode (which I hated grinding through but would love to return to) that I realized that all the sluggish controls and realistic style was on purpose. The more I played the more I enjoyed just existing in this world. I spent over 500 hours on my first play-through of this game and I could see myself easily putting another 500 in once it inevitably gets a PS5 remake.

Like so many other games this high on the list, it doesn't matter if I'm riding my horse to Saint Denis to wave to the random passerby to raise my Karma or if I'm hijacking a train or hunting for a perfect rabbit pelt, it doesn't matter if I'm using my binoculars to zoom in really close on a fleeing snake just so I can study it and add to my compendium, there's always something to do and all of it feels real, all of it feels like it's contributing to your progress. While this game is just out of my top ten, it feels like it could be higher once I go through it again. And yeah, I'd be happy to play online again now that I don't HAVE to grind in it to get the trophies. But like Dark Souls I'm really only interested it if's cooperative.

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android

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Again a mighty wall of text, thanks!

S.Peelman said:

Again a mighty wall of text, thanks!

hah, you think that's mighty, the 25-11 spots combined are about half or so of what 10-1 are. Lemme see here: 

Everything I've posted so far, including entrants 11-25 as well as the introduction and honorable mentions: 10939 words

The rest of the article, which includes entrants 1-10 and an epilogue: 16,222 words. 

So yeah, considerable difference. I might have to break my top 5 up into 5 different articles in order to not go overboard with a verifiable novel. (sometimes, when I'm passionate and don't have to edit myself to keep it under a few thousand words, I just go off the freakin' deep end) 

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android

Runa216 said:
S.Peelman said:

Again a mighty wall of text, thanks!

hah, you think that's mighty, the 25-11 spots combined are about half or so of what 10-1 are. Lemme see here: 

Everything I've posted so far, including entrants 11-25 as well as the introduction and honorable mentions: 10939 words

The rest of the article, which includes entrants 1-10 and an epilogue: 16,222 words. 

So yeah, considerable difference. I might have to break my top 5 up into 5 different articles in order to not go overboard with a verifiable novel. (sometimes, when I'm passionate and don't have to edit myself to keep it under a few thousand words, I just go off the freakin' deep end) 

I also sometimes tend to do that. With quite alot of entries on my list I ended up with way more text than I originally intended, especially with the Zelda games.

I don’t mind personally, I’ll read it, but I figured since I used to write longer posts as well that this year I’d limit myself to a strict regime of two paragraphs, four lines each (four on my screen anyway), maybe five if it so happens, to keep myself from wandering.

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10 – Rock Band – 9.7/10 – PS3, PS4, PSP

Ah yes, Rock Band. The one entry on this list that transcends the video game medium by crossing it over with music. The game responsible for more of my music tastes than any other one piece of media or artist or even genre of music. The game that, like Smash, I can pick up any time with a group of friends over and have a party! Rock Band. The game series that inspires as volatile a war as the console wars of 2005-2009. Not only is this a huge influence on me beyond just my gaming habits, but it's also the ultimate 'cumulative' entry on this list, because Rock Band did something few games had ever done before or since. If I HAD to pick a single Rock Band entry, it would be Rock Band 4, because it is the most recent and almost all the content from Rock Band 1, 2, 3, Lego, Green Day, and AC/DC are in it.

So, story time. I didn't originally like rhythm games. Are you noticing a trend? So many of the entries on this list have some sort of 'I didn't like it at first, but then I fell in love' story, but this entry covers not just a single game or even game franchise, but a whole genre. Way back in 2003-2005, when DDR was huge, I thought it was all quite silly. I went to anime conventions and saw it all over the place, all my friends were super into it and all the J-pop that was in those games, and it overall was just overwhelming. I didn't care for it. Back then, I thought that if I wanted to exercise, I'd go outside. I'd climb a tree or something. Oh how far I've come since then.

But then Guitar Hero came along. And while my initial apprehension remained, the first game allowed you to use the PS2 controller to hit the buttons instead. So, since my biggest problem was getting up and being physical, I opted to play with the controller! And, lo and behold, I liked it! The soundtrack was bangin', the art direction was silly fun, and I thought the gameplay mechanics were pretty cool! Most notably, however, was that I ended up falling in love with some of the songs in the game that were by bands I'd never heard of in genres I don't usually listen to. So, the longer I played it, the more invested I became until Guitar Hero 2 came out and I chose to finally dig in and get a guitar controller.

It clearly wasn't the same as playing a real guitar, but it still felt awesome. And then I got good by moving up to hard and eventually expert. And the more I played, the more I loved the songs; the more I loved the songs, the more I played. And you know what? This loop led to me getting obsessed, and to this day the first two Guitar Hero games (the ones made by Harmonix) Are on my top 50 but just outside of my top 25. Then Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock came out and, honestly, I hated it. The track list was amazing but something felt 'off'. The notes didn't feel like they matched up with the song. The art direction went too far off onto the toony side, the boss battle gimmicks were annoying, and for some reason even simple songs had a billion chords all over the place. Where Guitar Hero 1 and 2 had a mix of mainstream stuff and indie stuff or B-sides that were fun to play but not that popular, Guitar Hero 3 seemed to go for the popular stuff while altering the note tracks to force them to be fun while also ruining the integrity of it. I thought the time of fake plastic guitars had come and gone. I loved what I played but it was time to move on.

Then I played Rock Band at my friend's house. Now, the game had drums and singing as well as Guitar and Bass. It was a rockin', rollin', karaoke machine where folks got to make fools of themselves and enjoy all the entire genre had to offer. Then, after I fell back in love with the genre, I did a bit of research and found out that Harmonix – the developers that made Guitar Hero 1 and 2 but not 3 – were the ones who made Rock Band. It was a team that was comprised of musicians who were also game programmers, as many of the devs were actually in the indie bands that were featured in the game. All of a sudden, it clicked. The reason I liked Harmonix was because their passion was put into the game, making it a work of art just as much as it was media.

What followed was a lengthy run of Guitar Hero vs Rock Band wars. People on the forums talking about what they liked better and why, often leading to me being baffled that people actually preferred the janky, over-charted mess of Guitar Hero 3 over the crisp and clean representation in Rock Band. How people cared more about the popularity of the songs than how the guitar or drum parts were. They cared about being able to sing along to songs, not play them. Of course, this is just elitism speaking, but it's really the only head-to-head game franchise war I've ever been a part of and to this day I'll argue with anyone about the authenticity of Rock band over Guitar Hero (or at least anything that wasn't made by Harmonix.) Ironic since I usually prefer the more arcadey style to the simulation style in any other video game genre.

And, despite me making the switch to Rock Band in 2007, I never got bored of it. Rock Band 1 got a bunch of DLC, so the track list went from the paltry 50+ songs on the disc to like 250 over the course of the next year or so. And I got it all. Then, Rock Band 2 came out and you could 'export' 55/58 of the Rock Band tracks to play on Rock Band 2, so for only 5 bucks your Rock Band 2 setlist which was 80+ strong suddenly became 130+ songs, in addition to any DLC that you purchased (which was playable on Rock Band 1 and 2). Then, between Rock band 2 and 3, something like 1,000 more songs came out, and just like Rock Band 1, the track list for Rock Band 2 was exportable save a handful of exceptions so now Rock Band 3 could play almost all the songs from Rock Band 1 and 2 and all the DLC purchased prior to getting Rock Band 3. so, theoretically, you could buy Rock Band 3 and have a track list of something like 1,500 songs before even opening the package.

To make things even better, they added a new instrument – the keyboard – and during this period also allowed anyone to officially put their music in the game via Rock Band Network. You had to buy a license for it, but if you owned the rights to a song or were able to convince your favourite indie band (or mainstream band, in the case of Creed and The Tragically Hip, among many others), you could create the song tracks yourself, putting virtually anything in the game. And, then when Rock Band 4 came out, they did it all over again, except without the Keyboard (which wasn't as popular as they hoped) or Rock Band Network (which wasn't viable long-term due to copyright laws or something); that was fine for me, as RBN wasn't really that well represented on PS3 anyway and while I loved the Keyboard part, I understood.

Today, I have a Rock Band 4 set with over 2,000 songs (I think 2, 300 songs or so once you factor in the exports) and they keep putting out songs to this day, theoretically expanding your set list nearly infinitely. Hell, Rock Band is the reason I got into Greta Van Fleet, so they are still showing me through interactivity how awesome music can be. I've put thousands of hours into this game series, and much like Smash it's a game I can pick up any time and with basically any group of friends and have a blast stompin' the floor to Black Betty or mixing up lyrics to songs in the game that were covered by Weird Al. I don't think I'll ever truly get bored of this game even if I do take hiatuses. To this day, the Drum Set is still set up in my living room next to the good TV.

09 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 9.7/10 – PS3, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC

Nowadays this game gets a lot of flack for being on every console and being a bit outdated due to the fact that other open-world RPGs like The Witcher III are better. And those are valid criticisms. And it does kinda suck that we don't have The Elder Scrolls VI yet. And it is a shame that Bethesda are owned by Microsoft now so the next entry won't be on PS5! But you know what? I keep buying it, and I keep playing it and I keep falling in love with it every time a new version of the game comes out. Hell, I played over 500 hours on the PS3 version, back when 10% of that time was just spent in loading screens due to the PS3 version not being well optimized at all. I played it, and I got the platinum trophy on it, and then I bought it again on PC. My PC couldn't handle it, so I didn't get far there.

Then, during my game review period, I also borrowed my sister's copy of the game on Xbox 360 (the DLC came out on Xbox first) and did official reviews of all three DLC packs, getting a handful of achievements on there, too. Then, 5 years later when it came out on PS4, I purchased the Special Edition with all the DLC, and got the platinum on that version of the game, too! Not only did I do that, but I also slowly purchased every creation club DLC I could, then played a few times with survival mode on while getting all the DLC trophies, too. Then, finally, this year when the anniversary collection came out, I got the free PS4 to PS5 upgrade and got a chance to get all the trophies all over again! And so that's what I'm doing right now, going for my third platinum trophy of Skyrim.

And despite all that, despite the thousands of hours I've put into it, I'm still not bored of it. I'm still discovering little things I didn't notice before or trying out different builds and perks and magic. The DLC adds a tonne of content and quality, and now that I'm playing with the over 500 Creation Club items, it's not QUITE like playing a whole new game but it IS putting a fresh spin on a game I already love with new weapons and new homes and new quests and new areas and dungeons to explore. And, once I get all the trophies again on the PS5 version, I can turn on a handful of mods to improve the graphics or add even more content to the game!

At this point, Skyrim is one of the best-selling games of all time. You all know whether you like it or not, and you all know what your opinions are of Bethesda. I can be critical of that company all day, but for the life of me I just love exploring Skyrim! I love trying out new things, I love the survival mode (though I don't recommend it if you're doing a trophy run), I love all the new content, and I love just how large the world is and how fun it is to just exist within it. You know, to build things or erect homes or go kill bandits or become a merchant! It's an RPG in the truest sense. You could spend hundreds of hours on the game and never even make progress on the main story. I bet there are dozens – nay, hundreds – of quests and tidbits of lore in this game I've never even seen or heard of. There's one youtuber that's up to like 50 episodes of '10 things you didn't know about Skyrim', and going strong.

There's a pretty good pattern in this region of my personal faves, and you'll notice I'm quite fond of games where I just like existing in the world, or doing my own thing, or having excuses to return and just dick around. Make my own quests. I love Minecraft and Terraria (Both in my top 50 but not top 25), stuff like Breath of the Wild and Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption and Ghost of Tsushima and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag are all inspiration for my novel series and short story compilations. I love this sort of thing, and Skyrim is probably the best and most enduring of these kinds of games.

Does it have problems? Of course it does! This is one broken game! But, like any good form of balance, the good far outweighs the bad and once you can get over its performance (at least on PS3) and glitches and poor programming, that all just becomes part of the charm. I'm over 100 hours on the PS5 version of the game and only at 39% of the trophies. Furthermore, I don't see myself not playing this throughout the entire duration of this console generation. Once a year or so I'll create a new character and try playing the game in a whole new way. Maybe I'll be a pure mage or a heavy-armor warrior. Maybe I'll be a sneak thief? Naw, let's be honest, I'll always end up some sort of balanced, 'jack-of-all-trades' type. But still, the option is there and that's what's awesome: Potential. I may never go outside my comfort zone, but if I ever wanna do a two-handed version or a pure mage, I can. And I'm sure the entire experience will be fresh, once again.

08 – Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World – 9.7/10 – NES, SNES, Wii, WiiU, Switch

Let's calm down for a bit and try something else. We had a streak there of open-world games or games with massive amounts of content that keep me happy forever. We talked about Pokemon and Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption and Rock Band and Smash Bros. Now for something completely different. Now for something a bit more personal and nostalgia-driven. Let's talk about Mario Bros. Or, more specifically, the two best 2D Mario Bros games of all time. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. I'm not as into the first or second games, but like other games on this list I had a hard time choosing between Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. At least, that's how it used to be. I definitely prefer Super Mario World now, but the more I thought about it the more I preferred this solution. I'd give Super Mario World a 9.7 and Super Mario Bros. 3 a 9.5 or maybe a 9.6 if we're talking about the All-Stars version or the GBA version.

However, on the Super Nintendo there exists a game cart that includes both Super Mario All-Stars (enhanced versions of Mario Bros 1, Mario Bros 2, Mario Bros 3, and The Lost levels, AKA the original Mario Bros 2 before Doki-Doki Panic was adapted for the west) + Super Mario World. Once upon a time I couldn't decide between 3 and World, so I lumped them together. Now that I do have a definite fave, I'm still committed to bundling them in together due to them officially having a 2-in-1 cart that has both of those games and why not the three other games I like but don't love! Everyone wins!

Oh, and both of these games are just so, so much fun. They both existed before Nintendo's swap over to their more advanced form of Level design where every level has its own theme that's explored and discarded, but in a weird way that's actually kinda more interesting to me because it means that each world seems to blend in with each other. All of the Forest of Illusion levels have the theme of secret exits and non-conventional level designs. Vanilla Dome has a lot of underground stuff. Each of the Mario 3 worlds has its own element, etc. And don't get me wrong, I LOVE their new style of level design, where each level has its own unique gimmick, but this works, too.

More importantly, these two games also have world maps, which lead to secrets not only in the levels but also in the overworld map. In Mario 3 you can use hammers to unlock areas and whistles to warp to new worlds and music boxes to bypass the mini-bosses. In Super Mario World, many levels have multiple exits that lead to different paths that could unlock hidden areas or shortcuts. You can literally beat the game in something like 10 levels if you know what you're doing thanks to Star Road. Heck, the game is so well-made with its secrets that there are still hidden areas I don't know how to access and mysterious, never-explained mechanics that I've yet to master.

And in many ways, this is why Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World are special to me but Mario Maker is not. Sure, we have virtually infinite options on Mario Maker, but without the glue that is the world map, the sense of mystery and discovery just isn't there. The sense of exploration and accomplishment doesn't exist in the same way. Mario Maker is just troll levels and gimmicks without any of the parts of the game that make it more than just a series of levels. There's a reason I love Mario World and Mario Bros 3 but don't love the original or 2. There's a reason that New Super Mario Bros U/Deluxe is my favourite new Mario game whereas I only liked New Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros Wii. U/Deluxe had hidden exits and secrets to explore and alternate routes, all while also having unique level gimmicks. Honestly, I could rant about how underrated New Super Mario Bros U/Deluxe is, but for now I'll just move on.

Anyway, In addition to these games having secrets and things to explore, they've also got the nostalgia hooks deep inside me. I have memories of first uncovering Bowser's Castle after beating Chocolate Island in Super Mario World at my aunt's place and it still gives me chills. I still remember the first time I heard that ballin' boss theme at the end of Super Mario Bros 3. my ears still perk up any time I hear either of these game's main themes or really any of their world or level themes. The graphics are about as basic as they get but the games are iconic, I have so much nostalgia for them, and unlike some games of their respective era, they both held up remarkably well, becoming games I love more and more as time goes on.

I like Super Mario Bros 3 more now than I did in the late 80s/early 90s. Same with Super Mario World. That's the sign of a good game. I also think it's worth noting that all of my top 5 (Which actually comprises 9 games due to how I rank things) are all SNES games. I have a favourite, historically. That said, PS4/5 and Switch are both amazing, too. These are both games I go back to at least once a year, given that they're both games that are pretty short and easy to get 100% on. A recurring theme of mane of the shorter games on this list.

07 – Final Fantasy VII/X/XII – 9.7/10 – PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, Switch, PC

We have here another three way tie, because Final Fantasy VII, X, and XII are always right next to each other on my list and I can never decide which of the three I like the most. Depending on the day, I could be inspired by nostalgia and prefer VII, or I could go for the more emotional story with X, or I might like the subtle depth and mystery of XII. Maybe I like fantasy, maybe I like steampunk, maybe I like tropical caribbean, depending on my mood. All I know is that all three of these are games I've bought, re-bought, played again, got the platinum trophy on, then bought on Nintendo as well, and I'll continue to get them on every console as time goes on because much like the rest of my list, the combination of nostalgia and the fact that these games have all aged shockingly well in terms of writing and story (VII) and gameplay (X/XII) make me confident that they have earned their place this high on my list. They used to be higher until a more recent game came along and became only the 6th entry to get a 9.8/10, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Final Fantasy VII was a subversive masterpiece in its time and aside from the graphics, it has aged like a fine wine. The writing is clever and hilarious while balancing on a fine line between edgy and mature, its characters were all far more developed than my teenage mind could handle, and while the turn based gameplay is pretty rudimentary compared to later entries in the series, it was still a load of fun and was always giving you many little rewards to keep you playing. New materia, new weapons, new limit breaks, and levelling up all felt good. The bosses were hard without being absurd, the optional super-bosses were a true challenge, and there was plenty to do on the side. Of all the Final Fantasy games I think this one has the most in terms of mini-games thanks to the golden Saucer while also having the longest and most involved side quest in terms of Chocobo Breeding for the Gold Chocobo.

Back when my parents got me the PS1 and Final Fantasy VII, I didn't want a playstation. I was a Nintendo kid through and through. I wanted Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time more than Final Fantasy. But Dad wanted Gran Turismo so we got a PS1. Before I even left Midgar (Act 1 of the I think 5-act structure) I was hooked, and when the world opened up into its overworld map, I got lost. I then beat the game like five times in a row, then got it again on PS3, then PS4, then Switch. And I got 100% every time. This game was so popular, it spawned movies and prequels and side games and even got a remake that divided some fans but I absolutely loved. (I haven't finished it or it might also be on this list in the 9.5 range). I didn't care for most of the side material, but the original is a bonafide classic, one I am happy to return to whenever I feel like reliving my childhood.

Final Fantasy X was a game that did things differently and changed a few major elements of Final Fantasy up, but what it changed or what it did of its own, it did better than any game before it. Yeah, some of the writing and voice acting is not that great, but it was 2001, the fact that it looked and sounded as good as it did at the time was outstanding. And while it was a little unfortunate that the game was a bit more linear than I wanted at the time (Final Fantasy up to that point had thrived in a world with an explorable over-world map), it made up for it with a great story, fun puzzles, strategic combat, and the best damn mini-game ever.

Seriously, I'm not even kidding or exaggerating when I say I likely have put more time and effort just into Blitzball than some games on this list. Like, I wouldn't be surprised if I tallied up my history in Final Fantasy X and I put more than 100 hours just into blitzball. It's not even that deep of a game and outside of Wakka's ultimate weapon the rewards aren't even that good, but it's so well-integrated into the story and such a nice distraction from the heavy themes of the main plot that I can't not play a few games every time I reach a new save point. Beyond that, the sphere grid levelling system was structured well enough to feel rewarding and linear while also giving you plenty of freedom to explore and try new things, the limit break system was revamped from the prior games, and all of this was expanded upon with the HD remaster, which included extra content like bosses from the International version of the game as well as a whole new Sphere Grid to explore.

I loved this game on PS2, but the HD remaster of it was even better, and it came with X-2, which I didn't love but still thought was good. And while we're at it, it's worth noting that this was quite possibly the best streak for any franchise, starting with Final Fantasy VI and ending with XII. Final Fantasy XII was another example of Square-Enix trying something completely new with the series and knocking it out of the park. Seriously, every Final Fantasy from VI to XII tried something new and original, making each one completely unique to the rest of the games. VI migrated from the traditional fantasy of the first five games and tried steampunk (Spoiler alert, I'll be expanding upon this a bit more later), VII went modern environmental, VIII went anime sci-fi, IX went traditional fantasy again, X did polynesian religion, XI did an MMO, and XII tried the MMO idea back in a fantasy/steampunk hybrid. And each and every one of these games had completely unique combat styles and game mechanics. How anyone could do this in 12 years (1994-2006) is beyond me.

Which leads us into Final Fantasy XII, which got a lot of hate way back when it came out but like so many games on my list proved to be so far ahead of the curve that people just didn't appreciate it in its time. I remember people complaining about the game playing itself and ... you know what? That was really the only real complaint, and it's not a criticism that has much in terms of weight since most of that is just you programming the game to act like you, thus eliminating redundancy. You're welcome to take over at any time, but the 'gambit' system simply makes it so that, instead of mashing the X button to get through every random encounter, the game learns from what you would do, and thus reacts on your behalf. The other complaint is the license board, which people hated because it was 'so dumb to have to get a license to use a hat'. And, sure, in reality that's dumb, but in the context of a video game it makes perfect sense. People just like to bitch.

That said, holy shit this game blew me away. Once I learned the gambit system, I got to play a semi-open-world JRPG with plenty of room for exploration, tonnes of side content, plenty of quests and hunts, tonnes of hidden areas I didn't even know about my first couple times through the game, and dozens of optional bosses and super bosses. Few games grab me with the mysteries of their world like Final Fantasy XII does, and The Zodiac Age added to that with extra content and game modes and alternate ways of learning items and specializing your characters. It's a game that's heavily inspired by MMOs without any of the monthly grind or forced social interaction that I don't want to deal with. You don't even get money for killing enemies, you get 'loot' that can be sold! I know it's a small thing, but it makes grinding feel more like you're accomplishing something than most other games in the series.

All three of these games have features I love, and they all have subtle flaws. That said, between these games, Final Fantasy VIII/IX, and Final Fantasy VI, Square was on a hot streak I don't think any company has ever emulated or ever will again. 6 games basically in a row (Sans XI, which an MMO and impressive in its own right but not my thing), each with unique worlds and gameplay mechanics and characters and tones, each one a masterpiece in its own right. There's a reason Final Fantasy is probably my overall favourite game franchise of all time despite not Loving a game after XII. I hated XIII and its sequels, didn't play XIV because it was an MMO but am considering A Realm Reborn, and while I enjoyed XV it lacked the same sort of wow factor or staying power of the rest. I'm going to play through VII Remake (which I've loved so far) And eagerly await XVI, but I sincerely doubt they'll ever reach the quality and consistency they showed between 1994 and 2006.

06 – Bloodborne – 9.8/10 - PS4

We're in the home stretch, now! And I can tell you a bit of story about this, elaborating on a bit of a story that I started telling with the Dark Souls and Dark Souls III entries. I didn't much care for this game when it first came out and even so far as when I first beat it. Back in 2015, when Bloodborne was released, I was still in the tail end of my 'console war fangirl' stage when I just wanted to stick it to Xbox and buy everything PS4 exclusive. The war had already been won by Sony, but the scars of the PS3/360 wars were still fresh. Alas, at this point I'd only played about half of Demon's Souls and no other Souls game, so I have no idea what I was thinking randomly getting the limited collector's edition of this game with the steelbook and art book. But I did, and here's how it went.

My first time through Bloodborne, I thought it was okay and I enjoyed bits of it, but I didn't love it. Playing this game I actually broke two of my PS4 controllers (the last PS controllers I'll ever break, I've matured since then). But, since I was at that stage where I was coming into my own and my pride was getting the better of me, I couldn't let the game beat me. I didn't want to give up, even though I was frequently frustrated. The PS2 and PS3 eras were ones where I was sort of a young adult, moving away from most videogames and thus losing a lot of my edge. So I didn't WANT to beat Bloodborne, I NEEDED to beat Bloodborne. You know, to prove that I could still hang with my 80s kid version who legit beat Mega Man 1-4 before emulators made it easy!

So I beat it. I finished the game, and rather than be happy about what I accomplished I was just glad it was over. I won. This game didn't defeat me. Upon defeating Gehrman, I put the game down and moved on. But then my buddy, who was also quite good at video games, came over. And I had to see what he thought of this game I was proud to have beaten but didn't want to play myself. So, I got him to play it. And, as I guided him through the opening area, giving him hints and tips and tricks as to what to do and where to go and how to avoid getting hurt, I found myself compelled to see if I could apply any of that advice to myself. Once he was done with the game, I booted it back up myself to see what I could do, to see if I'd actually learned anything.

Now, it's important to note that at this point in my gaming life, I had a pretty strict 5-10 hour rule. I acquired this rule after playing Final Fantasy XIII. I heard from so many people that it got good after the tutorial, but most people said the tutorial was like 20+ hours long, stretching through most of the game. And honestly, I hated it. Final Fantasy XIII is my single most hated game, because I kept playing for like 50+ hours waiting for it to get good like so many people said, then I got to chapter 11 (the only chapter with any semblance of freedom), kinda liked it for a few hours, then it was over. I forced myself through 50+ hours of a game I hated on the hopes and promises that it got better. And, after reading my prior entries on other Final Fantasy games, you can understand why I tried SO hard to like that game. So, after playing Final Fantasy XIII, I told myself that if a game hasn't intrigued me by 5 hours and hooked me by 10 hours, I would drop it. No hard feelings.

It took me like 40 hours to beat Bloodborne my first time, and I only liked about half of it. This was my first 'souls' game, so it wasn't like I had a history of disliking the games at first and loving them later, not yet. Still, I was compelled to keep going, then upon guiding my friend through Central Yharnam, I decided to play again with the knowledge I gained beating the game for the first time. And that's when something clicked. I knew where things were, I knew what enemies to engage and which ones to avoid. I knew what tactics worked and which ones didn't. I knew where the items were and how to use them to upgrade my weapon before the first boss. I knew how to play the game, and all of a sudden it wasn't as intimidating as it once was. There was little to no frustration, but plenty of drive.

Sure, I still died a lot. Like, a whole mess of a lot. But knowing I could do it because I had done it before reassured me that it wasn't the game's fault I failed, I did something wrong. A lesson that these games (Bloodborne, Demon's Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, and Sekiro) all teach you. Yes, the game is harsh as hell and you're going to die a lot, but you need to see it as a learning experience as opposed to a punishment. It's not 'haha, you shouldn't have done that', it's 'what did you do wrong here? How can you learn from this and do better next time.' And that's a huge crux of what makes these games (not Dark souls II) so good.

With this mentality in mind, I went through a whole new game on a whole new character from scratch. Then I played New Game plus and did it all over again even faster and even better. Then I did it New Game Plus 2 and did it again to get all three endings. Only then did I start looking into how to get all the trophies and learned that, to my utter surprise, there was an entire second part of the game I didn't even know existed! The Chalice Dungeons! Lots of people hate these things and I understand why – if the game was nothing but a mix-and-match of pre-made rooms put together in various ways, I wouldn't like it either – but I loved them. The base game on its own was already enough to get me to love it and put it in my top 10, but then I learned that in addition to the finely crafted, interwoven world design and exquisite bosses, there was a diablo-style dungeon crawler as a bonus with theoretically infinite content took this from a game I loved to a game that really meant something more.

Then, after I finished it and got all the trophies, I started delving into the lore thanks to VaatiVidya, who helped me realize that while the game could be enjoyed as a story-free old-school style game where the objective was just to get to the end and kill all the bad guys, the actual lore of the story was sinister and probably deeper than any other game on this list. I never bothered with any of that because the game was good enough without it. But in two separate instances, the game opened up and got so much better the more I knew and the more I played and the more I understood. It's not often a game can do that. It's not often a game is special and unique and awesome and rewarding even if you only play like half the game and understand less than 1% of its story.

That would be like playing Super Mario World and not even knowing about Star Road or the Special Zone. That'd be like playing Halo and not even realizing it had a multiplayer mode. That'd be like, well, like playing Bloodborne and not even realizing it had a story or that Chalice Dungeons exist. All of this led to me getting super eager to play more games like this. I bought Dark Souls II, Scholar of the first sin and didn't care for it. I assumed at the time it was because I was used to Bloodborne, and that was a far faster-paced and fluid game. I thought nothing of it but still gave Dark Souls 1 on the PS3 a chance. You all know from its entry I didn't like it much at first, but did when I played it again after the Remastered edition came out. Then I played Dark Souls III and Sekiro and loved them both before finally getting the guts to finish Dark Souls II.

This was when I delved deeper and found out that Dark Souls II was the only game in this spiritual franchise not directed by Hidetaki Miyazaki. Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Dark Souls III, and Sekiro were all directed by him. It was that revelation made me realize that he was really the heart and soul behind why I like these games, and that other teams and companies couldn't find the fine balance between frustratingly hard and rewarding like he could. Dark Souls II just felt like the devs trolling you because 'this is dark souls' and you are supposed to die. Nioh felt like it was leaning too hard on the complex mechanics and ruthlessness of the difficulty thanks to that game being made by the same folks who made the 3D Ninja Gaiden games.

And the more I play all of these games, the more I realize they have in common with all the rest of these games on my list. They're all games that are simple enough on the surface that you can just hack and slash your way through them, but they're also the sort of games that have oceanic depth if you're willing to look for them. They're games that offer enough versatility in gameplay styles that you could play through them 100 times and enjoy a different build every time. Or you could play through a dozen times or more and always be discovering new stuff even though you'd already fallen in love before you found any of that stuff. This is a game that caters both to my love for deep lore and world building while also appealing to the part of me that just wants to overcome obstacles and no game in the series does this as well as Bloodborne.

Oh, and on top of the gameplay and all that, there are stunningly few games that incorporate eldrich horror as well as Bloodborne, and not many who evoke a sense of victorian times, either. IT's a stunningly unique game that uses the design philosophy of a series of masterpieces and applys them to its own setting with its own tweaks. And all of this is before the DLC, which is responsible for some of the best areas and bosses in the entire spiritual franchise. Only Dark Souls III has better bosses and it's only by the slimmest of margins, and nothing is as perfect a total package as Bloodborne.

So why is it only #6 on my list and not #1? Nostalgia. All of my top five slots are SNES games that have had 25-30 years to settle in where they are. I have no doubt in my mind that bloodborne is going to climb these ranks in time, but to knock out any of the top five is going to take more time than it has had. That said, Bloodborne, devoid of nostalgia, may very well be the best game I've ever played and will likely end up my personal favourite once its all said and done. However, here are a handful of games that I personally like more. Not much more, but nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Oh, and they're all masterpieces that have weathered the flow of time, so there's that. That said, these entries I do feel are getting pretty long so I'm going to try and keep the last five entries a bit more brisk.

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android

mZuzek said:

Sorry to put the pressure on, Runa, but this thread ain't got much longer I think. Stuff be happening in the behind-the-scenes world.

Oh, I think people still can make writeups for their games, once you released the compiled results. I hope though everyone already has given you their list by now.

3DS-FC: 4511-1768-7903 (Mii-Name: Mnementh), Nintendo-Network-ID: Mnementh, Switch: SW-7706-3819-9381 (Mnementh)

my greatest games: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023

10 years greatest game event!

bets: [peak year] [+], [1], [2], [3], [4]

mZuzek said:

Sorry to put the pressure on, Runa, but this thread ain't got much longer I think. Stuff be happening in the behind-the-scenes world.

Is there a need to lock the thread?  I'm honestly not sure why that has been done in the past.

Switch Code: SW-7377-9189-3397 -- Nintendo Network ID: theRepublic -- Steam ID: theRepublic

Now Playing
Switch - Super Mario Maker 2 (2019)
Switch - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (2019)
Switch - Bastion (2011/2018)
3DS - Star Fox 64 3D (2011)
3DS - Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Trilogy) (2005/2014)
Wii U - Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (2010/2017)
Mobile - The Simpson's Tapped Out and Yugioh Duel Links
PC - Deep Rock Galactic (2020)

05 – Mega Man X SNES Trilogy – 9.8/10 – SNES, PS2, Wii, WiiU, PS4, Switch

Oh boy it's a Mega Man X! This game's like a legend, it's pretty freakin' good. I mean I don't feel like I need to sing its praises but whatever! It's got tight controls, a simple objective, it's just freakin' fun to play; so go slap it in your SNES machine and have a grand old time. Alright, now that I have that Sequelitis reference done and over with, let's get to Mega Man X. Or, more specifically, Mega Man X, X2, and X3. The SNES trilogy. I considered including Mega Man X4 in the list as well, since it was on the Legacy Collection and I did in fact love it (as it is on my top 50 but not my top 25), but I felt that it was different enough in terms of look, feel, gameplay, and nostalgia to not be included in this entry. Plus, it would feel really weird to have some random PS1 game in my SNES top 5.

Ironically, Mega Man X2 and X3 don't actually have as much nostalgia as the rest of these games. I didn't play them until like 2006 or something, well after playing Mega Man X4-X8. Sure, I tried them out on emulators, but it's really not the same thing, is it? Alas, some history. As I mentioned before, Mega Man 2 was the first game I ever considered to be a favourite of mine. It was the first game I beat and my favourite for years. Also I knew that Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6 had all come out by this point, so when Mega Man X came out, I thought it was Mega Man 10. Because, you know, roman numerals. Plenty of games use roman numerals instead of the numbers we all know and love. Well, I was wrong but might as well have been right.

My aunt had the game and let me play it any time I came to her place. So it was something of an amazing surprise when, after years of playing it there, she gifted it to me for christmas, thus making it the first Mega Man game I owned. Sure, I played other ones, but they were all owned by friends or rented. I never owned one myself. I thought Zero was a girl because it was the early 90s in Canada and long hair was for girls (oh how wrong I was, but gimme a break, I was like 8 or 9 or something). I still remember the first time I beat sigma, it was 1 AM in Norwich in the townhouses. Mom used to let me stay up late to play games as long as I was in bed before dad came home, and I'd play Mega Man X most of those nights, struggling to get through Sigma's Fortress. Once I did it for the first time, I just stared at the screen, kinda scared when Sigma's face came up and assured me he'd be back.

Then, about a year later, I saw Mega Man X2 on the shelf, but nobody would rent it for me. We weren't a rich family and the 90s were rough. I just got to visit that game store every time I visited that town, and every time I asked and every time it was a no. It wasn't until my classmate invited me over and we played Mega Man X4 that I even realized the series had continued. It revitalized my love for the series and while it went through a rough patch (namely Mega Man X7, I hate that game almost as much as Final Fantasy XIII; I actually liked X5 and X6, unlike most people), I never truly stopped loving it. It wasn't until the Mega Man X collection on PS2 came out that I got a chance to play Mega Man X2 and X3. Same year as Final Fantasy XII.

And despite them being more rudimentary than the PS1 games, they invoked much the same feelings that the original had, so I assumed it was nostalgia speaking. But no, in spite of the fact that X1 had literally more than 20 years on X2 and X3 for me, personally, I liked them all equally. I loved the gameplay mechanics, I loved the secret items, I loved the subtle iterations they took without compromising quality. Sure, I do think X1 is the best of the trilogy for how refined it is (I think Sequelitis explains in pretty great detail just how well-designed the game actually is), I do think what X2 and X3 do greatly expand upon the foundations set in the first one. It actually made me like X4 a little less after playing X2 and X3 because X4's mechanics and gameplay was simpler than them.

The whole trilogy is truly fantastic from top to bottom. At this point I didn't even realize Mega Man had a plot, but the X games had a plot. The first game had some of the best music in all of gaming with a grinding metal soundtrack that I can still rock out to today, something its sequels never lived up to. The X franchise as a whole took the basic concept of Mega Man Classic and made it extreme for the 90s! 8 levels and bosses, able to be beaten in any order, you beat the boss and get their power with is strong against one of the other bosses. Pretty simple, but in Mega Man X, you also get armour upgrades that give you extra bonuses and drastically change how the game is played and how you grow strong. All three of the SNES games expand upon this concept, adding new options and bonuses.

One of the coolest ideas that was in Mega Man X1 but not in its subsequent games was that depending on what order you beat the levels, other levels might be effected. For example, if you beat Storm Eagle's stage before beating Spark Mandrill, Storm Eagle's ship will crash into Spark Mandrill's stage, shutting the power off and drastically altering the level. If you beat Chill Penguin's stage before Flame Mammoth, an avalanche will freeze much of Flame Mammoth's stage. If you beat Launch Octopus' stage before Sting Chameleon, then Sting Chameleon's forest will be flooded. It's cool shit like this that gave this game an extra something that its sequels didn't have.

However, what X2 and X3 lacked in stage manipulation, they made up for with extra armour parts and collectibles. All three games have three sets of items in common. Every level has a heart tank, which raises your max health by two tabs, and there are four armour pieces as well as multiple e-tanks which can be filled with life energy and stored for later. In X1, you get the dash boots that give you a boost of speed and momentum when jumping or just moving. It's the only armour piece that's forced upon you since this mobility is needed for the later levels and is paramount to the game's level design and flow. The helmet is useless, allowing you the ability to headbutt a few spots in the game to unlock items and collectibles. The chest piece upgrades your defence and halving the damage you receive, pretty basic.

The coolest unlockable is the arm cannon upgrade, which allows you to charge up your buster shot one level higher than you could before. So, not charged you get lemons, slightly charged you get a green plasma blast, and fully charged prior to the upgrade you get a plasma cannon blast that's blue and just as tall as you. However, if you get the arm cannon upgrade, you surround yourself in pink plasma and throw out a series of large pink balls that destroy everything in your path. Furthermore, it also allows you to charge up all the weapons you acquire from the bosses. IT's awesome, so awesome that the game forces it upon you once you finish all eight bosses and the first stage in the final dungeon, even if you didn't find it.

The second and third game do similar things by making your armor charge up a giga blast and help you find secret exits, making them far more useful and unique while also ensuring that you start the game with the dash. Rather than make you earn it again, it's just how you are because it is paramount to the game's flow and pace. The first one needed to give it to you because it was the first in the series and you needed to be eased in. While X2 and X3 do miss out on a few things that made X1 special, such as the rockin' soundtrack and some of the more nuanced game design and the way the levels interact depending on what order you complete the stages, they made up for it with a few new options. Well, X3 did. X2 had basically the same overall structure but I'll never complain about more of a good thing.

X2 introduced X-hunters. Three guys who appear after besting two of the eight mavericks. They appear in random stages, allowing you to seek them out on their own hidden boss areas. They don't do too much to the overall structure of the game, but if you beat them you do acquire a handful of collectibles and there will be some slight alterations to the final levels, utilizing one different boss. X3 took this a step further by replacing the X-hunters with Bit, Byte, and Vile (a recurring villain from X1). Their presence has basically the same effect as the X-hunters, they appear after a bit of the game, then randomly appear in the levels. Only, instead of you being able to see where they are on the map and having to find their lair within their game, you don't know where they are and their lair is baked into the level design and are unavoidable.

X3 also added two new collectibles. It does have energy tanks, heart tanks, and armour pieces, but they also add mech suits and armor chips. The mech suits are sadly mostly useless since they don't appear until later and by then you won't really need them aside from getting a handful of other collectibles. The chips are sadly also useless, but only because of this game's super-suit. See, in each game, if you get everything there is to collect, then you can acquire some sort of super weapon. In Mega Man X1, once you acquire everything there is to get (which can be achieved with the code 8-4-4-7, 4-6-6-6-, 6-1-5-6, yes I remember that code by heart), you can do a series of tricks to get the Hadouken, a move from Street Fighter's Ryu and Ken. It can only be used at full health and requires a quarter-circle-forward on the D-pad followed by the shoot button, but it's a 1-hit kill for literally every enemy in the game, even bosses. In Mega Man X2, same basic idea but it's the Shoryuken, which isn't a 1-hit kill but does massive damage and doesn't create invincibility frames so you can feasably insta-kill any boss.

But in the third one, there's no Street Fighter super weapon. Instead, there are four armor upgrade chips strewn throughout the 8 stages. The helmet chip allows you to self-heal if you stand still long enough, the leg chip makes it so that you can air-dash twice instead of just once, the armour chip further increases your defenses, and the arm chip gives you more firepower. If you get any of these chips, the other three are locked out, meaning that if you find them you want to not acquire them. If you do this and capture everything else in the game, then in the first of the final stages you can get the gold armour, which equips all four of the chips. In addition to that, this game also allows you to play as Zero, but he only has one life and if you lose him he's deactivated throughout the game. However, if you keep him alive until one of the later stages, then use him at a specific time and beat the boss there, the boss has a unique animation that insta-kills him and he gives X his Z-saber, further powering up his blaster.

Dammit I said this entry was supposed to be shorter. Ugh. Anyway, Mega Man X is about as close to perfection as you'll get, a game that's simple but refined to razor sharpness. X2 is more of the same with a few tweaks, some better than others and a handful of things removed. While X3 is an ambitious attempt to vastly expand the game that adds a tonne of content that sadly isn't implemented as well as it could or should be. All three of them are amazing games and I return to them every few months, but the original is the best while 2 and 3 are incredibly fun and original games that absolutely deserve their place. There's a clear ranking but they're all great.

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android

04 – Donkey Kong Country SNES Trilogy – SNES, Wii, WiiU, Switch

This entry and the prior entry could almost be swapped, as they're both trilogies of games that came out in quick succession, one in 1994, one in 1995, and one in 1996. All on the SNES, with the first game being the outlier. However, the reason Donkey Kong Country comes out on top is that in that franchise, the first game was the weakest instead of the strongest, whereas 2 and 3 are tied but better. Still, what a great string of games. One that arguably got better with each entry. Rare used to be great, you know? Donkey Kong country 1-3, Donkey Kong 64 (I didn't like it, but others did), Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie 1 and 2. This is almost as good a streak as the Final Fantasy games. I didn't like their N64 output, personally, but for gaming as a whole that's one hell of a decade. I think they also did Diddy Kong Racing somewhere in there. It's a shame Microsoft ruined them. No worry, Playtonic made Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, another candidate for my runner-up section.

As much as I joke about needing to keep the entries short, I'm not actually sure if I have that much to say about the DKC games in spite of loving them. It's not that I don't love them, it's just that for once I don't have some weird, long-winded story about their games passing down to me or some quest I had to go on to learn to appreciate them. Well, aside from the part where my mom sold my copy of Donkey Kong Country 3 and it took me decades to replace it. But that's basically it, mom sold my game, I had to become an adult to get it back. Simple as that. That, or back in Grade three when the first one came out and I tried to draw the first few levels from memory or rebuild DK's home with construction paper.

No, for the most part, the games just came out with a bunch of fanfare about how pretty they looked, I played them and loved them, then I continued to love them as time went on. The second one came out, I loved it as well, then I moved on. The third one came out, the internet wasn't really a thing back then so I didn't hear about the complaints people had and I loved it just as much as the other two. The first one was a fantastic proof of concept that was easy enough to play and fun for people just looking to beat it while also giving completionists something to do by having a handful of bonus levels per stage that'd up your percentage. The bosses were just bigger versions of normal enemies, it introduced a bunch of Donkey Kong lore and gameplay mechanics, and it was great. Simple as that.

When the second one came out, taking place immediately in the wake of the first one's conclusion, it felt to me exactly like what it was. A continuation. DK was captured, suddenly you were playing as Dixie, and the whole game took on a pirate theme, something that would eventually be pretty influential on me between this, Wind Waker, Black Flag, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There were more stages than the first one, a better structure for the bonus levels, something to do with your bonus coins, and DK coins for bragging rights. There was a secret world you could access by beating tonnes of bonus levels, and the whole thing was just better designed. Oh, and the art direction was impeccable and – as a theme you may notice developing, the soundtrack was absolutely astounding, one of the best of all time. I can't not hear half of the tracks from this game without going into a trance to just relax and enjoy them. It also inspires me to go back and play Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 again.

Finally, Donkey Kong Country 3 came out a year later and I loved it just as much, if not more than 2. In much the same vein as the second game, this one had more levels, more hidden content, even better and tighter design, and more collectibles as well as a world map that actually gave you freedom to explore at your leisure as well as a game-length side quest. However, on the flip side, the aesthetics had changed from a grimy pirate-themed game to a more toony-looking game set in the 'northern kremisphere'. AKA Canada or Norway or something. The songs were a bit more bubbly and poppy than part 2, and the level and creature design were more exagerrated. This made the game look kinda silly and not feel dangerous or serious like the second one, which is why many people don't like it as much.

However, I formed my opinions before I realized what the internet thought, and with 25 years of hindsight I can say with clarity that, from a gameplay and design perspective, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble is the best game in the trilogy, with donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest in a close second. However, if i had to order them I would put 2 ahead of 3 because the aesthetic and score are pretty important and do make the game FEEL more perilous and encapsulate a better tone. But, as I said, there is more content in 3, and I felt the level design was better, so it's really hard to decide; it really depends on whether I'm thinking about them or playing them. If I'm reminiscing about the games, 2 gets the edge because it's easier to remember visuals and sounds, but if I'm in the midst of playing them I find 3 to be better since the level design is better and there's more to do. Like I said, it's kind of all over the place, and there's a reason it's this high on my list.

As a recap, the first game was pretty basic. Its completion requirements just had you finishing the game and entering the bonus stages. However, the game looked and sounded great, played fantastically well, and was a completely new and unique game style in terms of art direction and fidelity. DKC2 went a step further by having more worlds and levels, making you actually complete the bonus stages to get coins that could be used to access the Lost world (super hard bonus levels and the final optional hidden boss), as well as DK coins for bragging rights. This was all while darkening the tone, giving the world a pirate theme, and delivering some of the best music ever seen or heard in a video game. It replaced Donkey with Dixie, something I personally liked since she floats and thus it gives you more freedom and allows the levels to be a bit more open and fun.

DKC3 toned down the stylistic darkness and went for a more bubbly score, two elements that I personally thought were outstanding but not as good as part 2. Again, there were more levels, more bonus stages that also allowed you to unlock super hard bonus stages and the optional super boss, and the DK coins were now acquired by solving a puzzle in the level rather than just picking them up. This time around, you have to hit the Kremling holding it from behind with a metal barrel, which can be accomplished in many different ways. For the first time in the series, the overworld actually gave you room to explore, leading to the next collectible – the banana bird – that required a simon-says style memory game to get all fifteen. Then, if you are following along, there are new characters native to the Northern Kremisphere called the Brothers Bear, each of which has some sort of task that needs your attention, and each one can help you by giving you the items you need for other brothers or opening up pathways to secrets.

There's a reason I manage to forgive this game's tone. Sure, the music is bubbly and the aesthetics are far brighter, but the level design is slightly better than the other two games in the series and there's a lot more to do. More levels, more secrets, more collectibles. Honestly, I'm disappointed that people put so much emphasis on the art direction, because everything else about the game pops. All in all, these are three great games that I love for similar reasons, each with their own strengths. Like Mega Man X and some of the Final Fantasy games, I can't decide which one I like better, so I just bundle them up. If you ever had any inkling to try these games – say, they're on Switch Online's SNES pack – do it. All three.

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android