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The 20 Best Games of the Century (So Far…)

One year ago, a few intrepid young gamers took it upon themselves to start their own gaming website. That project eventually became Goomba Stomp.

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One year ago, a few intrepid young gamers took it upon themselves to start their own gaming website. That project eventually became Goomba Stomp. One full turn around the sun later, Goomba Stomp boasts nearly 50 writers across 4 continents, and we couldn’t have done it without that one little thing that gives us a reason to do this at all: that’s you, the reader.

So if you’re reading this, then thank you. You’ve helped to give us a voice, and though it may be something of a nerdy voice, it’s ours all the same. To say thanks, and, of course, to celebrate, we’ve crafted up this little list of our favorite games of the 21st century. Our writers and editors have pooled their votes, and the results are as follows.

We hope you love these games as much as we do. Here’s to another year of doing what we love, thanks for being here for the ride. (Mike Worby)


Best Games of the Century

20) Civilization V

The feeling we most commonly associate with Civilization V is confusion. It’s not because of the daunting array of systems one must navigate in order to play the game with any measure of success, and it’s not because of the various political and religious minefields you must negotiate in order to avoid your burgeoning civilization becoming little more than a footnote in the pages of history. It’s because this game, more than any other on this impressive list of titles, can cause you to look at your watch in bewilderment at 5 am when you could have sworn you’d only been playing it for an hour. Civilization V asks for a considerable time investment, but the rewards it yields is abundant.

At the start of each game you’re asked to pick a civilization – be it the English empire, the ancient Egyptians, or one of over a dozen more – and the aim of the game is to take their culture from a single settler looking for a place to hang their hat to a sprawling superpower that is considered enough of a cultural, spiritual, militaristic or technological marvel to win the game. As your village grows into a city, you’ll form new settlements, deal with political unrest, spread your cultural influence, research important scientific discoveries, and try to build awe-inspiring wonders before your competitors. You can build the hanging gardens of Babylon just outside of London, or the Pyramids on the outskirts of Paris. Perhaps Michelangelo will be born in Boston.

You make your own history in Civilization V, and it’s glorious. Just make sure you set plenty of time aside. (John Cal McCormick)

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19) Gone Home

With all the talk in more recent years of developers and publishers hoping to add a layer of emotional resonance to their games, very few games are able to actually achieve the kind of emotional response that players might get from some of their favorite films or television shows.

Gone Home is a game that bucks this trend almost effortlessly. The story of a girl who comes home from traveling abroad to find that her family has moved to a new house, Gone Home doesn’t exactly have a premise that would seem to work very well in the medium of gaming. However, with the advent of the walking simulator, a game like this can offer an intense feeling of immersion, as players feel like they are very much inhabiting the shoes of the protagonist, Katie, as she learns about all of the ways her family has changed and grown in her absence.

A quiet, solemn, and evocative experience, Gone Home is the kind of game that should be played by everyone who takes even a fraction of enjoyment from the medium of gaming. At a mere two hours to complete, Gone Home makes a similar case to a game like Journey: that a short game isn’t necessarily a waste of money. Quite the contrary, in fact, Gone Home is a game that can literally change your life. (Mike Worby)

Best Video Games of the Century

18) Final Fantasy X

Some people might point to Final Fantasy X as being the moment that the Final Fantasy series jumped the proverbial shark, but there’s a lot to like about the tenth installment in the long-running franchise. Upon release it was the best looking Japanese role-playing game ever made, and while the voice acting was routinely mocked (even at the time), fully voiced characters were a landmark achievement for games of this ilk. The golden age of JRPGs might have ended with the PSOne, but Final Fantasy X dragged the defiantly old-school genre kicking and screaming into the future whether we liked it or not.

Taking place in the magical land of Spira, Final Fantasy X tells the tale of an upbeat sports star named Tidus who is mysteriously transported 1,000 years into the future when his city is attacked by a gigantic, malevolent beast known as Sin. As he struggles to acclimatise to a brand new culture unaccustomed to his ways, he meets a girl destined to destroy the creature that left him stranded in a strange time and decides to help her on her quest for peace. Throw in some daddy issues, a villain with gravity-defying hair, and some giant yellow birds and baby, you’ve got a Final Fantasy.

The linearity of the game and the almost entirely humourless script might have left some Final Fantasy fans feeling alienated at the time, but looking back, Final Fantasy X did a lot of things right that future games in the franchise would get wrong. It was impressive on a technical level, but it retained some of the heart that the series was known for which later iterations of the series would lack. It’s got a fun battle system, a suitably moving story, and a largely memorable cast of characters. And it’s also famous for containing one of the worst cut-scenes in video game history, so there’s always that. (John Cal McCormick)

Best Video Games of the Century

17) Red Dead Redemption

What happens when you take Rockstar’s penchant for mature stories and huge, interactive open worlds and stick it in the twilight years of the American Wild West? Red Dead Redemption happens. Not only living up to the legacy of its Grand Theft Auto progenitors, but succeeding them in several ways, Red Dead isn’t just Rockstar’s best game, but one of the greatest games ever made.

The story and setting of Red Dead are nearly perfect for the Western film vibe it’s attempting to ape. John Marston is a former outlaw whose family is being held hostage until he can track down and kill his former gang members. Along the way, he’ll need to contend with lawmen, undesirables, and his former brothers in arms as he tears across the wild west. There’s gunfights, horse rides, and plenty of piano music to make any fan of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood classics smile with glee.

The open-world is one of the best ever created, full of dynamic events that make it feel alive and interesting landmarks to explore. When Marston’s not busy with one of the impeccably crafted story missions there’s plenty of side content like hunts to complete and bounties to collect that make you feel like you’re in the West yourself. There’s no need for anyone to make a video game out of HBO’s WestWorld, we already got it in 2010.

From its first moments to its heart-wrenching finale, Red Dead Redemption is gaming perfected. Its combat visceral and nerve-wracking, its story pointed and interesting, and its use of themes of fatherhood and the waning of the American frontier
incredible to watch play out. The Wild West is an untapped market in gaming, but there’s a decent chance that’s because it has been done perfectly already. You shouldn’t just play Red Dead Redemption because of the upcoming sequel, you should play it because it deserves to be played, and stands as one of the defining games of the last generation, or any generation. (Andrew Vandersteen)

Best Video Games of the Century

16) Mass Effect 2

As a devastating attack destroys the Normandy— Shepard’s ship— in the opening moments of the game, the dramatics hit light speed and never let up. Mass Effect 2 is an emotional investment, as much as it is a refined third person shooter, a well-crafted role-playing game, and a seemingly boundless universe to explore.

Shepard, the player’s created character, is not a one human show; a cast of new and returning characters round out the experience with their distinct personalities and backstories. As the game progresses, the player is given the opportunity to learn more about each crewmate, ultimately leading to an optional loyalty mission. These optional missions, as well as voluntary research upgrades and player choices, determine which characters live and die in the final chapter of the game.

Player decisions are not restricted to the last chapter however, the player makes several story choices throughout Mass Effect 2 that are often dichotomized between paragon — by the book — and renegade — who play by their own rules. For returning players, Mass Effect 2’s universe is altered by importing player’s choice from the first game in the series —a criminally underused feature in the industry. This feature assures that the time invested in the first game is meaningful, bettering the series as a whole. Newcomers to the series are still offered a highly tailored story experience, with short-term payoffs, and the promise of greater rewards in Mass Effect 3.

Player choices are not the only aspect to carry over from the first entry, as Bioware shows that they learned a few lessons from the original game. The series’ second entry keeps what worked for the first Mass Effect, while also refining every aspect. Gear and menus are streamlined, while class options offer better upgrades than before. The sequel also removes dull mechanics present in the original, like the Mako driving section, where the player explored barren planets in a land rover. Mass Effect 2’s biggest change comes in the form of its combat system, which emphasizes tight third-person shooter mechanics with a quicker pace than the original.

Mass Effect 2 is the fruit of Bioware’s experienced tweaking and experimentation in the RPG arena. Side quests and major story beats feel lovingly handcrafted, detailed and morally challenging. Combat feels fair, engaging and rewarding. From its explosive opening to its unmatched climax, this entry is the highlight of the Mass Effect series, and one of the best video games ever made. (Justinas Staskevicius)

Best Video Games of the Century

15) Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Stepping into the cold, delicate land of Skyrim is a breathtaking experience. A vast collection of stories emerging from a masterpiece of exploration and discovery; an RPG has never liberated the player quite so well as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has.

The beauty of Skyrim can never be overstated. There’s not a leaf, nor a rock, that seems out of place. From the alluring forests that withhold the darkest of secrets, to the towering walls of Solitude that give an illusion of safety before its peril at the claws of a dragon.

The player’s role as the Dragonborn throws them into political entanglements and engaging skirmishes that all have different impacts and consequences throughout the region. From giant mammoths in the treacherous grasslands to the falmer deep beneath the surface, conflict is never too far away. The role-playing opportunities are endless, the expansive map is mystifyingly vast, and the enriching cultures of the inhabitants are engaging.

The different mods available only enhance a wonderful vanilla version that shows little signs of aging. The combination of modding and endless role-playing puts this Bethesda classic truly into the hands of the player. And from there they add their own story to the fables and folklore that have sustained Elder Scrolls since its humble beginnings in 1994. (James Baker)

Best Video Games of the Century

14) Bioshock

At 20,000 leagues under the sea, Ayn Rand meets Lovecraft in this survival horror FPS from Irrational Games. At the bottom of the ocean lies Rapture, once an Eden of science, art, and free trade, it now stands as a nightmarish labyrinth for the insane and dangerously ambitious. The player finds himself thrown into this dystopian civilization during the final days of a civil war between the capitalist icon, Andrew Ryan and the mysterious voice on the other end of your radio, known only as Atlas. You are tasked with helping Atlas and his family escape the flooding city, inhabited by those corrupted and augmented by mad science run amok. Armed with only a combination of DNA modifying Plasmids and advanced weaponry, you must uncover the mystery behind the fall of Rapture and your role in this war between two men and their conflicting ideologies.

While technically BioShock is a first-person shooter, the lack of available resources and pure viciousness of the Splicers and Big Daddies position BioShock as a far cry away from your average run and gun Call of Duty game. Each encounter with a Big Daddy or Splicer group must be carefully planned and executed, or the player will face an overwhelming beat down. Being able to balance the right Plasmids and ammo for each situation is vital as you explore the depths of Rapture, especially on the higher difficulty settings, else you’ll end up sleeping with the fishes. Exploration is another key factor in discovering and surviving the harshness of life below the surface. The ability to unlock a secret area in order to gain the drop on an unsuspecting opponent is key to thriving in Rapture. The player must actively manage their resources (health, eve, ammo, and money) in order to hack, fight, and outwit their enemies in this unforgiving environment.

BioShock weaves its story, atmosphere, and gameplay together to create a unique sense of dread and isolation in this city deep beneath the ocean’s surface. And while the game is nearly perfect, it isn’t without its flaws. BioShock tacks on a morality system that ends up feeling half-baked, as though each option results in a different ending cutscene, it will only marginally affect the player during the actual game. This along with a strange tonal shift during the final act reminds the player that this is a game world, which would rather concern itself with final bosses instead of deep philosophical ideas about capitalism and free will that were expressed earlier in the game. That said, if you haven’t played this astonishing journey into the deep blue, please would you kindly do yourself a favor and pick it up. BioShock is one of the greatest titles to come out of the past generation, and frankly, the storytelling and atmosphere are unmatched. (Ryan Kapioski)

Best Video Games of the Century

13) Bloodborne

From Software’s fast-paced, action-RPG, Bloodborne, is a blood-soaked gem. The combat of Bloodborne hurls at you at break-neck speed, stripping the player of all defense as the shields and plate mail of Dark Souls are replaced with flimsy Victorian fashion and a health system, weaponry and blood-splatter effect that all create a desperate, gory melee. Powerful but well-telegraphed attacks from your foes, coupled with your fast, lengthy dodging, create a beautiful pace of alternating between intense close combat and hanging back and probing for openings.

Furthermore, a wide range of transforming weapons, each with their own unique attack palette, and diverse item effects allow each player to find their own fighting style. Admittedly the game is not without flaws; some of its elements will force players to grind on occasion, and Bloodborne can be frustratingly esoteric on where to progress to next. But stellar central gameplay means that even grinding isn’t a complete chore, and the game’s lore is so rich that incentivizing the player to inquire a bit more into it isn’t all bad.

Both inspired and original, Bloodborne’s love for Lovecraft had it craft a setting quite unlike any other. Strange alchemical rituals, nightmare realms and esoteric alien divinity are just a few of the rich pieces of lore hidden away amongst item descriptions and environmental design in a way only From Software can pull off. And with plenty of optional areas and bosses, Bloodborne was a game where you could plunge yourself as far in to the nightmare as you desired. Players could disregard all the game hid away and simply enjoy the visceral combat, or could thoroughly immerse themselves in peeling back every veneer, revealing every secret, and be rewarded for doing so.

Not only is Bloodborne a great game in and of itself, it’s also a bloody great sequel to From Software’s Souls series, having enough of the framework from Dark and Demon’s Souls to show a clear genesis, while also having a potent injection of adaptions to the gameplay Dark Souls polished, to begin with, to define it as its own game. Shine on, you crazy blood gem. (Liam Hevey)

Best Video Games of the Century

12) Super Mario Galaxy 

Space, the impenetrable blackness that smothers this planet’s existence in its dark embrace, has often been an object of fear in the human psyche. It is fundamentally disruptive to life and is, in a word, inhuman. It is beautiful, yet cold, serene, yet home to some of the most destructive forces in the universe. Evidence of humanity’s fear of space, and it’s frigidity, is present everywhere in our media and culture and few stop to consider the beauty of space without a heady reminder that its very nature is anathema to the human condition.

Leave it to Nintendo to redefine space and simultaneously make it as fun and inviting a place as has ever existed. Leave it to them to create a great, cosmic fairy tale amongst the stars and comets, and have it seem as inviting as a trip to a castle for cake or a vacation on a tropical island. Super Mario Galaxy redefined space, not just for the Mario series, but also for gaming as a whole. In contrast to its common use as a setting for games that attempt to alienate the player or leave them feeling nervous, Super Mario Galaxy presents space as simply the black canvas onto which a beautiful tale, of good and evil, of heroes and irreparably inept villains, can be told, their rise and fall accompanied by a glissando of grandiose melodies.

Super Mario Galaxy is more than just a game, it is an experience. Carefully crafted levels seemingly plucked straight from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, accompany expertly balanced gameplay and a scale not seen before and rarely since. Accompanied by a narrative whose poignance tugs on the very fabric of human emotion and fed by an inconceivable amount of creativity, Super Mario Galaxy is nothing less than a masterpiece, not just in the sphere of gaming, but in all of art.

That is what sums up Super Mario Galaxy more than anything else; it is a work of art. From its watercolor cutscenes to its heart-warming explorations into Rosalina’s past, it is pure brilliance. Games will come and go, technology will advance, and gaming will evolve, but, much like how the works of the great artists of Antiquity are relevant even today, Super Mario Galaxy will remain a pillar of what defines gaming, an indisputably brilliant testament to its core tenets. (Izsak Barnette)

Best Video Games of the Century

11) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

After the groundbreaking Ocarina of Time, the next entry into the venerable Zelda franchise had to either be another masterpiece or risk disappointing millions of fans. The bar had been set perilously high by Link’s first 3D outing and more than one gamer probably wondered how Nintendo could possibly top such a watershed effort. As it turned out, Majora’s Mask would never compete with its massively successful prequel. Instead, it markedly deviates from the formula established by its predecessors and offers a different experience. It reduces the expected number of dungeons and focuses more on overworld adventuring. And, in what has proved to be its most controversial innovation, it organizes its quest around three repeating days, as players search frantically for relevant items and reset the clock, over and over again, before a massive moon crashes into the land of Termina.

This clever mechanic solves one of the oldest problems beleaguering role-playing and action-adventure games: non-playable characters with static, terribly boring lives, which consist only of waiting for player interaction. Thanks to the repeating days, it became logistically possible for the developers of Majora’s Mask to script wonderful, surprising, and exciting schedules and activities for nearly all townsfolk. The result is a living world where players enable love stories amidst the apocalypse, save old ladies from getting mugged, prevent aliens from stealing cartoon cows, and gain access to the most fashionable milk bar since A Clockwork Orange.

So much to explore – and so many different bodies to do so with! If Majora’s Mask is partly about uncovering the lives of others, it is equally about discovering the protagonist’s own identity. Ocarina of Time’s funny masks are here repurposed and used to transform Link into a forest Deku Scrub, an aquatic Zora, or a rolling Goron. It’s a twist that beautifully suits a game – and a franchise – with obvious affinities with (if no affiliation to) the role-playing genre, which is essentially about embodiment. Players don’t only grasp the outlying geography of Termina and deepen their knowledge of the eight million stories in the naked city of Clock Town, but also strengthen their mastery over the shape-shifting wonders of their digital bodies. (Guido Pellegrini)

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ricky D Fernandes

    December 14, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    I voted for Majora’s Mask although I do love The Wind Waker. Sad to see that Silent Hill 2 didn’t make the cut.

    • Mike Worby

      December 16, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Honestly Silent Hill 2 was one of the Sophie’s Choice cuts I had to make, I love that game.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3 was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Snake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

Metal Gear Solid 3

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

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Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

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Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

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Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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