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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)