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20 Years Later: ‘Pokémon Yellow’ Was the Last Hurrah For the Original Game Boy

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Pokémon Yellow released for the Game Boy in North America on October 19, 1999, and would be marked as the final sendoff to a handheld’s legacy that started over a decade prior. The Game Boy defeated the Atari Lynx, it defended itself from the swarm of portable Tiger Electronics, and it even managed to collapse its largest competitor — the Sega Game Gear — under its feet despite having weaker hardware and a monochromatic screen that was considered dated by most manufacturers. Its long-deserved history was all thanks to a successful promise of having console-styled games on the go, and Yellow became the last official Game Boy game to be released outside of Japan.

The fifth generation of Nintendo handheld systems was soon to embrace the Americas with the Game Boy Color, made to stem the tide as Nintendo worked tirelessly to create a next-generation handheld codenamed “Atlantis.” It was inevitable that the final game to ever be released for the system would eventually hit store shelves, but no one could have predicted that the world’s latest creature catching phenomenon would have been the one to end it all.

Pokemon yellow Game Boy
‘Pokemon Yellow’ Special Edition GameBoy Color released just a month after the launch of the standalone cartridge.

What instantly set its place in a trinity for what is arguably the most nostalgic game series (especially for any 90s kid with no backlight) became the perfect way to end a history of on the go innovation from Nintendo. Pokémon Yellow secretly kickstarted the next movement of portable devices with one final finishing blow.

Although Yellow was compatible with the original Game Boy, the game possessed a special feature for both new adopters and returning customers planning on purchasing the next generation of the system in just under a month: the ability to see your favorite digital pocket monsters in color for the first time on Game Boy Color.

A Super Effective Strategy

Pokémon Yellow was developed as an enhanced version of Pokémon Red, Green, and Blue, but whereas those games were the first entries in the franchise, Yellow held a massive game-changing card under its sleeve — almost literally. The Pokémon anime and card game were taking the phenomenon to greater heights, establishing a unique look and public consensus for the franchise that general audiences quickly became accustomed to.

‘Surfing Pikachu’ appeared in the introduction scene of the game and several television advertisements across the globe.

In order to create arguably the definitive interpretation of the Kanto region that could please all audiences at the same time, Game Freak’s small studio took it upon themselves to completely rework all of the dull green-and-black sprite artwork in the original games. In doing so, they adapted them to be closer to not only Ken Sugimori’s original concept art, but also to Ash’s adventures in the highly popular Saturday morning anime.

In the end, Yellow‘s upgrades helped make the series reach the top charts again and become an instant best-seller across not only Nintendo’s fall and winter catalog, but the entire entertainment industry in general. The game’s release was strategically positioned to coincide with the debut of Pokémon: The First Movie in various territories, including the United States.

According to multiple Nintendo spokespeople, the success of Pokémon Yellow attributed to the skyrocketing Game Boy Color sales during the 1999 holiday season, while the standalone game itself sold a grand total of over 14 million copies throughout its lifespan — a little under half the total sales of Red, Blue, and Japan’s exclusive Green combined. However, the largest-selling point for most buyers of the game was not its promised enhancements, but rather the presence of one’s very own Pikachu partner as a companion that travels alongside the player on their journey to complete the Pokédex.

Pokemon Yellow sprites
A complete graph of the sprites that appeared on the GameBoy Color in Yellow.

Following In The Footsteps of Ash

Fun Fact: Nintendo partnered with Volkswagon in order to promote The First Movie and Yellow with a line of Pikachu themed Beetle 1999 cars.

Pokémon Yellow differs from its various other counterparts by the inclusion of several aspects of the anime. Besides an interactive Pikachu who follows players around and yells out his iconic cry when being released in battle, characters such as Team Rocket’s Jessie and James are encountered on multiple occasions, and players can even obtain all three of the original starters along their journey — just as Ash had done in the show.

Pikachu — there is no denying that the adorable yellow electrified mouse is the most iconic Pokémon of them all. He is the face of the anime, has probably more card variants than any other Pokémon, is a Macy’s Day Parade Thanksgiving float, and sells merchandise in amounts that Mickey Mouse and Mario would be jealous of. Every kid growing up in the 90s — and even those watching today — wanted to be Ash Ketchum, the leading protagonist of the Pokémon anime. They wanted to go on an adventure to discover 151 pocket monsters, defeat eight separate gym leaders, and conquer the elite four of the region.

Aside from its own exclusive list of unobtainable pokémon who can be caught in the pairing versions, the only other feature notably absent from the other entries was a hidden ‘Surfing Pikachu’ mini-game called Pikachu’s Beach (based off anime episode ‘The Pi-Kahuna’). This short Excitebike inspired game could only be accessed with a copy of Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64. Bringing a transferable Pikachu who knows the HM move Surf to the summer beach house on Route 19 would allow you to play the hidden game to your heart’s content.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Pokemon Yellow 2DS
Pokémon Yellow 2DS Limited Edition bundle in Europe made for the virtual console release.

Today, Pokémon Yellow is seen as a Game Boy classic and part of the beginning of one of the most influential game series of all time. It was intended to be a celebration of the original 151 pocket monsters as Game Freak was closing off on a troubled development cycle in Japan with the upcoming sequels Pokémon Gold and Silver. Soon the world of Pokémon was going to be expanding and the overseas market had no idea just how much bigger the pop culture phenomenon was about to get next year as the 21st century began.

Yellow set the video game franchise onto the path it currently resides on by opening the door to a larger audience thanks to the cover presence of Pikachu. It’s not often that a video game system gets to leave its legacy on such a high note, with a game owned and created by the manufacturer of the system — let alone Nintendo who is notably known for allowing third parties to publish software on their systems way past their own development studios.

Most recently, Pokémon Yellow reemerged through not only a special re-release on the Nintendo 3DS virtual console for the franchise’s 25th anniversary but as a full-fledged reimagining known as Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee for the Nintendo Switch. The Let’s Go games fix the tedious aspects of Yellow by eliminating the need for HMs and the PC, but the game also uses a different catching system that has become a diverse mechanic throughout the community. Let’s Go‘s overall positive reception, however, still shows that the original framework generation one proposed 20 years ago still holds up for the majority when compared to today’s modern Pokémon entries.

Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu Artwork (Left)
Pokémon Yellow Artwork (Right)

If you are interested in playing the original version of Pokémon Yellow today, it can be purchased digitally right here for the 3DS family of systems. For Nintendo Switch owners, check out our review of Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee if you still have not yet played the latest nostalgic throwback entry in the series.

Journalist major and part-time film writer. I have always held high interests in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre, on a collectathon, or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. April Jefferson

    November 27, 2019 at 11:04 am

    except actually no, you can play pokémon gold and silver on your game boy and those came out here in 2000.

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Interview with John Staats, First-Level Designer for ‘World of Warcraft’

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Staats, first-level designer for the launch version of World of Warcraft.

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The first iteration of World of Warcraft, often called “Vanilla WoW,” has a strong pull of nostalgia for many fans. From inspiring countless other MMOs, to imbuing an entire generation of players with memories that they will never forget, to inspiring Blizzard to re-release it earlier this year, Vanilla’s footprint is undeniable.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to John Staats, a first-level designer on World of Warcraft‘s initial launch, to discuss his recent book, The Wow Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development, which chronicles his own personal experience with developing WoW‘s initial release.

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In a lot of ways, The WoW Diary reminds me of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. Both books address the challenges of game development, including the incredible amount of hours that game developers work and the dreaded “crunch” when a project has to be delivered on time. Your section on how your colleagues described their work on StarCraft was particularly interesting. What do you think is the public’s biggest misconception about how developers work?

The biggest misconception is how expensive developers are! Most publishers and studio heads are always portrayed as the bad guys, but the truth is there’s so much risk in game development, it’s just insane. If a company is upfront about long hours, then I see no problem with longer hours to some point. Unfortunately, the law isn’t so flexible. After WoW shipped, we dropped to capped 40-hour weeks (mandatory) and it sucked. Everything was so schedule-conscious that we stopped experimenting.

Studios are all different. Some people asked if unions were the answer, and they might help in some cases, but they would make other situations worse. There would certainly be fewer games out there without crunches. I dunno. I’m from Akron, Ohio. I’m just happy to have worked in the entertainment industry!

As a developer, even at somewhere like Blizzard, fan feedback seems like it’s able to affect team morale. In the book, you mention a few cases of this. What was it like to work under the pressure of fan expectations?

World of Warcraft feedback wasn’t nearly as bad as Warcraft III, because the company was too quick to promote their first 3D title. Making a 3D game has such a sharp, painful learning curve that engine re-writes caused long delays. The fans were unfamiliar with the long waits associated in making 3D games, so they were especially angry.

The class designers definitely had it bad on World of Warcraft. People never post when they’re happy, the forums are usually very negative. And there’s strange “voodoo” where people report glitches or errors that aren’t really there. There’s a LOT of voodoo reports that designers need to verify, and that eats up their schedule.

Kevin Jordan once joked that he was going to claim to be a character artist at the launch party signing table, just to avoid being drawn into discussions about rogues versus shaman duels. For the most part, WoW was so much better looking, better playing, better running than the competition, we had it easy. Still, we put pressure on ourselves: for the most part, the fans were pretty cool.

World of Warcraft

You state in the book that you got your start in modding computer games on the PC. Did you have any prior experience with other game systems, or was your only experience with the PC?

PC only. I was actually a Macintosh user exclusively because I was in advertising in NYC. I bought my first PC in the mid-1990s. As a Mac person, there weren’t many games available (thank you, Steve Jobs), so I only played a few titles on my roommate’s machines. They always had to kick me off whenever they came home.  When I got my own, I relentlessly played FPS and strategy games.

One of the more interesting comments that you make in the book, and one that I was curious about while reading, was the following: “Writing stories is so easy it seems nearly half the people in the industry want to do it[…] it’s unreasonable to expect players to follow a storyline, detailed or subtle.” Do you think games are ever capable of delivering complex and subtle stories, or is it beyond the medium’s scope?

I honestly doubt stories will become more subtle for most genres. Most games pull the player’s attention to non-story elements like socialization, user interface, goals, and combat tactics. Looking for things is rarely fun. It’s just too hard to expect the average player to follow nuanced stories… and you never want to risk players becoming confused with your plot.

You use the phrase “computer games” throughout the book instead of the more commonly used “games.” Was there a semantic reason for this?

Ranchers and farmers are in the agricultural industry, they have a completely different set of concerns.

There’s a huge difference in developing computer games versus console games. It’s so much easier to make games for a console. They’re far more predictable, and optimized for specific types of games. Developers are influenced by all kinds of games; pen-and-paper RPGs, tabletop board games, card games, handheld devices… and all of them are very different to produce. I didn’t want to lump everything into the “games industry.”

You mention early on that you’ve suffered “a neurological problem in [your] hands that hinders [you] from using a computer for significant lengths of time.” Given the increasingly interconnected nature of modern society and how much time you spent on computers during your career in the games industry, how hard was it to adjust?

I played FPS games before I became a level designer. I played up to 14-16 hours a day when I had the time. That’s without stopping, BTW. I would eat leftovers between matches. I was nuts.

John Staats World of Warcraft

Blizzard and Nintendo have always seemed like analogous companies to the outside public. Both spend large amounts of time and money crafting games that have long-standing appeal and excellent quality. Both don’t worry about winning the public relations war and, instead, depend on the endemic quality of their games to do the talking for them. Did anyone ever make that comparison inside of Blizzard?

It was a very conscious effort to avoid distractions. There’s so much temptation for some people to jump into every conversation, there was a company-wide mandate to keep your mouth shut. We had Bill Roper for our spokesperson, and if the public thought he personally made all our games, that was fine with the developers (he wasn’t even a dev!). This lets every member of the company, as a whole, take credit for the collective products. Other industry developers will weigh in on every conversation, and journalists will seek out the same developers for opinions. On top of the risk of crossing wires with the company’s official opinion, so much exposure could create jealousy.

At one point in the book, you mention that an acquaintance of yours, Scott Hartin, had worked making console games in Japan and hated it. Was this a common complaint among those who had worked in Japan?

He’s the only person I know who’s worked there, and it was something he said in passing. I thought it such an interested idea, that different cultures tend to work in different ways. Who knows? Perhaps it might have just been the studio he was in, that made them work that way.  

Ragnaros and the Molten Core raid have emerged as a large part of the lore surrounding the vanilla release of World of Warcraft. It’s also something that you mention receiving compliments from fans about. What part of Molten Core are you the most proud of?

I’m proud that we ninja’d it into the shipping game without the producers having it on our to-do list! It was a passion project Jeff Kaplan rallied people around. I’m glad he did. We were working on so many bugs after we shipped, there’s no telling how long it would have taken to update the live servers with a content update like MC.

As a historian, having an oral history of one of gaming’s largest and most influential games is an incredible resource. In the beginning of the book, you say that you struggled with compiling your development diary because, to a large degree, you were afraid of underrepresenting some of your hardest co-workers. In the end, why do you think more oral histories, such as your book, aren’t published?

I can absolutely tell you it’s because the author needs to take notes. I can’t do a sequel to The WoW Diary because I stopped taking notes after we shipped. There’s just no way, I’d get everything wrong, or release a bland, broad-strokes version of how things went down. That’s where my book stands out, the details make the story vivid.

 

World of Warcraft

Blizzard released WoW Classic back in August. What are your thoughts on it?

I’m surprised they did. No one has ever done something like this before. Redoing someone else’s work doesn’t sound like a fun project for developers, who are in nature, creative people. It just isn’t fun to walk in someone else’s footsteps. I’m also keenly interested to see how it plays out. Do they relaunch expansions? Does it affect the retail version? I honestly don’t know, but my popcorn is ready!

Blizzard has been criticized recently for their communication with players. How different does it feel when you are on the corporate side of that relationship?

No one is criticized when your games stink. LOL! Seriously though, complaints never stop, so it’s never a big deal. Whether it’s about lawsuits or controversy, Blizzard usually takes the high road, and disengages from distractions; it lets them focus on what they want to be known for… making good games. I’m glad to see they’re still doing this.

Final question. As something of a hardware nerd, I’ve got to ask, how did developers handle the rapidly progressing technology of the late 90s and early 2000s, when Moore’s Law was in full effect? 

Blizzard games sell well because they target low-end systems. Most studios weren’t, and aren’t, smart enough to realize this. Most studios want to be the first kid on the block to have a shiny new feature. While the industry chased after expensive features that narrowed their audience to customers who had top-end computers, the savvy companies focused on the low-end machines. To answer your question, Blizzard avoided the Moore’s Law trap.

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A big thank you to John Laats for agreeing to be interviewed and providing us with a review copy of his book. If you’re interesting in learning more about John Laats, his work, you can find him at his website.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Looking Ahead to 2020

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Indie Game Spotlight

The year is coming to an end. The holidays are just around the corner. We’ve already published our list of the best indie games of 2019 and now it is time to start looking forward to 2020. In what is sure to be our last Indie Games Spotlight of 2019, we take a look at some of the indies set for release next year. This issue includes a student project that led to the creation of an indie studio; a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game; and a comedic occult adventure game that takes place during World War II. All this and more!

Lightmatter

Imagine, “if Limbo and Portal had a weird baby.”

Aspyr and Tunnel Vision Games announced that their long-awaited, award-winning puzzle game, Lightmatter, arrives on Steam on January 15, 2020.

Lightmatter is an atmospheric, first-person puzzle game set inside a mysterious experimental facility where the shadows will kill you. The game tells a sci-fi story about a maniac inventor who has created the ultimate power source called Lightmatter. Players must explore the facility in an attempt to discover the hidden plot while facing challenging puzzles that require mastering different light sources to survive.

Not only does the game look great but what’s even more impressive is that Lightmatter originally started out as a university project where a group of Medialogy students wanted to explore lights and shadows as the primary gameplay mechanic in a puzzle game. After creating a 15-minute prototype, the team offered it as a free download on Reddit. To their surprise, the game became an overnight success with thousands of downloads and multiple accolades from game conferences around the world. It didn’t take long before they created Tunnel Vision Games with the mission to take the light/shadow concept further and turn it into a fully-fledged game. The rest, as they say, is history.


Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Nine Witches: Family Disruption

Investigate the Occult

Nine Witches: Family Disruption is the comedic occult adventure game you’ve been waiting for. From Blowfish Studios and Indiesruption, the game takes place in a rustic Norwegian village on the fringe of World War II, where a supernatural scholar investigates the Nazi’s plan to conjure a dark ancient power and strike a devastating blow to the Allied powers. Players must investigate their plots by communing with a variety of eccentric characters from the realms of both the living and the dead. It’s your job to unravel a mystical mystery and put a stop to the Okkulte-SS’s evil schemes before it’s too late.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption was born from my desire to blend world history with magic and my personal sense of humor,” said Diego Cánepa, designer, Indiesruption. “I’m grateful Blowfish Studios are using their powers to help me bring the game to consoles and PC so this story can be enjoyed by players across the world.” If you like indie games with beautiful, retro-inspired pixel art and a comical story dripping with gleefully absurd, dark humor, you’ll want to check this out. Nine Witches: Family Disruption summons supernatural hi-jinks to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC in Q2 2020.


Filament

Explore a mysterious ship.

Ahead of next year’s anticipated release of Filament, Kasedo Games & Beard Envy have revealed an exclusive look into the making of the upcoming puzzle game with the first in a series of short dev featurettes. Developed by three friends in the front room of their shared house, Filament is a story-rich and fully narrated puzzle game centered around solving sets of cable-based puzzles whilst exploring a seemingly abandoned spaceship. According to the press release, Filament lets you freely explore the mysterious ship, solving over 300 challenging and varied puzzles in (almost) any order you like.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend checking out the short episode series which explains the complexity and variety of puzzles and offers an insight into how the game was made. Filament will release for PC and consoles next year.


West of the Dead

The Wild West has never been this dark.

Announced at X019 in London, West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter developed by UK-based studio Upstream Arcade. The game stars Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) as the voice of the main protagonist William Mason, a dead man awakened with only the memory of a figure in black. His existence sets into motion a chain of events that have truly mythic consequences.

Thrown into the unknown procedurally generated hunting grounds of Purgatory, your skills will be put to the test as you shoot and dodge your way through the grime and grit of the underworld. No one said dying would be easy and West of the Dead will surely test your skills. The battle for your soul will take place on Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC in 2020.


The Red Lantern

Survive the Alaskan wilderness in this dog sledding, story-driven, rogue-lite game

We first took notice of The Red Lantern during a Nintendo Direct earlier this year and ever since we’ve been impatiently awaiting its release. The Red Lantern is a resource management game where you and your team of five sled dogs must survive the wilderness and find your way home. Set in Nome, Alaska, you play as The Musher, voiced by Ashly Burch (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Life is Strange), as she sets out to train for the grueling Iditarod race.

The game combines rogue-lite elements into this story-driven adventure game, where hundreds of different events can occur—like fending off bears, resisting frostbite, attending your dogs, or receiving a signature moose-licking. This might be the first and last dog-sledding survival game we will ever play but that’s fine by us because judging by the screenshots and trailer, the game looks terrific. The Red Lantern is Timberline Studio’s debut game and is funded by Kowloon Nights. The game will be releasing on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

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The Best Games of the 2010s

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Best Games of the 2010s Best Games of the Decade

The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to choose from our many favourites but we narrowed it down to one winner and five special mentions for each year. At last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.

Best Games of the Decade

Mass-Effect-2-Best-Games-of-the-Decade

2010) Mass Effect 2

Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as a different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.

Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.

While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

2011) Dark Souls

Like Mass Effect 2Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroborosDark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.

Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins

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2012) Xenoblade Chronicles

It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.

Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other,  Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft.  A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.

Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)

Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead

The Best Games of the 2010s

2013) The Last of Us

With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.

The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.

Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V

2014) Mario Kart 8

Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.

While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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2015) Bloodborne

FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.

I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Persona5-1-1024x576

2016) Persona 5

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.

Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey

2018) God of War

To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.

Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Best Games of the Decade

2019 ) Fire Emblem: Three Houses

With three stories that can change depending on the choices taken, Fire Emblem: Three Houses really does allow the player to choose the path they wish. Much like previous Fire Emblem games, what the player does and chooses is at the heart of the game, with benefits and consequences for each action taken. With three different houses to discover, Fire Emblem: Three Houses can be replayed countless times while never feeling like the same game.

It’s easy to get enchanted by all the personality, charisma, and cheesiness the game has outside of battles, that it’s even easier to miss the tactical ingenuity within battles. Fire Emblem: Three Houses has shaken up much of the battle formula from previous Fire Emblem games, creating a much more fragile web, requiring a balancing of personalities and classes that can develop constructively for the rest of the game. This means every brick you place from the start of the game will affect how well your house stands by the end of the game. It’s a clever design that can catch even the most ardent Fire Emblem veterans out there.

But most importantly of all, each story doesn’t feel rushed or out of place. That isn’t just the three main stories but every characters’ own personal story. Some of the characters are a little overly cloy for my personal tastes, but that isn’t to say they didn’t fit the narrative. Their story was woven into the main story without a slip or a bump. It is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses is more than just how the player develops, but how each character develops around them. (James Baker)

Runner-Up: The Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2

Best Games of the 1990s | Best Games of the 2000s | Best Games of the 2010s

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