Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.
I’ve been a gamer since some parental figure, or other, put an NES controller in my hand around the age of 5, (and man, what a mistake that was!) I graduated to my true love, the SNES, after that, and I haven’t looked back since. Below, you’ll find 10 of my most treasured experiences among the hundreds of games I’ve played throughout my life. I hope you like them as much as I do!
I’ve always been an easy sell for horror, and Gothic horror, in particular, is right up my alley. Drawing heavily from the cosmic terror and shapeless monstrosities of HP Lovecraft, Bloodborne suits those interests to a tee. Also, as anyone who knows me will undoubtedly tell you, I almost never shut up about Dark Souls. Bloodborne is basically the perfect storm for someone like me in that regard.
It’s as engaging as it is horrifying, as challenging as it is frustrating, and as rewarding as it is obtuse. There are very few games that I would willingly endure 6 hours of the same boss fight for, but this is one of them.
Dripping with atmosphere, and endlessly esoteric, Bloodborne is the kind of game you could play through a dozen times over and still have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the plot department, and there’s something very ingratiating about that to me, because it makes me want to know what it all means.
Bloodborne is such a brilliant game, and such an engrossing experience, that it hurt me to put it down for good after the release of The Old Hunters DLC, and the brutal fight for that platinum trophy. Honestly, masochist that I am, I’m still hoping for a Bloodborne 2 to come along and kick my ass all over again.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night
As mentioned above, you have to really shit the bed to not sell me on a Gothic horror game, and while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night utterly shits the bed, to glorious effect, in its voice acting, the rest of the game is so astutely designed that even the silly dialogue and laughable delivery, that occasionally creeps through the addictive gameplay, has become fun and memorable via simple proxy and association.
Jabs and jibes aside, SOTN is the Castlevania game that every single entry in the series (before and since) has desperately wished that it was. The game just feels so damn good that there is no question as to which “vania” people are talking about when they bandy about the term “metroidvania”.
I mean, come on, let’s get real for just a second: this game lets you turn into a fucking bat to fly over obstacles, or a cloud of mist to pass through obstructions. In fact, the game is almost broken it gives you so much power by the end. However, having earned every inch of your progress through Dracula’s (two!) castles, you don’t even blink when you reach your 18th power-up or so. By then, the game has its fangs so bloody deep in your neck that you wouldn’t see a flaw in all the world, even if its a stupid gargoyle talking to you in a silly voice!
Come along you goofy bastard, let’s find another switch for you to press, shall we!?
Look, I know what everyone is thinking, and ya know, it’s pretty odd to me that this game is on here instead of Chrono Trigger too. Chrono Trigger was my first RPG and, for all intents and purposes, it should absolutely be on this list. Yet, for some reason, Chrono Cross edges it out for me, just barely.
Is it the incomprehensibly complicated inter-dimensional plot line? The all-over-the-map music that you can’t help but notice in almost every moment of the game? Maybe it’s the fact that your party consists of something like 4o different, interchangeable members, or the realization that the battle system is unlike anything before it, or since.
Whatever it is, Chrono Cross just happens to have that certain something that makes it an unforgettable experience from start to finish. On paper, this sequel is sort of like the 2017 Twin Peaks revival that’s baffling the world even today. It has very little of what we wanted from a sequel to Chrono Trigger, and yet remains totally infatuating on its own terms. There are very few games that could put me on a team with a fluffy talking dog and a cut-throat murderer without breaking my sense of immersion, but then, Chrono Cross isn’t like any other game out there. It’s uncompromisingly its own thing, and I kind of love it for that.
If I had to unequivocally choose only a single game from this list to be my all-time, untouchable favorite, it would have to be Dark Souls. No game has ever caused me to have that obsessive itch to just keep playing, to just earn one more inch forward, to just level up one more time, to just keep fighting a little while longer, like Dark Souls has.
Though I’ve always been generally fine with trophies and achievements, it wasn’t until Dark Souls came along that I grabbed my first Platinum. While I’ve never been against DLC on its own merits, it wasn’t until Dark Souls that I was motivated to scoop up my first expansion. Don’t get me wrong, I played, and loved, Demon’s Souls, but Dark Souls made it look like a prototype by comparison. This game was the real deal, and it was unlike anything I had ever played in my life when I first picked it up in October of 2011.
Maybe this sounds like crazy talk, but the game still holds a sort of magical reverence for me. Looking at how the gaming landscape has changed since its release though, I can’t help but think I’m far from the only one. This year alone has seen half a dozen “Souls-alikes” emerge into the ether in various forms, and in some ways, Dark Souls has succeeded from the very fact that a term like Souls-alike exists.
Totally uncompromising, brutally difficult, intensely atmospheric, and a true beast of a different shade, Dark Souls is easily the game that has had the most varying, awe-inspiring, and unceasing of effects on me, and how I see this hobby/obsession of mine. There’s nothing quite like it, even in its own series, and for that, it is owed a massive degree of tribute.
Final Fantasy VIII
Of all the entries on this list, this one might be the most shocking. I know Final Fantasy VIII isn’t up everyone’s alley — hell, some folks outright despise it — but, there’s always been something truly special about this game for me.
I remember in 8th grade, when I first saw the opening cut scene for this game. I wasn’t even a fan of RPGs at the time, but something about the operatic, cinematic prelude that set Final Fantasy VIII into motion really struck a chord with me. When I finally got a PlayStation of my own a couple of years later (I was an N64 kid, you see) it was one of the first games I played through, and man, did it make an impression.
I’ve since gone on to play through every numbered Final Fantasy game in the entire series (outside of the online efforts), and FFVIII still resonates with me more than any other entry. Like Chrono Cross, mentioned above, I tend to admire the fact that it was so different from its contemporaries, even if the system it introduced wasn’t exactly perfect.
I still get chills when I play this game nearly 20 years later, and it’s no surprise when I look back on it now. It taught me about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness in a way that managed to connect to my teenage mind, and yet, still resonates with me to this day.
Even today, there’s still a large portion of gamers that scoff and chortle when they hear the term “walking simulator.” With that in mind, Gone Home is the answer to the questions and criticisms that always seem to assail the walking simulator and its ilk.
Aside from being a trailblazer for the genre, what Gone Home nails so well is the eerie sense of being in a home that doesn’t belong to you. Despite the fact that the protagonist, Samantha, has come home from a year abroad, it’s not her home she’s come home to, and the game puts you in the exact same situation as her. It’s a marvel of storytelling and game design, and one of the things that makes Gone Home so memorable.
I think why this game really hits me so hard in the end, though, is because it’s just such an utterly human story. The organic way that the tale of Samantha’s family unfolds makes it feel vital but the delivery is never ham-fisted or overzealous in its message.
Seriously, if anyone ever gives me that whole song and dance about games never telling worthwhile stories, this is the first example I go to. Gone Home is an utter treat of a game, and a one-of-a-kind experience. There’s no bad guys, no weapons, and no master plans, just a simple coming-of-age story in all of its raw, unadulterated power.
If that sounds even remotely interesting to you, then I urge you to play this game. You won’t be disappointed.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Though I’m sure I played good, and even great games, before I picked up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time, this was the first time I can ever remember falling in love with a game.
Embarrassingly, I was so enamored with LTTP that I actually had my mom take pictures of the Agahnim boss fight on my second or third time through it. Of course, the pictures came out like shit, but hey, it was the thought that counted right?
In any case, Link to the Past was not my first Zelda game, and it was far from my last, but all these years later, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s still the best. I’m sure I’ve played through the game at least 30 times by now, probably a pile more than that to be honest, and it still never loses its luster. The pacing is perfect, the difficulty curve is right on the money, and the design is just so succinct that you never feel bored or antsy for even a second when you play it, even 25 years later.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the absolute definition of a timeless game, and is the only entry standing in the way when Breath of the Wild comes calling for the moniker of “Best Zelda Game.”
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Looking back at Metal Gear Solid as a series, there are so many memorable moments in every single game that it’s very hard to pick just one as a series favorite. With that in mind, I doubt most fans would choose this one, and I have no doubt this pick could earn me a pile of shit. Either way, however, I have to be honest and say that I feel Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the best game in this titanic achievement of a series.
So what makes me put The Phantom Pain over games like Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots? Well, first and foremost, its the succinct level of idiosyncratic perfection that Kojima put into this game. I mean, just stop and register for a second that this is an unfinished game. And bloody look at it! Jesus Christ, the level of detail and the thousands of hours of effort that must have gone into it, is staggering.
That’s just on the surface though. Underneath the insanely adept design of the game is something I can’t quite put my finger on. Lord knows there are some ridiculous moments in this game but for some reason, this morally murky tale of justice and vengeance has hammered itself into my psyche in a way that I just can’t let go of. To this day, I still find myself sometimes sitting at my computer watching the trailer, set to New Order’s “Elysium” and just soaking it up, or listening to Mike Oldfield’s “Nuclear” and thinking about the 120 hours I spent utterly obsessed with this game.
Metal Gear Solid V may not be a perfect game, and it may have a dirty history behind it, but man, every time I think of going back to it, I worry for the stability of my day-to-day life. Will the kids get fed? Will the dog get walked? Who’s to say with a game this special.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil seems to have this odd history of reinventing itself every decade, once with Resident Evil 4, and again, more recently, with Resident Evil 7. The difference between the two, however, lies in the way that Resident Evil 4 didn’t just reinvent a franchise, it basically reinvented the action game in one fell swoop.
Now, never mind for a moment that Resident Evil was never meant to be an action franchise, because the way RE4 mixes up action with its more well-established horror elements, is essentially the chocolate and peanut butter of gaming.
I can actually remember re-watching the trailer again and again in anticipation of this game (on Gametrailers… because there was no such thing as YouTube in 2004) and yet it still delivered on the lofty expectations I had built up for it.
Today, franchises like Gears of War and Uncharted still owe a huge debt to Resident Evil 4. To boot, the game is still a blast to play, campy dialogue and all, even 12 years later.
In a sea of amazing survival horror titles, this is still the first one I’d pick up and play in a heartbeat, Mordor cave trolls and all, and that’s saying something in a world where Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia exist.
It’s a pretty weird thing when your fiancèe, who is not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, can easily recognize a game from 1994, anytime you happen to be playing it. This is the case with a game like Super Metroid.
If The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my first love in gaming, then Super Metroid was the first time I ever cheated on it. This game was truly something else for 9 year old Mike, back when he rented it from the local video store. I mean, who could imagine a game that would give you X-ray vision or super speed as a controllable power-up? Hell, by the time you’re done with Super Metroid, even gravity has become an after thought for you.
Very few games succeed at empowering players the way that Super Metroid did, and, as much as credit must be given to the aforementioned Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the emergence of the “metroidvania” genre, it was only adopting what Super Metroid had already done, and adapting it to a different setting.
Super Metroid is one of the most important trail-blazers in gaming history. and, more than that, it’s an unforgettable gaming experience that still holds up over 20 years later, and after over 50 playthroughs. Trust me on that. I’m not a speedrunner by any stretch of the imagination, and I can still crush this game in less than an hour and forty minutes these days.
This is the game that made my childhood, and the game that broke my childhood (anyone who has seen the ending will understand what I mean by that.) Super Metroid is a triumph of rule-breaking game development, wordless storytelling, and the idea of growth and understanding in a hostile world. It was my favorite game for a lot of years, and, in some ways, it always will be my favorite.
Cutting games from this list was like deciding which of my children would eat tonight. Some I removed so there wouldn’t be any franchise repeats, while others were simply edged out by the competition. Either way, you’ll find 10 more of my absolute favorites below.
10 Honorable Mentions: Bioshock Infinite, Chrono Trigger, Half-Life 2, Kingdom Hearts 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metroid Prime, Mass Effect 2, Rayman Legends, Super Mario Galaxy, Xenoblade Chronicles.
‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…
I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.
Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.
Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.
The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.
Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.
The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child
Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.
The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.
The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.
Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.
Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.
When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
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