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.