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.
My name is Alex, I’m 31 years old, I’ve been playing video games since 1990 and this list is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. Well, I say write, but writing about games I love is the easy part. The hard part was trying to condense 27 years of gaming into a list of my 10 best.
Technically, I’ve kind of already decided on my favorite games of all time and had them inked into the skin on my arm for the rest of my life, so that did help with the process – I just checked the mirror! Why make such an irreversible decision for life? Games have given me so much – entertainment, therapy, friendship, happiness, challenge, purpose, escapism and so much more. There’s a myriad of reasons why so many people love this medium, and here are ten games – in no real order – which explain why I do.
10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3 is probably my most treasured time spent in a single game world. It was my safe place during a pretty rough time in my life that I’ve already mentioned here. I loved every single second of my experience in Witcher 3, and a large part of that was due to the lack of a character creator, and the resultant fun I had pretending to be Geralt of Rivea.
By having a staple character with a distinct personality, Witcher 3’s stories are all the more compelling. I hadn’t even played a Witcher game before, but Wild Hunt does such an amazing job of developing both the protagonist and his cohorts that I felt like it couldn’t matter less. The writing and characterization in this game makes its side quests better than most other game’s main stories. Bloody Baron, I still miss you, you big oaf.
An open world game is nothing without a narrative worth investing in, but Witcher 3 is much more than a good yarn. Hunting monsters and exploring the breathtaking world is consistently as exhilarating as it is rewarding. An absolute joy of a game that demanded of me that I see 100% of what it has to offer, I was rarely disappointed and never felt like my time was being wasted. To have a feeling like that after over 80 hours of play is the purest of indicators that I’ve played something genuinely special.
9. Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 is more likely to stake a claim for campiest horror game of all time rather than scariest, but the first hour of it is utterly terrifying. I still get goosebumps right now when I think back to the first time the rev of Dr. Salvador’s chainsaw pierced through the sound of disgruntled Spaniards yelling at me. Truly chilling stuff.
Resident Evil is a series I hold really close to my heart. My best friend and I have completed roughly 1 Resi game every year for about 17 years. It’s a franchise with several games I consider absolute classics – chiefly 1, 2 and now 7 – and yet Resi 4 is the one we’ve probably played together the least, and the one I’ve individually played the most.
It’s obviously been well documented that the game underwent a complete development makeover and pushed the series, and much of the industry, into the ‘action horror’ era. You might think this killed Resident Evil, you might not – but nobody can argue that the series became confused and bloated because it never managed to replicate the near-perfect formula of action and horror that 4 introduced (Dead Space came closer than Resi ever did to doing this).
Chief among the reasons for this is, I think, the game’s impressive variety. Weapons and upgrades, locations, enemy types, bosses – Resi 4 never rests on its laurels and is constantly throwing surprises the player’s way through a mix of inspired creativity and superb pacing. It’s because of this that the game still holds up brilliantly today and is probably due to be the next up for my annual Resi revisit with my buddy. I think I’ll text him now, actually.
You know how everybody has that one game that they know like the back of their hand? That one title where they’ve got the maps memorized and can identify any part of the soundtrack having heard three notes of a melody? No prizes for guessing what that game is for me. I’ve played Banjo way too many times; it’s basically my comfort food.
It probably stems from a time when I really couldn’t afford to waste as much money on video games as I (barely) can now, but I refuse to believe that the number of times I’ve played BK is based on anything other than how much it charmed me with its color palette, varied environments, British wit, and incredibly infectious music. I know a lot of people will herald the brilliant Super Mario 64 as king of the N64 platformers, but Banjo wins it for me.
Both games have brilliant mechanics that continue to stand the test of time, but Banjo has one thing in spades that Mario didn’t need to rely on – character. SM64 certainly had the character with its iconic protagonist, but BK just oozes personality. It’s quirky, it’s silly, it’s funny and it has a talking toilet that you have to jump into after you’ve turned into a pumpkin.
Not all games need to be about intense challenge, and playing Banjo is about as relaxed as I’ll ever be when playing a video game. It’s the game I’d most likely pick to speed run if I ever fell down that hole, and that’s purely because I’d happily play it over and over again for another 20 years.
Bloodborne achieved ultimate gaming redemption with me. The first time I owned the game I was a complete newbie to the Soulsborne series (other than hearing about it and being intrigued to get involved), and I was completely out of my depth from the very start. I played it, I sucked, I hated it, I traded it. Months later, having been sucked into playing Dark Souls 3 after watching a Game Grumps stream, I decided I wanted to give it another try. Man, am I delighted I did.
Its inclusion in this list can lead you to draw the obvious conclusion that I think Bloodborne is the pinnacle of Soulsborne. Its Lovecraftian visuals and lore, its fast-paced combat, and its imposing game world are absolutely awe-inspiring. Dark Souls introduced me to the incredible gameplay and world-building of From Software, but Bloodborne pulled me deep into adoration for it.
Demon’s/Dark Souls is undeniably an amazing series of video games, but four games in it feels like there’s little else that can be done with the knights and dragons arm of From’s empire. Bloodborne was, and still is, the perfect tonic. It’s faster, it’s moodier, it has a more foreboding atmosphere, and for me it just plays a whole lot better. Dodging, weaving and parrying with a blunderbuss is absolutely glorious, and strutting around as a steampunk hunter covered in crimson is… well, it’s cool as hell.
Bloodborne absolutely epitomizes the notion that perseverance reaps rewards, and took me from chastising the Soulsborne series as a masochistic and mysterious fad that would eventually die out, to one that I hold in the very upper echelons of my gaming hierarchy.
As much as I love video games, their mechanics and their worlds, there are actually not that many moments where a game’s story or cut scene will affect me the way a movie can. Bioshock was the first game I can remember that bucked the trend, and it did it within the first five minutes. Taking a trip in the game’s first Bathysphere and listening to Andrew Ryan’s meritocratic speech about his underwater utopia before Rapture is ostentatiously revealed is one of my all-time favourite moments in gaming.
Bioshock is not the most mechanically perfect game on this list, but in terms of tone, mood, setting and atmosphere it is the cream of the crop. I adore Rapture and have never been more in awe of a game world. From the Art Deco stylings and 1950s music to its lumbering Big Daddies, it is truly iconic. It’s all topped off with one of gaming’s most revered plot twists and a story heavily stacked with mature themes, fascinating characters and thought-provoking source material. I will freely admit to being one of those people who bought the book Atlas Shrugged after playing this game, and then saw how thick it is and decided I’d never read it.
It’s crazy to think that very few games before Bioshock delivered their story beats whilst the game was still being played, but it seems like there was barely a bandwagon big enough for all those jumping to mimic the audio logs this game used to immerse players even more into its incredible narrative.
Somewhere along recent history’s timeline, it became fashionable to suggest that Bioshock isn’t a very good game to actually play. Not only do I thoroughly disagree with that notion – the Plasmids, for one, are still a brilliant mechanic – I think it’s entirely missing the point of the game and its significance within the medium. While some elements, like the slightly-too-binary Little Sister decisions, have started to age – in terms of world-building and style, I have yet to experience anything like it in this medium or any other.
5. Portal 2
To add to my previous point about stories in games rarely hitting me right in the feels, it’s probably not sacrilege to say that games aren’t usually all that funny. As a kid, I remember cracking a fair few smiles at the Monkey Island titles, but it wasn’t until Portal 2 came along that I found a game’s writing to be genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious. The fact that so many laughs were offered up by one of the smartest and most inventive puzzle games I’ve ever played means that Portal 2 is a truly unique experience.
After the original became the surprise darling of Valve’s Orange Box, it was tough to fathom just how it could ever be bettered with a standalone sequel. Would the puzzles be as clever? Would it suit having a more central story and being a longer game? Would co-op work without making the game too easy? I was most certainly overjoyed to have all my concerns soundly answered.
Portal 2 is so much better than the first game in every respect. It’s got some absolutely inspired casting with Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons absolutely owning their roles alongside Ellen McLain’s already brilliant GLaDOS. It’s actually quite a bizarre notion to be trying to wrack your brain around some seriously fiendish puzzles while big name actors crack wise in your ear, but it just works.
Adding to the fantastic story and ingenious new puzzle elements was easily the best cooperative mode I’ve ever experienced. Necessitating genuine co-operation like nothing else before it, and being completely separate to the single player game, it is an absolute master class of multiplayer. Portal 2 is a game that’s an absolute joy to play from start to finish, not just alone or with a friend, but even when sitting someone else down and watching their brain tick over or seeing them giggle at Wheatley or GLaDOS. Some games are hard, some games are cool, some games are brutal – Portal 2 is simply genius.
Overwatch. Bloody Overwatch. I am utterly obsessed with Overwatch. I’ve dabbled in online shooters in my time, but this is the only one I’ve ever gone this deep with. It’s the exact kind of shooter I want to play – one that gives you the same tools as everyone else from the start, that then lets your appreciation of, and improvement within, the game grow as you engage with its necessity for teamwork and tactics.
Even better is that all this is presented to players through an incredibly silly filter. This a game featuring giant talking apes, cyber ninjas and emo skeleton men, but something in my cynical brain refuses to click, and instead I’m all in on the wacky characters, skins and ultimates. The heroes in Overwatch offer a crazy amount of variety and enhance the game’s longevity tenfold. As long as Blizzard keeps adding maps, modes and heroes, you’ll never run out of new things to learn and new ways to play. I’ve played the game pretty solidly for well over a year, and I’m admittedly not proficient with even half the game’s character roster – I’ve got plenty left to do in Overwatch for many years yet.
Overwatch completely rekindled my interest in online gaming, and shooters in general for that matter. At first it was just myself and one other friend that were into the game, but since then we’ve amassed an online team of people that I have never met in person, but will happily call my friends. I chat to them almost daily about the game, we play every other night of the week, and I absolutely love it. If that’s not what the spirit of competitive gaming can do in terms of bringing people together with a shared interest, then I don’t know what is.
3. Bayonetta 2
There are some games that may leave you feeling disappointed with some abrupt end credits or a miserly campaign length, but the end of Bayonetta 2 disappointed me in a completely different way – I legitimately just did not want it to end. Yes, it’s not the longest game of all time, but it is the most focused and exhilarating ten-or-so hours I’ve ever spent with any video game.
Bayonetta 2 is Platinum Games at its absolute peak, producing the most mechanically perfect, batshit crazy rollercoaster ride I’ve ever played. It never outstays its welcome and it never lets up its relentless pace of stylish hack and slash action. There were so many jaw-dropping moments that, even in harder or more frustrating sections, I was constantly hungry for more. Not all games can be made like this – we need downtime every now and then – but I never want that in a Bayonetta title.
The game has everything a good action title needs – fun weapons, mind-blowing set pieces, huge bosses, gorgeous visuals, a perfect frame rate, and it punctuates it all with the equal measures of finesse and madness that Platinum does better than any other developer in the world. The gameplay takes itself incredibly seriously, even if the narrative never does.
I’m so glad the game is coming to Nintendo Switch, because it was criminally denied a multiplatform release back in 2014 (even if Nintendo publishing it allowed it to actually exist at all) and even though it’s still exclusive to Nintendo consoles, more people should rightly have access to play this incredible game. I’ll be buying it again, for sure. A game paced like this almost demands to be played while sitting on the toilet. You know, for safety.
2. Super Mario World
Super Mario World is basically the perfect video game. It’s absolutely astounding to think that Sega’s Genesis marketing revolved around trying to denigrate this utterly incredible game. Actually, knowing Sega, it’s maybe not that astounding. Anyway, Mario World is not only my favourite Mario game, but my favourite platformer of all time. It just gets so much right that I cannot offer even a semblance of criticism against it.
2D Mario titles are video gaming to me, they were my introduction to gaming back in 1990 and are still my favorite type of game to play 28 years later. There’s no childhood nostalgia needed to appreciate Mario World – it’s so good, so brilliantly designed and full of secrets, and so perfectly structured in terms of its difficulty curve. It also helps that it has the most perfect 2D platform game mechanics ever committed to a cartridge. A game that looks, sounds and plays as superbly as this will never age.
Super Mario World gave to the series so many aspects that changed it forever. We got Yoshi, we got the cape, and, of course, we got an American footballer enemy who inexplicably throws baseballs. It is a game so important and ground-breaking that Nintendo has failed to go back to the 2D realm and better it since. It is a game that has been modded extensively to create some of the most brutal challenges in gaming, and its speed running community runs it in more than 40 categories. Super Mario World is unquestionably gaming royalty – hail to the king, baby.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Although I said this list was in no real order, it came almost by instinct that I leave Ocarina of Time until last. Even though it’s probably aged the worst of almost every game in this list, I still adore it more than all of them. Ocarina of Time was my gaming epiphany – the moment when a 12 year-old me fully fell in love with the medium.
I have forever since labelled this game as my favourite of all time, and even now I still cannot get enough of it. I’ve got dozens of toys and action figures, Manga novels, t-shirts, soundtrack CDs, posters, gold Australian cartridges, even an actual ocarina! I bought it four times and I’ve played it over and over again. I know it like the back of my hand, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I hear even one bar of any song from the soundtrack. I can’t state enough how much I love it.
Transitioning to 3D Zelda was a big deal for Nintendo, and they did such a perfect job of it that current Zelda games, and hundreds of action/adventure titles since, have copied it ad infinitum. I love all Zelda games in their own way, but Ocarina still holds the crown as the best of the lot for me. The strongest contenders have been Wind Waker, which just failed to better Ocarina thanks to its rushed pace-killer of a final act, and Breath of the Wild, which is perhaps the purest realization of Miyamoto’s original spirit of adventure, but lacks memorable characters and has a few mechanics that drag it back from perfection.
Neither of those criticisms can be labelled at Ocarina. Obligatory Water Temple gripe aside (which, thanks to the magnificent 3DS remake, is rendered void anyway), it’s absolutely wonderful. The dungeons, the boss fights, the characters, the pacing, the music – it’s all completely unbeatable for me. After Breath of the Wild, I do feel like we’re one step away from the Zelda game to truly wrestle Ocarina of Time from that place right next to my heart, but until that comes along, if it ever does, it’s staying right where it is.
Incredibly Honorable Mentions:
Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild, Pro Evolution Soccer 4, Mario Kart: Double Dash, Chrono Trigger, WWE ‘13, Vanquish, Silent Hill 2, Dead Space, Resident Evil 2, Skies of Arcadia, Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, Goldeneye 007.