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 introduction to video games came around 1989, when my parents introduced me to Frogger and Pac-Man on the Atari 2600. Immediately, I was drawn in to these strange, colorful digital worlds, a love that would continue as I discovered the magic of early ’90s arcades and the NES, through to today, where I consume video games almost as much as I do television (who needs the real world, right?). In those 28-plus years of gaming, I don’t even want to try to remember how many games I’ve actually played; what I do remember, however, are the games that have left an indelible mark on my life. Without further ado, these are my ten favorite games of all-time:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
From the opening scene, I was hooked by this absolute gem of a third-person action game. Before Rocksteady took over development of Batman games in 2009, there had never been a Batman game that had felt right; sure, some people are partial to the stiff cheesiness of the movie/cartoon tie-in games, but it never really felt like anything had truly captured the adventures of the World’s Greatest Detective.
From the opening sequence of Arkham Asylum, I was enraptured by the world and systems Rocksteady created for my favorite comic book character (plus the cape tech; oh god, the glorious cape techhh); set against the beautifully Gothic backdrop of Gotham’s most infamous mental institution (and telling a fine incarnation of the typical Joker/Batman cat and mouse dance), Arkham Asylum finally made Batman feel like he should – aka, a wickedly smart and deductive investigator, who had a handful of awesome toys and tools at his disposal to help him solve puzzles and take down some of his most infamous enemies.
Terrible boss sequences aside, Arkham Asylum‘s storytelling and world design stole my heart like they had it attached to the Batclaw; even though the game never entered Gotham, or allowed players to use Batman’s vehicles, it checked off every single box a Batman fan could want in a game, and then some. Arkham City and Arkham Knight may have larger worlds and more ambitious stories, but Arkham Asylum remains the definitive, iconic game in the series for this particular Bat-Nerd.
I liked Borderlands as much as the next person, so I was intrigued enough by the premise of Borderlands 2 to pick it up on launch day in September of 2012. Promising more loot, more exploration, and more butt-splosions (because, well, it is Borderlands), it sounded like Gearbox Software was ready to take the next step with their much-anticipated sequel.
Boy, was I not prepared for the absolute loot-gasm that is Borderlands 2, a game that I’ve played over 800 hours between the Xbox 360 and Playstation 4 versions over the years. There’s something magical (and highly addictive) about the central gameplay loop of BL2 that’s stuck with me through the past five-plus years; maybe it’s the millions of cool guns I’ve fired, or the dozens of different character builds I’ve put together while blasting my way around Pandora, but there’s something in Borderlands 2 that speaks directly to my soul (and no, it’s not the game’s storytelling, which I’ve always found to be its weakest feature), bringing me a joy that I hope I never lose whenever I hear that familiar menu music come across my screen, or when another player in my group says “hey, wanna dupe that?”. Borderlands 2 is a fucking masterpiece of cooperative gameplay, and will forever remain my go-to “Hey, let’s kill shit and collect cool stuff” itch-scratcher.
Grand Theft Auto IV & V
I suppose it’s cheating not to pick one of these games, but there are distinct reasons both of these titles make my list (plus it’s mine, so I can do whatever the hell I want!). Because let’s be honest: if you were to combine the story of GTA IV with the gameplay and online components of GTA V, you’d probably have the best video game of all-time. The tale of Niko Bellic is undeniably the most nuanced, three-dimensional protagonist ever featured in Rockstar’s signature series, a story of violence, immigration, and self-discovery that still shakes me to my core when I think about some of the game’s climatic moments (plus, it is the only GTA that features the phrase “Niko, when you going to take me bowling?”).
While the three stories of GTA V were ultimately a letdown, the gameplay improvements, combined with the launch and growth of GTA Online, made it another game I’ve sunk an embarrassing amount of time into (I looked at all my game timers before writing this article; I’ve spent about 650 hours doing heists, running around in tanks, and jumping off the sides of buildings on motorcycles). A hulking monster of menus that slowly grew into something deep and beautiful, GTA Online offered my friends and I a place to be as ridiculous, competitive and audacious as we wanted to be, unleashing our inner demons in a dangerous, explosive world full of awesome music, fantastic vehicles and weapons, and an unadulterated sense of freedom few games – online or off – since have been able to match.
When it comes to sports games, basketball and soccer games are typically my bread and butter. However, NFL Blitz (and the sequel, NFL Blitz 2000) are my favorite sports games of all-time; the sheer ridiculousness of it all, from the grandiose character animations to the hilarious after-whistle tackles, has always held a special appeal to me. It removes all the complexities – and if we’re being honest, violent realities – of the sport, and lets football exist in its purest, most enjoyable form; the hottest seven-on-seven action you could imagine, full of skull-shattering hits, neck-breaking spin moves, and the most ludicrous grandstanding in the end zone you could ever hope or dream of (the kind of stuff that would make Roger Goddell shit in his pants – which, by the way, fuck that guy).
This was the ultimate “practice at home, dominate at the arcade” title for me (one that wasn’t a fighting game, at least) growing up; I’d practice like hell on my Playstation to get my cheat code inputs and jump-passing skills down, then it would be off to the arcade to show those losers who knew how to dominate the digital pigskin. I’ve thought about buying an arcade cabinet as an adult, and if I ever do, you’d better believe it’s going to be an NFL Blitz cabinet, because it’s the best goddamn football game ever made.
Out of the Park Baseball
I’ve never been a big fan of management sims or strategy games, if only because I’m not the most patient gamer; however, put me down in front of Out of the Park Baseball (any of the 19 versions released, more than half of which I’ve played), and I’ll lose hundreds of hours of my life meticulously managing every (and I mean *every*) single aspect of a professional baseball organization from top to bottom. This series is an absolute nerdgasm for those who enjoy “inside baseball”, the single most customizable game experience I’ve ever had.
Thanks to the team behind this masterpiece franchise, I can play God to an entire alternate universe of baseball, losing myself in deep analytical statistics to the point where I’ve managed leagues that have lasted over 150 years (across the span of four different games, thanks to the power of OOTP‘s “import last year’s save” function, the single fucking best option put in any sports game, ever). It’s like X-Com without the aliens, or Total Empire, except the dictators are owners and the military commanders are the GMs. For anyone like me who loves baseball and its obsession with numbers (and history), Out of the Park Baseball remains a dream come true when it releases a new iteration every spring.
River City Ransom
You know how there are certain, random-ass game franchises you’ll always pluck down hard cash for on Day 1 of release, no matter how little (or bad) hype surrounds the game? That’s the River City Ransom series for me, led by the original NES title. On the surface, RCR is just a simple beat ’em up about two dudes trying to save a girl; but underneath is a hilarious, ridiculously heartfelt embrace of high school tropes and action game cliches that forever endears me to its fist pumping, enemy throwing gameplay (plus, when you eat a sandwich, the character eats the whole plate! That shit is gold!).
Honestly, River City Ransom was the first game where I learned how fun it was to play with other people; most of my early gaming was dominated by single-player experiences, and RCR was the first time I had to learn how to share resources and strategize with someone else. Whenever my cousins would come visit during the summer, one day would always be dedicated to punching the shit out of every gang in River City, as we tried to climb through the high school and save Cyndi. To this day, I still dedicate one day a year to playing through River City Ransom; and I’m happy to report it still feels just as good as it did 20 years ago.
When Rocket League first launched as a free game for PS Plus members in July 2015, neither myself nor my friends knew what to make of it. As a sports fan, it seemed like it might be a natural fit: but who the fuck wants to play soccer with cars instead of players? Out of pure curiosity, a few friends joined me on launch day to play a few games before we went to sleep for the night; once it was 3:30am and we realized we were still playing, we knew we were experiencing something special.
Rocket League is the ultimate sports video game; one arena, a bunch of jet-powered cars, two goals, and one big, bouncy-as-fuck ball made for one of the most addictive gaming experiences of my lifetime. Between the PS4 and Switch versions of the game, I’ve played about 4,500 matches of Rocket League, hundreds and hundreds of hours that rank among the most fun I’ve ever had playing video games. Forget a long headshot in an FPS, or the equivalent act in any simulation sports title; scoring a goal in Rocket League is the ultimate gaming dopamine, an act of channeling chaos through grace and precision that still excites me every time the goal blows up and I go flying across the field.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Getting an NES with Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the best birthday gift I’ve ever received (another shout out to my parents here). The Atari may have been my introduction to gaming, but the NES was when that interest turned into a love; I could complete most of SMB3 in my sleep at this point. This is a game so ingrained in my being, most anyone who has met me, has heard me randomly humming, whistling or singing the game’s iconic music at one time or another.
I mean, it’s the game that gave the world the fucking Tanooki suit – what else could you ask for in a video game? Treasure Ships, Giant Land, the Goomba’s Shoe, the double warp trick… everything about SMB3 is a straight banger, and it still warms my insides. Whenever the world feels a little too depressing or overwhelming, I’ve always, always kept a copy of SMB3 nearby for a quick pick-me-up. A game that has accompanied me through every major journey of my life, SMB3 will always be nearest and dearest to my nerdy gamer heart.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is my personal gaming utopia: gameplay that balances creativity and precision, bursts of personality shining through in the writing and level design, and the hardest bumping licensed soundtrack to a video game that ever existed. It’s everything I could ever dream of in a game; so it’s no wonder this game made me miss so many goddamn deadlines in college, while my roommates and I would stay up just to play one more competitive game to see who could get the highest score (or who could get the drunkest, losing rounds of H-O-R-S-E), or who could find a new killer line in a stage and nail it.
I love all four original entries in this series, but THPS4 is the pinnacle; from the dope-ass Zoo and Shipyard levels, to the huge amount of customization in the create-a-skater and create-a-park modes, THPS4 always offered me a new challenge to master, a new line to destroy, or a new high score to beat. To this day, firing up THPS4 brings me infinite pleasure; I may not be able to string together 3 million point combos as consistently in the past, but there’s still no better board-flipping, rail-grinding time around for this digital skater (I tried skateboarding a few times in real life, and no thank you).
10 Other Games I Love Dearly: The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Mario Kart: Double Dash, Final Fantasy VIII, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario Odyssey, NBA 2K11, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Halo 2, Crash Team Racing, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island