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.
Before we get really into this list, I think its worth mentioning that my list seems a lot more recent than some of the other Top 10 lists published on the site. I firmly believe that people’s favorite games are those they play in their teenage and early adult years, and, well, that’s where I’m at now. Come back to me in a year, hell, three months and the whole thing might be different. Certainly, my sights are firmly locked on both Dragon Ball FighterZ and Monster Hunter World in a couple of weeks…
I’d say most of the games I’ve chosen are modern classics, but please don’t be offended that I’ve left out your favorite Nintendo game from the ’90s or earlier. I simply might not have gotten around to playing it yet, and besides, it might not hold up–oh, I hear the lynch mobs coming down the road already. Those pitchforks are SHARP. I’d better get on with the list.
Are games art? This question once haunted me for some time. Journey helped me to clarify the answer: profoundly, yes. Some of them, anyway.
Journey is a beautiful adventure game developed by thatgamecompany. Entirely wordless, the story is told simply through level progression and a moody, orchestral soundtrack. You are the Traveler, and you must walk from a dusty orange desert to the peak of a great mountain in the distance. As you approach the mountain, you begin to find relics from a bygone civilization, which display artworks that hint at the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of that ancient world.
Other Travelers join and leave you as you progress through the world; interacting with other players is a joy, as you help each other and communicate musically. Forget ‘your mum’ jokes; this game demonstrates the beautiful side of anonymous human interaction.
Not all games are art, but I believe that Journey certainly is, as well as all of my choices below. The entire game can be completed in one sitting, around two and a half hours, and I’d highly recommend showing it to friends who might not understand what this interactive medium is truly capable of.
9) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This might be a controversial statement, but I’ve never loved the Legend of Zelda games. I like the art and design elements, enjoy the music, appreciate the archetypal fantasy story, but I’ve always found the actual game progression to be a little bit of a chore. I’d never find myself craving to beat the latest dungeon; rather, I’d want to force my way through them so I could continue to enjoy the elements I really like about the series. The only Legend of Zelda game I ever found myself going back to was The Wind Waker, simply because its art and graphical style is, to this day, compelling and unique.
That is, until I first played Breath of the Wild back in September.
I found myself almost immediately enamored with the title. This was the Zelda game I’d been wanting for years; a beautiful, vast open world experience, with vibrant characters and a rich story. The world of Hyrule feels really alive for the first time, with mechanics and minute visual details intersecting to fully immerse Link in the fantasy world. The combat and exploration have never once felt stale, and I’ve never felt like any part of the experience has been a slog.
I’ve not yet finished Breath of the Wild, which might make it a questionable choice for my top ten list. My reason for not finishing it is because I want to savor every minute of the game, and I am honestly intimidated by my active backlog. Once I clear a few games that I’ve previously started, I’m going back to Breath–and I feel like I’m gonna be staying in Hyrule for some time.
8) The Last of Us
When I first beat The Last of Us in 2013, I’d have probably said it was my favorite game of all time. This was just before I (somewhat begrudgingly, at first) played through Dark Souls and its sequel, which made me re-evaluate what I really wanted from the video games I played. Having more recently played The Last of Us Remastered, however, I still find myself enamored with the game.
The standout feature of The Last of Us is its humanistic narrative. It features a story, and visual look, that many of us have already seen in literature and cinema, with works such as McCarthy’s The Road and Cuarón’s Children of Men, but its strength of character and specific placement in the interactive medium allows it to transcend its influences and forebears. The burgeoning surrogate relationship between Joel and Ellie, and how their pasts define their present, is great to experience. The violence depicted in the game is morally ambiguous and deliberately uncomfortable.
In more recent years, some internet critics, professional and amateur alike, have derided the game as riding on its story and visuals, but I find the gameplay extremely satisfying and well-designed. Every encounter, with the fungal Infected or hostile survivors, is tense and visceral. Sneaking around in an attempt to conserve health and ammunition is nerve-wracking. Ammo is never abundant, and I felt a building sense of panic with every missed shot.
I can understand criticisms of The Last of Us. It is plausible that the game’s story would be equally as enjoyable in a television show, or movie, or comic series. However, I believe there is a place for games that blend a well-written cinematic narrative and taut, polished gameplay such as that seen in The Last of Us.
7) Shadow of the Colossus
Games these days often suffer from an overabundance of things to do. This is most prominent in contemporary open world titles, especially those designed by Ubisoft. While they’re often plenty of fun, many of the Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry titles would be improved by having a tighter mechanical and design focus.
Shadow of the Colossus suffers from none of those problems. Despite being designed around a large hub world, Shadow is incredibly minimalist, in every regard. The story is simple; you play as Wander, a warrior who travels to a forbidden land in hopes of slaying all of the Colossi bound there. This will resurrect his dead wife–or so he believes.
Team Ico’s design philosophy, as well as that used by Journey’s developers thatgamecompany, is one of design by subtraction. You can click here to view a great video essay here on how that philosophy applies to Ico. With Shadow of the Colossus, some small cutscenes and traversing the hub world are all that punctuate the gaps between giant boss fights. Those boss fights are exhilarating and challenging David versus Goliath scenarios, if David had to slay sixteen Goliaths that serve as both intimidating enemies and environmental puzzles.
Shadow of the Colossus was one of the first console games that I ever played to completion, and I’m hugely looking forward to playing through it at least one more time with the upcoming, beautified PlayStation 4 release.
6) Pokemon HeartGold Version
For most of my childhood, if you asked me what my favorite game of all time was, I’d have probably told you Pokemon Gold and Silver (although I might have lied and told you Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to seem cool). I don’t think I really need to tell you what Pokemon is. This Game Boy Color game was one of the first I’d ever owned and completed, and certainly the first I’d ever completed multiple times, over both cartridges. I’d never played the first generation Pokemon games, and didn’t really enjoy the 4Kids anime on the telly (was more of a Digimon kinda guy). Despite this, I was known as a Pokemon fanboy thanks to my love of those second generation games. This was probably around 2002.
Fast forward about eight years, and I’m playing and replaying Pokemon Gold all over again, only, this time, its even better than before. The top down pixel graphics are a genuine delight to look at, especially the battle critter following my player character. The game feels way more polished and balanced. There seems to be new content that I don’t remember experiencing in my pre-teens–
Oh, right, I’m playing the incredible DS remake, Pokemon HeartGold.
HeartGold was an improvement on the original second generation Pokemon games in pretty much every conceivable way. It didn’t have to change much; it simply modernized the graphics, music and balancing, added some neat, inoffensive features such as the first member of your party following you around, and included some additional content such as third and fourth generation Pokemon and extra side stories.
I suppose, technically, this spot should go to the original, but I believe that HeartGold improved upon its basis in every possible way. If, today, someone were to order me to play either Gold or HeartGold, I’d choose the latter. In fact, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to play any game on my 3DS, I’d probably dust off my old cartridge.
I can always make time for another Nuzlocke run.
5) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
There are two giant open world, narratively-focused role-playing games in this Top 10 list, and both are similar in their scope and brilliant writing. It was particularly hard to rank these two, as, during the process of curating this list, I decided that both deserved a spot in spite of my rule of “no similar games”. The setting and gameplay are different enough to justify the inclusion of both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout: New Vegas, ranked below, even if the reasons I like both are the same.
The Witcher 3 was the first big RPG where I realized that you could both anchor the story to a solid, characterized protagonist, and also allow them to make morally ambiguous choices that are not tonally dissonant from that central character. Witcher 3 is, to me, the best parts of Skyrim, Mass Effect and a Telltale game merged into one, where your choices affect not only the story progression and possible endings but also, occasionally, the world state itself, with butterfly effects that ripple out through other quests.
The Witcher’s setting is a great world to explore, a fantasy world that still feels realistic and plausible. Most monsters are nuances more than epic foes, and for most characters, surviving from one day to the next is the only hero’s journey required. Geralt of Rivia is no exception. He might be a bad-ass magic-mutant, but he needs to earn a living, after all. Don’t let that fool you, though; this game’s main plot DOES have stakes. I just forgot about them most of the time, as I was too busy trying to get rich through monster hunting and mercenary work.
4) Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption is probably my favorite sandbox open world title. I say “probably”, because it is highly possible that Breath of the Wild might topple its position about sixty hours of gameplay into the future. It might also be beaten out by its upcoming sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2.
Redemption takes the classic Rockstar GTA open world formula–interactable and abusable NPCs, kooky story characters, a map that expands every narrative act, myriad fun side activities–and applies it to a spaghetti western setting. Fast cars become stallions (cue traditional joke comment about Grand Theft Equine). Gangsters become outlaws.
Rockstar’s classic game design stylings translate perfectly into the setting, but the icing on the cake is a meaningful, character-driven storyline that isn’t just zany and nihlistic (which one could accuse of GTA V’s story). John Marston is a character whose narrative arc matters, and many of the side characters feel more realistic than most in the Grand Theft Auto games. My heart was torn out by the story’s dramatic conclusion, and the epilogue side-story felt both satisfying and deliberately empty; the game didn’t end and the world continues. Nothing was undone, and I had to live with that.
3) Fallout: New Vegas
I love Fallout: New Vegas for almost exactly the same reasons that I love The Witcher 3. The choices your create-a-character make ripple out through the storyline, often drastically altering how later events will play out. While some of the changes are less grandiose and world-altering than those of Witcher 3, the apocalyptic and general wackiness of the setting are what pushed this game into the top spot, in terms of big open-world role-playing games.
The setup: you are the Courier, a traveler tasked with delivering a seemingly insignificant item known as the Platinum Chip to the elusive benefactor of the New Vegas Strip, Mr. House. Unfortunately, you’re ambushed by the scheming Benny and his conspirators on the outskirts of the post-apocalyptic Mojave. He puts a bullet through your brain… which is the perfect excuse for any personality you wish to inflict on the Mojave.
The huge variety of factions you can interact and work for, combined with a dazzling array of well written characters and a fresh, colorful take on the post-nuclear apocalypse setting, are the main reasons to play the game. The gun-play itself is pretty fun, although nothing special by 2018 standards. And, if after reading this and playing the game, if you fall in love with New Vegas; don’t bother with Fallout 3 or 4. Play Fallout 2, or The Witcher 3, or New Vegas again, and again, and again.
2) NieR: Automata
My top two choices were the hardest to decide the exact placement of. In the end, I simply based these two on the amount of hours I’d pumped into them at the time of writing this list.
I adore NieR: Automata. In many ways, it is a game concerned with similar things to The Last of Us; fantastic characters, a riveting narrative, ambiguous motivations and violent acts. What really pushed Automata this far up the list was its focus on consciousness and what it really means to be human, and the question of how to derive meaning from a world devoid of purpose. I wrote up my thoughts on Automata some months ago, so rather than rambling here for far too long, you should go read that.
Of course, the game’s themes and story are enhanced by satisfying PlatinumGames combat and a stellar, Game Awards-winning soundtrack. The game’s art direction and character designs are also top notch.
Basically, if you haven’t played NieR: Automata, go do so now. If you have, maybe you should do so again. I know that I’m going to, once this backlog’s cleared up a bit…
Ahhh, good hunter. You’ve made it this far. I’m proud of you.
This entry is, spiritually, a stand in for most of the FromSoftware Soulsborne games. I didn’t want to include both Dark Souls and Bloodborne in my top 10, and it was really hard to choose between the two. In the end, the Lovecraftian aesthetic, faster combat, and general polish of Bloodborne won out over its spiritual predecessor, but both games are excellent, and Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 3 are great, too (author’s note: at the time of writing this sentence, Dark Souls Remastered was recently announced. Day one purchase on my Nintendo Switch? Abso-bloody-lutely).
These iconic action role-playing games are both revered and infamous in the gaming world. They are often lauded and derided in equal measure for their perceived inaccessibility, and a return to a classic, retro style of game progression (ie. difficulty barriers). I do not believe that the Souls games are incredibly unfair or even that difficult (ignoring certain elements of Dark Souls 2 and its current-gen remaster). Instead, what they do is teach you the rules of the game through trial and error. Many games want to make the player feel powerful; the Souls games want you to earn that power.
Bloodborne takes the gold for both my top 10 games of all time and for my favorite action game because, boy oh boy, I really earned that feeling of power. Giant mutated beasts stalk the streets of Yharnam, a Gothic city plagued by an alien blood curse, to heavily simplify things. You are, supposedly, one of the last lines of defense against the snarling hordes; a hunter. You fight tooth-and-nail through a decaying city, sinister academies and, ultimately, nightmarish dreamscapes as you uncover the eldritch secrets of Yharnam and the universe.
People talk about the difficulty of this type of game, but you have to want to keep playing the game in the first place; if something is hard, but also bad, there’s no reason to stay. Fortunately, Bloodborne does everything right; the game feels great, looks great, sounds great. Exploring the winding, interconnected level design is a reward in-and-of itself.
There’s plenty of feature pieces about Bloodborne on Goomba Stomp and I agree with pretty much all of them about what makes this game legitimately epic. If you’re like me, when you overcome those final bosses, you’ll want to dive right back in and aim for one of the other endings.
Thank you for reading this list, and I hope you appreciate my taste!
Go on, good hunter…
Honorable Mentions: Dark Souls, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Thumper, resident evil vii, Animal Crossing, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Kingdom Hearts, Hotline Miami, XCOM: Enemy Unknown