Recently IGN have been running a series of great articles in which different editors list out their personal favorite games of all time. As a proud gamer who’s been playing since the original NES (I don’t like to brag, but I am a “Duck Hunt” legend. Kneel before me!), I thought I’d get in on this and write up my top ten favorite games of all time. Now, I’m not necessarily contesting that these ten are the greatest games ever made (even though they are), and while I’ve played MANY incredible games over the years, these are the games that have most impacted my gaming life.
Alright nerds, let’s jump in…
10. MEGA MAN 2 – NES
This was the first game I ever rented from the late, great Blockbuster Video and my first experience with the Blue Bomber. From the start, Mega Man 2 was radically different in that it let you choose which level you wanted to start on, and then you could play the other levels in any order you liked. That was revolutionary! Additionally, the level design ruled! Each robot master (“Wood Man” was my favorite, BTW), had a level designed around their characteristics, so even though the purpose was the same in each (fight your way to the fortress, fight the evil robot, rinse and repeat), it never felt stale. Finally, I’m fond of Megan Man 2 because it was my first “rage quit” in gaming. After defeating all eight of the robot masters and finally making it to the evil Dr. Wily’s fortress, you’re forced to fight all eight bosses AGAIN! As a kid I never caught on that each robot is particularly weak to the weapon of one of the others, which is why I failed and my controller ended up embedded in the wall.
9. Mortal Kombat 2 – SNES
These days I don’t particularly love fighting games, but growing up in the Street Fighter 2 era, they were my jam! While it was a close “fight” between this and SF 2 (get it? Because they’re both fighting ga…never mind…), MK 2 earned its place on my list. The original Mortal Kombat was popular due to the controversy around its violence and fatalities, yet it wasn’t that great of a game. But they pulled out all the stops for part two and delivered a game that devoured many hours of my junior high life. I saved up allowance FOREVER to buy this game. It was a big day when I finally got to walk into Circuit City (RIP) with a brown lunch bag full of money, plop it down on a counter and point to MK 2.
MK 2 was everything a sequel should be – bigger, better mechanics, and a fresh experience. The roster grew with fighters that were unique in both look and play style (but I only ever played as Scorpion because he’s the best). Story wise, I was hooked by the “Empire Strikes Back” turn compared to the first one, in that our heroes are one step away from being crushed by the emperor Shao Khan and the forces of Outworld. I also loved how MK 2 hid numerous secrets and easter eggs, which in a pre-internet era made solving these riddles quite the adventure. And yes, they had stepped it up with the fatalities as well. They were inventive, gory and in some cases, frustratingly hard to pull off. I bought the strategy guide that contained each character’s move list and studied that thing religiously! All in all, a great game and my favorite fighter ever.
8. Super Mario Bros. 2 – NES
I was pretty young when this game came out, yet I remember it being my first memory of a game’s release being an event! You couldn’t escape the promotions declaring that a new Mario adventure was coming out. I loved the original Super Mario Bros and like any kid with an NES, I played the crap out of that game. What was so cool about part 2 though was how different it was from the original and how it all worked to provide a seriously entertaining game.
For the first time, you could choose one of four characters to play as including Princess Peach, and each had a slightly different ability (Luigi was always my go to). Gone were the Goombas and turtles, replaced with those weird mask wearing little guys and a giant frog king instead of Bowser as the “big bad.” Also gone were the power up mushrooms and stars. Instead, you could now pull items from the ground such as turnips. That’s right, your weapon of choice in this game was a stinkin’ turnip! The level design was different as well, going vertical in most cases, meaning you had to climb up to finish many levels. And this was the first time on the NES that I noticed an improvement in graphics from one game to the next.
I’ve come to read articles since about how this was originally meant to be released as a different game entirely and the Mario characters were inserted in at the last minute (which probably explains the “it was all a dream” ending), but regardless of how we got it, I love that SMB 2 took a risk in being radically different. And in my humble (yet correct) opinion, it paid off.
7. WWF NO MERCY – N64
As a huge wrestling fan growing up, I had often imagined being in the ring myself and winning the WWF championship. This is the game that let me live out that childhood dream because of its “create a character” feature. Sure, many wrestling games since have given you that option and while they’ve been entertaining, none have made me smile quite like No Mercy did during the countless hours I put into this game. It was pretty cool to see a blocky, polygon version of myself staring down a 1990s Rock. I smelled what he was cooking…then hit him with a steel chair!
And I didn’t just create myself in this game. I made all my friends! No Mercy basically let me create my own personalized WWF with everyone I knew and I lOVED that! It was so much fun giving friends a hook for a hand, tutus, and unnecessary scars as their wrestling attire. I loved working out the entrance music and moves for each character. In fact, creating the characters was much more fun to me than the actual game play (which was fun too)! Oh, and not only did I live out my dream of being the WWF champion, but my guy soon found himself the wielder of every championship belt this game had to offer. Like many games from the N64, if you look it up today No Mercy’s graphics do not hold up at all, but I’d play it again in a heart beat!
6. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64
This game absolutely blew my mind! As a huge fan of “A Link to the Past,” I eagerly anticipated Link’s first foray into the 3D world. I excitedly went to Target with a pocket full of birthday money, got my copy of Ocarina and then proceeded to cut off the outside world for a number of months as I got sucked into this game. Ocarina was huge and I loved exploring Hyrule while riding on a horse (you are a majestic beast Epona). This was one of the first games where I didn’t rush to get to the main quest because I enjoyed exploring my surroundings. True to form for Zelda, the dungeon crawling was incredible. The different temples were enormous, each with a different look, feel, and puzzles. And they were tough! Some more so than others – I’m not the only one who rage quit that stupid water temple right? Plus, the time travel mechanic with the Master Sword, which allowed you to play as both young and older Link was awesome! Bottom line, this game was EPIC.
This may sound odd, but something I loved about this game was the instruction manual. The first half read like a historical excavation recounting the history of the different Zeldas and Links. I had never thought of the different games/Links being separate heroes and it blew the mythology wide open for me. Any entry in the Zelda series had always been a game I looked forward to, but this was the one that made me a life long raving fan.
5. GEARS OF WAR 2 – XBOX 360
I really enjoyed the original. I mean, how can you NOT enjoy a game where your primary weapon is a gun WITH a giant chainsaw? The single player story hooked me in; I liked the premise and the characters. Additionally, the online multiplayer was fun, however since I was late to the Gears party there wasn’t much of an online community left to play with. Still, I was excited for another installment. Gears 2 was bigger, badder, and I absolutely loved it! The first game was all about a small group of soldier’s survival. The second expanded to be all out warfare to prevent human extinction at the hands of the Locust. The universe got much bigger, the screen was maxing out the amount of enemies it could throw at you, and bosses got bigger and creepier. At one point you get swallowed by a giant sea snake thing and have to fight your way out from the inside. That’s dumb action movie awesome!
While I did enjoy the single player, what puts Gears 2 on this list is the online component. I’m not a Call of Duty guy. I like Halo well enough, but I’m not over the top in love with it. Gears 2 is the game where I fell in love with online multiplayer. I had a squad of three other friends and there was a calendar year where we played together almost every night. Gears had your standard collection of game modes such as: deathmatch, capture the flag, last man standing, etc. And while these modes provided a lot of entertainment, one thing that set Gears 2 apart from everything else at the time was “Horde Mode.” Four players would try to survive thirty waves of enemies that got annoyingly harder to kill the farther you made it. Many games have copied that model since, but few have come close to how incredibly fun it was in Gears. One of the friends in my squad bought us all actual COG Tags off of Amazon, and I wear mine proudly to this day.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game – NES
For a long time this was my favorite game to play at my local arcade. I pumped a ton of quarters into that cursed machine in hopes of finally defeating Shredder – and I did eventually accomplished that. I know I know, I’m awesome.
I was very excited when this was released on the NES (especially since the first “Turtles” games was rather lame), but for whatever reason my video store never had it in stock. Finally, late one Friday night my father surprised me by bringing it home and I lost my mind! It was the first time I had an “arcade experience” in my very own living room. Sure, the graphics were a lesser quality but I didn’t care! There it was – the actual arcade game in my living room. The burning building, the mousers in the sewers, the surfing level, Krang and the Technodrome…it was all there! You picked your favorite turtle (Donatello all the way) and fought your way through the game just like you would in an actual arcade. And without having to feed it more quarters when you died. It doesn’t get much better than that!
3. GoldenEye – N64
Two summers. I spent two entire summers playing this game with my friends. Sure, we ate and used the bathroom every so often, but the bulk of those summers were spent playing the License to Kill mode and banning anyone from being Oddjob because he was too short to be chopped by an unarmed player. GoldenEye was my first “Killer App,” , meaning a game you buy a system for. I had many incredible experiences with my N64, but I bought it so I could play GoldenEye. There had been many games before that you played with your friends, but GoldenEye was the foundation of what became the First Person Shooter/Competitive Multiplayer experience. Remember, GoldenEye came out in the Stone Age, before consoles had online capabilities. Yet every shooter since then has pretty much modeled itself after GoldenEye’s multiplayer.
Back then, playing “online” meant cramming all your friends (and a few strangers) into a living room or bedroom and passing the controllers to your right controllers when you lost. I know that GoldenEye had a single player and I’m fairly sure I played it, but I can’t really tell you anything about it because my experience and love for this game is all from the multiplayer experience. GoldenEye comes from a gaming era long gone now, but without it we wouldn’t have the FPS landscape we have today. Thank you Pierce Brosnan!
2. Bioshock – Xbox 360
If you have never played this game, please stop reading this post IMMEDIATELY, proceed to you local store and buy this game. You’re welcome nerds! This was the first game I bought for my 360. It had just been released and I knew nothing about it other than it was getting rave reviews. I popped it in and within the first ten minutes I knew Bioshock was going to be one of my favorite games of all time. It wasn’t because of the game play (which is great, BTW), but I ADORE Bioshock because of its story. Bioshock takes place in an alternate 1960 where an Ayn Rand acolyte named Andrew Ryan has done the impossible – built an underwater city named Rapture where “no gods or kings, only man” is the creed. As Jack, the silent protagonist, you find yourself in Rapture piecing together the mysteries and tragedies the city hides, as well as trying to discover what has caused Ryan’s utopia to spiral into decay.
Bioshock excels at environment. Rapture is the main character and exploring the city is simultaneously awe inspiring and creepy beyond belief. Rapture is a beautiful 1950s art deco vision of a technologically advanced future where human empowerment and eugenics is the law of the land, but comes with a terrible price. The citizens you meet have been driven insane by the gene-altering drug known as “Adam” and giant behemoths clad in undersea diver suits called “Big Daddys” roam the streets protecting wraith like “Little Sisters” who collect “Adam” from the blood of the corpses that litter the street. Not exactly a “sunshine and rainbows” experience, but it was great, none the less. Bioshock was a game I didn’t want to see end, mainly because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Rapture. I took my time exploring every nook and cranny because there was a story hidden in even the smallest corners.
Finally, I love this game because of Andrew Ryan. He communicates with you throughout the game via radio and is one of the most fleshed out and nuanced characters I’ve ever experienced in any game. You learn about the passions and ideals that drove him to build Rapture and as the game progresses, Ryan becomes one of the few villains that causes you to wonder, “what if he’s actually right about all this?” The story takes numerous unexpected twists and turns and had me audibly exclaiming “holy crap” multiple times. My wife doesn’t like video games in the least, but she was sucked in by Ryan and his city and enjoyed watching me play Bioshock. In short, it’s a gaming masterpiece!
1. Final Fantasy 3 – SNES
I have a deep love for the older Final Fantasy series. Many of those FF games are my favorite gaming experiences of all time. For this list however, I didn’t want a single series to dominate, so I decided to select just one. Initially, I expected FF 7 to take my top spot. It’s a legendary game that has hardly any equals in my eyes (and I’m currently replaying it on my Vita) Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as incredible as 7 is, I wouldn’t be into the Final Fantasy series at all, or role playing games in general if it wasn’t for Final Fantasy 3. It was a game changer for me in so many ways and I wouldn’t have enjoyed 7 (or 10, or 12) in the way that I did without it. I had never played an RPG before (this was before Zelda and Chrono Trigger for me) and didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. FF 3 wasn’t simply a game, it was an immersive experience.
Never before had I played a game with so many characters, each with a distinct personality and move set. In fact, this was the first time I played a game where I could miss recruiting certain characters entirely if I didn’t actively search for them. Again, in a pre-internet world, secrets such as these were a welcome challenge! Never before had I experienced an open world game. I remember my first time on the world map. I knew what city I was supposed to travel to, but I remember thinking, “Wait…I can go anywhere if I want to? Cool!” Never before had I experienced the “game over fake out.” You hit a point in FF 3 where you’re sure you’ve just completed the game, only for the game to go, “psych” and have everything fall apart, thus opening up an entire second half that’s even cooler than the first. Never before had I fallen in love with a game’s music. SNES music was done on simple “midi” players, yet what they got out of it for FF 3 was spectacular and still one of my favorite gaming soundtracks ever. The opera house sequence and the final battle against Kefka being two of my favorite tracks. Never before had I experienced a game that made the experience personal. FF 3 offered a very simply mechanic that isn’t around anymore in most modern games due to voice acting – you could rename each of the hero characters. Meaning, I was a character in the game. My friends were characters in the game. That made me emotionally invested in how the story progressed. That simple name change made the defeats harder and the celebrations sweeter.
And finally, I had been gaming for years before FF 3, but the game’s ending was the first time I experienced an ending that was both moving and “worth it” compared to all the time I had put in. Including the last boss fight, FF 3’s ending is almost half an hour and gives you an epilogue for each character. Check it out for yourself, it’s pretty epic:
There you have it, my top ten games of all time. Now I want to hear from you – what are your favorite games of all time? Upset that I left NintenDOGS off the list? SOUND OFF in the comments below!
This has been a NERD ALERT!