I’ve been alive for 33 years, and I’ve been a gamer for most of them. This week The Well-Red Mage posed a question – What is your favorite game published each year you’ve been alive? I’m not one to turn down a challenge, nor a chance to walk down memory lane – so without further ado, here are my picks.
N.B. While for most years it was possible to narrow down to one game, for the years that I truly struggled to pick a favorite, I have included honorable mentions.
1985: Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. was my first – my very first video game. I spent hours trying to beat it and find all the warp zones. A truly game-changing game that showed the industry what games could be.
I borrowed Bubble Bobble from my Uncle so many times, eventually, he stopped trying to get it back. The gameplay, colors and music were addictive, and probably my first co-op gaming experience, as I used to play constantly with my brother.
Honorable Mention: The Legend of Zelda
1987: Wonder Boy in Monster Land
I didn’t ever own this game or a SEGA Master System, I only played it at a friend’s house. That being said, its charm and difficulty always stuck with me, and I was pleased to rediscover it in my 20s.
1988: Mega Man 2
I didn’t discover Mega Man till sometime in the 90s, but I am pretty sure Mega Man 2 ranks pretty highly on a lot of people’s favorite games. Between the non-linear progression, brilliant level and enemy design, and plethora of weapons, it was an instant hit.
1989: Batman: The Video Game
Certainly not the best game, but one that stuck with me all the same for being the first “violent” game I was allowed to own. If you’d like to know more of my thoughts on this game, I did a retro review for Batman: The Video Game over at The Well-Red Mage!
To date my favorite sidescrolling Mario Bros. game, I used to speedrun it all the way through high school when I was stressed. I also have a weird obsession with the Koopalings.
1991: Super Mario World
Only a year later than Mario 3, Nintendo released the SNES and changed the game forever. While Mario 3 is still my fave, the introduction of Yoshi and secrets such as Star Road made this a memorable entry.
1992: Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Zelda is synonymous with adventure, and Link to the Past was an adventure with polish on a scale never before seen on a video game console. With so many secrets and weapons and an amazing world to explore, this was the start of something special.
1993: Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The original weird Zelda game – sorry Majora’s Mask. By taking what was familiar and giving it a dream-like quality, Nintendo had a handheld winner.
1994: Final Fantasy VI
Other than bits and pieces of Final Fantasy on NES, this was my first Final Fantasy. You never forget your first. The music, the story, the characters – I was in heaven when I played this game, it was everything I wanted a game to be. Until 1995…
My favorite RPG, my favorite SNES game, my favorite GAME of all time. Squaresoft hit their stride with this one – a perfect narrative with branching consequences and multiple endings. Characters you can’t help but care about, and a mission you feel morally obligated to accomplish.
1996: Super Mario 64
With the N64, Nintendo entered the 3D realm, and nothing would ever be the same again. I’ve collected 120 stars countless times.
Honorable Mention: Super Mario RPG
1997: Mario Kart 64
I can’t tell you how many 150cc Grand Prix I’ve raced, or how many balloons I’ve popped. My friends and I spent so much time in this game, I had to choose it for the sheer amount of hours sunk into it for its sheer replayability.
Honorable Mentions: Final Fantasy VII, Goldeneye
1998: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
When Zelda entered 3D, it seemed to be fulfilling a promise of what gamers want in essence – to enter a fully realized and immersive world. This was a huge leap from Link to the Past, and one that was executed well, considering there was nothing like it at the time.
1999: Super Smash Bros.
I played Super Smash Bros. with my friends so many times, that my original N64 controllers have rubbish joysticks and sticky buttons.
2000: Diablo II
One of the first online PC games I was truly obsessed with, Diablo II was procedurally generated heaven that I played constantly with friends.
2001: Max Payne
Games had tried to replicate the feel of action movies before this but had never really succeeded until Max Payne with its innovative bullet time mechanic. The noir theme and comic book interstitials added a truly gritty feel to this 3rd person shooter classic.
2002: Warcraft III
2002 was a great year for gaming apparently, I had to choose between four games. I ultimately chose Warcraft III because I played it so much with friends and spent hours playing all of the mods online, including the original DotA. This fantasy world captured my imagination.
Honorable Mentions: Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, Soul Calibur II
I’m so glad this is finally getting a sequel. This game is gorgeous and fun – with a journalistic angle and cosmic adventures!
2004: Half-Life 2
Since we’ll probably never get Half-Life 3, Half-Life 2 is as good as we’re gonna get. Valve redefined what storytelling meant in a first-person shooter, immersing you in a dystopian world full of freedom fighters and despotic aliens.
Double Fine’s first and best, this platformer let you traverse into the vastly different worlds of the NPCs minds. The story was fun, and you got lots of cool powers and collectibles to help you with the rewarding but challenging platforming involved.
2006: Mother 3
Probably the most requested but never fulfilled Japanese game localization, I played the fan translation using an emulator. Everything that was great about Mother 2, but with infinitely more feels and ultimate chimeras.
Ten years ago, a game came out with giant dudes in metal suits followed by creepy little girls. Would you kindly play this game?
Honorable Mention: Super Mario Galaxy
2008: Valkyria Chronicles
This game took the tactical turn-based combat genre and gave it a human face with a motley crew of ragtag soldiers trying to save an approximation of World War II Europe. You feel every loss you take in this game.
2009: Assassin’s Creed 2
Assassin’s Creed peaked with the 2nd game and its Italian assassin Ezio. I obsessed over and played the entire Ezio trilogy.
There has never been a game like this, and right now I’m not convinced there ever will again. Rewarding third person and a story requiring you to make important decisions that carry throughout the trilogy; combat with unforgettable characters and CHARACTER PROGRESSION – something sorely lacking in a lot of games these days.
Now we’re entering indie territory. Bastion, by SuperGiant games, showed me the magic that small studios are capable of.
2012: Borderlands 2
It’s an RPG, it’s an FPS. It has a homicidal little girl who likes to explode things and mentions of a “butt stallion.” 10/10
2013: The Last of Us
One of the few games that made me openly weep. Naughty Dog did great things with Uncharted, but the feels in this game are unparalleled, and with exciting stealth combat to boot. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is beautiful and problematic. The story still haunts me.
2014: Shovel Knight
If you like Mega Man or Castlevania… if you like fun… please just play this game. Yacht Club Games just keeps making free DLC for it too – it’s the game that keeps on giving!
2015: Life is Strange
I always enjoyed Telltale’s decision-making games – but Life is Strange by Dontnod Entertainment took the concept and made it actually good and carry real weight. The plight of two high school age friends in Oregon was captivating, with a huge amount of suspense and a really well implemented time rewind mechanic.
Honorable Mention: Ori and The Blind Forest
Blizzard strikes again. This is my go-to game to unwind after a long day, and I’m actually decent at it.
Last year the game that really captured my imagination wasn’t one of the two Nintendo heavy hitters, but Horizon Zero Dawn. I loved Aloy’s universe and the mystery she had to explore, in a world filled with beautiful but dangerous machines.
Honorable Mentions: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey
What were your favorite games from each year you’ve been kicking? Be sure to tweet me at @nerdyspeaker if you come up with your own list!