It’s a new decade, blah, blah, blah.
Like my post about favorite books of the decade, the games list also suffers from the fact that I rarely play games as released. I’m incredibly behind on all the games I have to play, let alone want to play. Wait. Are those different?
My favorite games of the 2010s, be year published!
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
What a game. I didn’t grow up in the arcades in the 80s or 90s, but I do love a few arcade classics. Pac-Man, obviously, has always been a lot of fun. However, it wasn’t until I watched a friend stream Pac-Man Championship Edition DX that I realized how fun the game could be.
It’s reminds me of Burnout 3: Takedown in it’s unrelenting speed. It’s like a rave inside a Lite-Brite. It’s pure adrenaline when being chased and taking those turns and it’s all euphoria when the tide turns and start devouring trains of ghosts. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever score chased. It helps that the maze has patterns and systems that are understandable but also quite vicious if you make a mistake. It’s too good not to stand out in the decade.
Alan Wake is the game I would have picked without Pac-Man. It really clicked (ha) with me and I thought the structure, setting and flashlight-based combat were brilliant.
VVVVVV is a little joy of a game that’s all teeth. Starcraft 2 is great, but I haven’t finished it yet. Same goes for Red Dead Redemption. Mass Effect 2 was a lot of fun, but I’m not as in love with that series as others.
I played through Limbo in one sitting, in the dim light of my living room, while my wife napped. It was melancholy, it was dark, it was depressing. But, the need to move forward was there the whole time. The simple, shadowy graphics had personality to spare and they worked to pull out little, eight-legged surprises at the most inopportune time. The puzzles might not have been the hardest, but they left me feeling smarter than I am.
Luckily for my wife, she work up for the last hour of the game and now I have someone to share the burden of the ending with. The last moments left me with questions, but not ones I necessarily need answered.
Indie games with impactful endings were the name of the game in 2011, huh? To The Moon is one of the very few games to ever make me cry. Bastion looked and sounded gorgeous and had very cool, somber ending. The Binding of Isaac should gross me out, but it’s a lot of fun with a cool, Danny Baranowsky soundtrack. Portal 2 was no Portal, but it had some very high moments. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a seizure of a fighting game at times, but there’s not enough X-Men. And Jurassic Park: The Game would be a biased pick and wasn’t really a game anyway…
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
A lot of games fighting for this year but no other game became such an obsession to me in this decade like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I mean, how many times did I lose and then just restart? What games prompted me to choose Iron Man mode so quickly? It was addictive, yes, but unlike League of Legends or Hearthstone, it was fun the whole way through, even when merrily destroying all my hopes of victory.
The gameplay is what kept me coming back, but the world building and atmosphere were wonderful. It’s a universe I could keep exploring and I love that modern take on 50s science fiction throughout. And, goodness, did I let a lot of soldiers with my loved one’s names die. Maybe the sequel has taken most of the replay time from the first, but it’s not an either/or situation. I could go back to this first one, just like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Starcraft or Balder’s Gate, in a heartbeat.
Telltale’s first season of the The Walking Dead is another of the rare games to make me cry at the end. Maybe I’m becoming softer as I get older. Plague Inc. is one I’ve played through on the app and on PC just to relax, which makes me think I need counseling. FTL: Faster Than Light is near-perfect and is probably still my favorite rogue-like. It’s design is wonderful and I own the soundtrack. I wanted to start a new game of Mark of the Ninja as soon as I was done, which is a bit rare for me. It’s also one of the only stealth games I enjoy. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was cool and weird, Dishonored was stylish and Spec-Ops: The Line was as interesting as it’s reputation claimed.
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is another single-sitting game that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let go. The puzzles were never too difficult and the story dragged a bit at the end, but it was like an indie science fiction movie in game form. Bouncing around as a square was weirdly satisfying.
And it has to be said how effective Thomas Was Alone is at giving these basic blocks and shapes personalities. It’s almost Pixar-level. The fact that I cared so much for Thomas and his friends, and how upset I was near the end and how excited I was during the credits, says a lot about Mike Bithell’s creation.
Metro: Last Light, and it’s previous title, are games I would have eaten up as a teenager. As it stands now, they’re still well made games with an interesting world to explore. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn’t make me cry but it did effect me quite a bit and it’s single player coop structure was interesting more often than frustrating. I liked Batman: Arkham Origins more than Arkham City. And the 2013 Tomb Raider was mostly fun except for when it was tearing Lara up to shreds.
I’ve played a few NES-inspired games, Alwa’s Awakening, The Messenger, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Necrosphere, ect. ect. But Shovel Knight does it best. Fully aware that technology and gameplay styles have moved on, Shovel Knight plays like how we remember the original Nintendo. More fun than difficult, more forgiving than relentless. More rewarding than fleeting.
The graphics do things the NES could never have dreamed of but it always looks right perfectly in line with the tone. The level design is great, harking back to the best of 8-bit platformers without ever feeling derivative. And it’s story is charming too, helped along by a pitch-perfect soundtrack.
I think I enjoyed the actual combat and gameplay options of Transistor more than Bastion. Shadows of Mordor was what I had thought the original Assassin’s Creed was supposed to be. Ultra Street Fighter IV is awesome. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fascinating game, but hits a bit too close to home these days.
There’s some cynicism to be had with Rocket League and it’s microtransactions. And the fact that I’m not great at it. But, it’s such a pure, arcade concept that, at it’s core, it’s almost the truest concept of video games. It’s soccer with race cars, what else do you need?
It feels like that very concept would have been right at home on the NES, with the Super Dodge Balls and the Punch-Outs. It helps that the matches go by quick, that my skill really seems hindered by my time with it and the more I play it, the better I get and the more fun it becomes. It’s never a slog, it’s always colorful and it’s just a hilariously high-octane game.
Ori and Blind Forest would be the more traditional winner this year. And it was gorgeous and exciting. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a lot of fun but I suck at it. I was addicted to the campaign of Prison Architect but haven’t returned to it much after. And SOMA has an ending that will stick with me until the day I die.
Oh, DOOM. What a beast. I don’t love gore and overly brutal violence…I used to be able to say. No matter how many times I was horrified by DOOM‘s glory kills, I still laughed like a maniac after every one and went on to the next as quickly as I could. I’ve spent so many years ducking behind corners and crouched behind various forms of cover, I had forgotten the pure joy of running circles around an enemy, unloading clip after clip, until he was dead in a glorious mess of guts and health drops. And that beautiful double jump made me feel like Mario with a chainsaw.
I never once was bored with DOOM and I wanted to start it all over again as soon the credits rolled. This game is so shark-like in it’s focus to keep moving, to keep feeding, it can’t help but become the new apex predator of first person shooters.
Firewatch was as good as it was probably because it was as short as it was. For pure Dungeons and Dragons brutality, Darkest Dungeon is a game I feel surprisingly competent at…until a complete party wipe. Stardew Valley sort of wrecked me as a person. Overcoocked is another little game that knows what it wants and how to get it. Part of me also wanted to give the award to XCOM 2, but, as good as it is, it didn’t have the same effect the first game had on me. And, if this was an award for most time spent with, Civilization VI would take home the gold.
I haven’t played Dark Souls or any game by From Software, but I doubt I’ll enjoy them as much as Nioh. It’s not just that the game is brutal and mean, it’s that it’s big and dumb as well. It’s all the messy samurai films we love, with a dash of Onimusha and a whole lost of dodging.
It might be more style over substance in some places, but I do so love the style. It wasn’t a short game, it took me quite a while to play through the main campaign. But, I always looked forward to starting up a new session. The heartbreaks of losing all your orbs can be too much to bear, but that’s why we fall. So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again and kill a whole bunch of demons until we have all their orbs.
Another Souls-like game, Hollow Knight which has one heck of an oppressive atmosphere that became a bit to claustrophobic as I went on. Other runner ups to the runner ups are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for being the first Mario Kart since Double Dash that I’ve enjoyed and Alwa’s Awakening for that last dungeon.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
I sort of hate giving Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon the win because I already gave it to Shovel Knight and the do a similar thing. They both recreate the 8-bit NES games of my youth, but how I remember them as opposed to the brutal reality of it all.
And, yet, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a different game with different goals. The character switching is fun and adds a new dynamic to each level. The bosses are annoying and I am filled with a justified rage when I destroy them. The music is sweeping and romantic in it’s chiptune purity. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than Shovel Knight and I was so addicted to those endorphins that I started the higher difficulty immediately after finishing the first playthrough.
I didn’t think you could update the real time strategy genre until Northgard brought in 4X-elements and slowed things down a bit. Leaving early access and officially coming out in 2018 was Dead Cells, which is great and one I’m going to be playing for a while. And, like Civilization VI, Jurassic World: Evolution gets and award for time played. But, again, I’m biased.
So, this is what I mean by behind the times. I didn’t play a single game that was released in 2019. And, even knowing myself, I’m a little shocked. No indie games, no quick little arcade titles. I didn’t play anything!
And there’s so much I want to play! Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Star Wars: Fallen Order, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Void Bastards, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s so many…
OH WAIT! Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark officially came out in 2019! I played that! Hey! It wins by default!
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Also, I replayed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past this year. Any year that game is played it’s the best of the year.
Books on the history of gaming are culturally important to my own life. Genealogically, I’m a mutt with little foundation. My family and myself have no real traditions or history we share beyond our own generation or two. I’m Italian but I don’t have a a deep identity in it. But, as a gamer, I have a history, music, traditions and my own self-perception is very much rooted in tabletop and video games.
When I read a book like Console Wars, it’s partly me accepting that this culture is bigger than myself and there’s elements to learn about. I felt that connection when reading Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, that this part of my life has been going on for longer than I’ve been around and there’s names and history that are important to it all.
Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars taps into that, except this was a history I experienced. Harris follows the war between Nintendo and Sega; how Sega fought for and won it’s place in the market and how Nintendo fought back. Both companies make mistakes along the way, sealing certain fates for themselves.
One factor that makes this book fascinating is it’s focus on the differences between the Japanese and American sides of each company. While Nintendo was more focused on having like-minds, Sega was much more divided. Sega of Japan rarely agreed with SOA and these arguments and differences would prove to be the companies downfall. Even with Sega earning it’s place in the market, it’s lack of strong leadership would have it go on to follow the success of the Genesis with multiple consoles with little individual identity.
Nintendo, on the other hand, had a direct and strong hand when it came to it’s leadership. So much so that some employees began to chafe against the lack of freedom. Whereas Sega of America was throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck, Nintendo was nailing their decisions to the plaster, even as the wall was crumbling to the floor. The desire to avoid direct competition due to tradition and lack of respect for it’s rivals led Nintendo to lose a few loyal employees, but also to the creation of Donkey Kong Country and Rare’s rise as a second party. It also was responsible for the Super Mario Bros. movie and stabbing Sony in the back when it came to CD technology, so not all good things.
The book is written in prose, using the facts and history to tell more of story than real life might have been. The dialog is where this technique is a hit-or-miss, but the rest of the book is a compelling read, with great insights into the two companies and their respective employees. This style might not be for everyone, but if you’ve read the aforementioned Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, you’ll be right at home. This isn’t the text book tome that was David Sheff’s excellent Game Over, it’s edutainment and a turn pager.
Reading about Sega’s marketing plans, Nintendo’s resistance to fire back, Sony’s frustrations with entering the market and the whole industries growth is highly entertaining. There’s a lot of egos on display and hindsight gives the reader a one-up on the players in this book. The most frustrating part of this book, for myself, is that it ends just as things are getting really juicy. The Sony Playstation has just entered the market, Nintendo is about to release their 64-bit console and we all know what happened to Sega soon after. I wanted an account of the next war, of the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft getting ready to enter the fray.
But Console Wars is a dense book as it is and I’m sure someone is preparing a book on the stage that followed. If you’re interested in the history of video games, Japanese business practices, the thought process of marketing, 90s culture and the whole Sega vs. Nintendo fight, I highly recommend this book. You might have to get past any hangups over the style of writing, but, once you do, you’ll find this to be a great resource.