I've been thinking about doing a Top 10, or Top 25, or Top...something of the previous console generation for a while now, and reading IGN's recent Top 100 list got me to stop thinking about coming up with a list, and to actually give it a go. While I do have some last-generation games still to play, I don't expect any of them to realistically change the list I've come up with, based on my tastes in specific genres and, well, the part where they weren't high on my list of games to play anyhow; they are still in the backlog for a reason! I considered a lot of factors when narrowing the list down to 10 games, and I opted to only select one game per franchise in the interest of being a more, *ahem*, interesting list.
Before moving onto the Top 10, I wanted to call out a couple of games that I heavily considered putting on my list, and while they came up just short of making the cut, I feel they deserve to be recognized regardless.
Hitman: Blood Money is a game I played well after its release, and one I wish I had gotten around to playing sooner. It is one of the most satisfyingly good stealth games I've ever played, and one of the very few games this generation where I felt compelled to replay it over and over again. Each sandbox-style mission gives you a multitude of tools and tricks to help you carry out the hit, and replaying each mission several times to see all of the different possibilities as well as to see how much improvisation you can do, is really a lot of fun. And when you pull off the perfect hit, without ever having to save and without anyone ever knowing you were there, it's a great feeling. (2006, IO Interactive)
Deadly Premonition sometimes gets described as a "so bad, it's good" game, but I disagree with that label. Where the game is bad, it's really fucking terrible. But it excels in other specific areas where most other games unfortunately have not, and it leads to this game being one of my most beloved of the generation in spite of its incredible shortcomings. It's a game I'm always thinking about going back to, but the atrocious combat has turned me away from ever wanting to play the game again. Ultimately, it's why it doesn't make the cut for this list; if I was doing a "Top 10 Most Memorable Games of the Generation" list, it definitely makes the list and frankly it might be #1 on such a list. The game features an excellent storyline full of all sorts of twists and turns, characters that are memorable and can genuinely be cared about, an open-world environment that I can actually feel like I am a part of, and dialogue that is always entertaining and, at times, downright hilarious (not to mention an shamelessly-addicting soundtrack). Deadly Premonition is one of the most charming games I've ever played, and one game from this generation of consoles that I will remember for a very long time. (2010, Access Games)
And now, onto the Top 10 Games of the Generation (according to me).
In the midst of a generation where the survival horror genre really hit a slump, the original Dead Space was a pleasant surprise for me. Through the excellent use of lighting and sound, exploration of the Ishimura was as tense and atmospheric as anything I played on these consoles. While the game did get action-heavy at times, it was not such to the point where I felt overpowered vs. the enemy, unlike recent Resident Evil titles. I still had to carefully manage my resources and not get careless with when I saved, and as a result, the level of tension in the game never subsided -- it's still a survival horror game at its core. Dead Space did a near-perfect job of capturing that feeling of being isolated and helpless out in the silence of space, without anywhere to go to escape the darkness. While I was not pleased with the direction the series went in with its sequels, that doesn't take anything away from the excellence of the first game. (2008, EA Redwood Shores)
Hideki Kamiya has directed a number of excellent video games over the years: Resident Evil 2, Viewtiful Joe, Okami -- just to name a few. But Bayonetta is his best work. At its heart, the game could be considered the unofficial fifth Devil May Cry game. But it goes so far beyond that basic framework, and the result is one of the most fun and varied character-action games I've played. There are so many different tools and techniques at Bayonetta's disposal, and each and every one of these are worthwhile and fun to use. In some games, you'll tend to focus on what is effective and what you are good at, and stick to that approach. In this game, you're encouraged to try anything and everything that you possibly can do, and this makes each and every enemy encounter a completely unique and satisfying experience, rather than ever feeling repetitious like some games of this genre can be. It's beautiful, it's stylish, it's got a ton of variety, and it features some absolutely phenomenal boss fights that serve as entire levels in their own right. Bayonetta consistently sets the bar higher and higher as it goes along, and was a game where at no point did I want to put the controller down. (2010, Platinum Games)
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman games have historically been sub-par, but starting with the release of Arkham Asylum, this all changed. Playing as Batman has never felt or looked better, with a natural and seamless combat system, smart usage of his gadgets throughout the environments, and better-than-expected stealth mechanics. In particular, the heavy inspiration it drew from the Metroid franchise in its world design and progression was something that really appealed to me; in a lot of ways, I'd consider Arkham Asylum to be the best third-person Metroid-style game of this generation. I've enjoyed each of the Arkham games, and really any of them could have filled this spot. But I still have a preference for the original game, which had less of an open-world influence and more of its own distinct identity and in general, is a more focused and cohesive product. All in all, it's a damn good video game that looks and plays extremely well and does so with a high level of polish, and to top it all off, makes excellent use of the Batman license. (2009, Rocksteady Studios)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Twilight Princess is sort of an enigma for me: it is undeniably an excellent video game, but it's a game that I haven't exactly held in high-esteem since its release. In fact, it originally wasn't on my shortlist of games I was narrowing-down for this list. But after actually thinking rationally about it for more than a few seconds, it was clear that it absolutely belonged here. Look -- if I'm hard on a Zelda game, it's only because I hold the series to the absolute highest of standards. And while this is certainly a flawed video game that left me disappointed in some areas, it is nevertheless a terrific, flawed video game. As purely a gameplay showpiece, Twilight Princess is one of the most impressive games I've ever played. It boasts the strongest set of dungeons in the series, and honestly I don't think it's even close. And in the very best of these dungeons, the game design is a sight to behold, with the game's special items working heavily in tandem with the level design and boss encounters in some truly jaw-dropping ways. The 40+ hour quest delivered on everything you'd expect from the grand, epic Zelda adventure it was touted to be. It just didn't do very much that was unexpected, and that in a nutshell is why it's not higher on this list. But based on its achievements in the gameplay department, make no mistake about it: Twilight Princess firmly belongs in the upper-echelon of Zelda games. (2006, Nintendo)
I really, really loved all three of the Bioshock games, and I knew they'd be represented on this list, but I needed to really think about which one to pick. Ultimately, though I feel that Bioshock 2 is the strongest in the gameplay department, while Bioshock Infinite has the strongest narrative, it's the original game that is the best representation of what makes this series great. My first experience with the original Bioshock was my first real "Okay, this is next-gen" moment on the Xbox 360, not necessarily from a technical standpoint (though that water looked awfully good), but mostly from how engaged I became in the world they had crafted and the systems contained therein. Rapture was so completely unbelievable as a concept, and yet through the excellent job they did of melding that early 1900's art deco style with futuristic technology, it becomes something entirely believable, as far being a place that you could allow yourself to become lost in. Bioshock also did an effective job of storytelling in a way that made sense considering the context of the medium, letting the player discover the secrets of Rapture on their own while having the story play out in real-time without relying on heavy-handed cutscenes, something that would disrupt the sense of immersion established by the setting. Oh, and it's also a really good first-person shooter. (2007, Irrational Games)
Donkey Kong Country Returns
No Metroid? No problem, as Retro Studios' track record for making excellent games continued unabated with Donkey Kong Country Returns. In many respects, you can see a lot of the same design ethos carried over from the Prime games: Excellent art direction, crazy level design, and boss fights that you don't want to screw around with. It's a challenging game, but it's not hard to the point of being frustrating or unfair. The game expects the player to hold up their end of the bargain, and that's where most of the game's fun comes from. Nothing comes easy, and clearing through the levels without failing while also getting the puzzle pieces and KONG letters is so much fun to do when you've also nailed the platforming part of a difficult stage. And as it goes along, it continues to get better and better (and crazier and crazier), peaking at a point where three straight worlds were stacked with great stage after great stage. I really can't say enough about this game...in fact, I've probably already written a lot more than I had to. I had an absolute blast playing Donkey Kong Country Returns from beginning-to-end, and it is certainly among the best 2D platformers I've ever played, if not my favorite overall. (2010, Retro Studios)
Red Dead Redemption
For a long time now, I've had a desire to play another great western-themed video game, and Red Dead Redemption scratched that particular itch. To me, this is my favorite of all of the open-world games that Rockstar has made, and here's why: the economy of scope really allowed me to become immersed in the game world, and in turn, led me to want to do and see everything that there was to do and see -- not because I felt like I had to, but because I wanted to. Too often, open-world games consist of these enormous city-scapes that I feel no attachment to, and are filled to the brim with activities that are unrelated to both the narrative and the game world; they are just there for you to waste time on. Red Dead Redemption was one of the rare open-world games where I really looked forward to completing everything 100%, and in the end, I felt fulfilled in doing so. Everything that there is to see and do feels so well integrated into the sandbox, and while geographically this is a large game, it doesn't necessarily feel that way. This is because the game's structure was set up in such a way that you could familiarize yourself with each of the areas spread out across the map, and not feel overwhelmed by the environments or detached from the overall experience. It's an open-world game that really capitalizes on the aspect of being an open world setting, working hand-in-hand with the story, characters and activities to establish a place that, as a player, you'll want to feel like you're a part of. (2010, Rockstar Games)
The Last of Us
If there was ever a game that felt designed with me in mind, it might look something like The Last of Us. When the game was first shown off, I had a lot of "hopes" for the game, because the potential for greatness was readily apparent from the get-go. I wanted to be able to play the game in such a manner that I would feel like I survived a stressful ordeal by the end, and not ever get the sense that I was able to just shoot my way through it. I wanted to be able to play it slow and methodically, in a survival horror manner, in such a way that I'd feel exhausted by the time it was over. I wanted this game to be a true battle of attrition, and thankfully, the entire time it felt as though the game was always meant to be played that way. In every way that I had hoped that the game would be a brutal and unrelenting test of survival, it was. But gameplay is just one part of it, and it wouldn't be the same if the campaign and the narrative driving it weren't also top-notch. On a moment-to-moment basis, The Last of Us is one of the most memorable single-player campaigns I've played. Every scene, area, and encounter feels as if it was meticulously constructed under the lens of a microscope. And the pace of the game is nearly perfect, ratcheting up the suspense little-by-little as it goes along before reaching a fever pitch in its final act, leading up to what was an absolutely perfect ending to the experience. I wanted a lot out of this game, and in just about every area, it delivered. (2013, Naughty Dog)
A lot of times you'll hear someone say, "Hey, this game had a really awesome story! But the gameplay really stinks..." Or you might hear someone say, "Hey, holy crap was this game incredibly fun to play! But I wish the storytelling wasn't such an afterthought..." Enter Portal 2, a game that excels at both game design and writing better than most games achieve in either one of those departments. The original game was an awesome few hours of puzzle-solving fun, but it always felt like a prototype for something greater. Portal 2 is the full-realization of that promise. Sure, it starts off with a continuation of the first game's puzzle chambers, but over the course of the game it goes way, way above and beyond that initial set-up. The end result is a game that is constantly subverting your expectations and taking delight in the unpredictable, both incorporating within and surrounding the insanely creative portal chambers with a very entertaining narrative, strengthened by well-written dialogue that is consistently witty and oftentimes very funny. It is an incredibly smart game, in terms of its design and its ambitions, and it is more than happy to allow you to feel smart along the way. The game never tells you what is or isn't possible, but if you think for one second that something off-the-wall just might work, it typically does. Playing a hunch and then ending up being correct is one of the most gratifying things you can get out of a game. Portal 2 is always being creative and is never predictable, and this is really something that every video game should set out to achieve. (2011, Valve)
Super Mario Galaxy
Expect anything different?
There are a lot of awesome games on this list, but for me, this was a no-brainer. Super Mario Galaxy (and its sequel -- let's be honest, if not for my one game-per-series rule, they'd share the top spot) is the best game of this generation, and it's not hard to see why. No other game left me more impressed and astonished by its experience, nor did I have more sheer fun playing anything else. But what exactly makes it so special? Between the time when Mario's early foray into 3D was a new open-ended take on the platforming genre, and the more recent approach which has blended classic 2D Mario gameplay into 3D environments, there was a period of intense experimentation with the series and its genre, and the fruits of this became Super Mario Galaxy. It's still Mario, but this time it came out of the design mindset that "nothing is too crazy or out of place", and the outcome is an experience that is consistently awe-inspiring and mind-blowing. Through the implementation of gravity effects, and building the game entirely around this concept, Galaxy features levels designed in such a way that I never thought was possible, because it hadn't ever been done quite like this before. Nothing was off-limits, and at just about any moment in the game, I'd find myself doing something I've never done before in any game. And that this was a concept that extended over not just one game, but across two games, is a testament to how revolutionary this game was to the genre. It practically rewrote the book on what can and cannot be done in a platformer. And in spite of all of this, it's still a Mario game, with all of the charming elements that you'd come to expect from the franchise. It's both totally familiar and something completely brand new at the same time, but Super Mario Galaxy can best be described with only one word: "magical". (2007, Nintendo)
Great list, Greg. Your explanations as to why these games are your favorites are vivid and thoughtful.
I only played Bayonetta up to a certain point, but I'd really like to start from the beginning and play it again.
Also, I like the picture you provided for Twilight Princess. Link and Midna look so cool together!
What would my list of ten best games of the previous generation look like? Probably something like this:
10. Muramasa: The Demon Blade - An action game with sharp, speedy, and satisfying combat that is complimented by beautiful imagery. 9. Mario Kart DS - An excellent racing game with tight controls and a variety of impressive courses. 8. Rhythm Heaven - This game has a catchy soundtrack that is really fun to interact with thanks to the Nintendo DS touch screen. 7. Catherine - A fun puzzle game cleverly blended into an interesting story. 6. Super Smash Bros. Brawl - An exciting multiplayer game that honors many Nintendo franchises. 5. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - A Zelda game that builds upon its tried and true predecessors with grace. 4. Wario Land: Shake It! - This platformer boasts beautiful animation, great level design, and a colorful, catchy soundtrack. 3. Valkyria Chronicles - The story is moving, and the hybrid real-time meets turn-based strategy gameplay captivated me. 2. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective - Not only does this game have an entertaining, funny, and heartfelt story, but it's imaginative in how it tells it. 1. Super Mario Galaxy - Like Greg said, this game can simply be described as magical. It's innovative, endearing, and extremely fun.
Why are all these lists of last gen games only coming out now? Last gen is either not entirely over yet (games are still coming out on PS3/360) or it could have ended two years ago when the Wii U came out. Or, even three years ago when the 3DS hit the scene.
You know, I felt really weird and conflicted when IGN picked the same Top 3 I would have picked. At first it's like, "Alright! After all these years, someone finally agrees with me!" And then I start thinking something must be wrong with those choices.
Thanks! Nice list yourself. I started from 25 and worked my way down to 10, and Wario Land was definitely on the big list. It's a very, very underrated game. It's probably my third favorite 2D platformer of the generation, behind only DKCR and Rayman Origins.
Hrmmm...they're a tie in my book. 2 is probably better overall, but I can't ignore that 1 made a much larger impact on me when it came out. I refuse to ever rank one above the other, though if I am forced to pick just one, I tend to side with the original.
Gah, Red Dead Redemption, another game on my pile of shame, and something I need to play. Last gen will never end for me.
EDIT: Happy to see Twilight Princes on that list, I'd love to see that game come to Wii U or 3DS, as much as I loved the Wii version the waggle and lack of camera control made it a less-than-ideal experience.
Alright, I'm going to do a console list first, then maybe a handheld list later...
10. Super Smash Bros. Brawl 9. Batman Arkham Asylum 8. Portal 2 7. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword 6. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption 5. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess 4. Valkyria Chronicles 3. Super Mario Galaxy 2. Xenoblade Chronicles 1. Super Mario Galaxy 2
I guess? Maybe? I think I'd probably make a different list if you asked me 10 minutes from now...
Ha, turns out we agree on some things after all. I haven't played most of the games on your list, but most of the ones I have played (Galaxy, Asylum, Red Dead, DKCR) I wholeheartedly agree on. I'd probably boost Skyward Sword over TP, though.
I like your rundown of why you liked Asylum over City and totally agree - Asylum feels more cohesive to me, too. And I also agree with your points about the open world of Red Dead.
@Zero In theory I liked the concept, but in practice I found it a little bit tedious...
Of course in Portal 2 there is more window dressing to sexy it up, more story and diverse environments etc., I should give it a try. I think it might have been a free PS+ game at some point no? I should check my download history. If not it's probably easy to find for like $10.
More and more, I think I'm missing out on something with Xenoblade. I knew it was well-liked, but I was a bit taken aback by how far it went in the March Madness bracket. I don't generally care much for RPGs, but I'm beginning to feel like I owe it to myself to at least try it at some point. Not sure when, though...I may have to give X a fair shot when that comes out, and then see if it's something I can really get into.
That's a really good list, I could definitely get behind it. Multiples from the same series would have changed mine a bit for sure (SMG 1&2 would be 1a and 1b, for sure; Portal 1 may have made my Top 10 as well). Corruption was a tough one to leave off my list, I think I had it at 14 or 15. It not being quite as good as Prime 1 & 2, and it being my second-favorite Retro game behind DKCR, made it a little easier to cut.
Completely agree with TP being a little bit ahead of SS, and obviously Arkham Asylum getting that Batman respect.
So, narrowing the entire last generation down to 10 (or even 20-25) favorites was harder than I thought it'd be. It's kind of a work in progress since there are games I haven't quite finished that I could easily see forcing their way onto this list, i.e. Red Dead Redemption, Dark Souls, Xenoblade and Portal 2 (i know, I'm terrible). I'll try to keep the descriptions / reasoning short. Here goes nothing:
10. Pac-Man CE DX - A true evolution of the Pac-Man formula. Brilliantly designed. One of the most addictive games I've played in a long time. 9. Bioshock - Too much to say about this one, really. Amazing story, characters, writing, setting, etc. Felt like an instant classic the moment the credits started rolling. 8. Donkey Kong Country Returns - In my opinion, one of the 5-10 best 2D platformers ever. Very clever and challenging level design, but never unfair. Great mix of of 'new' and 'nostalgia'. 7. Left 4 Dead - Addictive. Great gameplay requiring teamwork. Interesting setting and story. Kept my XBL Gold subscription going for years. The standard by which all future co-op shooters should be measured. 6. Batman: Arkham Asylum - A wonderful combination of Metroid and Batman: The Animated Series. Great combat, voice acting, setting, plot. etc. Nearly perfect mix of action and stealth. 5. Ninja Gaiden II - Maybe the hardest game I've ever played. Absolutely brilliant combat, sometimes overshadowed by a bad camera system. Boss fights that are equal-parts epic and infuriating. Something of a diamond in the rough. 4. Super Mario Galaxy - Set the standard for 3D platformers and modern Mario games. Lovingly crafted and fun from beginning to end. Impeccable design evident in every inch of its many levels. One of the greatest games of the last generation and, arguably, of all time. 3. Fallout: New Vegas - Maybe the best RPG I've ever played. Great writing, characters & voice acting (and soundtrack!). Huge open world full of fun and disturbing secrets. Choices that actually affect the game. Made even better with incredible expansions. 2. God of War III - Pure, adrenaline-pumping action from beginning to end. Amazing voice acting. Gorgeous visuals. Some of the most epic boss battles in videogame history. 1. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Re-set the standard for 3D platformers and Mario games. Incredible variety of levels. In my opinion, it improves upon its nearly untouchable predecessor in every way. An absolute master class in game design.
Post is a bit bigger than i thought it'd be, but there's my (current) 10. Honorable mentions: Mortal Kombat, Fallout 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Super Meat Boy, Deadly Premonition, Limbo, Batman: Arkham City, Monster Hunter Tri, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, NBA 2k11, Castle Crashers, Mario Kart DS, Skyrim, Killzone 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Grand Theft Auto V
I still remember the months leading up to Arkham Asylum's release and the huge amounts of doubt people had about that game. Everything sounded so good we just kept waiting for the moment for it to all come crashing down. I don't think any one expected the game to not just be good but to be one of the defining games of a generation. The only other time I can recall a licensed game hitting those kind of heights was with Goldeneye in the N64 days. Pretty good considering I was preparing myself for a Dark Tomorrow level of failure in the worst case scenario.
Interesting that Asylum is the one making lists here and not City, which generally got higher reviews and such. Is it because Asylum follows the Metroid Prime formula more and we're mostly all fans of that type of progression here? That is why I preferred Asylum to City, not sure how others think.