The Well-Red Mage asks: “What’s your favorite game every year you’ve been alive?” I’m one of the last to answer, because I’m always late to these types of parties. I’ve seen plenty of “Favorite Game” posts, but never one quite like this, and it was both challenging and enjoying to put together over the last two months. I’m one of the oldest people to respond, meaning I have quite a lot of years to go through, so without further ado…
1980 – Pac-Man
This one was more difficult than I’d like to admit, but there weren’t too many games I could draw from at this point in time, which led me to this classic among classics. I wasn’t very good at this game, but if you stick your finger in your ear and wiggle it around, I think you’ll hear something familiar 😀
1981 – Donkey Kong
Back when Mario was merely Jump Man and Pauline was a kidnapping victim, long before she was the mayor of New Donk City, there was this arcade classic. I was better at this than Pac-Man; I’ve always been better at platforming than avoiding random enemies.
1982 – Joust
Long before Final Fantasy’s chocobos, there was Joust, the first game I played where you could fly. Me and my brother would play this for hours; sometimes competing, sometimes working together to defeat the enemy knights before the pterodactyl showed up. Rumor had it that you could kill that flying terror by landing on his beak just so. We lost many men and birds trying to test that theory.
- Ms. Pac-Man – lady Pac-Man FTW
- Dig Dug – blowing up tiny creatures!
- Donkey Kong, Jr. – the only game where Mario is the (blatant) villain
- Mr. Do – pop those cherries
- Q*bert – #$*@
- BurgerTime – the only time I’ve ever been killed by a pickle
1983 – Spy Hunter
- Mario Bros. (Arcade)
- Keystone Kapers
1984 – Tetris
1985 – Super Mario Bros.
Finally, the NES era! It became so much easier to pick games after this. While I’d been playing since around the age of three with the ColecoVision/Atari, the NES had my first favorite games and was the system that really solidified my self-identification as a gamer. I can’t say that the original SMB was one of my favorite games (nor have I ever beaten it), but it was the foundation for so many to…jump off of, defining the platformer genre even to this day. Also, I totally thought Bowser was a dragon.
1986 – Gauntlet
- Bubble Bobble – I have one of the stuff dinosaurs from that game. Also, we all still have that song stuck in our heads.
- Kid Icarus – With the same style as Metroid, this was one of the first games to give me a queasy feeling, but the main character was an angel, and I still listen to the soundtrack to this day.
1987 – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out
Before the licensing ran out, it was indeed called Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out prior to the change to “Mr. Dream.” By the time we got this game, our NES had seen better days, so it took some finagling to get it to work. We’d long taken the cover off in order to maneuver it better (this was before the system shocked me and the joke about Nintendo Power could be made), and since this took cooperation, my older brother and I would forget what asinine thing we might’ve been fighting about in order to play the game. My mother watched us do this one time and was completely shocked not only at how much work and time we put into getting the system to work, but that we worked together while doing so. Yes, video games can even bring warring siblings together! Neither of us ever got to Mike Tyson, though we did get pretty far, at least to the second iteration of one of the later opponents.
1988 – Super Mario Bros. 2
This was my first favorite video game and game obsession. I was obsessed with SMB 2 or “Soupy 2” as I used to call it (I was eight okay?!). The princess was a playable character instead of a kidnapping victim and the bad guys were fresh, new, and different. I was sure that Mario games would follow the formula of having Bowser and his minions show up every other game with Wart and his in the rest. This wasn’t accurate of course as SMB 2 was hand-waved aside as merely a dream, because it was supposed to be a game called Doki Doki Panic, and the games following went right back to the Bowser formula. There’s something I realized though…if SMB 2 was all a dream then why are Shy Guys, Ninjis, Fuzzies, and other enemies first seen in the game now part of Bowser’s retinue?
1989 – DuckTales
Whoohoo! Don’t act like you don’t know 🙂 Back in the late 80s/early 90s games made from shows and movies were generally good, so it was a delight to play one of my show obsession at the time. The mechanics were excellent, the replayability was high, and of course the music was boss.
1990 – Super Mario Bros. 3
Arguably the best platformer ever made even to this day. Other platformers take their cues from it, because SMB 3 pretty much defined the genre. It was the first Mario game I beat on my own, because it was made for players of all skill levels, though I was a much more adept gamer in those days. There is nothing about the third Super Mario Bros. game that isn’t fantastic, and I’d challenge anyone to find something disparaging to say about it (I wouldn’t even do that for my forever favorite Final Fantasy VII).
Because I love you all so much, here’s an amazing rendition of the finale by String Player Gamer.
- Dr. Mario – Another Mario game, this one a puzzle instead of a platformer. Still as relevant and popular as the Tetris that inspired it, I still have that “Fever” song stuck in my head.
1991 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The first Zelda game I ever really played and almost beat. Of course I’d seen the original Legend, but it wasn’t something I played myself, and in fact, I didn’t see the actual ending until I watched Hungry Goriya’s Let’s Play of it.
Link to the Past is the Zelda that got me into Zelda, and the game holds up far better than its predecessors.
- Final Fantasy IV – You’d think I’d have picked this over Legend of Zelda, but I’m going for games I played at or around the time of their release, and I didn’t get to FFIV until way later i.e. either the late 90’s or early 00’s. If I’d played FFIV then, it would be my game of the year for that time, but alas, I didn’t discover Final Fantasy until a few years later.
- Adventures of Lolo 3 – My favorite puzzle game of all time. I’ll still play this every now and then if I need to prepare my mind for logic/problem solving.
- Street Fighter II – Back when I was into fighting games, this was my jam.
- Super Mario World – Following on the heels of SMB 3, Super Mario World was a fine follow up. I still can’t beat Rainbow Road.
1992 – Mortal Kombat
Street Fighter II had the misfortune to come out the same year one of my favorite Zelda games, but I remained interested in fighting games for quite a while afterwards, and of course I was drawn to the controversy of MK. I don’t ever recall not being able to watch or play this game, even though I was only 12 at the time. I think my parents were more concerned with exposing me to sexually explicit stuff rather than violence, so I had free reign to watch my brother and his friends beat the shit out of each other with this.
1993 – Disney’s Aladdin
The animation for this game was so smooth that everyone thought I was far better at it than I really was. I mean I was good at it, but Disney’s Aladdin had amazing animation and graphics for its time. We were still in the days were games based on movies were usually excellent, especially Disney movies.
- Clay Fighter – This was truly the golden age of fighting games. I really wonder if this game was an inspiration for Celebrity Death Match :p
1994 – Final Fantasy VI
As if there could be any doubt what my 1994 game of the year was going to be. Final Fantasy VI brought me into the Final Fantasy fold, and I not only never left, I kind of took over :p Featuring my favorite female character in Celes Chere, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for my very first Final Fantasy.
- Diddy Kong Racing – The first racing game I ever played with an evil alien pig, an elephant genie, and three different vehicle types for racing. I’d love to find another copy of this, because this game was hella fun.
1995 – Chrono Trigger
Considered one of the best RPGs by many a fan, Chrono Trigger was pretty high on my list just by virtue of being a Squeenix or, rather, Squaresoft game. Lavos is a fairly obvious precursor to FFVII’s Jenova and the Masamune is plainly featured. I still quote that existential line by Doreen (the spirit living in the sword):
“Am I a bowling ball dreaming I’m a poet…or a bowling ball dreaming I’m a plate of sashimi?”
Because reality isn’t confusing and ephemeral enough.
To this day I’ve only seen maybe two or three of the game’s endings, and it’s on my replay list.
1996 – Tomb Raider
I played this game so much I would see it when I closed my eyes including those creepy ass Atlantean enemies *shudders* Tomb Raider, while fun, was probably a huge factor in why I hate chase dynamics in video games. Unfortunately, I didn’t always have a choice in the matter of playing, because my dad really liked this game and watching me play it, and I’d be, er, persuaded to do so. Not a great thing for my anxiety to say the least. When I had the option to play by myself, the only thing I’d do with Lara was the training room, because it was safe, well-lit, and there were no enemies. I discovered that missing my dive into the pool spelled instant death for my poor protagonist, and I was morbidly entertained by that. Unrelated, but have you noticed that Eidos spelled backwards is “so die?”
1997 – Final Fantasy VII
Should I say a lot or a little? I think I’ve said enough for you all to know what this game means to me.
1998 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Another wonderful Zelda game. I still hate those Redeads. Why would you put something that horrible in a children’s game?! No wonder Link freezes when they scream D: Still Ocarina probably has the best comprehensive soundtrack of that era. So many good songs.
1999 – Final Fantasy VIII
There’s a neatness about this game that speaks to my organization loving soul. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the way VIII is put together just suits me. The fact that you can draw the limit of magic and junction it to certain stats, upgrade your GFs to boost more stats, take tests to increase your rank, and receive a periodic paycheck. It’s like Final Fantasy Modern hehe. Well…FFVIII is more like the future they fixed after FFVII’s fuck ups. FFVII is more “modern” in this regard I suppose, since it takes place in an era that disturbingly mirrors our own with only some additions we either don’t have or don’t yet know about. FFVIII is a more stable sort of future, which makes the fact that it’s about the destabilization of time even more interesting.
2000 – Final Fantasy IX
Considering I named my new little fur baby after the princess (though my favorite character is probably Freya with Vivi as a close second), you can more than likely surmise how much I love this game. Like so many stories, it started out as something else and something simple, but grew much bigger than the creators planned. FFIX was supposed to be a shorter send off of the PlayStation era Final Fantasies, but it ended up being a full fledged Final Fantasy, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m still baffled at how many of my IRL friends didn’t like it. I mean opinions are subjective, but wtf? It has symbolism as deep and rich as Final Fantasy VII, and one of the main motifs is finding meaning in life outside of what you were born/created to do. Every single character has to answer that question for themselves, and the game is a tapestry of how each of them deals with the often existential crisis. I’m (theoretically) okay with you not liking something (I’m going to judge you, but again: subjective), but I’m not okay with you not recognizing the merit of a narrative. I might like FFVII better than FFVI, but that doesn’t mean I believe the sixth installment is any less significant. I guess I just don’t like shallow assessments, and I’ll leave it at that.
2001 – Final Fantasy X
Despite my dislike of Tidus, Final Fantasy X was still an enjoyable game. I think if games weren’t considered a bastard medium (still, ugh), the tenth installment of Squeenix’s most famous franchise would’ve received much more backlash, since it’s narrative is highly critical of organized religion. Considering one of its messages is “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” by way of showing the detriment of following any belief structure on the merits of tradition alone, it could cause people to think about such instances in the real world. Add to it many of the leaders are corrupt and power hungry *spoiler* i.e. Seymour is literally a high priest gone bad, which I talk about here, *end spoiler* and you have a pretty powerful critique. It also took an outsider to break the cycle aka someone who wasn’t brought up in that “fayth” who had a view that wasn’t tainted by any prior belief. So I guess Tidus was useful for something.
2002 – Super Mario Sunshine
There was really a dearth of games I could pick from this year. I don’t have anything against Super Mario Sunshine, but I didn’t really play much of it. I’m not that great at 3D platformers (which is why I’m so happy Super Mario Odyssey is so forgiving in that area). I watched a little bit of an LP, but never finished it. Regardless, this is a list of favorite games that came out per year, so it’s only reasonable that I’ll have some years with games I’m not over the moon about.
2003 – Donkey Kong Country
I can’t recall whether or not I made 100% on this game, but I sure came close. I must’ve put over 100 hours into it I’ll say, and I’d definitely love to see it ported to a current system. If Nintendo knows what’s good for them, they’ll start doing this posthaste.
2004 – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
This is another game I played much later than its release year, but that doesn’t make me love it any less. It was…much darker than I expected a Mario game to be, and if you don’t believe me, think about the final battle *spoiler* where a thousand year old demon possessed the princesses’ body, and I’m befuddled how there are so few articles/videos about this. Something similar happened to Zelda in Twilight Princess, and I’ve at least seen cosplays of that. *end spoiler* The Paper Mario series was a wonderful addition to the Mario RPGs. I hope there’s another one soon.
2005 – Guitar Hero
My love of rhythm games might have begun with Guitar Hero. I love shit like this. I actually feel like I get a bit of a workout from it. At the very least I’m out of breath and sweaty. I’ve yet to figure out the fingering on that fifth fret, but hopefully one day I will.
2006 – Final Fantasy XII
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy
Confession. I didn’t play that much of this game, because (as stated before) I kind of suck at 3D platformers. Doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, and “Battlerock Galaxy” is one of the best songs ever written for a video game.
Also Rosalina is my favorite princess (besides our newly adopted Princess Garnet of course!). I mean…she freaking protects the cosmos, which puts her on a similar if not higher level than Aeris. She’s also the only amiibo I have so far 🙂
2008 – Mass Effect
I actually choose Mass Effect over a Final Fantasy VII installment. Is the world coming to an end?? *sigh* If only. While Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was also released in 2008, and while I did play that before seeing much of Mass Effect, I was so irritated at how Aeris was portrayed that I never finished it. They made her into a bloody twit, and I’m just…
I also don’t like the Zerith ship that much, and it’s not because I’m an Aeriseph lover either. I wouldn’t like that canon ship regardless. They’re both so good, and I just find that boring. Even Clerith (which I’m not a shipper of either) is better, because at least Cloud has some dark back story to go on. Two goody-two-shoes in a relationship doesn’t have any interest or intrigue for me. I guess the idea that they don’t get to be together (at least on this side of the Lifestream) is supposed to be tragic, but there’s so much tragedy in that compilation, it’s barely a drop in the bucket. Tragic love stories also usually have some other obstacle to their being together e.g. Romeo and Juliet (which is not a good example of romance btw) had to contend with their family rivalry and Abelard and Heloise’s age disparity forced them to keep their trysts clandestine. Obviously YMMV, but I don’t like them.
ANYWAY, isn’t this supposed to be about Mass Effect and not about the game I didn’t pick? Mass Effect made me realize that Western RPGs could be just as good as my favorite JRPGs, even though I’d turn down the difficulty, since I still prefer turn-based battles. While I’m more used to characters being set by the creators, I’m not averse to the idea of choice, though I always go for the option I’d choose myself in whatever situation I’m presented with. I’m glad I watched an LP of the series so I could make another assessment of the ending (nearly) everyone hated so much, and it’s on my ever growing list of games to review/analyze.
2009 – The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
This game along with it’s direct prequel Phantom Hourglass gets a lot of flak, but I enjoyed watching it. I think the issue might have been the idea of train technology in a Zelda game, which I get, but I suppose it’s not a deal breaker for me. The Let’s Player I watched praised the game’s mechanics especially in terms of how well it worked with the DS’s hardware. Just like any Zelda game the music is phenomenal, it has a new and interesting dynamic with the trains, eclectic characters, and Princess Zelda actually has more of a role than just kidnapped or sleeping prisoner. Like in Phantom Hourglass she has an integral part in traversing dungeons and actually takes on more of a protector role. It’s a cute, little game that doesn’t deserve the hatred it received.
2010 – Mass Effect 2
Sequels have the momentous task of living up to their predecessors, but Mass Effect 2 manages to surpass it. The first game did an excellent job building the world, leaving the second installment the luxury of expanding upon it, deepening the mystery and horror around the Reapers, while making Commander Shepherd even more of an epic character. (Seemingly) flipping the script on a main antagonist from the first game, Mass Effect 2 forces you to better examine their motivations, although the cries of “Human first!” are sadly reminiscent of a current reality based misconception.
2011 – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It’s a rare day where I won’t pick a Zelda game as my GOTY if there’s no Final Fantasy to take it’s place, and though Skyward Sword had some control complaints, I greatly enjoyed watching it unfold in Let’s Play. You find out the Loftwings are why the sigil of Hyrule, the one that’s on the Hylian Shield, resembles a bird. It’s one of the earlier games in the timeline (and may even be the first…I’ll have to check on that), so there’s a lot of Hyrule history to pay attention to. It’s also hella cool to fly around on your own giant bird.
2012 – Dear Esther
I would leave you presents outside your retreat, in this interim space between cliff and beach. I would leave you loaves and fishes, but the fish stocks have been depleted, and I have run out of bread. I would row you back to your homeland in a bottomless boat, but I fear we would both be driven mad by the chatter of the sea creatures.
This is one of my top 10 favorite game of all time, and I was fortunate enough to read an analysis about it concerning the nature of memory. The monologues are some of the best literature ever written, and, combined with the unnamed, unseen protagonist’s sojourn on the island, they weave a mystery that would make Sir Arthur proud. What truly happens is highly up to interpretation, but it is well worth the dive into the heart of despair.
2013 – The Last of Us
Easily in my top ten best games of all time, The Last of Us is dark, gruesome, controversial, and the most realistic depiction of a zombie apocalypse I’ve ever seen, and the game never even uses the word “zombie.” It shows how society would degrade and humanity with it if such an outbreak would occur, but even in the midst of such horror, there is still hope. TLOU was not easy for me to watch, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to make you think. It’s supposed to force you into the minds of these characters, experience their trauma and try to understand the hard choices they’re forced to make.
2014 – Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Only a handful of games have ever made me cry (The Last of Us is another one of them and within the first twenty minutes); Valiant Hearts made me ugly cry. Like not just a few sniffles and drips, but full blown sobbing to the point my husband stopped playing Destiny 2 to make sure I was okay, and the friend he was playing with asked the same. It’s one of those games that surprises you with how poignant it is, as the art style seems counter intuitive to it, but don’t let it fool you. It is possible to tell a moving story with a seemingly cartoonish mien (check out the show BoJack Horseman if you really want a crash course in this), and Valiant Hearts does so.
2015 – SOMA
To this day, about a year after I watched it, SOMA still stands as the most terrifying existential horror narrative I have ever experienced. There have been games that have scared me (i.e. Metroid, Contra, Life Force, even my beloved FFVII), but that was on a surface “I’m afraid of monsters/eldritch abominations” (though FFVII has more Fridge Horror in it to make certain aspects more disturbing upon further reflection, but I digress). SOMA is terrifying because it latches onto something all of us have, but no one understands: consciousness. Because even the best and brightest minds of our era remain (mostly) clueless to what gives rise to and makes awareness possible, any speculation about it done could very well be the truth, and that opens the door for some of the best horror our minds can concoct. The end of this game gutted me and haunts me to this day. I am over 2000 words into my review/analysis of it, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of all I need to say. It’s one of my longer reviews (along with ones for The Last of Us, Inside, and Dear Esther), and I hope to finish it before the end of the year.
- Ori and the Blind Forest – I can’t leave this year without mentioning this game. It’s another one that brought the waterworks for me and is easily the most beautiful game I saw all year.
2016 – World of Final Fantasy
I spent the $60 to pre-order this game, and 200+ hours later I can say I definitely got my money’s worth. It’s a been described as “Final Fantasy crossed with Pokemon,” and there really isn’t a better definition. WOFF certainly hits common Final Fantasy beats like prophecy, past occurrences causing current events, parental issues, and memory loss, and you’re reminded that even with its cutesy mien, there’s still a fairly deep story to uncover.
Also cutest version of Sephiroth outside of the figurine I bought for Theatrythm.
- Inside – There’s another long review/analysis pending for this. Playdead took the concept it used in Limbo and expanded upon it brilliantly. While the narrative still doesn’t give much away, there’s much more offered for speculation. Taking a motif and building upon it in a way that players won’t find trite or too similar to the original takes a great deal of creativity and work, and Playdead nailed it with Inside.
- The Last Guardian – I guess if something is in Development Hell for too long, the people waiting for it tend to become a little bit bitter (*cough cough* A Song of Ice and Fire fans waiting for The Winds of Winter *gigantic eye roll because TSN knows how long books take to craft, write, and edit*), but since I never had to experience that, I can look on The Last Guardian with pure eyes, and it was amazing. Like the fore mentioned Inside, the narrative doesn’t give you much, forcing players (and watchers) to attempt to divine the greater story from what you’re shown. Now that I’ve also watched Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, I can now start writing my review/analyses of the series as a whole. I not only think it’s a clearly shared universe, but I also think they all occur in the same location.
2017 – Super Mario Odyssey
Little more needs to be said about how wonderful this game is, though of course I’m going to review it hehe. I played through it myself and managed to beat Bowser the first time. I love that it’s not so difficult that younger players and not-so-great 3D platformers *raises hand* can’t have fun collecting Power Moons, but more advanced players can still challenge themselves by seeking out the harder ones. Games that appeal to multiple skill levels are a treasure, and there wasn’t a time I picked it up that I didn’t snag at least three or four moons. The soundtrack is amazing (I’ve downloaded it), and it’s just an all around great game that deserves every accolade.
- What Remains of Edith Finch – I just posted a review of this so you can read my thoughts on it here. It’s one of those small titles that shocks you with how well done it is.
- Rakuen – I’ve reviewed this one as well. The indie game devs have been doing a marvelous job lately, and I love that they’re fair competition for the bigger companies now.
- Little Nightmares – After SOMA I thought I’d be done with scary games, but Little Nightmares wasn’t scary in the same way, so I’m glad I gave it a try. Oh, don’t get it twisted; it’s disturbing all right. I’m waiting for the third DLC to come out (thought I think it has already) so I can watch it then review all of it.
Like many of you who’ve already posted your list, I haven’t played or watched any games from 2018 yet, so I shall leave it on the year before. This was much harder to do than I expected, and not just the earlier titles. I had to give Honorable Mention, because while I had a decided favorite, there was just no way I couldn’t talk bout certain titles. I started this nearly two months ago, and even I’m shocked at how long it took, but I thank The Well Red Mage (whose original post on it is linked at the top) for putting the idea out there. It was fun and nostalgic to revisit the old games and refreshing to see which recent ones caught my heart 🙂