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The 22 Best ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Episodes

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*credit to Entertainment Weekly for the cover photo*

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show which occupies a unique place in both pop culture and television history. While it began its life as a second-tier, mid-season replacement on the struggling WB network, by the end of its life cycle it would be home to one of the most ravenously devoted fan bases on the planet.

Buffy, like The X-Files, was a cultural touch point that helped to pave the way for horror to become a genuine successful television genre outside of anthology shows like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. Instead of going for the all or nothing horror of those shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer opted for a focus on characterization, and an increasingly well-established world where it really felt like almost anything could happen.

Through its deliberately subversive writing, its relentless questioning of social and storytelling tropes, and its talented cast, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has stood the test of time for 22 years as one of the best reviewed and most beloved television shows of all time.

With that in mind, we’re here to catalog the 22 best, most representative, and most essential episodes of Buffy across all seven of its seasons. Obsessives and newbies alike will find plenty to love in our collection of the best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes below.

The Best Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes:

22) “Prophecy Girl”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is by far it’s most hit or miss collection of episodes. With several downright silly episodes (“The Pack”, “I Robot, You Jane”) and only a few that are stand-outs (“Welcome to the Hellmouth”, “Angel”), season one can make for a tough entry point for outsiders and newcomers.

Still, Buffy’s showdown with The Master in the season one finale, “Prophecy Girl”, is the absolute high point of this middling collection. Being the first time that Buffy feels downright out-matched and the first time she fails in her slayer duties, “Prophecy Girl” is also notable for giving every central character a purpose, and uniting them as the Scoobies in the final shot.

With high stakes, top-notch writing, and a genuinely thrilling battle as its centerpiece, “Prophecy Girl” re-wrote the rules for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and helped it to grow into the show it would come to be.

21) “Something Blue”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Some of Buffy‘s most charming episodes are also some it’s goofiest. Being set in a world where magic can wreak endless amounts of chaos and havoc allowed Buffy the Vampire Slayer to take a break from the heavy stuff for some truly funny episodes like “Something Blue”.

The premise of the episode (random phrases Willow says become reality at a whim) is so silly that the episode could have been an absolute flub, but thanks to some sharp writing and a lot of imagination, “Something Blue” is memorable as one of season four’s best episodes.

From the Spike and Buffy pairing (a scene-stealing notion that would have major implications for the future) to Xander becoming a literal demon magnet, “Something Blue” is an episode that embraces its wacky premise in a way that is supremely admirable.

20) “The Zeppo”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Another extremely silly outing, “The Zeppo” finds a season three Xander feeling like the only one in the Scooby squad who has nothing to offer. With that in mind, when Xander finds himself roped into a crime caper led by gang of undead classmates, he opts to handle it himself rather than ask his friends for help.

While this might easily turn into a tired message episode about learning to rely on those closest to you, “The Zeppo” instead doubles down by having Xander eventually come to terms with his weaknesses and even overcome them as the hour winds down.

Bonus points here for Xander’s short sexual encounter with Faith and a subplot where the rest of the central characters battle an unfathomable evil force and save the world in a collection of scarcely commented upon background scenes.

19) “Lie to Me”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The first truly great episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t arrive until well into the second season of the show. “Lie to Me” sees an old friend of Buffy’s come back into her life while harboring a dark secret. As Xander and Willow begin to suspect Ford is more than he appears, Buffy is blinded with nostalgia and affection.

The grim twist of “Lie to Me”, that Ford is dying of brain cancer and has cut a deal with Spike to become a vampire, isn’t revealed until late in the episode, making this knife twist all the more brutal. The thematic mirror between Spike and Buffy, as they are the only characters not to lie in this episode, is especially interesting when you consider where the show ultimately takes the two of them.

Finally, the tragic ending, which sees Buffy forced to stake her newly undead friend, cements the surrogate father/daughter relationship between Buffy and Giles, when she asks him to lie to her about how dark this world really is.

18) “A New Man”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Any time Ethan Rayne comes to town, Buffy fans generally know that they’re in for a fun episode. “A New Man” is no exception. Centering on an increasingly lost Giles feeling untethered to his life (with no job to do, no kids to teach, and no slayer to watch) and making a series of poor decisions that have dire, if hilarious, consequences, “A New Man” is a ridiculous hour of television.

After a night out drinking with his rival, a chaos warlock, Giles awakens to discover he’s been transformed into a demon. Only able to speak in grunts and roars, and having torn up his home in shock and frustration, Giles is now being confused for a monster and hunted by his own slayer.

The buddy cop style hijinks that unfold between Giles and Spike, the only one who can understand Giles’ demon grunts as a language, are just the cherry on top of this ridiculously silly and undeniably entertaining episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

17) “Two to Go”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Though viewers had already seen the beginnings of Dark Willow, it wasn’t until “Two to Go” that Willow went all in on the villain arc. As she continues to reel from the murder of her girlfriend, Tara, Willow goes after the people she holds responsible.

As Buffy, Xander, and Giles try to stop her, they also find themselves in her cross hairs, and as Willow grows increasingly unhinged, the stakes are raised considerably.

It’s a testament to the writing team of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that they could actually make this arc, in which the show’s meekest, nicest character turns into the surprise big bad, work. While there are some clumsy mis-steps along the way in season six, the pay off of seeing Buffy and Willow go toe to toe is well worth the price of admission.

16) “Innocence”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The two-episode arc of “Surprise” and “Innocence” is one of the most daring moves a teen drama has ever had the audacity to pull. Buffy the Vampire Slayer began with the mission statement of using the supernatural as metaphors for real life issues, and “Innocence” brings this thesis to a chilling reality.

After losing her virginity to Angel, Buffy awakens to find that Angel is acting like a totally different person. What she doesn’t know is that through an elaborate confluence of events, he has lost his soul. The metaphor, however, probably rang horribly true for the many, many teenage girls who had given themselves to an older boy, only to be tossed aside and treated like trash.

While Buffy is initially destroyed by Angel’s cruelty, she eventually hardens her pain into a steely resolve when Angel attacks a movie theater full of innocent bystanders. Though Buffy is unable to kill Angel in the final moments of “Innocence”, she does emancipate herself from him with a very satisfying kick to the nuts. “Give me time,” she promises as she leaves him on his knees. It’s one of season two’s best moments.

15) “Hush”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
One of the most memorable episodes in the entire series emerged as a result of, and answer to, some of Joss Whedon’s most outspoken critics. They contended that Buffy the Vampire Slayer only worked because of its snappy dialog, questioning Whedon and co’s ability to tell a good story.

Enter “Hush”, an episode in which everyone in Sunnydale is struck silent by demons right out of a fairy tail. The delightfully creepy gentlemen hover about town in the silence, murdering women and stealing their hearts as part of a grand ritual.

Of course, outside of the main plot is where a lot of the fun is had, as the Scoobies make goofy gestures, draw pictures, and write on little erasable whiteboards to communicate with one another. A scene in which Giles stages an elaborate slide show, complete with music, in order to explain the results of his research remains one of the funniest scenes in the entire series.

Further, “Hush” has real implications for the story, as Tara and Willow come together for the first time and Riley and Buffy discover each other’s hidden lives. “Hush” is an all-around great episode and certainly the best hour of season four.

14) “Seeing Red”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Some of the most traumatic moments of the entire series emerge in the troubling and contentious final act of season six, which sets Willow up as the villain. The worst of these both occur here, in “Seeing Red”.

The trio, a group of man baby villains who grow to be a real and dangerous threat at last, is headed by the misogynistic and sociopathic Warren. In “Seeing Red” Buffy shuts down their plans at last, but at a deadly price. When Warren shows up with a gun and shoots Buffy in the chest, this is only the beginning of the damage he will do.

Unwittingly, he also shoots Tara threw an upstairs window as he fires wildly. The chilling final scene of the episode sees Willow look up to the camera, her tearful eyes red with rage.

“Seeing Red” also features a truly hard to watch scene in which Buffy and Spike’s incredibly unhealthy relationship comes to a head when Spike tries to rape Buffy in her upstairs bathroom. In terms of implications, this one episode sets up two major arcs: one in which Dark Willow is born, and the other in which Spike attempts to redeem himself by getting his soul back. It’s an unforgettable hour.

13) “Band Candy”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As was mentioned above, the Ethan Rayne episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are among the silliest and most fun the series has to offer. “Band Candy” is no exception.

As the students of Sunnydale High begin selling candy for a fundraiser, logically, their parents end up purchasing most of it. However, Rayne has cast a spell on the chocolate which reverts the parents to their teenage selves. As Giles becomes a dangerous rebel, Joyce becomes a swooning school girl, and Snyder becomes the world’s biggest dork, it falls to Buffy to keep them safe while getting to the bottom of their newfound youthful attitudes.

Filled with great gags, hilarious writing, and a certainly memorable tryst between Joyce and Giles, “Band Candy” is a season three stand-out for its strong comedic chops.

12/11) “Becoming Pt. 1 & 2”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If “Innocence” introduced us to hard new realities concerning Angel, “Becoming” is the ultimate expression of this new dynamic between the slayer and her former lover.

While the first part showcases more of Angel’s past, as told by an enigmatic demon named Whistler, it also features the untimely death of Kendra (complete with Buffy’s epic blue trench coat run), a moment that will pave the way for Faith’s arrival in season three.

In the second part, as Angel seeks to bring hell on earth, it falls to Buffy to finally step up and take him out for good. However, the many moving pieces in the background of the plot give this already difficult task an even crueler edge. As Willow cracks the spell to restore Angel’s soul, at last, Buffy must finish him off anyway, as the portal to hell must be closed using his blood. As if this weren’t heartbreaking enough, the sappy tones of Sarah McLaughlin hammer the stake in even further as Buffy leaves town a shattered wreck of her former self.

Further, “Becoming” also features Spike flipping the script on Angel and working with Buffy, a moment that will have huge ramifications for all three characters for the rest of the series.

10) “Lover’s Walk”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Though Joss Whedon originally planned to kill off Spike, he loved James Marsters’ portrayal of the punk rock vampire so much that he let him live through the season two finale… and good thing he did. Had he followed through with the original plan for Spike and Dru, we wouldn’t have a fantastic episode like “Lover’s Walk.”

As a despondent Spike returns to Sunnydale a shadow of his former self, he seeks out Willow to help him with a love spell to get Dru to come back to him. His decision to confine Willow and Xander together has several unintended consequences, including the two of them hooking up, which leaves the Scoobies shattered and separated by episode’s end.

Worse still, he delivers the nail in the coffin for Angel and Buffy’s second try at a relationship. The shot of truth he offers, that they will never be friends, no matter what they say, is the first of many final blows that will separate them once and for all at the end of season three.

Luckily, “Lover’s Walk” isn’t all doom and gloom. Spike, Buffy, and Angel have some truly funny moments, including Spike playing up Angel’s evil turn for laughs, and the endless bickering the three get up to when forced to work together. Rich with drama and laughter, “Lover’s Walk” is one of season three’s best episodes.

9) “Passion”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
While the aforementioned “Innocence” established Angel as a villain, it wasn’t until “Passion” that fans were sent down the dark path for good. After Angel murdered Jenny Calendar, the audience knew that there was no coming back for him… and so did Buffy.

While much of the episode plays out like a standard season two episode of Buffy, the overarching voice-overs and bevy of flashbacks establish the fact that “Passion” is going for something more dynamic. As Ms. Calendar struggles to give Angel back his soul, and right the wrong she participated in, Angel becomes aware of her plan and arrives to stop her.

Though we’d seen Angel chase and threaten Buffy’s friends before, the chilling moment when he catches Jenny out of nowhere, before abruptly snapping her neck, was a total shock to our collective system. Ms. Calendar was the first main character death of the entire series, and as such, no one saw it coming until we heard that fateful crack.

From Giles discovery of his beloved, arranged like a come-hither date night, to his suicidal revenge attack on Angel, to Buffy and Giles collapsing in tears in the alley, “Passion” is a non-stop tour-de-force that not only makes irrevocable changes to the characters but also goes a long way toward explaining who Angel is and where he came from.

8) “Fool For Love”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As “Passion” made us aware of Angel’s history as a vampire, “Fool for Love” did the same for Spike. As was mentioned earlier in the show, Spike has killed two slayers, and after Buffy almost dies in active duty, she corners him to ask how.

As Spike unfolds the story of his life, he trades barbs and flirtatious remarks over pints of beer and games of pool. We see flashbacks to 18th century Britain, the Chinese Boxer rebellion of 1900, and 1970s New York, as Spike explains how he became a vampire, and how he would eventually come upon, and kill, two slayers in his lifetime.

As if this weren’t enough, the second fight sequence is interplayed with a mock fight between Buffy and Spike in the alley behind The Bronze. As things get more and more intimate, Spike goes in for the kiss at last, only to be left on his knees weeping in the alley. Though a humiliated Spike initially vows to kill the slayer, he manages only comforting her while she worries about her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

This is the real beginning of what will be a tumultuous but eventually loving and amicable relationship between the two, and for that, as well as a great many other reasons, “Fool for Love” is an absolutely essential episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

7) “Conversations with Dead People”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
For a teen drama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always more audacious and experimental in its structure than the majority of its ilk. Case in point, “Conversations with Dead People”.

Focusing on 5 separate, yet connected stories, in which Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Andrew and a nameless young woman converse with the dead, “Conversations with Dead People” casts a wide thematic net more reminiscent of something like The Sopranos or Six Feet Under… and points for the writers, because they pull it off.

As Buffy is out on patrol she meets a vampire who was actually in her psych class, and instead of fighting, they talk about the old days while waxing philosophical. Dawn finds herself attacked by a demonic force in her home, while Willow, for her part, speaks to a dead girl who claims to be there on Tara’s behalf. The final two stories concern Andrew being visited by the ghost of Warren and Spike out on a date with a young woman.

Of course, part of what makes this episode work is how the light interplay and snappy dialog eventually turn incredibly dark. Buffy is forced to kill her classmate, Dawn receives a foreboding message from beyond the grave, Willow is encouraged to commit suicide, Andrew murders his best friend, and Spike kills the girl he’s on a date with.

As it turns out, The First is behind most of this, and “Conversations with Dead People” is an excellent centerpiece that exposes the powers of this new, and different, kind of villain. It’s also one of the first season’s seven episodes that shows how brutal of a challenge the Scoobies will be facing in their final season of television.

6) “Once More With Feeling”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The famous musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is commonly cited as an all-time favorite, and with good reason. If you’re one of those people who hates how every show has to have a musical episode these days, you can blame this pioneering episode of television for your rage.

However, “Once More With Feeling” is anything but a lazy episode of fluff and bad music. Featuring a staggering 19 original songs for its 50 minute run time, the styles cross a wide range of genres, from rock ballads, to pop ditties, to old Hollywood yarns, to Broadway show tunes.

Further, the concept that makes this all possible, that a demon has come to town with the power to make people burst into song at a moment’s notice, actually works, mainly because they’re singing about their hidden feelings and desires.

While this sounds fun, and it certainly is, it can also be wildly sad, as when Buffy reveals that she wished she’d been allowed to stay dead, before trying to kill herself (for the second time in season six). Xander and Anya’s song about their hidden relationship concerns also has very real consequences for the remainder of of the show.

For all of these reasons and more, “Once More With Feeling” is well-deserved of its status as one of the best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes of all time.

5/4) “Graduation Day Pt. 1 & 2”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season three is home to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s best villains in the happy go lucky mayor, Richard Wilkins, and the slayer gone bad, Faith Lehane. As such, the final showdown with these two baddies in the two-part season three finale goes down, without question, as one of the great Buffy arcs.

The first part ends with the knockdown, drag-out fight of fights between Faith and Buffy, as Buffy arrives quite literally out for Faith’s blood in order to heal Angel’s wounds. As the two slayers go toe to toe at last, they battle around Faith’s apartment, smashing and destroying the place as they go. As the battle finishes up on the roof, Buffy plants Faith’s own dagger in her gut, and sends her off the roof of her apartment building, putting an end to their rivalry… at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, part two sets the entirety of Buffy’s graduating class against the monstrous Mayor Wilkins and his vampire army. As an eclipse heralds the apocalypse on graduation day, the students reveal the weapons they have hidden under their robes, and the battle for Sunnydale begins. For her part, Buffy leads the mayor through the school, and escapes out the other side, triggering some explosives to take out the previously unkillable Big Bad for good.

Finally, season three wraps up with the appropriate melancholic mixture of Angel leaving Sunnydale behind, and the scoobies looking joyfully toward what the future holds… now that they have one, that is.

3) “The Gift”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Initially meant to be a last-minute series finale after the WB pulled the plug on Buffy the Vampire Slayer just in time for its 100th episode, “The Gift” isn’t just one of Buffy‘s best finales, it’s also one of its finest episodes.

As Dawn is taken away to be sacrificed in Glory’s ritual, Buffy and co. face their greatest challenge yet. As hope begins to seem fleeting, the scoobies come up with a last-ditch plan, using all of the tricks in their playbook in order to beat Glory down and scale her tower.

Unfortunately, by the time Buffy arrives, the ritual has already started, forcing Buffy to make a terrible choice. Suddenly all of the clues given throughout the fifth season come together (“it’s always the blood, blood is life”/”death is your gift”) and Buffy offers Dawn some final, touching words of encouragement before hurling herself valiantly from the tower and giving her life in order to close the portal.

As her friends gather around her body in heartbroken disbelief, we see her grave, marked with the entirely appropriate phrase: “She saved the world… a lot.”

Finally, extra points must be given for the best Giles moment in the entire series, when Ripper shows his dark side once again, smothering Ben in cold blood after Buffy spares his life. “She’s not like us.” An amazingly dark, and undeniably awesome turn for Giles.

2) “Chosen”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
While season seven of Buffy The Vampire Slayer definitely has its detractors, most can still agree that the final episode of season seven, and of the series, sends the scoobies out in fine style.

As Buffy and the potential slayers prepare to go to war against the demon hordes of The First, the stakes have never been higher than in “Chosen.” However, when Angel arrives with a last-minute pick-me-up, and Willow finds in herself the power to change the world, it finally looks like team slayer might have a fighting chance.

“Chosen” is filled with brilliant moments, from the last minute Dungeons and Dragons session, to Buffy’s cleaving domination of Caleb. The last walk that Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles take as the original scoobies, heading into the final battle is light and fluffy but filled with heart just the same. Buffy’s heartfelt speech about every girl in the world being a slayer is not only tear-inducingly powerful but also a gorgeous love letter to the fans and what Buffy has meant to so many people.

Finally, the epic battle in the hell mouth is Buffy’s biggest and best set piece ever. It genuinely feels, right until the moment that Spike’s necklace begins glowing, like this could be the end for every last one of our heroes. Further, many characters do die, including several of the potential slayers, as well as Anya and Spike. The gut punch of Spike’s death, and Buffy finally deciding she’s ready to live in the world again is affirming, and the episode’s closing moments, where Buffy is finally free to live as she pleases, make a beautiful send-off for her.

All in all, “Chosen” is a brilliant series finale, and would be the absolute stand-out of the series, if it weren’t for a certain stellar season five episode.

1) “The Body”

Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Inspired by the Joss Whedon’s real-life experience of losing a parent, the absolutely jaw-dropping quality of an episode of television like “The Body” cannot be overstated.

As Buffy arrives home from an otherwise normal day, she discovers her mother’s lifeless corpse, already cold, lying on the couch. As she flies into a tearful panic, the abject anxiety of what is occurring sinks in immediately. From this moment on, “The Body” is a total tour-de-force of emotional turmoil and the unmistakable pain of loss.

While the scoobies rally around their friend in her time of need, no one really knows how to handle a threat of death that isn’t supernatural in nature. Willow frets over her clothes, Anya struggles to understand mortality, Xander punches a hole in the wall, and Dawn reverts to a shattered state of being.

Making the drama even more palpable, the camera pans off occasionally to remind us how the world continues to revolve around us, unflinching and uncaring, even during a time when we feel it must stop. Parking tickets are still being given, lawnmowers are still going, and the gentle breeze of a summer day still rustles our hair.

It is this painstaking attention to detail that makes the grief and sorrow of “The Body” work so insanely well. Because Joss Whedon had experienced a similar event, the nuance and panic of it all never rings hollow. On the contrary, the cruel silence and lack of easy platitudes force viewers to join in this painful process with these characters in a way that feels almost too real.

An utterly perfect episode of television, “The Body’ is unquestionably the highest quality episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the beating heart of this series.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Marty Allen

    March 10, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Great list, we definitely see eye-to-eye on a lot of Buffy! In particular the #1 episode, which is to my mind one of the finest episodes of television ever created. Bold #2! I love seeing ‘The Zeppo’ in there, that great ep does not get enough love. A few other favorites of mine are ‘Restless,’ ‘Normal Again,’ and ‘Superstar.’ Seriously, how can we get a Goomba podcast together where we talk about Buffy? I’d do it in a heartbeat. Here’s my article from the 20th (before I wrote for Goomba): https://medium.com/@martyallen/buffys-best-big-bad-by-season-59c2c708cb9

    • Mike Worby

      March 11, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      I’m glad to be one of many Buffy fanatics on Goomba Stomp. I had to leave some great episodes on the sideline even with 22 to go from. I’d love to do a podcast on Buffy, if that’s somehow possible. We’d probably have to check in with a few folks first though.

  2. Wayne Chapman

    July 26, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    I’m a huge fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and anyone who knows me can tell you it’s my favorite show. (I suppose I would put “Angel” at 1.5 on my list since it shares the same universe as “Buffy.”) I generally cite “Once More, With Feeling” and “Doppelgangland” as my co-favorites. The musical episode was destined to be so before it even aired, but I was disappointed that Willow, my favorite character, was the only character without a showcase number. (Seriously, couldn’t Joss have had someone serve as a voice double for Alyson Hannigan?!) I actually wrote a song for Willow just a few days after that episode aired, and it was one of my proudest moments as a fan. “Doppelgangland” was a no-brainer for me since it offered twice the Willow and left us with the obvious hint that Willow was gay or bi. (By the end of the third season, I was hoping she’d hook up with bad girl Faith. I was cool with Tara though.) A few other episodes that are personal favorites include “Restless” and “Who Are You?” The two that really unnerved me were “The Body” (I’m still having to face the inevitable death of my parents) and “Normal Again” (which played on my fears of questioning my sanity), so they’re both standouts for me. Could go on and on about the show, but that’s it for now.

    • Mike Worby

      July 27, 2019 at 10:08 am

      Thanks for commenting Wayne. There are so many stand-out episodes of Buffy that it was a legitimate challenge to nail down only 22 for this list. I really love Normal Again, as the ending leaves it up for debate as to which reality is correct, and whether we truly got a happy ending. It’s a daring, chilling trick that The X Files pulled on several occasions, and one of the reasons that show endured for so long as well.

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Games

Ranking the Super Mario Bros. Series

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What is the best Super Mario game?

Following the release of Super Mario Maker 2, it’s time to rank the Super Mario Bros. series!

Not too long ago we gave you our ranking of the Legend of Zelda series and now we have decided to see how each entry in the Super Mario series stacks up when pitted against each other. After a lengthy voting process and a complicated point-tallying system, we here at Goomba Stomp have finally come up with a ranking of our favorite Super Mario games. These are not in the order of best to worst but instead, they are the ones we love from least to most! Without further explanation, here is the list of our favorite Super Mario Games!

For our list, we have these criteria:

The game must officially be a part of the Super Mario series and we are not including any remakes, remasters or package deals such as Super Mario All-Stars that include several games in the franchise.

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

22. Super Mario Run

While it’s probably fairly obvious that Super Mario Run is destined to wind up last on nearly every Mario list from now until eternity, this momentum-based mobile title is actually quite fun while it lasts — which can be surprisingly long, depending on how much you like its one-touch gameplay. Though pulling off the plumber’s simple jumps may not be quite as thrilling here as in the more expressive console versions, that familiar feeling of precision and timing is still present, even if distilled a bit throughout the twenty-four Tour levels. Some clever design leads to plenty of satisfying moments, especially when chasing the various colored coins, which can unlock three ultra-hard bonus levels.

Those deviously placed challenges are definitely the highlight of Super Mario Run, but there are still plenty of other diversions that offer meaningful rewards. Toad Rally sees players racing against a ‘ghost’ version of another player’s stage run, and requires not only deft knowledge of the quickest route, but also a stylish performance that includes moves rolls, wall jumps, and consecutive enemy stomps. The extra characters unlocked by gaining toad allies add new gameplay quirks that are fun to play around with, and may help with some of those tougher coins. And hey, it’s a mobile title, so why not include a kingdom builder of sorts? Spend those gold coins on a new Toad hut or golden Bowser Statue, play even-more-mini games, and generally just smile at the Mario goodness.

Is Super Mario Run a classic? No, but those who have some time on their hands might find themselves sinking more into this bite-sized title than they ever thought they would. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

21. Super Mario Land

A launch title for the original DMG Game Boy, Super Mario Land is best described as a quirky, short, and forgotten title that moves Mario in directions that are never revisited in the series. Developed without input from franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the sidescroller takes many risks that both pay off and fail spectacularly, introducing new enemies, Princess Daisy, some Gradius-style shooter levels, an evil alien as the main boss, and much more.

Taking place in Sarasaland, Mario must rescue the new princess from the clutches of the evil spaceman Tatanga. Through land, water, and the sky, Mario moves between obscure Easter island levels, a submarine mission, a moderately uncomfortable Chinese stereotype level, and an airplane fight, eventually facing off against a UFO to save the princess and blast off into outer space.

Love it or hate it, this strange game deserves a place in franchise and console history, branching out in new directions to change the way that players look at the Nintendo mascot. With familiar gameplay and oddball elements, Super Mario Land at times feels like the best bootleg Mario title on the market, borrowing from other gaming trends of the time for a unique experience that honestly makes one wonder how the company viewed where the plucky plumber was headed. An incredibly short game, the title can be completed in a 30 or 40-minute sitting, but that does not mean that it isn’t worth picking up. Aided by outstanding level design and one of the best soundtracks of any Game Boy title, the game begs for repeated playthroughs while always offering a nostalgic 8bit experience. (Ty Davidson)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

20. Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (1986)

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan) gets a bad wrap outside its original market. The game was a true sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., and naturally unable to live up to the impact of its predecessor. When the game was shown to Nintendo of America’s Howard Philips, he declared it too hard for release in North America, later saying that “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.”

Philips was probably right to hold off on the release of The Lost Levels, but he is incorrect about the game not being fun. It’s a delight to play and master, truthfully not much more difficult than the original Mega Man games. While Super Mario Bros. 3 rightfully gets credit for evolving the Mario franchise, The Lost Levels was the first Mario game to require exploration. Finding hidden boxes makes the seemingly impossible jumps doable, and after beating the main game, several bonus worlds unlock. The difference between Mario and Luigi’s jumping and weight began here as well.

It’s unfair that countless deaths and poison mushrooms take the headlines when talking about Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. It’s a fantastic platformer that anyone who enjoys the challenge of Odyssey‘s “The Darker Side of the Moon” is sure to love. Truthfully, if I had to play one Mario game for the rest of my life, Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, I’d choose Lost Levels. (Tyler Kelbaugh)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

19. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

There are several design changes that make Super Mario Bros. 2 so different from its predecessor, starting with the pick-up-and-throw gameplay. The second difference is the elimination of the timer; this means players are no longer racing to the end, and therefore have plenty of time to fully explore each and every level. In addition, players can travel backward in a level if needed. However, the biggest change and improvement in this sequel is that Super Mario 2 opens up vertical gameplay. Whether it’s jumping onto platform after platform or climbing vines and ladders, Super Mario Bros. 2 encourages players to move vertically just as often as they scroll to the side. Usually, when making sequels, game designers don’t like to make too many big changes, but with Super Mario 2 the gameplay was completely different, and the setting and enemies were totally unfamiliar. In fact, the game doesn’t even take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, and there are neither Goombas nor Hammer Brothers anywhere in sight. Shy Guys and Bob-ombs are the most notable common enemies, and Birdo is the recurring foe this time around. Super Mario Bros. 2 was also the first Mario game to allow players to choose from multiple characters (Mario, his brother Luigi, the mushroom sidekick Toad, or Princess Peach), each with their own unique abilities.

There’s a good reason why Super Mario Bros. 2 is so different from all the other games in the series: originally, it was not intended to be a Mario game at all. What became Super Mario Bros. 2 started out as a prototype for a vertically scrolling, two-player cooperative action game called Yume K?j?: Doki Doki Panic, a Family Computer Disk System game meant to tie-in with Fuji Television’s media technology expo, called Yume K?j?. The real sequel to Super Mario Bros. (The Lost Levels) is actually quite similar to the first game, only more difficult to beat. All that aside, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a solid side-scrolling platformer that experimented in many new and daring ways — and thankfully for Nintendo, those risks paid off in spades. Super Mario Bros. 2 sold ten million copies and was the third highest-selling game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System at that time. Nintendo Power listed Super Mario Bros. 2 as the eighth-best NES video game, mentioning that regardless of not being originally released as a Mario game, it was able to stand on its own merits and is a unique take on the series’ trademark format. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

18. Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins (1992)

Does the introduction of Mario’s crude, demented nemesis need any more reason to be on this list? Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins gave Nintendo fans their first sour taste of the crookedly-mustached Wario, something for which we shall always be thankful, but it also succeeds magnificently at standing out among the franchise’s platforming greatness. Though a straight-up sequel, this Game Boy classic takes more inspiration from Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World, with the more familiar cartoonish visuals, the ability to move both left and right, an overworld, and multiple paths to and through each level. The look and feel is so stark from its predecessor that it’s hard to relate the two, but a semblance of plot involves Wario having usurped Mario’s throne (?) while Sarasaland was being saved, brainwashing the loyal subjects of the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero in the process.

This bit of wackiness is only the start. For whatever reason, it seems like Nintendo’s development teams felt freed up by the Game Boy, reserving some of their strangest ideas for the portable versions of their popular series. Like with Link’s Awakening, the people working on Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins must have been a little loopy, somehow cool with devising a powerup that sees Mario grow a pair of rabbit ears that flap like wings, allowing for slower descents. There’s also an entire zone that takes place inside pumpkin, as well as another with a boss level that occurs inside a sleeping whale, which is in turn located inside a giant turtle. It doesn’t get less bizarre. These sorts of left-field oddities, along with an abundance of nice touches showcasing incredible attention to detail, make the world extremely entertaining, all the way to that fight against Mario’s greasy, greedy foe. In a franchise known for its outlandish creativity, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins holds its own — more than just an ugly face. (Patrick Murphy)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

17. New Super Mario Bros. Wii

In a shocking turn of events, a princess is kidnapped by a bunch of adolescent reptiles, spurring her blue-collar boo to run from left to right a bunch of times in order to knock the reptiles’ father/uncle into lava. As the tenth installment in the long-running Super Mario Bros. series, New Super Mario Bros. Wii isn’t very new at all. Indeed, it’s easy to look back at it now as “just another Mario game,” and part of the subpar “New” subseries at that. But at the time, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the plumber’s grand return to home consoles — the first of its kind in nearly twenty years.

Though it might lack the genius of its legendary predecessors, the game was, by and large, a success. It was generally well-received by critics and went on to sell over 30 million units to become the fourth highest-selling Wii game. Even if longtime fans might have felt the game catered too heavily toward the Wii’s casual audience in its difficulty and blasé art style, it was more classic Mario platforming, with the intuitive controls and mechanics that make its gameplay so accessible, deep, and universally beloved.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii also introduced four-player simultaneous cooperative play and a Super Guide video showing how to beat a level, both of which have become series staples and make the game approachable for a wider audience. It also premiered the penguin and propeller power-ups, and brought back the fan-favorite Koopalings. Though it might not stand out from its New Super Mario Bros. series brethren, it remains a strong outing, and among the best 2D platformers on Nintendo’s highest-selling home console. (Kyle Rentschler)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

16. New Super Mario Bros. U

Released as a launch title for the Wii U in late 2012, New Super Mario Bros. U seemed destined to disappoint gamers eagerly awaiting a third entry in the Super Mario Galaxy series. As the fourth New Super Mario Bros. game in six years, and with the least amount of new content, New Super Mario Bros. U has faced an uphill battle to gain the recognition that it rightfully deserves. Shunned by the public and decried by gamers as Nintendo simply cashing in on existing assets, New Super Mario Bros. U is well worth the time and energy it takes to recognize its greatness.

While it may lack originality, New Super Mario Bros. U more than makes up for it by executing what is perhaps Mario’s most tightly constructed 2D platforming adventure yet. Balancing expertly the scales of difficulty and accessibility, the game manages to appeal to newcomers and veterans alike, and the Star Coin challenges are some of the finest in the New Super Mario Bros. series. That, coupled with a truly beautiful HD and sixty fps presentation, cement this as not only the best traditional New Super Mario Bros. game, but also one of the Wii U’s best outings. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

15. New Super Mario Bros. DS

Nobody does a throwback quite like Nintendo and New Super Mario Bros. is no exception. This game is packed with all of the lovely Mario-isms that properly filled any happy childhood, but with a little more graphical panache. It also adds two great new power-ups to the fold in the Mega Mushroom (which appropriately enough makes Mario into a massive, screen-shaking, Goomba-crushing colossus), and the Mini Mushroom (which has the opposite effect of shrinking Mario into a pint-sized plumber). New Super Mario Bros. also gets bonus points for having one of the coolest Bowser encounters ever during the finale. All of the addictive platforming action that made the NES and SNES iterations so memorable returns in a game that reminds you that sometimes the best way to move forward is by going back. (Mike Worby)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

13. Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker 2 is one the most robust titles in the Mario franchise, putting the Miyamoto magic in the hands of gamers to allow for endless hours of imagination, creativity, and fun. It’s a special title that somehow distills the joy of the Mario franchise into a bite-size package, allowing players to experience and enjoy 2d Mario action as though it was the very first time. Although many feared the title would be a simple soft reboot of its Wii U predecessor, the title greatly advanced on literally every feature included in the original Mario Maker, adding plenty of new design features, a fully fleshed out story mode, and outrageous multiplayer action.

Similar to its past release, Super Mario Maker 2 is designed with a simple but ambitious goal in mind: to give Mario power to the players and let them unleash their inner video game guru. To achieve the end, the title utilizes an incredibly intuitive grid layout where players can drag and drop landscape features, enemies, and more to build the level of their dreams. Once completed, these levels are uploaded to the Mario Maker 2 server to challenge gamers around the world. These levels are accessed through an incredibly intuitive course world with greatly improved filtering features, allowing players to find their perfect world in seconds based on a variety of criteria.

While the original Mario Maker was a fun experience, it’s the advancements that really make Super Mario Maker 2 something special. The new story mode is treated as a course design class, showing players how to incorporate game elements to build wacky and enjoyable worlds. These levels feel like a bit like they belong in NES Remix, boldly breaking some of the golden rules of Mario by being too weird and goofy for mainstream titles. In a franchise first, the title also adds coop and versus modes. When these modes are functioning well, they really shine; however, these additions are usually a beautiful and chaotic mess and make for a wild and laggy experience. Despite its faults, versus and coop are still wildly addictive and will bring many players back for more.

In the Nintendo library, Super Mario Maker 2 is so special because of just the sheer amount of worthwhile content that it offers, as there are legitimately too many great levels to play. For fans of the Mario 2d formula, Super Mario Maker 2 is a must-play title that offers thousands of hours of replayability, making it one of the best values in the Nintendo library. For fans that want to place themselves in Miyamoto’s shoes or want just want some classic side-scrolling action, Super Mario Maker 2 is the place to be.

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

12. Super Mario Maker

As the name might suggest, Super Mario Maker allows players to make their own Super Mario Bros. levels — specifically, levels that fit within the aesthetics of four games in the series: Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario Worldand New Super Mario Bros. U. Creating levels can be a daunting task, but what helps Super Mario Maker stand apart from other games like LittleBigPlanet is how easy it really is. Super Mario Maker keeps things simple by removing complicated elements like logic programming, and features an incredibly accessible level construction kit that anyone can easily enjoy.

The well-designed interface makes learning easy, and once you are finished, you can share your creations online with a passionate community of fans from around the world. And that is what makes Super Mario Maker so great — the play hub, where you can simply enjoy Mario Maker levels made by other people. With such an active and passionate community, Super Mario Maker provided Wii U owners with countless hours of gaming. Whether creating, exploring, watching others play and create, or just playing other people’s levels, Mario Maker provided us with an exceptional experience, all while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

11. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a bit of a strange twin in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Both followed widely acclaimed and genre-defining games, and somehow both chose to do somewhat similar yet insanely different things with their respective sequels. In the case of Yoshi’s Island, it was casting Yoshi as the hero, rather than Mario, and relegating the latter to a screeching infantile annoyance instead of the protagonist. Baby Mario’s recurring cry is probably the number one reason not to enjoy this game, but luckily there is a host of new ideas that more than make up for it. For one thing, Yoshi plays dramatically differently from Mario, and the fact that he is constantly hampered by having to keep everyone’s favorite plumber safe gives the game a puzzle-lite element that no one saw coming. The gorgeous animation and trademark level design only further raise SMW2‘s status as an instant cult classic, and another great example of how going a different direction for a sequel, rather than retreading the original, can work wonders in the long run. (Mike Worby)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

10. Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land represents the first 3DS title to make full use of the system’s array of capabilities. With an expertly balanced difficulty progression, dazzling level design, and masterful Power-Ups, this is the ideal 3DS experience. As an experience, Super Mario 3DLandgets deeper the longer you play, as you sink into its particular groove and learn to appreciate it as a unique title — one that is separate from yet beautifully derivative of the entire Mario franchise. As a whole, 3D Land is brilliant and addictive, and does for 3D-enhanced platforming what the original Super Mario Bros. did for 2D platforming. (Katrina Lind)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

9. Super Mario Sunshine

The year was 2001, and Nintendo had just released its lovable purple lunchbox, the Nintendo GameCube. While the innovative Luigi’s Mansion had just come out, the console lacked what it truly needed: a 3D Super Mario game. Super Mario Sunshine provided just that, sending Mario on a vacation that he would not soon forget. Sunshine is a tough, but rewarding game (my 8-year-old self-found it positively infuriating) that still holds up well today, despite being the weakest of the 3D Super Mario games. Mario’s jetpack/water gun, named F.L.U.D.D., is an incredibly interesting addition, augmenting Mario’s move set in a way unheard of until Super Mario Odyssey, and paving the way for a great experience. While the story is horrendous (even for a Mario platformer) and a 30fps framerate cap looks really strange in a Mario title, Super Mario Sunshine is still a good game that has, for the most part, stood the test of time.  (Izak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

8. Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World had a lot to live up to at its launch. The previous three 3D Mario titles on N64, GameCube, and Wii had all cleverly innovated on (or in Super Mario 64’s case, even invented) the traditional 3D platformer. As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D World wasn’t the 3D Mario game that gamers expected, but it proved subtly brilliant, providing the Wii U with one of its finest titles in the process.

From the adorable Super Bell, which transforms Mario and Co. into lovable catsuit-wearing adventurers, to the story-book plot involving Bowser kidnapping the Sprixies, every aspect of Super Mario 3D World feels cozy. Expertly designed landscapes beautifully rendered in high definition complement the charm evident from the game’s inception. Such beautiful design, combined with a spectacular jazz-inspired score and excellent controls, cement what is one of the best 3D Mario games to date. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

7. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is arguably the most important Super Mario game since Super Mario 64 launched on the N64. I personally may not like it more than the incredible 3D World released on the Wii U, but Odyssey is guaranteed to help Nintendo sell even more Switch consoles while simultaneously reinventing the series for a whole new generation.

What makes Odyssey special is that it isn’t so much a sandbox game as it is a toy box. When it came to creating Odyssey, instead of making a vast open world, the creators decided to make the levels in Odyssey smaller but packed them with as many characters, puzzles, hidden secrets, call-backs and various obstacles for you to discover. The whole game is basically structured like a giant playground and the more time you spend messing around, the more likely you’ll be rewarded for it. Not since Super Mario 64 has a Mario platformer placed such a heavy emphasis on exploration, and boy is it ever fun running around these breathtakingly gorgeous, intricately designed levels that are oozing with style. Odyssey encourages players to explore every nook and cranny, and it helps that Mario now has Cappy to use as a standard throw attack. That possession power embodied by Mario’s new sidekick is what makes Odyssey stand out from every other entry in the series. It’s a brilliant idea that allows for dozens of additional playable characters, all with different powers, abilities, and ways of getting around. Mario has always worn many hats but in this game, he’s anything and everything he wants to be.

For every new idea Odyssey throws at you, this is also a game filled with nostalgia and it’s worth noting just how many amazing references there are, both big and small, to the series’ past. You’ll encounter familiar characters, challenges, music cues and more from past games, and there are even moments when Mario transforms back into his 8-bit self! These 2D segments where Mario enters a warp pipe and is transported to a world that precisely recreates the 8-bit Super Mario Bros’ mechanics and visual style may be the game’s biggest surprise and sometimes, it offers the hardest challenges. And for those of you who have finished the game, I’m sure you’ll agree that the New Donk City music festival, which recreates the stages from the original Donkey Kong, might be the biggest gaming highlight of that year.

The finale is a brilliantly executed sequence as well, letting Mario hop inside Bowser’s mind and body and rampage through a dying moon. That particular turn of events feels poetic and an ingenious way to celebrate one of the longest-running franchises in gaming. It’s also a testament to the sheer creativity underlying Odyssey that, even after watching the credits roll, there’s so much left to discover. They say it’s all about the journey and not about the ending, but with Odyssey, the journey continues on. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

6. Super Mario Galaxy 2

Few sequels can quite capture the brilliance of their predecessors. Many thought that Nintendo had caught lightning in a bottle when they released the original Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, but 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 set a new bar of excellence for the plumber’s adventures. By incorporating classic elements such as Yoshi, and by creatively imagining new elements such as the Cloud Flower, Nintendo breathed life into the Galaxy series while also maintaining the quality present in the original.

In many ways, Super Mario Galaxy 2 surpasses the original Galaxy. The levels are more creative, the power-ups are more interesting, and the introduction of Yoshi adds creative flair to the level design. The music is equally stunning, matched only by the original Galaxy in its brilliance. Mahito Yokota, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Koji Kondo’s soundtrack embodies the wonder and thrill of space while excellently incorporating classic Super Mariothemes.

While some may call it nothing more than DLC for the original, Super Mario Galaxy 2 improves on the first game dramatically while also adding enough inventive, fresh content to make this game the definitive Galaxy experience. (Izsak Barnette)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

5. Super Mario Bros. (1985)

It’s hard to imagine a video game industry today without Super Mario Bros. Here’s the title that single-handedly revitalized the gaming industry and solidified Nintendo as the King of the video game market. While the vast majority of early video games at the time were largely designed by the programmers coding them, Super Mario Bros. was instead made by Shigeru Miyamoto, an artist first and foremost, who graduated with a degree in industrial design. As with Donkey Kong, character mattered most. Players would control Mario, accompanying him on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom on his quest to rescue Princess Peach from the vicious Bowser, King of the Koopas. It quickly became synonymous with the Nintendo Entertainment System and helped the NES become the top-selling console of its time. The video game crash of 1983 was officially over, and the famous brick-busting duo became household names.

Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic video games ever conceived due to the sprawling level design, clever enemy placement, hidden secrets, optional sub-routes, superb physics, legendary soundtrack, and gorgeous sprite-work. Without it, the video game industry wouldn’t be the same. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)

Super Mario Bros. 3 was critically acclaimed, and with reason — there is not a fault to be found anywhere in the game. For the time, it was beyond anything you could ever dream. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterpiece, a perfect video game with eight worlds and 70-plus ingenious levels of side-scrolling awesomeness. One world is packed with giant renditions of every character, others feature underwater adventures, and some take you through spooky castles and dungeons. As you move ahead, you’ll discover that each level contains optional paths leading to shortcuts and extra lives hidden away. The best things are the power-ups and various suits you can use inside the levels. Mario can now slide down hills, knocking down enemies who get in his way, and the powerups from the original game also make an appearance.

Also new to the series are mini-games and an overhead map screen to track progress and collectible warp whistles (much like the one Link used in Zelda II) that teleport you to later worlds in the game. In addition, there is the music box that puts enemies on the map to sleep, as well as the anchor to stop the Koopaling’s airship from flying off around the map so that you don’t have to chase it. Juergen’s Cloud allows you to skip a level, and Kuribo’s shoe, easily one of the most beloved power-ups in Mario history, can be found in only one level! The familiar Mario sound effects are present and accounted for, along with a batch of new musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo, and dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos, and Chain Chomps make their very first appearance in the Nintendo universe. Super Mario Bros 3 is often considered to be the best video game of the 8-bit generation. In my opinion, it is, and it is also the best game in the Super Mario series. It’s a timeless masterpiece, full of innovation and surprises, one that will forever stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

3. Super Mario World (1991)

If you were one of those kids in the early ’90s who was lucky enough to wake up to a Super Nintendo under your Christmas tree, then you know all about Super Mario World. This was the game that was flashing all over your TV commercials in between episodes of Darkwing Duck and The Ren & Stimpy Show. Bright colors! Loud noises! Holy crap, is that plumber riding a dinosaur!?!

Yes, unsurprisingly, Super Mario World was a pretty big deal back in 1991. What is surprising, however, is just how big of a deal this game still is today. Over 25 years later, you can still pop in your SMW cartridge and have a blast. That’s the kind of staying power that cannot be overstated. You can really just break it down to some utterly impeccable game design. The way Mario moves and the timing of the jumps in Super Mario World creates a perfect balance of a rising challenge that meets the player’s growing repertoire of skills again and again as the game progresses. The introduction of elements like ghost houses (with multiple exits), a map that grew and expanded all the time, and of course everyone’s favorite over-eating dinosaur, made Super Mario World truly feel different than everything which had come before it.

Looking back, even all of these years later, it’s no stretch to say that this is maybe the best game in the entire series. Not only that, but you’ll get no argument if you bring Super Mario World up in a conversation about the best games of all time. (Mike Worby

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

2. Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy is not only the best title on the Nintendo Wii, but it is also the single greatest example of what the entertainment medium of gaming has to offer. It is the definition of a masterpiece: unprecedented level design, an endless stream of imaginative and creative ideas, and (most importantly) a rock-solid gameplay system that stands head and shoulders above every other 3D title, period. Galaxy is the culmination of everything Nintendo EAD Tokyo has learned from years of game development. The awe-inspiring orchestral soundtrack and second-to-none visuals create an experience that simply does not age. All of this is backed by a staggering amount of content in the form of collectible stars that are represented as completely unique challenges. Nintendo has once again succeeded in highlighting the best of what games have to offer. There is no over-reliance on narrative, no over-complicated gimmick that tries too hard to be unique; it is the quintessential gameplay experience, perfected. (Zack Rezak)

Ranking Super Mario Bros Series

1. Super Mario 64

Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and features relatively large areas that are composed primarily of true 3D polygons, as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre, and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different, and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.

There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles, and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat, and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined, and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time, but the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)

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The Best Games of the 2010s

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The 2010s have spoiled us with an abundance of amazing games released year after year, and with the decade quickly drawing to a close, some would argue it is the best decade for video games yet. The overwhelming choice of AAA titles, MMOs, indies and even mobile games is simply overwhelming. In no other decade have we had so much variety and so much to choose from making it extremely hard to pinpoint what our favourites are. Truth be told, many of us still have some catching up to do. Not everyone has played every game nominated below, and how could we considering some of these games require hundreds of hours of our time to complete? Thankfully we have enough writers on staff to be able to cover it all, and as expected, none of us seem to agree on every winner. It wasn’t easy to narrow down the choices but at last, here are the best games released in the 2010s.

****

2010) Mass Effect 2

The Best Games of the 2010s

Bioware’s Mass Effect announced itself as different kind of game. The natural evolution of games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect offered gamers a whole universe of possibilities. Depending on their choices, their protagonist could be a cocksure rogue or an unrepentant optimist, a cold pragmatist or a warm confidante. Regardless of your choices though, what Mass Effect really offered was the chance to enter a world and experience it in your own individual manner.

Mass Effect 2 doubled down on this prospect in a way that was almost inconceivable. Giving players a bigger galaxy to explore, more characters to journey through it with, and more refined gameplay with which to devour it, Mass Effect 2 arrived as the sequel that fans never even dreamed was possible. A game with so many different possibilities for outcomes that there was an ending designed as if the player had died in his quest, there was literally no wrong way to play Mass Effect 2.

While the sequel ended up having to pull back on these ambitions, Mass Effect 2 still remains a game that made players believe that literally anything was possible, and for that reason alone, it remains a one of a kind, unforgettable experience. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Super Meat Boy

2011) Dark Souls

The Best Games of the 2010s

Like Mass Effect 2Dark Souls is less an original prospect in and of itself, and more the perfectly refined version of a very good idea. Hidetaka Miyazaki may have hit upon a gold rush with his experimental action-RPG Demon’s Souls, but it was Dark Souls that really hit paydirt. Transporting the hybrid single-player/multiplayer experience into an ever-growing open world that devoured itself like an ouroborosDark Souls didn’t just perfect the experience that its predecessor had plotted out, it laid the groundwork for an entire genre.

Players still relentlessly speed run, troll, experiment with and redefine what Dark Souls is, and what it means to them, nearly a decade after its initial release. Check Twitch or YouTube on any given day, and you’re likely to find dozens of gamers re-exploring the world of Lordran, and seeing what it might offer them in this reincarnation of its virtues and faults, concepts and confines. Such is the result of a game so endlessly replayable that it doesn’t even ask before plonking you back at the beginning after those end credits. After all, why not spend a little more time in this world? (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: Batman: Arkham City, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft, Portal 2, Rayman Origins

2012) Xenoblade Chronicles

The Best Games of the 2010s

It’s hard to find a game as niche as Xenoblade Chronicles. A JRPG, published in North America two years after its initial 2010 release on the already-sunsetting Wii, it seemed an unlikely prospect for success. After all, the Wii was perhaps Nintendo’s most family-friendly console, a system designed around casual audiences and motion controls; its successor, the Wii U, was just around the corner. It made little sense to release a JRPG, of all things, when the system was on its last legs.

Despite launching at the tail end of one generation and the beginning of the other,  Xenoblade Chronicles delivered one of the best JRPG experiences in decades. Xenoblade creator Tetsuya Takahashi, with a checkered history of ambitious games that failed to fully deliver on their promises, finally perfected his craft.  A gripping narrative, a spectacular score, and an innovative focus on blending the best of both Western and Japanese RPGs made Xenoblade Chronicles a stunning achievement and the best JRPG to ever come from Nintendo.

Seven years, and two critically praised sequels, later, and Takahashi has yet to recapture the magic in the original Xenoblade and rekindle the pure, unadulterated sense of exploration and adventure that made it such an enjoyable experience, a testament to how unique and incredible this JRPG truly is. (Iszak Barnette)

Runners-Up: Diablo III, Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Journey, The Walking Dead

2013) The Last of Us

The Best Games of the 2010s

With The Last of Us, the cinematic-loving geniuses at Naughty Dog proved themselves once again as one of the most accomplished development teams in the world. The confident and handsome survival thriller was instantly hailed as the new bar for what gaming could and should be moving forward. The Last of Us is Hollywood stuff, of course, and it borrows from dozens of carefully chosen inspirations, among them George A. Romero’s original Dead trilogy, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the game’s cynical portrayal of survivors turning on each other is a very familiar premise – The Last of Us is also the rare video game that follows a traditional storyline and then improves upon it. Set twenty years after a pandemic radically transformed civilization – The Last of Us follows Joel, a salty survivor, who is hired to smuggle a fourteen-year-old girl, Ellie, out of a rough military quarantine. What begins as a straightforward, albeit risky job, quickly turns into a highly emotional, palm-sweating journey that you won’t ever forget.

The Last of Us mixes traditional adventure, survival, action, stealth, and constant exploration. Amidst the action, the horror and the many layers of modern mythology at work here (all quintessentially American), the game succeeds simply as a parable of what it means to live versus surviving. By the time you get to the last act, you understand why The Last of Us is the stuff of legends. The ending is simply amazing and not because it ends with a bang, but instead, because it ends with a simple line of dialogue. It’s intense and, yes, depressing – and it earns every minute of it.

Exhausting to play but oddly exhilarating to experience, The Last of Us works its way under our skin to unnerve, reside and haunt us. From the rich, complex combat system to the sublime sound design, this game immerses the player from start to finish. The Last of Us proves how far the craftsmanship of making video games has come from the outstanding engineering and art and sound design to the fine direction and performances, and the touching relationship of the two leads. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Last of Us is our favourite game of 2013 because it works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastic cautionary tale, a coming of age story, and a sophisticated drama about the best and worst qualities of humanity. There’s something for everyone here to appreciate! (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, DOTA 2, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V

2014) Mario Kart 8

The Best Games of the 2010s

Nintendo was so confident about Mario Kart 8 that they implied it could turn the tides of both sales and public consciousness on the Wii U. Of course, Mario Kart 8 didn’t end up doing that, but it did handily exceed the expectations of its legion of naysayers, such as the infamous Polygon pie charts. Five years later and it has not only gone down in the record books as the highest-selling game on that fateful console, but is also the highest-selling game on Nintendo’s renaissance console, the Switch.

While the appeal of Mario Kart remains perennial, Mario Kart 8 is an especially special Mario Kart. Its controls are the most fluid and refined, its visuals the most lush and detailed, and its courses the most vibrant and fully-realized. Moreover, its breakneck 200cc mode, wealth of fantastic DLC courses, and Deluxe-specific battle mode have given Mario Kart 8 incredible replay value, depth, and variety despite lacking an adventure mode. At launch, Mario Kart 8 was the peak of the series, the best modern kart racer, and a game of the year contender. Now, with tons of extra content, over thirty million copies sold, and the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 may become known as the greatest and most popular racing game of all time, kart or otherwise. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Bayonetta 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Hearthstone, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts: The Great War 

2015) Bloodborne

The Best Games of the 2010s

FromSoftware pioneered a new genre and difficulty standard with their Souls series, but Bloodborne’s their magnum opus. The sordid streets of Yharnam teem with monsters, and hacking through the bloody lot of them is a visceral (and challenging) delight.

I made it through Bloodborne with minimal trouble, felling most bosses in two or three tries. But the last boss, the dude whose name starts with G (no spoilers), kicked my ass to the moon and back. I fought him for a whole weekend, dying upwards of fifty times. I thought I couldn’t do it, that I’d have to throw in the towel, for this was a mountain I couldn’t scale. But then something unexpected happened: I won! I flawlessly dodged his attacks, steadily chipping away at his lofty life bar until he kicked the bucket. The sensation of elation I experienced upon victory was a high that lasted for hours, and that’s when it clicked for me “This is why there’s no easy mode”. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Life is Strange, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Rocket League, Undertale, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

2016) Persona 5

The Best Games of the 2010s

When it comes to JRPGs, there’s no shortage of turn-based level grind-y time sinkers on offer, but Persona 5 is something different. It’s both unabashedly inspired by its genre brethren, yet wholly unique. Where countless JRPG stories crumble under the weight of “That’s flippin’ nonsense”, Persona 5 serves up a rewarding narrative driven by a wildly loveable band of misfits. Its relationship-building mechanics (that inspired Fire Emblem: Three Houses) are addictive, and its user interface is award-worthy. Every facet of this genre masterpiece is meticulously honed to perfection, and its bigger and better iteration (Persona 5 Royal) can’t come soon enough. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Inside, Overwatch, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Best Games of the 2010s

What’s perhaps most remarkable about Breath of the Wild is just how familiar yet simultaneously refreshing it feels. Breath of the Wild may be the biggest Zelda game to date, but it still feels like a Zelda adventure — in spirit, story, tone and in gameplay. You play as the young courageous Link, the hero of Hyrule, who awakens from a cryogenic sleep chamber inside of a small cave and teams up with the eponymous princess (so to speak) and sets out on an adventure to destroy the horrible fanged, boar-faced Calamity Ganon, a megalomaniac holding Princess Zelda hostage and bent on destroying Hyrule. The narrative setup is more or less standard for a Zelda game, but Breath of the Wild has something that was missing from the series for far too long — perhaps since the original title was released back in 1986.

Much like that original, Breath of the Wild is a game that begs you to keep exploring and it does this right from the start, immediately instilling a real sense of mystery, no matter how familiar you are with the series. As soon as you emerge from that opening cave, you’ll find yourself on a vista, looking out at the beautiful mountains and ruins of a post-apocalyptic, techno-plagued world. And from that moment on, the world is your oyster.

Since its arrival in 1986, the Zelda series has always pushed the technical boundaries of whatever console it has graced and Breath of the Wild continues this tradition (times two). Epic, mythic, simply terrific, Breath of the Wild brought a new kind of experience to fans across the globe. In return, it demands your attention. It’s such a landmark in video games that labeling it a masterpiece almost seems inevitable. Though in the end, most of what makes Breath of the Wild so beloved is Nintendo’s determination to constantly challenge themselves while crafting an unforgettable experience that also doubles as a commentary on the freedom of playing on the Switch. That a game of this magnitude can be playable anywhere you go, is a remarkable feat. (Ricky D)

Runners-Up: Cuphead, Hollow Knight, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil VII, Super Mario Odyssey

2018) God of War

The Best Games of the 2010s

To take their beloved franchise, turn it on its head, and deliver an experience that surpasses its acclaimed predecessors was no easy task for Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, yet they smashed it! God of War pays homage to its roots, whilst simultaneously bounding headlong into uncharted waters. It embraces modern conventions but utilizes them in a way that feels fantastically fresh.

Kratos’s journey with Atreus through the universe of Norse mythology is a masterclass in both character study and organic world-building, and a far cry from the one dimensional “Kratos angry, Kratos kill things” fare of old. Combat strikes a balance between strategic nuance and gory glee, and the Leviathan Axe feels badass to swing around. Discussing this game is more often than not an exercise in rattling off cool qualities, because there’s just that many things to dig about it. (Harry Morris)

 

Runners-Up: Celeste, Monster Hunter World, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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The Best Games of the 2000s

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It’s safe to say that video games have come a long way since the last millennium. The 2000s saw the emergence of multiple generations of consoles, which meant more games were produced than the decade before. From the expanse of phenomenal MMO games to the experimental platformers and party games by Nintendo, the 2000s pushed graphics and power like never before. We waded through hundreds of titles and produced a list of the best video games released from 2000 to 2010.

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2000) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Best Games of the 2000s

Specifically designed with the notion of using Ocarina of Time as a base, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Despite lifting most of its assets from its immediate predecessor, Nintendo opted not to proceed with the sequel as more of the same. Rather, in light of the fire Ocarina of Time sparked, Nintendo opted to go in a much different direction. 

Majora’s Mask is a far more introspective game than Ocarina of Time, one that allows the player a greater degree of freedom than previous entries in the series. It’s a more mature adventure, often focusing on themes of death, love, abandonment, and identity. With its three day time limit and Groundhog Day-esque loop, Majora’s Mask remains one of the most eclectic entries in the Zelda franchise; and the only game to give Ocarina of Time a run for its money.  (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Counter-Strike, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Final Fantasy IX, The Sims

2001) Halo: Combat Evolved

The Best Games of the 2000s

Halo: Combat Evolved stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the greatest launch titles ever released. It single-handedly put the Xbox name on the map and jump-started a series still considered part and parcel of that brand, long after developer Bungie jumped ship to create Destiny. Without the original Halo, the modern gaming landscape would change incalculably, from first-person shooter design, to online matchmaking systems, to Microsoft’s centrality in the industry.

But even more impressive is just how well Halo holds up over fifteen years later. Outside of some weapon imbalance and repetitious levels in the back half of its campaign, Halo still plays like butter despite totally upending how first-person shooters played at the time of its release. For many fans of the series, getting to play the original Halo through The Master Chief Collection was a more appealing reason to buy an Xbox One than Halo 5. But that’s not just nostalgia talking — the series has tried to add numerous layers atop Halo‘s cake, but its base layer was always the most satisfying. It doesn’t really matter how much time passes or how many sequels 343 churns out; names like “Blood Gulch,” “Hang ‘Em High,” and “The Silent Cartographer” will always inspire singular and unimpeachable memories for an entire generation of gamers, especially those who LAN partied. (Kyle Rentschler)

Runners-Up: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros Melee

2002) Metroid Prime

The Best Games of the 2000s

The Gamecube is fondly remembered by many of its adopters. Part of the reason lies in the wild new gambles Nintendo was willing to take with it after being trounced by Sony in the previous generation. Mario became a graffiti clean-up crew, Link turned into a cartoon, and Samus entered the realm of first-person shooters. The most well-known Nintendo franchises were suddenly unrecognizable, and all the better for it,

The best of them was Metroid Prime, a wild gamble of a game that saw Samus travelling from her side-scrolling roots to a fully-3D, first-person ground-breaker of a perspective. Somehow the game managed to maintain the feeling of its predecessors while transporting the experience to a whole new realm of possibilities. Old ideas were reinvented with stellar and surprising success, while new ways of building a first-person game were established as a result.

To this day, Metroid Prime is the only title in the series that can challenge the genre-defining Super Metroid for its title of best game in the series, and it’s likely to be a debate that will never be settled. After all, how do you decide which piece of art is the finest? One might have the better brush strokes, while the other has the better style and vantage point. While similar, they remain as incomparable as they are inextricably intertwined. (Mike Worby)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Neverwinter Nights, Ratchet and Clank, Splinter Cell

2003) The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

The Best Games of the 2000s

With Nintendo’s first 3D Zelda titles, it seems their goal was to offer as unique an experience as possible with each effort. Ocarina of Time brought the franchise’s traditional concepts into 3D; Majora’s Mask experimented with what the series could accomplish in 3D; and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker chose to overhaul the series’ visual identity to better take advantage of 3D. 

The Wind Waker is one of the best looking games of all time, even in its original GameCube incarnation. Nintendo’s use of cel-shading lends itself well to The Wind Waker’s vibrant, nautical aesthetic. With a greater emphasis placed on exploration than either of its predecessors, it’s The Wind Waker that ultimately best exemplifies that feeling of exploration found in the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a love letter to its franchise, but one that never forgets to carve out an identity of its own. (Renan Fontes)

Runners-Up: Beyond Good and Evil, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Silent Hill 3, Soul Calibur II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 

2004) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

The Best Games of the 2000s
When it comes to Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most memorable titles from the long-lasting franchise has to be San Andreas. Releasing in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, San Andreas is a game that has managed to stay culturally relevant despite the massive rise of video games since its release. The game focuses on ex-gang member Carl Johnson, known as CJ, who returns home after the death of his mother and reunites with his friends and fellow gang members. He delves further into his old criminal lifestyle as he starts rebuilding his old gang all while dealing with dirty cops and colorful characters along the way.

The sprawling map, open-world interactivity, personal characters choices (such as dating options, choosing to work out in the gym or making CJ an obese burger addict), action-packed, memorable missions –breaking into a highly restricted government base called Area 69 seems all the more relevant at the moment — and a genuinely engaging storyline are all incorporated into one hugely fun and compelling game. Rockstar Games would continue to raise the bar when it came to open-world action games but San Andreas was the first to firmly solidify itself within gaming culture and remain there to this day. If a game can continue to spawn multiple memes after 15 years, you know you’ve done something right. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, World of Warcraft 

2005) Resident Evil 4

The Best Games of the 2000s

On paper, Resident Evil 4 is a mental mix of ideas that shouldn’t work (see Resident Evil 6), but in actuality, it works so well it’s one of the greatest games of all time. It revitalizes the horror franchise with an innovative over the shoulder camera (later becoming the genre and industry standard) for protagonist Leon, punctuates its setpieces with balls to the wall action and gleefully silly B movie storytelling, whilst keeping the franchise’s signature fear factor intact. (Harry Morris)

Runners-Up: Civilization IV, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, God of War, Guitar Hero, Shadow of the Colossus

2006) Wii Sports

The Best Games of the 2000s

Nintendo needed a hit to ensure that their new console wouldn’t perform as poorly (compared to its competitors) as the GameCube. Not only was the resulting decision to bundle a copy of Wii Sports with every console a brilliant business move, but the title itself was so genuinely fun and unique that tens of millions of people bought a Wii just for that game.

The brilliance of Wii Sports is in its accessibility. The compilation is comprised of five light sports games: baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and boxing. Each is specifically optimized for short play sessions; three innings in a game of baseball, three rounds in a boxing match, and so on. Never played a game before in your life? No problem! The Wii’s unique use of motion controls meant that all anyone had to do was pick up a Wiimote and mimic the motions of throwing, swinging, and punching to play.

Though there wasn’t much progression beyond a literal line on a graph that went up or down based on your performance, the sheer joy of seeing your custom Mii on-screen playing little sports games with your friends and family resulted in some of the most fun local multiplayer in gaming history (until Wii Sports Resort, that is). (Brent Middleton)

Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Hitman: Blood Money, Kingdom Hearts II, Okami

2007) Super Mario Galaxy

Best Games of 2000s

2007 was a landmark year for the gaming industry, seeing the launch of franchises — Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, The Witcher and Uncharted — that went on to dominate the market in the years to come. With the overwhelming success of the Wii, Nintendo was also revolutionizing the video game industry of 2007 and had a console in over 20 million living rooms worldwide, although the Japanese giant had to release a large-scale Mario title for its new hardware. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and game director Yoshiaki Koizumi had a grandiose vision for the paunchy plumber’s future, imagining platforming gameplay in space where players would fight the effects of gravity and maneuver through spherical worlds to save the princess. Ultimately, those ideas manifested themselves in the form of the landmark Super Mario Galaxy, a title that reinvigorated the Mario formula with modern Miyamoto magic and set the gold standard for all future Nintendo releases.

There is nothing incredibly awe-inspiring about Super Mario Galaxy’s story- Bowser kidnapped the princess… again- but it is the title’s thoughtful and careful approach to keeping the Mario formula both classically nostalgic and awe-inspiringly fresh that make the game so special. Its controls and physics — lifted almost directly from Super Mario 64 — feel as intuitive and smooth as they did two generations previous, even though they are translated into the waggle controls of a Wiimote and nunchuck combo. Galaxy’s spherical worlds feel as comfortable as the Mushroom Kingdom and Isle Delfino, but its next-gen graphics and incredible scope convey a grandiose environment that feels untouched and begs to be explored. Although not a huge leap forward, the addition of Mario’s first spin attack also adds new depth to the title and changes the combat approach ever so slightly. Even Rosalina, the most recent addition to the Mario lineup, feels like an interconnected part of the Nintendo universe and has gone on to overshadow the popularity of other princesses.

Since its release, Super Mario Galaxy has been dubbed to be the must-play title for the Wii and is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Dominating in 2007, Galaxy won countless game-of-the-year awards and eventually spawned a just as successful sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2. All honors aside, the title’s effects can truly be seen on subsequent Nintendo releases, as its success and advancements veered the development, art style, and scope of the franchise in more artistic, sophisticated, and focused directions. With its beauty and enjoyable gameplay, it’s safe to assess that Super Mario Galaxy made its mark on the industry and led to the Nintendo renaissance that the Switch enjoys today. (Ty Davidson)

Runners-Up: Bioshock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Portal

2008) Grand Theft Auto IV

The Best Games of the 2000s

While San Andreas set the precedent for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA IV stepped up the open-world title significantly and brought about a gritty realism that elevated the series even more so. GTA IV was released in 2008 and centers on Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran who begins the game straight off the boat to start a new life in Liberty City. The three islands of the city act as the setting for the game and the player has free roam of them. As is the case with most of the protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series, circumstances end up pulling Niko back into a life of crime and his morals are brought into question in the process. Niko seems reluctant in his violence though, seeming to regret his past actions and wanting to start his life afresh without having to shoot his way through it. Despite this, his violent tendencies are apparent and it becomes evident that he doesn’t quite detest embarking in his criminal behavior as much as he claims.

He is a complex character with a great deal of ambiguity surrounding him. It could be argued that this kind of interesting character depth was a much-needed addition to the franchise. The game is not without its faults (the driving mechanics are incredibly difficult to master and the color scheme of Liberty City is mostly made up of dull greys and beiges) GTA IV made its mark by introducing a somber tone and some well-developed character arcs to the franchise as well as improving on the elements that already worked well such as the combat, mission structure, shooting mechanics and the vast open world. GTA IV is another title from Rockstar Games that will go down as one of its finest. (Antonia Haynes)

Runners-Up: Braid, Dead Space, Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

2009) Batman: Arkham Asylum

The Best Games of the 2000s

I won’t go so far as to coin the tired notion of this game really making you feel like Batman, but it certainly made me have the most fun manipulating a digital Dark Knight with a video game controller in my hand – which is significantly higher praise than Batman’s previous efforts in this medium make it seem. Arkham Asylum has recently gone through a retrospective renaissance, and the first game in Rocksteady’s video game trilogy – much like Batman Begins in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic trifecta – is now typically regarded as the series’ best.

At the time of writing, the game is almost ten years old, and surely stakes a sizeable claim to be the best game ever released during the annual “game industry summer drought.” Superhero games, in general, were much of a muchness back in 2009, but it’s easy to forget just how much of an innovative trendsetter Arkham Asylum was. It nailed everything a Batman game needed to nail – hell, it even nailed the bits we didn’t even know it needed to.

The game’s combat system has since been mimicked almost to the point of oversaturation, but that takes nothing away from just how fantastic it still is. Insane combos were effortlessly pulled off, gadgets were expertly woven into the action in as user-friendly a way as possible, and the simple counter system allowed fights to flow in a zen-like motion that ensured each encounter became a test of skill and personal one-upmanship. Next time you’d get that flawless combo, for sure.

Arkham is more than just a series of quality punch-ups, though. Hiring the Animated Series duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker respectively was absolutely vital, and they knocked it out of the park. The story was gripping and paid more than adequate respect to not only Batman’s rogues gallery (particularly Scarecrow) but to fans and players. The sheer number of Easter eggs, lore and extras the game stuffed in was exemplary, and became mandatory for the rest of the trilogy — a trilogy that truly struggled to top the near-perfection of this superb introduction. (Alex Aldridge)

Runners-Up: Assassin’s Creed 2, Borderlands, League of Legends, Persona 4, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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The Best Game Boy Games that Stand the Test of Time

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Over the past week, we have already written extensively about the Game Boy, detailing the history of Nintendo’s hit portable system and even reminiscing about our favourite Game Boy memories on the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. And now today, on the console’s 30th birthday, we’ve asked our staff to compile a list of the fifteen best Game Boy games that we feel truly stand the test of time. It wasn’t easy excluding games like Wario Land, Duck Tales or Mega Man V, and we’ve eliminated games released on the Game Boy Color as only a few were backward compatible with the Game Boy, but we did what had to be done. Here is a list of the fifteen best Game Boy games. Enjoy.

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Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

While not the first Castlevania game on the Game Boy, Belmont’s Revenge is the most memorable. Gone was the linear level-by-level progression, the player now had full freedom to choose which stage to whip first, be it the castle on the clouds or the fort in the swamp.

Once again, you control Christopher Belmont and unleash the famous whip at your foes. The whip starts off small but can be upgraded with various orbs, which at full power can start shooting fireballs from its tip. The whip can also be used to extinguish candles which reveal other useful items such as axes and holy water. For those that played Castlevania Adventure, the whip works slightly different as it doesn’t power down upon use, which personally, makes Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge all the better.

And in an opposite to Mole Mania, Castlevania II has some of the darkest, more depressing music on the Game Boy. While that would seem like a negative, it fits the theme really well and is, equally, some of the best music on the system. In addition to some of the most intricate visuals available on the console, Belmont’s Revenge is easily one of the best games available.  (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Donkey Kong

When the classic arcade game that launched the careers of Donkey Kong and Mario made its way to the Game Boy in 1994, Nintendo didn’t set out to release a simple remake – instead, Nintendo brought back their famous ape for a revival that features a whopping 101 stages and a ton of new features. Like in the arcade cabinet, the player takes control of Mario and must rescue Pauline from Donkey Kong while running through the four levels found in the original game. But at the conclusion of these four stages the game expands into an ambitious action puzzle/platformer with short cutscenes and various gameplay enhancements such as Mario’s ability to pick up and throw items at certain enemies; carry keys to open locked doors; flip over onto his hands; catch falling barrels; swim underwater; climb ropes; spin on wires to reach new heights; and perform a series of chain-jumps – all things that would carry over to other titles in the Super Mario repertoire.

At the time, Donkey Kong featured improved levels, graphics, audio and controls, but like every game on this list, the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong stands the test of time. If you happen to be a nostalgic gamer or even a huge Nintendo fan who wants to explore the company’s back catalogue, this is essential to your collection. (Ricky D)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Donkey Kong Land

Remembered by many fans as the “other” yellow game boy cartridge, Donkey Kong Land is a not-to-miss spinoff from one of Rare’s most beloved projects. While many remember the title as a straight port of Donkey Kong Country for the SNES, the hardware limitations of the original Game Boy forced developers to make some notable adjustments that make this hidden gem unique. The title borrows many of the character sprites, background textures, and sound effects from its console counterpart but has an entirely new level design for each world, making it an under-appreciated entry in the franchise.

In classic Rare fashion, Donkey Kong Land has a humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and painfully self-aware story. Crankey Kong opens the game by criticizing the Kongs of only being successful because of the enhanced graphics and sound of the SNES, saying that they could never be as popular in 8bit. To put that theory to the test, he calls on K Rool to steal DK’s bananas and start the journey again. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong must set out across Kong Island to recover the lost goods.

With its classic side-scrolling platforming gameplay and a killer David Wise soundtrack, Donkey Kong Land is definitely a Game Boy must play. Like its Country predecessor, the title is a bit of a difficult collect-a-thon that guarantees many hours of replayability. For those that don’t feel like shelling out ten bucks for a used cartridge, the title’s 2014 rerelease on the 3DS makes it easily accessible for fans of the franchise. (Ty Davidson)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Final Fantasy Adventure

At the time, Final Fantasy Adventure was not a typical example of the series, which was just beginning its eventual skyrocket in popularity. Its battles are real-time instead of turn-based, there’s a singular protagonist instead of a party system (though some NPCs do sometimes temporarily join up), and enemies appear on screen — not through those often annoying random encounters. Outwardly it seems more like a Zelda title, and that may have been the thought, but its sense of the tragic as a motivating force for storytelling is SquareSoft all the way, and this aspect is what makes it truly excel. The Hero (named by the player, providing instant connection and eliminating the need for heavy backstory) is a classic cosmic punching bag; he starts out in a bad way, endures loss after loss, only to be told that every sacrifice forced upon him is necessary for the good of all mankind. Not good for him, mind you, but in service of everyone else. No, the Hero’s role is that of a reluctant martyr, someone for whom friendship is impossible because everyone he likes dies a horrible death. Despite his incredibly awesome hair, happiness is never meant to be, because this stupid thing called “fate” says so.

The simple sword-swinging, spell-casting action works well (and would serve as inspiration for Secret of Mana), and the land is vast for a Gameboy title, but it’s the brutal world and themes that make this title stand out to those who played it. There’s a melancholy air permeating every quest, one that ensures no completely happy ending awaits. Final Fantasy Adventure keeps things real, so if you’re not being attacked by any number of beasts inhabiting the forest, frozen in place by a sorceress monster, mocked by ageist kids because you can’t swing a sword like you used to, or turned into a parrot because of your wonderful singing voice, then your town is probably under attack by the evil Glaive Empire, who have no problem razing everything you care about to the ground. So, you know, have a nice life. It’s an epic adventure on a small scale, still memorable to this day. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Gargoyle’s Quest

Is it a sequel to the Ghost n Goblins series or isn’t it? It technically is but it technically isn’t, the only similarities are those surrounding the main character, Firebrand, which is actually an enemy in the GnG series. Playing a villain turned hero isn’t a new concept, but Gargoyle’s Quest does a fantastic job of making it not a cheesy, mundane affair.

Gargoyle’s Quest was ahead of its time in many aspects. On the first appearance, it seems like a typical 2D platformer. Not quite so. to some extent, Gargoyle’s Quest was a pioneer at blending genres, in this incidence RPG and action. Firebrand jumps pits, clings to walls, and fights enemies much like an action platformer; but then visits towns, collects items, and goes on quests much like an early RPG.

In the likelihood of sound like an old man, Gargoyle’s Quest is a reminder to how well executed games used to be. It’s both confident in its simplicity and assured in its depth that it’s almost entirely faultless. A truly timeless masterpiece. (James Baker)

Kid Dracula

Best Game Boy Games: Kid Dracula

A list of the best original Game Boy games wouldn’t be complete without Kid Dracula, a comical sidescroller which takes all of the goodness of Castlevania and puts its own spin on gothic-themed platforming. Kid Dracula features just enough charm and personality to get you hooked, and thanks to its tight controls, it was one of the least frustrating games to play on the Game Boy.

When compared to other games released on Nintendo’s greyscale portable system, Kid Dracula’s visuals give other more popular titles a run for their money, as does the extremely catchy soundtrack which puts the Game Boy’s audio capabilities to the test. There’s a reason why the game’s main antagonist, Garamoth, later appeared as a boss in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – and there’s a reason why the titular character made notable appearances in other games such as The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Kid Dracula is simply one of the most charming and playable platformers available on the Game Boy and those who played it will remember it fondly to this day. (Ricky D)

Kirby’s Dream Land

Best Game Boy Games: Kirby’s Dream Land

Kirby’s debut, though he’s changed a lot as time has gone on. This black and white version on the Game Boy doesn’t really show how much, but on the box art, Kirby is white, as opposed to the pink complexion he is today. That said, Kirby’s Dream Land started the franchise in such an adorable manner that it’s impossible to dislike Kirby.

Before King Dedede became an ally in the more recent Kirby games, he was quite the gluttonous villain, stealing food from Dream Land, as well the as sparking stars to obtain more food. Kirby decides to go forth and defeat King Dedede to retrieve the food and stars — quite the standard storyline, but implemented so effectively that it remains one of the best games on the Game Boy.

Kirby’s Dream Land consists of five levels, each one made up up of a series of rooms connected by large doors, some doors leading to secret areas. Kirby’s main method of attack is to inhale enemies, which he then can exhale as a projectile missile. Kirby can also fly indefinitely, but is vulnerable to attack. The ability to fly really opens up each room and turns the side-scrolling into not just left and right, but also up and down. The formula for Kirby’s Dream Land was ultimately simple, and the game is typically easy, which made it a fantastic title for those new to Nintendo. The franchise would ultimately become more complex, but its origins should never be forgotten. (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first portable title in the series, and is easily one of my personal favorites. It was the first Zelda title to make an attempt at exploring Link’s character beyond that of the boy called to action. For once, Link is not seeking to stop Ganon and save the princess, kingdom, or Triforce. Instead, his is a journey of self-discovery, led by a desire to leave the island of Koholint that he has been shipwrecked on. Much of Koholint is full of life, especially when compared to the desolate wasteland from the original Legend of Zelda and the horribly mangled Dark World of A Link to the Past. It’s a breath of fresh air, with plenty of different-looking areas and regions. Overall, the game’s aesthetics’ are great, and the story they present is something that was only ever (theoretically) tackled again once.

Link’s Awakening was also the first top-down Zelda to make use of jumping. While The Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past both used pitfalls as ways to impede progress, they never had a clear answer to them. This time Link is granted the gift of jumping from an item called the Roc’s Feather, the very first dungeon item in the game. By combining Roc’s Feather with the Pegasus Boots, Link could clear even bigger gaps and jump over large obstacles. Link’s Awakening is an amazing Zelda title not only for its plethora of new ideas, but for also setting new benchmarks for later games in the series. (Taylor Smith)

Metroid 2 Game Boy

Best Game Boy Games: Metroid II: The Return of Samus

Metroid ll: Return of Samus is by no means a masterpiece that changed the gaming scene like Super Metroid or Metroid Prime. In fact, this 1991 GameBoy title was met with fairly mixed reviews from critics. Most of these issues can be blamed on the limitations of the GameBoy itself, such as the lack of graphical detail in the enemies and environments. However, a closer look at this underrated gem reveals a slew of intriguing design decisions that many of the future games were based upon. Metroid ll should not be regarded as the black sheep of the series, but instead should be welcomed into the family.

Any game released on the original GameBoy is bound to be limited in scope, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Handheld experiences are more suited for quick sessions that are built upon the sensation of progress being made with each play. Metroid ll takes this idea and successfully applies this to the formula that the first Metroid built. Instead of simply throwing the player into the game with no purpose, Return of Samus gives gamers an objective right from the start. Every metroid on the planet must be eliminated, and a count is displayed on the bottom right of the screen to track this progress.

The concept of tracking down metroids and destroying them works perfectly for a handheld, as it results in a simpler kind of Metroid that still retains the things that made the original great and in many ways, Return of Samus is the perfect game for newcomers to the series. Simplified level design and gameplay offer an easier start to a fairly challenging series that commonly overwhelms new players. Comparing this underrated gem to the other titles in the series really isn’t fair because of the limitations of the console it was developed for. However, it does accomplish exactly what it set out to do; create a fun handheld experience that still retains the feeling of a fully-fledged Metroid title. Even though it is often out-shined by Samus’ GameBoy Advance adventures that came years later, it remains fun to this day and deserves to be recognized as a fine iteration in this long-running series. (Zack Rezak)

Mole Mania Game Boy

Best Game Boy Games: Mole Mania

Mole Mania was unforgiving and troublesome, but beneath the hardship remains one of the best puzzle games on the Game Boy. The storyline consisted of saving your mole family that was kidnapped from an evil farmer, but like with many games on the Game Boy, the quality of the storyline is perhaps a poor indicator of the quality of the gameplay.

This isn’t about overpowering the enemy but out-thinking them. Muddy Mole is limited in what he can do, pretty much stunted to burrowing and moving certain objects. These limitations strengthen the gameplay as they lead to planning ahead before committing; digging in the wrong place can lead to an obstruction, resulting in restarting the level.

While frustrating, there’s a huge sense of achievement upon completion. The visuals are some of the best on the Game Boy and the music is perhaps the most upbeat found on the handheld console, complete with those famous 8-bit synthesizers. If you’re not prone to rage quitting, Mole Mania is a worthy playthrough. (James Baker)

Best Game Boys Games

Best Game Boy Games: Pokemon Red and Blue

Never before have two games begun such a massive franchise. A bold statement for sure, but just look at how inescapable Pokémon has become, from the merchandise filling up the shops to the fad that we briefly encountered in Pokémon Go. This all began in 1996 with a game designed around a simple accessory for the Game Boy called a Link Cable. The idea of creating two of the same game that offered unique collectibles that could be traded between the games, a new multiplayer concept that actually had kids outside of the house  (a Dratini by today’s standards) and socializing with pocket monsters they had caught and raised, plus a surprisingly complex competitive strategy game that only became more compelling as the franchise grew, was unique to Pokémon Red and Blue at the time.

150 pokémon to catch, with the addition of Mew available as an event exclusive, kept many fans on a never-ending journey to complete their pokédex. 150 might seem like a small number by today’s standards, but without the internet opening up the entire world to trade, you relied on your friends to help you complete the process. This brought the fundamentals of socializing to an uncomfortable place, where negotiating and persuasion were skills that were quickly learned to help us evolve our Haunter into a Gengar. In fact, kids with their Game Boys linked up became such a common sight that arguably the Link Cable became an iconic symbol of the nineties.

With so many pokémon to catch, it’s easy to forget that Pokémon Red and Blue had a pretty dark theme shadowing it. Lavender Town is a legend all in itself, with its soundtrack thought to have resulted in the death of numerous Japanese kids. Myth or not, it was the place that brought the chilling story to life. Team Rocket, the famous villains that debuted in Red and Blue, had done some terrible things in this town, including actions that resulted in the death of a now-famous Marowak. Its pre-evolved form, Cubone, has one of the creepiest pokédex entries.

While as a strategy game Pokémon Red and Blue was broken — Psychic was so over-powered that Alakazam effectively had no weaknesses — it remains so iconic and influential that the world cannot escape the franchise it created. A defining game of the nineties that time will never have the longevity to lose. (James Baker)

Pokemon Yellow

 Best Game Boy Games: Pokemon Yellow

When Pokémon Red and Blue had an animé produced to coincide with it, the popularity of Ash and his partner Pikachu made Pokémon Yellow inevitable. Originally, Ash’s partner in the animé was to be Clefairy, but was changed to the cute electric mouse that remains the mascot of the franchise ever since.

While there’s much debate about whether Pokémon needs third installments to each generation, Pokémon Yellow was the first and the most original in concept of them all. Rather than following the legacy of Pokémon Red and Blue, it follows the storyline of the animé, allowing the player to obtain the three original starter pokémon as part of the storyline. Furthermore, staying true to the animé, Pikachu follows the player around rather than staying in its pokéball, and refuses to evolve into Raichu when given a thunderstone, thus leaving Raichu only obtainable through trade.

Pokémon Yellow is a direct consequence of the popularity of Pokémon at the time, and with Pikachu still the beloved face of Pokémon, was perhaps shrewd marketing on Nintendo’s part. Its success inspired many other sequels to each generation, none of which would surpass the ingenuity of its predecessor. Pokémon Yellow won’t go down as the greatest Pokémon game of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. (James Baker)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins

Does the introduction of Mario’s crude, demented nemesis need any more reason to be on this list? Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins gave Nintendo fans their first sour taste of the crookedly-mustached Wario, something for which we shall always be thankful, but it also succeeds magnificently at standing out among the franchise’s platforming greatness. Though a straight-up sequel, this Gameboy classic takes more inspiration from Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World, with the more familiar cartoonish visuals, the ability to move both left and right, an overworld, and multiple paths to and through each level. The look and feel are so stark from its predecessor that it’s hard to relate the two, but a semblance of plot involves Wario having usurped Mario’s throne (?) while Sarasaland was being saved, brainwashing the loyal subjects of the Mushroom Kingdom’s hero in the process.

This bit of wackiness is only the start. For whatever reason, it seems like Nintendo’s development teams felt freed up by the Game Boy, reserving some of their strangest ideas for the portable versions of their popular series. Like with Link’s Awakening, the people working on Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins must have been a little loopy, somehow cool with devising a powerup that sees Mario grow a pair of rabbit ears that flap like wings, allowing for slower descents. There’s also an entire zone that takes place inside a pumpkin, as well as another whose boss level occurs inside a sleeping whale, which is in turn located inside a giant turtle. It doesn’t get less bizarre. These sorts of left-field oddities, along with an abundance of nice touches showcasing incredible attention to detail, make the world extremely entertaining, all the way to that fight against Mario’s greasy, greedy foe. In a franchise known for its outlandish creativity, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins holds its own — more than just an ugly face. (Patrick Murphy)

Best Game Boy Games

Best Game Boy Games: Super Mario Land

A launch title for the original DMG Game Boy, Super Mario Land is best described as a quirky, short, and forgotten title that moves Mario in directions that are never revisited in the series. Developed without input from franchise creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the sidescroller takes many risks that both pay off and fail spectacularly, introducing new enemies, Princess Daisy, some Gradius-style shooter levels, an evil alien as the main boss, and much more.

Taking place in Sarasaland, Mario must rescue the new princess from the clutches of the evil spaceman Tatanga. Through land, water, and the sky, Mario moves between obscure Easter island levels, a submarine mission, a moderately uncomfortable Chinese stereotype level, and an airplane fight, eventually facing off against a UFO to save the princess and blast off into outer space.

Love it or hate it, this strange game deserves a place in franchise and console history, branching out in new directions to change the way that players look at the Nintendo mascot. With familiar gameplay and oddball elements, Super Mario Land at times feels like the best bootleg Mario title on the market, borrowing from other gaming trends of the time for a unique experience that honestly makes one wonder how the company viewed where the plucky plumber was headed. An incredibly short game, the title can be completed in a 30 or 40-minute sitting, but that does not mean that it isn’t worth picking up. Aided by outstanding level design and one of the best soundtracks of any Game Boy title, the game begs for repeated playthroughs while always offering a nostalgic 8bit experience. (Ty Davidson)

Best Game Boy Games Tetris

Best Game Boy Games: Tetris

It’s safe to assume that almost every video gamer has heard of Tetris, and most of us associate it with Nintendo, specifically their portable Game Boy system. Yes, Tetris had already existed in various incarnations since its creation in 1984, and was sold for both a range of home computer platforms and the arcades long before Game Boy ever existed, but the hugely successful handheld version for the Game Boy — which was launched in 1989 — is arguably the ultimate version of the perfect puzzle game. The famous puzzle game from creator Alexey Pajitnov is not only brilliant but extremely addictive thanks to its simplistic design. With this particular version of Tetris came a competitive two-player mode made possible with the link cable, as well as an instrumental version of the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki.” Nintendo is known for releasing some of the greatest launch games of all time and Tetris is at the top of that list. Tetris was a phenomenon and literally laid the bricks for the foundation of the handheld gaming industry that Nintendo has continued to dominate ever since. (Ricky D)

 

Be sure to also check out:

The Top 50 SNES Games

The 40 Best Nintendo 64 Games

The Best Game Boy Games that Stand the Test of Time

The Best Game Boy Advance Games

35 Best Gamecube Games

The Very Best Wii Games

The 25 Best Wii U Games

The Best Nintendo Switch Games

200 Best Nintendo Games

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Comics

The Top Ten Space Opera Comics

Logan continues his list, this time giving his top 5 picks for the best Space Opera Comics.

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The list of best comic book space operas continues from Part 1 and enters the 21st century, with a pair of crossovers from Marvel and DC, some indie excellence from Image Comics, and the great Black Mask Studios among the top 5:

5. Annihilation (Marvel; 2006-2007)

Even though it was released at the same time as Marvel’s famous Civil War event, cosmic counterpart Annihilation arguably holds up better a decade later. Annihilation is a beautiful hybrid of military science-fiction and space opera, following a rag-tag band of Marvel cosmic characters as they battle Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, a group of bug-like creatures who are being manipulated by Thanos and want to suck the whole universe into the Negative Zone. The stakes are immediately raised when they wipe out the entire Nova Corps, except for Richard Rider. Annihilation is responsible for bringing now-popular characters like Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Nova, and Gamora into the limelight. Without this comic, there would probably be no Guardians of the Galaxy film, even if its tone is way grimmer, and Peter Quill is more crazy than sexy and charming in it.

Instead of crossing over into every Marvel comic under the sun, this event consisted of a prologue one-shot, five four-issue miniseries, and a six-issue core miniseries simply called Annihilation, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Andrea DiVito. The minis remind me of George R.R. Martin using different narrators in A Song of Ice and Fire, and they provide different perspectives on the war against the Annihilation Wave. They are also more character-driven, whereas Annihilation is the big blockbuster finale, even if it doesn’t end in complete and utter triumph while leaving some threads open for Annihilation: Conquest and the excellent Nova solo comic, which immediately comments on how petty the heroes’ in-fighting in Civil War is in light of the events of its sister crossover.

Annihilation: Nova is the Hero’s Journey with a sense of humor, as future Guardians of the Galaxy writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, along with superstar artist Kev Walker, show how Richard Rider goes from runt of the Nova Corps litter to the leader of the fight against the Annihilation Wave. Annihilation: Super Skrull and Annihilation: Ronan cast the Marvel villains Kl’rt the Super Skrull and Ronan the Accuser as noble figures, with Kl’rt making a heroic sacrifice. Ronan’s story has an added element of existential crisis from writer Simon Furman, as he must find purpose in a world where the Kree have stripped his Accuser rank and are ruled by bureaucrats who don’t care how many Kree warriors die. Annihilation: Silver Surfer is the most cosmic comic of the bunch, with Silver Surfer and former Heralds of Galactus banding together to stop the nefarious figures that are using Annihilus and his carnivorous insect crew like puppets on strings.

Andrea DiVito and Scott Kolins are the standouts on Annihilation and Annihilation Prologue, as far as the art is concerned. They can lay down a double-page spread showing the destruction of planets and cosmic beings, while also highlighting the human moments in the middle of the action, like the rage in Drax’s face every time Thanos is mentioned.

Annihilation and its follow-up, Annihilation Conquest (who can resist Ultron in space?), are memorable comics because they are good science fiction stories that happen to take place in the Marvel Universe. They add extra depths to characters that are one-note villains, like Super Skrull and Ronan, and tell a story about the cost of war and unlikely allies banding together in the face of disaster. If you pick up one Marvel “event comic” from the 2000s, make it Annihilation.

4. Sinestro Corps War (DC; 2007-2008)

In the DC Universe, the Green Lantern Corps are space cops who have overcome fear and can use their power rings to create projections of anything in their imagination to protect the universe. On the other side of the coin is the Sinestro Corps, who use yellow power rings to bring order to the universe through fear. The two sides comes to blows in the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline, told in the pages of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Dave Gibbons’ and Peter Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps, with art from Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Angel Unzueta, and countless fill-in pencilers, inkers, and colorists that bring these almost Biblical – and quite emotional – space battles to life. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but “Sinestro Corps War” succeeds because Johns take these godlike characters’ feelings and insecurities seriously, while also lifting Sinestro into the pantheon of archvillains. It was a coming out party for the Green Lantern franchise and may have partially been responsible for the greenlighting of the 2011 film.

The idea for “Sinestro Corps War” came from an obscure Green Lantern story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame, one that is very rooted in DC Comics continuity. However, Johns leans on a tremendous team of artists, including Reis and Van Sciver, to depict past events, like Hal Jordan becoming evil in the 1990s, all the way through to the present conflict. His almost religious reverence for the DC stories of the past pairs nicely with Gibbons’ cheeky character-driven writing, which makes even the most D-list members of the Green Lantern Corps compelling, like the combat medic Soranik Natu, who patrols Sinestro’s home planet, or the planet-sized Green Lantern, Mogo. A throwaway joke in a Moore and Gibbons comic becomes the heart and soul of Johns, Reis, Gibbons, and Gleason’s creation.

Fear is a powerful motivation for most human beings’ actions, and Geoff Johns leans on this terrifying, yet true reality to orchestrate the DC Universe’s finest soap opera since the days of Jack Kirby. He uses the emotional component of the Green Lanterns and Sinestro Corps’ powers, not just for cool action scenes, but also to explore the motivations and feelings of those who wield them, including the walking mediocrity, Hal Jordan. “Sinestro Corps War” established Ivan Reis (currently on Justice League of America) and Patrick Gleason (currently drawing Superman) as their go-to artist for blockbuster stories, while still keeping in mind the human aspects of these big-time characters, and not just doing double-page spreads. Best of all, it set the stage for Blackest Night, the most epic non-Grant-Morrison-written DC comic that didn’t make this list (because it is more of a superhero/horror book than space opera).

3. Saga (Image; 2012 to present)

When I started thinking about comics I was going to write about for Space Opera Month, Saga immediately popped up into my head. This Eisner, Harvey, and Hugo Award-winning science fiction comic by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) and Fiona Staples (Archie) is about a couple named Alana and Marko, who are from the perpetually-warring planet and moon of Landfall and Wreath. They fall in love, have a beautiful daughter named Hazel, and then go on the run from a variety of pursuers, including morally-ambiguous bounty hunter The Will,  Mario’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn, a spider-legged bounty hunter named The Stalk, an aristocrat with a TV for a head called Prince Robot IV, and a cat named Lying Cat (who is literally a lie detector). One of the best parts of Saga is seeing Staples’ creative – and occasionally disturbing – design for the different beings that Alana and Marko run into, including a hipster teenage ghost who is their babysitter, an adorable and loyal (fan favorite) seal creature named Ghus, anthropomorphic fishnet stockings who live on the pleasure planet Sextillion, and countless others.

Even though it happens on a variety of strange planets against the backdrop of complicated political intrigue, Vaughan and Staples make Saga about the difficulty of starting a family, even though there are plenty of fire fights, magical duels, and timely escapes. Alana and Marko fight a lot of the time, and recently in the comics they have been separated. The series also doesn’t keep Hazel (who is the comic’s narrator) a baby forever. At the time of this writing, she has grown into a rambunctious little girl, who is slowly becoming aware of what the outside world thinks of her parents’ actions.

Hazel’s coming of age and Alana and Marko’s relationship struggles keep Saga grounded, while Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples indulge in some seriously cool worldbuilding – like a romance novel that’s a secret revolutionary treatise, or how Alana used to be a kind of soap opera actress – while fleshing out an ever-expanding supporting cast. At its core, however, Saga is about how creating and nurturing life is better than taking one, even if it seems like the senseless violence will never cease… (Warning: Saga kills off characters on a Whedonesque level)

2.Starlight (Image; 2014)

He’s most famous for his violent, entertaining, and more than a little sophomoric Kick-Ass and Kingsman series, as well as a revisionist take on Marvel heroes in Ultimates and Civil War, but Starlight showcases a more mature side of comics’ Scottish enfant-terrible, Mark Millar. It also has some gorgeous Moebius-meets-Norman-Rockwell (but with a sense of humor) art from Goran Parlov (Fury MAX). The comic is about an elderly man named Duke McQueen, who saved the planet Tantalus and its queen from the tyrannical Typhon when he was a young man. After his victory, he left Tantalus to be with his beloved wife, Joanne, who passes away from cancer in Starlight #1. Duke is ridiculed for the outlandish accounts of his adventures, and is a lonely old dude who is almost forgotten. However, in Starlight he is called to save Tantalus from a new tyrant – with the help of his number one fan Krish Moor, who looks like he belongs in the Speed Racer universe, but has a sad backstory similar to Batman.

What makes Starlight so endearing is the character of Duke McQueen. Sure, he ends up being a double blaster-wielding, double-fisted hero in the end, but the early issues set him up as a sad old man who misses his wife. Goran Parlov is fantastic at drawing vehicles and sci-fi weaponry, but he also nails the sad moments, like Duke sitting alone and smoking under the stars, or a place setting for a family dinner that no one bothered to show up to. These emotional sequences make the action in the back half of the series that much exhilarating, as Duke inspires the Tantalans to rise up against their new tyrant, Kingfisher (who looks like Darth Vader and has the appetite for luxury of Jabba the Hutt).

Starlight is the old New Testament quote “No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” but on an intergalactic level. Sure, Duke saved a whole planet, but he’s treated as a crank by his family and neighbors. Duke’s journey from retired hero to returning hero is thrilling, and he’s a selfless, noble man with wry one-liners to boot. The miniseries is worth reading for Goran Parlov’s command of the comics medium ,as he excels at everything from double-page spreads of tyrannical mining planets, to furious car chases, and even an old man watching the stars that he once saved. It’s a pity that this was his last interior art, as of early 2017.

1. Space Riders (Black Mask; 2015, 2017)

With its Jack-Kirby-meets-a-Grimes-album cover (or a really well-done punk rock zine), art from artist Alexis Zirritt, and anything goes/picaresque-style plotting from writer Fabian Rangel, Space Riders is a fucking awesome four-issue space opera miniseries from Black Mask Studios, one of comics’ most innovative publishers. Space Riders follows the adventures of Capitan Peligro (Spanish for “Captain Danger”), his first mate Mono (a religiously devout baboon), and Yara, a badass, yet level-headed female android (who saves the crew’s bacon multiple times). Their ship is the Santa Muerte, a literal flying skull that has been discontinued by the EISF, the Space Riders’ employer. There is an overarching plot featuring gods, a tomb, and the fate of the universe, but Space Riders is really a comeback story, as Capitan Peligro must prove himself to his superiors and regain his rank and ride. He must deal with the legacy of his father, who was also a Space Rider, as well as also try to get revenge against his rival, Hammerhead.

It only took a few pages of Space Riders #1 to make me fall in love with Alexis Zirritt’s art and colors. Every page that he draws deserves to either be a poster or an album cover. With his intense reds and wobbly, seemingly LSD-laced pencils, Zirritt makes faster-than-light travel seem like the scariest shit ever for a human being. Jumping to hyperspace isn’t some mash-a-button-and-escape deal for Capitan Peligro, but a dark night of the soul, as he goes a little mad and ends up wrecking the Santa Muerte. This comic is packed to the gills with generally cool stuff, like a double-page splash of a space whale getting harassed by Viking-themed space biker gangs, along with your usual space opera fare, including killer robots and tractor beams. There are layers to this coolness, however, like the space whale being a riff on Moby Dick (but with Peligro wanting to protect this majestic – and possibly divine – creature instead of killing it like that windbag Captain Ahab). It’s a nice environmental parable that isn’t schmaltzy thanks to the presence of Tarantino-esque one-liners, chest mounted machine guns and – did I mention the Viking motorcycle gang?

Space Riders is a wild ride of a comic book, and it’s one of the books on this list that I feel comfortable recommending even to people who aren’t into science fiction, but still like cool action and characters with problems. Fabian Rangel and Alexis Zirritt don’t waste time on oodles of exposition, instead just throwing readers into intense situations and never letting off the gas. Capitan Peligro gets a solid character arc as he evolves from an utter fuck-up, and refuses promotion so he can be free to fly through space with his crew, beating bad guys and figuring out more about the mysterious dying gods in the current series, Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality.

PART ONE

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