Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.
I play games because they make me happy. They give me a joy that no other medium ever has. I look at gaming as a way to escape from the monotony of everyday life and visit fantastical worlds that I could only dream of. If it wasn’t apparent by now, there’s a special place in my heart for RPGs and anything fantasy. But more than that, I’m a lover of games with color and creativity. Aside from racing games, I tend to shy away from anything too gritty or realistic. You’ll definitely see that reflected in my list. With all that being said, let’s get started!
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Similarly to Splatoon with the Wii U, Animal Crossing: New Leaf was the game that pushed me to finally pick up a 3DS XL. I’d never played a previous entry in the series, but from the minute I saw gameplay–again, just like Splatoon–I knew I would love it. There was something so enticing about moving to a new village and trying to improve it for the lives of the townspeople. The way players start out in a tent and can gradually work their way to owning a mansion blew my mind at the time and, for better and for worse, became my primary focus in the game.
New Leaf was the perfect summer love title. Home from college, I was free to play it for hours on end–and I did. It was the first game alongside Mario Kart 7 that I’d played since upgrading from my DSi, and the graphical bump was truly startling. Not only did New Leaf look beautiful, but the characters (simple as they were) were all animated well and really stunned me with how emotive they were. I couldn’t help but feel compelled to help deliver a letter for one friend or take a neighbor up on their offer to check out their new home layout. As silly as it might sound for a series as cartoony as Animal Crossing, New Leaf really nailed player immersion. Every morning I’d wake up and think to myself “Okay, so what’s on the list for today? Harvest fruit from trees, pick up sea shells on the shore, maybe stop by the shops if they’re open…” It became–and arguably still is–the quintessential lifestyle game.
Unfortunately, summer love never truly lasts. While New Leaf remains one of my favorite games of all time, it has one glaring flaw that I alluded to earlier: managing all of the systems and constantly trying to pay off your debt can lead to the game feeling like more of a chore than a relaxing escape. 200+ hours later I dreaded opening my 3DS to do what felt like just going through the motions. If I left my fruit trees alone for too long, their fruit would go bad. If I didn’t go and collect shells every so often or scour every inch of town for fossils on a daily basis, I’d just be leaving all that money on the table. By trying to play as efficiently as possible and making paying off my debt my main goal, I effectively ruined the game for myself. In the end I did manage to pay off my debt to Tom Nook in full and then some, but by then it was too late. Is this a fault of the game itself? Partially. But I loved it immensely while it lasted.
There are few games that remind me of my high school days as strikingly as Brutal Legend. I’d just bought an Xbox 360 (the first console I’d ever bought myself) for Final Fantasy XIII and went on the search for complimentary games I could sink my teeth into. When I learned about the premise of Legend and the fact that Jack Black was starring in the leading role, I had to try it out. And man, I had never been happier to be a metal fan.
Brutal Legend is a metal fever dream of epic proportions. Everything is metal–its sprawling overworld, the different enemies and NPCs, your vehicle, and of course the killer soundtrack. The sheer production values melted my face off (actually a move in combat) and completely enthralled me as I followed Eddie throughout his epic quest. Aside from FFXIII it was the first game that really blew me away with its picture quality and animations. More than that, there’s just this feeling of “if it’s metal, nothing is off limits” that makes Legend so amazing from a purely creative standpoint.
My friends always used to clown me (and still do even to this day) about never finishing games. And, well, it’s true–I still have a hard time completing most of the games that I start. But something that made Brutal Legend so special was the fact that I actually did finish it. I was so enamored with the story, so amazed by the world, that I really wanted to see what happened next. It was probably the first game that I’d beaten in years aside from Pokemon. Beating the game at the time was a monumental personal achievement, and made me treasure my time with it that much more. I know it sometimes gets flack for its psuedo-RTS segments, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love Legend from top to bottom.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the more decisive entries in the franchise. It lived up to its name and singlehandedly revitalized the series, but it also served as a turning point from the cruel, mandatory permadeath gameplay Fire Emblem had become known for. This opened the series up to millions of new players while simultaneously frustrating the core fanbase that’d been following the series for decades.
All of that is to say, I absolutely love Awakening because of its accessibility. The prospect of permanently losing a character I’ve fallen in love with and invested heavily in was always a huge turnoff for me. The Casual Mode Awakening introduced was exactly the safety net so many gamers (myself included) desired. Being able to enjoy the ridiculously addicting combat (I’d play random battles constantly because they were just that much fun) without having to stress about losing someone was a godsend.
Awakening also brought with it a deep, surprisingly meaningful relationship system. I spent almost as much time battling as I did strategizing exactly which characters I would have fight together to create bonds, fall in love and have super-cool time traveling children. The writing for all of these interactions was superb and really got you invested in the characters and their families. You could also just try pairing complete opposites together to see their dialogue trees!
I consider beating Awakening’s campaign one of my personal greatest gaming achievements not because I played on Classic Mode, but because I managed to finish a beautiful journey with characters I’d fallen in love with. Fire Emblem: Awakening stands as a testament to the fact that there’s no substitute for great writing in video games.
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
Games have a strange way of bringing people together. It might’ve been an old Donkey Kong arcade cabinet for some, or perhaps Smash Bros. or Goldeneye for others. But for my friends and I in middle school? We came together over Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.
It’s crazy to even fathom that a few 11-12 year-old kids could be so enthralled by a farming simulator, but it happened. A Wonderful Life served as a peaceful respite from our fierce bouts of Melee and One Piece: Grand Battle. There was just something about how simple and easy the gameplay was that made it so enjoyable. Could you easily mess up and have your crops wilt if you didn’t tend to them? Sure, but losing crops never meant the end of the game.
Whereas Animal Crossing: New Leaf sometimes teetered on the verge of feeling like an obligation, the lazy, slow-paced feel of A Wonderful Life encouraged nothing but steady maintenance of your farm and trekking into town to talk to the super “colorful” townspeople. The dating aspect of the game ended up being the crux of my friends’ interest in it. Whenever I had them over they were amazed by the romantic interactions I was able to have with the local ladies. Eventually we each had our own copies of the game, pursued a different love interest and had very different sons. I would’ve loved all of this on my own, but the fact that I was able to share the experience with my best friends made it so much sweeter.
Mario Kart 7
Everyone has different games for different situations. Have a few hours free over the weekend? Perfect for an RPG or adventure game. Have some time to decompress after work? Fire up a shooter and let off some steam. But what about when you’re crunched for time and have a ton of podcasts to listen to/YouTube videos to watch? That, my friends, is where Mario Kart 7 comes in.
MK7 is the perfect zone-out game. Once you’ve played the maps enough to essentially get them memorized, you can build your ideal kart, hop into a 150cc cup and turn off your brain. Based on that description it might sound like I don’t care for the gameplay, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. MK7 looks and controls like a dream even to this day. Sure, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe blows it out of the water visually, but it just feels good playing MK7 on the 3DS XL. The shoulder buttons feel more comfortable and finely attuned to making tight drifts than the ones on the Joy Con, and the stereoscopic 3D is actually really well done. The 32 tracks included provide a good deal of variety too, considering it’s running on the 3DS.
When all is said and done, I put about 250 hours into Mario Kart 7. Aside from Splatoon, there’s no game I know better front-to-back. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has since taken over as my zone-out game (mainly because I’ve been moving away from my 3DS), MK7 still stands not only as one of my most infinitely replayable games of all time, but as one of my favorite games of all time, period.
Mario Party 6
Whenever the Mario Party franchise is brought up in discussion, it seems like there’s either praise for the early games or disdain for the latest ones. But what about the gems in the middle of the pack? Mario Party 4 might’ve been the first game I ever played in the series, but as soon as I got 6 there was no contest for my favorite entry.
I primarily play Mario Party games because they’re colorful and fun, and 6 is both of those in spades. Though there are only 6 party boards in total, they’re easily the most replayable Mario Party boards I’ve ever come across. The day/night cycle does a good job of shaking things up, and the different mechanics of each board really made each one feel special. I rarely had friends over, so I got quite used to playing co-op Party Mode with the surprisingly impressive AI.
And then there are the mini-games. Oh man, the mini-games. Some of the best games in the entire franchise are here: Rocky Road, T-Minus Five, Something’s Amist, Memory Lane, and Granite Getaway, just to name a few. My favorites, though, were the 1 vs. 3 games. Snow Brawl, Dust Til Dawn and Crate and Peril are total classics in my book. The battle mini-games also did a great job of being challenging/scary enough to really make you feel nervous whenever one came up. It’s a testament to the variety of games, great boards and pure fun factor that I was able to enjoy a multiplayer game by myself for so many hours. For several years there were few games that made me as happy and comfortable as this one.
Mario Tennis: Power Tour
Out of all the recently-announced indies for the Switch, Golf Story completely blew me away as an homage to the classic Camelot GameBoy titles I loved so many years ago. The resemblance is both striking and welcome, and seeing as Camelot has fallen from grace as of late, it was tough not to reminisce on my favorite title of theirs from that golden era: Mario Tennis: Power Tour.
Saying that Power Tour is one of my favorite RPGs of all time might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s incredibly on-point. In a world with so many beloved fantasy and dystopian RPGs out there, something as lighthearted as Power Tour served as the breath of fresh air that the genre so desperately needed (and, quite honestly, still needs). There’s no grand adventure or sprawling narrative that drives the player forward, but rather one of the most simple and engaging game premises I’ve ever experienced. The idea of going to a tennis school to work my way through the ranks (while making both friends and enemies along the way) immediately struck a chord with me, and that was only aided by the incredibly tight and addicting tennis gameplay. The matches were nuanced and on point enough to be standalone content (like subsequent entries in the series), but the leveling system, training mini games and stat-tracking really made me aware of my growth into a top tier tennis player throughout the campaign.
Aside from the great sense of progression and rock solid game mechanics, though, the real hook for me was the school environment and the surrounding characters. Camelot shined at creating living, breathing worlds, and those world-building chops were evident throughout your stay at the Royal Tennis Academy. Whenever I wanted to leave the troubles at my own school behind, the RTA was the first place I’d run to. In terms of escapism, Power Tour nailed it.
Nostalgia is often a cruel mistress. It’s easy to be blinded by what you remember being amazing so many years ago. For a good while I thought that this was the case with Pokemon Yellow–I loved it growing up, but it surely couldn’t have been that great. Then last year, to the joy of millions around the world who grew up on the original anime and whose first games in the series were Red, Blue or Yellow, the first three games were re-released on the 3DS eShop. And just like that, all of my skepticism was quelled.
Yellow wasn’t only the start of my love of RPGs, but the start of my adoration for getting lost in adventures. Embarking as Ash (he’ll always be Ash to me, anyway) with Pikachu by my side across Kanto is one of the most exciting, memorable experiences of my gaming life. I still remember my first punishing battle against Lt. Surge’s Raichu, the first time I rode my bike (and that amazingly catchy music), and my final face-off against Gary after struggling through the Elite Four. That winding journey through what is my favorite region took over 100 hours, easily the longest I’d ever spent on a game up until that point.
Revisiting such a monumental moment in my gaming life last year was at once both strange and cozy. It was like playing through a dream; I remembered some details perfectly, while others took me by surprise. Having just finished Pokemon White earlier that year, it was almost shocking seeing how far the series had come over the last two decades. But despite its primitive sprites and “Psychic-type-trumps-all” structure, the fact that I was able to have such a wonderful time with Yellow after all these years speaks volumes for its quality.
Anyone who’s been following my Splatoon 2 coverage this year saw this one coming. As someone who loves color and cheerfulness in his games, Splatoon was the perfect entry point into the shooter genre for me. The beauty of the game was that it wouldn’t force you into any one role. Oftentimes in Turf War I’d choose to stay back and lazily cover the base, and other times I’d rush headfirst into combat; both gameplay styles were equally as viable. Depending on the weapon and game mode, there were loads of different ways to play.
Sometimes a game just clicks with you. From the moment I saw the Splatoon coverage before its launch in 2015 I knew that I’d love it. I ended up buying a Wii U bundle just for that game alone, continuing my short history of buying game consoles for one core game. In the end it became my most-played game of all time, and for good reason. Its easy pick-up-and-play nature, goofy mood, wonderfully cheerful aesthetic, and that perfect “just one more” hook all came together to form my perfect game trifecta.
I could go on even more about my love for Splatoon‘s weird lore and Japanese-inspired in-game culture, but I’ll spare you. What it really boils down to is this: Splatoon somehow introduced me to a game genre that I’ve never imagined I’d enjoy. Where so many other dark, more “realistic” shooters have failed, Splatoon succeeded. For someone like me, a primarily single-player gamer who favors fantasy and color, it was a godsend.
If Pokemon served as my introduction to the RPG genre, Xenoblade Chronicles felt like the culmination of everything that I’d ever wanted from it. Mind-blowingly released on the Wii of all consoles, and towards the end of its life at that, Xenoblade redefined storytelling, characterization and world-building in gaming. Whenever I went back to it, it truly felt like I was stepping back into the world of the Bionis and Mechonis myself. It felt like a real escape from reality.
If you’ve never played this game, I won’t spoil anything for you–you deserve to either play it for yourself, or watch what is perhaps the greatest let’s play ever created here. What I can express is just how meticulously well-crafted this game is. At the time, this thing was pushing the Wii to its absolute limits. Character models aren’t the prettiest, mouths don’t sync up exceptionally well, and there are plenty of muddy textures everywhere. But what does any of that matter in the face of fleshed out characters, brilliant voice acting and a world that truly feels like it’s alive?
I fell in love with these characters. I’d never been so swept up in a game narrative in my life. The sheer vastness of the environments in the game completely astonished me for years until Xenoblade Chronicles X came along. In a genre that I mainly play to feel like I’m on an adventure with the protagonist(s), Xenoblade Chronicles completely knocked it out of the park. This is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest JRPGs ever created.
Honorable Mentions: ATV Quad Power Racing 2, Elite Beat Agents, Fable II, Final Fantasy III, Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup, One Piece: Grand Battle, Pokémon White, Sonic Heroes, SSX Tricky