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.
From the dark and perilous city known as Norwich in England, I grew up isolated from what was then the 20th century. From a time when there was only five television channels and cassette tapes of Duran Duran, video games became my source of entertainment.
Even though I’m the Nintendo Editor, my first console was the Sega Megadrive, and it still brings me much sadness that Sega doesn’t make consoles anymore. However, it was Nintendo that made some of the most influential games that I was lucky enough to experience, and ever since the Nintendo 64, I’ve been largely dedicated to Nintendo.
It’s been rather difficult putting together my top ten games. Honestly, there are some incredible games missing and showing just ten makes the list rather incomplete. For a while, I contemplated having Aladdin on the Sega Megadrive on the list as it was the first game I ever played, however, I felt these ten influenced my gaming experience more.
It was a debate between Golden Axe and Streets of Rage as my favorite side-scrolling action game, and Golden Axe just pipped it. This style of game was everything that made the Sega Megadrive so special and why I remain fond of Sega.
There were three characters to choose from but I always went Gilius Thunderhead; a dwarf with an axe has always been my go-to character, notably in the long-forgotten board game HeroQuest. rampaging through the map to defeat Death Adder after he killed your twin brother was the jist of the game, and continually shoulder-barging your foes off the map made light work of many of the levels.
What I love about this era of gaming is how the games are almost built especially for multiplayer, Golden Axe was no exception. Side-scrolling action games have always been much more enjoyable with a friend, slashing through some skeletons or pushing the golden knights off the platform together, trying to complete the game as quickly as possible. The online situation of today misses these special moments, to the point where they don’t feel multiplayer at all, which is why games like Golden Axe live fond in the memory.
Super Mario Bros. 3
While Super Mario 64 remains my favorite Mario game, Super Mario Bros. 3 has been much more influential. Having been a Sega MegaDrive child, Super Mario Bros. 3 came much later for me and was the first Nintendo game I played when I tried out the NES.
Other than being able to skip from World 1 to World 8, something speedrunners naturally do, the worlds in Super Mario Bros. 3 have been some of the best I’ve ever played, even better than those found in the first Sonic the Hedgehog. Our favorite plumber could now power-up with the super leaf and tanooki suit which allowed him to fly and turn into stone respectively. Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduced the Koopalings, who were named after musicians Ludvig van Beethoven and Roy Orbison, so you get an idea of what Miyamoto was listening to at the time.
Today we can safely say Mario defeated Sonic in their rivalry two decades ago, but back then, it wasn’t so clear-cut. When reminiscing about these fantastic games, I really do wish Sonic could have kept up with Mario, which is irony all in itself.
Age of Empires
In the late 90s, I grew much fondness for strategy war-games, something I still enjoy to this day. I think Age of Empires was the moment I realized there was a little tyrant in me, wishing to dominate everything I could grasp. Sadly, tyranny became unpopular with Franco and has kept its bad reputation ever since.
A basic strategy game, but one that would inspire a whole genre on its own. The factions were imbalanced with anything with armored elephants able to dominate over anything else; you could actually reach Rome with Carthage. The beauty was its simplicity, you’d begin the game with three villagers and a town center, and you’d need to collect resources and build your civilization fast. I remember stone being a particularly scarce resource in the game, and one in which I would use quite often, so my inner-tyrant would build walls around all the stone quarries so the NPCs couldn’t get to them.
You could also build your own maps, which was almost like Microsoft paint where you could slap some water in here, or place a little desert there. There were even some historical characters like Julius Caesar and Achilles that you could put into the game, which naturally had some decent buffs to fit their historical reputation; still no match for forty armored elephants.
I’m going to declare it in defiance of the popularity of Call of Duty, Goldeneye is the best shooter of all time. Let’s ignore how bad Pierce Brosnan was as James Bond, and how unfortunate it is to play as him in a game, Goldeneye is a classic and has the best multiplayer of any shooter.
Much like Golden Axe, Goldeneye is at its best when you’re playing with your pals. There was always that one friend who had to be Oddjob so you had to aim downward to hit the bugger. It had some incredibly iconic maps such as Facility and Bunker, with plenty of secret hiding places that were known to only the most committed players. And whoever got the golden gun ensured the red screen of death for everybody else.
Such was its era, there were funny unlockables such as the hat-shooting mode, where you had to shoot their hat off to kill them. I think sometimes modern games miss this silly aspect of gaming, and maybe kids playing Call of Duty wouldn’t be so intolerable if they had a hat-shooting mode. Over to you Activision.
Skies of Arcadia
At Goomba Stomp, we have the best and most knowledgeable game journalists on the internet. However, the goombas at Goomba Stomp made one small error when they voted for the best games of the 21st century so far; they overlooked my nomination of Skies of Arcadia.
Skies of Arcadia has influenced the RPGs we love today more than people realize, and it’s a great shame it was released on the Dreamcast where it couldn’t be as appreciated as it should have been. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I believe Skies of Arcadia was perhaps the first RPG that focused on exploration more than character progression, something that future RPGs would certainly take inspiration from.
The battle system was turn-based, but I remember vividly how it tried to create an illusion that everything was more active by the enemies around you still moving and fighting. Having just spent a considerable time playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2, for all its faults, I could find a lot of Skies of Arcadia inspiration within it. I’m honestly intrigued about who had the joy of playing this game as the Dreamcast was sadly so ahead of its time that it didn’t sell as well as it should.
If you’ve ever managed to get through the entirety of one of my articles, which deserves a medal of recognition, you might have made it to my bio. In that bio, you’ll find a reference to one of my favorite games, Grim Fandango. A hilarious point-and-click puzzle-game that actually had a deep meaning sprouted in it.
Something about Grim Fandango has always tickled me, whether it’s Chepito walking around in circles at the bottom of the sea with a lamp on his head, or Glottis’ stupid grin when fixing a car. Puzzle games like this don’t really exist anymore, and it’s a big shame, they create a unique challenge on their own, where progression isn’t skill based but rather observation based, finding the correct tools to progress.
Grim Fandango takes a lot of patience, sometimes it can be challenging to figure out the sequence of events that need to be triggered. That’s part of its beauty, you’re being rewarded with one of the best tales told in gaming, and it certainly changed my view on point-and-click puzzle-games at the time, enough where I can enjoy these games still today.
Samus Aran has always been one of my favorite protagonists in gaming, and she was at her best when Metroid Prime released on the Gamecube. Even though the Metroid series is incredibly popular, it’s always stricken me as being underrated as it is situated in a saturated genre of gaming, where its Nintendo platform pushed it to the back after Sony and Microsoft started to dominate at the turn of the century.
Exploring Tallon IV and shooting space pirates seems a pretty standard concept, but in truly remarkable Nintendo form, it produced one of the finest games of all time. The gloomy soundtrack really added to the atmosphere and perilous situation Samus was in, and the immersive level design was ahead of its time. I remember the controls were criticized at the time, but they weren’t too awkward once you had played it long enough.
Metroid Prime was the finest game produced on the Gamecube, a system that included classics such as The Wind Waker and Luigi’s Mansion, so no small accolade. The anticipation for Metroid Prime 4 is a reminder of how powerful and inspiring Metroid Prime really was, and how long Nintendo fans have waited to continue their journey with Samus Aran.
Europa Universalis IV
I realized my transformation into a tyrant was complete when I started playing Europa Universalis IV. All that time sending armored elephants to destroy Rome in Age of Empires, or firing nukes at the French in Civilization 4 had come to this moment in time. Now armed with some ships and a flag, I could dominate the world like never before.
Europa Universalis IV is the best strategy game I’ve ever played, and I’ve spent a lot of time taking over the world in various different games. There are so many variables, so many different approaches, and so many ways to plant your flag that I don’t think you could ever exhaust your options. From colonizing the Caribbean with England to forming a Meditteranean trade hub with Genoa, or even attempting to push the Ottomans back with the Byzantines (good luck) and recreating the Roman Empire, this complex strategy game is the most absorbing one I’ve played.
What makes Europa Universalis IV so difficult is balancing diplomacy with aggression. There’s a lot of checks and balances to stop every game being an Ottoman onslaught, which means clear strategy is the only way to succeed. As a rule, if you can ally with the Holy Roman Emperor, do it.
Pokémon Gold and Silver
Most people of my generation will say there’s only 151 pokémon and Pokémon Red and Blue were the only good Pokémon games; they’re wrong and should be ignored. Pokémon Gold and Silver built on everything Pokémon Red and Blue did and added everything that later generations would take for granted in a Pokémon game. As a consequence of Gold and Silver being so influential, Sapphire and Ruby never really shined for me.
It was the success of Pokémon Gold and Silver that really turned Pokémon into the franchise it is today. Red and Blue was barely a strategy at all, with one Alakazam enough to skip through any battle. The battle mechanics were refined and balanced in Gold and Silver, neutering Alakazam, and thus one of the best franchises was born. I imagine the news of a once-dominant Alakazam shocks the younger generations, as you wouldn’t find one competitively anymore.
Pokémon is about to move onto its eighth generation when it moves the franchise onto the Nintendo Switch, and I honestly think it’s thanks to Gold and Silver that the franchise remains so popular today. If it hadn’t done everything Red and Blue did and couldn’t at the same time, it wouldn’t be the Pokémon we know and love today.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
The oddball of The Legend of Zelda series, the one where Princess Zelda only appears once in a flashback. Majora’s Mask was dark and twisted in its nature, with such a unique concept it turned the Zelda formula on its head entirely, producing a masterpiece.
Rather than the boy meets fish story of a few Zelda titles, Majora’s Mask appeared to focus on the five stages of grief, an insinuation that Link had died at the beginning of the game. It’s never been confirmed or denied, but after many playthroughs, I’m prepared to confirm it myself. Even the Happy Mask Salesman reminds you that “you’ve been met with a terrible fate.”
Skull Kid is perhaps one of the best antagonists in gaming, predominantly because of how relatable he is. His desire to destroy the world was produced by his own sadness through bullying and loneliness. Ganon, as an example, never had such a grey personality, he was just a manifestation of evil. Skull Kid, to my mind, was never evil.
And this story of acceptance as you drift back and forth in time, solving the riddles of the masks, remains my favorite game of all time. The darkness that you encounter as you move from region to region, helping the fallen accept their terrible fate, makes it one of the more emotional Zelda titles, and for that, I can’t fault it.