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.
For my seventh birthday, my grandparents let me pick between a PS2 and a GameCube. I chose the GameCube and I don’t regret it. Why would I? After all, the Big N, while it suffered from plenty of issues, gave me plenty of good, quality games to play as a kid, a rarity in today’s world of mobile-focused shovelware and mature, AAA-focused titles. In the following piece, you’ll find ten games, from childhood favorites to relatively recent releases, that I cherish above all others. I hope you enjoy the list!
10) Super Mario Maker
I’ve always loved Super Mario platformers. From the incredibly creative Super Mario World to the maddeningly tedious Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels, they’ve been the one game series that I’ve played consistently throughout my life. My love for them has stayed consistent, even as my tastes in gaming have matured or diverged entirely.
However, when Super Mario Maker was first announced in 2014, I remember feeling, well–not much of anything at all actually. I genuinely didn’t care about the game in the slightest (a side-effect of waiting eagerly on Xenoblade Chronicles X, I suppose.) The graphics looked pedestrian and while the game’s concept seemed interesting, the presentation most certainly wasn’t.
Fast-forward to September of 2015, however, and my opinion had changed entirely. I hadn’t bought the game at launch so I was watching videos about it courtesy of YouTube channel GameXplain instead. It was then that I realized that the game being released was not only much more polished than the product originally introduced in 2014, but that it also looked like a lot of fun.
Pretty soon, I was playing the game (courtesy of a well-timed birthday gift from my parents) and my family and I fell in love instantly. What normal Super Mario platforms had lacked in difficulty, depth, and variety was improved by a community dedicated to creating some of the most fun, diverse, and difficult Super Mario levels that I’ve ever seen.
Nearly four hundred hours of collective playtime later, its safe to say that Super Mario Maker became not only one of my favorite games of all time, but one of the games that I’ve had the most fun playing with my friends and family. We’ve spent dozens of hours playing through 100 Mario Challenge and countless more designing and polishing our own levels, which you can find here.
In a world where games are often criticized for how they separate people, Super Mario Maker is a rare example of a game that does the opposite, a game that not only brought my family a lot of fun, but also brought us closer together.
9) Super Paper Mario
While often considered the black sheep of the Paper Mario series, Super Paper Mario is a classic. I forget how many dozens of hours I spent as a kid roaming the world of Flipside while on my journey to save the world from the all-encompassing Void. While certainly not as well-polished as The Thousand Year Door, or the portable Mario RPGs, Super Paper Mario successfully manages to create a fun and engaging experience nonetheless.
Aside from its oftentimes banal combat system, the story is one of the better ones in the Mario RPGs, pursuing a depth and maturity that has yet to be topped. It is ultimately a game about love, loss, and the end of the world. The main villain, while lacking the traditional evilness and grativas associated with Mario RPG villains, is excellent.
A character reeling from pain and reacting in kind, his actions paint him as perhaps one of the most complicated characters in Mario series history; a welcome addition to a series whose villains often possess paper-thin motivations.
While its gameplay leaves much to be desired and it lacks the breadth of previous Mario RPGs, the depth of its storytelling coupled with a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek and original script, makes it not only one of the best Mario RPGs, but one of the best Mario games of all time. Super Paper Mario truly is a game worth experiencing.
8) Super Smash Bros.
The Super Smash Bros. series has been a favorite of mine since I played Super Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube. The series’ fun mechanics paired with a roster full of Nintendo characters from almost every one of the Big N’s franchises has given me countless years of enjoyment. However, picking between the different titles in the series is simply too difficult for me; each game is simply too good in its own way.
Super Smash Bros. Melee has a fun, engaging Adventure Mode as well as the most fun (not to mention the most challenging) Events in the series. Super Smash Bros. Brawl has the Sub-Space Emissary which, while not a favorite of all fans, features two of the most most impactful and memorable cutscenes in Nintendo history. Finally, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has (in my personal opinion, don’t flame the comments Melee fans!) the most well-balanced and fun combat mechanics, balancing the combo-heavy nature of Melee with the easy-to-pick up floatiness of Brawl into a package so fun that it can be enjoyed by Smash players of any skill level.
It’s simply too great of a task for me to separate such iconic titles from each other, with too much nostalgia at stake for me to even attempt it. They are in a class of their own, a testament to the genius of series creator Masahiro Sakurai and a visual reminder of just how great a treasure trove of IPs the Big N has at its disposal.
7) Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares
It would be an exercise in foolishness to try and count how many hours I spent playing the Master of Orion series as a kid. I owned both Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares and Master of Orion III for the PC. Courtesy of watching my father play them when I was young, I fell in love with the series quickly. While Master of Orion III doesn’t hold up particularly well today, instead playing like an instance of “Excel Spreadsheets: The Game,” the second game absolutely does, a testament to how well good game design can carry a game that’s even older than I am.
Released over two decades ago, Master of Orion II possesses gameplay that, while rudimentary by today’s standards, is impressive for a game older than the Millennium itself. A complicated meta-game evolving around balancing special attributes and a punishing AI highlight what is perhaps the greatest feature of Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares, its nigh infinite replayability.
I have seldom found a game that I can come back to, whether after a week or a year, and still have just as much fun as the day that I first started. Master of Orion II is an exception to that rule, a game so fun and enjoyable that I still return to it, even today.
Master of Orion II doesn’t hide its age well and it doesn’t have to. Much like any classic, it can instead rest upon its timeless brilliance, brilliance that transcends the rapid development of PC hardware and the space-strategy genre. Master of Orion II is a classic space strategy game, and one that needs to be experienced by anyone who loves PC gaming or strategy games. It is a masterpiece of timeless game design.
6) Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga
While the Mario and Luigi series has hit something of a snag recently with two good, but not great, entries in the series, its debut game is still as great as it ever was. Another gift from my childhood, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga maintained a constant presence in my Game Boy Advance’s carrying bag as a kid.
Fun, cartoony visuals punctuated with a masterful score by legendary composer Yoko Shimomura make most every moment of playing Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga a zanily enjoyable experience. Although I had played Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door by the time I received Superstar Saga as a Christmas present, it was my first true RPG; a fact that made it very hard for me to finish as a kid.
I can’t remember how many times I got stuck on a boss, puzzle, or just got lost in the game, but Superstar Saga‘s difficulty paled in comparison to its final boss, easily one of the most difficult final bosses that I’ve ever played against.
It wasn’t that the game was particularly hard, but that, like most children, I was impatient. Not content to spend the limited time I had to play games defeating enemies for experience points, I often ran from encounters, increasing the difficulty of the game further. Looking back, it’s a wonder that I ever finished it at all.
Regardless, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is a superb adventure, and one well worth revisiting either on the Wii U eShop or when its remake, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions comes out on the 3DS this fall.
5) Chrono Trigger
It is very, very easy to make a bad JRPG. Trust me, I’ve played plenty of them. Even today, the genre struggles with crafting experiences that differ significantly from JRPGs that were released twenty or thirty years ago, with a few notable exceptions.
While most older JRPGs (such as the perennially loved Final Fantasy VI) show their age through use of by-the-book JRPG design, Chrono Trigger‘s originality and timeless gameplay still holds up as well as any RPG released today. An excellent, well-written time-travel story, an engaging battle system, and lovable characters made Chrono Trigger an easy game to fall in love with.
And the characters are what makes Chrono Trigger so different from many other JRPGs. From the enigmatic Magus to the indisputably honorable Frog, each characters stands out from the crowd of traditional JRPG archetypes, a testament to the game’s memorable presentation.
All of this goes without mentioning the spectacular soundtrack, which, as a first production by now-legendary composer Yasonori Mitsuda, is rivaled only by a select few. Its timeless melodies and luscious synth-jazz trills still give me chills to this day. It’s a masterpiece in sound design, and a testament to how well timeless music can set the stage for an excellent game.
Timelessness really is Chrono Trigger‘s greatest strength as, even 22 years after its initial 1995 release, it still holds up remarkably well. True timelessness is rare among games, but especially among RPGs, whose greatest tool is their ability to immerse players within a world. Despite releasing on hardware less powerful than the modern smart thermostat, Chrono Trigger still impresses today, a monument to what can be accomplished with enough pure talent, even on severely outdated hardware.
4) Final Fantasy XIV
There is no game on this list whose memory is more bittersweet for me than Final Fantasy XIV. The MMO genre is known for its ability to draw people in, to have them consider a fictional world of polygons and vectors their second home. FFXIV was no different for me.
I’ve written about it extensively before, but I played FFXIV during a time of great dynamism and change in my life. It relieved a lot of the stress from my final year of college and gave me goals that, while essentially meaningless, provided a release from what writing 15 papers in 14 weeks will often do to a person.
It helped that the game was a masterpiece in MMO design. While more “amusement park” MMO than sandbox, FFXIV was filled with so much content and so many callbacks to previous entries in the series that I often felt like it was a game designed specifically for me. A great story, epic soundtrack, and addictive content treadmill made playing FFXIV feel rewarding. Even if it took fifty hours to get the exclusive loot that I was after, it ultimately felt worth it in the end.
For more than a year and a half, all of my gaming-related decisions revolved around playing FFXIV. After I first played the game on PC, I bought a copy for the now-shuttered PS3 so that I could play while the computer was being used. When I got a PS4, I upgraded from the PS3 version so I could enjoy better graphical fidelity and smooth frame rates while in the living room. When I upgraded my computer to be able to play FFXIV at 1080p and 60FPS, I purchased a new keyboard and mouse, specifically to enhance my FFXIV experience. Everything I did, gaming-wise, at least tangentially, considered FFXIV, something I haven’t done for any other game, before or since.
I stopped playing FFXIV shortly after the release of Patch 3.1 in the Fall of 2015, when I made an attempt to come back and play it again. It simply wasn’t the same. Most of the members of my Free Company (FFXIV‘s version of guilds) had moved on. As a result, my desire to return slowly dropped away.
However, my memories of Eorzea haven’t. They remain as poignant today as they did then, a reminder of how games can move us in unexpected ways and make a discernible impact on our lives; a reminder of how powerful gaming is as an entertainment medium.
3) Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
I remember the first time I heard about the Paper Mario series. I was standing in Wal-mart with my parents, watching one of those old CRT TVs that used to droop down from the ceiling, when an advertisement for The Thousand Year Door came on.
I was skeptical of the game’s appeal, as its cutesy, paper aesthetic immediately made me label it as a game for really young kids, and an uninteresting one at that.
Fast-forward a few months and, lo and behold, I received The Thousand Year Door along with Super Mario Sunshine for my birthday. As soon as my father and I began to play the game, I realized just how wrong my initial impression had been.
Far from the boring, Mario Paint-esque art game that I was expecting, The Thousand Year Door was one of the best games that I had ever played. An initially simple battle system unfurled into the subtly nuanced Badge System and a story that could have been mailed in was, instead, unfolded with great care. Side-missions involving Princess Peach and Bowser added variety and flavor to the game without interrupting its pacing.
Such brilliance was also evident in the design of each chapter of the game’s story. While there is one relatively weak chapter in the game, Chapter 2, the rest stand out as among the best in Mario RPG history. Adventures such as Mario’s trip to Glitzville and journey on the Excess Express are as memorable as anything the portly plumber has done over his nearly four decades of existence.
Despite paper-thin graphics, the game world comes alive brilliantly, the ultimate evidence that visual creativity often trumps pure graphical fidelity, especially as a title ages. Beautiful colors and an excellent paper aesthetic decorate a world that’s as beautiful and creative as any in the Mario series.
It’s a shame that Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door hasn’t been re-released yet. Such creativity ought not to be held back by the poor sales of a middling console, and one of the greatest games of all time ought not to linger behind while lesser games absorb the spotlight. It’s long past time that Nintendo reminds gamers of its brilliance and re-release The Thousand Year Door so that a new generation of gamers can see its greatness.
2) Metroid Prime
I received Metroid Prime in a bundle along with my GameCube for my birthday in 2004 and it’s the quintessential nostalgic tale of my childhood. I’ve discussed Metroid Prime at length before but, simply put, it’s one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time.
While previous Metroid games were excellent in their own right, Prime took the series to new heights. By taking the player within the suit, Nintendo and Retro Studios allowed one to truly experience the game, taking immersion to an entirely different level. Such excellent immersion, when paired with true in-game isolation, allowed Prime to craft an impressively quilted atmosphere that the series has yet to match in subsequent entries.
That goes without mentioning the excellent graphics, which hold up even today. While working with laughably antiquated hardware, Retro Studios managed to produce a game that looks as sharp as any Nintendo game ever has. While zones mainly stick to their themes, each is populated with detailed, believable flora and fauna that fit perfectly in their environment. From the fearsome Baby Sheegoth that stalk the Phendrana Drifts to the oh-so-annoying Shriekbats that haunt every corridor, Metroid Prime‘s biodiversity is one of its greatest strengths.
The music, composed by Kenji Yamamoto, remains some of Nintendo’s best. Soft, mellow glaciality highlights the expanse of Phendrana Drifts while the bubbly harmonies beneath the main melody of Magmoor Caverns showcase not only its incredible beauty, but also its danger. Perhaps no other Nintendo game executes so well on its soundtrack as Metroid Prime does.
Overall, Metroid Prime is, in every way, the quintessential Metroid game and one well worth experiencing. From its impressive vistas to its groundbreaking immersion, the original Metroid Prime isn’t only the greatest Metroid game ever made, it is also one of the greatest games ever made.
1) Xenoblade Chronicles
Once one witnesses true greatness, it becomes that much harder to stomach the dullness of mediocrity. I witnessed this greatness when I first played Xenoblade Chronicles in 2012, and I have yet to witness a game that approaches its stratospheric excellence.
I have spent the better part of five years searching wide and far for a JRPG capable of dethroning Xenoblade. I haven’t succeeded. Despite playing through almost the entirety of the Final Fantasy series and playing Xenoblade’s own spiritual successor, nothing has come close.
And, that’s not because they lack quality, it’s simply because Xenoblade supersedes them in every way.
Xenoblade’s story is breathtaking, a testament to the passion of director Tetsuya Takahashi. Unlike previous projects of his, such as Xenogears or the Xenosaga trilogy, Xenoblade doesn’t suffer from rampant issues in pacing nor the game’s own obtuse need to repeatedly remind the player how smart it is. While there’s still plenty of philosophizing (Xenoblade borrows heavily from Gnosticism), it is kept under control for most of the story, allowing the player to keep at least a tangential understanding of what is occurring on screen.
As a result, Xenoblade maintains its pace throughout the entirety of the adventure. While most JRPGs have either a slow beginning, a glacial middle, or a soul-crushingly difficult end, Xenoblade stays, with the exception of one ultra-challenging boss toward the end, incredibly well-paced. From the beginning until the end, there isn’t a single section that overstays its welcome. For a game that can stretch to over 100 hours, Xenoblade moves at a remarkable pace.
The story is assisted by an even better soundtrack. While I’ve heard a bevy of great music from a variety of JRPG maestros such as Nobuo Uematsu, none of them can match the consistent quality of Xenoblade’s soundtrack. Tracks such as “Unfinished Battle” and “You Will Know Our Names” are truly some of the greatest tracks in not only the history of JRPGs, but also of video games.
In fact, Xenoblade remains the only game whose soundtrack I listen to on a near-daily basis. Its vast collection of 91 songs covers nearly every perceivable emotion. Sad? Xenoblade has a song for that. Happy? Xenoblade has a song for that. Feel like crushing robots with the power of your magical sword? There’s a song for that too.
Every aspect of Xenoblade, from its incredible setting upon the bodies of two titans, to its excellent gameplay, seems designed to create the perfect JRPG. It aims for excellence and soars way above its mark, hitting true greatness.
And that, ultimately, is why Xenoblade Chronicles is my favorite game of all time. Its excellent story, superb music, and creative setting outclass every other game that I have ever played. While it isn’t perfect, it is far and above the greatest game that I’ve ever played, proof that JRPGs, despite stagnating as a genre, can still tell stories worth hearing.
10 Honorable Mentions: Civilization V, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Wii), Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story