Five down and fifteen to go!
When you’ve been playing video games as long as I have, it can be difficult to place your favorites. Had I granted myself a list of 25 or 30, this process would have been easier, but there’s something about narrowing down the things you love, regardless of what they are—books, movies, golfers, tire manufacturers—that is almost sort of necessary. An appreciation for something is so much smaller when it is placed on a list of “one of my favorites,” but as the #2, the #7, the #53 favorite, a sort of ownership develops over your list. Your #3 won’t be the same as someone else’s #3, nor will many of the other items present, and there’s a pride in that, in knowing that something so close to you, so much a part of who you are, is largely unique to you. You don’t get that when it’s only one of many; you get that when you define it, so without further ado, here we go, the next part’s is up!
15. Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine inherited the near herculean task of becoming the game to follow up Super Mario 64. And Sunshine‘s place on this list isn’t to say that it is better than its predecessor, but rather to say that where Super Mario 64 revolutionized the industry, Super Mario Sunshine refined it, injecting within it a sense of character I haven’t seen in a Super Mario since. The island especially is what I remember the most. It was vibrant, unique, teeming with nooks where secrets were hidden with levels that were uniquely their own. The hotel on the beach, the ocean amusement park—every part of Sunshine’s aesthetic committed to the theme and created a sun-filled, beach-going, carefreeness that I genuinely miss.
Super Mario Sunshine holds up today. It doesn’t feel gimmicky to me, it doesn’t feel weak. Sunshine manages to highlight everything that made its Nintendo 64 cousin so. good. and create a style that is wholly unique for its island town vibe.
14. Animal Crossing New Leaf
I don’t think there’s a game on this list that elicits more calm feelings in me than Animal Crossing New Leaf—or the Animal Crossing series for that matter, and that can be an odd thing to say because video games, historically, were created with the purpose of bringing about joy and childlike wonder to kids and adults alike, but even for Nintendo, the company known for dealing in heapfuls of nostalgic wonder, Animal Crossing is a step beyond their usual fair to something even happier.
The biggest thing that sets this series apart is the fact that it expects nothing of you. There are no quests, there are no waypoints, no big bad, no struggles, just a town and its people, you and your friendships. The world isn’t huge by any stretch, but the world doesn’t matter. It’s the town and its people, your simple needs and theirs. Grand quests are great and all, but who needs those when there’s a furniture set to collect and the shop closes at 10.
Animal Crossing New Leaf was the reason I bought a Nintendo 3DS, and when you’re a senior in college, worrying about a senior thesis, worrying about writing a novel, worrying about graduating and the adult life to follow, something that expects nothing of you, be it Animal Crossing, be it…I don’t know, sailboating, is a greater gift than you might think. This game was that for me when I needed it most and when I look back at that year and that time of my life when I was stressed beyond belief, I’m appreciative of the break, even if it was a small one, from the things that life expected.
13. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
The Sly Cooper series is a strange one for me to articulate what makes it so good. It was never the tightest, most progressive series to grace the PlayStation 2, but it was arguably one of the most unique.
Sly Cooper oozes style. It’s caper-filled, thief-laden, cartoon-noir junk food. From the “We’ll be right back!” logo that pops up in the pause screen to the title cards at the start of every level, Sly Cooper runs far and fast with its nostalgic influence, filling me when I play it, both back then and now, with a giddy, childhood feeling.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves was revolutionary for the series. Where the original was interesting and engaging, it was largely linear—missions moved in an organized line and levels passed quickly. But Sly 2 opened everything up, it allowed free-roaming of its hub worlds, new playable characters, and incredible heist sequences at the end of every section that I still think about today.
When a list of my favorite games of all time gets started, Sly 2 is one of the first to mind. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s a clever game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and a wonderfully good one at that. As far as console mascots go, Sly Cooper is one of the greats, and for good reason too.
12. Portal 2
Declaratory statement here: Portal is perhaps the greatest puzzle series if not in modern history then of all time—full stop.
Portal 2 is a brilliant game. Rarely does a puzzle go by that you as the solver don’t feel like your own personal stamp was placed upon the solution. By that I mean to say that some of the best puzzle games are the ones with such an open-ended and unguided approach to their solutions that when all is figured out, there’s a sense that you’re more clever than you may think. That’s a difficult thing to do. Games have gotten used to guiding the player, to making sure they know what to do, but some of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had are the ones left up to me. Portal 2 does that largely. I finished a number of puzzles wherein I felt as though I’d done something wrong. The choices I made and the solution I came up with seemed unorthodox at best, but there was a pride and a satisfaction in feeling as though I’d made that puzzle my own.
The Portal games are masters at this approach and they’re incredibly funny too. There’s a snark to the setup, both in narration and level design, that makes you smile the entire way, and as a puzzle fan, I’d be remiss if Portal 2 weren’t here.
11. Mass Effect 2
The Mass Effect series is a near perfect amalgam of so much that is good and you’d be hard-pressed to find two fans who have the same reasons for why they love it. It‘s about the setting, about the journey, about diversity, its characters. It’s about the combat, the exploration, the systems and the choices. It’s so many good things rolled into one—the definitive space opera for the medium—but Mass Effect 2, I truly believe, is the series’ perfect point.
That’s a difficult decision to make. The original Mass Effect was a janky mess at times. It was uneven, at times uninteresting, at times a frustrating piece of work, but I loved it to death, so much so, I played it a half dozen times. Mass Effect 2 though took the series forward in such an incredible way. It created this almost episodic nature to its mission structure, it expanded the variety of your companions. The combat was tighter, much of the slog was gone, and what was left was something great.
There’re things about the original Mass Effect that I miss. Mass Effect 2 is more action oriented, the original, more RPG. There’s a charm the original had that the later entries didn’t that keeps it close to me, but Mass Effect 2, despite that, is not only a better game overall, but my favorite of the series, if for no other reason than the final mission of the game.
Mass Effect 2, and the entire series for that matter, is a must play for everyone. There’s a wonderful story, interesting characters, engaging combat, and a fascinating world and I can easily say, that during the last generation, this series was one of my favorites. Check it out if you haven’t, especially if you like space choicey shooty things.