Inspired by a tweet by @RinoTheBouncer, I wanted to reflect upon some of the games that have defined my past decade as a gamer. For those unaware, I had stopped playing video games during the GCN/PS2/Xbox era and only seriously started getting back into it with the launch of the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. Thus, this decade could be best described as a renaissance for me, having completed more games in this timeframe than I had at any other point in my life.
If you’re familiar with my previous work, some of these reflections might sound familiar, as I am lifting many of them from back when I wrote on IGN, only slightly modifying them to fit the modern context. I should also note that, as I am primarily a Nintendo and PC gamer, my list skews heavily in favor of those platforms. Still, I figured it would be neat to share my game of the year for each year of the past decade from that perspective, in remembrance of my return to gaming.
2010: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy is considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time, and while I do agree with its merits, Super Mario Galaxy 2 easily blows it out of the water. While the first game struggled somewhat with how to handle its newly-found outer space context, Super Mario Galaxy 2 impresses by emphasizing the creation of bigger, more interesting worlds that build upon the foundations of its predecessor. Behold, then, one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time.
2011: Portal 2
Portal 2 surprises far more than you might expect. The first game managed to invent a new subgenre, but its sequel surpasses it in almost every way. I was blown away by the level of creativity that went into the game’s more open environments, inviting ingenious puzzle design that extends the game’s basic mechanics. Larger-than-life characters, a standalone cooperative campaign, and Steam workshop support round off this amazing package, making this game one of the best in its genre.
2012: Xenoblade Chronicles
It is hard to believe that we almost did not see the release of Xenoblade Chronicles in the west, which is particularly surprising given how remarkable this game is. Not only does it impress in terms of size and scale, but it manages to fill its world with colorful characters and beautiful environments. A robust combat system that mixes MMO-like mechanics with traditional JRPG gameplay keeps things fresh throughout its 70+ hour campaign, and what you get is one of the best modern JRPGs to date.
Antichamber is deliberately enigmatic, and its mind-bending puzzles are designed to test your sanity. At first, it may seem like you are the one being played by the game, but as you traverse through Antichamber’s many puzzle rooms, you learn to think like the game, and everything begins to fall into place. This method of self-discovery is so rare in modern video games, yet Antichamber does it so masterfully and rises as one of the best first-person puzzle games I have ever played.
2014: Fantasy Life
The thing that astonished me the most about Fantasy Life is how easy it is to get hooked on its simplicity. Do not let its cutesy art style fool you; this is an unexpectedly deep experience, the perfect RPG to take on the go. Packed with surprises at every turn, it does not matter much which of the 16 different “lives” you end up choosing, whether it’s just one or all of them. With hundreds of side-quests, challenges, and areas to explore, there is no shortage of things to do in Fantasy Life.
Undertale could have settled for typical and still would have been a fine game. Instead, it opted to stand out amongst the indie RPG crowd, with a unique battle system that is unexpectedly robust, an amalgam of charming characters in an ironically thriving game world, and genuine humor to boot. It is the little things that make Undertale so different, and the culmination of these intricate details make it a must-play for any gamer, regardless of your nostalgia level.
2016: The Witness
The Witness slowly evolves from being a game about mazes to one about observation and discovery. To think like The Witness is to think outside the box, then inside again; to think creatively yet constantly reminding yourself that the best answer is often straightforward. It is a game full of paradoxes and juxtapositions, illogical puzzles with logical answers, and it entrances you so, driving you to find meaning in the seemingly meaningless. Perhaps that is what makes The Witness so special.
2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes true on its promise to change the way the industry thinks about open-world games. There is just something so magical about Hyrule, how the game’s many intricate systems work together in surprising ways, how the unprecedented amount of agency the game gives the player makes traversing the massive game world feel unlike anything since Super Mario 64. Breath of the Wild is a landmark game in Nintendo’s creative repertoire.
2018: Octopath Traveler
At first glance, one might discount Octopath Traveler as mere nostalgia pandering, but those who do are mistaken. This game not only excellently pays homage to classic JRPGs of yore, but enhances traditional gameplay elements typical of the genre with a few tricks of its own. Although the story itself may be filled with tired tropes, the game never wears out its welcome, even after dozens of hours of random battles and exploration. Octopath Traveler is beautiful, fun, and brilliant.
2019: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
Over three decades of Dragon Quest games have come to this: an enthralling adventure from start to finish. The Switch version is an excellent port; in addition to everything you love about the original game—memorable characters, heartfelt story, and all—you are also treated with an orchestrated soundtrack and brand new story chapters, not to mention the ability to play on the go. There is a lot to love about Dragon Quest XI, and the Definitive Edition makes it one of the best games on Switch.
For more game recommendations by me, or if just want to know what I’ve been playing recently, check out my Backloggery!