10 Best Tracks from Sonic the Hedgehog Soundtracks

The Sonic the Hedgehog games have been on quite the ride over the past 29 years, with some of the best games ever made and…well…some of the worst games ever made too. One thing that has been relatively consistent throughout the franchise, however, is the music, which has remained incredible.

The Sonic soundtracks have gone through a few phases of their own as it so happens. There are the classic 16-bit soundtracks, the late 1990s-early 2000s punk-rock and even a small foray into pop music towards the turn of the 2010s. The main point is that (almost) all of it has been great. Every level in every game is paired up with a track that is able to capture the feeling and setting of the surrounding level, while still being able to provide an exhilarating ride as you roll around at the speed of sound (little spoiler for you there).

So, let’s have some fun and explore some of the best tracks the franchise has ever produced. Before we start, I should clarify that several of these tracks (especially the classic ones) have been reused and remixed in many games throughout the franchise over the years. So, for each one, I will specify in which game it originally appeared and which version of the track I like the best.

Honourable Mentions
– Press Garden Zone for being incredibly unique
Sky Sanctuary Zone for being insanely emotional
Open Your Heart for being bloody mental

10 – Haunted Ship

First Appearance: Sonic Rush Adventure
Best VersionSonic Rush Adventure

Arguably one of the best stages in the DS title Sonic Rush Adventure, it has a fast and tense track to go with it.

The colour palette for the level in incredibly muted. There are grey and white coloured ghosts all over the place, while the ship itself is lined with a dark yellow and pale turquoise. Combine this with the thick fog that covers both the background and the foreground of the level, and you’ve got yourself a level with a very intimidating presence (when you’re not bouncing off of bright blue trampolines). The music looks to add to that while also helping bring some of the action to the forefront.

The beat starts off very fast, but also quite quiet. Immediately the tense factor is there, pushing you to get a move on and blast your way through the rundown area. Then the guitar kicks in as things in the level get going, and it matches up perfectly with the Sonic Rush series’ boosting mechanic which, if you do it right, should persist throughout almost the entire level. The quick and complex bassline continues throughout the entire track, helping that sense of unease persist throughout every moment in the level.

The track also has a bit of a disjointed nature to it, as the melody swings wildly through different phases. This is absolutely perfect for the feel of the level, which is one of a stage that could fall apart at any moment. It’s being held together by bits of fraying rope and splintered wood. Nevermind the ghosts, the whole level feels like it could collapse in on itself at any moment, which is what helps make this track quite an intense one.

9 – Ice Cap Zone

First Appearance: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Best VersionSonic the Hedgehog 3

It’s widely known by this point in time that Michael Jackson was at one point among the artists that were putting together the soundtrack for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Although he did eventually leave the team as he was unhappy with the poor sound quality that Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive produced, his fingerprints are still all over the game’s soundtracks, and this is the level where that is the clearest. If you’ve never seen it, look up ‘Smooth Criminal – Ice Cap Zone Remix’ on YouTube, you’ll see what I mean.

Much like Haunted Ship, this track starts out with a quiet, but fast beat that lines up perfectly with the opening section of the level where you rocket down a mountain on a snowboard. Once you crash down into the cave, the main melody kicks in, which is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what kind of instrument they used for that melody, but it fits the cold and frozen feel of the level so wonderfully. Ice Cap Zone is arguably one of the prettier levels in Sonic 3, and this soundtrack goes along with that.

It doesn’t sacrifice everything to nail the level’s feel, though, as the constant bassline is once again used as a brilliant tool to keep the feeling of speed. In a level with so much variety like Ice Cap Zone, it’s nice to have a track that stays relatively consistent to tie the whole thing together, keeping you going with a beautiful melody as it does so.

8 – Sonic Boom

First Appearance: Sonic CD (US Version)
Best VersionSonic CD (US Version)

You want slightly outdated 90s pop? This is basically all you could ever want of it rolled into one song. It’s got a synth melody that’s just outdated enough to feel charming to modern ears, a beat that’s basic enough that it doesn’t distract from all of the other wonderous stuff going on in the song, and the lyrics, oh lord, the lyrics, I’ll eat all of that right up.

I know that the Japanese version of the soundtrack is far superior when it comes to, well, every other song in the game, but I’d say the whole endeavour was worth it just for this. It’s very much a ‘not for everybody’ kind of track, but it plays right into my hands for a track that just won’t leave my head, and I just can’t bring myself to have even a mild dislike for it. It’s stupidly catchy, and the lyrics are dumb enough to make me smile on every listen. Lines like “If your strong, you can fly” which make absolutely zero sense still fill me with that inspirational pump that I need before racing through a Sonic game.

If anything, the only real downside of this song is that the title will forever make me think of one of the worst Sonic games.

7 – Studiopolis Zone

First Appearance: Sonic Mania
Best VersionSonic Mania

I’ve talked about it loads by now, but Sonic Mania was a wonderful celebration of the best of Sonic’s past. As you’ll see as this list goes on, Mania did a perfect job of remastering many of the classic tracks, adding just enough new elements to make them feel modern, while still capturing the retro feel of the style. This is somewhat impressive when a large chunk of the composition was already done for them with the old tracks, however, what blew me away was how amazing the original tracks are in Mania. Press Garden and Mirage Saloon were viable contenders for a spot on this list (in fact, I’d say Press Garden is the unofficial number 11), but where Tee Lopes shows his real talent for creating a Sonic track, it’s in Studiopolis Zone.

What many composers for modern Sonic games don’t understand is that a track doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-paced to fit the gameplay. Sure, it can’t be too slow, otherwise, it would feel extremely out of pace, but you don’t have to be putting your foot on the accelerator all the time. Studiopolis is a track that understands this. It maintains a steady pace that’s fast enough to feel satisfying along with the gameplay but then spends the rest of its time engrossing you in the world around you. This isn’t just the track that plays during Studiopolis Zone, this IS Studiopolis Zone. The big and brassy melody, the broadway feel of the track and the background noises of what sound like studio equipment and the classic “lights, camera, action” line, it all meshes perfectly with the visual design of the level to create a stage that feels truly alive as you blast through it.

If SEGA allows the team that worked on Sonic Mania to make a new 2D Sonic game anytime soon, then this is exactly the kind of stuff I want to see from them. The remastered old stuff is great, but the totally original stuff is what has the potential to be the greatest.

6 – Egg Reverie

First Appearance: Sonic Mania
Best VersionSonic Mania

Final boss themes in games come in a few different flavours. Some games like to make them a grand emotional moment, to draw you to the climax; some games want to bear down on you with big, intimidating themes that press upon you the challenge you face; and some just want to rock the fuck out and give you one hell of a fun ride. This theme falls into the latter category.

From the word go (quite literally in this instance), this is a track that wants you to feel like a superhero. The simple guitar riff that undercuts as the whole track gives the feeling of intensity in the fight, but it’s not overly intimidating. The game wants you to know that this is a fight you can win and that you should have fun while doing. A feeling that is taken to the moon and back when the synth melody kicks in. The melody summons ska vibes to bring the energy in a major way and pulling a small element of chaos into the mix when it breaks down.

Then it gives way to a guitar melody that I love so much I can barely put it into words. It draws together, the intensity, the chaos and the fun of the track so smoothly. It hits the emotional high of the track while keeping the energy and pace at the max. At the end of the day, this is a track that’s endlessly fun to listen to, and I can listen to it over and over again.

5 – Live and Learn

First Appearance: Sonic Adventure 2
Best VersionSonic Adventure 2

Aaand here comes the Crush 40.

When I think of rock music in the 2000s, this is the kind of music that immediately springs to my mind. Crush 40 embodies a period in musical history that I wish I could’ve been old enough to properly appreciate living through. Johnny Gioeli’s voice is what a pure-rock voice should sound like to me. He’s not perfect, but his range is incredible, and the slight graveliness in his voice means he can carry the vocals so smoothly, despite having to get his mouth around some more out-there wordings.

Getting to Live & Learn specifically, it was quite literally instant love. I heard the intro and immediately rewound the song to listen to the intro again before the verse even kicked in because I loved it that much. It’s the quintessential cheesy 00s rock song. It doesn’t try to do anything complicated or special, it just takes some electric guitars and GOES TO TOWN on them. It creates a simple riff that is endlessly catchy and refuses to let up for a moment.

When the vocals do kick in, the whole thing gets kicked up a notch. The words don’t make a great deal of sense, but I honestly couldn’t care less because they fit the melody better than even some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard. They’re not the feature-point of the song, instead, they’re another tool to elevate every other part of the song and solidify the pure rocking energy and in-your-face nature of the whole thing.

To put it simply, it’s an incredible all-out rock song, which is the kind of music I live (& learn) for.

4 – Escape from the City

First AppearanceSonic Adventure 2
Best VersionSonic Generations (Modern)

“Rolling around at the speed of sound.” Perhaps the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard in a rock song, and it’s what makes this song such a joy to listen to.

The opening level of any Sonic game is always the best opportunity to bring as much light-hearted joy into the game as possible. That’s why opening Sonic levels are usually some form of bright grassy field or beach, with open levels designs that allow you to take things at whatever pace you want to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of it. They’re levels designed purely to get the most out of the momentum-based gameplay before throwing more versatile mechanics at you.

City Escape doesn’t follow any of these rules. The level is an endless cityscape with a muted colour palette and tight streets. How do you make that a fun & memorable opening level? Well, for one thing, you ride down these streets on a broken piece of the helicopter you just leapt out of, and secondly, you give it one of the most hyperenergetic rock tracks in the history of the franchise. I’ll be honest, the trick of lining up the guitars to kick in perfectly in synch with when Sonic hits the ground was all it took for me to fall on love with this one.

City Escape is an all-time classic Sonic level, with some of the best 3D level design the franchise has ever given to us, and this track amplified its iconic status amongst the Sonic fanbase.

3 – Chemical Plant Zone

First AppearanceSonic 2
Best VersionSonic Mania

If you look up “catchy” in the dictionary, there’s just a URL link to this song.

The main melody is one that seems specifically crafted to stick into the brain. The chord progression is so simple, and yet the pace at which is circles around those chords drives the thing into your skull and makes it stick there for hours and hour upon end. I’m not sure if this was the intension of the composer, but the track gives me vague jazz vibes with his main melody. I know it’s a lot faster than most jazz music, but I can very easily imagine the melody being played on a saxophone, I bet it would sound great.

The breakdown is utterly incredible too, and it’s where the main feel of Chemical Plant as a level comes in. The percussion takes a more prominent role in the track, and you get the industrial vibes of the level. The grey & yellow colour palette of the level gives just enough life for this track to carry the whole level to be one of the all-time greats. It’s a chaotic and winding level that isn’t afraid to throw you through a loop and send you off in all kinds of weird directions. The main melody is cohesive with that feeling as the chords of the main melody never linger, the song is always looking to get onto the next one, and it creates almost a maze of notes, just like Chemical Plant itself.

Besides, regardless of what you think of it, it’s going to be in your head for the rest of the day, so you might as well enjoy it.

2 – Flying Battery Zone

First AppearanceSonic & Knuckles
Best VersionSonic Mania

The intro to this song is easily the best intro to any Sonic level. That high descending note that sends you flying right out the gate as the beat goes crazy in the background. It’s like someone took hold of my adrenaline levels and pumped them up to maximum.

This is a track that refuses to let up for even a second. It’s intense, it’s threatening, it’s fast, and it’s fun. For context, during Flying Battery Zone, you will be making your way through, and then running along the top of, a gigantic airship that earlier in Sonic 3 bombed Angel Island until it was engulfed in flames. This track needed to be loud, proud and epic all in one, a feeling that I believe it nails.

I’ve already talked about the intro, but things keep the craziness from there. The majority of the track relies on downward chord progressions to establish the feeling of threat, but then it moves into the breakdown, and things reach their emotional climax. The shift into a higher octave brings all those intense emotions rising to the surface as you navigate an increasingly chaotic level. All the while, the baseline sits there, carrying the track and maintaining a ludicrously fast pace that means the whole thing never needs to slow down or take a breather.

This track helps me get the most fun of a crazy level like Flying Battery. I often preach that Sonic games aren’t just about speed, but when you’ve got a track like this playing the background, how could you possibly focus on anything else?

1 – Lava Reef Zone: Act 1

First AppearanceSonic & Knuckles
Best VersionSonic Mania

Up until now, I’ve lumped the Act 1 & Act 2 variations of tracks together, because they embody very similar feelings and styles. However, Lava Reef Zone’s Act 2 track is so wildly different from Act 1, that I felt I had to specify.

Lava Reef Zone has a lot going for it as a level. It’s the last level before Sonic & Knuckles properly reaches its climax, so it has to carry the feeling rising tension that you get from seeing the Death Egg ready to rise in the background of the level. So how did the composers achieve this? By making it the most intense 16-bit track you could possibly imagine, that’s how.

The intro is incredibly threatening. It hits you with the looping beat that will sit under the whole track, that makes sure to stay low in pitch and steady in pace. While I wouldn’t call this track slow by any means, it’s definitely one of the slowest tracks from this era of Sonic music, and that makes it stand out all the more. It’s the game’s way of telling you that shit is about to get real, and I feel it when I’m playing through the level.

Then the main melody kicks in, and you realise that this track isn’t just trying to make you scared, it’s trying to bring your emotions to the surface so that it can kick them around for the final climactic levels of the game. It’s such a wonderful melody, the specific tone of the synth that was chosen is perfect for this sort of thing and these sorts of emotions. Ironically, you wouldn’t have to put too much effort in if you wanted to make this quite a relaxing track, but just enough of an edge is kept on things to make it feel intense instead.

The breakdown is the emotional centre of the track, and I feel it every single time I listen. Sonic & Knuckles isn’t even very heavy on plot, but this music is so powerful that I feel invested in the adventure regardless. I think that’s the secret as to why I love the music in the Sonic franchise so much, it creates a story, and world, even when the game gives us very little to work with.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what Sonic tracks you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering WWE Clash of Champions!

 

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (10-1)

Well…here we are.

Just in time for my 21st birthday, we’ve reached the end of the road, and all that’s left is to cover the best of the best. The games that matter the most to me and that have given me the most enjoyment over the years.

If you need to catch up on the series so far, then you can do that here. So, if you’re all caught up, let’s see this through to the end and discuss my 10 favourite games of all time.

10 – Sonic Mania

Release Date: 15th August 2017
Developer: PagodaWest Games, Headcannon
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 86%

It’s a game where you gotta- What do you mean I’ve already used that joke?

I’ve professed my love for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise already several times throughout this series, but this is the pinnacle of what the blue blur has to offer.

Ironically not made by Sonic Team, Sonic Mania was a game made by Sonic fans who truly understood what made Sonic such a phenomenon to big with. Sonic Mania isn’t just a game that’s ‘inspired by’ the three classic Sonic games, it IS a classic Sonic game. It took the core of the momentum-based platforming formula and expanded it into the modern platform. The music, the visuals, the gameplay, everything feels so very close to those fantastic classic titles that it may as well have sat amongst them as Sonic 4 and no-one would’ve batted an eye.

Sonic Mania doesn’t just sit around and copy what the classic games did though, it learns from their mistakes and even brings in some elements that worked in the modern titles. Firstly, we got a 2D Sonic game that actually made use of HD screenspace (looking at YOU Sonic 4), so now it was a lot easier to see obstacles coming your way, even when you were blasting through at top speed. Also, while the game did take many classic level designs, it remixed them, in ways that inarguably improved them. Even a level as simple as Green Hill Zone was expanded in such a way that made it a much more exciting level to blaze through. Not to mention that the terrain is designed in such a way that doesn’t hamper your momentum as much as in Sonic 1.

Where I believe the game shines brightest though, is in the 4 wholely original zones that the team developed for the game. It’s the clearest proof we’ve ever had that Sonic’s classic formula wasn’t a product of its time and it can absolutely still work in a game today. Those fans who played these games as kids are now the creative geniuses and masterful programmers behind Sonic Mania and they get Sonic. Zones like Press Garden and Titanic Monarch hold up as some of the best in the entire franchise. They combine speed, and platforming challenges in such a smooth way that I don’t believe can be topped by any other game on the planet.

When people look at all the horrible stuff the Sonic franchise has churned out over the past couple of decades and say “How can you like this franchise?” this game is my answer. It perfectly distils all the reasons why Sonic became such a popular franchise to begin with, and why fans still love it to this day.

9 – XCOM 2

Release Date: 5th February 2016
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about almost losing everything every single turn.

This is turn-based strategy at its peak. It took me some time to appreciate XCOM for what it was. I played Enemy Unknown when I was 13 and back then, I didn’t really have the patience for it. I couldn’t be bothered to sit around and carefully plan my actions, to me it was slow, and slow was boring. Over the years though, my appreciation for turn-based strategy as a genre grew, as I discovered my love for games like Civilization, Worms and even regular card-games. So a couple of years ago, I came back to XCOM, I’ve since played through the entirety XCOM 2 on three separate occasions, and I love it.

What blows me away is that none of those three playthroughs looked even remotely similar. There’s such an extraordinary range of strategic potential with your troops in XCOM that I almost couldn’t believe how deep it went when I first came back to it. From the moment you land in an environment in XCOM, your mind has to be on the ball and ready to calculate countless possible outcomes at a moment’s notice. I talk a lot to myself while playing games anyway, but when I’m playing XCOM, I just can’t shut up. I can’t even pinpoint what it is that makes it so fun, but when I’m surveying the field and slowly narrowing down my options, I feel absolutely incredible.

The tense atmosphere and excitement doesn’t end at the thinking phase, though. There’s just as much to be had when you’ve made your decision and execute your action. I think the late TotalBiscuit put it best when he said that everyone comes away from XCOM with “war stories”. The tale of how your squad was in extreme mortal peril, but your sniper nailed three 20% shots in a row and saved you from disaster, or how you lost your best soldier because they managed to miss a 95% shot.

XCOM’s formula has just the right amount of randomness to it to keep you on your toes and make sure you can never rest on your laurels. However, simultaneously, it doesn’t lean on it so heavily that it feels like the game is entirely luck-based. I think that’s what makes the XCOM formula so satisfying. It’s because, even though there is that touch of randomness that can occasionally topple your best-laid plans, if you are a skilled tactician, you will still always come out victorious.

XCOM tests not only your strategic planning but also your strategic reactions. Yes, it’s a horrible feeling when your soldier misses an easy shot and becomes surrounded by an insurmountable horde of aliens because of it. However, when you knuckle down and calculate a strategy to get them out of that scenario alive, it’s the best feeling in the world.

8 – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: 26th July 2019
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 89%

It’s a game about teaching a bunch of kids in their late teens how to fight in a war.

So you know everything I just said about XCOM? Well, change the combat style to melee (a much cooler style) and add in a bunch of wonderful characters, all with their own complex backstories and ideals that you get to grow relationships with. That’s why Fire Emblem: Three Houses is on this list.

The Monastery that acts as your hub world during FE:3H isn’t the biggest area ever, I’d imagine many high schools are bigger, but the whole place is so densely packed with intrigue. Visually, it’s so vibrant and full of character, usually ‘monastery’ is a word I associate with a somewhat muted colour palette. However, FE:3H throws bright greens & blues at you all over the place, always drawing your eye to all the interesting things.

The biggest and best of these things is the people around the Monastery. The emotional connection I forged with many of the students & allies in the world is what kept it in my mind for so long. It’s what made me desire to play through the game 4 full times in a row; because I was desperate to spend time and form a bond with every single one of them. Even now, many months out from the last time I booted it up, I could name every single student & faculty member at the Monastery and give you a rough description to boot.

Everything all of these characters do is dripping with charm and personality. It’s true that many of them only have one or two major traits, but when there’s so many of them, and they’re all playing off each other, it doesn’t matter. The support scenes are a stroke of genius designs, as it allows you to see an understand these characters from all kinds of lenses. I don’t just interact with them directly, I get to see them interact with others, which gives me an incredibly deep understanding of who they really are.

Aside from all that, the core gameplay is absolutely fantastic. The turn-based combat gives me all the wonderful feelings that I just talked about with XCOM, only with the focus shifted onto melee combat, which is what makes the two games feel so different in my mind. However, it extends outside of the battlefield as well, as, unlike XCOM, you have total control over what becomes of your units. You actually sit down and have lessons with them to grow their skills, giving me an even deeper level of investment in their growth than I’d already gained from their personalities. You really are these kids’ teacher, and I genuinely care a great deal about them…even the ones I don’t really like.

The simplest way to put it is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes a gameplay formula that would already have made the top 10 and gives me a deep sense of emotional connection to every aspect of the world.

7 – FTL: Faster Than Light

Release Date: 14th September 2012
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about commanding a starship that is just desperate to explode at every available opportunity.

FTL is, without a doubt, the best roguelike/roguelite I’ve ever played. Everything about its premise and presentation is so simple. Even the tutorial is pretty brief, and you’ll probably get the hang of it pretty quickly when you start playing. It’s only once you’ve spent some real time with it that you realize just how stupidly deep of a game it really is. It’s not like Binding of Isaac where you’ll still be discovering secret areas and bosses after years of playing it, but there’s more than enough to keep you going for a very long time.

For one thing, I like the longer campaign length. Sure, a 10-15 minute is nice when you just have some time to kill, but when I’m sitting down with the specific intention of playing the game for a good while, an hour upwards is fantastic. It’s long enough so that I can grow an attachment to my ship & crew, and allows me to spend a significant amount of time planning how I’m going to focus my ship.

While there are a whole host of different ships in FTL, each of which lends towards specific playstyles, you can definitely play the game however you want. You can focus on buffing your shields and augmenting your hull so that you barely take any damage. You can focus on arming yourself with uber-powerful missile weapons that will drain the enemies’ health as fast as it will your pockets, or focus on stealth, firing off a barrage of shots and disappearing before the enemy has a chance to retaliate.

The element of randomness in FTL is just right too. Each map you spawn into feels different because there really is no rhyme or reason to the layout of the nodes. You just have to head vaguely towards the exit. Each node has a massive variety of events. Granted, a lot of them are just battles, but each battle goes so very different depending on your opponent. I don’t just mean their weapons to shield levels either, you have to really consider your strategy based on what type of ship it is & what race is on board. Are they Mantis that will attempt to board you? Are they Engi that annoy the fuck out of you with drones? Are they Lanius that…well…you just have to cross your fingers and pray, really.

Then there’s the final boss. It’s an interesting case with how FTL balanced itself here. As long as you have a decent idea of what you’re doing, you’ll probably be able to get to the final sector on your very first run, reaching the final boss. Then, you’ll actually do battle, and your ship will explode so fast you won’t even have time to comprehend the chaos that is occurring on your ship. It’s something that could be criticized for being way too sharp of a difficulty spike, but I like it. You know why? Because you now have a very tangible goal. In something like Binding of Issac, I never really knew what it was I was working towards because I’d never seen the final boss, I didn’t understand what it was I was fighting against. In FTL, I was IN from the moment I saw that thing, I knew that someday I would vaporize it, and that day would be glorious.

It then took me about 5 years of playing it on and off to actually do it, and it was genuinely one of those “I’m never going to forget this” moments in games.

What’s great, though, is that even though I’ve now won the game, I still LOVE going back and doing a bunch of runs in it every couple of months. There’s just enough randomness that, even when you’ve gotten quite good at the game, you could still get totally screwed over in sector 1 and die. Not to mention what I was talking about with all the different types of ships & playstyles.

I don’t think FTL is a game that I’ll ever feel ‘done’ with. No matter how much I play it, I still feel that urge to go back to it every now and then to try some new stuff. It’s a style of fast-thinking strategy that always leaves me wanting more.

6 – Pokemon Platinum

Release Date: 13th September 2008
Developer: Gamefreak
Publisher: The Pokemon Company, Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about growing to love the creatures that do battle for you.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to describe precisely what Pokemon means to me, or even why it means so much to me. Although there are 5 other individual games on this list that I would say I love more, Pokemon as a franchise is the one that means the most to me in modern media.

Pokemon Platinum was the first time I ever connected with a game emotionally. Games were a thing I had always enjoyed up until that point, but they were something I saw more as tools for entertainment (I think the word for that is ‘toys’, but what I said sounds more insightful), they didn’t mean a great deal to me. Pokemon changed that. While I played games where I controlled characters, they were always just the vessel for me to explore and view the world. They had little personality or charm. At least, that was how I saw it as an 8-year-old.

Pokemon was different though. I still had my character, and as it’s a JRPG, they didn’t have any personality at all, but you know what did? Piplup. This weird blue penguin was something outside of myself in the game but acted on my behalf. When I picked it, the game gave me a description of what it was like, straight away, it had a personality, I felt like I understood it. Then we did battle together, we gained new team members, and I came to understand what they were like too. Before I knew it, I had a whole team of these creatures that I genuinely cared a great deal for. They mattered to me. I had an emotional bond with them. I’d never had that with a game before.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’ve never owned a pet in my life. For one reason or another, it’s always been impractical in our household, so I’ve never owned or looked after an animal. So all of these feelings of bonding with something that wasn’t another person was new to me. Once I’d played Pokemon, I felt like I got gaming. I was still young, so I didn’t fully understand the scope of it, but I felt like I finally had a firm grasp on why people cared so deeply about their video games. Sure enough, over the next 12-13 years, I grew into the nerd you see today that won’t stop bombarding you with his opinions on these things.

Why Pokemon Platinum specifically? Well, for one thing, it has all of the nostalgia I can possibly muster. It was my first, after all. However, even looking back at it now, I still think it’s the most consistently enjoyable Pokemon experience. The Pokemon I encounter along the way are among my favourites, from the starters to the routes, to the box-legendary. The music is incredible, the pace holds strong for the most part, the post-game is excellent (with the best version of the Battle Frontier, don’t @ me Emerald fans) and it’s simply a game that gives me warm and happy feelings.

I don’t know if I’d be the person I am today without Pokemon. It set me along the path of games going from something I play to something I connect with. To the point where I’m here with you, running down 100 of the blasted things. Who knows? I might even be able to go as far as saying that Pokemon Platinum is the reason this list even exists.

5 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release Date: 11th November 2011
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, and…wait really? That’s it? …I could’ve sworn there was about 500 more…
Metacritic Average: 96%

It’s a game about shouting at things until they fall over.

To say that Skyrim shaped the way I think and feel about games would be an understatement, because it went even further than that. It broadened my horizons beyond just the scope of the game, into the wider world and global communities for games that exist on the internet.

Hitting the most significant point first, Skyrim is the reason I watch YouTube as regularly as I do. I know for most people it was a certain other 2011 game that we’ll be talking about in just a moment, but for me, it was Skyrim. Let’s Plays, cinematic content, super cringy original stories, and deep-dives into lore. I watched it all. It set in motion a chain of events that would eventually expand to the point where YouTube has been the primary place where I go to watch things for years now. More than TV and films.

On top of that, it gave me the gift of PC gaming. Now, don’t worry, I’m not one of those people that believes that PC is above all else. However, it has been my primary platform for playing games for many years and likely will remain as such for many more. I originally played Skyrim on the Xbox 360, but when I was watching the aforementioned YouTube videos on the game, I saw all these crazy things people were doing. They were manipulating the game world and doing crazy stuff like becoming invincible or spawning in 50 Lydias. Not to mention all the cool-looking weapons and quests that I couldn’t find anywhere the game. Yes, that’s right, I asked my parents to buy me the game on PC just so I could use console commands and install mods. It stuck though, as I’m still gaming on PC all these years later.

Looking more towards the game itself, it’s easily the non-sandbox game that I’ve put the most time into. By modern standards, the open world isn’t that big, but it’s so very dense with everything that’s packed into it. The enormous stretches of hills and plains may seem empty at first, but you’ll barely be able to walk two steps without an undiscovered location appearing on your compass, or a random NPC coming up and starting an encounter. I know there’s a lot of conversation and heated debate around this topic, but I think it’s the best world that Bethesda’s ever created.

At least once a year (often more) I get that urge to go back and start Skyrim all over again. Even though I invariably end up playing one of three different playstyles, and I have almost every noteworthy quest memorized, I still have so much fun playing through them all. I just love existing in that world and battling my way through every cave and crevasse I come across. A couple of years ago, I embarked on a playthrough where I installed a mod that disabled the compass and map and made my way around the world just using my own knowledge, and I genuinely did a bloody good job with it. I actually have a large chunk of Skyrim’s world memories in my brain and can get to most places without assistance. There’s not a single other open-world game in existence that I could do that with.

Skyrim is the RPG that contains everything I love about RPGs. I love that it keeps getting re-released under ever console that exists, it just gives me more excuses to play it again…and again…and again…and again…an-well, you get the point.

4 – Minecraft

Release Date: 18th November 2011
Developer: Mojang Studios
Publisher: Mojang Studios, Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Anything released after 2009…except the Ouya
Metacritic Average: 93%

It’s a game about…pretty much anything you want it to be about.

What can you even say? It’s the best selling game ever made, it’s got a cultural reach beyond anything anyone had ever imagined a video game could. You could even argue that it changed the world in several ways, but that’s for people more intelligent than me to debate. How do you even describe what’s so remarkable about a game that means so many things to literally hundreds of millions of people? I guess I can just explain what it means to me.

Minecraft was the first time I really understood how a ‘gaming community’ could thrive on the internet. Through things like the hundreds of Minecraft channels on YouTube or the vast amount of forums where Minecraft was the primary focus, I came to appreciate how exactly gaming brings people together. Not only did I see all the creators I love, interact and collaborate together in a way that I hadn’t seen before, but I found communities where I participated and made friends too. Thanks to Minecraft, the internet became a much larger place to me, full of real people, who I could actually talk to and be friends with. I’d never used the internet like that before Minecraft came along.

Outside of that, the game plays incredibly. It is far-and-away the game I’ve sunk the most time into across my whole life. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact numbers for it, but given that I’ve been playing it regularly ever since I was 12, I’d say it’s easily been several thousand hours. I’ve created so many different worlds, many on my own, many with friends and they’ve all created a unique experience. Be it because of location, or creativity, or wherever I was getting my inspiration at the time, I’ve never built two worlds that look the same.

Not to mention, it’s one of the best games to play socially too because just about everyone owns it. During the past 6 months especially, playing Minecraft with the people I care about is more or less the only time I’ve been able to socialize. It’s such an easy game for everyone to grasp and everyone to do well in. It can be competitive if you want it to be, but it can be just as – if not more – fun when played collaboratively. It’s just such an easy game to play, it doesn’t really require much mental effort if you don’t want it to.

There’s so much more I could say about this game, but – much like the cultural impact of the game itself – we would be here indefinitely if I talked about everything I loved about Minecraft. I think the simplest way to explain it is that it’s a game that measurably makes my life better in so many ways, regardless of how old I was, or what state I was in.

3 – TowerFall Ascension

Release Date: 25th June 2013
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Linux, Android, Ouya…no, really
Metacritic Average: 89%

It’s a game about fast-paced, arena-based archery.

It’s worth mentioning here that all of these top 3 games were in the number 1 spot at some point during the process of putting this list together. I love them all that much.

TowerFall Ascension is the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game. It’s as simple as that.

The multiplayer battling mode is pure perfection. I know it doesn’t have online, but it doesn’t need online, because the whole point of a game like this is playing it against people sitting next to you on a sofa, which you can shout at through your laughter as they kill you in a mad way you didn’t see coming.

The combat runs at an incredibly fast pace, but it’s still a pretty accessible game. When I’ve played this with people (and I’ve played this with many, MANY people) it usually only takes them a few rounds or so to get up to scratch. The controls are very simple so that you can grasp them easily, but there is a layer of skill there for veteran players. Just shooting and jumping would be fun enough, but the inclusion of the dodge/catch mechanic takes things to a whole new level. In a game where attacking is generally the best & only option, you still have a hint of defensive measures, making the combat feel a lot more fluid and give you just enough to think about so that you never truly get bored of it. Not to mention, how satisfying the sounds and animations are, it’s no wonder that the developers’ next game, Celeste, would make that mechanic the primary focus.

Every arena & every match has such a great of variety to it that you can never really rely on the same tactics. Even though each round only lasts 10-60 seconds, a narrative still tends to form. Usually, you’ll start off with no real plan, improvising based on your opponent’s movements and the treasure spawns, but very quickly you’ll start to form an idea of where and how you’re going to approach. Then a massive battle ensues as you come so very close to killing each other about 5 times in 3 seconds before one of you finally makes a mistake. That’s not even mentioning the variants you can add to the gameplay to change the playing field entirely.

While the multiplayer mode is the main focus, I also get a tremendous amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from the singleplayer mode. The design of it is relatively simple – you have to defeat waves of enemies with a set number of lives – but the massive amount of variation in the enemy’s designs and patterns means that you’ve got a hell of a lot to think about. It’s quite a challenging game, in essence, but you can feel yourself improving with every failure. You gradually learn every enemies’ patterns and what the best method to attack them is. It’s great because the game doesn’t point any of this out to you, none of the enemies have glowing weak spots, it’s just a natural consequence of the gaps in their abilities and movements.

Every time I’m playing games with a group of friends, this will always be among my first recommendations because it’s a pure distillation of the fun multiplayer games can bring. I can recall so many joyous memories of times that I’ve been playing this game with people. TowerFall Ascension is a game that I very strongly associate with happy memories, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

2 – NieR: Automata

Release Date: 23rd February 2017
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about what it means to be human.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played For The First Time In 2019 article)

I didn’t know what to expect going into NieR: Automata. I played it looking for a fun hack and slash, which I definitely got, but I got a hell of a lot more than that too. Not only would I rank it among my top two favourite games of all time, but I also regard it as the single greatest work of fiction ever written.

That’s a big statement, I know, I played the game back in February. I’ve spent all year thinking about that statement, I’ve rewatched almost all of my favourite shows and movies, replayed some of my favourite games. I compared NieR: Automata to each and every single one of them, and I genuinely believe that statement to be true, and it’s hard to articulate exactly why.

I think the most basic element of why I love it so much is that nothing had ever stuck with me as long as NieR: Automata has. For a solid week after I reached ending E and saw the credits roll for the final time, I was still thinking about it almost constantly. The game has crafted such an incredible story and raised so many profound philosophical arguments in my mind that I just couldn’t put it away. It’s been like that all year, I keep going back to it, to the questions it asks, to the answers it attempts to give and breaking that down and trying to work out exactly what it says to me specifically.

Outside of those deep thoughts and questions, there is a fantastically paced thriller-action story that kept me enthralled for every single second I played it (and later, read it) every character had weight, purpose and felt real. Every action had a consequence, and everything mattered which is just the right word, I’ve played hundreds of games, and I love so many of them, but none of them matter to me as much as NieR: Automata does.

I could sit here and talk about how the combat mechanics made it one of the most fun and satisfying hack and slashes I’ve ever played. I could talk about the world was beautifully designed with such a large amount of variety that I wanted to explore every corner, but that’s not what’s really important to me about this game. That’s not why, as I sit here writing this entry, I find myself almost at a loss for words to describe how deeply this game and its story fundamentally affected me.

Over the past few years, the state of the world we live in has genuinely worn me down a lot. I’m not going to sit here and make some grandiose comment about society, but there have been several points during this year in particular where I look at the state of some aspects of our world and just feel this sense of deep despair. Then I look to a story like NieR: Automata, that is set in a world quite literally in ruins, and yet, it feels so weirdly hopeful in its tone. It was a game that left me with such a weird cocktail of emotions that I don’t think I’ve ever felt anywhere else, it was so melancholic and downbeat, almost tragic, yet there was an undeniable sense of optimism towards the future.

Those words don’t do that feeling justice, but it’s the best I can do with the words I have.

As a game, it’s damn-near flawless, and as a narrative piece of fiction, I genuinely feel that it is the single most incredible story ever told and one that I will never be able to forget.

It’s been an extra 8 months since I wrote this, and I think if anything, my feelings for NieR: Automata have only gotten stronger since. No story has ever stuck with me like this one. All this time later, I’m still thinking about what it has to say, about how it changed the way I see the world and the way I see narratives in games.

I honestly wish I had more words for NieR: Automata, but I find it so hard to express so many elements about it, so all I can say is that I genuinely believe it when I say that this is the greatest fictional story ever told.

1 – Octopath Traveler

Release Date: 13th July 2018
Developer: Aquire
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 83

It’s a game about the journey of eight wonderful people.

So…I’ve talked a lot about Octopath Traveler…like…A LOT. So much so, that I almost thought it’d be too predictable to put this in 1st place. I went back and forth over it a lot during the year I spent putting this list together, but in the end, I decided there was nothing else that could possibly take the top spot.

The characters of Octopath Traveler are the most joyous personalities I’ve ever had the pleasure of connecting with in a video game. Giving them all their separate stories was a brilliant way to write it because they all got a chance to show who they are, as much of the time as possible. No-one was pushed to the back or got less development than the rest because they all get the same. The interactions that are scattered in there do wonders too. After establishing their extremely varied personalities, we get to see them interact, to incredibly endearing results.

The writing is so very dedicated to bringing me into the world of these characters and telling me everything I could want to know about them, to the point where I feel like I know even more about them than is in the games. I understand who these people are, and more importantly, WHY they are, which is a fact that so many games forget to establish.

The plots are all interesting too. Writing eight separate stories can’t have been an easy task, especially when they’re all meant to be experience intermixed with each other. Having all of these stories be interesting and memorable, as well as having variety, must’ve been an extremely difficult task. However, because the writers knew the characters inside and out, every plot played to the strengths of that specific character. They weren’t just written into challenging conflicts, they were written into conflicts that were very explicitly challenging FOR THEM, because of who they are.

All of this is backed up by an alive feeling world. The visual style is simultaneously utterly unique and totally beautiful, and it gives every location and intense sense of character & charm. Then, there’s the soundtrack, MY GOD, the soundtrack. There is no question, it is my favourite video game soundtrack. Every track, for every location, every encounter and every character speaks to me on such a deep level. It’s masterfully crafted in such a way that I can attribute so much meaning to every note.

Then, there’s the actual gameplay, which is the pure essence of turn-based JRPGs distilled into a battle. None of the systems are particularly revolutionary, but they give you just enough to balance that very few conflicts are easily resolved. The variety in the roles & abilities of each character makes sure that you can easily make a spot for anyone if you want to. More importantly, it’s not too difficult to grasp what role each character is supposed to play either, which makes team building isn’t as agonizing as it can be in a game as vast as Pokemon. You just have to decide what you want each character to do, and then build them around those ideas; playing into their strengths as much as possible.

The whole thing is a world that just wraps it’s arms around me and pulls me into a world that I love to the very core. I keep going back to it time and time again because it makes me so very happy; and honestly, making me happy is all I want a game to do.

And that is the end of that! Those were my 100 Favourite Games of All Time! Thank you very much for following this series, please, let me know what games you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo.

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (20-11)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Top 20 time! This is where the games hit that upper rung of being genuinely incredible, I hope you enjoy entries 20 through 11!

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

20 – Super Mario Odyssey

Release Date: 27th October 2017
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 97%

It’s a game about throwing your hat and possessing creatures to complete platforming challenges.

As you’ve probably guessed by this point on the list, I didn’t grow up playing the Mario games. I had one on the Gameboy, but I didn’t really get much out of it at the time, much preferring Wario Land instead. So when people would talk about games like Mario 64 being the greatest of all time, I never quite got it. I could understand the appeal, but I didn’t see what put in the upper-echelon of gaming. Then, Super Mario Odyssey was released, and I decided this was finally the time I’d sit down with a Mario game and see what makes them so great.

Literally everything. That’s what makes them so great.

Nintendo’s design philosophy is one that I wish we would see more of the gaming industry today. Every time Nintendo start to make a new game for one of there core franchises, they sit down and work out amongst themselves what they can do that’s new and interesting. They don’t see the point in making another game that’s like Mario 64, because they’ve already done it…what would be the point in doing it again? I love that way of thinking because that’s almost exactly what I strive for in my creative endeavours. Naturally, it doesn’t always work, there are always going to be some stumbling blocks (looking at you, WiiU), but it also means that we get absolutely incredible unique titles like this one.

If you want a more in-depth look into Cappy’s mechanics in SMO, then I highly recommend checking out Mark Brown’s video on the subject, but I’ll just say that it made platforming in that game completely different some any other 3D platformer I’ve ever played, in the best possible way. I usually prefer my platformers to be 2D, because I’m not very good at 3D platforming. However, every mechanic in SMO is designed in such a way that it makes the platforming easier, while still being fun and interesting.

Combine that with some of the most creative mechanic, world and creature design I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got yourself an adventure that never stops being fun and is always ready to throw something new your way to keep you hooked. It’s got so much death and quite literally several hundred different challenges for you to try your hand at. As far as I’m concerned, this is the game that exemplifies what makes Nintendo the world’s best game developer.

19 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Release Date: 29th October 2019
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Kiev
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Windows
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about pirates.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

Remember that one time, when Ubisoft just thought “fuck it” and made a pirate game for no reason? Good times.

Counting Black Flag in a list of best Assassin’s Creed games almost feels like cheating, because let’s face it, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game in name alone; that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant though.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my favourite part of Assassin’s Creed III was the sea battles. The team at Ubisoft clearly thought the same because the next game, Black Flag, was entirely about the sea battles. They stumbled upon an entertaining style of gameplay, and to their credit, they leaned all the way into it, to make an absolutely fantastic game.

Every battle you got into with the boats felt like an all-out war. The scale of it all combined, with the vibrant colours of the Caribbean, and the extremely well-designed soundscape made every single encounter feel like a chaotic and epic fight. Pile on top of that, extreme weather conditions, a wide variety of weapons at your disposal, and the ability to board your opponent’s ships – which causes a massive battle in quite a confined space – and you’ve got yourself a formula that never ceases to be fun to play.

The world was also exceptionally well designed, with the towns being bright and colourful, but not so big as to feel too big and also having enough variety in the environment, so all of them felt distinct. The random islands and plantations were also great additions, with things continually sidetracking you (in a good way) when you’re poncing about on the open seas.

Black Flag, has a relatively big open world, but by no means too big, and the game is very carefully designed for touring you through it at a very steady pace. As such, you never feel overwhelmed at the amount of stuff there is available to you. Speaking of stuff, unlike most of the other open worlds in this franchise, Black Flag’s world is very densely packed with a great variety of stuff to do. Be that hunting down collectables, hunting animals for crafting, playing board games, throwing harpoons at sharks or firing on every British ship you see. There’s never a dull moment when traversing the world; and even if you do get bored, you can make your crew sing sea shanties to keep you entertained.

Once again, the story was perfectly fine. It doesn’t stand out to me as any kind of exceptional storytelling, but it also never did anything to piss me off or turn me against the characters which, in a game like the Assassin’s Creed series, is all I really want.

In a way, I’m quite glad this ended up being a one-off for the franchise because I honestly don’t see many ways in which this formula could’ve been improved, as the boat-based mechanics in subsequent games in the franchise have proven. Black Flag was a rare instance of a game I can honestly describe as unique in its gameplay, and at the end of the day, it’s just an absolute blast to play.

18 – Celeste

Release Date: 25th January 2018
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 94%

It’s a game about climbing a mountain while dealing with anxiety.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

Celeste is an absolute master of controlling the difficulty. It’s undeniably a hard game, and that’s part of what initially put me off. However, it’s when you push through that difficulty and carry on in spite of everything that the game is throwing at you that you come to see Celeste for what it is: The most perfectly paced game in history.

Every room in Celeste is designed so that you can almost see the extensive amount of play-testing and tweaking that went into every jump. Every challenge feels so carefully crafted to give you the exact right amount of hope and despair as you throw yourself into it over and over again and their own, every single room is a masterclass in level design. However, the real magic of Celeste comes from stepping back and looking at how the game is threaded together.

Every single room prepares you with the skills you need for the next, it’ll teach you a technique or idea, and you’ll spend multiple attempts getting through it. Then, when you come to the room immediately after, the game asks you to take what you just learned and re-learn it slightly differently to solve a new challenge. This persists chapter to chapter as well, with each chapter giving you a new mechanic to play about with and understand as you go.

The way each level is designed forces you into the mentality of pushing forward despite hardship, which is so incredibly clever when you consider the themes and ideas behind the game’s narrative. The way this tale is told of living with and overcoming, anxiety is so beautifully and thoughtfully done, because it’s so low-key and yet feels entirely heartfelt, while insightfully addressing a severe mental health condition.

When you combine the overarching themes with the incredibly colourful and engrossing visual style and the absolutely mindblowing soundtrack, the game can take control of your mental state and align it with exactly how Madaline feels in the story using its level design as the primary tool.

Not only is Celeste one of the most mechanically sounds and fun games I’ve ever played, but it goes above and beyond to say something meaningful using those mechanics, something which has stuck with me ever since I finished it.

17 – Descenders

Release Date: 7th May 2019
Developer: RageSquid
Publisher: No More Robots
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 78%

It’s a game about riding a bike downhill very fast before wrapping yourself around a tree.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

First available on Steam Early Access in February 2018 and I picked it up a couple of months later, and since then it’s become my 2nd most played game on Steam at 604 hours, beaten out by only Skyrim and the weird thing is, I’m not even entirely sure why I play it so much. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as an addictive game, but what I think is it’s a straightforward game to play.

By “easy to play” I don’t mean the difficulty of the game itself, I mean it’s a game that I’m never “not in the mood” to play. In the way that I play it (very casually), I don’t really have to put much thought into it, so it’s become what I play when I don’t want to play anything. I’m someone who finds it very hard to just sit and watch something for example, so what I will often do is put on something I want to watch on my 2nd screen and then play Descenders, almost in the background, while I watch it.

That’s not all Descenders is good for, because it hits that sweet spot that PopCap games were always brilliant for, where you can play it casually and do reasonably well, but also you can spend time honing your skills and mastering the game to pull off some incredible feats of skill that I could never even dream of. The procedurally generated nature of the levels means I’m never just “going through the motions” when I play. I can’t just rely on muscle memory to get me through each level I have to learn to adapt to the terrain that’s currently in front of me, so I don’t wrap my body around several trees at several hundred kilometres per hour.

It’s a game that has complete mastery over its movement, the bikes feel light and nippy while manoeuvring it in the air and on the ground feels forceful and satisfying. The way you glide down the hillsides, doing jumps and flips and spins the whole gives this incredible feeling of flow that gives you such a rush as your performance in the environments becomes more fluid and streamlined.

Descenders is a game that came together in a way I honestly never would’ve expected to make it a game that I’m going to be playing on-and-off for a very long time.

16 – Terraria

Release Date: 16th May 2011
Developer: Re-Logic
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo 3DS, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 85%

It’s a game about adventuring and building.

It’s hard to accurately define precisely what Terraria is in a single sentence. It’s a bit sandbox, it’s a bit builder, it’s a bit RPG, and it’s a bit adventure. On the surface, if someone were to describe a game to me like that, I’d expect it to be a bit of a mess, but somehow Terraria manages to mash all of its ideas together really cleanly. I originally wasn’t all that interested in it. I think it had to contend a lot with the perception from many critics that it was just ‘Minecraft but 2D’. However, over the years, through several major content updates, Terraria has proved itself to be something entirely different from that and something rather unique when you look at any of the genres it fits into.

Unlike most sandbox games, Terraria has a distinct sense of progression as you play in your world and you won’t even realise it at first. I had the wonderful privilege of going into the game almost completely blind, so the feeling of accomplishment throughout every milestone was so great. Every time I thought that I’d reached the limit of what the game had to offer, I’d find out that I’d barely scratched the surface. Oh, you defeated the Eye of Cthulu? Congratulations on completing step one of 300. Ah, so now you’ve gone to hell and defeated the Wall of Flesh? That’s nice, but you’re not even halfway, mate, come back when you’ve killed the horrific being that is literally the God of the Moon.

I was always exploring and discovering new things, and all of it was paced in such a way that there were never any dull points that had me just grinding away at resources in the hope that I’d uncover something new. While I never quite got into the building mechanics like I did with Minecraft, I still can’t deny the complexity and variety that is on offer for those that want to go down that route; I’ve seen some gorgeous creations in the community.

15 – Thomas Was Alone

Release Date: 30th June 2012
Developer: Mike Bithell
Publisher: Mike Bithell
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo WiiU, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about friendship and jumping…and also a little bit about the nature of self-aware AI.

Told you I’d be talking about Mike Bithell again.

Although the story told in this game isn’t as complex as in either of the “Circular” games, there’s a whole bunch of other factors that put Thomas Was Alone above its descendants. Namely how every single mechanic is designed to feed right back into the nature of the story.

First up is the fact that this game isn’t just a load of text boxes that you click your way through, there are real game-mechanics here, and they’re executed suberbly. None of the game’s puzzles are particularly difficult, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be. Instead, they’re a tool for seeing these characters relying on each other’s abilities to feel their bonds growing as they help each other to reach the end of each level. Even the designs of the characters are so perfect, they’re literally just coloured rectangles, and yet it’s able to perfectly capture the personality of all of them.

Personalities that are fleshed out through some genuinely fantastic narration that happens throughout every level. Read by the wonderful Danny Wallace, the whole story has this warm feeling to it, like you’re being told a sweet bedtime story. Even when the story is touching on some more tragic or serious elements, it’s told in such a way that you never have any reason to question your protagonists and their bonds change and grow.

Thomas Was Alone is what I would argue to be the second-greatest story ever told in a video game (more on the best in the finale). It has total control over the tone of the plot, the characters and the player’s emotions at every moment, and I always take joy in revisiting it.

14 – Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Release Date: 16th November 2010
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about stealthy stabbing.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

It’s got a little bit of everything without having too much of anything.

I’ve talked a lot throughout this article about the “formula” of Assassin’s Creed, which is the general: Viewpoints, 5 different types of collectables and about 100 of each one, way too many weapons and vague stealth mechanics, (this would later become almost every Ubisoft game as well, but that’s a discussion for another day). I generally view this formula as a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. While too much can be a bore, the right amount of small tasks dotted all over the open world can make for an extremely compelling game for a habitual completionist like me, and Brotherhood is the closest thing I’ve found to a perfect version of that formula.

The open world is big enough to have plenty of variety to it, but not so expansive that it feels bloated and pointless. Traversal of the world feels fun and fluid, with parkour mechanics that Assassin’s Creed have always been good at, but it mainly feels like the world was handcrafted to make running around Rome’s rooftops extra fun. Even when you wandered out into the outskirts of the city, the vast plains felt like a breath of fresh air and galloping about the place on horseback was just as fun.

There was a considerable mission variety, not just in the main story, but with side missions too. Each of the three guilds had different styles of missions, which were solid enough to flesh out the relevant characters while staying pretty brief and not overstay their welcome. Leonardo’s missions are also great fun, playing with all the weird toys, including a tank, so I don’t have anything bad to say about that. However, best were the Lairs of Romulus which were a series of levels almost entirely based around fun parkouring challenges, with impressive scenery and a great variety in the mini-stories surrounding them, they’re my favourite set of side quests in the whole franchise.

The visual design is excellent, with every section of the colour palette being used in one place or another in the game. Ezio’s red and white outfit from Brotherhood is far and away from my favourite protagonist outfit, and every other character had colours and styles that seemed to perfectly match their personality. Speaking of characters and story, it’s still nothing overly special, but it’s definitely the best the franchise has done. Cesare is the best villain from this series as far as I’m concerned, and Ezio is also the best protagonist because he’s the only one I don’t hate at least a little bit.

Brotherhood is simply where all of the features and styles that make the Assassin’s Creed formula what it is come together in just the right way. I firmly believe that if you took all that was good about Assassin’s Creed and refine it to a point, you’d end up with something that looked pretty similar to Brotherhood. It’s the game that I will always go to when I need reminding of why I actually love this franchise deep down.

13 – Moonlighter

Release Date: 29th May 2018
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacLinux
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about murdering monsters by night and then selling their loot by day.

Have you ever wondered how, in RPGs and the like, the shopkeepers around the world are able to get ahold of incredibly rare and powerful loot that you, the adventurer, often struggle to find? Well, as it turns out, they’re just as bad-ass at cave-diving as you are, and Moonlighter proves it.

As I’ve said previously in this series, for me to take an interest in a roguelike/roguelite, it has to do something special, and I’d argue none are more special than Moonlighter. On the one side, there are the dungeon-crawling elements of the game, which are excellently done. The combat feels weighty while remaining very fluid and every dungeon has its own host of unique and interesting looking enemies that make me want to press on just to see what new things are around the next corner. Although, what I’m really interested in is the stuff they leave behind when I slice them up because that is the stuff I can use for the other side of the game, the shopkeeping.

This is where I went from enjoying Moonlighter, to loving it. When you’re running your shop, it isn’t as simple as setting out your goods and waiting for people to come and throw money at you. Instead, you have to use your knowledge of various other items in the game to assign an appropriate value to each item. You then must watch for your customer’s reactions to your prices, to determine if they’re too low/high and adjust accordingly. Each day in the shop doesn’t last all that long, so it doesn’t drag on, but you’ll be constantly occupied as you split your attention between making sure your shelves are always stocked and watching your customer’s faces to find the perfect prices for your goods.

On top of this, Moonlighter avoids the trap that puts me off so many other roguelikes, which is that it doesn’t overwhelm you with an infinite amount of content. There are four dungeons (each unlocked by beating the previous one), and each dungeon had three floors before a boss fight. On top of that, your end goal is staring you in the face the whole time, the final dungeon holding some ancient secret, which will only be unlocked after beating the four other dungeons. Moonlighter sets you up right away so that you know why you’re doing everything which keeps me motivated to push forwards, instead of getting bored of the ‘infinite’ nature of things, something I wish more games in the genre would strive for.

12 – Pokemon Sword & Shield

Release Date: 15th November 2019
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 80%

It’s a game about becoming the world champion of rural England.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

Firstly, when it comes to the towns and routes in the game, I thought they were absolutely beautiful and captured a lot of different feelings from phases in British culture. There’s Motostoke, the industrial, victorian town; Wyndon the modern-day metropolis that we all know and (kind of) love today and then there were towns like Ballonlea that felt like something out of an old fairy tale. The visuals in this game were bright, colourful, and an absolute joy to behold.

As for the Pokemon, while I certainly wouldn’t rank it among the best new roster we’ve received for a generation, It’s most certainly nowhere near the worst. I’ve already talked about the Pokemon I loved the most, but there were a whole host of other new Pokemon added in this game that I really love the look and feel of.

While the story itself was nothing special by Pokemon standards, it was paced quite nicely, and I thought the climax was quite a cool sequence, not Ultra Necrozma levels of cool, but cool nonetheless. I enjoyed my interactions with any character not named Hop or Leon. I also thought the difficulty was rather nicely done, I didn’t exactly struggle at any point, but there were several points in the big battles that I felt were a bit touch-and-go, and I was forced to think about what I was doing a bit harder than I usually have to in Pokemon games.

I’m undoubtedly biased towards Pokemon as a franchise, but that doesn’t change the fact that I had loads of fun with this addition to the series. It was a Pokemon game that ticked all the boxes in terms what I need to have fun from a Pokemon game and in terms of visual spectacle, I think it’s the best we’ve seen so far. If the lack of a national dex was the only thing keeping you away then implore you to reconsider because this is still just as brilliant of an experience as Pokemon always has been.

Pokemon Sword & Shield have certainly become more controversial entries into the franchise than most, especially amongst the online fanbase, however, I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything I love from the modern era of Pokemon games. While Sun & Mon was a lot more visually interesting, I think the pace of the gameplay and the sheer force of personality and character on display in Sword & Shield is exactly what I adore from the franchise in the modern-day.

11 – Black and White 2

Release Date: 4th October 2005
Developer: Lionhead Studios, Robosoft Technologies
Publisher: EA, Feral Interactive
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 75%

It’s a game where you play as God and throw bunnies around with your giant God-hand.

All aboard the nostalgia train! Black & White 2 is the first game that I remember truly loving. I’m sure my parents will attest to the fact that when I was younger, I would play it non-stop. There was a short period where we didn’t have it installed on our family computer because it was playing up and I wouldn’t stop bugging my parents about getting it back on there so I could play it again. Even to this day, I make sure that I play through it at least once a year, and I have so much fun doing so.

I don’t usually like city-building games very much, and I’m not the biggest fan of real-time strategy, yet this game is a mix of those two things. If I had to guess, I think it’s the free-form nature of the game. There are minimal restrictions as to how you build up your cities or what tactics you want to use to conquer your enemies. There’s something about the freedom of playing as the literal hand of God and planning out these grand cities full of a variety of buildings that all have a unique charm to them that I just can’t get enough of. Also squishing tiny men with rocks and feeding their corpses to my giant pet cow is pretty fun.

That’s the thing with this game, it’s got so much charm and character that fills me with warm feelings of happiness. The way your people react to every action you make, or the personality that’s poured into every animation of your creature. Pour on top of that the overwhelming waves of nostalgia I get from playing it, and we’ve got a game that I’ll never get tired of, no matter how many times I play it.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post, just ten games left to go! Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this weekend, where I’ll be covering WWE Summerslam!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (30-21)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 30 through 21.

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

30 – Final Fantasy XV

Release Date: 29th November 2016
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 85%

It’s a game about the best anime boys on an anime boy road trip

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Final Fantasy XV is the first and to date, only, Final Fantasy game I’ve played. I don’t know and I don’t really care what the hardcore Final Fantasy base thought of this game, because I thought it was a masterpiece.

First of all, it looks beautiful, almost excessively so. It’s par for the course that in this generation of games, AAA games will look graphically impressive, but there’s something extra in the visual style of Final Fantasy XV that absolutely blows me away with how impressive it is. It’s not afraid to abandon the sense of realism to inject an extra dose of colour and styling into the world. The terrain is shaped in a visually pleasing way, the design of the various creatures in the world is amazingly diverse and foreign, while still maintaining a somewhat realistic feel, even the UI is so tightly designed that it’s able to convey all it needs to while still managing to fit with the aesthetic of the world around it.

The game as a whole seems to take a full-scale RPG like Skyrim or Witcher and shrink it down into a smaller, but more refined experience without losing much from the appeal of the formula. It’s a rare case of a game where I wanted to partake in some of the more repetitive side-quests like the hunts because I was fully invested in both the world and the progression of my characters. On top of that, the feel of the combat was top-notch, the various weapons had a very distinct feel to each of them and whether you wanted fast strikes or clubbing blows, you were guaranteed to get an extremely satisfying feel with every strike and every dodge. Then you add your party, which add a whole new layer to things. Not only does having a group of people around you partaking in the fight adds a lot to the feel of each encounter, but the strategic options each of them offer means I found myself constantly trying to think a few moves ahead to who I was going to use and when, as well as adding to this intense feeling of camaraderie between the guys.

This brings me to my other favourite thing about this game, which is the constant interactions that Noctis would have with his three “royal guards” (best friends) that come along on this “procession” (road trip) with him. The story as a whole was perfectly fine, there were great moments, there were not so great moments, but the interactions between the four main characters was constantly entertaining and engaging no matter the situation. They weren’t just people who happened to be following me on my journey, they were their own people and my friends who had their own things they wanted to do and the game makes sure to show you that. Ignis never ceases to entertain me with his attitude and him proclaiming he’s come up with a new recipe is music to my ears. Gladiolus will occasionally ask you to get up early and come jogging with him and isn’t afraid to call me out on my bullshit. Then there’s Prompto, who is an absolute angel and seeing all of the photos he takes during your activities at the end of each day was such something that I would genuinely look forward to because it added so much to that sense of friendship.

By the time I was done with Final Fantasy XV, I instantly wanted more, more of the combat, more of the characters, I felt like I’d come on such a journey with everyone that I wanted to keep it going for as long as possible, alongside the extremely fun combat system. I just wish other Final Fantasy games were like this one.

29 – Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

Release Date: 17th September 2015
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Metacritic Average: 69%

It’s a game about dungeon crawling with Pokemon.

This might end up being one of the more controversial entries into this list, as the Pokemon fanbase is one that tends to be very divided on…well everything really, but the Mystery Dungeon series is especially divisive.

However, I’m planting my flag in the ground regardless and saying that I love the Mystery Dungeon games and Super Mystery Dungeon does the formula to perfection. The turn-based style of dungeon crawling is something I’ve seen very few other game series attempt. Unless I’m being an idiot and blanking on some major game, Curse of the Necrodancer is the only other game I can think of that uses this style of gameplay.

The PMD series is one that takes the varied, fun and colourful world of Pokemon and turns it into something new in what for my money is the best spin-off franchise the series has ever developed (Pokemon Ranger is a distant second). As I’ll discuss a lot more throughout these last few instalments in this series, turn-based strategy is amongst my favourite genres so to create an endless amount of dungeons with a whole host of different visual styles and Pokemon within them provided me with countless hours of fun. Explorers of Sky was very close to getting this spot. However, in the end, I decided to give it to Super Mystery Dungeon purely because of the ridiculously large amount of stuff there was to do in the endgame, which kept me playing the game for a good few weeks past the credits.

What really impresses me with these games though is their stories. While it still remains firmly in the family-friendly category, it isn’t afraid to tell stories that have a real emotional weight to them; something the main series of Pokemon games have so far failed to do. I genuinely cried while watching the final cutscene, and that goes for almost every other game in the series too. It proves that Pokemon can be used to tell a genuinely compelling and emotional story, and I hope that one day we get something like this outside of this spin-off franchise.

28 – Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Release Date: 21st September 2010
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about creating and destroying the world throughout the entirety of world history.

So-called 4X games are a genre that I’m sure I’d absolutely adore if I ever had the mental energy to learn any of them. Games like Stellaris and Sins of a Solar Empire have taken the genre to complexities can I only dream of ever understanding. Proof of this is the one 4X game that I came across when I was young enough to still bother learning these kinds of things, that being Civilization V.

As I’ll discuss a little later on in the list, I’ve always preferred turn-based strategy to real-time. Something about running numerous processes through my head at once and formulating a strategy is the kind of drug that gets my brain totally hooked on a game. Civilization is perfect at this, as the game progresses you will have so many plates spinning all at once, every decision you make will affect several of them in ways that you don’t always see coming.

Whether playing against AI or with friends, I have so much fun formulating my masterplans for world domination and watching them crash and burn slowly and methodically as I frantically try to stop everything from falling apart. Then, once in a blue moon, my masterplan actually works, and it’s the single most satisfying feeling in gaming.

To tell a story, I was once playing a game with two of my friends, it was just the three of us on the map (no AI). I ended up spawning with my civilization sandwiched between the two of them. So I got to work. I spent the whole game playing both sides of the brewing war, a war that was only brewing because I was playing the two of them off against each other at every turn. Sure enough, the war came to pass, and I sat idly by while they whittled each other down bit by bit, helping both of them just enough so that they didn’t suspect I was double-crossing them. Then, when the time was right, and the war looked to be ending, I picked the bones of the winner before they had time to recover and handily won the game.

While that was an absolutely incredible gaming experience that I will never forget, I know from (vast) experience that it would have been equally as fun if my plan had gone awry and the two of them clamped down on me to take me out. Even when things don’t go my way, I still have so much fun playing a game of Civilization (even if I do occasionally get a bit salty) that I’m sure I’ll be coming back to it for years.

27 – Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball

Release Date: 19th February 2015
Developer: Erik Asmussen
Platforms: Windows, MacLinux

It’s a game about…well…a robot roller derby disco dodgeball…I don’t really think there’s a more concise way to describe it.

Dipping once again into my bag of obscure games that I absolutely adore, we have a rough-around-the-edges multiplayer arena shooter that’s absolute chaos at every turn and a tremendous amount of fun. The concept is very simple, you’re either in teams or as a free for all, you get dropped into a pretty small arena, and you have to grab dodgeballs off of the ground and throw them at your opponents to get ‘hits’.

As you can probably imagine – given that I have time to write about 100 games – I didn’t enjoy PE(or ‘Gym’ for Americans) very much in school. However, the one game that I always enjoyed (and was surprisingly decent at) was dodgeball. You have to make perfect use of your space as you attempt to navigate the absolute chaos that is constantly going on around you, which I found that to be great fun. This game can capture that feeling almost exactly.

Then it piles on some bright visuals and some chaotic techno music – the likes of which I usually despise, but for this game, it works perfectly – and it gives you an experience that feels like someone’s distilled the concept of fun into a liquid and is pumping it directly into your veins.

26 – Beat Saber

Release Date: 21st May 2019
Developer: Beat Games
Publisher: Beat Games
Platforms: Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus
Metacritic Average: 93%

It’s a game about slashing up blocks with lightsabers in-time with music.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

The concept is so simple as it’s just like any other rhythm game, except you’ve got to move your arms to hit the blocks instead of just pressing buttons in time with some music.

This game as a mastery of its sound design, making sure that every slice of a block has an extremely satisfying sound to it, helping to create this cool factor as you slice left, right and centre, even when you know that to anyone watching outside of the headset, you just look to be flailing around wildly. Even the sounds and music on the menus create an intense sense of atmosphere as you stand in what seems to be the most neon warehouse to ever exist.

A lot of VR games that I enjoy are games that I think would still work fairly well without the VR component. While games like Job Simulator and Budget Cuts would need some tweaking, I don’t think the VR element is specifically what makes them as good as they are. Beat Saber is very much the opposite, I’ve never particularly cared for rhythm games, nor am I all that good at them, but when you take that concept and put it into VR suddenly it becomes one of the most all-out fun experiences I’ve ever had.

I don’t know what part of how my brain works causes this, but I am so much better at Beat Saber than I am any other rhythm game I’ve ever played. I’m miles away from being among the best of course, but I can play on the higher speeds and difficulties and not struggle massively as I play and I think the sense of pure fun the game as injected into it is a big part of that.

On top of all of that, it works as an exercise game, but it doesn’t frame it as one. I’ve never got along with games like Ring Fit Adventure or Wii Fit because they make sure to let you know you’re doing exercise the whole way through, but in Beat Saber you just start flailing your arms and suddenly you’re drenched in sweat and have lost about 20 pounds without even realizing it.

Beat Saber is a game that realized the massive potential that an existing genre of games could have in VR and made sure to tailor the experience perfectly so that it couldn’t possibly work without it and that is fundamentally what I believe makes a good VR game.

25 – Hexcells Infinite

Release Date: 1st September 2014
Developer: Matthew Brown Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS

It’s a game that’s a weird mix of Minesweeper and Picross.

Did somebody say more obscure indie games? Because we’re not done yet, it’s time to talk about the really simple, yet weirdly addictive puzzle game that I’ve inexplicably put 200 hours into.

As I explained in the opening line, Hexcells borrows from Minesweeper for its core mechanics. There are hexes all over that are covered up, and it’s your job to determine which ones are blue underneath and which ones aren’t. You do this by looking at the numbers in uncovered hexes, which indicate the number of adjacent blue hexes. It also borrows some mechanics from Picross, as some rows & columns will have numbers indicating how many blues there are in that row/column.

It doesn’t just use these mechanics though as it has some fresh ideas of its own to help you solve puzzles (and also make them more complicated in the process). For one thing, there are ‘{x}’ and ‘-x-‘ indicators (‘x’ representing a number) that tells you if the blues in question are adjacent to each other or not. Some blue hexes will also have numbers on them which indicate the number of blue hexes that are a specified area around them.

All of these come together to make a puzzle game that takes the best elements of the games it’s inspired by and sprinkles in ideas of its own to make something new, yet familiar. There are three different games in the series (all costing less than £5) and the hand-crafted puzzles through each of the games are masterfully designed. There are plenty of puzzles throughout the series that have truly stumped me for quite a while but gave that beautiful ‘eureka’ moment when I find the linchpin that was keeping all of the hexes from revealing themselves.

What I find most impressive about Hexcells Infinite specifically, however, is the seed-generated puzzles that are available. While these levels aren’t quite as smart as the hand-crafted ones, the algorithm the developer(s) used to generate these puzzles is incredibly robust and very intelligent. There are a grand total of 100,000,000 (one hundred million) different puzzles that you have access to. I’ve played just over 2000 so far, and I’ve yet to find a single one that wasn’t solvable. To me, it’s so incredibly impressive that they can build something to generate that many puzzles and not have a single one be busted. It’s a simple formula that has kept me playing for 200 hours and will likely keep me going for 200 more.

24 – Euro Truck Simulator 2

Release Date: 19th October 2012
Developer: SCS Software
Publisher: SCS Software
Platforms: Windows, MacLinux
Metacritic Average: 79%

It’s a game about driving a truck all over Europe.

While I’ve talked about plenty of niche games on this list (several in this particular instalment) yet, despite its relatively large reputation, I don’t think it gets much more niche than a truck-driving simulator. This is a game that came about around the time that YouTubers like Nerdcubed, The Yogscast and Jim Sterling were discovering all of the extremely poorly made simulator games that littered the PC market at the time (and still do, to some extent). So while all of that was going on, Euro Truck decided it was going to shut everyone up by setting an extremely high standard for the genre that, as far as I’m concerned, no other game has ever been able to meet.

I’m not even entirely sure why I like this game so much, it’s not even remotely similar to anything else I like to play, hell, I barely even like racing games, so why is a game where I drive slower more fun? The fact is this is easily one of the most robust and realistic simulators out there. When you’re doing even the most simple of manoeuvres with your truck, it feels weighty & forceful. It’s because of these systems that I’m much more willing to play the game properly than I ever am in more poorly made simulators. It’s such an easy game to just boot up and play, I’ll often stick on a movie or TV show onto my second screen and go for a drive across the continent. Not very good driving habits, I know, but this is a video game so who cares?

On top of that, the amount of content is continually expanding, the developers are slowly adding more and more regions of Europe with new DLC every 6-8 months. Combine this with its sister game, American Truck Simulator (which has started off with a few states on the west coast and has since added several more), and you’ve got so much land-mass to cover that you’ll almost certainly never get the chance to see all of it.

Even having talked about it now, I still can’t quite pinpoint a reason why I enjoy this game so much and yet, here it is, opening the final quarter of the list. It’s just such a nice game…actually, sod this, I’m going to go and play it.

23 – Into the Breach

Release Date: 27th February 2018
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about going back in time to stop some discount Kaijus from destroying the planet.

I will forever regret not putting this on my 2018 Game of the Year list. I was a fool, and this game is so much more brilliant than I initially realized.

Subset Games had quite the success on their hands when they launched FTL: Faster Than Light in 2012 (we’ll get to that later), and trying to follow up such a brilliant game was always going to be a difficult task. So, instead of rushing to the punch to immediately capitalize, they took their time to slowly craft a game that would be just as fun, and it’s hard to argue that they didn’t succeed in that task.

Into the Breach takes the turn-based strategy genre and adds layer after layer of complexity to it, but not in the way that things like 4X games do. Into the Breach has relatively quick matches for turn-based strategies, but it makes sure that you spend every second of it on your toes. With the combinations or your machines and the enemy’s abilities, you have to continually be thinking two or three turns ahead of the current one to stop yourself becoming overwhelmed.

It takes a lot to make the player feel like they’re under pressure in a turn-based strategy since you have as much time as you need to think about things, but Into the Breach has you always second-guessing your decisions, and never lets you settle on a plan for long. It will constantly be throwing you curveballs, which all serves to make every victory feel hard-fought and satisfying, which is precisely what a turn-based strategy should be like.

22 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Release Date: 26th October 2001
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, Windows, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 81%

It’s a game about collecting evidence and using it to obliterate witness’ statements in the world’s most dramatic courtroom.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

The Ace Attorney series is a series that I’ve wanted to try for years, but never found a good enough excuse to bother with, so for years I never played it. Luckily for me, in January this year, the Ace Attorney Trilogy released on modern consoles & PC so now I didn’t have any excuse NOT to play at, and I’m thrilled I finally got around to it because this game was fantastic.

The Ace Attorney games are able to hit the mark that almost every other game in the mystery genre fail to, which is that making deductions feels brilliant. In so many games that ask you to “solve a mystery,” it never feels satisfying because if you wander around an area long enough, you’ll stumble across the answer, but Ace Attorney doesn’t do that. This is a game that gives you everything you need to crack the case, the testimonies, the mountain of different pieces of evidence and just tells you to go off and work it out.

The investigation phases are a bit frustrating and essentially boil down to a hidden object game, but the court scenes are where this game absolutely shines. Through a combination of pacing, music and dialogue, the game is able to draw me entirely into a scene and put me in the mindset of Phoenix Wright, I spend ages pouring over every word anyone says trying to pull on the slightest loose thread and rip the case open. I’ve sat at my screen agonizing for extended periods of time because I just can’t find the hole in the story.

Then I finally do find it and the game rewards you in the best way. The way the music kicks in as you throw your witness’ statements back in their face proving that they’re lying, kicking off a series of back and forths between you and your opponents. The way in which this game tells its story captures the essence of the most dramatic courtroom dramas, I can feel the momentum pulling back and forth as the case flows to the point where any ground gained feels like a huge victory.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a game that is in perfect control of your emotions at all times, it uses all the tools at its disposal to put you in the exact mindset it wants you to be in, so it can use that to take you on one of the wildest rides out there in gaming.

21 – Subsurface Circular

Release Date: 17th August 2017
Developer: Mike Bithell Games
Publisher: Mike Bithell Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, iOS

It’s a game about riding a train and solving a mystery.

On the last edition of this series, I talked about Quarantine Circular, I looked at how the game forces you to see every situation from every perspective and then hits you with some incredibly difficult choices. Subsurface Circular decides to take the exact opposite direction, giving you a single character, who never moves from their spot and instead talks to everyone else as the world passes them by.

The game sets out the scenario that you are a detective trying to solve a mystery. So as you interview people across the Subsurface Circular train-line, you get all these different perspectives on events, but they’re filtered through your own perspective on what should be going on. You’re solving a mystery, you’re just trying to find the culprit right? Well, as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, it’s nowhere near that simple. Each new interview opens up so many fresh layers to explore in further interviews. Some are dead ends, but others lead you down a winding path through a series of complex societal structures.

On that point, this isn’t a game that shies away from tackling pressing real-world issues in its story. It’s not the only game to do this, but the way in which Subsurface Circular presents these issues is trying to get people to look at things from a perspective that they might not have thought of before. It genuinely draws in points from all sides of the arguments and presents them to the player to figure out for themselves.

If that was all this game did, then it’d be good, but not deserving a spot as high as this, so what makes it so special?

I know I gave a spoiler warning at the start, but really, I’m about to discuss the end of the game so if you’ve decided you want to play this game now and don’t want to know what happens, now is the time to scroll to the next entry.

I won’t quite go into the details, but after taking on this winding journey, you discover all kinds of things about the city. Terrorist organizations, corrupt governments, the struggle of the every-day working-class people, but also the potential of how their lives could get so much worse if the system that’s making all this happen was to disappear. The game forces you to make a choice; a very simple choice. Kill the leader of the revolution and keep the status-quo (a status-quo that has caused discrimination and wide-spread poverty) or kill yourself and let the revolution happen (a revolution that might make everything better, but could just as easily make it a whole lot worse).

When the game faced me with this choice, I legitimately spent close to fifteen minutes going over it in my head. I thought through every scrap of information that I’d been told by everyone that I’d spoken to, trying to figure out what the right choice was.

Then I made my choice, and the game did something bold. It didn’t tell me what the result of my choice was. That was it, I made my choice, the credits rolled, and it was brilliant. It plays so perfectly off of all the doubt I had about either decision (I did check and the other choice does the exact same thing). Instead of giving me a moment of relief where I find out if I did the right thing, it just lets me sit there with my thoughts and decide for myself if I did what was right. It was such a powerful storytelling experience, and I’d love to say that it’s Mike Bithell’s masterpiece, but this isn’t even the last time I’m going to talk about one of his games in this series.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down my favourite chracters from The Simpsons!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (40-31)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 40 through 31.

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

40 – Driver San Francisco

Release Date: 1st September 2011
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 80%

It’s a game about driving around San Francisco while you’re in a coma.

Driver San Francisco is something so incredibly unique that I can’t even say I’d want to see more of it in the modern era because I’m not sure it could even be pulled off quite as good as this ever again. The concept of Tanner being in a coma gives the game so much freedom to do many weird and wonderful things.

For one thing, it’s incredibly open, almost like a sandbox. The mechanics let you float around any part of the map at any time and enter any car that you see. So much of the fun I’ve had in this game is just messing around in the open world, possessing a bunch of different cars in the same area and getting them all to completely mess each other up.

Arguably the game’s best feature though is it’s missions. I usually find missions are the least exciting parts of open-world games, however, the mechanics of the game allow for such incredibly innovative ideas of missions. You can act as the police and take down getaway drivers by hopping between every car on the road and boxing them in. You have to go through chase scenes where literally any car on the road could suddenly start darting towards you, or the stupendously impressive mission that you play from a second-person perspective.

This was a game that went above and beyond when it came to creative mechanics, and these mechanics all came together to create a ridiculously fun game no matter how you try to play it.

39 – Rocket League

Release Date: 7th July 2015
Developer: Psyonix
Publisher: Psyonix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 87%

It’s a game about playing football with cars.

I don’t like sporty games for the most part. By that, I don’t just mean games about sports, I mean the kind of games that are popular in the esports scene. I like CS:GO, and when I’m particularly bored I’ll drop into a game of Overwatch, but that’s pretty much it. Yet, you add the phrase ‘but with cars’ to the end of the sentence, and suddenly I love it. As much as I never play it competitively (in fact, I very rarely play it with another human), it’s one of those games that has such a broad appeal that I think it’s quite hard to hate.

The concept is so simple too: football, but with cars. It hits that perfect niche of a casual game that lets the skilful people do skilful things, while the casual players can still jump into a game, have some fun and do pretty well. As you’d probably guessed, I fall into the latter category. I have plenty of fun just knocking the ball around against the decent AI every now and then. The game has such a strong sense of fast-pace that I find it so easy to just drop-in and play a match or two when I’m bored.

It’s also become quite the expansive games with all the different game-types and variants that you can tack onto those game types. Everything about it seems entirely designed to pump as much fun out of every match for casual players, while still maintaining the integrity of the standard modes for competitive players. It really is a game that lets you play however you want to play, and I think that’s what makes it such a widely popular game.

38 – Superhot

Release Date: 25th February 2016
Developer: Superhot Team
Publisher: Superhot Team
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, Oculus Quest, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about recreating that scene from The Matrix where you dodge the bullets in super-slow motion.

(From my Favourite VR Games article)

It may not seem like it on the surface, but what really makes Superhot great is how you’re always having to think a few steps ahead of each move. The slowed time concept gives you almost as much time as you need to think about each series of movements and despite having to focus on reacting to what’s going on, you’re forced into a proactive mindset to avoid certain doom.

Stick this formula into VR and you’ve got something so incredibly unique and special that I almost can’t comprehend what makes it so great. It’s still that idea of thinking a few steps ahead and making precise movements, only now those precise movements are going to have to be made by your body. It’s easy to avoid movement when you’re using a keyboard or controller, but when you’re in the situation yourself and every little wasted movement you make costs you precious seconds of reaction time, the stakes of the whole thing become so much more.

I’ve never felt so aware of every movement I’m making while in VR. It almost feels like the game heightens my senses, I become aware of almost everything that’s around me as I quickly calculate the best movements to escape the current situation. These plans almost never work and I probably look like a twat while executing them, but who the hell cares? I’m an action hero in slow motion and that’s what matters.

37 – Stardew Valley

Release Date: 26th February 2016
Developer: ConcernedApe
Publisher: ConcernedApe, Chucklefish
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacLinux, iOS, Andriod
Metacritic Average: 89%

I’m a game about running a farm and making friends.

The modern indie scene has done weird things to my brain. Whenever I see a game like Stardew Valley that presents itself as a cute & happy farming game, I expect there to be some weird and meta-narrative twist on the whole thing. That’s not the case in Stardew Valley, it turned out that it genuinely was just a cute and happy farming game, but I’ll tell you what, it’s a really bloody good one.

I only spent about a month playing through Stardew Valley, but during that month I was playing it CONSTANTLY, I just couldn’t put it down because everything about the world was so engrossing. The thing that gets me, though, is the way in which it was engrossing. It wasn’t because of some lucrative story or addictive mechanics, it was the simplicity with how every little activity in the game is dripping with a light, fun tone.

From the big and obvious things like the visual & audio style to even the smallest little things like the touches on the animation as you character sows seeds or waters crops. With every character having a very distinctive personality, the whole village feels alive, so you really do become part of a little community as you get to know everyone.

The farming stuff is pretty simple, but that makes it perfect to be the driving motivation of the game. The pacing of the farming is extremely refined to the point where I never got bored of it, despite being somewhat repetitive in nature. An in-game day is long enough to just about everything you want/need to do, while not giving you so much time that you’re sitting around waiting for the clock to tick by. On top of that, the different crops/animals in the game grow/produce at just the right speed so that you’ll always be making progress. Even if you haven’t got anything grown today, chances are there’ll almost certainly be plenty ready for you tomorrow.

Combine that with a wealth of side-activities and clear goals the entire duration of the game (something many of these games lack), and you’ve got a cute little life-sim game that is among the best of it’s kind.

36 – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Release Date: 18th June 2019
Developer: ArtPlay
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about murdering everything in the world’s most ambitiously designed castle.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

I’d never got around to playing a Castlevania game before, but they always seemed right up my street. So, when I heard there was a game coming out made by the original creator of Castlevania in the style of Castlevania (but not officially called Castlevania because Konami doesn’t like using the historic franchises they own) I knew I had to check it out. I was absolutely blown away by what I found.

Bloodstained always keeps you on a journey of discovery. The items, enemies and powers it’s possible to acquire/encounter mean you’re always going to be finding something new and the map itself is packed with an almost overwhelming amount of variety. Every area feels extremely different to the ones that surround it and they’re all just the right size so that once you get comfortable in an area, you’re thrown right into a new one.

The combat system is wonderfully designed, it took a little getting used to, but once I got the pacing of when I should be striking and dodging I had so much fun with it. Every room presented a great challenge and I had a lot of fun trying to work out how best to tackle each combination of enemies that got thrown my way. It nails that balance of enemy design, where every enemy is easy on its own, but when a bunch of different ones are thrown together, it creates a great challenge.

That was also a game that reminded me how amazing boss fights can be, because not since NieR Automata have I had so much fun fighting bosses in a game. They follow that ethos that so many, typically old games do in that every boss has clear and recognisable patterns that are easy to dodge/counter and the skill comes from being able to react to them in time to deal out the damage. It’s a game that makes sure that every single failure and death I experienced was because I wasn’t skilful enough in order to pull it off, not because I got unlucky.

Bloodstained makes sure that every room and every enemy teaches you something, not necessarily something about the mechanics, but about what is the most optimal way to fight. This sense of pushing forward and constantly getting to experience new stuff is what pushed me towards achieving 100% completion without even realising I was doing it until suddenly I was 95% there and had to get that last little bit.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a game that is constantly pushing you deeper into it using its world & enemy design along with its combat system to enthral you in its world and give you the best Metroidvania experience I’ve had in many years.

35 – Quarantine Circular

Release Date: 22nd May 2018
Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Bithell Games, Ant Workshop Limited
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 73%

It’s a game about talking to an alien.

I often struggle to engage with pure-story games like this. I often find it difficult to get involved and focus when my attention isn’t being drawn continuously with gameplay. When it comes to Mike Bithell’s games, however, it’s an entirely different scenario. I’ll break down his style more in future entries of this list, but the main thing that I think makes Quarantine Circular so special is the understanding and insight it gives you into all of your characters.

In each chapter, you take control of a different person and see the story from their perspective. You get a chance to fully understand exactly how each character operates and why exactly they take the stances they do. The writing is intelligent enough to let you slip into answering questions and scenarios exactly how you believe that character would, perhaps without even realising it. It’s so tightly in control of your outlook and feelings on the situation at any given moment, and yet, you don’t even realise what it’s doing to you until you finish it and have the time to reflect.

Once you understand all the characters so deeply, it gives the critical choices so much weight, it deepens the emotional investment in the story so much more than almost any other game. Not because of any kind of world-ending stakes, but because of the personal stakes between each of the characters.

34 – N++

Release Date: 28th July 2015
Developer: Metanet Software
Publisher: Metanet Software
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about being a Ninja who dies, a lot.

When it comes to controls in a platformer, I don’t think this game has an equal. In N++, even the most minute movements feel precise and make you feel totally in control of every single jump and manoeuvre you make; Which means that when you miss the jump by half a millimetre and fall into a pit of mines, it’s entirely your fault. Every jump feels so smooth, and when you get good enough to chain a lot fo these movements together, the sense of flow you get is easily on par with that of the Sonic games.

It also has the difficulty to boot, with one of the most well-constructed difficulty curves I’ve ever seen. Every level is designed so creatively and given the literal thousands that there are in the game, it’s quite frankly amazing that they managed to keep them all confined to a single screen. Each different element that will kill you in a level is placed so perfectly that you can almost instantly see the way you’re supposed to get past them, but that doesn’t make doing it any easier than it should be.

The game knows precisely how forgiving it wants each level to be and they seem to have been laid out in an order that means you’re always mastering the skill you need to push through to the next set.

33 – Overgrowth

Release Date: 16th October 2017
Developer: Wolfire Games
Publisher: Wolfire Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

It’s a game about rabbits murdering each other.

This one is a real oddity, and seeing “2017” as the release date blows me away because this game has been around for about a decade in some form or another. As you can probably tell from the lack of any on this list, I’m not really a fan of fighting games, I’m not entirely sure why they’re just not for me. However, even though at its core, Overgrowth is a fighting game, it doesn’t really follow the rules of any other game in the genre.

Instead of having health bars and the like, Overgrowth instead uses a system of body parts that slowly take damage and get crippled over time. I don’t know anything in the way of specifics, so I’m not going to explain anymore, but it leads to a high-speed, but very weighty fighting game where no two fights ever quite feel the same. The details of the sounds and blood when you take hits in certain places are almost too gruesome to look at in some cases, but it’s precisely those responsive mechanics that make fighting so much fun and drive me to do it over and over again.

32 – Heat Signature

Release Date: 21st September 2017
Developer: Suspicious Developments
Publisher: Suspicious Developments
Platforms: Windows
Metacritic Average: 79%

It’s a game about performing space heists where you inevitably fling yourself out of an airlock accidentally.

Heat Signature has just about everything you could want from a heist game because that’s essentially what each mission is, a mini heist inside of a spaceship. You can sit there and survey the entire scene before you as you craft a highly detailed and skilled plan to reach your target. Every movement you make is slow and clever…until you get seen, at which points it descends into chaos where you have to either use your various tools to escape with your life or be flung into the cold vacuum of space.

The set of tools you have at your disposal hold a bunch of surprisingly unique concepts that do things like reverse forcefields, magnetise enemies and just cause general chaos to your targets. The catch is, the enemies have all of these tools too, and these dynamic systems are so cleverly interwoven to create plenty of unique experiences that are always sure to surprise you in terms of just how spectacularly they go wrong.

Heat Signature that understands that it needs to let the mechanics speak for themselves and gets you to learn by doing. This means you’re bound to form your own tactics and strategies that will vary wildly from anyone else’s but will still lead to equally as hilarious fuck ups.

31 – WWE 2K19

Release Date: 5th October 2018
Developer: Yukes, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Metacritic Average: 77%

It’s a game about wrasslin’.

My original plan when I was putting this list together was to put the whole WWE 2K series in this spot because they’re all of pretty equal quality. Then WWE 2K20 came out and was an utter shit-show, so 2K19 gets the spot instead.

I know may people prefer many other wrestling games, but as a modern wrestling fan, these are more than enough to satisfy my needs for video game graps. Once again, it’s a fighting game that doesn’t follow most of the traditional rules of fighting games, and I think it’s much more fun to play because of it. The gameplay is so easy to grasp, and it really captures the feel of a live WWE show in interactive form.

The many different game modes mean that whatever kind of way you want to play the game you’re covered. Whether you just want to do random matchups with your friends, play through written stories or craft your own grand storyline and shows. Since the series first came to PC with 2K15 I’ve put over a 1000 combined hours into the games, which isn’t even including the time I spent playing it on consoles before then. I just have so much fun putting all these matches together. The fighting mechanics are enjoyable enough that I don’t even mind playing against AI all the time.

However, when you’re not a loner, it’s easily one of my favourite games to play with friends. Not only is there a rapid and easy learning curve, but once you’ve both got the hang of it, you can have very intense matchups. On top of that, I’ve had many friends (myself included) who played the games first, and that led to them becoming wrestling fans, which makes it all the better. Except for 2K20, fuck that one in particular.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down the best cliffhangers in Doctor Who!