Josh’s Top Ten Favorite Games of All Time
It was hard enough for me to narrow my favorite games down to a “top ten,” so there’s no way I could ever rank these. I’ve decided to arrange them chronologically instead. Enjoy!
Castlevania (1987) – I was introduced to Castlevania later in life via Symphony of the Night, but when I went back to the original NES game, I fell in love with a completely different beast altogether. Simon Belmont’s adventure requires a thoughtful approach that is at first at odds with the typically fast pace of 2D platformers, but it’s one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The morning that I woke up early and fought Dracula over and over until I beat him will be forever etched in my mind, from the color of the sunrise to the direction I lay on my bed. It was rather fitting that I killed Dracula at dawn.
Super Metroid (1994) – As a budding gamer, no SNES title captured my imagination quite like Super Metroid. As a sci-fi fanatic with a love of side-scrolling shooters, Super Metroid was everything I wanted in a game and more, with exploration elements unlike anything I’d seen in a game before (this was pre-Link to the Past). On top of being an impeccably designed game, Super Metroid is full of brilliant little narrative touches, like the partially-devoured bounty hunter lying on the floor before the lair of the first boss, or the unforgettable final battle with Mother Brain. Super Metroid captivated me as a child, and as an adult, it remains an utterly flawless title that every gamer deserves to experience.
Megaman X2 – It was too difficult to choose a favorite Megaman X game, so I decided to choose the one that introduced me to the Megaman franchise and turned me into a lifelong fan. With a fantastic soundtrack and fast, frenetic gameplay, X2 stands just as tall as the other SNES games in the series, even though it doesn’t get quite as much recognition. In addition to the nostalgia factor, this game contains some of my favorite tracks of any Megaman X game, like the Maverick Factory intro stage, X Hunter stages, and Zero’s Theme.
Final Fantasy VII (1997) – Final Fantasy VII came to me at a critical time in my life. I was in middle school, just beginning to exercise my creative writing muscles, when I came across a game that took storytelling to a whole new level and set my imagination on fire. I loved the setting, the characters, and the maturity of the plot. I was hooked on Final Fantasy VII for over a year, and when I’d finally beaten it, I felt like I’d been forever changed. Unlike most of the games on this list, I haven’t revisited Final Fantasy VII recently, and that’s partially because I’m afraid it won’t live up to the memories, and I’m afraid the rough edges that my pubescent brain smoothed over will stand out to an adult with an English Lit degree. Still, the effect of seeing the remake trailer from this year’s E3 was like an espresso shot to my heart, and I know that Final Fantasy VII will always be an important game to me, no matter where I am in my life.
Megaman Legends 2 (2000) – If you’ve made it this far in my list, you know I love Megaman, you know I love exploration, and you know I take my narratives pretty seriously. It should come as no surprise that Megaman Legends 2 is my jam, my jelly, my peanut butter, and my peanuts. The sequel to Megaman Legends improves on the original in just about every way, with more dungeons to explore, more varied environments, more items to find, more equipment to craft, and a plethora of interesting side quests, not the least of which is probably the hardest quiz in video games. The story, while still cheesy and convoluted, is far more engaging and grand in its scope, and it isn’t afraid to end on a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it’s a cliff we’re destined to hang on forever, thanks to Keiji Inafune’s split with Capcom.
Robot Alchemic Drive (2002) – Here’s the thing. I am the world’s biggest sucker for giant robots. There have been a lot of robot games with high production values and tight gameplay mechanics, but Robot Alchemic Drive (or RAD, as the 90s kids call it) for the PS2 is not one of them. It’s ugly as sin, it’s clunky, and the camera seems to be mounted on a hyperactive dog who will turn away from you to stare at anything that moves. In short, it’s a typical Sandlot game, the insane budget games developer behind Earth Defense Force. However, there’s one thing RAD does better than literally any other giant robot game on the planet, and it’s by far the most important thing: the sense of scale. You can feel the weight of your machine as it stomps through the streets of Tokyo, and when you land a straight punch that sends an alien robot plowing through three city blocks, there are few moves more cathartic or empowering in any video game. RAD also takes a unique approach to control – instead of sitting inside your giant robot, you play as a human remote-controlling it from the outside. That means you have to find a good vantage point before you switch to robot controls, and not only is this an original take on the genre, but it helps to emphasize that pitch-perfect sense of scale that Sandlot does best. There’s a hefty campaign over 50 missions long and even a multiplayer mode where you can embarrass your friends. If you can find this game in a bargain bin or on the internet, do yourself a service and buy it immediately.
Bayonetta (2009) – When most people think “best action game of all time,” they think Devil May Cry 3. When I think “best action game of all time,” I think Bayonetta. Take nothing away from Devil May Cry 3, but Bayonetta controls like a dream. It is at once effortless to play and incredibly demanding, as it provides players with all the tools necessary for success, and then throws them into the lion’s den and forces them to witch-time their way out again. With a one-of-a-kind protagonist, epic boss fights, and inventive level designs, Bayonetta is everything that an action game fan could possibly want. It’s at least as difficult as Devil May Cry 3, but the gameplay is so compelling that I managed to get every achievement and even a couple secrets beyond that. It’s just that good.
Spec Ops: The Line (2012) – Narrative and games haven’t had the best track record together. Even the ones that I’ve mentioned on this list only stand out to me as good video game stories. I suspect it has something to do with the disconnect between narrative and gameplay, how the story bends itself to service the interactive elements and vice versa. Literature and film have never had to fight so hard to reconcile a meaningful plot with its own format. There are exceptions, of course, like the legendary Portal, but I had never before encountered a true literary video game, one with vitally important themes that are developed and expressed through both gameplay and cutscenes. At least, not until I played Spec Ops: The Line. As a game, it plays like a very generic military third person shooter, but as you press on and unravel more of the unflinchingly brutal storyline, you realize that that’s the point. Spec Ops is a criticism of modern warfare shooters and, in fact, video game design as a whole. I won’t spoil it, but the story challenges typical elements of AAA game design like arbitrary player choice, bombastic setpieces, and empowerment through violence. It’s not a fun game, and if you’re looking for escapism, you won’t find it here, but Spec Ops has the most brilliantly designed narrative of any video game I’ve ever played, and it’s the kind of story that can only be told through the very medium that it deconstructs.
XCOM: Enemy Within (2013) – I love punishing games when they’re well-designed, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within earns top marks in both categories. The game realistically pits your small squad against an overwhelming alien force that has you outmanned and outgunned. You can customize your soldiers and get attached to them, which will make their sudden and permanent deaths in the field all the more soul-crushing. The only thing more satisfying than keeping your head afloat in the early game and outmaneuvering the invaders with inferior equipment is the moment where your research begins to bear fruit and you start to level the playing field. The Enemy Within expansion took my 2012 Game of the Year and made it even better, adding more tech trees, giant cyborgs, new story missions, giant cyborgs, a new enemy faction, and GIANT. CYBORGS. THAT ARE YOUR FRIENDS. It’s kind of a game-changer.
Earth Defense Force 2025 (2014) – It may seem strange that I have two Sandlot games on here, but this is a “favorite games” list and not an “objectively best games” list. Earth Defense Force speaks to me on a very personal level. Wearing giant pneumatic Rock-Em Sock-Em robot fists and punching swarms of mutated space ants in the face speaks to me on a very personal level. The amount of hilariously absurd weaponry in this game is beyond mortal comprehension. The task of collecting every laser shotgun, ICBM launcher, mech suit, and acid spray gun is an exercise in futility. Even so, I’ve put in almost 200 hours trying, and once the PS4 expansion comes out, I’m sure I’ll put in 200 more.