Updated: Mar 17
30. World of Warcraft (Classic)
My friend Kevin got me into WoW right when it first came out in 2004. He played Alliance, so I made an Alliance character on his account and got hooked right away. When I convinced my parents to buy me a subscription (which was a crazy idea at the time), I made a Horde character because they looked cooler. Altaroth the Tauren Hunter was born, and I obsessively leveled him all the way to 60. After that...I stopped. Getting to 60 felt like the peak. I didn't understand that there was a whole world of content after the level cap, so getting to 60 was where my WoW experience ended.
Aside from a brief stint with the game in High School, I didn't go back to WoW--even though I always sorta wanted to. It was an urge I managed to resist for 15 years. I knew that if I got into it, I would become obsessed again. I held off. Even when WoW Classic released in late 2019, offering me everything I remembered and everything I wanted, I still stood firm.
Until the pandemic.
I was right about everything--WoW Classic is awesome and it's exactly what I wanted...and I have spent way too much time on it. Thankfully, the past year allowed me some extra time to do just that, so I have had the opportunity to not only revisit the leveling experience I enjoyed so much, but also now have gotten to participate in all the endgame raiding content I missed the first time around. I played Alliance for a different experience this time around (Brandoninge, Dwarf Paladin), and I'm glad I did, because I can't imagine this experience without the great friends I've made in my guild, TBD. We're on the verge of defeating the "final boss" of the Vanilla experience. We're so close. Wish us luck this weekend.
29. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Split Timeline of the Zelda series is infamous. What started out as a fan theory was adopted by Nintendo in some "official" capacity and threw the fandom into a fever pitch--even though Aonuma himself says in Hyrule Historia that the timeline doesn't really matter.
Did you know, though, that the Zelda timeline split in real life, too? The original Legend of Zelda was heavily focused on exploration and wide-open spaces. When Zelda II and A Link to the Past came out, a new formula for the series was established that became a well-worn groove over the next 25 years. There was still exploration, but the focus was more linear and progression-based. You could go different places, but there was always one place you were "supposed" to go. That original exploration-heavy "timeline" was abandoned for the "timeline" of the new Zelda formula as we know it today.
Then A Link Between Worlds came along and straddled the timelines, as if Link's entrance into Lorule was also a gate for Zelda games to bridge more into the exploration realm. Lo and behold, Breath of the Wild would then come along and be the first game since the original Legend of Zelda to ask you those magical words, "See that mountain?"
This break in the formula fills the game with so much wonder and magic. When I played Breath of the Wild, it really felt like I was a kid again, thrown into this vast, extensive world where I could go anywhere and do anything. It was an openness that I hadn't felt in a Zelda game since the previous game in the meta-timeline, which was almost 30 years old at this point. This is one of the two Zelda games I mentioned earlier that capture and expand the imagination.
"So what? They made an open-world Zelda." That's an understandable viewpoint. It's not like this is the first time you as the player have been asked to climb a tower. But I think the dismissive "They made an open world Zelda" comment is best answered by re-arranging the words: "They made a Zelda world open." Everything is still lovingly hand-crafted. The tower climbing actually means something because such great care and thought went behind all the sightlines. The map doesn't auto-fill with icons for you to tick off a checklist; you go and look and mark that map yourself so you can explore it on your own. The orange and blue lights pierce the fog in all directions, giving you goals to obtain both near and far.
While I would give Breath of the Wild a 10/10, I won't pretend there aren't improvements to be made. I wrote a whole piece for Zelda Universe about that very thing. My concluding paragraph there also works well to end this write-up here: "In the end, Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece, and there are so many awesome lessons learned that Nintendo can carry forward into future games. I hope to see the DNA of this game throughout the rest of this series’ lifespan. But if the next game is simply Breath of the Wild 2, I’ll be disappointed. There are places to go from here, and I’m excited to see Nintendo go to them. I’ll gladly go right along."
28. Mother 3
There are plenty of absurd things in Mother 3. A dog wearing a beanie? That's absurd! The Funky Monkey Dance? That's absurd! But more than just being ridiculous, I think Mother also deals in the philosophical absurd, which is a bit different than just being a little silly. As Albert Camus would put it, the absurd is the idea that there is no meaning--but rather than letting that be a crushing existential weight, absurdism would instead have you see that as a freeing thing. If there is no meaning to life, then you aren't held back. If there's no meaning to life, then you can find joy. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
The Mother series, especially Mother 3, deals extensively in the absurd. Is there a point to anything you're doing? Does any of this matter? Do the struggles of your characters accomplish anything? Does it matter if you live or die, or if anyone lives or dies? Do progress and industrialism give more meaning to daily life, or do they take it away? What's the point of it all? Yet in spite of all these heavy questions and the soul-crushing story beats of Mother 3, the game is profoundly optimistic. In the end, what matters is that you're happy. If you enjoyed the experience, it was worth it. If the characters found fulfillment in the end, it was worth it. The outcomes are less important then what it took to get there.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. NINTENDO, PLEASE LOCALIZE THIS GAME.
27. Tetris Effect
This is my favorite version of Tetris. It's still the puzzle game you know and love, and it's possibly the best-feeling version of that game that has ever been made; but more than that, Tetris Effect is an experience. Like, a full-body, immersive, psychosensual experience. Tetris Effect made me feel things that no game has ever made me feel, let alone a Tetris game.
I actually purchased a copy of Tetris Effect for PS4 despite not owning a PS4, just so I could play it on my friend's console in our school dormitory. This led to one of my new favorite gaming memories. His suite was on the corner of the building, and the hallway outside received a lot of foot traffic from the other students. One day as I was playing Tetris Effect in the common area right after classes got out, I ended up drawing in guys from the hallway who were curious about all the flashing lights and pumping music (and the fact that I play Tetris relatively well) as they passed by. Without realizing it, I accidentally gathered an audience of almost twenty dudes, who ended up mesmerized by the game--and cheering me on with every Tetris and T-Spin. "I'm not going to work until we're done watching Jared play Tetris," I heard from behind me. One time I went into The Zone and got a Perfectris and we almost blew the roof off the building with cheers.
That's an awesome memory that will stick with me, but this game will stick with me in so many ways beyond that, too.
26. Final Fantasy V
It's pretty astounding how quickly NES and SNES emulation got off the ground. Already in the late 90's I was regularly emulating games with ZSNES. The best thing that happened was that I, and so many others, were able to experience games that we always wanted to play, but were only released in Japan. Most notably, there was finally a way to experience the fabled Final Fantasy V. The emulation wasn't perfect, and the translation wasn't perfect (though still worlds better than the official localization of Final Fantasy Anthology), but we could play it. It was awesome. (For a more extensive look at this late-90's Wild West of import games and emulation, I can't recommend highly enough Chris Kohler's book on FFV from Boss Fight Books.)
While that was a great memory, FFV didn't set my world on fire quite like another Japan-only game that's still to come on this list. However, FFV was given new life for me when I discovered the Four Job Fiesta run by RevenantKioku. It's an annual event where you are assigned 4 random jobs for your whole run, and you are limited to only those jobs for the entirety of the game. The VGF crew has participated a number of times, and I've managed to complete three different FJF's over the years. FFV evolved from a game I had a sweet memory with to a game I play almost annually. If you've never played it before, I highly recommend giving it a shot--maybe even jumping right in with the next Fiesta and seeing what you think.
25. Golden Sun
I was in love with JRPG's in the early 2000's. While I was loving the games, for the most part I was coming to them a few years or more after their release. My favorite RPG's all released when I was 3 or 4 years old, and I would go back to them on the recommendations of my older brother or my internet homies. Rediscovering them was magical, but it was always retreading well-worn ground.
When Golden Sun released for GBA in 2001, I was heavily invested in the pre-release press cycle and was able to get in on the ground floor of a brand new, freshly-released JRPG. I wasn't coming to a game that thousands of people had already experienced already before me--I was discovering a game at the same time as everyone else. It felt like my RPG. Every time I pick it up, it still feels like my RPG.
The game itself is really great. It looks phenomenal for a GBA game, especially one released in 2001. The in-battle and out-of-battle styles are wildly different but work together well and both look awesome. The music is awesome and different than what I was used to with Square RPG's, focusing more on hard rock than on prog (which is a distinction I didn't understand at the time but could still feel). The story was huge for a handheld game. The overworld exploration was fascinating and interactive. The battle system was deep and complex, heavily influenced by the Djinni who influenced your character classes and spells but also provided their own magical abilities and summons as well.
The Lost Age was also good, but didn't capture me the way the first Golden Sun did. After that, the series dove off a cliff in an unfortunate way. But nothing will be able to take away the way I feel about this first game. It's my RPG!
24. Star Fox 64
The original Star Fox was a tech demo than anything. It's a neat little experience, but even at the time it was obvious that it was more a great proof of concept than a great game. Thankfully, though, that proof of concept would be realized in the form of Star Fox 64, the best on-rails shooter ever made.
The Arwing is swift and nimble to control, capable of rapid fire, charge shots, and bomb blasts. The worlds are varied and imaginative, each one bringing something unique to the table. Most of all, though, the writing and voice acting immerses you in the world. You keep playing and moving forward while the dialogue happens around you, making you feel like you really are a part of something much, much bigger than just what you see on the screen. For a 1997 game, the voice direction is incredible (the questionable choice about Slippy's voice aside). There are some words and phrases that I can't hear in any context without instantly transporting them to how they sound in Star Fox 64 (NO! HIT THE BRAKES!! I CAN'T STOP IIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!!). The game is short, designed to be a high-score challenge run. Not only does it serve that purpose well, but with its branching paths and multiple ways of approaching levels, it also ends up becoming one of the most thoroughly replayable games of all time.
I'm not sure why Nintendo has never been able to re-capture the magic of this game. They always try to monkey (heh) with the formula whenever they make a new Star Fox game, and it just never quite gives the people what they want. Unfortunately, when the games don't sell well, they conclude "People just don't like Star Fox," instead of the actual conclusion, which should be "We need to make better Star Fox games." I hope, one day, they can take a good hard look at SF64, see what made it great, and give us a new experience that matches it.
23. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Sometimes a sequel comes along that doesn't quite understand what made the first game great. Sometimes a sequel comes along that completely understands what made the first game great, and then builds on it to make it even better. The Thousand Year Door is an example of the latter. Every single piece of praise I have for the original Paper Mario is echoed here, except I think TTYD raises everything to the next level. Music, partner characters, humor, world building, enemies, pacing, interstitial scenes...TTYD has it all. As much as I love this game and think it's the best in the Paper Mario series, there's unfortunately not much more I can say about it (which is OK because I wrote a novel about BotW). It's Paper Mario but better in every way. Screw the Boggly tree, though.
22. Super Mario Bros. 3
Across all space and all time, the great debate rages on: Three, or World?
Ultimately I side with World. (Spoilers.) However, SMB3 is still just so unbelievably good. As much as I prefer SMW's extended levels to SMB3's bite-size challenge runs, I can't deny that SMB3's levels are impeccable. I love SMB1 but its physics are a little clunky; SMB3, on the other hand, feels immaculate. The world map was an awesome addition that set the standard for decades to come. The new suits and power-ups were a revelation for the series and expanded everything so far beyond what the first games were capable of, as well as opening up the doors for future ideas.
Admittedly, I probably prefer World because it was my first Mario game (and probably my first video game ever). I came to SMB3 a little late to the party, already having experienced what World had to offer. But even as a kid, I knew that 3 was special. It still is, and it always will be.
21. Donkey Kong Country 2
Finally, we've made it: the summit of the DKC series.
This is another example of a sequel taking the first game and just raising the bar in every way. All the negative things I could say about Donkey Kong Country are eliminated or improved. All the positive things I could say about Donkey Kong Country are built upon and expanded. The first game is great, but this game still somehow takes it all up a notch.
The music is not just great; it's in the top 1% of video game soundtracks ever composed. The levels are not just great; they are iconic. The characters don't just feel great; they feel nimble and fully masterable, even with their differences. The environments aren't just great; they're some of the most inventive and varied worlds you'll find in any platformer ever made.
Ian put it well when he told me "I had 200 games in my Top 50." I feel the same way. I look at a game as perfect as DKC2 and even I wonder how in all the world this game is "only" at number 21. But when I look at the list to come, it makes sense. First of all, 21 out of Every Game I've Ever Played is extremely high. Furthermore, every game from here on out is practically flawless.
Welcome to the Realm of Perfect Games, friends. We've already entered it. We're in it through the end.
99. Mass Effect 3 (XBox 360, 2012)
98. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Switch, 2019)
97. Yoku's Island Express (Switch, 2018)
96. Slay the Spire (Switch, 2017)
95. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1987)
94. Mega Man 11 (Switch, 2018)
93. Baba is You (Switch, 2019)
92. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2006)
91. Tetris & Dr. Mario (SNES, 1994)
89. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES, 1989)
88. Mega Man 3 (NES, 1990)
87. Mighty Switch Force (3DS, 2011)
86. Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, 2015)
85. WarioWare Gold (3DS, 2018)
84. Mega Man X3 (SNES, 1995)
83. The Legend of Zelda: Oracles of Ages and Seasons (GBC, 2001)
82. Gris (Switch, 2018)
81. Sonic Mania (Switch, 2017)
79. AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (PC, 2016)
78. SteamWorld: Dig (3DS, 2013)
77. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ (GBA, 2003)
76. Rayman Legends (Wii U, 2013)
75. Mega Man X2 (SNES, 1994)
74. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow (Game Boy, 1998)
73. F-Zero GX (GameCube, 2003)
72. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GameCube, 2003)
71. Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES, 1996)
69. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GameCube, 2004)
68. Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Project M (Wii, 2008)
67. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)
66. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (GameCube, 2001)
65. Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen (GBA, 2004)
64. Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)
63. Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald (GBA, 2002)
62. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Wii U, 2014)
61. Super Meat Boy (PC, 2010)
59. Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995)
58. Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS, 2012)
57. Banjo-Kazooie (N64, 1998)
56. Tetris 99 (Switch, 2019)
55. Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994)
54. Mole Mania (Game Boy, 1996)
53. Luigi's Mansion (GameCube, 2001)
52. Stardew Valley (PC, 2016)
51. Paper Mario (N64, 2000)
49. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch, 2019)
48. New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U, 2012)
47. Golf Story (Switch, 2017)
46. Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) (NES, 1988)
45. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Game Boy, 1993)
44. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U, 2014)
43. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS, 2013)
42. Octopath Traveler (Switch, 2017)
41. Elite Beat Agents (DS, 2006)
39. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS, 2012)
38. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014)
37. Kirby's Adventure (NES, 1993)
36. Tales of Symphonia (GameCube, 2003)
35. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch, 2017)
34. Mega Man 2 (NES, 1988)
33. Diddy Kong Racing (N64, 1997)
32. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013)
31. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991)
30. World of Warcraft Classic (PC, 2019)
29. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017)
28. Mother 3 (GBA, 2006)
27. Tetris Effect (PS4, 2018)
26. Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom, 1992)
25. Golden Sun (GBA, 2001)
24. Star Fox 64 (N64, 1997)
23. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GameCube, 2004)
22. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1988)
21. Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES, 1995)