Updated: Mar 17, 2021
People can use the term "paradigm shift" a little too flippantly (heh, flippantly), but I'm going to employ it here. VVVVVV represented a paradigm shift for me, as it proved that games don't have to have large budgets, they don't have to have an epic scope, they don't even have to be released on a traditional gaming platform, in order for them to be great. Terry Cavanagh developed VVVVVV in Adobe Flash around one simple concept: you press a button to flip the gravity. That's it. Utilizing just that one concept and iterating on it over and over again, he created one of the most satisfying and well designed puzzle platformers ever made. The game is so simple that there's almost nothing more you can say about it, but in that simplicity is a beauty that is hard to find elsewhere.
This game really did change my perspective on games. It taught me that you can find a new favorite just about anywhere if you're willing to look, listen, and try. The simplest ideas can turn into the most satisfying game experiences, and they can strike when you least expect them to.
39. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I struggled to rank Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I love that game a whole lot, and it was very important for me in 2020. However, certain aspects of the game kept me from putting it into the Top 100 at all. While it was a step in a good direction in a lot of ways, it also fundamentally changed the experience of Animal Crossing in a few key ways I didn't click with.
So as I thought more about Animal Crossing as a whole, I realized that my personal peak of the series is New Leaf. There is definitely a personal nostalgic connection here, as this game is intrinsically linked in my mind with my time spent in Buenos Aires in 2013, a trip I loved and a memory I treasure. More than that, though; I see New Leaf as Animal Crossing in its purest form, rather than Animal Crossing trying to be something it's not (which is the most succinct way I can think to sum up why New Horizons doesn't completely hit with me). I don't know if or when I'll boot this game up again, and I'm happy to move forward with the series as it moves forward. With that said, this game is special to me, and will continue to hold a high position in my heart whether or not I ever go back to it.
38. Mario Kart 8
The Mario Kart series has always been a big part of my life as a gamer, starting with Super Mario Kart and exploding with Mario Kart 64. I'll go back to any game in the series and have a great time, even the ones that I don't like as much like Double Dash!! or Super Circuit. If it's got Mario Kart in the title, I'll have fun with it.
Since Mario Kart is so iterative and each game doesn't stray too far from its predecessors mechanically, it's one of those series that I think, in many ways, only gets better as it goes. Each successive game is informed by the ones before it, and when it tries something new, it pushes things forward without leaving much behind. That means that, for me, Mario Kart 8 is the current best. It's got great track design, it's mechanically pure, and it's a return to form in the music department. The roster is also amazing--the game is practically turning into Super Smash Kart at this point. (As a matter of fact, I'd love to see Mario Kart 9 lean more heavily in that direction, if that game ever gets developed.)
Oh, remember that you could upload race highlights from the Wii U directly to YouTube? No? Well, you could do that. I didn't utilize that feature too often, but I did for one particular race. Enjoy. This was probably one of the best races I've ever had, right down to the wire.
37. Kirby's Adventure
When the NES Classic released a few years ago, something happened that I never expected: everyone started talking about Kirby's Adventure like it was some sort of revelation. "Where was this game hiding?", they would ask. "Why didn't anyone tell me how good this game was?", they cried. I sat in disbelief seeing Tweet after Tweet of people who had apparently never played this masterpiece platformer before. How did they miss it? I'm glad they're experiencing it now, but this game was an NES staple! How are they only just now discovering it?
I didn't realize that Kirby's Adventure was released in NINETEEN NINETY-THREE. Two full years after the SNES reached our shores. No wonder so many people missed it! But for me, being born in '92, I missed that context. Kirby's Adventure was one of the NES games we owned, and I grew up with it just like I grew up with Super Mario Bros. To me, it was a staple; and it's a dang good one. In fact, I truly think this is the best the Kirby series has ever been. The powers are diverse and useful, the levels are well designed with plenty of secrets, and the game feels great even by today's standards. And, of course, since this game benefited from almost a full decade of NES programming experience, it looks and sounds better than just about any other game you'll find on the system. If you're one of the unfortunate many who missed out on this game the first time around, or you're interested in diving into the NES catalog, make sure you go back to Kirby's Adventure.
36. Tales of Symphonia
To this day, this is the only Tales game I've ever played. And you know what? I'm totally satisfied with that. From what I hear, it's the best in the series, and if I'm going to invest the time to play another 50-hour Tales game...I think I'd just boot up Tales of Symphonia again.
Is my ranking of this game partially due to ArcanaXIX's speedrunning quest for the Any% New Game+ world record? I think so. Any time ToS starts to fade back into the background of my gaming consciousness, Leo is right there to bring it back to the fore. I'm thankful for that, because honestly, everyone deserves be regularly reminded of how good this game is. Because it rules! The story is shockingly complex, the world(s) are beautifully designed, and the battle system is as exciting as it is deep. In the end, how could you not love having Teen Titans Robin as your main protagonist, educating you on the tenets of friendship and loyalty that he learned from the dwarves? If that doesn't convince you to play this game, I'm not sure what will.
If you'd like your own regular reminder of this game's greatness, go drop Leo a follow and support him on his quest to be the best. Let the Demon Fang pierce your soul.
35. Super Mario Odyssey
Mechanically, Odyssey is the best Mario has felt since 64. Movement is critical to me in all video games; in Mario, it's possibly the single most important thing to get right. Odyssey gets it right. Not only did they have to refine Mario's movement for this game, but they also had all of the different Cappy captures, too. Miraculously, those feel great, too!
I've gone back and forth on the way the game handles the Moons. The philosophy is to give you a Moon for practically everything that you do. On the one hand, this means there are tons of rewards laid out as a breadcrumb trail throughou the game. On the other hand, it sort of cheapens the value of the Moons when you're getting them all the time. If there is an Odyssey 2 or another game in this vein, I hope they introduce a more "special" collectible and also include a separate, more "common" collectible.
The past few years, positivity has been scarce. Even before the pandemic, the world was already proving itself to be vociferously divided and increasingly difficult to handle. When a lot of things were negative and worrisome, Super Mario Odyssey came onto the scene and offered a breath of fresh air and a ray of optimism that I really appreciated at the time and appreciate even more now. Every world revolves around helping the citizens get over some weirdness, and I'd love it if Mario came to our world and solved some of our weirdness right now, too.
34. Mega Man 2
Never has jumping and shooting felt this good! To me, Mega Man 2 is the best in the Classic Mega Man series. The first game had some difficulty and design issues, but all of them are basically addressed here in the sequel. Nothing is overly difficult or unattainable. The bosses have readable patterns. The weapons you get from each boss are useful both in the levels and in the boss fights themselves. Honestly, Metal Blade deserves a shout-out all by itself, because that one weapon alone makes this game so much more fun and satisfying to play. And, of course, the music in 2 is probably the best in the Classic series, perhaps even in any Mega Man game in general.
As much as I like the slide mechanic added in 3 and the charge mechanic added in 4, I think that 2's design is so pure. I'm not as mobile or powerful as I will be in subsequent releases, but the whole game works together to make me feel awesome, even when all I'm doing is jumping and shooting.
The simplicity and elegance of design in Mega Man 2 leads me to feel like this is the NES Classic game that has aged the best, and that counts for a lot when I want to pick up an old Mega Man game and knock it out.
33. Diddy Kong Racing
Mario Kart 64 was the king of multiplayer in the late 90's. Sure, Goldeneye and Mario Party were around, too, but the skill variance of Goldeneye players could lead to frustration and jealousy, while the randomness of Mario Party could lead to...frustration and jealousy. Mario Kart, on the other hand, was an even playing field without feeling cheap. Mario Kart was king of the block party.
But what if I wanted to play by myself? What if I wanted to experience the joy of character kart racing and all my friends were busy? In those cases, Mario Kart 64 didn't have too much to offer. Sure, you could do Time Trials, or get golden trophies in all the Grand Prix, but unless you got super deep into those modes, they leave a little something to be desired for a single-player experience. How great would it be if there were a kart racer with a story mode, and an overworld, and multiple vehicles to use to explore, and collectibles both inside and out of races? What if there were another kart racer with fun characters, great music, and imaginative tracks that I could enjoy whether I was with my friends or by myself? What if there were another kart racer with an extra challenge mode, maybe even bosses to race against? What if there were a kart racer with a giant magical pig that hates you?
That game exists. It's called Diddy Kong Racing. It rules.
32. Super Mario 3D World (+ Bowser's Fury)
Nintendo experimented with multiplayer Mario ever since the New series made its way to the Wii. Unfortunately, multiplayer Mario can prove rather frustrating on a 2D plane. More often than working together to complete a level, you find yourself fighting your "teammates," jockeying for position and bonking each other into pits whether you mean to or not. There's just not a lot of room to work with when your only directions are up, down, left and right. Thankfully, Super Mario 3D World came along and brought multiplayer Mario into a new dimension--specifically, the third one. Now you can actually play with your friends and spread out a bit, have a bit more room to breathe, and even work together for once. You actually have allies on the screen instead of just three more additional enemies!
As fun as 3D World is with friends, the game still holds up fantastically well on its own as a single player experience. The levels are big enough to fit multiple people, yes, but they're still focused enough to provide worthy platforming challenges. Champion's Road is still one of the hardest Mario levels in existence--which I count as a bonus.
I also really like the new game mode...or DLC...or expansion...look, I don't know what it is, but Bowser's Fury is good too, and certainly doesn't hurt 3D World's ranking on this list.
31. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (and Randomizer)
Even though A Link to the Past is the third game in the series, in a lot of ways it's the game that started it all. It set the standard for both 2D Zelda and 3D Zelda going forward. Link's Awakening was modeled after LttP's structure, and Ocarina of Time was trying to be LttP in just about every way but its number of dimensions. If you are a fan of any Zelda game released since 1991, I really think you owe it to yourself to go back and experience A Link to the Past at some point. Not only will you see the series' roots and educate yourself a bit on some history, but you'll also be treated to one of the most perfectly designed and perfectly paced games ever made.
Additionally, LttP is ranked so highly here because the game was given new life for me in the form of the Randomizer. LttP Rando is so fun and different that it almost deserves a list spot all its own. Lots of other games have randomizer hacks, but LttP is just so perfect for it because of the way the game's progress is locked behind the acquisition of items and nothing else. So what if you got those items in a different order? What if you had to go halfway into dungeon 6 just to get the weapon to enter dungeon 2? What if the first item you get is the thing that sends you into the second half of the game? LttP Rando is both a mechanical challenge and an intellectual one, testing both your gameplay ability and your knowledge of the game itself. For someone who has played the game dozens of times in its original form, Rando provided me with a new experience in the same game that keeps me coming back even more than I already was.
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)
40. VVVVVVV (PC, 2010)
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)