Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Do I need a preamble for each section of ten? Probably not, but it seems strange not to have anything here. Let's get into it.
90. Crypt of the NecroDancer
Every so often I've said that Roguelites aren't my thing, but as I look over my Top 100 and think about that statement, I think the more accurate statement is that I haven't experienced enough of them. CotND was my first, and I fell in love with it right away. The rhythm-based gameplay is so inventive and fun, and the game just oozes with charm. It's got so many little touches that add up for pure joy, like the fact that the entire tileset becomes a dance floor when you get a combo going. Of course, I can't go a full paragraph on this game without mentioning the fact that the soundtrack is just incredible. Wall-to-wall bangers. Danny B outdid himself on this bad boy. My favorite track, by a narrow margin, is probably 2-2, "Grave Throbbing."
89. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
I came way late to the Castlevania series. I didn't play any of the games until VGF's own Mushroom began the One-Credit Contests in 2014. The first game up was Castlevania III, and it didn't take me long to get hooked. (Update: I used to have a link to an old forum thread here, but VGF has since been nuked. RIP.) Over the course of a week, I was able to get good enough at the game to make it all the way to Dracula without continues. I was all in. Though I was never able to do a one-credit clear of the game, I had a blast and added a new series to my list of favorites. Over the course of that year I bought, borrowed, and devoured every Castlevania game I could, and it's all thanks to Dracula's Curse--and Mushroom. Thanks, bud.
88. Mega Man 3
From one classic NES third entry to another, except Mega Man didn't choose to dabble in weird, poorly-translated exploratory mania like Castlevania did for a bit. Instead, MM3 builds on the first two games and moves forward beautifully. It introduces the slide--and while that may not sound like a huge deal, in a series with sequels as iterative as Mega Man, adding that movement option is quite literally game changing.
The Doc Robot robot fights are still great, but they're even more amazing if you put yourself in the shoes of a player back then. At that time nostalgia was not exploited nearly as much as it is in the current gaming landscape; so when those Mega Man 1 and 2 Robot Masters come back to mess you up in Mega Man 3? Wild, y'all! That just wasn't much of a thing up to this point in gaming history.
The ever-present Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3 debate rages on among Mega Man fans. Where do I land? Well, you'll find out one way or the other.
87. Mighty Switch Force
Game music is so tied to the game experience that it can be hard to separate the two. Lovers of video game music can find themselves screaming into the abyss, "Why doesn't the entire world understand the genius of Koji Kondo!?" But until people are willing to immerse themselves in the Mushroom Kingdom, they just may never get it. If you are a game music lover and want to show the world that the genre is legitimate, might I direct you to Mighty Switch Force and Jake Kaufman in general.
Normally one plays a game before becoming obsessed with its soundtrack; for me, I discovered MSF in the reverse order. I pumped this soundtrack for months of homework sessions before I actually played the game. After a while, my brother informed me that Jake Kaufman is actually Virt of OCRemix fame, and it was like a revelation--I had actually been listening to his stuff for years, and what I was enjoying with MSF was simply his latest creation in a long list of jams.
For whatever reason, that realization is what spurred me to actually download and play the game. Turns out? It's amazing. The gameplay rises to the level of the soundtrack, and it all combines for just pure joy and fun. As for my favorite tracks, it's hard for me to pick between Whoa! I'm in Space Cuba, and Yummy.
86. Ori and the Blind Forest
When a game actually convinces me to plug a controller into my computer, I know something special is about to happen. I got Ori in a Humble Bundle the year after it released, and after taking one look at the game I knew I wanted to play it. Ori may be the most visually stunning Metroidvania/Exploratory Platformer out there, at least until its sequel came out last year to top it. But while I came for the lighting, I stayed for the gameplay. The skill curve in this game is one of the most satisfying I can think of across the entire genre, rising to the level of Super Metroid itself in terms of how it lets you traverse the world by the endgame. On top of all that, there's a moving story, which is communicated less by dialogue and more by visuals, which is a technique I greatly appreciate whenever it is pulled off. I look forward to playing the sequel someday, and I hope it captures the magic I experienced here.
85. WarioWare Gold
I'm not sure what the future holds for WarioWare. R&D1, the weird blacksheep division of Nintendo and the masterminds behind the series, are all but dissolved and assimilated into the rest of the company. Without their willingness to experiment and try weird things, I don't know if we'll see another WarioWare again, or at least not for a long time.
With that in mind, I'm so glad that Nintendo chose to package and release WarioWare Gold, which is basically the WarioWare equivalent to a Greatest Hits album. The game features a new story mode, but the microgame$ included are pulled from the original, Twisted, and Touched--with some appearances from the other side games in the series as well. Some modes are focused on one style of play, and some modes ask you to rapidly change control schemes as the levels progress. If this is the last hurrah for WarioWare, it is a great celebration of the series to end on.
84. Mega Man X3
The Mega Man X series has this problem where it only gets worse as time went on. There are some bright spots in the later games, but no subsequent releases have ever captured the magic of MMX 1, 2, and 3.
While 3 is the weakest of the SNES trilogy (more spoilers!), it is still built on the all-but-perfect foundation of the first game, and for that alone it still lands on the list here. The last truly great MMX game still gives us a rocking soundtrack, great boss designs, and killer weapons. If CAPCOM had focused on those three things instead of constantly doubling down on the series' already-questionable lore, maybe some later X games would show up on this Top 100 as well. Alas.
83. The Legend of Zelda: Oracles of Ages and Seasons
Originally, I had these games split into two entries for the list. In the service of talking about more games, I decided to combine them. I'm a little conflicted about that; but while OoS and OoA are entirely unique games, and while I prefer Seasons to Ages in general, it is absolutely impossible to discuss one of these games without also talking about the other. They released day-and-date together, and they even Link together for one common endgame that you can experience on either cartridge (pictured above--spoilers, it's Ganon).
While neither game reaches the heights of Link's Awakening's mood and story, they use the assets to provide two vast worlds and sub-worlds that capture the imagination and push the Game Boy Color to capacity. The more puzzle-focused OoA sees you travel in the past and present of Labrynna; the more action-focused OoS sees you travel in four unique seasons of Holodrum and even the elaborate underworld of Subrosia. It's hard to express how huge these Game Boy Color games are unless you just play them and, eventually, combine them. Don't sleep on these entries in the Zelda series! If Nintendo gives these games the LA2019 treatment, I will be ecstatic.
Please don't ask me to explain what Gris's story is. I can't really tell you, and I'm not sure it has one. I'm also not 100% sure what the game is trying to communicate, although I have some guesses (anxiety, identity, loss, healing). What I can tell you though is that if this list were entitled "ML's Favorite Vibes," Gris would top the list.
I think Gris is about as close to Impressionist art as you will ever get in a video game. Moment-to-moment, you may not understand what's going on or what the progression is. But at the end of the 3-hour light platformer, you will look back at your experience and just kinda sit in silence for a while, probably accompanied by a small "Wow." This is a game I would recommend to literally anyone without reservation--the genre doesn't matter, the gameplay doesn't matter, no individual part of it matters. What matters is the entire thing together and the capital-M Mood that it creates. It's just a stunningly beautiful game and a bite-sized experience I don't think anyone should skip.
81. Sonic Mania
There's no way to approach this write-up without dropping at least one scorching hot take, so I might as well get it out of the way: Sonic Mania is by far the best 2D Sonic game by a wide margin because it gives you the Genesis Sonic experience you remember and not the actual Genesis Sonic experience. To me, this is the perfect example of a phenomenal retro reboot. I hope other companies learn from this.
I also hope Nintendo noticed what happened here--Sonic Mania started as a fan game that SEGA discovered and then embraced, rather than dole out a Cease-and-Desist order. They didn't shut the fan developers down, they hired them. The result was the new standard for Sonic design, and we're all better for it. It's amazing what a company can accomplish when they don't have this inexplicable antipathy toward the people that support them the most.
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)