I know I’m late in saying this but, damn, this really is a new decade, huh? I never even considered it until it was pointed out to me. A lot has happened in the last ten years, and after looking at some good-looking games that are coming in the future, I’d like to reminisce about all the awesome games from the past. And, boy, there were a lot.
So, since everyone else has done it and I apparently have as much originality as a live-action Disney remake, here’s a list of some of my all-time favourite games to have been released throughout the 2010s – one from each year (I’m using the European release dates BTW).
Just to clarify, I am not saying that these are the de facto best games of the decade or the most influential. These are simply the ones that resonated with me the most. I have also listed them alongside the platforms they were initially released on, as well as some honourable mentions.
2010 – Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
While I personally prefer the first Galaxy for a few reasons, I’d be a fool for thinking that Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t as equally good. It may be lacking that certain charm the first game possessed, but the sequel retains the excellent controls while having Mario explore brand new levels with some new power-ups, including Yoshi, whose appearance was a big selling point.
Considering the game was originally intended to be more of a Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, the fact that it grew into being a wholly new title is impressive. At no point does it ever feel like you’re doing more of the same over and over again; there is always something new around the corner, though it’s not above bringing back some old bosses and even one whole level from Super Mario 64 for some good old nostalgic value.
Not to mention there’s so much to do, with the post-game fundamentally changing how you explore the levels and offering the high-level challenge that many found the first game lacked. I will never forget the sheer elation I felt when I cleared that very last level.
It’s not perfect and there are a couple of missteps the game takes, aside from my personal bias about its lack of narrative, but dusting off your old Wii or Wii U to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 is more than worth it.
Honourable mentions: Bayonetta (PS3, X360), Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver (DS)
2011 – Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
Xenoblade Chronicles is my favourite game ever made so this was a pretty easy pick. Portal 2? Dark Souls? Get that shit out of here. Hell, I’ll say it now, this is probably my game of the decade too. Word of advice – do not bring this game up in conversation with me because I will not stop talking about it. But why do I love it so much? Well, honestly, I’m worried my words won’t do it justice, but I’ll do the best I can and try to keep it brief.
The core gameplay and combat is rarely not engaging, deep but not to the point of feeling unable to understand, and full of customisation options. The world is vast and exploring every inch of it is a treat. The localisation is so charming with how British it is and makes the already great characters all the more likeable. It’s easy to get distracted from the amazing story thanks to the side-quests and you’re likely to become invested in the lives of the NPCs. Do you want me to go on? I don’t think you do.
I’ll admit that there are probably plenty of RPGs that have done the things Xenoblade Chronicles did before it and equally as well, but this game resonated with me so much when I played it, and it makes me happy to know that there are a lot of people out there that feel the same way.
Honourable mentions: Ghost Trick (DS), Batman: Arkham City (PS3, X360, PC)
2012 – Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (3DS, Vita)
I’ve already written a review on this game so I’ll try not to spend too long on this one but, much like Xenoblade Chronicles the year before, this was an example of me trying to branch out and play games I otherwise may have ignored. All I knew about Virtue’s Last Reward was that it was a visual novel/puzzle game, and given that I used to be a big reader and I love more narrative-driven games, I was somewhat curious.
But I was not prepared for what was in store. The plot was intense, dark, convoluted, and I loved nearly every second of it. The writing was unlike anything I had seen before and I found myself being sucked into the deep discussions and debates about morality and science, which would soon be followed by ridiculous jokes and bizarre observations that only director Kotaro Uchikoshi could make.
As for the puzzles, while some could be infuriating, their variety and uniqueness made up for it. Managing to solve them and progress the story was always satisfying, and wanting to uncover the many mysteries that plagued the cast was enough of a motivator to try and try again whenever I hit a wall.
This game guaranteed that I would pay attention to anything Uchikoshi was working on and, for that, I am forever thankful for finding out about the series.
Honourable mentions: The Walking Dead: Season One (PS3, X360, PC), Dust: An Elysian Tail (X360)
2013 – Persona 4 Golden (Vita)
Can this be considered cheating since this is a remake of a game from 2008? Well, if it is, I don’t care, because Persona 4 Golden was THE reason I wound up getting a Vita (a console I still maintain as being horribly underrated). And besides, with how much Golden added and changed, it’s almost an entirely different game compared to the PS2 original.
It wasn’t just a simple re-release. The story was fleshed out, some of the characters received more focus (including one of the main villains, who is one of my favourite characters in anything ever), certain gameplay mechanics were tweaked (arguably for the better), there were unlockable costumes – there was simply more of an already fantastic game.
Possibly my favourite addition was the TV Listings menu. There, you could unlock clips from Persona-themed music concerts, concept art, and even lectures that explained the psychology that serves as a big inspiration for the series. More games need to have in-depth behind-the-scenes content in them, aside from one or two pictures of background art.
If you don’t have a Vita, it’s worth trying to hunt one down for this game alone. And if Atlus ever needed to make some easy cash, they could always re-release it on a current home console or PC. Trust me, the thing would sell like mad.
Honourable mentions: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS3, X360, PC), The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)
2014 – Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (3DS)
If there was a public vote on what the game of 2014 was, I’d freely admit that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney wouldn’t be the top pick. This was the year of Bayonetta 2, Shovel Knight, and freaking Grand Theft Auto V. But those games didn’t come close to bringing me the amount of joy that this 3DS puzzle crossover did.
You need to understand, as a fan of both series, coming home from school and seeing this game had been announced out of nowhere, with a still damn amazing concept trailer, had me screaming so loud (and embarrassing my sister in front of her then-boyfriend, who was surprisingly chill about the whole thing). I remember being so frustrated when the years went by and there was no sign of a Western release. Fortunately, it did eventually come out and lived up to all my expectations and then some.
Half a Layton game, half an Ace Attorney game, it took familiar and beloved characters and took them far out of their comfort zone into a world of magic and witches. As interesting and gripping as the plot was, though, the real highlight was seeing the two sides interacting with one another and becoming fast friends. Layton entering court with an “Objection” of his own and Phoenix solving puzzles always makes me grin. And for Ace Attorney fans, this was the first time they got to spend time with the OG Phoenix/Maya duo in, like, six years.
This is another one of those games that I could spend hours rambling about how much I love it, so I’ll just stop here. Admittedly, I feel only fans of both series can fully enjoy it, but for those fans, it was still a one-of-a-kind experience that I don’t think will ever be pulled of again (unless Capcom and Level-5 make a sequel about Apollo and Katrielle teaming up oh my god that’s brilliant please let that happen).
Honourable mentions: Child of Light (PS4, PS3, XBO, X360, Wii U, Vita, PC), Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (3DS, Wii U)
2015 – Life is Strange (PS4, PS3, XBO, X360, PC)
A part of me is really surprised that Life is Strange is my top game of 2015 but, when I think about my first playthrough, I realise that this choice does make sense. Telltale Games may have helped revitalise and popularise the episodic point-and-click adventure/puzzle titles but (and I hope I don’t come across as snobbish here) I think I’d take Dontnod Entertainment’s work over the likes of The Walking Dead.
Life is Strange feels more like an indie movie than a videogame thanks to its soundtrack and overall tone and aesthetic, tackling the kind of stories and themes you never see in most other games. It’s got plenty of game-like elements, though. Main character Max’s time-rewind power allows for some neat puzzles and fun solutions, as well as lets players undo their dialogue choices if the result isn’t what they wanted or expected. But there is still a limit on how much Max can rewind, and those moments where she hits her limit can be incredibly suspenseful if you’ve relied on it so much.
It’s ultimately the story and cast that make Life is Strange, however. While the dialogue is rather hit or miss (I personally love it), the game does an amazing job at making a lot of its awkward teenagers believable and likeable but also subverting a lot of expectations. I was impressed with how it managed to make me sympathetic to a couple of the asshole characters towards the end. And whether you love her or hate her, Chloe Price has undeniably become one of the most talked about characters in the last decade, partly down to Ashley Burch’s incredible performance.
I still have yet to play Life is Strange 2, but I’ve heard plenty of good things, and I only hope that Dontnod can continue to build upon their strengths and create more unique experiences in this world they’ve created.
Honourable mentions: Steins;Gate (PS3, Vita), Persona 4: Dancing All Night (Vita)
2016 – Project X Zone 2 (3DS)
If you’ve been following my work for the last few years, you’re probably not surprised to see Project X Zone 2 on this list. Much like my 2014 pick, this is a game that feels as if it was made specifically for me. It’s not the best game of the year, but it aimed to do one thing and it did that thing so well.
There’s a full review on my site so I won’t spend too long on this, but I think what makes Project X Zone 2 so appealing is that it strives to just be a fun time, taking a large number of recognisable and not-so recognisable gaming characters on a crazy road-trip, taking on an equally disparate array of enemies, from zombies to cyborgs to demons. It’s a game where a key selling point is seeing Sega Saturn mascot Segata Sanshiro get into a fight with two of the main characters from Tales of Vesperia.
With most publishers focusing their priorities on making games that can be feasibly sold to everybody, resulting in so many titles that are homogeneous, it’s always nice to see something that knows what its audience wants and delivers on it. And since it seems very unlikely this series will continue, I take some comfort in knowing I can always revisit Project X Zone 2 anytime I want, pick it up, and feel like it only came out yesterday.
Honourable mentions: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice (3DS), Pokémon Sun & Moon (3DS)
2017 – Nier: Automata (PS4, XBO, PC)
God damn, picking my favourite game of 2017 was really difficult. There were a lot of fantastic titles that came out that year. The launch of the Switch alone gave us the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. But I decided to go with the game that left the biggest impression on me, and that was Nier: Automata.
Not only is it an accessible, tightly made action-RPG with stellar combat and a lot of customisation options, it has easily one of the best narratives I’ve seen that manages to be bleak and distressing, yet hopeful and uplifting. It tackles numerous themes without coming across as heavy-handed, and balances it out with the occasional bit of oddball humour.
But best of all, it embraces its identity as a videogame and attempts things that can only be done in this medium. A lot of games that try to be cinematic seem almost ashamed of being games and do everything they can to be more like movies; Nier: Automata, however, is proud of it, and the pride of the development team and the love they probably had making it shines through because of it.
As I wrote in my review, Nier: Automata is a honest-to-God experience that anyone with even a slight interest in videogames should play.
Honourable mentions: Persona 5 (PS4, PS3), Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
2018 – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
Unlike 2017, this was a very easy pick for me to make. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, I don’t know how anyone can look at Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and not even acknowledge how much passion and care went into crafting it. You know the phrase “Bigger is better”? This game is practically the embodiment of that.
I thought the last Smash games made gaming history by adding the likes of Pac-Man and Cloud, but Ultimate boasts a still growing cast of roughly 80 characters that includes Nintendo’s greatest all-stars and fan-favourite third-party guest stars (Banjo and Kazooie, people!), with each one being almost perfectly represented. No matter what your preferences are, at least one of your favourite characters is in this game.
On top of that, you’ve got a whopping amount of stages, a nice variety of modes including a meaty single-player adventure mode, a fantastic range of music to listen to and nearly everything about it manages to cater to both the casual and competitive scenes.
But Ultimate‘s greatest appeal is how much of a celebration of videogames it is. The developers not only love videogames, but they want you to know about it. They want you to know and learn more about characters and games you may never have heard of. If this list has taught me anything, it’s that the best games are the ones that the people making them love just as much as we do.
Director Masahiro Sakurai and his team deserve all the praise they’re given and as much as they deserve a long holiday (especially Sakurai), I’m still excited for what they have in store for us in 2020.
Honourable mentions: Octopath Traveler (Switch), Spider-Man (PS4)
2019 – Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XBO)
There are still a few 2019 titles that I haven’t so much as touched yet – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Judgment, Astral Chain – but I’m confident that, even If I had somehow played every game that came out that year, Kingdom Hearts III would still be on this list. I mean, Kingdom Hearts III is a real game now. That’s such a big deal!
Of course, that wouldn’t matter if the game was trash, and it isn’t, thankfully. I’ve heard some of the criticisms lobbied against it and they are fair (not particularly challenging, lacking in content compared to previous games, story’s still wonky and misses some great opportunities) but what it gets right, it gets right.
The combat is still a tonne of fun and the new additions don’t feel intrusive, the Disney worlds are possibly the best they’ve ever been, it’s a visual and auditory spectacle from start to finish, and for all its faults, I did find the conclusion very satisfying and even shed a tear at a couple of scenes. And this isn’t taking into account what the upcoming DLC is set to offer, which looks like it will retroactively address some of the aforementioned issues.
There aren’t many games that make me have a smile on my face from beginning to end. It’d have to be something really special to pull that off. Kingdom Hearts III is that kind of special.
Honourable mentions: Devil May Cry 5 (PS4, XBO, PC), AI: The Somnium Files (PS4, Switch, PC)