As we get closer to #1 I’m going to take just a little bit more time with each game. We have finally reached the top 10! What’s in store? Some of these may be predictable, some may not! I’m glad that you all keep coming back to see what I have to say about these games. I hope you enjoy my TOP 10!
10. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
We can finally wrap up our worship of 1998 with the best game of 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. While the N64 gave us our favorite characters in 3D it wasn’t until the release of Ocarina that we fully understood what this virtual and graphical upgrade could do. Ocarina of Time is an open door into the Zelda series. As with all Zelda games you didn’t need to play the prior games to have it make sense, as each Link is typically a different Link. OOT gave us a look into the massive history of the land of Hyrule. It shows us Nintendo’s take on The Hero’s Journey. While Link may be a “voiceless” character, his world is filled with story and oddities, like the Gorons, who were introduced in this game. Ocarina took Zelda into the 3D plane and gave us a massive world to explore. Zelda has always been best when it pushes the player to find all the hidden things in plain sight. OOT also continued with the two-world dynamic of A Link to the Past but instead of there being two parallel universes, there were two different times in Hyrule. It’s hard to fully explain what makes Ocarina so great. Its gameplay is perfect and its learning curve allows you to grow alongside the game, both literally and figuratively. The blend of the two worlds forces the player to think outside the box and get crafty when solving puzzles. Ocarina of Time feels like a real adventure! Each time you try to find a new place to go, you meet new characters and fight new enemies. It represents the creation of a myth. With Ocarina of Time Nintendo could world-build and craft a true history of Hyrule. They gave us answers to some of the questions we had been asking for years, and left the doors open for questions to be answered in other games. Ocarina of Time is simple in its execution but so deep in its lore that it crafted a beautiful world that we could easily venture into. It’s a love letter to the adventurer.
9. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Say what you will about Adventure, but Super Mario Bros. is THE platformer. With a cheerful tune and hop in his step, Super Mario Bros. came into our lives in 1985 and never went anywhere. Super Mario Bros. showed us that we could easily move past one screen, levels can be varied, and a real adventure could be experienced in a video game. In the mid 1980s Mario and Luigi saved video games from becoming a short-lived fad. A generation of gamers was born because of the greatness that is Super Mario Bros. The NES became a necessary item for any household. Everyone seemed to want to play a few levels of Mario. Some of us wanted Mario to be with us forever. I was one of those kids. To this day I still get excited when I see Mario, he’s my Mickey Mouse, and hearing his theme song can warm my heart on any bad day. I think it’s because Mario is the little guy, he’s the underdog, even when we KNOW he’s going to win. Mario speaks to the hero in all of us. It’s Super Mario Bros. that proved that to us. Playing through Super Mario Bros. makes us feel just a little bit like a hero. It also captures the essence of what makes Nintendo games work so well. They’re timeless! You can play Super Mario Bros. today and while it is still the same game, something about it is better. There’s so much to Mario, and while I have played it dozens upon dozens of time I always find something new or I am reminded of something great. I urge anyone who hasn’t played Super Mario Bros. in a while to play it again, play it with a friend, you will find something great. This game is over 30 years old, but it’s still teaching us how to be the hero.
8. Final Fantasy IX (2000)
I’ll go out and say this, Final Fantasy IX is my favorite Final Fantasy game. While it’s not the highest on my list (for reasons I’ll explain later) it is a special game that deserves more recognition than it gets. Released in 2000, Final Fantasy IX was overshadowed by the release of the PS2 and was buried by the popularity of the “modern” Final Fantasies, VII and VIII. As a kid who grew up playing the original FF games, IX was a necessary return to form. Final Fantasy IX has more in common with FF I-VI than VII and VIII which is why I love it as much as I do. Final Fantasy IX is the storybook Final Fantasy game. Its cast of characters is much more welcoming and colorful than the dark and brooding leads of VII and VIII. Zidane, the lead, is a cheerful thief who is a breath of fresh air from Cloud and Squall. Final Fantasy IX is just, lovely, which is the best adjective I can think of. While it’s cheerful, bright, and fun, FFIX also tackles some rather mature themes. Final Fantasy IX deals with: A person’s purpose, what humanity actually means, the mysteries of life and death, and has one of the best love stories in gaming. All of these themes are wrapped up in a colorful little package. FFIX simplified the upgrade system from VII and VIII and made each character feel like their own class. Each character was a little more limited than in the pervious two games, but it gave them more purpose. The characters were not only there for flavor, but also for function. You knew who your healer was, who your fighter was, and so on. If anyone ever asks me what’s a good FF to play outside of VII, I always suggest IX. It’s a great juxtaposition to those games released around it, and represents a perfect variation. I will deeply love Final Fantasy IX forever, if just for Vivi alone. Final Fantasy IX has so much more heart than most games that get released today.
7. Street Fighter II (1991)
Street Fighter II was my generation’s arcade game. After the arcade scene died in the mid-late 1980s, it was Street Fighter II that opened up the doors for a new generation of smelly kids to dump quarter after quarter into arcade machines. While Street Fighter II wasn’t the first fighting game (There was an original Street Fighter…), it was the first fighting game that caught our attention. This represents the golden age of Capcom games. They were able to craft a game so monumental that you can shout HADOUKEN! in a crowd and many people know EXACTLY what you mean. The characters in SFII are LEGENDARY! Whether it is Ryu or Ken, Guile, or the greatest woman in gaming history, Chun-Li, this game is a cultural phenomenon. Few games have united a mass amount of people the way SFII did. It’s so good, that people literally bought and played it for almost a decade before SFIII came out. It’s also STILL GREAT! When I spent some time in Japan, I played SFII almost every day in arcades. It’s a universal language of gamer, down, down-forward, forward, Punch is understood in all languages! Even if it’s 25 years old, its still got it! I can play SFII all the time. It calls to me! My blistered thumbs and tired eyes owe a lot to SFII. It’s gameplay has been mimicked again and again, as everyone wanted to make the next Street Fighter. Unfortunately,the only Street Fighter that ever really existed was Street Fighter. King of Fighters may have come close, but I’ll take a Ryu/Ken fight over Terry/Kyo any day of the week. SFII has it all, even an awful movie adaptation!
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
We talked about Ocarina, but let’s take a second to talk about the BEST Zelda game, A Link to the Past. The SNES saw the evolution and creation of many lovable franchises and in 1991 Zelda got the overhaul. The 16-bit era was very kind to Zelda, as it gave us a game that felt very similar to the original, but also very different. A Link to the Past gives us the first taste of the Zelda story, as this game is set to take place generations before the original Zelda game. We learn that this Link is a different Link and that this hero’s spirit must save Hyrule over and over again from the clutches of Ganon. A Link to the Past is a representation of everything that made the SNES so great: it’s got beautiful 2D graphics, great music, and memorable gameplay. To up the ante just a bit, Nintendo also added a light world/dark world mechanic that would allow Link to travel between worlds to solve puzzles and save Hyrule. It added so much depth to the game that it allowed you to get a real handle on what Zelda was all about. This system would continue to be used in many Zelda games moving forward and while it is getting a bit tired now, in 1991 it was the perfect turn. What makes LTTP the best of the Zelda games is that it represents itself so very well. The jump to 3D has many people torn on Zelda, as they prefer the series’ roots, and LTTP definitely represents the pinnacle of 2D Zelda play. It still has a very large world to traverse, and many places to get lost in. It’s got its secrets and its treasures. LTTP still plays like it did as well. 1991 was 25 years ago at this point, and having played LTTP recently, little felt old or outdated. As with Super Mario Bros. I’m still finding great things in LTTP, and playing through it is like reading a history of video games. If you want to educate yourself on the expansion of gaming, A Link to the Past is a necessary game to play. It is one of the quintessential 16-bit games, and the greatest Zelda title of them all.
5. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988/1990)
Mario. He just keeps reinventing himself! Super Mario Bros. 3 took Mario to the dessert, the ocean, and the sky. While many platformers came out after Super Mario Bros. it was his 3rd adventure that solidified the genre in the 8bit era. Super Mario Bros. 3 is without a doubt, the best 8 bit game ever released. Like everything else Mario is involved with, it’s timeless. Whether it’s the music, or the level design, or the power ups, Super Mario 3 got everything right. When I say everything, I mean everything. It represents the shining moment on the NES. I could not even try to name a better NES game if I tried. SMB3 was the pinnacle. It’s almost 30 years after its release and it’s still addicting, fun, and difficult. Mario 3 expanded upon what SMB did, and gave us features we didn’t know we wanted or would love. It’s easy to “just make the same thing” over and over again, and while Nintendo does tend to use the same characters over and over again, they find a new way to make them feel original. Super Mario Bros. 3 was a completely different game than the two games that came before it. Nintendo took chances with Mario 3 and they paid off handsomely. It made my top 5, but Super Mario Bros. 3 should make the top five in any greatest games countdown. In some cases it’s #1.
4. Super Metriod (1994)
Chills. That’s all I get when I see the opening cinematic of Super Metriod. When I see Samus exit her gunship, I get an overwhelming feeling of strength and excitement. Super Metriod completely revamped the Metroid formula and in doing so created a game that is so close to perfect that it may very well be so. It created a genre for god-sakes! Metroid is best when it feels dark and lonely. Super Metriod is a moody and dark adventure starring one of the greatest characters of all time. Samus Aran is the type of character that makes us feel powerful in a video game. She’s tough, she’s brave, and most of all, she’s the real deal. Without saying a single word, Samus commands an air of power that demands the respect of all gamers, just like Super Metriod itself, it’s a game that demands and deserves your respect. Metroid’s greatest feature is that you grow while you play, by finding items you unlock more and more of the planet of Zebes. Where Star Fox is Nintendo’s answer to Star Wars, Super Metriod is Nintendo’s Alien. It’s an eerie game, it’s creepy, and it feels like you’re in constant danger. Samus’ return to Zebes is a gaming marvel. I think Super Metriod finds excellence it its simplicity, but it’s also a very intricate adventure. You’re given an open map and expected to explore. Super Metriod’s Zebes is filled with secrets, collectibles, and upgrades. However, the real competition is not with completion percentage, but with completion time. Super Metriod created a generation of speed gamers who challenged each other to beat the game as quickly as they possibly could. Super Metriod is special and could also find its way to #1 on any top games list. Super Metroid represents Nintendo at its absolute best.
Stay tuned for the top 3!
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