Best Games Ever

It’s January, so it’s time to update my Best Games Ever Top Ten list. It’s been very tough this year, with five (!) new entries meaning that some old favourites have had to be dropped. Dragon Quest VIII was quite an easy one to lose, Super Mario 64 was easily replaced by Super Mario Galaxy, but I was loathe to cut GTA: San Andreas, World of Warcraft and OutRun 2006. And I’d have liked to add Rush’n Attack, Bioshock, Resistance: Fall of Man, Peggle Deluxe and many others as new entries if I had the space. Unfortunately, though, this has been an exceptional year for gaming and after much hair-pulling and hand-wringing I’ve settled on the top ten below.

Please note that the list is based on love, rather than technical expertise, importance or any of that other guff. The list below is games that, for whatever reason, I just fell in love with and which I’d love to play today. It’s not a list of “desert island” games – if I was going to be trapped for a long time I’d probably take Civilization 4 over Portal, for example, and would probably want World of Warcraft in there – but all these games I genuinely love.

It’s my favourite games. It’s completely subjective. But that’s kind of the point and I think it’s the only way you can honestly and realistically talk about the games being the “best”.

10. (NE) Portal (360)

Can a game really be one of the ten best games ever when it’s only three hours long? When it’s as good as Portal, yes. It’s got the best script ever – in a moment of madness shortly after completing the game I even toyed with getting “The cake is a lie” tattooed on my person – it’s got great puzzles and it’s just about the best single evening of gaming I’ve ever had. Funniest game ever, also. And the it’s got the best song in any game, ever, too. Genius.

9. (6) Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)

It feels odd putting this in a list of the best games, because it doesn’t feel like a game. It feels like a place. I didn’t so much play Animal Crossing as live in Venture (my town) and Vatican (my wife’s town) for a year or so. It has special significance for me, because before I married my wife we were in a long distance relationship and we used Animal Crossing to reduce that distance. We’d sit on the phone talking, with a DS each, visiting each other, fishing, giving presents, getting to know the animal residents and sometimes just sitting in my kitchen to have some tea together. (And swearing when the connection died and we’d have to restart.) That’s why it’s in my top ten.

8. (NE) Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness (PSP)

The PS2 version has been hovering near my top ten since it came out. The PSP version has pushed it over the edge. It’s the same great game, but there’s even more of it and, most importantly, it’s portable. When the wife’s watching TV, when I’ve got a spare few moments in the office at lunchtime, when I plain just to want to play it, it’s there. (As long as I’ve remembered to charge the PSP. I’ve got pretty good at that now, though.) It’s sandbox strategy – and I do like my sandboxes. It’s not about the story, it’s about the team. Creating your own team to your own specifications. There’s an attachment to the characters you create that’s unmatched in any game – and is slightly ridiculous given the fact that they never speak or do anything but fight. Somehow, though, my Golem Franky has become friends with my Prinnies. There’s no in-game dialogue to that effect, no cut scenes showing them together, but I just tend to use them together in attacks and that’s been translated in my head into an emotional bond between them. Looking at this list, I think that if I could play any game right now, it would be this one.

7. (NE) Halo 3 (360)

You’re probably looking at this and thinking a couple of things. “This must be a vote for the series, not the game.” “This is in the top ten for the multiplayer alone.” Wrong on both counts. Halo was single-player heaven, but I never got on with the multi-player side of things. Halo 2 twisted the other way. I loved it online, but never finished the single player portion. (I read the plot summary on Wikipedia when Halo 3 came out so I’d know what was going on.) Halo 3 is the best of both worlds. The multiplayer is exceptional. With a good group of friends it’s the best shooter I’ve ever played online. But it’s the single player side that really surprised me, in that I can get hopelessly stuck and spend days on a single checkpoint and still love playing it. That’s probably the reason it’s here, more than the co-op or the Theater or the new Forge-made games.

6. (2) Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (360/PC)

This has lost quite a few places since last year. Mainly because I feel like I’ve exhausted it. I nearly even dropped it from the top ten. But then I started thinking harder about it. About the memories. The Dark Brotherhood missions. Finding ruins and sneaking through them to get lovely treasures. The snow at night and bears on the road. Leaping over the rooftops. Stealing from castles. Great moments, all of them. The trouble is that while I’ve still got lots more to do – I’ve barely touched The Shivering Isles, I’m half-way through the Mages Guild quests and haven’t joined the Fighters Guild – my character has peaked. It’s been hours and hours since I found any new kit that improves on what I’ve got and my most important skills are close to being maxed out, if they’re not already there. Oh, and recharging and repairing all my magical items is a very annoying chore. That’s why it’s not the second best game ever. The couple of hundred hours of glorious gaming fun it gave me before I reached this point is the reason it’s still number six on the list. And it’s been a long time since I last played, maybe it’ll feel fresh again. There’s all that Shivering Isles stuff to do. And a ghost on the shore I never did go to see. And maybe I should work out what spells I need to shoot at the pillars in those underground ruins to advance through the Mages Guild. And I’m handy with a sword now, maybe the Fighters Guild could do with my skills…

5. (NE) Crackdown (360)

I wasn’t expecting this. Like many others, I bought Crackdown because I hoped it would be good, but also because I wanted to play the Halo 3 beta. I was hoping for a fun game that would be worth the cash. What I got was one of the greatest games of all time. I love my sandboxes, as I think I’ve mentioned. That’s pretty much all Crackdown is. Story is kept to an absolute minimum, freedom reigns. Good, good, good. The main pleasure is the jumping, obviously, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the rest of it. It’s just an absolute joy to play. Jumping, running, driving, shooting, kicking… don’t forget the kicking. And don’t forget the Agency Tower. Virtual vertigo never felt so real. Oh, and to cap it all, the phrase “Good work agent” has entered the everyday vocabulary of my household. The announcer is wonderful, despite claiming to be able to see his house when I’m in a tunnel somewhere.

4. (7) Mr Driller: Drill Spirits (DS)

The best Mr Driller game there is. If you’re an English speaker and you like handheld games. Which I am and I do. I can always go back to this and have fun. Tetris I’ve tired of, but Mr Driller keeps on giving. Great music and sound effects, but perfectly playable in silence – as all the best handheld games are. Where’s the sequel, Mister Namco?

3. (5) Ico (PS2)

I told you this top ten list was all about love. My love for this game keeps growing, even though I’ve not played it for a long, long time. I probably should. I should check that the puzzles are still head-scratching fun. I should check that the combat isn’t as annoying as many people say it is. I should check that it still looks gorgeous. I should check that the relationship between Ico and Yorda still tugs my heartstrings in all the right ways… Or maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe it should just be left to memories, like so much of life and love.

2. (NE) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

Do I really need to explain why this is here? Surely everybody has played it by now? Surely everybody loves it into tiny little pieces? Well, no and no. There are people without Wiis. There are Internet grumblers. There are people who this just hasn’t clicked with, through no fault of their own and no fault of the game. I’ll just say that played in co-op with my wife this is gaming perfection. It’s just right. It’s honed and polished and it’s big and bright and colourful and fun and – I’m going to have to use the j-word again, but this time in caps – it’s pure JOY. And then, after sixty-odd stars, it starts getting difficult and the JOY fades somewhat, but that gaming determination, that feeling of “I will beat this level if it kills me”, grows and grows and the experience is completely different, but still brilliant and Nintendo have finally done it. Mario 64, your time is up. Go home, old man. Get some rest. Super Mario Galaxy is here now. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

1. (1) Doom (PC/360)

I give up. Every year I wait for the Doom-beater. It never comes. This is the best game ever. It has been since it was released and it doesn’t look like shifting from the top spot any time soon. No game feels like Doom, you see. The speed is just right and the responsiveness of all the controls are perfect. Much to my own frustration I can’t explain what I mean by “feel”, but it’s just magic. (Resistance: Fall of Man feels very similar, which is why I think I liked it so much.) We’ve got a special understanding, I think. There’s no barrier between us. Sure, I’m still rubbish at it. I die a lot. Over and over again. But so what? It’s a tough world out there. And the shotgun still hasn’t been bettered. (Though Painkiller’s stake gun came close.)