My Ten Favorite (Not "Best") Games Of All Time

by Dan Ryckert on Nov 20, 2009 at 09:13 AM

Putting together our list of the Top 200 Games of All Time gave me plenty of time to think about the games that have had the biggest impact on me throughout my life. Our collective list for issue 200 factored in many the game has aged, its cultural impact and effects on the gaming industry, whether or not it revolutionized or started a genre, etc. Deciding on the games and their placement was an involved and time-consuming process. Sitting in these meetings, I debated making a case for several games but realized my support for them was based more on my personal enjoyment and experience with them than whether or not they were "better" than others. Just because I like Twisted Metal 2 infinitely more than the original Halo, that doesn't mean I have an argument for it being placed higher on the list.

I'm happy with how our list turned out, and it made me think of what I would consider my ten favorite games of all time. Favorite is the operative word here...I'm making no claims about any of these games being better or more important than any other, these are simply the ones that hit me at the perfect age and stuck with me ever since.

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991)

I received my first NES when I was four and played obsessively ever since, but I still credit this game with starting my true love of the industry. Playing Mega Man, Punch-Out, and Super Mario 3 was some of the most fun I had as a kid, but none of that compared to the first time I booted up Link to the Past and wandered Hyrule in the rain. One look at my face in this article's header image should clearly show how much I loved this game (and hell, all that excitement was just for receiving a strategy guide). Link's SNES debut had a certain visual charm, an unforgettable soundtrack, the best dungeons in the series, and intense boss battles. Hyrule's Overworld was littered with secrets, and in those pre-internet days it felt like I was stumbling onto some undiscovered treasure every time I heard that trademark chime. Dashing around the Dark World with my Pegasus Boots, unleashing angry bees on enemies, knocking guards off platforms with a well-thrown pot to the back of the head, and avoiding that thief jerk in the Lost Woods are just a few of the fond memories I have. Booting up old games for an hour or so of nostalgia is commonplace for me, but I make a point of beating Link to the Past in its entirety at least a couple of times a year. Every time I do, I'm amazed at how well its aged and I'm reminded of why it's my favorite game of all time.

2. Metal Gear Solid series (PSone, PS2, PS3, 1998-2009)

Yeah yeah, I know I'm lumping four games into one entry, but I didn't want 40% of my Top 10 list to be from one series. Depending on the day, I seem to have a different opinion on how to rank these games...there's an argument for each of them being the best. Metal Gear Solid was a first-of-its-kind experience that proved video games could be cinematic and feature production values on par with Hollywood movies (it also featured the best collection of bosses in any game ever, arguably). Sons of Liberty presented one of the most complex and rewarding storylines ever seen in the industry, featured a vastly underrated villain (Solidus Snake), and shocked fans with one of the biggest surprises in gaming history. Ratcheting down the techno-babble and confusion of its predecessor's plot, Snake Eater instead shifted towards an easily understandable yet emotionally powerful story, capped off with what I consider the best ending in gaming. With Guns of the Patriots, Hideo Kojima pulled off the impossible by tying up the multitude of loose ends presented by the first three games in the series. I could spend hours debating with myself over which is the best MGS game, but I know for sure that each of them belongs extremely high on my all-time favorites list.

3.  Goldeneye 007 (N64, 1997)

My first experience with Goldeneye 007 was playing through the Dam level at a Target kiosk. I hadn't heard much buzz about the game, and was just planning on killing some time while my mom got groceries. As I shot the first guard, I remembered being amazed that he responded based on where I shot him. PP7 shot to the arm, he holds his arm...bean him in the head and he drops like a bag of sand...give him a bullet to the groin and you're met with a sufficiently hilarious ball-grabbing animation. I immediately threw my Genesis copies of Boogerman, WWF Royal Rumble, Ren & Stimpy, and many more into a box and ran off to Funcoland to grab a Nintendo 64, four controllers, and 007. It became an after-school tradition for years around the neighborhood, as we'd eat candy and popcorn until we had memorized all the spawn points in the Bunker (and subsequently annoying each other by placing proximity mines on all of them). It may not have aged gracefully, but it was the first console FPS that really grabbed me and many others.

4. Soul Calibur (Dreamcast, 1999)

Most fighting games get shelved after you've beaten the game with every character, unlocked every secret, or some hot new brawler gets released. This wasn't the case regarding my experience with Soul Calibur, as I played it religiously for years and years after it released on September 9th, 1999. I played thousands of 8-on-8 Team Battles all the way through college, and at one point went on a two-year undefeated streak in the University of Kansas dorms. When my friend Troy finally beat me (I don't remember how, but I'll assume it was a fluke), he actually ran up and down the halls screaming about his victory. If a fighter remains that fun years after its release, you know it's doing something right.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)

Considering my love of Link to the Past, I had extremely high hopes for Link's N64 debut. I was skeptical about whether they'd be able to bring the magic and charm of 2D Zelda to a 3D world, but Nintendo knocked it out of the park with this classic. Navigating through two different timelines was a great alternative to the Light World/Dark World element from its predecessor, the music was just as memorable (if not moreso), and boss fights were an entirely different beast in three dimensions. Riding across Hyrule Field on Epona and seeing the sun set for the first time is one of my favorite gaming moments ever, and Ocarina of Time set the standard for all 3D adventure games to come.

6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSone, 1997)

My experience with Symphony of the Night is a rare one, as I didn't play the game until three or four years after it was released. On most occasions, this results in a "well, I see how this game was great for its time, but I don't really want to play it now" attitude. This wasn't the case with Alucard's adventure, as it fascinated me just as much as it most likely would have in 1997. My first look at the game was when a co-worker of mine played it at Gamestop. He was fighting the giant sphere of corpses, and I remember thinking it looked like a great boss battle. I took the game home and immediately became obsessed with collecting items and achieving the elusive 200.6% completion stat. Thanks to its art style, great soundtrack, and timeless gameplay, Symphony of the Night still holds up today.

7. Twisted Metal 2 (PSone, 1996)

In 1996, there was nothing on the planet that sounded cooler to my 12 year-old mind than a homicidal clown that shoots missiles out of an ice cream truck, runs over mimes, torches the Louvre, and blows up the Eiffel Tower. The sheer amount of comic violence and downright silliness in David Jaffe's ultimate car combat title struck a certain chord in my adolescent brain that no other game could. Equally fascinated with the sick sense of humor and the solid, arcade-like gameplay, I have enough fond memories of this game to cement it high on my list of all-time favorites.

8. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (PC, 2000)

At no point in my life have I considered myself a PC gamer. I never had a PC capable of running games while they were relevant, so I was always stuck playing games like Half Life five or six years after they had released (or even worse, via watered-down console ports). For the most part, I entirely ignored PC gaming until my cousin had me play the original Red Alert on PSone. Playing an RTS on the pre-Dual Shock controller was a chore, but I loved the gameplay so much that I finally broke down and bought a video card when Red Alert 2 released. On top of being one of the only PC games I ever got into, it was also my first experience extensively playing a game online. Deathmatches were so fun that entire nights would melt away in what felt like no time at all, and I'd even spend hours creating my own absurd (and often impractical) maps.

9. Mortal Kombat II (Genesis, 1993)

My first experience with the original Mortal Kombat caused me to run around the playground at recess regaling my classmates with descriptions of the gory fatalities, followed by getting in trouble for drawing Raiden's head-popping finisher in colored pencil during class. After being in full-blown obsessive mode for a long time over that first title, I couldn't have possibly been more excited for its sequel. I remember waiting in line behind dozens of gamers at the Fun Factory in Kansas on the day it released, trying to stand on my toes to see how Sub Zero and Kung Lao would brutally off their opponents. When I finally got to play, it delivered on all my expectations. Like Twisted Metal 2, it struck a perfect balance of solid gameplay and a wicked sense of humor. My love of the game only intensified when I managed to buy a working arcade cabinet of MKII from a pizzeria a few years ago.

10. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES, 1987)

The majority of my gaming before the 16-bit era consisted primarily of Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, but there were always nights I felt daring enough to go after Iron Mike Tyson. I'd stay over at my friend Timmy's house and we'd sit in his basement, trying for hours to take down the future convicted rapist, ear-biter, and all-around madman.  He seemed as impossible to beat in the game as he was in real life during that era, and to this day I've never had my hand raised in victory against him. Despite my constant failures against Tyson, I got a rush every single time I connected with a well-timed body blow during Bald Bull's rush attack. I still consider the buildup to his massive uppercut to be one of my most intense memories in gaming, and seeing his eyes bulge as he dropped to the ground was a moment of absolute victory.