Wait, what the hell is this? A racing game on MY top 10 list? What a JOKE. That's like putting Madden or FIFA in there. WHO DOES THAT? There must be some sort of mistake. Let me double-check my notes... Oh nope, it's got Mario in the title, so it checks out.
Your surprise is as big as mine. I can't be bothered to care about anything even vaguely sports-related; racing games included. That's why Mario Kart 8 blew my mind in 2014 when I was suddenly enamored by its stellar presentation, content, and controls.
While seemingly just another racing game like any other when you first pick up and play, it's all the little details in this package that manage to keep elevating it ever so slightly with each passing return. The crazy anti-gravity tracks, the colorful visuals, Luigi's death stare, vehicle customization, the extreme diversity of environments, the slick elegance of pulling off a long drift followed by a speed boost; everything it does is executed with such fluidity and grace. It's like licking your ice cream cone in slow-motion.
The game originally launched for Wii U, but it was later ported to Switch in the form of the deluxe edition, which includes all previous DLC as well as a completely overhauled battle mode; making it the recommended way to play. My only real gripe with the Switch release is the inclusion of "smart steering", which is enabled by default and hidden away in obscure menus in order to disable it. I don't have a problem with making the game more accessible, but smart steering's aggressive implementation is overreaching and unnecessary.
#8. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U, 2006-2015)
Of course we have to have a Zelda title, so here we are. I know what you're thinking though. Twilight Princess? Really? What about Ocarina of Time, A Link to the Past, or every hipster's favorite choice, Majora's Mask? Well look, I have mad respect for these games. I've wasted countless hours getting lost in Ocarina of Time myself, but I think Twilight Princess doesn't get enough credit largely due to its place in time. It really doesn't do a whole lot new or different with the Zelda formula, yet had it came out in place of Ocarina of Time, it would have been heralded as a masterpiece just the same.
Ocarina of Time was both my first experience with the Zelda franchise and my previous favorite, but as much as I view it to be an iconic classic as well, I have to be honest and say that I found the latter dungeons in the Adult Link half to become a bit of a slog at times. As the game progressed, it became less interested in contextualizing why you're wandering around all these spike-and-lava-filled corridors and felt a little mechanical after a while. Just free the sage from the next dungeon you need to plunder, and that's roughly the full extent of your motivation for moving forward. In essence, Ocarina of Time starts out strong but slowly loses steam, whereas Twilight Princess in contrast does the reverse; starting out rather dull but gradually building into a crescendo, finally culminating in a spectacular four-phase showdown against Ganondorf. It makes for a more satisfying story progression.
Once you finally don your Hero's Tunic, the game offers a great variety of dungeons and set pieces while placing a larger emphasis on story to provide greater motivation for what you're doing. The combat is enhanced by various optional sword techniques that you can acquire, the boss battles have an epic sense of scale, and its half-anime, half-realism aesthetic is a unique blend that works really well for it. Midna is not just a superior assistant to Navi; she is Best Assistant. Of all-time. Ever. There will never be a better assistant in a Zelda game. Also you just start out as Adult Link this time with no jumping through hoops.
Nowadays the ideal way to play this game is via the remastered Wii U version for the enhanced visuals, but you can't go wrong with the original GameCube release either. Just avoid the Wii version for the shoehorned motion controls.
If you think about it, Twilight Princess is everything great about Ocarina of Time but with extra polish. It has more story, more content, a smoother framerate, and more refined mechanics. The problem is if you already played a previous 3D Zelda, it might feel all too familiar, so it's easy to overlook. But for me, this isn't reason enough to dismiss it. Sometimes doing things the same but just better is good enough, especially when your foundation is built on a masterpiece. So in the end, I'm gonna out-hipster the hipsters here and go with Twilight Princess. Sorry Majora's Mask fans. But let's keep it real, you can't go wrong with any Zelda really.
Shut up Skyward Sword. I wasn't talking about you.
#7. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)
Mario is quite possibly the most iconic video game character of all-time; single-handedly being responsible for reviving the industry after the video game crash of the 1980s. So far-reaching is his indomitable might that it's no wonder there are not just one, but two titles starring the Italian plumber on this list.
Out of all the Mario titles over the decades, Super Mario 64 stands out the most notable to me; not just for being the first 3D Mario experience, but for managing to be so memorable and engaging that it still remains his best adventure. There's just something magical about the entire experience, from its infectious soundtrack to the simple pleasures of exploring Peach's castle. I was always eager to see what mysteries lie behind the next locked door or hidden passageway.
The victory fanfare followed by a "Here we gooo!" after acquiring a new star always gets you pumped so that you want to jump right back into the level and hunt for more. Swimming through the tranquil waters of Jolly Roger Bay while being entranced by its hypnotic tunes is a sublime trip. Spinning Bowser around until you finally toss him to the wind with a "So long-a Bowser!" puts a big dumb grin on your face. There are so many special moments this game creates that no other Mario title has managed to replicate since.
Mario 64 radically changed the gameplay from the traditional sidescrollers by opting for a hub world with nonlinear gameplay. Nintendo could have easily just stuck to the usual Mario formula but in 3D, yet despite being in deeply unfamiliar territory, they went above and beyond the call anyway and completely reinvented the plumber as we know him. It was impressive enough how ground-breaking this game was for the Mario franchise, but on top of this, it ended up defining an entire genre of collectathon adventure games that would emulate this formula for a decade.
It cannot be overstated how much of an impact this game left on the industry. Sure, there were 3D games that came before it, but Mario 64 fully realized the potential of the medium by crafting a world and mechanics that can only work as well as they do in a 3D space. More than any other game throughout the industry's entire history, Mario 64 felt like the biggest leap in next-generation entertainment; ushering in a new era where the baseline for a AAA experience must be in 3D.
#6. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii, 2008)
First I went with Twilight Princess as Best Zelda, and now I'm going with Brawl as Best Smash. Look, I can't help it folks, it's just science OK? I had to go through a lot of blunt instruments to get to the truth on this one, and this is the result we got, so DEAL WITH IT.
It's hard to talk about the virtues of Brawl without first addressing its controversial legacy. Coming off the heels of the massively popular and highly competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, for many Brawl was seen as a disappointment upon its launch. Director Masahiro Sakurai doubled down on his insistence that Smash at its core is a party game, not a hyper-competitive fighter. This led to some design choices that left Melee fans out in the cold. For my two cents on the matter, I prefer something a little more in-between, but Brawl still ended up working very well for me.
Brawl reduced the overall speed of combat, making it feel more in line with the N64 original. On top of this, it introduced the infamous tripping mechanic, which would cause your character to fall over and interrupt movement entirely at random. While I can't deny that tripping was just a bad design choice no matter how you look at it, what I can say is that it was still mostly inconsequential, and the derision leveled against it is largely overblown. In fact, I can't think of a single instance where tripping actually caused me to lose a match. With only a 1% chance of triggering upon a dash, you could often go several matches without experiencing a single trip, and even if you did, the chances were even more rare that you ended up severely punished for it.
Brawl's slower combat speed tends to get a bad wrap too, but something I always thought was missing from Melee was the sense of impact from landing a good hit. In the first Smash Bros game, you felt the crunch when you got slammed by a well-timed smash attack or a fully-charged special. With Melee on the other hand, there was very little weight behind most attacks. In a way, this was necessary in order for Melee to maintain its faster speed, but it also deflated a sense of satisfaction from each individual hit. Brawl's return to a slower style of combat brought back some of that feeling of weight behind a good punch.
Of course, now with the further refined mechanics in Smash Ultimate, Sakurai has found ways to bring back the smash in Smash without sacrificing speed, so we get the best of both worlds, but Brawl still barely inches out the latest entry for one reason: content. I've never been big on fighting games, and one of the major reasons for that is due to a lack of varied content. Most settle for slightly different dress-ups of the same old versus mode in order to diversify themselves, but it's not enough to escape the feeling of repetition. This is especially exacerbated by the fact that most stages in fighting games don't actually impact the gameplay at all and merely serve as visual backdrops. This is not the case when it comes to Smash.
In stark contrast to other fighting games, the Smash Bros series makes movement a lot less restrictive and more free-flowing, giving players the ability to more easily traverse uneven ground and elaborate layouts. This allows each stage to bring something different to the table with hazards, power-ups, and varied terrain. Then you've got an assortment of other fun bonus modes like Break the Targets and Home-run Contest. But what makes Brawl truly go even further beyond any other Smash Bros is its ambitious Subspace Emissary mode.
Subspace Emissary is a massive sprawling campaign mode that turns the game into a sidescrolling adventure featuring every iconic Nintendo character. Players journey through lengthy stages full of obstacles, enemies, and boss battles; all neatly woven together with numerous cutscenes showcasing the characters' bombastic interactions with each other. To date, I can't think of any other fighting game that has attempted a story mode on this scale and made it work as well as it does in Brawl.
Another reason the Smash series just stands out in general is its unique accessibility over other fighting games. By stripping away the need to pause the game and memorize intricate button combos for each character, Smash Bros is infinitely easier to jump right into with any new character and instantly gain a decent grasp of their move set. There's really no end to the praises I can sing for this series and how much it breaks genre conventions to great success.
Brawl in particular has been around the block for so long that numerous mods have been made for it. Recently my ideal choice for experiencing it is with Balanced Brawl mod in Dolphin emulator. Balanced Brawl fixes what little gripes I had with the game, removing the tripping mechanic and lightly tweaking the characters to make everyone more well-rounded and competitive. And with crisp 1080p 60 FPS graphics in Dolphin, I'm still able to get a lot of extra mileage out of it. Though if you don't have a capable PC, Balanced Brawl is still fully playable on Wii with a SD card and original copy of the game.
#5. StarCraft: Brood War (PC, 1998)
This game was so effective with its execution that it made the entire rest of the genre irrelevant for me. Command & Conquer? Meh. Age of Empires? Yawn. What's Warhammer 40K again? Oh well. Why bother when we've already achieved the pinnacle of Real-Time Strategy? Blizzard spoiled me so much with this game that afterward I struggled to latch onto any RTS not produced by them. Any time I would attempt to try something else, I would just think, "I'd rather be playing StarCraft right now."
StarCraft is the game that birthed modern eSports and turned playing video games into a career. Thanks to its polished gameplay and South Korea's mad obsession with it, StarCraft will forever go down as a legend in the video game industry.
The special sauce that makes StarCraft what it is can be attributed to a number of ingredients. Chiefly among them is the distinct designs of the three playable races in the game. Each plays radically different, yet all can hold their own and turn into a force to be reckoned with once you master their ins and outs. It's a delicate balance to maintain, but the payoff is a lot of added replay value as you could experiment with so many different styles of play. A moody soundtrack and unique interface design also accompanies each race to add to their distinct feel.
Then there's StarCraft's campaign, which features complete story arcs for all three races and is chock full of memorable characters, political backstabbings, and also surprisingly, a great sense of atmosphere. There are haunting scenes of marines bearing down in the trenches; giving it all they have until they realize they're out of ammo and there's nothing left to save them from the encroaching swarm of Zerg. A great sense of melancholy can be felt throughout your journey with the Protoss, as the proud and ancient race must continually make one heartbreaking sacrifice after another in order to secure their future. Lots of great moments permeate the experience on top of delivering exceptional RTS gameplay.
And finally, StarCraft offers the robust Campaign Editor, which includes many of the same tools used by the developers to craft the game's level designs. So versatile is its capabilities that users could create levels that entirely change the genre of StarCraft, from RPG to capture the flag and tower defense. With the inclusion of the editor, StarCraft's replay value is seemingly infinite, as even when you grow bored of the core RTS experience, players can always be creating something new to explore. More than any other tool that Blizzard has released for their games, I find StarCraft's Campaign Editor to strike the best balance between accessibility and complexity.
Thanks to remaster work done on the game, it has now also recently earned the distinction of being able to run on a toaster and in 4K at the same time. The remastered version of the game now retails for $15, which is pretty much a steal for one of the greatest game experiences of all-time. Or you can just literally steal the base game because Blizzard now offers it for free, you cheapskates.
#4. Final Fantasy VII (PC, 1997-1998)
Now we're really getting into the hard choices where I had to make some tough compromises. I knew at least one JRPG had to make this list, but I didn't have room for any more, so this came down to a fierce battle between Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII. Either one of these games is easily deserving to be here, but in the end I decided it's more satisfying to stuff it to all of FF7's trendy critics who love to remind us how overrated this game is, and [insert FF# here] is really the best one. No. Fuck you. Final Fantasy VII is the best. Now GET OUT.
Nah but seriously, Chrono Trigger is a wonderfully-crafted game. However Final Fantasy VII arguably offers everything that Chrono Trigger has and more, even if its execution is occasionally sloppier in doing so. You've got the classic turn-based battle system, a colorful cast of characters, a god-tier soundtrack that will forever be immortalized in your soul, and a sweeping epic story to save the world from a once-venerable hero who tragically turned coo-coo for Jenova Puffs. Or something like that.
But what really sets this game apart for me is that Final Fantasy VII marked the first time in my experience with the medium that truly crystallized video games as an art form. Nothing quite rivals the feels train that this game brings right from the moment that it pulls up to its first stop in Midgar. FF7 doesn't just settle for a cast of likable characters that you can get invested in. So much of its story actually speaks to the human condition and touches on real life issues that are still resonant today. Mega-corporations exploiting the world's natural resources, the high cost of war, mental health, the morally blurred lines between vigilantism and terrorism, the fragility of human life, moving on when your greatest hopes and dreams have been crushed; FF7 touches on a number of themes, and it does so in such a way that feels so genuine in the moment.
Amidst all the JRPG jargon of mako reactors, materia, and Jenova cells, there are numerous small human moments that help keep the story grounded and give this game so much character. When you learn what Shinra did to Barrett's hometown and his best friend, suddenly his rants against the system don't sound so much like the ravings of a wannabe hero who maybe let his idealism get carried away, but instead they reveal a deeply troubled soul whose rage is all too real.
At first glance, Cid just seems like a crotchety old man who treats his assistant like garbage, yet when you learn of how close he came to realizing his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, and how a last-minute complication shuttered the space program, it's a tragic moment that sheds a completely different light on his character. It doesn't excuse his behavior of course, but it does let you understand him.
The brilliance of FF7's narrative is not just in the dialogue, but the visuals as well. While so many JRPGs tend to opt for bright colors and clean aesthetics, FF7 is decidedly dirtier and feels more lived in. It gives a sense that every place has a rich history behind it often without any direct exposition needed. Before you even set foot in Cid's house, it's quite apparent that his rocket has seen better days. It towers over the town in a dilapidated state, crooked at a slight angle from its failed launch and covered in moss from years of neglect. Incidentally, this is also a great metaphor for the current state of America's space program...
20-year-old spoiler warning, but just in case you didn't know by now, Sephiroth kills Dumbledore. Erhmm, Aeris that is. Aeris. Not to be confused with "Aerith", which is also a lie. Anyway, it's a pretty sad moment. You might have heard of it. It's kinda one of the most iconic depictions in gaming. Not only because of the shocking imagery, but because of the way it was built up to in the narrative. Up until this point, we were led to believe that Aeris was an integral member of the party. She was shaping up to be the main love interest of Cloud, and there had already been several heartfelt and cute moments shared with her that ensured the plot armor was laid on thick. And yet, death still came for her. It's a powerful scene, and the permanence of it makes it all the more potent.
I could go on about the richness of FF7's story, but now let's talk gameplay. Fundamentally, the game's combat isn't all that different from your typical JRPG. It's standard turn-based fare, but it's in the presentation of it that jacks the fun factor up to 11. The flashy limit break attacks combined with the epic god-like summons make it a spectacle to behold on-screen, with one particular summon clocking in at almost a minute and a half of dunking on the enemy with thousands of damage.
The other reason FF7's gameplay stands out to me is in its constant willingness to experiment with various mini-game activities, all the while seamlessly weaving the story into each one. Admittedly, not all of these mini-games work as smoothly as they should, but they help break up the monotony of standard RPG gameplay nonetheless, and when it is at its best, you have Cloud running around town getting into all sorts of silly antics in order to cross-dress as a girl and sneak into a brothel to rescue Tifa.
Final Fantasy VII's only major fault is that its character models look like ass, even by 1997 standards. That's why I recommend the PC version with mods as the best way to play, so you don't have to stare at those laughable brick hands all day. What I don't recommend is waiting for the remake, as the Square of today is not the same company it was 20 years ago, so not only will you probably be waiting another 20 years before it comes out, but most likely many fun quirks about the original will be lost in translation.
#3. Half-Life 2 (PC, 2004)
Ironically enough, around the time of this game's launch, I was mega-hyped for an entirely different first person shooter releasing within the same month. That game was Halo 2. Half-Life 2 wasn't even on my radar, as I never played the first game, and the idea of the protagonist being an unassuming silent nerd running around with a crowbar in a weird orange lab suit gave me an initial gut reaction that this game just seemed too bonkers for me.
On the other hand, the E3 tech demo they showcased was quite impressive from a technical perspective. I never thought such realistic physics were possible in video games up until this point. Half-Life 2 was one of the earliest games to make use of Havok physics, which gave us the first glimpses of what truly life-like interactions could look like in a video game. Yet as technically impressive as it was, the material wasn't presented in a particularly engaging manner beyond "Look what our engine can do!" so it failed to grab me beyond that.
Meanwhile, that E3 demonstration of Halo 2 was completely jaw-dropping. It was full of spectacle, the graphics were an astonishing bump up from the first game despite running on the same hardware, and the booming Marty O'Donnell score made you feel like it was a Hollywood movie coming to life. To this day, I'm not sure I've ever been as hyped for a game as I was for Halo 2.
Then the game came out. I invited my best friend over and it took us just two days to blast through the campaign in co-op mode. While it was a very fun time, there was definitely a lingering feeling afterward that Halo 2 didn't deliver on what was billed to us at E3. The graphics were significantly scaled back, ugly texture pop-in was rampant, and much of the cinematic atmosphere of the demo was only sparsely found in the final product. In fact, its cliffhanger ending was hardly the worst of its offenses if you ask me. I felt lied to.
Fast forward roughly a year later. I caught a glimpse of my brother playing Half-Life 2 on his PC, and I was impressed by the battle that I watched unfold over City 17. It was giving me those same cinematic vibes I once had while watching that demo of Halo 2 way back when, except this time it's actually playable. Right in front of me. And what was up with that giant Combine tower stretching so far into the sky that it went above the clouds? The game had a way of creating a sense of mystery and intrigue through imagery alone, which made me all the more enticed to finally sit down and give this game a try.
It didn't take long after Barney handed me my first crowbar that I became completely sucked into this game and its world. Half-Life 2 has such a grounded sense of realism and grit to it amidst an otherwise heavy sci-fi backdrop. Despite its very linear design, the game is a masterclass in making you feel like you are only a very small part of a much bigger world. Time has already been marching onward for City 17's citizens long before you arrive, and everyone is going about their own daily routines. You'll just wander into a building and witness Combine security raiding apartments; terrorizing citizens without the slightest consideration or acknowledgement of who you are. This kind of world-building was extremely effective at pulling me in.
In contrast to many first person shooters which rely almost exclusively on action to carry themselves, Half-Life 2 excels at both pacing and variety in gameplay. The physics interactions aren't just a gimmick; they are core mechanics of the game, and many puzzles revolve around them. Just when you might start to get bored of blasting away headcrabs and Combine soldiers, the game seems to know right when to shake things up with a vehicle section, puzzle, narrative segment, or a little bit of scavenging and exploration. Combined altogether with some fantastic action set pieces along the way, and you have a recipe for the greatest FPS campaign ever made, even almost 15 years after its release. Half-Life 2 is truly in a league of its own.
#2. Mass Effect 2 (PC, 2010)
It's funny sometimes how such an odd set of circumstances can wind up introducing you to one of your all-time favorites. In the months leading up to Mass Effect's launch, Sci-fi channel (now known as "Syfy") ran a promotional contest to win a free copy of the Collector's Edition. I entered purely with the intent to sell it on Ebay if I even won it at all, as I was struggling to find ways to make money at the time, and initial impressions of the game just didn't grab me.
Astonishingly, the game actually showed up at my doorstep a few weeks later, neatly packaged and ready to play. With the game now placed right in front of me, and knowing that I had an amazing time with the last BioWare game I played (Knights of the Old Republic), I decided that I would at least pop the game into my Xbox once and give it a chance before I turn it over to someone else. What followed was a near-instant reversal of my previous decision to sell the game.
Mass Effect's introductory sequence knew exactly how to hook me in. It wastes no time establishing some intriguing world-building, like how humans are only newcomers to galactic civilization and don't hold any real power or respect. The story steadily drip-feeds you more information about galactic history, an ancient civilization called the Protheans, and how it all connects back to events unfolding now, and it's all done in such a way that, like Half-Life 2, makes its universe feel so much bigger than you, and encourages you to want to explore as much of it as you can.
When all was said and done, Mass Effect really showcased what a great Star Trek game could look like (despite not actually being Star Trek). But it did have some problems. Numerous side missions were terrible at recycling assets, the framerate was erratic, inventory management got cumbersome, and combat could feel rather clunky at times.
Pretty much all of these issues were addressed in its sequel, Mass Effect 2. Combat feels a lot more fast-paced and fluid, the repetitive side missions were replaced with largely more substantive content, and the inventory system was... well, removed. Not the ideal choice, but still an improvement I suppose.
Mass Effect 2 did have to give and take in a few areas in order to make itself into a leaner game. Much of the intricate galactic politics and alien squabbling that went on in the first game isn't as prevalent here. However, while Mass Effect 1 did give a nicer overview of the universe that BioWare had crafted, the second game does flesh out the seedier underbelly of the galaxy just as well in its own right. With Commander Shepard now reluctantly working for a shady organization called Cerberus, you will frequently find yourself taken to some of the more disreputable and lawless regions of space, and the game does a great job of building an atmosphere around that, with many alien interactions involving ulterior motives and questionable agendas that you have to contend with.
OK so there's a lot of sci-fi and a lot of pew-pew in these games; that's par for the course. But that obviously isn't reason enough for Mass Effect 2 to score so high on this list. What really sets this game apart is in the story of your crew. Or rather, the story that you make of them.
With human colonies being mysteriously abducted by a race called the Collectors and taken to an unknown system beyond the Omega 4 Relay, Shepard is in charge of investigating the reason behind these abductions and putting an end to them. There's just one big problem. Nobody who has attempted to enter the Omega 4 Relay has ever returned in its many years of existence, so you're going to need a crew of some of the best in the galaxy to be prepared for whatever you might encounter on the other side.
This formulates the basis of Mass Effect 2's mission design, as one assignment after another will have you scouring the galaxy to assemble your team. Each time you pick up a new recruit, tons of new dialogue possibilities open up, along with an optional loyalty mission to earn your crew's respect and trust. These loyalty missions are frequently just as fun as the recruitment missions themselves, as you learn much more behind each character's backstory and really get to build a bond with your crew.
This all leads up to the game's explosive tension-filled finale. Aptly dubbed the "Suicide Mission", going beyond the Omega 4 Relay is quite possibly the most epic climax I've ever experienced in a video game. Up until this point, there have been numerous choices you could have made throughout the story to influence the loyalty of your crew and upgrade your ship's technology so that everyone and everything is at the best of their ability. Anything less than that, and it can mean the difference between everyone surviving the mission or no one. When I first played this mission, I wasn't even aware of how many of my crew could possibly die or not, and to what degrees I might be able to influence the outcome, so when I saw my first crewman drop dead, I got paranoid.
Fuck no am I losing Garrus. Mordin and Tali better not kick the bucket either. I started intentionally assigning characters I deemed of lesser importance to more critical roles where I thought they would be at greater risk of dying. This was in order to protect the characters that I couldn't accept losing, but even then, it was still hard to stomach. I had never been put in a place like this before while playing a video game. Mass Effect 2 actually made me feel the weight of my decisions.
Everything culminates in a Lovecraftian nightmare plot twist that reveals a disturbing fact about the enemy, followed by a fierce boss battle against said nightmare. The whole mission is just an insane adrenaline rush of shocking imagery, explosive action, and desperate maneuvers from your crew. Seeing it all unfold with your choices affecting the outcomes is an impressive feat of engineering from BioWare, and I've never seen anything like it since.
With EA slowly increasing its chokehold on its developers over the years, the stars must have aligned for some kind of miracle in order for this game come out the way it did under the circumstances.
#1. Battleborn (PC, 2016)
Battleborn is: FPS; hobby-grade coop campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes!
#1. Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)
Most people probably think when choosing a number one you should carefully consider a multitude of different factors. Level design, mechanics, graphics, soundtrack, etc. The truth is that's all way overthinking it.
All you need to do in order to be taken seriously as a critic and solidify your great taste is to just pick something old. That's why every film critic worth their pedigree knows to pick Citizen Kane as their number one. It instantly validates your pretentiousness along with some other pretty rad benefits. An impeccable mustache and monocle will suddenly materialize upon your face, and you will ascend to an enlightened state where all criticisms are drowned out by the sound of your sipping tea and munching on crumpets.
So of course how could I choose anything other than the mother of all metroidvanias itself? Now you can't tell me Twilight Princess and Brawl aren't the best of their respective franchises. I've got pretentious immunity, bitches!
But it just so conveniently happens that Super Metroid is also great at all of those other unnecessary things I mentioned. Indeed, it feels like every pixel of this game was perfectly laid out; every sound carefully crafted to elicit a certain gratifying feeling out of you. Super Metroid is a game far ahead of its time. When the trend was for games to be bright, colorful, and largely linear affairs, Metroid was a considerably darker open-ended experience. It was an immensely atmospheric game before atmosphere was even a thing in games.
There is plenty of quality to be found in the Metroid series as a whole, but Super Metroid stands head and shoulders above the rest by not only setting the standard for all future metroidvanias to come, but still maintaining its supremacy to this day. While its earlier incarnations felt more like prototypes that had to be viewed through the lens of their time period, Super Metroid requires no such contextualization to appreciate. As a proper nonlinear game, it is neither as frustratingly vague as its predecessors, nor as overly telegraphed as its successors. It gives you just the right amount of tools and clues to figure out where to go next without spelling it out for you. When you discover something new, it is your discovery, which makes for a very satisfying feeling of exploration and progression.
Super Metroid was a game that I could spend countless hours getting lost in during my childhood. Exploring the depths of planet Zebes to uncover whatever secrets I could find was endlessly rewarding, and uncovering hidden power-ups that continuously enhance Samus' power suit kept me coming back for more. Even when there isn't necessarily a treasure waiting around the corner for you, just the simple act of traversing its world and taking in the scenery is engaging enough. With very little dialogue to be found in the game, it often tells a story through careful attention to detail in the visuals alone. And unlike many modern open world games, nothing about it feels like filler. Every area is meticulously designed to bring a new experience.
As a game driven heavily by visuals and atmosphere, it's difficult to express in words exactly what makes Super Metroid so special. All of it just comes together in a package that is greater than the sum of its parts, and it completely immerses you into its world. It's the game that turned my hobby into a passion, and has inspired countless developers. Super Metroid isn't just held up by nostalgia. It's incredibly polished, and will continue to stand the test of time for decades to come.
What are your favorite games of all-time? Let me know in the comments so I can correct you with science.