Ah, Tetris– so pure and easy to get into that it’s commonly cited as the “perfect” game, even decades after its inception. It’s as straightforward as it is engrossing, making it a staple among gamers of virtually every demographic.
It’s similar to Pong in how its simplicity leaves very little room for flaws (except maybe the music, which the Gameboy port was quick to fix), but does anybody actually have an urge to play Pong nowadays? Rather, when Pajitnov designed Tetris in the early 80s, not only had he created an accessible product, but one that’s so timeless, so addictive, and so fun that millions still return, playing the latest versions to compete against their friends and their own records without a hint of boredom.
With quarantine now pushing 4 months in the States, I’ve found my housemates and I burnt out on games lately. We still play since there’s little else to do, only we stray from new releases in favor of old, reliable nostalgia trips. This got me thinking… If every genre can have its own Dark Souls, why can’t the same be said for something more wholesome, like Tetris?
This list will have very little criteria besides my own experience with the gaming landscape as well as opinions on what makes a game “perfect” enough to replay it over and over, but I hope some will find a few gems they may not have experienced, especially for those who haven’t seen the sun since April!
Not a hidden gem by any means, though it is the quintessential plumber experience. It looks great, sounds great, and plays great. Moving on!
This is probably my most re-played game, as well as the game which inspired me to make the list. Nightmare in Dreamland isn’t actually an original game, but a remake of Kirby’s Adventure, the first game in the series to feature the copy ability. For me, Adventure has all I need in a 2D platformer: levels I can speed through without thinking too hard, bright, colorful visuals, an incredibly catchy soundtrack, and a journey that lasts no longer than a sitting or two.
The reason I chose the GBA update over the original is twofold. It’s the version I grew up with, so the slightly altered controls and copy abilities feel more natural to me. Besides this, I think HAL did a bang-up job adapting the game for new hardware thanks to the gorgeous 32-bit sprites and an updated soundtrack that screams Gameboy Advance.
Honorable Mentions: Sonic Mania, Super Mario Sunshine
A million games could have gotten this spot, frankly (or none, depending on if you’re the type who replays their JRPGs). Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana… The list goes on. However, I see many seasoned players gravitate towards Chrono Trigger as the most timeless/replayable, and it’s easy to understand why. It can be looked at as a one-off, innovative classic (even though it technically does have its own, somewhat disjointed series), and for what it pioneers in, it does extremely well.
The writing is fast-paced and witty, the combat unique, and the Dragon Ball-esque aesthetic beautiful, quickly establishing it as one of Square’s most reminisced-upon classics. It’s also not terribly difficult or long for a JRPG, making it quite replayable.
To start, I almost want to take back what I said about Kirby. If that game’s ost screams GBA, then this one might as well be emo-screeching it through a megaphone that’s about to explode. Seriously, one listen to the rival battle theme will have you trumpet-dooting your way back to 2005 in no time. It’s that powerful.
Going beyond the soundtrack, I never suspected I’d have a Pokemon game on this list. Since the days of Black and White, I’ve considered the series to be mostly forgettable, albeit perfectly well made. The only reason I’m giving Emerald this spot is that for a long time it was my “Tetris of JRPGs.” It’s been years since I gave it a look, but it is the only JRPG I remember completing more than twice, probably due to the amount of customization that’s possible throughout. Different team setups for battles and contests, secret bases, and the battle frontier all provide loads of replayability, especially compared to some contemporary JRPGs whose reliance on storytelling can make a new playthrough seem boring or redundant. I’d definitely recommend it to fans left a bit jaded by the series’s more generic, modern approach.
There’s some series without blue shells that could fit the Tetris bill more accurately in terms of their mechanics, but the sheer popularity and influence of Mario Kart are enough to discount all of that. Sure, it may be heavy in the RNG department, but contrary to the likes of Wipeout and Gran Turismo, you can hand a Wii Wheel to just about anyone and they’ll have a fighting chance.
Of course, there’s also a massive speedrunning community for each installment thanks to the item-free Time Trials mode, so it’s an easy go-to for players of all skill levels.
Unlike Mario Kart, Transformed places a heavy emphasis on short challenges in order to unlock new characters, tracks, and vehicle mods, making for a single-player campaign that’s rewarding as it is beefy. It’s also the closest I’ve seen a racing title get to Smash Bros. in terms of sheer content, not to mention the amount of variety it offers as a Sega take on the “crossover boogaloo” formula.
Honorable Mentions: F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, Metropolis Street Racer
Whether you’re a Marvel aficionado or a Shaq Fu die-hard, it’s nigh-impossible to deny SFII’s influence without losing some gamer creds. While a pioneer in the genre (heck, it practically invented the darn thing), it’s also a rare example of a fighting game that never really “died” so-to-speak. With different franchises receiving regular updates, it’s common for the FGC to drift to the newest installment in hopes of a more balanced cast and fresh metagame. Meanwhile, the simplicity and nostalgia of Street Fighter II continue to draw in fans of all skill levels no matter how many re-releases (and suffixes) Capcom decides to give it!
I’d probably be content if this were the only multiplayer game in existence. While it’s easy to just bask in the amount of legal trouble that must have ensued to make any of this possible, I find myself appreciating the amount of polish put into the mechanics as the reason it’s effortless for a friend and me to kill an afternoon with this game and nothing else. You can play it as competitively, comedically, or as indifferently as you see fit and have a glorious time anyhow.
Honorable Mentions: Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, Power Stone
Oh yeah, I guess this genre hasn’t been mainstream for years! It’s a shame, as I really do miss when I could gain social status just by telling people I got through “Cliffs of Dover” on expert. Those were the days…
Finally, a traditional rhythm game (sorry, Rhythm Heaven…) that doesn’t take itself too seriously! This is one of those quirky properties that’s MASSIVE in Japan and niche everywhere else, but I could see it pulling a Fire Emblem or Dragon Quest sometime in the future if marketed correctly. It has every ingredient to succeed: an approachable, upbeat aesthetic, a control scheme that’s incredibly easy to understand, an astronomically high skill ceiling, and most importantly, a song list that will never go out of style.
Honorable Mentions: Osu!, Rhythm Heaven (Franchise)
I feel like this game never got the love it deserved, even if it does barely fit the genre. It’s basically the grandfather of the whole retro-indie movement, and as a bonus, it’s also a masterpiece! It still blows my mind how polished and memorable the final product turned out for a game designed, programmed, written for, and composed entirely by one person. It’s also been ported to every console, PC, and household appliance ever devised, so there’s no excuse not to give it a whirl.
I’ve never understood all the hubbub around this one. The character designs and jingles are as ingrained in me as anyone else, but it’s always confused me why people find the gameplay compelling enough to adopt that “just one more quarter” mentality. I suppose a lot of it is generational (When’s the last time you got to brag to someone about beating their high score?) and the simple controls have made it a decent way to kill time if you’re iPad-equipped.
Personally, I always die by the third level and feel nothing while doing so, but I guess we wouldn’t have gems like Pac-Man Vs. otherwise, so who am I to complain?
Now, this is more like it. I’ve been an avid fan of shoot-em-ups ever since I learned what a PC Engine is, and while I still wouldn’t consider myself particularly good at the genre, there’s this inexplicable euphoria that comes with kicking back and letting the senses be filled by a sea of vibrant sprite art and bangin’ chiptunes.
In this case, not only do you get the fast-paced nature and fair difficulty of the Star Soldier series, but you get to play as the console itself, blowing your enemies into smithereens with nothing but game cards and CD-ROMs. Definitely a win-win in my book.
I just wanted to put this one out there since it’s free with Switch Online and it’s a satisfying romp all around. It’s also known as Tetris Attack in the west, so it technically counts!
So, that about wraps it up! I realize I left out a fair amount of genres, as I tried to limit myself to the ones I actually play on a regular basis. If you agree/disagree with my choices, or have any recommendations for, say, a “Tetris of” MOBAs or sports games, I’d love to hear it in the comments!