The 100 Best Videogames of the 2010s

Games Lists Best of the Decade
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The 100 Best Videogames of the 2010s

10 years is a long time. I wasn’t an editor the last time Paste put together one of these lists, but I was already writing here, and took over the games section not too much later. I’ve been running this game since August 2011, over 80% of this decade that’s coming to a close. Frankly that blows my mind.

Time is the most absurd lie we’ve ever told ourselves. 2010 feels like forever ago and yet I remember playing through Mass Effect 2 like it was yesterday. That came out the very first month of 2010, just under 10 years ago, and my review of it was one of the very last game pieces to run in Paste’s original print magazine. That was lifetimes ago but also last week. We’ve come so far since then as a society and yet regressed to an astonishing degree. Life is a series of countless steps forward and infinite steps backward. If this doesn’t make any sense wait until you hit your late 20s: everything suddenly goes Sonic fast from there on out, and only speeds up along the way.

This list was crafted by two people: myself and my assistant editor, Holly Green. We didn’t write all the words in the blurbs below—so many writers helped with that over the years, and deepest thanks to you all—but we decided what games made the list, and what order they’d be arranged in. The goal isn’t to capture what was the most popular or best selling or best reviewed games of the decade, but to serve as a guide to what the people who oversee Paste’s games coverage—myself and Holly—consider to be the most important, unique and ultimately best videogames of the decade.

Critical consensus is a joke. Art’s subjective. What matters isn’t popularity or success, but how a game makes us feel, what it makes us think about, what it says about our culture and games as a medium, and how it impacts not just us personally but the industry and the art form. There are games you might expect to see on a list like this that you won’t find below. That’s cool and that’s fine: by its definition criticism is personal. If my time here at Paste’s games section has accomplished anything, hopefully it’s establishing an idiosyncratic vision and voice that are personal, consistent, and immediately recognizable. This list of top 100 video games of the decade reflects that ambition while praising the hard work and groundbreaking artistry of brilliant designers from around the world. You’ll surely disagree with it on some level, but hopefully you’ll still respect the games that made this list, and the decisions that went into crafting it.

So hey, let’s get into it. Here are the 100 best videogames of the last 10 years. Dig it.

100. Metro: Last Light


Year: 2013
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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The world of Metro never let you forget that you were in a nuclear wasteland. Ammo was currency, and decisions were constantly made between an upgrade or having enough bullets to survive. Weapons were slapped together with shoddy workmanship and your flashlight was a crank tool that often flickers out. Every venture out into the dark underground Russian metro tunnels was dangerous, but human life was forced to stay there due to the ravenous mutated creatures that tormented the surface. Among all this was a story of hope, of a possible future where Artyom and the people of the metro could find peace, and possibly a way to live above again. Expanding on the world introduced in 2033, Last Light was an atmospheric game that never let you forget the light at the end of the tunnel—as long as you didn’t let your light flicker out for too long.—Eric Van Allen


99. L.A. Noire


Year: 2011
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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The reception to L.A. Noire upon its initial release was a bit mixed; as a crime investigation period piece set in 1943, it was a bold change of pace in both setting and premise for the Rockstar crowd. And yet, for all its flaws, I couldn’t help but love the game for its perceptive ability to capture the feeling of an old detective thriller from a bygone era in film, from the clothes to the cars to the recreation of old Hollywood and its many damsels in distress. It’s also the rare good example of a game that features guns, but doesn’t center them in the gameplay; as he investigates everything from murder to insurance fraud, Detective Cole relies more on his handy notebook and interrogation techniques than he does his Colt M1911. I don’t get a lot of time these days to replay a game, but sometimes on a sunny Saturday morning, I still like to turn on L.A. Noire, slip into an old Studebaker, and take a nice drive while listening to the radio in downtown LA.—Holly Green


98. Fez


Year: 2012
Original platform: Xbox 360

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Here’s the thing about Fez: all that platforming? It is just the surface. It’s tightly structured and for the most part you can brute force your way through it. The secret puzzles you stumble across in various rooms, the ones that lead you to the anticubes, are the real meat of the game. Sometimes they require you to look a little bit outside of the world, or look at it through a different lens, to solve them. Some require a knowledge of videogames, of the Xbox, of technology that comes from outside of Fez, but they’re not just “gamer” shibboleths. It’s these moments where Fez really shines; but they’re also shibboleths of a different kind, one that creates a challenge not of manual dexterity like so many other retro-looking platformers. Instead, the challenge is mental, and maybe even cultural: where Fez’s retro tendencies, its very self-aware nature of being a game, of technology, become the language of what you do.—Brian Taylor


97. Dying Light


Year: 2015
Original platforms:PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

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At the tail end of the zombie craze that dominated games design for several years, Dying Light made itself useful by offering something none of the other games had: a thrilling escape mechanic. The game’s fluid execution of its main character’s parkour abilities was such a perfect escalation and natural conclusion to the genre itself. In an actual zombie apocalypse, dodging would probably be a much better way to survive than direct combat, and that was exemplified in how Kyle would deftly flit over fences, climb between rooftops and overhangs, and sprint away from enemies with ease. Add to that the light loot-hunting and crafting aspects, which give some purpose to the game’s exploration and combat, and Dying Light was actually one of the better zombie games to ever be released. It’s definitely my personal favorite.—Holly Green


96. Dragon’s Dogma


Year: 2012
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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Epic role-playing game Dragon’s Dogma is the game that keeps on giving. It doesn’t end where you think it will, growing more exciting as it goes before allowing players to tackle a New Game+ mode that’s actually worth playing.—Jennifer Allen


95. Spec Ops: The Line


Year: 2012
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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In Spec Ops: The Line the real cowards are the players, content to ignore real wars for false ones, spending their money on yearly installments of war games that aim to entertain rather than inform, to dull rather than comment on any aspect of reality. We tell ourselves we want to honor the troops, but what Spec Ops: The Line makes so clear is that our interest isn’t in any sort of reality at all. We just want an escape from the dangers of mundanity, no matter what the cost.—Richard Clark


94. Holedown


Year: 2018
Original platforms: iOS, Android

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Holedown felt instantly timeless, like a forgotten early arcade hit dragged onto 21st century smartphones. It takes a simple idea—you shoot out balls to break blocks before they reach the top of the screen, caroming the balls around the screen like it’s a pool table—and maximizes it for the mobile platform, with easy drag-and-go controls and a ruleset that makes it much more complicated than just busting some bricks. Somehow Holedown makes one of the oldest ideas in videogames—bouncing balls off of blocks—feel fresh and original.—Garrett Martin


93. Fire Pro Wrestling World


Year: 2017
Original platform: PC

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The latest version of Fire Pro doesn’t just boast the realistic wrestling action the series is known for; it has a whole new story mode centered around New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Fighting Road doesn’t just add a few dozen top New Japan wrestlers—it’s basically a wrestling visual novel, complete with static screens of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada doing what can only be called a manly, wrestling-centric version of flirting with your character, but with Fire Pro wrestling matches largely deciding the story’s outcome. Fighting Road achieves something that most wrestling career modes don’t. Despite the lack of motion in its cut scenes, and its often unrealistic story beats (at one point I have to go to New Japan’s corporate offices for a meeting, and when I get there it’s led by wrestlers Yugi Nagata in a NJPW t-shirt and Super Strong Machine in his mask), the thorough text and first-person perspective make me feel closer to this character and more deeply embedded in this world than anything I’ve ever seen in a WWE game. Oh, and the actual in-game action remains the best videogame recreation of wrestling ever seen.—Garrett Martin


92. The Disney Infinity Series


Year: 2013-2015
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC, Vita, iOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U

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The toys-to-life market burned fast but short in the first half of this decade, with the sudden death of Disney Infinity in 2016 the first sign of its collapse. Infinity was the best of the toys-to-life games, for my money; although it was heavily built on nostalgia (especially a few specific strands of nostalgia that I’m personally very susceptible to), it also had the weird postmodern appeal of jumbling up characters from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and Disney. The toy box mode, which let players build their own increasingly complex levels over the game’s three-year history, and then share them online with other players, offered not just a seemingly endless stream of new content (some of which was legitimately great), but also a glimpse into the untamed id of internet strangers let loose in Disney’s playground. (Some of these toy boxes got weird as hell.) And by the end of the series’ life, it was finally fully living up to its potential, with the last few playsets and add-on modes being genuinely good games in their own right. The last year saw a fantastic kart racing spinoff and a fighting game patterned after the classic Power Stone, both of which made Infinity’s future seem incredibly bright. Sadly Disney shut it down just a few weeks later. Disney Infinity makes this list as both a series and a platform more than any single game, because its greatness lied in that overall experience, from collecting the beautifully designed figures, to making, sharing and downloading toy box levels. For a while in 2015, this was pretty much the only game I played, and I still miss those days.—Garrett Martin


91. Year Walk


Year: 2013
Original platform: iOS

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You’ll get lost really quickly in Simogo’s sinister Year Walk—which makes it that much creepier when you stumble across one of the game’s many eerie puzzles and frightening creatures. I can’t remember the last time a game gave me the intense feeling of being completely lost and alone the way Year Walk does.—Luke Larsen


90. Super Hexagon


Year: 2012
Original platform: iOS

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In Super Hexagon, you control a small triangle trying to survive in a world full of shapes, sounds and colors that would love to engulf you. Rotating left and right around a hexagon is the only action possible, as patterns and obstacles moving in sporadic motions come hurtling toward you. The first time you play you’ll probably make it through 10 games in 30 seconds. The game is that hard and sessions are that short. One thing is for sure, though: That 30 seconds will quickly turn into hours if you’re not careful.—Luke Larsen


89. Transistor


Year: 2014
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

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[This is] the essence of Transistor: In the face of power, unique human qualities become valuable, hand-picked functions that operate in the service of an agenda. To a degree, we all lose our voice. In the wreckage of a fallen world, the only choice left to make is whose side we’re on, and what we’re willing to give up for the sake of the cause.—Richard Clark


88. Tetris Effect


Year: 2018
Original platform: PlayStation 4

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Tetris Effect is a brilliant and forward-thinking new take on an old and deeply familiar classic. It’s a curious combination of relaxation and extreme stress, often swerving abruptly from one right into the other, and surrounding myself in it through virtual reality and headphones makes it even more powerful and evocative. It could use some more variety in its music, and be a bit more esoteric and surreal with its imagery, but it’s still a gorgeous, sometimes glorious vision, and a true VR stand-out.—Garrett Martin


87. Guitar Hero Live


Year: 2015
Original platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, iOS

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Guitar Hero Live, with its streaming music video channels, was as much of a music delivery service as it was a game, and that ensured its livelihood, at least in my household. As long as Activision ran and updated the now-shuttered Guitar Hero TV, I carved out time for it. It offered something that no other game, and really, no other TV station, did at the time: a powerful combo of play, nostalgia for the classic days of MTV, and discovery. I mean, I’d never buy a Darwin Deez record, but I’m glad I’ve seen that video, you know?—Garrett Martin


86. Spider-Man


Year: 2018
Original platform: PlayStation 4

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Spider-Man might return to too many wells too many times—it might be too stuffed full of fights and collectibles and typical open-world business—but its foundations are so strong that it never threatens to collapse on itself. This game understands why Spider-Man has been perhaps the most popular superhero of the last half-century, and does about as good of a job as the comics or movies at capturing the character’s essence. It blends more than 50 years of Spider history together, molds it around a thrilling recreation of Spider-Man’s trademark motion and fighting styles, and puts you in control of the whole thing. All together that makes this one of the most mechanically, narratively, and nostalgically satisfying big budget games of the decade, and the best Spider-Man game yet.—Garrett Martin


85. Sound Shapes


Year: 2012
Original platforms: PlayStation 3, Vita

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Sound Shapes twists the basic tenets of the classic side-scrolling platformer into a form of interactive music-making. Every element of the game serves a musical purpose. Coins aren’t just collectibles but musical notes that add new instruments and melodies to the level’s soundtrack. Platforms aren’t just bricks or elevators but words that move, twist and disappear according to a song’s lyrics. Instead of simple obstacles to avoid or monsters to dispatch enemies are drum machines that contribute to the beat. Sound Shapes surreptitiously teaches you how to build and arrange songs while enjoying one of the most beautiful and memorable games of the year.—Garrett Martin


84. Downwell


Year: 2015
Original platforms: iOS, PC

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Downwell is a crunchy, rapid-fire “Spelunky-like” (are we at that point already? Are we prepared to start describing games as “Spelunky-likes”?) but, instead of side-scrolling, Downwell occurs vertically, in a procedurally-generated dungeon that the player falls down through. The player’s sprite will often fall right past powerups, enemies, and treasure rooms, making the game wonderfully frenetic torture. Fortunately, the player is equipped with a pair of goddamn gun-boots—making you, the player, feel incredibly powerful for every second you’re not staring in shock at the Game Over screen. —Jenn Frank


83. Tearaway


Year: 2013
Original platform: Vita

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Tearaway has all the charm, artiness and mixed-media visual appeal of Media Molecule’s other platformer, Little Big Planet, but Tearaway is more enjoyable as a game because it focuses primarily on play instead of creation. It wants to get you interested in arts and crafts, and regularly asks you to draw new objects within the game and decorate various characters, but that’s all incorporated into the game’s story. Tearaway easily shoulders the burden of showing exactly what a Vita is capable of. This should be the first game anyone who ever owns a Vita plays.—Garrett Martin


82. Gris


Year: 2018
Original platforms: Switch, PC, Mac

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Written as a metaphor for grief and loss, Gris is a basic puzzle platformer, but designed with an intuitiveness that is immensely gratifying in its smoothness and fluidity. Channeling a deep sense of isolation and melancholy, the game’s stunning environments are awash with the rich and warm textured tones of a watercolor painting, with the finer pen and ink details of a storybook illustration, bringing to mind games like Machinarium in its style and artistry. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I’m not sure I deserve a game like Gris. It’s one of the loveliest things I’ve ever played. —Holly Green


81. Dandara


Year: 2018
Original platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, Android

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Long Hat House’s first game might play fast and loose with history—its hero, Dandara, is a real-life figure from Brazilian history—but its Metroid-style design and unique approach to motion make it compulsively playable. It’s part myth, part dream, all wrapped up in an occasionally psychedelic sci-fi action game heavily indebted to the aesthetics of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.—Garrett Martin


80. Saints Row IV


Year: 2013
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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A little gaming literacy goes a long way in getting the most out of Saints Row IV. It manages to riff off of classic games like Metal Gear, Streets of Rage and even the old Atari tank-battle title Combat in clever and endearing ways. Saints Row IV is incredibly aware that it is a Video Game, capital V, capital G; it explicitly embraces the bizarre, juvenile and often incomprehensible logic of the medium, and revels in it. Here’s a toybox, Volition says, go smash some stuff together. Can do, Boss.—J.P. Grant


79. Rock Band 3


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii

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The Beatles: Rock Band might be the most beautiful version of Harmonix’s classic, but 2010’s Rock Band 3 is the most complete realization of the Rock Band dream. The addition of keyboards wouldn’t be supported for long—the next installment, 2015’s Rock Band 4, scrapped them entirely—but while it lasted it was a crucial new feature that opened up a whole wide swath of new songs for players to tackle. The only reason it’s so low on this decade-ending list is because, as good as it is, it’s just an incremental upgrade on the already fantastic Rock Band 2, which, like the genre itself, is thoroughly a part of the previous decade. Still, you can’t diminish how great this game was in 2010, and how people like me continued to play it years after release.—Garrett Martin


78. The Long Dark


Year: 2017
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

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The Long Dark is real. Not real in the sense of the physical versus virtual, but in terms of the mechanics of quantifying human progress. The details are so realistic, they become distressing. When resources are low, environment threats are everywhere, and there’s no guarantee you’ll survive the next few minutes, it’s difficult to relax, much less enjoy yourself. And yet, I can’t help but respect The Long Dark. I’m at ease with my discomfort with it. That may seem like a contradiction but I don’t think all art can, or should, exist to placate, even when its primary purpose (as with games but many mediums in general) is to entertain. I like the challenge, even if I can only handle it in short bursts.—Holly Green


77. Dance Central


Year: 2010
Original platform: Xbox 360

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Dance Central and its sequels were the exception to the Kinect rule. Harmonix’s dance series showed that motion controls don’t have to be untrustworthy or unfulfilling, and despite their physical requirements they were the perfect games to demo the Kinect for both dedicated players and a wider audience curious by Microsoft’s weird, ultimately failed camera peripheral.—Garrett Martin


76. Oxenfree


Year: 2016
Original platforms: Xbox One, PC, Mac

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Oxenfree captures the vicissitudes of friendship, especially the heightened passions of teenage friendship. No matter how believable these characters and their relationships can be, though, you might find yourself wanting to get away from them altogether, especially early in the game. Even Alex, the character you control, can occasionally rankle with her petty reactions and annoying humor. In that way, Oxenfree recreates that sense of self-mortification that should be most acute during your teenaged years, and how we’re not always capable of saying what we want to say.—Garrett Martin


75. Ridiculous Fishing


Year: 2013
Original platform: iOS

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Ridiculous Fishing is a story about a man’s attempt at becoming one with nature in an attempt to settle a personal vendetta against the ocean. It is a story about a world that exchanges fish that have been liquified by gunfire for surprisingly large amounts of cash. It is a story about birds making fun of each other on the internet. Ultimately, and in a pretty roundabout way, it is a story about coming to terms with the infinite.—Joe Bernardi


74. Fantasia: Music Evolved


Year: 2014
Original platform: Xbox One

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Fantasia: Music Evolved isn’t about turning music into a sequence of buttons to mash, or about the nostalgia of a classic movie. It’s about exploring music and the possibilities of sound, letting me literally reshape them with my hands. The end result is one of the most exhilarating games I’ve ever played. I’m bouncing around, working up my heart rate, hurling my arms in every direction, pulling in keyboards and clarinets, muting guitars and drum machines, sculpting solos with my hands, and feeling a connection to music and to a game that I’ve never felt before. It’s not like dancing, and it’s not like playing in a band or DJing at a bar. It’s something entirely different, something special and weird.—Garrett Martin


73. Ori and the Blind Forest


Year: 2015
Original platforms: Xbox One, PC

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Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous adventure with an aesthetic that seems vaguely indebted to a variety of world cultures and mythologies. With its focus on forest spirits and a sylvan setting it resembles a Miyazaki film, but there’s no explicit connection to Japanese mythology. It borrows the fundamental feeling of mythic storytelling to depict a basic hero’s journey, with all the loss and personal growth that entails.—Garrett Martin


72. Everything


Year: 2017
Original platform: PlayStation 4

Everything fascinates because when it says you can be everything in the game, it really does mean everything, from the smallest of single-celled organisms to the concept of space and time itself. Exploring these dimensions is done through a simple zoom-in/zoom-out process that lets you go in on a subatomic level or expand out to entire star systems. Through this and the lectures of philosopher Alan Watts, the game offers an accessible point of entry to the concept that everything is connected and circular and that we can only know who or what we are by observing our place in relation to all other beings in the universe. It is also a beautiful reflection on the symbiotic ecosystem of life that will leave you thinking about, well, everything.—Holly Green


71. Old Man’s Journey


Year: 2017
Original platforms: iOS, Android, PC, Mac

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Old Man’s Journey is a small, quiet game that you can tell was a work of passion. Sometimes the best way to get someone to listen to you is to whisper. In a just world, this spare kaleidoscope of memories and manipulated hillsides will garner as much attention as bigger games beset with earth-shaking explosions. As we all learn in time, it’s often the smaller chance encounters that make the most impact on us. Especially when we look back.—Jon Irwin


70. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds


Year: 2017
Original platform: PC

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One of the decade’s biggest surprise hits has an unwieldy name, but there’s a reason for that: “PlayerUnknown” is actually a person, real name Brendan Greene, a well-known modder who created a Day Z mod based on the Japanese novel and movie Battle Royale. Battlegrounds takes that concept of a shooter where the goal is to eliminate every other player on an increasingly dangerous island and turns it into a far more accessible game. The extreme pressure of Battlegrounds elevates the multiplayer shooter to a previously unknown level of tension and catharsis, and spawned the entire battle royale genre that quickly took over all of gaming.—Garrett Martin


69. Deadly Premonition


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360

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Few games proved as polarizing or perplexing as this action-horror title, essentially a mash note to Twin Peaks’ first season with Z-grade production values, deservedly sold with the bargain-bin price of $20. Alternately goofy and creepy, Deadly Premonition milks a lot of its scares from crappy animations, awkward dialog trees, and enemies that can only scream, “I don’t want to diiie!” Ultimately, its absolute clunkiness scored major points for being endearingly contrarian in an era obsessed with ultra-realistic graphics and sequels. In other words: it was experimental without being all arty about it.—David Wolinsky


68. Xenoblade Chronicles


Year: 2010
Original platform: Wii

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Xenoblade Chronicles was the best RPG for the Wii (there weren’t many) and also probably the system’s last really good game. It’s absurdly long and dense, which may not fit your lifestyle any more, but those with the time and inclination will dig this time-suck. Feature-packed even by Japanese RPG standards, Xenoblade is the kind of game you could easily lose months on without even realizing it. It’s a genuine epic with a memorable story and a novel combat hook involving prophetic visions and time manipulation. It’s got real character backed up with solid mechanics, which you can’t say about most games.—Garrett Martin


67. Superhot


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PC, Xbox One

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Superhot’s shootouts make its case better than its narrative layers ever could. Its methodical take on shooter combat forces you to linger on the consequences of your actions without saying a word. And that’s all it needed to be.—Suriel Vazquez


66. Dear Esther


Year: 2012
Original platform: PC

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I first played Dear Esther long ago, when it was still just a clunky Half-Life 2 mod, before I could get swept away by the stunning pastoral cliffsides, still beaches and glowing caverns that would come with its later release. No, what I loved about it then was the gentle but deeply evocative timber of the narrator’s voice, the poetry in his anguish and the sense of loss that reverberated in each letter he dictated to his dead wife. The confusion and guilt that warps his memories is so skillfully reflected in the game’s repetition of phrases and themes, even as he makes the slow trek up the island’s largest hill to say goodbye. While some call Dear Esther a “walking simulator,” I disagree; there’s too much to think about and process for me to characterize it as a mere stroll from point A to B. It’s a simulator for grief, one that has stuck with me ever since.—Holly Green


65. Super Meat Boy


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PC

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It was more than a little cocky that Team Meat envisioned Super Meat Boy as the flagship for contemporary indie games and also somewhat the spiritual successor to the original Super Mario Bros., but the brutal 2D platformer has succeeded in both endeavors. Agonizingly difficult but never unfair, Super Meat Boy is also reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, wherein a booby-trap-laden obstacle course is all that stands between you and the girl—before she’s moved to the next screen that’s even more dangerous.—David Wolinsky


64. Celeste


Year: 2018
Original platforms: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac

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Matt Thorson’s follow-up to Towerfall employs a familiar aesthetic and language from videogames past to tell a story about mental health and self-actualization, using the mountain the game is named after as a representation of a young woman’s struggles with depression and self-doubt. Celeste is an inspired triumph, with art that recalls the early ‘90s, and requiring a precision to navigate its levels that comes straight out of the heyday of platforming. The vibrant use of color and warm, stylistically varied score elevate the retro aesthetic beyond mere homage. It’s a touching and occasionally insightful depiction of what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression.—Garrett Martin


63. Limbo


Year: 2010
Original platform: Xbox 360

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Your average player might not know what chiaroscuro even is, but they no doubt appreciated the masterful command of black and white shading in this grim and provocative puzzle-platformer. Limbo harkens back to the trial-and-error school of puzzle solving, with “error” here meaning you will die dozens and dozens of times without minding.—David Wolinsky


62. Super Mario Galaxy 2


Year: 2010
Original platform: Wii

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Like the first one, Super Mario Galaxy 2 packed all of the charm and childlike wonder expected from a Mario game into an innovative and fitfully challenging platformer, with novel gravity effects and spherical levels creating the most fleshed out Mario universe yet. And the visuals were unusually gorgeous for the Wii, with vibrant colors and lush extraterrestrial landscapes that were stunning even if they were only in 480P.—Garrett Martin


61. Rayman Legends


Year: 2013
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC, Vita

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Playfulness is the main constant running through the large amount of varied content within Rayman Legends. Critics often try to avoid the word “fun” because it’s so subjective, but the only other game in recent memory that has so thoroughly embodied the most basic, universal and objective meaning of the word is Rayman Origins—much of which returns as unlockable bonuses within the already superior Legends. Revisiting classic gaming concepts with a timeless sense of humor that everybody can enjoy, Rayman Legends is a videogame without pretense, and that might be the most crucial decision its designers made without even realizing it.—Garrett Martin


60. Monument Valley


Year: 2014
Original platforms: iOS, Android

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Monument Valley is a brief, wondrous piece of art about structure and perspective. Technically it’s a puzzle game, available now for iOS and coming soon to Android, but its puzzles serve less as brain-teasers than as a vehicle to explore Ustwo’s beautifully crafted environments. The game’s artwork, which unfolds across ten succinct chapters, borrows heavily from the works of M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist known for his “impossible constructions”—grand rooms filled with infinite staircases, balconies simultaneously above and below one another, spires at once in the foreground and background. Monument Valley isn’t entirely about optical illusion, but its pastel stages consistently channel this brand of imagination.—Matt Akers


59. Dishonored 2


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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The most striking thing about Dishonored 2 is its confidence. It creates massive, sprawling levels, with lots of details to discern and small-scale stories to discover, and hardly ever forces you to explore even half of them. You can spend dozens of hours uncovering every secret and trying hard not to kill anybody, or just blitz through, crossbows a-blazin’, in a sprint to the finish line. New scenarios regularly introduce new twists on core mechanics or standard game geometry, and they always feel of a piece with the game’s world and characters. Even when you take the longest path and embrace everything the game has to offer, it never feels repetitive or self-indulgent, and that extra attention to detail fills out what is already one of the more fully realized worlds in games. Add in a strong focus on characters, both new and old, and a multitude of play styles, and you have one of the best action games of the year.—Garrett Martin


58. Heaven’s Vault


Year: 2019
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

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Heaven’s Vault is a sci-fi adventure starring a young historian named Aliya, who must travel around the galaxy to solve a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a professor on her adopted planet. In order to find him, Aliya has to translate the writing etched into artifacts she finds on various moons and at dig sites, each providing a piece of the linguistic puzzle that will unlock more clues to an emerging mystery. It is equal parts history and detective work, highlighted by a reverse engineering process that gives a surprisingly insightful look into the work that actual archaeologists do to decipher languages. As Aliya encounters new inscriptions, she must use everything from root words and context clues to good old fashioned process of elimination to figure out what they mean. Untranslated phrases are broken down into glyphs, which can be filled in based on those that are already known, or by those you can guess the meaning of based on how they relate to other glyphs. It reminds me, somewhat, of the ongoing efforts to translate Etruscan, a language mostly known from tombstones and ossuaries. Heaven’s Vault illustrates the creativity and intellectual flexibility needed to fill in the blanks when translating a language with almost no text examples. It almost makes you feel like a real archaeologist.—Holly Green


57. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


Year: 2013
Original platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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Assassin’s Creed IV is delightfully earnest. It takes itself very seriously without ever devolving into tired grimness or cynicism. At its best it captures the tone of the Flynn-de Havilland classic Captain Blood and other old Hollywood swashbucklers, presenting light-hearted adventure without any winking irony. It also gets the most out of its open world design by dropping us in an enthralling real-world setting with a generous freedom of motion. It’s one of the few open world games where the buildings that make up that world actually seem to matter, even if you still mostly can’t go inside them.—Garrett Martin


56. Mario Kart 8


Year: 2014
Original platform: Wii U

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Mario Kart 8 brings back a type of game long absent from my living room. The core of Mario Kart 8 delivers exactly what I wanted—a return to the “friends screaming at each other, red-spark generating, mercilessly hitting-each-other-with-shells” action that made the series fun from the start.—Casey Malone


55. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice


Year: 2017
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

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When I think about the gameplay of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, how Senua comes to work with, and not against, her intrusive thoughts and distorted perceptions, the word “self-acceptance” comes to mind. While some may see it as a horror game, I like to think of it as a love story, one that explores the power of finding someone who does not have to fully understand you in order to know who you are. Notable for its sharply intimate knowledge of Celtic and Norse traditions, its simple but satisfying combat and its innovative depiction of psychosis, it is impressive how the game manages to marry these three aspects and still deliver a well-scripted action game that achieves a balance between its puzzle elements, cut scenes and action sequences. Despite the despair in Senua’s story, her father’s abuse, the alienation of her village and her doomed fight to bring her lover back from the dead, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is hopeful. It suggests there is still a meaningful life to be lived even if your perception of the world is so dramatically different from other people. And I find that encouraging and beautiful.—Holly Green


54. FTL


Year: 2012
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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My favorite aspect of the outer space roguelike FTL is that it’s a story-generating engine. The many permutations of game-dictated events and your accumulated decisions allow for a rewarding variety of experience. Everyone I’ve talked to about FTL, regardless of whether they’ve “beaten” it, has wanted to walk me through their most nail-biting, heartbreaking, or holy-crap-that-was-lucky runs. The light story elements that are present in FTL are a distant shadow of the stories players generate through the game mechanics. That’s what finely-tuned game systems do: They let us author our own experiences.—J.P. Grant


53. VVVVVV


Year: 2010
Original platform: PC

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This gravity-hopping throwback to the Commodore 64 is about as cheerfully brutal as videogames get. It’s a game of contrasts: its graphics are stark and antiquated, and yet the overall aesthetic felt refreshingly unique and groundbreaking in 2010 due to its smart use of color, varied background patterns and memorable chiptune score. It’s insanely challenging, but it never becomes frustrating due to liberal checkpointing. Of the first wave of prominent games that washed over us right after the industry realized it could commodify the empty concept of “indie games,” few are as fun to play or as artistically accomplished as vvvvvv.—Garrett Martin


52. Nidhogg


Year: 2014
Original platform: PC

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Of all the cool, arty games that came out during the couch co-op revival that burned brightly earlier this decade, Messhof’s Nidhogg holds up the best today. The one-on-one dueling match is like tug of war played with swords in a world that’s part Atari and part expressionist painting, with a grisly surprise ending for the so-called victor.—Garrett Martin


51. Threes


Year: 2014
Original platforms: iOS, Android

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In 2013, in the Atlantic, Ian Bogost described Hundreds as “the haute couture” of videogames, important more as a “design object” than a “consumable media experience.” That could almost describe Threes. Its simple color palette—a soft grey rectangle on a white background, covered with tiles that are either white with small splashes of orange, or a muted blue and red—is almost as stark as Hundreds’. Threes is a more whimsical game, though—tiles have small faces and sometimes speak, saying hello to one another when they combine or muttering “bored” when the player takes too long between moves. Jimmy Hinson’s music has a strong Jon Brion influence, evoking the mannered but not quite icy early films of Paul Thomas Anderson. If Hundreds was a European art film, Threes would be its quirky American cousin. It’s worth getting obsessed over.—Garrett Martin


50. Proteus


Year: 2013
Original platform: PC

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Proteus aims to make us consider our relationship with the world around us. It asks us to actually pay attention to our surroundings, even if nothing outwardly exciting or memorable is happening. It expects us to care and think about how we interact with nature. Proteus doesn’t attempt a realistic recreation of our world, but its chimerical approach makes us ponder the mysteries of nature. It recalls an earlier time, before science and technology made the world a less mystical and esoteric place (while also making computer gizmos like Proteus possible).—Garrett Martin


49. Horizon Zero Dawn


Year: 2017
Original platform: PlayStation 4

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Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn looks like a living nature painting. As the player runs or rides from one settlement to another, the landscape constantly shifts between distinct, gorgeously realized biomes. One minute, it’s a frozen tundra, with sun gleaming off enormous white, snow-covered cliffs, and ground covered in scraggly little bushes and errant branches. The next, it’s an orange sanded desert with towering red clay mesas jutting up into a perfectly clear blue sky. In each, birds and foxes, boar and rabbits frolic. (And, because Zero Dawn is science fiction, herds of robotic bulls, flocks of giant metal birds or a lone, lumbering cybernetic tyrannosaur.) The world is genuinely stunning, a place that wants simply to be soaked in—observed and inhabited. It is our planet in miniature. It’s the globe shrunk down and captured in a videogame console. Sweep the in-game camera around a landscape and it’s almost possible to smell the air or feel the warmth of the sun.—Reid McCarter


48. The Binding of Isaac


Year: 2011
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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The Binding of Isaac is the kind of game that I should hate. I am not a fan of overly challenging games. Additionally I am a Christian pastor and Isaac certainly takes a lot of liberties in its “retelling” of the classic Bible story from which it takes its name. The game is deeply dark, and often unsettling. There is nothing simple, understandable, or light about child abuse. Thus Isaac is thoroughly discomforting, challenging, and darkly funny. The game won’t make you able to understand child abuse but it will make you feel for Isaac—sometimes deeply. Other times it will completely bewilder you, much like Isaac’s world has done to him.—Drew Dixon


47. Dyad


Year: 2012
Original platform: PlayStation 3

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The better you are doing at the tunnel shooter Dyad, the less clear it is what is going on. Colors explode across the screen, the music swells and you attempt to navigate audio-visual chaos. There’s no fetishizing clear feedback here. There are times when I was playing this game when I couldn’t tell you whether or not my input was having any effect on anything. Itemizing Dyad does it a disservice. It creates an impression of the game as a series of moving parts that happen to interlock. It misses the point: the smashing of those parts together. Synaesthesia by (and as) design.—Brian Taylor


46. Life Is Strange


Year: 2015
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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Invisible walls, authority figures who have pre-determined mistrust towards you no matter what you do, no sense of personal privacy, and a never-ending to-do list… I guess I never realized all the inherent similarities between high school and videogames until I played the first three-hour episode of Life Is Strange. It reminds me of the parts of Beyond: Two Souls that I didn’t hate: a teenage girl with super-powers but also realistic life problems and serious consequences. Everybody else at school thinks Max is stuck-up and a pretentious jerk; I can tell why they’d think that, and it’s why Max seems human and flawed. She’s just a teenager, trying on different types of “coolness” for size.—Maddy Myers


45. Gorogoa


Year: 2017
Original platforms: Switch, PC, iOS

I’m in awe of the puzzles of Gorogoa. They, and by extension the game, offer almost no impression as to where they will go next, and yet they leave a satisfying sense of accomplishment even when the solution is found only through trial and error. There’s almost a surreal relationship that the game’s objects maintain between obstacle and solution, one that is often obtuse and mysterious, yet for all the barriers it presents to the narrative progression, the confusion does not seem cheap or limiting. Instead, the pacing is well balanced with an appeasing flow that seems to anticipate the player’s tentative curiosity and success rate. While occasionally I was stumped, I was never put off, which is a tremendous achievement. I suspect the developer has played a lot of mobile games, because as mystifying as the game’s challenges can be, the intuitive controls always reflect thoughtful touch-screen design sensibilities.—Holly Green


44. Bloodborne


Year: 2015
Original platform: PlayStation 4

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Bloodborne is a distillation of everything that worked in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. The combat is fast, less clunky and more risky. Yharnam is a stunning world worthy of hours of exploration, and, perhaps most pleasant of all, Bloodborne is a game that knows when to end. It’s a deeply challenging game set in a fantastically realized gothic nightmare, an adventure of the highest quality for those willing to undergo the game’s trial by fire.—Javy Gwaltney


43. Pokémon GO


Year: 2016
Original platforms: iOS, Android

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Pokémon GO deserves tremendous praise for finally achieving what we’d all been secretly longing for whether we realized it or not: the ability to catch Pokémon out in real life. The world has responded accordingly, quickly turning Pokémon GO into a wildly popular, and profitable, success. In the years since its release, the mobile title is still going strong and continues to add new features, from player vs. player battles to Pokémon transfers between Pokémon GO and Pokémon Let’s Go, the Switch remake of the first Pokémon games. For bringing together so many fans in real life, and getting me out of the house on a regular basis, Pokémon GO is one of the best mobile games ever made.—Holly Green


42. XCOM: Enemy Unknown


Year: 2012
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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This spiritually faithful remake of the classic early ‘90s strategy game makes tactics accessible to console players. Clever strategy is crucial during the turn-based battles, but you’ll have to be just as smart running the bureaucratic side of XCOM and planning what new facilities to build and trying to balance the concerns of numerous panic-stricken nations. It will infiltrate your brain and keep you up at night—and, since it lets you name your soldiers whatever you’d like, it’ll also let you send your friends into deadly battle with mean-spirited aliens.—Garrett Martin


41. Minit


Year: 2018
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Switch

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Minit is an adventure with a twist and also a critique of capital split up into tiny bite-sized chunks and told through adorable animals in a sparsely drawn fantasy land. After enough stop and start minutes you’ll realize a factory is running roughshod over this place, polluting the land and working some of its employees to the bone while firing others whose jobs can now be done by machines. Behind it all is a maniacal manager prioritizing productivity over all else. After all these minutes and all these lives the true story reveals itself, and to reach the end you have to collect item after item, life after life, to eventually have the skills necessary to grind the factory to a halt. Even after realizing this it’ll take many minutes and many lives to finish everything you know you need to do, tiny bits of incremental progress in-between passages of rote, mundane, repetitive busy work. If it starts to feel like a job, well, maybe that’s the game’s point. The factory is Minit itself, its employees all of us who play the game, and its dictatorial boss the developers who put us through these paces again and again and again in hopes of the smallest iota of progress. Like the unending and uncaring work shifts that eat up our days until we die, we expend most of our vital energy redoing the same soul-killing nonsense over and over. It is one of the most effective metaphors for the exploitation of the working class seen in videogames. The minutes pass, we experience multiple tiny deaths every day doing the job we’re expected to do. And we press a button, and we do it again.—Garrett Martin


40. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron


Year: 2011
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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El Shaddai’s constantly evolving art style manages to surprise and delight right up to the end credits and its refined combat is elusive yet engaging. Where most games struggle to take us to a new world, El Shaddai takes us to several.—Jeffrey Matulef

El Shaddai is full of the ambiguous happenings and statements that cause us to question the assertions of the game-world on its face. As a Christian, these questions and doubts are undeniably familiar to me. In this case, El Shaddai gives me the opportunity to ask them more openly, without my faith on the line. It may seem irreverent, but it’s also true: El Shaddai gives me a sandbox in which I can play with my beliefs. Who should I trust? God or the human race? Righteousness or human progress? What is the source of reward, and what is the cause of evil and suffering? Who is to blame? Who deserves praise?—Richard Clark


39. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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Beyond the glitz and flash, the slick neon aesthetic and driving electronic music, this 21st century rebuild of Pac-Man takes what was at the core of a timeless classic and expands it into something new and unforgettable. With its priority on speed, split-second timing, and leaderboard glory, it’s the definition of addictive. It’s also probably the most perfect version of Pac-Man ever created. —Garrett Martin


38. Fire Emblem: Three Houses


Year: 2019
Original platform: Switch

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This might be the best game I know I’ll never actually finish. The latest Fire Emblem game is massive. That’s no surprise—Fire Emblem games always eat up a lot of time—but Three Houses has fully established the relatively new social aspects of the series as a true equal to the tactical battles that have always been the main draw. I’ve spent at least as much time teaching my students, learning about their lives and personalities, and trying to make them happy as I have on the battlefield—and no, that is not in any way a problem. With class consciousness as a narrative backdrop, Three Houses is less of a straight-forward story than an impressionistic look at a large crew of characters united by tradition, obligation, and the need to save society as they know it—maybe while reforming it. It’s a smart, charming, sometimes brutal experience, and one whose 80 hours length per house guarantees I’ll never fully experience it. One house is good enough for me—unless every publisher in the business wants to take pity on us and not release any other games until, let’s say, 2021.—Garrett Martin


37. A Plague Tale: Innocence


Year: 2019
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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Its subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin


36. Fallout: New Vegas


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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New Vegas was the closest we got to full resolution between the two distinct eras in Fallout history. It couldn’t restore how Fallout once looked, but it did a grand job at incorporating the lore—almost too good, really. Hidden in the many NPCs and histories of New Vegas were tidbits and details that melded the game to its true legacy, from The Chosen One’s companion’s granddaughter, Whiskey Rose, to the scraggly remains of old factions like The Followers of the Apocalypse, families like the Van Graffs, and familiar bands of Raiders, like the Vipers and the Khans. In location, it was even set extremely close to the series’ original settings of Mount Whitney and Bakersfield, so much so that I’m surprised that modders haven’t written more adventures revisiting the old stomping grounds out in southern California.

The writing of Fallout: New Vegas, for as vast and beautifully woven as it was, also gave me the sense that the writers weren’t saving their best for later. Every mission and NPC encounter seemed to be crafted with intent and purpose. For the hundreds upon thousands of interactions and dialogues and pivotal, interlocking decisions, the quality never faltered, and since the game’s debut in 2010, I’ve yet to see such a masterful set-up and execution for post-release content.—Holly Green


35. Splatoon


Year: 2015
Original platform: Wii U

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Splatoon is not trying to corral unearned cool points with obscenity. Splatoon does not push us to accept its weirdness. Splatoon merely opens its suction-cupped palms to the sky and says, “Here,” and we graciously accept, parched by the years of dusty, war-torn, bone-dry purveyors of damage masquerading as games. Each waterfall was in fact an oasis. Instead, Splatoon showers us with a heavy goop that feels amniotic. We emerge, new and refreshed. We are all squids now.—Jon Irwin


34. Into the Breach


Year: 2018
Original platforms: PC, Mac, Switch

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Into The Breach is interested in you, as a player, gaining skills and developing new ways of thinking about the puzzle-like battles it puts in front of you. The island regions threatened by the Vek are small tactical boards, and you control a small cohort of giant, Pacific Rim-style robots who are there to smash and push their enemies around. Critically, these giant robots have mass, and Breach is very much committed to showing that big stuff smacking into other things has real effects. The idea is to prevent the Vek from attacking civilian buildings, prevent them from killing your mechs, and to kill them. Importantly, the game’s concerns are in that order.

That’s the puzzle-y part of the game. Each map has a turn counter that’s slowly ticking down, and at the end of it the remaining Vek will disappear. Into The Breach’s most interesting qualities come from the fact that you do not have to kill your enemies to win the game. You don’t have to annihilate each and every Vek on a time limit, and you don’t ever have to put your mechs in too much danger. You just need to be able to use your punching, shooting, artillery-firing robots to keep scooching enemy Vek around until the game is over.—Cameron Kunzelman


33. Super Mario Maker


Year: 2015
Original platform: Wii U

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For many players Super Mario or one of its many sequels is the ur-videogame, the first brush with a controller, the most elemental building block in an entire multi-billion dollar industry. The ability to muck about with our most powerful memories and experiences is bewitching and almost unthinkable, but that’s the core of Super Mario Maker. It’s exactly as good and as bad as you think a Super Mario level editor would be, and that’s entirely subjective upon your own thoughts and opinions.—Garrett Martin


32. Firewatch


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Mac

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Firewatch is a game, but it’s not useful to write about it as a game. Who cares what your fingers do while you’re playing this? Yes: it has graphics. The stuff that matters is what Henry and Delilah talk about on their radios. It’s what Henry reads throughout the few campsites and outposts he comes across. It’s what you feel as the story unfolds like a short story on your television screen, visiting the private grief of others who can struggle to communicate just as torturously as all of us in the real world can. And although this dual character study can feel a little slight, and has a few improbable notes that are struck seemingly just to enhance a sense of mystery, that central friendship between Henry and Delilah is powerful. It feels real, and important for both of them.—Garrett Martin


31. The Walking Dead Season One


Year: 2012
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, iOS

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Telltale’s The Walking Dead is one of the best licensed games of all time because of the way it re-creates the pacing and feel of the comic series. It’s heavy on character interaction and suspense, like the comic and show, and light on puzzles and item hunting. Action sequences are spread out; this is not Left 4 Dead or Dead Island but a character-driven game with action elements only added in when completely necessary. Think of The Walking Dead as Maniac Mansion and a poor man’s version of Heavy Rain put into a blender containing 10 or 15 issues of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic—a nice mix, especially for the episode price of $4.99.—Keith Veronese


30. Journey


Year: 2012
Original platform: PlayStation 3

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No game has ever been as succinctly named as Journey. That’s all this game is about, my forward momentum as I undertake a mysterious quest. I don’t know why I’m doing it, or what waits for me on the mountaintop, but I know it must be done. In reducing the journey to its most primordial form, Journey attains a universal power. Instead of wilting under this asceticism, thatgamecompany wrings as much as they can out of their self-imposed rules, ending with a surprisingly poignant conclusion that hits an emotional high the rest of their game doesn’t even attempt.—Garrett Martin


29. The Last Guardian


Year: 2016
Original platform: PlayStation 4

The rumors are true: The Last Guardian is a poignant reminder of our dependence upon nature and other species. Yes, Trico feels like a real animal. He can be stubborn and unruly and I could barely play this game at first due to how much he reminded me of my departed dog. The connection I felt to him barely an hour in was about as powerful as games get, though. Like other games on this list The Last Guardian depends on patience and a natural inquisitiveness, on a player who doesn’t mind cracking puzzles with minimal guidance and a partner who isn’t always perfectly attentive, and it’s all the stronger for it.—Garrett Martin


28. Night in the Woods


Year: 2017
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Mac

The genius of Night in the Woods is that it grounds its heavy themes not in the worn down characters of Raymond Carver, but in the queer anarchist punks of its lead character’s generation. The game is a rare look at characters who balance all of the burdens above with a love for retro videogames and band practice and drinking in the woods while some blowhard from high school plays acoustic guitar. The game borrows tonally from a variety of sources—everything from the hyperkinetic Scott Pilgrim to the peculiar horror of Haruki Murakami or Blue Velvet back to the blue collar sob stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Plus, did I mention all the characters are animals? Like BoJack Horseman, this aesthetic allows the game to fluctuate rapidly between over-the-top absurdity and soul crushing sadness.—Salvatore Pane


27. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate


Year: 2018
Original platform: Switch

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Nintendo’s latest violent ode to nostalgia might have more pure content than any other game we’ve seen this decade. It’s got this many characters, and that many stages, and all those other characters who pop up as trophies and spirits (whatever those are). Music? This baby’s got every song you’ve ever heard in a videogame squeezed up inside of it. If you get stressed out when faced with a decision, a fully unlocked Smash Bros. Ultimate character selection screen will probably turn your hair white. Of course a game isn’t good because there’s a lot of it—it’s good because it’s, you know, good. And as a casual Smash player since the very first game came out, I have definitely enjoyed my time inflicting brutal punishment upon some of the most lovable videogame characters ever devised. Ultimate is about as replayable as videogames get.—Garrett Martin


26. Overwatch


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

I feel like a hero when I play my favorite characters and I get choked up at the idea of helping my team. Inclusivity and positivity hide behind some intelligent, pared-down game choices and in doing so, Blizzard has spun an engaging fantasy around this idea that if we all just try, then that’s good enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I’m the best player, as long as I try to be better. In a world full of games where being the best is the only space to occupy, Overwatch at least tries to create a new and better future for the rest of us.—Nico Deyo


25. Titanfall 2


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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I have a healthy respect for aimless, open-ended games that let us play and explore at our own pace. They often don’t feel wasteful, no matter how many hours one can pour into them. What does feel wasteful are tightly scripted and guided games that drag on for hours and hours, pumping out new battlefields and bad guys to plow through between cutscenes well past the ten hour mark. Titanfall 2 cuts out all the extraneous business that can plague modern day action games, resulting in one of the tightest, tautest, tensest first-person shooters in recent memory, with a solid helping of mind-bending mechanical tomfoolery on the side. Like The Last Guardian, a game that otherwise could not be any more different than this one, at the core is a touching, heartfelt relationship between man and (techno)beast that trounces most of the human relationships found in games. Titanfall 2 is a laser beam with a heart.—Garrett Martin


24. Cuphead


Year: 2017
Original platforms: Xbox One, PC

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Can you call something “frustrating” if you’re actively enjoying it all the way through? You will repeat yourself a lot in Cuphead, a brutally hard game built around old-school arcade-style boss fights and platforming. A major reason the constant restarting doesn’t grow old is the beautiful presentation, with an art style patterned after early 1930s hand-drawn animation and an original score of big band and ragtime music. As difficult as it is, though, the game rarely feels capricious. You’ll usually understand what you have to do, and the struggle is just being able to pull it off. As frustrating as it can be to fight the same enemy two dozen times before finally winning, it only makes the satisfaction of pulling it off that much more powerful.—Garrett Martin


23. Animal Crossing: New Leaf


Year: 2013
Original platform: 3DS

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The nicest thing about Animal Crossing: New Leaf is—depending on your real-life schedule, your emotional wherewithal, your ego’s appetite—the game conforms. It will read you like a fortune-teller and uncannily predict your needs and desires. The game, for you, might score a 2 or a 10. Because, see, the thing about paradise is, it’s whatever you want it to be.—Jenn Frank


22. Stardew Valley


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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For all the nostalgia-driven indie gaming experiences we’ve had over the past decade, the long-running and much-loved world of Harvest Moon had gone curiously neglected until more recently. Stardew Valley is easily the best of these virtual farming love-letters, making vast improvements on core mechanics while adding its own unique flavor. It’s faithful enough that devoted Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons fans fell in love with it, but approachable enough that it introduced an entirely new group of gamers to the joys of a pixellated country life.—Janine Hawkins


21. Nier: Automata


Year: 2017
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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Nier: Automata is a mature, sophisticated game that avoids the JRPG trap of the narrative, the themes and the play being separate entities. Platinum and Yoko Taro are an expert pair here, harmoniously bringing together dozens of eclectic sources from philosophy to anime to history to real-life war to silly, over-the-top fight sequences into one cohesive whole where not a single part feels unnecessary, and all contribute to the larger message. It is a timely story about our priorities as a society and our continued relevance in an increasingly automated world, told in a clever way that makes meaning out of about four different genres worth of mechanics and yet could still be called elegant. It’s a sharp commentary that could only be done through games, and for now, it is easily the magnum opus of either of its authors.—Michelle Ehrhardt


20. No Man’s Sky


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

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Has there ever been a better game to get lost in? No Man’s Sky is aesthetically impeccable, from its psychedelic landscapes pulled straight from Yes album covers, to its krautrock-by-way-of-Friday Night Lights score. It’s easily the best screenshot machine of the year (sorry, Firewatch’s Kodak gimmick). It doesn’t reward the player’s patience and diligence as much as depend on them, which makes it as brave as it is respectful. A game that’s fundamentally hopeless, that’s fixated on the vast emptiness of the universe around us, somehow instills hope in us solely through its undeniable beauty. And regular post-release updates have kept this universe alive and increasingly busy, without undermining its inherent appeal.—Garrett Martin


19. Florence


Year: 2018
Original platforms: iOS, Android

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Florence knows what it means to be human. We love, we lose, we learn, and move on. This story follows a relationship from its first flickering to its final ember, and although that’s as sad as it sounds the misery isn’t the point. The message is that this is normal—this is life. Most relationships won’t last, and what’s important is what we learn during them and how that impacts the people that we’ll be if—or when—they do end. Florence captures this entire journey in elegant fashion, using the touchscreen to turn us into active participants in Florence’s life. It’s a modest game that’s made a deep impression, and proof that videogames don’t have to serve as a power fantasy or wish fulfillment to resonate with an audience.—Garrett Martin


18. Return of the Obra Dinn


Year: 2018
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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There are plenty of games out there, mostly point and clicks, that ask the player to solve a major mystery by piecing together clues from the environment. But few provide such a challenge. Return of the Obra Dinn reminds me of geometry, with all its theorems and proofs, where the goal is to figure out the relationship between all the figures and elements of the equation until a conclusion can be drawn. Often it requires holding several pieces of partial information in suspension, following the trail of thought until even just one tiny, solid sliver of detail unlocks a key to the whole cypher. The tension is addicting, each victory a triumph no matter how small…It’s like a game of murder sudoku, with a stylish, almost swashbuckling, flair.—Holly Green


17. Undertale


Year: 2015
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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Undertale is a special game, the likes of which come along only once in a great while. It’s a look into a parallel universe—one where videogames have realized a bit more of their potential than, say, the AAA industry has in our world. It’s a game that can make you laugh while teary-eyed, where both competing emotions are natural and genuine. It’s fun, it’s sweet; it’s an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve put the game away.—Bryce Duzan


16. Alan Wake


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360

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Remedy’s inspired homage to Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone gets the pacing and presentation of a TV show just right. Its core metafictional concept (writer Alan Wake wars with his own inner darkness in a world created by his words) is bolstered by fantastic atmosphere, memorable secondary characters and the cliffhanger twists of a great TV mystery.—Garrett Martin


15. Minecraft


Year: 2011
Original platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android

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Progression in Minecraft takes investment, patience, research and a reliance on the knowledge and efforts of others. These are values that modern convenience and modern media have encouraged us to abandon, videogames included. With every quest-line, every arrow pointing the way and every pre-established reward, we grow just a little bit farther outside of ourselves and buy in just a little bit more to the cultural zeitgeist. We’re content with this because we’ve lost the ability to create structure and meaning for ourselves outside of a pre-established system. In Minecraft, we’re finally left alone—a shockingly simple and subversive approach that makes the game both unapproachable and essential.—Richard Clark


14. Outer Wilds


Year: 2019
Original platforms: Xbox One, PC

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It’d be easy to make Outer Wilds sound like a mash-up of familiar influences. It’s built around a recurring time loop like Majora’s Mask; you’ll fly from planet to planet in real time in search of ancient secrets, as in No Man’s Sky; you’ll explore a variety of eldritch mysteries baked into this solar system, not unlike a new-fangled Myst. Those ideas are implemented in such a unique and seamless way, though, that the total package feels unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It focuses on a race of gentle spacefarers who build rockets out of wood in order to map the other planets that circle their sun and dig up answers on ancient settlers who left wisdom spread throughout the galaxy. The developers have clearly thought long and hard about the alien universe they’ve created, from the specific nature of its physical laws, to the culture of the creatures who populate it. The result is a game that feels appropriately alien, strengthening our desire to unlock its mysteries and explore its culture.—Garrett Martin


13. Papers, Please


Year: 2013
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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At the beginning of Papers, Please, the protagonist is selected via national lottery to be a border agent. He’s tasked with the daily routine of sitting in a little iron booth and ensuring that everyone passing into the country has their documents in order. True to socialist form, he’s paid for each correct decision he makes. If he makes too many mistakes, his pay is docked and he risks being unable to make rent or support his family. Papers, Please utterly nails the sinking feeling brought on by working a job where professional success means feeling terrible about yourself and digging yourself into a deeper, less escapable hole. It also excels as a study of low-wage institutional tedium, and how the possibility of relief from that tedium can cause people to act rashly, in ways that appear to defy self-interest or even logic in general.—Joe Bernardi


12. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim


Year: 2011
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PC

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The word “epic” gets thrown around a lot these days. Screw up badly enough and it’s an epic fail. Scarf down a couple of cheeseburgers and it’s suddenly an epic feast. The word no longer has the punch it once had. Yet, there’s really no other adjective that so aptly describes The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game that’s epic in every sense of the word, from its immersive gameplay and jaw dropping visuals, to its sprawling storyline rooted in the real-world epics of Norse mythology. At the risk of fanboy-induced hyperbole, there really is nothing that comes close to approaching Skyrim as a game whose scope, design and presentation sets a new bar for the action-RPG genre.—Adam Volk


11. Bastion


Year: 2011
Original platform: Xbox 360

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Bastion finds itself on that ever-so-small list of games that left me short of breath and covered in goosebumps as the narrative conclusion drew nigh. What gives Bastion its potency isn’t its (admittedly simple) story or its (admittedly simple) gameplay, but its masterful synthesis of the two. Most games struggle to blend story and gameplay, as though one were water and the other oil. But Bastion, through a conscious and deliberate distilling of narration of play, through playing to the strengths of both words and games, brings the two into a much tighter relationship of worldbuilding. More than anything, Bastion is about piecing together a world that no longer exists. And it does so through its playing and its telling.—Brendan Keogh


10. Gone Home


Year: 2013
Original platforms: PC, Mac

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Will Wright once said, “games are not the right medium to tell stories…videogames are more about story possibilities.” Gone Home challenges such notions, not only by telling a wonderful story but by setting players free in the game world and trusting them to uncover it. By refusing to tell us what to do in the game, it communicates a self-confidence that most games lack. The result is an unforgettable story that’s intensely personal but universally powerful. To play Gone Home is to grow deeply invested in the lives of a family we’ll never know but in which we can all see different aspects of our own families and our own selves.—Drew Dixon


9. Portal 2


Year: 2011
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

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Portal 2 is a superbly crafted, joyous experience, a loving tribute to creative design, problem solving, and the remarkable flexibility of the human mind. Its puzzles are clever and for the most part immaculately constructed, and Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek’s script earns the game a place alongside the very funniest of all time. I’d say that by any possible metric, Portal 2 was absolutely necessary.—Kirk Hamilton


8. Super Mario Odyssey


Year: 2017
Original platforms: Switch

Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.—Garrett Martin


7. Dark Souls


Year: 2011
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

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It’s not the significant difficulty or repetitive structure that earns Dark Souls a spot on this list. Those are just symptoms of what makes the game great: its insistent coyness. Dark Souls gives the player almost no direction, forcing us to explore and figure out things on our own, with only cryptic and potentially untrustworthy messages from other real-life players to guide us. Instead of ponderous text or cut-scenes Dark Souls tells its story of degradation by showing instead of telling. Some say Dark Souls treats players with indifference or outright contempt, but in truth it respects us, our abilities and our intelligence more than most other games.—Garrett Martin


6. Control


Year: 2019
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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Remedy has worked hard to unite the mysterious and the mundane since at least Alan Wake, and Control is an almost ideal distillation of that theme. At its heart is the bureaucratic exploration of the unknown and unknowable, with the player stepping into the role of the new director of a government organization devoted to classifying and controlling unexplained phenomena. It’s an enigmatic and unpredictable quest not just into a nondescript office building that grows increasingly contorted and abstract, but into the heart of a conspiracy that spans the paranormal and the prosaic, and one that ultimately seems to have little use or concern for either the player or their character. In its depiction of humanity grasping for relevance and understanding in an indifferent and impossible to understand universe we see a clear reflection of our own existence. It’s a game of uncommon wisdom and depth, and one that needs to be played.—Garrett Martin


5. Mass Effect 2


Year: 2010
Original platforms: Xbox 360, PC

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The bulk of Mass Effect 2 involves compiling a crack squad to take down a race of aliens aiming to destroy the galaxy. You can recruit characters in any order you like, choosing missions from your ship’s galaxy map. If you want your crew to be loyal you have to undertake special missions for each character. These loyalty missions work brilliantly; on the surface they’re about earning your teammates’ loyalty within the game, but in practice they make you loyal to your fictional squad. By the end of each mission I cared more about that character than I imagined possible, even the ones that were aesthetically or behaviorally off-putting at first.

Mass Effect 2 isn’t content to merely put most videogames to shame. It challenges Hollywood itself, with better writing and acting than most recent sci-fi movies. It merges games and cinema almost seamlessly, ending with a final showdown that’s a master-class in pacing and tension. And unlike most games or movies, you can immediately restart Mass Effect 2 and have a very different experience.—Garrett Martin


4. Spelunky


Year: 2012
Original platforms: Xbox 360

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The roguelike platformer Spelunky (which is a souped-up remake of a 2008 PC game of the same name) recreates the sensation of arcade games, with the primacy of the leaderboard and simple rules buckling under brutal difficulty, but fragments the most crucial keys to success into an almost infinite kaleidoscope. Somehow it does that effortlessly, with a design free of unnecessary embellishments. Spelunky‘s randomness might seem to entirely dispatch of memorization and pattern recognition, but it merely multiples the instances in which both skills are needed. It expects you to call upon those memories with no advance warning. That makes Spelunky one of the few retro-flavored platformers of late to transcend its obvious inspirations.—Garrett Martin


3. Kentucky Route Zero


Year: 2013-2016
Original platforms: PC

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Kentucky Route Zero has always seemed to be a game about rest. The experience of playing the game itself is noticeably muted, and while the pacing isn’t exactly slow, there’s a meandering quality to it. The game itself asks very little of the player, as if it was created with the weary and heavy-laden in mind.

By now I’m starting to view Kentucky Route Zero as a game about discovering how to rest. We all have a good idea of how to physically rest; just lay down, close your eyes, and fall asleep. The next day, we’re back to normal, given enough time in slumber. But how does a spiritually exhausted person rest? How do we recharge our tired souls?—Richard Clark


2. Thumper


Year: 2016
Original platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

Thumper’s difficulty is suffocating. Along with the oppressive music and the stark graphics, it turns the game into a claustrophobic, stressful, frightening experience. It rattles around inside my brain when I’m not playing it, its velocity and brutality careening throughout as I try to unwind after playing. Thumper taps into art’s ability to alter our consciousness, introducing a new reality for us to get lost in, and it’s not afraid to let this dream world look and feel like a nightmare. Most rhythm games want to replicate the best time you could possibly have at a rave; Thumper wants you to feel like you’re shaking on the floor of a bathroom stall, praying for those weird shapes and sounds that surround you to go away. It is an essentially perfect realization of its own unique goals and concerns, and a game we’ll be playing and celebrating for decades.—Garrett Martin


1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild


Year: 2017
Original platforms: Switch

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The fundamental promise of every videogame is adventure. That can take many different forms, from dropping us into an active war zone, to embarking on an epic quest to save civilization, to guiding a sports team through several years of a dynasty, to helping a frog cross a busy road. Like any adventure, games challenge and surprise us with the unknown and unexpected. Throughout the history of the medium, few games have done this better than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo didn’t just rebuild Zelda for a new era, but recalibrated what we can expect from the videogame as both a form of entertainment and an art form. This version of Hyrule is massively deep and mysterious—its own living, breathing world that wasn’t built just to be explored and defeated but simply to exist in. Of course there’s nothing simple about existence, and there’s nothing simple about Breath of the Wild. It opened up sweeping new vistas for videogames as a whole, which is why it’s the best game of this—and perhaps any—decade.— Garrett Martin

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