007: Nightfire

The single-player campaign is surprisingly deep thanks to challenges, some open levels, and plenty of weapons, but the package is rounded out by a great multiplayer mode with AI bots, a rarity at the time.

4/5

Advance Wars

While surpassed by its sequels, it's still a fantastically accessible tactical game offering a trifecta of a cute campaign, endlessly replayable multiplayer, and "war room" missions. War has never been this adorable.

4/5

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

Everything great about Advance Wars turned up. A better and more varied campaign, more COs, more maps, more terrain, and one new unit, the unnecessary Neotank. One of the GBA's greatest.

5/5

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

Even more stuff than Black Hole Rising! Sure, the new units are terribly balanced and situational and the new COs aren't great, but everything from before is here. The hard mode campaign is completely broken, but the freedom to choose your COs and abilities means that you're even more busted, allowing for some fun puzzle-y battles where prior strategizing is more important than usual.

5/5

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

It's better balanced than prior games in the series, though the grittiness is just bland and the final mission is brutal and unfun. But the heart of Advance Wars remains, which is what matters most.

4/5

A Hat in Time

The best retro 3D platformer in a while, sure to satisfy fans yearning for something in the Super Mario Sunshine vein. Lives up to its "cute as heck" billing.

4/5

Altitude

I put a lot of time into Altitude, a 2D plane combat game, especially "ball" mode, which was essentially plane rugby/soccer. Pleasing movement and combat with a high skill ceiling and multiple loadouts for depth.

4/5

ARMS

The main thing going for it is that it came out at a time when the Switch had almost no other games.

3/5

Artifact

If it were free, people would still be playing this. Instead, it's a dead game. Drafting was a delight, constructed was pay-to-win, much like Richard Garfield's most famous card game. Made good use of the digital space with its mechanics, and I would have loved to have seen what they had for future card sets. Some very frustrating randomness.

4/5

Assassin's Creed

I do not enjoy sitting on benches in a very pretty rendition of the Middle East. Where are all the assassinations? What's with the modern-day segments? (A question I'm told is still asked about the other 20ish games.)

3/5

BaBa Is You

Ingenious. Breaks my brain. Got stuck at some point and have no desire to go back, though.

4/5

Banjo-Kazooie

The best platformer on the N64, one which I still revisit on a quiet Saturday every few years to 100%. Rewarding movement, compact but dense levels, and a delightful score make it a treat every time.

5/5

Battalion Wars

It's a somewhat bizarre hybrid of RTS and shooter. The balance between the two gives a bit of a "rubbing your belly while patting your head" feel to help conceal the lack of depth of either, and especially the vehicles and aircraft are fun to control. Mission variety is also solid.

4/5

Battlefield 1943

A streamlined, or perhaps refined, multiplayer Battlefield experience.

4/5

Bayonetta

I don't care for beat-em-ups, but it's fast, stylish, and different.

4/5

Bayonetta 2

Same as the original, but with more variety in weapons and enemies.

4/5

BioShock

Boy do I wish more games were written at a level that assumes a working knowledge of Objectivism. I'm here for the art design, the writing, and the rare ludonarrative concordance in a AAA game; the shooting mechanics are unremarkable by today's standards.

5/5

BioShock 2

Very obviously made without Ken Levine. And without an auteur, it's just another mechanically competent bland shooter with nothing to say. I did like the Minerva's Den DLC, whose story is interesting enough to carry its few hours.

3/5

BioShock: Infinite

A tour de force of worldbuilding, characterization, and story, with the latter especially leaving me processing it for days. One of my all-time favorites.

5/5

BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!

A light puzzle game perfect for a few evenings with a loved one.

4/5

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

How spoiled we were in 2007 to have had this and Halo 3 drop within a few weeks of each other. The campaign was unrelenting action, filled with set pieces and levels; "All Ghillied Up" has its own Wikipedia page, for crying out loud. The multiplayer took that relentlessness even further with its fast time-to-kill, and it was a masterclass in player engagement. Before the industry switched over to Skinner boxes and pay-to-win monetization, COD4 had a constant drip of weapons and challenges, with the hamster wheel prestige system. Everything was done to excite our monkey brains, especially that little crosshair that would come up when hitting an opponent. This was a game that felt good to play.

5/5

Castle Crashers

Casual beat 'em up simple enough for easy coop but with enough characters and gear to keep it interesting.

4/5

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

Once upon a time, licensed platformers were everywhere, and back in the late 80s and early 90s, many weren't half-bad. Castle of Illusion stands out thanks to its all-over-the-place level themes and solid bounce-based platforming, a core revisited later by games like Shovel Knight.

4/5

Cave Story+

The original indie labor of love that paved the way for so many others. The tight movement/combat is enough, but it's a charming story and a truly outstanding score (I prefer the original compositions over the remixes, but the graphical updates are an improvement).

5/5

Celeste

The absolute best 2D platforming has to offer. Tough as nails, but never frustrating thanks to quick respawns and per-screen checkpoints. Beautifully integrates a touching story with its gameplay.

5/5

Clubhouse Games

At the time, a collection of solid games, especially on the cards front (Spit, Hearts, President, Texas Hold 'Em, Spades, and Bridge stand out) with online play was genuinely notable. Easy to pick up and play, and nice touches like the music and achievements.

4/5

Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics

A well polished collection of games that are not worth your time. (War, but no Hearts, Spades, or Bridge?)

2/5

Control

While its sense of humor is appreciated and the "launch" telekinetic power (think Half-Life 2's gravity gun, minus the gun) is a treat, Control's story loses its luster once it becomes obvious that there isn't actually anything grand going on, it's just basically SCP Foundation vignettes. Overstays its welcome with the story expansions.

3/5

Crackdown

On the one hand, it's basically a superhuman open world playground with powerful abilities, weapons, and vehicles. On the other, the actual missions suffer when the optimal approach changes from heist-like planning to jumping around, killing everyone, and hiding when your shields wear off. That playground is pretty great, though.

4/5

Crypt of the NecroDancer

It's a cute gimmick to have a musical/turn-based roguelike, but it requires more time to git gud than I have as an adult when losing is not fun.

3/5

Crysis

The open map and powers are great for replay, and it still looks good enough to impress, especially the second level. I'm feeling old as I remember getting my first GPU that could run this: a GTX 260 216 core. And I played on a 1680x1050 monitor. On Windows Vista.

4/5

Crysis Warhead

More Crysis fun.

4/5

Dark Souls

Punishing, but amenable to a variety of different approaches. Frustrating, but the difficulty is overrated. Janky, but turning the jank back on your enemies feels good. Rough, but worthwhile.

4/5

Dead Cells

It's put together well, it has a good amount of content, it's a satisfying combination of adrenaline and endorphins. But you die so quickly that I lost interest after beating the base difficulty.

3/5

Demon's Souls

A worse version of Dark Souls, especially with the lack of the bonfire system. An egregious incident that stands out is backing away from a dangerous enemy to heal, only to exit lock-on range and have my character turn around and die instantly to a ranged attack I would have blocked with my shield just moments ago. "That's Souls games for you!" someone on the Internet gleefully exclaims. But with a job and other games to play I find that I, much like Mr. Bond, have no time to die. I'll note that the key difference between this and the other FromSoftware game I bounced off of, Sekiro, is that I made real progress in Demon's Souls and could have beaten it if I wanted to spend the time, but the time lost due to unfair deaths wasn't worth it, while in Sekiro I was incapable of getting any further when I decided very early on that it wasn't for me.

3/5

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Other than the forced boss fights, it's an enjoyable crawling-through-vents simulator.

4/5

Diablo III

Watch numbers get bigger and letters hopefully get golder: the dopamine hit: the game.

3/5

Dicey Dungeons

The dice-based mechanics just aren't that satisfying digitally. The chiptunes soundtrack bumps, but otherwise, I'd enjoy this more as a board game.

3/5

Disco Elysium

It's a nuanced, human examination of society and the people within it. Makes BioShock's takedown of Ayn Rand look like a Reddit comment in comparison. Powerful, clever, and funny in equal parts. Takes full advantage of the CRPG genre.

5/5

Dishonored

Same as Dishonored 2, but with worse level design and a painfully obvious plot twist.

3/5

Dishonored 2

I want to love it for the imaginative level design and powers, but the game doesn't want me to love it. There are two main issues. First, most of the game's powers are novel ways to kill, but the game's morality system will tell you how awful you are if you avail yourself of them. Second, the mana system encourages the player to use their powers sparingly. (Incentives matter, people.) The result was crouching through the world, teleporting, waiting for the mana to recharge from that teleport, and repeating, quickloading whenever I was caught. This is a boring, slow way to play that the game encourages, rather than playing up its strengths.

3/5

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

This really should be worse than Dishonored 2, but the ability to kill without consequence and the recharging mana system make the minute-to-minute gameplay so much better than its immediate predecessor.

4/5

Divinity: Original Sin 2

A stunning CRPG when it gets out of its own way. Act I especially is the best RPG experience I've had outside of PrinceCon. Occasionally inconsistent difficulty and a slow final act can't take that away.

5/5

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Impeccable level design. I don't have as much patience for long segments with sparse checkpoints that I did when I was a kid, though.

4/5

DOOM (2016)

The original, perfected. Fast, relentless, and demanding. It's an adrenaline rush at Ultra-Violence, and I always felt appropriately challenged. Also one of the most well optimized games I've ever played.

5/5

DOOM: Eternal

Suffers very hard from a need to be bigger than its predecessor. Too many interconnecting systems and actions create an overwhelming game with exactly one way to play. I had a much better time dropping the difficulty from Ultra-Violence to Hurt Me Plenty and ignoring much of it. And why is there so much platforming in a game about murdering demons as ruthlessly as possible?

5/5

Door Kickers

I prefer to play as a real-time with pause game, but the game is intended for you to iterate on a master plan, which isn't as interesting to me, as it's more trial and error.

4/5

Dragon Age: Origins

Wow, and this wasn't even BioWare's main dev team. An accessible entry into CRPG real-time-with-pause games from BioWare's golden age.

4/5

Elite Beat Agents

I am unsurprised that a handheld touch-based rhythm game with a nonsensical comic book story about secret agent cheerleaders helping everyday people score dates, defeat monsters, and save Christmas set to a licensed soundtrack of covers sold so poorly. But for those who enjoy the camp, it's a fun rhythm novelty. The spinners destroyed my DS' touch screen. Reminds me of the mini games in the original Mario Party that destroyed joysticks and palms. Nintendo should just never have rotation mechanics, I guess.

4/5

Enter the Gungeon

It's…fine. Just not good enough where I'd want to play it over other games. Bullet hell, mildly interesting guns, enemies, and bosses, but not the dazzling amount of content like Isaac or the speed of Dead Cells.

3/5

Excitebike

Is this it? Cute for about 15 minutes.

2/5

Excite Truck

The sense of speed was excellent, and it made zipping through trees without crashing a genuine thrill. But it's still a one-trick poiny. Why didn't more Wii games allow playing music off of an SD card?

3/5

Fallout 3

Anything it wanted to do was done better by the originals or New Vegas.

3/5

Fallout: New Vegas

Some RPGs boast of their player freedoms. New Vegas walks the walk. Pacifist? Go for it. Murder hobo? You can kill every adult human character and the game will actually acknowledge it (and I'm sure I'm not the only one to bring firearms into the Legion's camp). Wish I were in the universe where the developers had enough time to fix bugs and add all the content they wanted. Peak Bethesda jankiness.

5/5

Final Fantasy VII

Gloriously imperfect. A captivating, epic JRPG that embodies the best and worst of the genre from this era. Some of Uematsu's finest scoring, a lovable crew of a cast, and the story all make for one heck of a ride. I will happily overlook the translation and graphics.

5/5

Final Fantasy VIII

The graphical leap over VII was impressive, and the soundtrack is almost as good. Shame the combat is worse and the plot goes completely off the rails in the middle of the game. This is all exacerbated by Squall being completely unlikable.

3/5

Fire Emblem: Awakening

At release, I was blinded by the graphical upgrade from the Tellius games (and the overworld sprites of the 3DS games remain the best in the series). But the difficulty is utterly broken and encourages low-manning a handful of super units and the story is a lowlight.

3/5

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

The series' black sheep is surprisingly excellent in its 3DS reimagining, featuring strong characterization (when the game bothers) and some real tactical challenge. The turnwheel to rewind is a fantastic quality-of-life addition for a series that needs them.

4/5

Fire Emblem: Fates (Birthright/Conquest/Revelation)

Conquest is the gem here, and a few of its chapters, notably 10 on Hard and then Lunatic, are among my favorite in the entire series. Massive cast and replayability across the games, but Birthright and Revelation can be played on autopilot even at the highest difficulty, while Conquest gets unfair on Lunatic at its end (and is merely punishing on Hard mode). The writing is seriously abysmal, and Corrin is the blandest insert imaginable.

2/5, 4/5, 2/5

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

My introduction to the series, and still my favorite. A genuinely engaging story that stands on its own while setting up its sequel. Varied level design as well. Unit balance is poor, with Laguz being useless and paladins being grossly overpowered, and enemy phases are much too slow. But it's the writing that sets it apart. Characters all get time to exist as more than a set of stats with an equipped weapon, and the localization team actually made a character speak in iambic pentameter, which is a pretty bonkers amount of effort.

5/5

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

Characterization is almost nonexistent, and the story does get a little too epic, but it's still engaging for its long runtime, and bringing in units from Path of Radiance is great. Difficulty is uneven, but it's a plus entry.

4/5

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

What if we took a character-driven RPG and removed all of the characterization? Make sure that the graphics are soulless and the soundtrack is greating, too.

2/5

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

Other than the route split, it doesn't do anything worth remembering.

3/5

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

The school setting allows the player time and reason to actually care about the characters, which makes the inevitable conflict that much more emotionally weighty, so credit there. Mostly too easy to be interesting, except when the difficulty spikes and it's too frustrating to be fun. Would probably earn a star back if it weren't for all routes sharing the same missions prior to the timeskip, and the general lack of respect the game has for the player's time in its non-battle portions.

3/5

FTL: Faster Than Light

A model for modern roguelikes with good reason. Many paths to victory, though within each archetype, things sometimes feel samey. Good variety of weapons, ships, and crew. Individual runs are a tad long, with too much of each run being navigating text boxes.

4/5

F-Zero GX

I don't even like racing games and this one is still perfect. Not as hard as I remember it being as a kid, and I had a blast beating all the cups and missions as an adult. How did they get a Gamecube game to look this good at an unflappable 60 FPS? Don't blink and drive.

5/5

Golden Sun

Very derivative of its SNES JRPG ancestors. Amazing graphics for the system, and Sakuraba did an excellent job on the soundtrack. Too easy.

3/5

Golden Sun: The Lost Age

It's incredible that all this fit onto the GBA. Bigger and better in almost every way from its predecessor, especially in its puzzles. Does suffer a bit from its scope, especially for those who want to collect all the Djinn (it's an old JRPG, just use a walkthrough and move on).

4/5

Golf Story

Finally, the spiritual successor to the GBC Mario Golf I've been waiting for. Constantly amusing, no more, no less.

4/5

God of War (2005)

The beat 'em up mechanics are the best thing the original God of War has to offer, but they're shallow and repetitive. Everything else here, like the actively un-fun platforming, tiring puzzles, an irritating love of quick time events, and mediocre story presented poorly, bring it down further. The cinematography, voice acting, and sexism are all offensive.

2/5

Gone Home

I went in blind, and remember everything of the experience. I'm sure it would feel dated or supplanted if I were to go back, but it's the kind of perspective and emotion more games need.

5/5

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

By embracing the limitations of the DS, Rockstar's odd combination of touch mechanics and throwback top-down gameplay hits all the right notes. Driving especially is arcadey joy. In the series' storied mistreatment of women, not enough attention is paid to Chinatown Wars creating a female character so they could put her on the cover, then killing her off immediately.

5/5

Grand Theft Auto V

A stunning technical achievement of the seventh generation of consoles, but not a good game. Some of the missions, especially the heists, are fun, but there aren't enough of them in between the time killers. Trevor is not nearly the social commentary that Rockstar thinks he is. The torture scene was one of the worst experiences I have had in all of gaming, with no artistic merit.

3/5

Guitar Hero 5

Best in the series, especially with the ability to import songs from other games. Great tracklist for all instruments. I miss the rhythm game era, but it completely oversaturated itself.

4/5

Gunpoint

I'm a fan of the evening's entertainment indie game (see: Gone Home), it's interestingly written, it explores its mechanics thoroughly in its short runtime, I just don't find its moment-to-moment gameplay particularly fun.

3/5

Gunstar Heroes

A personal favorite shmup due to its numerous weapon combinations and two characters offering plenty of different experiences.

4/5

Hades

Beautifully woven story/gameplay interaction. While a great game, it's a roguelike for people who don't like roguelikes. And as a fan of the genre, it lacks the staying power of something like The Binding of Isaac. Would love to see an expansion to add some replayability, and the difficulty progression really could have benefited from allowing rewards for increasing the level by more than 1 at a time. I'm nitpicking because I love it.

5/5

Half-Life 2

A masterpiece. With better lighting and lip syncing, this could come out today and still be well received. The story is simple but executed well, the writing is great, and the gameplay is outstanding. Weapons, from the shotgun to the gravity gun, are satisfying. The pacing is the real star, especially with how it shifts between long stretches of isolation and segments with allies.

5/5

Half-Life 2 Episode 1

The weakist link in the Half-Life 2 series is still a good game, but the focus on urban combat isn't as interesting as what the others offer.

4/5

Half-Life 2: Episode 2

A literal rbeath of fresh air as the adventure leaves City 17 while retaining everything that made Half-Life 2 great.

5/5

Halo

Long levels filled with repetition and backtracking. Does not hold up. Entirely supplanted by (most of) its sequels.

2/5

Halo 2

Makes a strong case for best campaign in the series. Imaginative settings, engaging combat that's slow enough to be tactical, and a multiplayer juggernaut.

5/5

Halo 3

The campaign flies high and peaks with The Covenant level, offering some of the most epic setpieces in the series done justice by composer Marty O'Donnell. And its multiplayer was world-changing on consoles with its Forge mode and custom games. I have fond memories of my early teens filled with Grifball.

5/5

Halo 3: ODST

While the concept of a Halo game in an urban setting playing as non-Spartans is sound, the gratuitous emphasis on a bad story and boring objectives aren't.

3/5

Halo 4

Throws out the weapons and enemies that made Halo great. Apparently the story makes sense if you read a licensed companion novel, which I'm not doing for a Halo game.

2/5

Halo: Reach

While I'm definitely not here for the story, I was shocked to find out that Bungie still had more to do with the Halo series. Excellent twists and fun new toys breathed life into the series. Take notes, Halo 4.

4/5

Hitman (2016)

Recaptures the sandboxy fun of Blood Money. Plenty of imaginative assassinations with room for your own. Rewards replays and level knowledge, which may or may not be a plus.

4/5

Hitman 2 (2018)

More of the same Hitman. I appreciate the ability to import its predecessor's levels into the engine to have everything under one roof.

4/5

Hitman: Absolution

An unremarkable third-person action game masquerading as a Hitman game. There are actually a handful of decent missions similar to Blood Money, but not enough to save it.

3/5

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money still has a lot to offer with its intricate, hand-designed levels that reward knowledge of the game's systems and the individual missions. Find a sniper perch, get the target alone and strangle them, poison their food, set up a trap, the possibilities are endless, and pulling off a plan feels darn satisfying.

4/5

Hollow Knight

10 hours in and I was ready to award it 5/5 as a fantastically executed Metroidvania/Soulslike hybrid with superb controls and presentation. 8.5 hours later, having settled for the bad ending, I can't. I have patience for certain difficult games, such as Celeste and Super Meat Boy, but those games almost universally feature instant retries without penalty. Hollow Knight is an absolute slog towards the end, not necessarily due to the difficulty of any of its mandatory bosses (I don't think I died more than thrice on anything required), but because of the amount of downtime. Fast travel is limited, and this led to many situations of fast traveling, walking a minute to the bank, walking back, fast traveling somewhere else, buying something, walking to another vendor, finding out I needed more geo, going back to the bank… Or the situations where I die to a boss and have to redo trivial (but slow!) platforming challenges and basic baddies to get back to the boss only to die again. Or my personal favorite, the optional Super Meat Boy spinning saws platformer area where your health is supposed to be a scary limitation for the platforming gauntlet, but I had equipped the charm where your last pip of damage slowly recovers, and so every death meant 30 seconds of looking at my phone instead of playing the game. These are fundamental design problems, and they're frustratingly solvable. Upon discovery that the good ending was locked behind a super boss that requires beating the normal final boss prior to every attempt, I completely lost interest. Which is a shame, because there's a phenomenal game in here.

4/5

I Am Setsuna

Some interesting ideas for combat and story, but not enough for 20+ hours.

3/5

ICO

A beautiful, poignant movie. As a game? Most of the puzzles are OK, but there's no reason for the combat other than to pad length.

3/5

Into the Breach

Almost pure tactics, with just enough management/strategy between to make it interesting. Minor failures, like taking just one point of damage on an island and missing the bonus, don't feel good, and it's not always clear what you could have done better. Really wants an expansion like FTL to give it more variety, but will probably never get one.

4/5

Jak 3

A bigger and better Jak II.

4/5

Jak and Daxter: The Precusror Legacy

It's a great addition to the Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie-style collectathon, but it's also a technical marvel for its lack of loading screens.

4/5

Jak II

More of an action game (suddenly we have cursing and guns, but at least the guns integrate well into the combat) than its precursor, but a great one. Tough.

4/5

James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing

The best Bond game for understanding that first-person shooters are not the appropriate mechanism. Essentially a playable Brosnan film filled with toys and setpieces.

4/5

Just Cause 2

A seminal game in the genre of open world absurdist power fantasies solely thanks to the grappling hook.

4/5

Kerbal Space Program

Taught me more about physics than my entire formal education. I played in the Scott Manley era, before much of the structure later added, and while a bit spartan in presentation, I still remember landing on Minmus and the Mun.

4/5

L.A. Noire

As a technical experiment, a great success. As a game, not so much. The unnecessary driving and combat are obvious concessions to the GTA crowd, your interviewee's tells are all too obvious, but mostly, I'm still annoyed at when the game withholds information from you in a case, lets you fail, and chews you out for it. Compare that with when I failed as a cop in Disco Elysium, which brought out real emotions and feelings of inadequacy, which the game was going for.

2/5

Luftrausers

An amusing diversion for a few hours, but I absolutely do not care for endless arcade games.

3/5

Luigi's Mansion 3

Charming action/puzzler. Next Level Games clearly put a lot of effort into the animation, and it shows.

4/5

Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.

Surprisingly solid arcadey baseball, but there's not much to keep you coming back.

3/5

Mario Golf (GBC)

The GBC version of Mario Golf was inexplicably an RPG, and boy, does it work. The surprisingly deep golf mechanics are sound, and the RPG quest makes great use of them with a host of varied challenges in addition to more vanilla golf.

4/5

Mario Kart 7

A mundane entry in the series, but portable online Mario Kart is still an easy sell.

3/5

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

The standard "I dunno, what do you wanna play" when hosting and playing video games. A bit less fun solo or online, but still gorgeous and with a large variety of tracks.

4/5

Mario Kart DS

It's a solid entry in the series, but wireless local and online multiplayer were huge. This was the first time I ever played a game online outside of my home. I was at an airport and it blew my mind. Now we live in a world where I tether my Switch to my phone while on line at a restaurant to squeeze in some Splatoon and support Team Ketchup.

4/5

Mario Party

It would be easy to be unfairly harsh on the progenitor of the modern party game, whether for its randomness, graphics, or minigames that resulted in physical pain, but it caught on for a reason. That said, if I want a social experience with a moderately sized group of people, I'm reaching for a board game. Looking at each other instead of a screen.

3/5

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

This game has absolutely no business being a satisfying tactical battler. The liberal movement system is a blast, and it's surprisingly tricky at times. Would be significantly better if you could take Mario out of your party.

4/5

Mass Effect

The black sheep of the series for its clunky combat, the original Mass Effect nevertheless has the best worldbuilding and story of them all.

4/5

Mass Effect 2

Well written, deeply emotional, and featuring actually competent gunplay. BioWare's finest outing.

5/5

Mass Effect 3

The price of Mass Effect 2 spending its time on what amount to sidequests to develop its cast is that Mass Effect 3's story has entirely too much ground to cover. The unsatisfying ending cannot take away from the dozens of hours preceding it in video gaming's finest space epic.

4/5

Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater

Has anyone ever tried saying no to Kojima? Certainly not during the development of Snake Eater. A bizarre, worthwhile trip.

4/5

Metroid Prime

Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 get all the credit for adapting their 2D predecessors for the new 3D-capable world, but Metroid Prime deserves to be discussed with them. A fantastic atmosphere and sense of loneliness as you explore the world. The synth-heavy ambient/industrial OST is fantastic and compeltely unexpected. Falls off slightly towards the end with a few non-obvious artifacts to find and the final two bosses being spongy slogs.

5/5

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

A mechanically competent but utterly forgettable modern open world (and I do not use those three words positively) adventure.

3/5

Minecraft

I've never gotten far into the structured single player mode they added, but it reminds me of my childhood dreams of setting out and making my own fort. Coop is a plus.

4/5

Mirror's Edge

Falls short of its potential with its short length and weak combat, but it's a great few hours of running through the city.

4/5

N++

Hypothetically hits a lot of my favorite notes as a difficult 2D platformer with short levels and instant retries. It falls short in how it handles its difficulty. Many levels are trivial and only challenging if going for optional gold, but unlike the strawberries and bandages of Celeste and Super Meat Boy, there are often dozens of gold pieces on an individual level, making them a completionist annoyance instead of a one-off challenge. I also prefer the speed of those games over the heavy, momentum-based N++.

3/5

New Super Mario Bros.

Safe, but the formula works.

4/5

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe

The main game is dull but good for local coop. The included Luigi DLC, however, is challenging and imaginative enough to be a worthwhile take on the New Super Mario Bros. series. Ultimately, I'd rather play something like Celeste or Super Meat Boy.

3/5

Octopath Traveler

The game that made me realize how little patience I have for most JRPGs' storytelling. Classic combat, banal plot. The true ending, which perhaps ties everything together, is hidden well and locked behind content I will never bother to slog through.

3/5

Pikmin 3 Deluxe

Played entirely in coop mode. Enjoyable light RTS/action/puzzler that unfortunately ends with a supremely unsatisfying difficulty spike.

3/5

Pillars of Eternity

It's clear that Obsidian put extraordinary effort into building the world of Eora, but the entire game is an overwhelming exposition dump. This is not a recipe for a compelling story-and-character-heavy RPG, and the plodding combat is unforgivable.

2/5

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

A remarkable turnaround after the original. Better combat AI and lower difficulty make the game flow better, and the writing, voice acting, and presentation are all a big step up. As close as we'll ever get to DnD Pirates: The Video Game.

4/5

Pilotwings 64

Packed to the gills with challenges, from flying through rings to using missiles to fight a robotic kaiju. The USA-based level blew my mind as a kid.

4/5

Pilotwings Resort

A handheld game for the final handheld era. A little too simple, but not so much that it's not still fun to try to score higher.

3/5

Plants vs Zombies

Far better, more charming, and more interesting than a casual tower defense game has any right to be.

4/5

Pokémon Black/White

Black and White make the bold choice of only using the new region's Pokémon for the main game, pretty shocking for a series that has given us more than a half-dozen Pikachu variants. I appreciate that it forces you into the unfamiliar, though it's otherwise pretty mundane.

4/5

Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

The Global Trade System is one of the two best features the series ever added along with post-game battling. Suddenly collecting them all was that much more feasible. Years later The sprites were also phenomenal, full of color and detail.

5/5

Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire

Stressed during my senior year of college, I decided that I'd try to complete the National Pokédex in Omega Ruby. Armed with Serebii.net and some elaborate spreadsheeting, I saw that between Omega Ruby, my ancient copy of Diamond and more recent X, all I needed was Black to get everything. This required driving out to a GameStop for a disappointingly expensive Black and borrowing another DS to facilitate transferring Pokémon from generation IV (some of whom had already come from III!) into VI. And it was fantastic in a compulsive, completionist sort of way. ORAS are bright and joyful, if somewhat pedestrian for the series, but generation VI was also an impressive culmination of catch 'em all ethos thanks to the many transfer and trade mechanisms.

4/5

Pokémon Pinball

I want to like it, collecting Pokémon is a solid hook for pinball, but wow, this game is punishing.

2/5

Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire

I want to like it, collecting Pokémon is a solid hook for pinball, but wow, this game is easy.

2/5

Pokémon Sun/Moon

There's nothing here besides Rowlet, their best starter in years. Plodding and insulting.

3/5

Pokémon X/Y

Although it wasn't actually the first 3D Pokémon RPG (that would be Gale of Darkness on the Gamecube), the series mostly stuck the landing, and Lumiose City scope in particular was a revelation after years of sprite-based cities. Sure, the pacing is too slow, the story is even more nonsensical than usual, and it's easy, but it actually did something new for the series.

4/5

Portal

The surprise hit from The Orange Box. Clever and witty and writing and gameplay.

5/5

Portal 2

Valve's painstakingly detailed playtesting pays off in that there are 0 rough edges anywhere in Portal 2. I could complain that the original had more charm, but really, it's one of the funniest games of all time and the puzzles are fine.

5/5

Puyo Puyo Tetris

The game that made me realize I like Tetris. Puyo Puyo I can take or leave, but combining the two in local multiplayer with other novices is a real "pat your head and rub your belly" competition.

4/5

Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition

A platformer for the platformer fan. Really impressed by the amount of content, with enough ideas to stay fresh throughout.

4/5

Resident Evil 4

Delightfully campy. And the gameplay, despite the oft-maligned tank controls, is fun, if dated.

4/5

Rise of the Tomb Raider

One of the more tolerable modern open-world action games. Combat, crafting, stealth, and the tombs are all adequate.

4/5

Rocket League

Multiplayer car soccer/rugby that's dumb fun at all levels, with an impressively high skill ceiling.

4/5

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

They tell me that I need to get good and spend a few days mastering the dance of its combat. I don't find that fun, and my video game time is limited enough that I don't want to. Very disappointed. The experience would not have been ruined with difficulty options, but many more people would have been able to access it and enjoy zipping around a gorgeous world as a ninja. Isn't that what we all want?

2/5

Shadow Complex

Emblematic of the best of the Xbox Live Arcade, any fan of Metroidvanias should play it.

4/5

Shadow of the Colossus

Where ICO fails as a game, Shadow of the Colossus makes some concessions to its vision (look, a HUD!) to more than make up for it with this classic. Every colossus is an intricate puzzle, and the sense of scale, the physics as Wander gets tossed around, and the epic score all combine for an unforgettable experience. Of all the usual "games as art" suspects, Shadow of the Colossus is perhaps the strongest on the gameplay front.

5/5

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The puzzling is great, it's just surrounded by an eye-rollingly poor story and mediocre combat. The dissonance between Lara's development as a stone-cold killer who must save the world and the tender-hearted young woman who takes the time to help a young boy get his dice back is immersion-breaking.

3/5

Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun

As someone with no experience with the Commandos games, I was pleasantly surprised at the extent to which Blades of the Shogun scratched my puzzly tactics itch much like Hitman or XCOM before it.

4/5

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

All four campaigns feel fresh and impeccably designed around each character's abilities. A modern classic in every sense.

5/5

Sid Meier's Civilization IV

You know what, just look at the VI review.

4/5

Sid Meier's Civilization V

You know what, just look at the VI review.

4/5

Sid Meier's Civilization VI

Having never gotten especially good at Civ, it's still a shockingly addictive set of systems, but I find it overwhelming and prefer smaller, more tactical experiences.

4/5

Skate

Really nails the core loop of skating around San Vanelona, finding a spot, and hitting the perfect line.

4/5

Skate 3

Played on hardcore, it is equal parts frustrating and rewarding. Some of the missions and goals are boring or too hard, but it will always be cool to find a spot and nail the perfect line.

4/5

Slay the Spire

Enemy intentions are a fantastic mechanic, and it's probably no coincidence that I also enjoy Spirit Island and Into the Breach. All four classes are great, and the base game's modular difficulty ensures an appropriate experience. The true final boss isn't worth doing other than for the achievements, though, as it limits the deckbuilding too much.

4/5

Snipperclips

A favorite for couch coop. Adorable and requires all players to contribute.

4/5

Sonic Adventure

Unredeemable. There was no part of this I enjoyed.

1/5

Sonic Colors (DS)

Serviceable 2D Sonic.

3/5

Sonic Mania

The platonic ideal Sonic game, with delightful throwback graphics and soundtrack with top-notch level design. Unfortunately, the Sonic formula is fundamentally flawed. The game wants you to fly through levels, but without replaying and memorizing levels, the gameplay is either effectively an autoscroller or failing to go fast by hitting obstacles or falling.

4/5

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

A bit less funny than its predecessor, but with a massively more interesting combat system. The difficulty slider is one of my favorite bits of social commentary the show has done.

4/5

South Park: The Stick of Truth

As a playable South Park, very funny and worthwhile. More of a joke RPG than a real RPG though.

4/5

Splatoon 2

I'm generally not big on multiplayer shooters, but the lack of a deathmatch and the weapon variety, as well as the new PVE mode, kept me coming back. Underrated soundtrack reminiscient of The Go! Team.

4/5

Stardew Valley

When I had about 30 minutes before bed after struggling with problem sets all day in my first year of grad school, I would go to a simpler place, where life was a jam-packed gameplay loop of farming, fishing, foraging, and friendship. And the later addition of coop made for one of my favorite couple's games.

4/5

Star Fox 64

As a genre novice, definitely my favorite rail shooter. Filled with details that reward replay like branching paths and secret segments, and of course, a simple, engaging scoring mechanism. I know every word of the script.

4/5

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

It's very dated, coming from the olden days of BioWare, but it's also one of the better Star Wars story in the entire Expanded Universe (before Disney killed it).

4/5

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II

More of the same, but a bit weaker in the story department.

3/5

SteamWorld Dig 2

There's not a bad SteamWorld game out there, and this is an unremarkable (but fun!) platformer.

4/5

SteamWorld Heist

XCOM meets Worms does it for me.

4/5

SUPERHOT

Ostensibly a shooter, but the central conceit of a shooter where time only passes when you move ends up making it more of a puzzler. The story gets in the way a bit and is nowhere close to as clever as it thinks it is. Completely superseded by its VR version.

3/5

SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE

A roguelike SUPERHOT is a great concept, but the lack of content and amount of replaying levels necessary upon failure made me lose interest.

2/5

SUPERHOT VR

It's The Matrix in a game, with the immediacy and intuitiveness afford by VR. By far, the coolest I have ever felt while playing a video game. ("Felt" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. I've seen video of me playing.)

5/5

Super Mario 3D Land

As inoffensive and uninspired as the worst of the NSMB games.

3/5

Super Mario 64

Although the camera in particular shows its age, it remains a delightful adventure, and the levels are memorable and unique among the series.

5/5

Super Mario 64 DS

The four character structure is gratuitous and the movement choice is a lesser-of-two-evils between a d-pad and bizarre touch screen joystick emulation, but it's the same great game with a few extra stars..

4/5

Super Mario Bros.

One of my hottest takes is that by modern standards, the series was unplayable until Super Mario Bros. 3. Movement is just too clunky. "Modern" does a lot of work there though, I loved the Game Boy Color port as a kid.

2/5

Super Mario Galaxy

It would be incredibly unfair to compare it unfavorably to its direct sequel, as this is still one of the best 3D platformers ever.

5/5

Super Mario Galaxy 2

The best of the mainline games? Higher difficulty and no fluff make a convincing argument.

5/5

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

Let me put it this way, it holds up better than the original. Movement is everything in a Mario game, and Super Mario Land 2 feels good.

4/5

Super Mario Odyssey

Fun (and stars) in every carefully crafted nook and cranny.

5/5

Super Mario Sunshine

Between F.L.U.D.D. and Mario not having any momentum, Sunshine has the best movement in the entire series. World design and many of the shines are also impeccable. Unfortunately, it's clear they ran out of time with some of the repetitive content, especially the blue coins.

4/5

Super Meat Boy

I'm fine with tough games with instant retries and short levels or checkpoints. Impeccable movement, and one of the best pure platformers the medium has seen.

5/5

Super Metroid

I can recognize Super Metroid as a genre-defining game. Especially for a first playthrough, it would really benefit from some modern touches; there are way too many destructable blocks (and one glass tunnel…) with no indication of what they are. The controls are terrible and Samus' movement is slow and clunky. What it gets right are a constant sense of progression and its atmosphere, especially the music. The one silver lining of a first playthrough in 2021 is that even the built-in Switch emulator supports save stats to make things less frustrating. Without that, I'd probably have to knock off another point.

4/5

Super Monkey Ball

Is it a party game or the monkey-rolling equivalent of a precision platformer? It's both, and hits it out of the park. Features a surprisingly strong mini game collection as well, especially Monkey Target.

4/5

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

Why would you take a precision monkey-rolling game into a wonky motion-controlled exercise in frustration? With a jump button, no less.

2/5

Super Smash Bros. (3DS)

An impressive technical achievement, scaling the full SSB4 experience onto a handheld. Single-player not as compelling as Ultimate's, and the level 9 AI in particular is notorious for reading inputs.

4/5

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

The story mode was oddly high budget, but the slower pace as a concession to the Wii's poor online is too steep a price. Also, tripping? I get what Sakurai wanted to do, but randomly robbing the player of control in a fighting game is just bad design. More than a decade later, I remain upset at the time when my character tripped into the final level of All-Star Mode when I wanted to heal. I did not win.

4/5

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Even as a casual player (I mean, I beat Event 51, but I also mained Roy for his neutral B, so yeah), the roster size and many modes made this an absolute staple of game nights for people of all abilities.

5/5

Super Smash Bros. (N64)

Downright rudimentary compared to what was yet to come, but the fundamentals are all here.

4/5

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I'm not a fan of fighting games, but I make an exception for SSB. Lives up to its title in terms of content. An epic love letter to all of video gaming, and a fun, frantic fighter to boot.

5/5

Super Street Fighter IV

Won't make any new fans of the fighting genre, but the best since II.

3/5

Team Fortress 2

At some point, Valve described it as "the world's #1 war-themed hat simulator," but that's a little on the nose. The sum of the new content detracts from the rock-paper-scissors of the base game, even though some of the class updates, like for the Medic and Pyro, made them more interesting and fun to play.

4/5

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

My favorite roguelike on the strength of its variety of content, in spite of its complete indifference towards fairness or balance and distasteful themes. The various expansions have only added to the sheer amount of stuff, but the many new paths and bosses bloat the game somewhat, and 60+ minute runs completely overstay their welcome.

4/5

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

An open-world timesink. There are better RPGs on tables and on screens and the world is soulless, with all your accomplishments feeling hollow as the game barely acknowledges them.

3/5

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If I could Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind myself for any game, it would be this one. I have not felt this childlike sense of wonder in a game since I was a literal child.

5/5

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (2019)

The dungeons are solid, but it's a short game and the stuff in between them (looking at you, animal trade quest) drags. Why on earth can this not always maintain 60 FPS?

3/5

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

A landmark in gaming and an epic adventure even today. The low framerate is awful, but the 3DS port solves that.

4/5

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

I could do without the repetitive parts, but it's a full Zelda experience well adapted to the DS.

4/5

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Much has been written about how the game treats the player like an idiot, and it does. I am firmly in the camp that the motion controls here are actively user hostile and was frustrated far more than I was impressed. A handful of good dungeons and bosses with doldrums between them.

3/5

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Phantom Hourglass with less of the sucky parts. No one ever talks about the DS games, and it's weird to remember that there's a Zelda game about trains.

4/5

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

Nintendo let Capcom take the wheel and was rewarded with one of the better 2D efforts in the series. Gorgeous art and sprites.

4/5

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The ultimate realization of the Ocarina of Time-style Zelda game. A genuinely epic adventure with highlights in the art, dungeons, and for once in the series, story.

4/5

The Stanley Parable

An amusing meta-commentary art game/walking simulator. Has something to say and succeeds in conveying it.

5/5

The Urbz: Sims in the City (DS)

What exactly is this game? A bizarre blend of The Sims, an RPG, and a few minigames?

2/5

The World Ends With You

I was going to make a comment about the story hurting my head, but I suppose the combat does that just a little more, at least in the original DS version. Like most JRPGs, the lack of interplay between the gameplay and the story hurts it (why isn't this just a comic?), but they're both individually sound.

4/5

Tomb Raider (2013)

Harping on Tomb Raider for ludonarrative dissonance is like shooting fish in a barrel, but was there really no one in testing who found it jarring that immediately after innocent Lara kills a human for the first time in a cutscene, I'm getting bonus points for headshots? A fun cast of characters anchors the story until it decides to go all-in on the supernatural.

4/5

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3

I owned this game before I had a memory card for my PS2, and with an hour limit on screen time per day, I got pretty good at getting through most or all of the campaign in that time. Conveniently, that plays to its strengths of fast, technical arcade skating designed to be replayed.

4/5

Tony Hawk's Underground

Not nearly as cool as it was when I was in middle school, but the levels, ability to walk, and that soundtrack (Cannibal Ox! DOOM! Queens of the Stone Age! Madlib! Deltron 3030! Juggaknots! Nas!) are all aces.

4/5

Tony Hawk's Underground 2

Wasn't cool even when I was in middle school. THUG but worse.

3/5

Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Surprisingly heavy visual novel with motion-controlled surgery simulations throughout. Superb soundtrack. Glad I replayed this one before covid.

4/5

Trials HD

Challenging and rewarding physics motorcycle game. Significantly replayable.

4/5

Undertale

If art is anything that evokes an emotional response, then Undertale is a shining example of games as art. A personal favorite.

5/5

VVVVVV

I have a thing for games that understand themselves and what they want to do. VVVVVV knows the limits of its mechanics and creates a tight platformer around them. Short, sweet, to-the-point.

4/5

WarGroove

Charming derivative of the beloved Advance Wars series. Turns out that's not an amazing formula in a world where XCOM exists.

2/5

Wario Land 4

Detailed, varied, and challenging. High replayability to boot to find every last collectable.

4/5

Wii Sports

There's no reason to go back when Wii Sports Resort exists (unless you really like the baseball or boxing games), but this game rocked the world, exposing millions of people to video games. Everyone loved that bowling game. Everyone.

5/5

Wii Sports Resort

It's a dated tech demo in a world with today's VR systems, and yet it was an easy multiplayer hit with casuals. Nintendo didn't have to put as much love into its world (there's a whole island, and every event takes place somewhere on it in a cohesive world!) or Mii integration, but they did. Surprising depth to some of the games like golf and bowling.

5/5

Worms Blast

A clunky, boring waste of time.

2/5

Worms Reloaded

Honestly, its greatest sin is not being Worms World Party, the apex of the series.

3/5

Worms World Party

For my money, the best in the series. The best kind of zany.

4/5

XCOM 2

It takes Enemy Unknown, improves the good parts, and strips out as much of the boring strategic layer as it can. My favorite turn-based tactics game of all time. Huge replayability thanks to the randomized levels, soldiers, and enemies (the latter in the War of the Chosen expansion, which is vital). I live for those turns where the game becomes a challenge to somehow kill all the enemies, or even just survive, and it delivers in spades. Main weakness is the reverse difficulty curve.

5/5

XCOM: Chimera Squad

While it loses the depth of XCOM 2, there's some good tactical puzzle action to be had here, the changes to the formula are enough of a novelty for its runtime.

4/5

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Completely outclassed by XCOM 2, but it was a revelation coming from Fire Emblem to get to play with destructable environments and line of sight. Improved by the Enemy Within expansion's nudges to avoid turtling.

5/5

Xenoblade Chronicles II

I played this during the first year of my PhD, perhaps the last time I'll be willing to put up with an unnecessarily long JRPG. But the combat system is a treat, the score is one of my favorites, and the I was in the right mindstate for an inconsequential shonen story.

4/5

Yooka-Laylee

What if we took Banjo-Kazooie and removed the tight level design for vast, barren worlds? The version I played at launch was buggy and had a camera that was downright hostile to the player.

2/5