Something making the rounds within gaming blogs and social media right now is listing your favorite game from all the years you’ve been alive.
It sounded like a lot of fun, so I decided to write up my own list.
As a general rule I’m going by US release dates and this isn’t a Game of the Year, so the game picked for that year may not be the best game of that year, just my personal favorite game that released that year or that impacted me in some way.
It was surprising to me just how much I mark the passage of time through video games, but going through these games and making this list was like riding a time machine.
Without further ado, the list.
1982 – Pitfall (Atari)
Yes, we are really starting this far back. Pitfall may be hard to look at and play now, but for a kid just getting starting in gaming, the world held such adventure and wonder I couldn’t help but fall in love.
1983 – Mario Bros (Arcade)
Not to be confused with the super variety, the first Mario Bros focused on Mario and Luigi competing to knock out the most creepy crawlies. I pumped a lot of quarters into this in my early childhood and fondly remember it even today.
1984 – Marble Madness (Atari)
An isometric game in which you controlled the plight of a marble through a set of levels was cool, but the trackball controller was what made this really neat.
1985 – Super Mario Bros (NES)
Was there any doubt for this one? The NES finally came out in the US and the original game I got with the console was a Duck Hunt / Super Mario Bros combo cart. The original Mario game is still a master class in game design to this day.
1986 – Bubble Bobble (NES)
This wacky game featuring two bubble blowing dinosaurs ruled my TV when I was younger, with co-op so good it made you want to punch your siblings for messing up.
1987 – Legend of Zelda (NES)
Legend of Zelda is my favorite game series today and this was the one that started it all. The sense of adventure that took hold as a boy when I burned that first bush or blew up that first wall cannot be overstated. This love of adventure and exploration would stay with me the rest of my gaming career.
1988 – Super Mario Bros 2 (NES)
This game was almost nothing like a Mario game, which makes a lot of sense today knowing that it was actually Doki Doki Panic in Japan. I still love how quirky and weird this entry into the franchise is, even if it was all just a dream.
1989- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
In my youth I was consumed by TMNT mania and it even extended to this brutally hard game. I’ve been electrocuted to death in sewer swimming sections more times than I could count, but controlling the turtles and driving the TMNT van (!) was a dream come true as a kid.
1990 – Final Fantasy (NES)
This game was a revolution in story telling for a boy that grew up on stuff like Duck Hunt and Mario. We had warriors, mages, rogues, and even ninjas out to save the world in an epic tale. This sparked a love of fantasy that extended to books, movies, TV, and my own creative writing. Final Fantasy is a pillar of who I am today, not just in gaming, but as a person.
1991 – Final Fantasy II (SNES)
I didn’t know that this game was actually the fourth installment in this franchise at this time; all I knew was that I was absolutely in love with it. Here I was thinking the first Final Fantasy had magnificent story and in this one we have heroic sacrifices, love stories, and redemption tales. This is still one of my favorite games ever made.
1992 – Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (SNES)
I haven’t gone back and played this in forever and I know it doesn’t hold up great, but I absolutely adored it back when I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. I mean, just look at that box art! How was I supposed to walk away from that as a kid?
I liked the characters constantly alternating, enjoyed the nonsense story, and I still believe the music is amazing.
1993 – Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
There are a lot of great games released this year, including the amazing Link’s Awakening, however I absolutely loved Gunstar Heroes. I had two brothers and we all only had an hour a piece to play games; the one exception being if we shared our time. To get around this rule we would get something like Gunstar Heroes from the rental place and then game in co-op for two hours at a time, instead of the requisite one. Good times.
1994 – Final Fantasy III (SNES)
Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes indeed, my early days were owned by Final Fantasy games and JRPGs in general, but none captured my imagination like Final Fantasy VI, or as we knew it then, Final Fantasy III. I had a horrible fan site about this game, I made a homemade strategy guide for it, and I even wrote fan fiction that will never see the light of the internet. I loved this game so much that, despite my horrible memory, to this day I know every word of the opera scene.
What really cemented this game as an all time great for me was that me and my younger brother bonded over this game. Most of you may think of Final Fantasy as a single player experience, but for FFVI it allowed us to divide up characters and play through it together using a two player mode. I have fond memories of one of us controlling each of the Figaro brothers and making our way through the game as brothers.
1995 – Chrono Trigger (SNES)
This one is in my top 5 games of all time, and for good reason. Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece of an RPG, with multiple endings depending on when through time you would fight the final big bad.
The game had a cool story and great characters; Frog is one of my favorite video game characters ever, I’ve even named household pets after him. I can still go back and play through the entirety of the game steadfastly saying that this isn’t just nostalgia speaking.
1996 – Tomb Raider (PlayStation)
This was a close one, as I still recall playing Pokemon Red for the first time I got it until my batteries died on my Gameboy and Super Mario RPG was the ultimate peanut butter and chocolate scenario for young me.
All of these paled in comparison to my first celebrity crush (pathetic I know), Lara Croft. The idea of delving into the unknown controlling a character reminiscent of Indiana Jones that was also comically stacked was pure gold to a budding teenager and while some boys were busy putting up pin-ups of swimsuit models, I was putting up a pin up of the digital British bombshell.
It wasn’t all about teenage lust though, we hadn’t seen a game in a 3D space like this before so the adventure of raiding tombs was horribly exciting. At the time I thought the graphics were shockingly realistic; so much so that I was scared to fight the T-Rex. The game doesn’t age well, the controls are awful today, but I still love the franchise.
1997- Final Fantasy Tactics (PlayStation)
You were likely expecting Final Fantasy VII weren’t you? Yes, FFVII was an amazing game and I didn’t stop playing it until I watched the Knights of the Round pummel Sephiroth into oblivion, but Final Fantasy Tactics was my jam. I’ve always enjoyed tactics games and to me the pinnacle of them was with the franchise I most adored at the time. Playing with class combinations to create a broken character was only eclipsed by the fact that you could find and recruit Cloud from FFVII to your cause.
1998 – Suikoden II (PlayStation)
Knowing me you might expect the amazing Ocarina of Time to be here, but I was a PlayStation kid at this point and was in love with Suikoden II. My favorite part of JRPGs was the characters, so imagine how giddy I must have been to collect 108 of them. The base development portion was an awesome cherry on this delicious RPG sundae and this game began an intense love affair for the series that would last all the way into the Nintendo DS era.
1999 – Legacy of Kain- Soul Reaver (PlayStation)
You might have expected Final Fantasy VIII, but I despised that game. No, for angsty teenage me, the plight of the fallen Raziel was a joy to play. This game took the awesome 3D exploration of Tomb Raider, the epic story of something like Final Fantasy, and just injected that straight into an awesome protagonist that was powerful and just reeked of cool. I wish they would revitalize this franchise today.
2000 – Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation)
I got a job at Wal-Mart working part time during high school on a work release program and the very first game I paid for with my own money was Final Fantasy IX. This was a total redemption of the series for me; gone were the romantic stylings of angsty boy band leader Squall and back was the fantasy I so craved. To this day this remains one of my favorite Final Fantasy games.
2001 – Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
There were some amazing games this year including Super Smash Brothers Melee, Metal Gear Solid II, Advance Wars and even Final Fantasy X.
None of them had me constantly adjusting my dropped jaw as this game did or impact the entire industry in such a way, spawning the start of the massive open world game genre. I wasn’t big on playing a criminal, but I spent so much time just upping my star level with explosives that I couldn’t even tell you what the story was about.
2002 – Metroid Prime (Gamecube)
When they first announced Metroid Prime I felt that it was an utter betrayal. How dare they take my beautiful 2D Metroid explorative game and turn it into a FPS (which at the time I disliked)? I’ve never been so wrong about a game before or since, as it is an utter masterpiece from start to finish with some of the most evocative atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.
2003 – Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox)
I already had liked Star Wars a lot, but this game began my intense love affair with the Extended Universe that blossomed into full-fledged Star Wars mania for a good chunk of my life. The story housed one of the most epic twists I’ve ever seen in a video game and I still count it as one of my favorite RPGs of all time.
2004 – World of Warcraft (PC)
Fable was the reason I bought an Xbox and the first game that I felt really blew open customization. I really wanted to put it on the list for this year.
However, World of Warcraft was the first MMORPG that really popularized the genre and gave rise to hundreds of copycat games. It’s effects still echo far and wide within the industry today, from action games to JRPGs.
Those are all good reasons to put it on this list, but the most important for me was that this game connected most of my family as we raided and ran dungeons together. It also was my father’s favorite game and he played it until the day he died on October 1st, 2017.
My younger brother and I went to Blizzcon the month following his death, and though it was hard to be around the thing he loved so much, the game had brought us together and memorialized my father in ways I didn’t expect.
2005 – Jade Empire (Xbox)
I’m a huge geek, so of course I love Kung Fu movies and martial arts in general. Enter an RPG with the storytelling of KOTOR and the setting of a Kung Fu epic. I think that of all the Bioware games, the Black Whirlwind is still one of my favorite characters, and the combat brought these games closer to action than ever before. It is a crime against video games that we never got a sequel.
2006 – Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Nothing showed off your Xbox 360 in the early days like this gritty graphical showpiece. Although Xbox Live was a thing on the original Xbox, the 360 is where it really took off, and I don’t know how many hours I sunk into both online play and co-op over Live. I know this game like I do few others, playing it forwards and back through the campaign to get myself and my younger brother the achievement for playing as Dom.
2007 – Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Early in the Xbox 360’s life cycle we had some amazing exclusives. One of those at the time was this sci-fi gem from Bioware, Mass Effect. The level of choice and narrative decision that spanned the course of an entire trilogy had never been done and lit the imaginations of gamers on fire. Not to mention it has Wrex in it, the best Bioware companion of all time. That’s right, I said it.
2008- Fable II (Xbox 360)
I fell in love with Albion in the original Fable and the second one took that love to a whole new level. Everything was larger, sillier, and more customizable than ever before, with hilarious cameos like an armor set that looked like a fantasy version Master Chief.
2009 – Dragon Age Origins (Xbox 360)
Assassin’s Creed is one of my favorite franchises so it is shocking that it loses out here, but never have I sunk as much time into a game as Dragon Age Origins. This was the culmination of my love of fantasy with a dark new world to explore with a fantastic hook. I played through as every race and class at least once and worked through every facet of this game both on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
2010 – Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360)
When Rockstar makes a game everyone pays attention, and when they make a game in the Wild West we all go absolutely crazy for it. Even though you were a criminal in some regards, for the first time in a Rockstar game you were essentially the good guy. I absolutely loved diving into this love letter for the old west and the epilogue was one of the finest narrative moments in videogames.
2011 – Little Big Planet 2 (PS3)
I absolutely adore Little Big Planet. As a father it’s creativity and endless play has been a seemingly limitless boon to my family. Sackboy adorns a lot of my shelves and seeing him as the cast of Final Fantasy VII was one of the coolest moments in video games for me.
2012 – Ni No Kuni (PS3)
Ni No Kuni is special to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it was created in conjunction with Studio Ghibli and channeled the lush inviting worlds of Miyazaki himself. In addition to the battle system, the poignant story, and amazing artwork, this game came out shortly after my daughter was born and I spent a lot of times with her cuddled in my lap as I played this game.
2013 – Last of Us (PS3)
Is it any surprise that this game is on my top 5 game of all time? The world itself is instantly fascinating, the stealth gameplay is tense, the story is top notch, and the voice actor performances breathe life into the world. I’ve always loved Naughty Dog games, but this was a whole other level for them.
Oh yeah, and best ending of a video game. Ever.
2014 – Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One)
I originally wasn’t going to get an Xbox One, I picked up a PS4 at launch and was extremely content with just it.
However, Sunset Overdrive pushed me to purchase an Xbox ,and I’m so glad I made that leap. This game is one of the most underappreciated games of our generation and accomplished something that a lot of open world games get wrong: they actually made traversing the world fun instead of a chore. I loved every minute of this game and frequently revisit it even today.
2015 – Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One)
Ori and the Blind Forest is the best Metroidvania game ever made. Come at me bro.
Achingly beautiful, hard as nails, with a touching and heartbreaking story to boot. Its sequel can’t get here fast enough.
2016 – Overwatch (PS4)
I’ve never been a huge multiplayer gamer, but I’ve fallen head over heels with the world of Overwatch. The characters are so well done and the entire game absolutely hums with that Blizzard polish and charm. It is a testament to their world building that the characters are so fleshed out and well loved, even though we don’t have a single player campaign. Most importantly I’ve not played very many multiplayer games in which I always feel like I’m contributing in some way, especially FPS games.
I still regularly play this game to this day, even though I suck at it.
2017 – Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
This is my favorite game of all time, and looking at this list, that is saying something.
The music, the art, exploration, and freedom to tackle it all as you want come together to make this one of the finest games I’ve ever played while simultaneously changing the way I think about open world games.
The game is simply brilliantly designed, always leading you on as you crest every new horizon eager to find what awaits you on the other side.
So there you have it, the games that shaped my life. Please comment below with your links or lists of the games that defined your life.