Video games have the power to transport us to other realms. When people downplay or overlook the artistic potential of gaming, it is disheartening. Gaming has become a cultural behemoth, surpassing even the music and film industries. In 2020, the gaming industry was worth $159.3 billion. In comparison, the music industry was worth $19.1 billion and the film industry was worth $41.7 billion.
It’s impossible to compile an exhaustive list. If you believe there’s a gem I’ve overlooked, please don’t hesitate to share it with me. I’m always on the lookout for new gaming experiences that captivate and inspire.
Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my favourite games:
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1. Zelda Breath of the Wild (BOTW)
I need to confess: I wasn’t captivated by older Zelda games like Ocarina of Time (please don’t hurl stones at me!). That all changed when I picked this up for the first time. I’ve never played a game like BOTW. The first moments of the game leave you in a small area to experiment with the controls. Once you finish the first part, you can go any way you want, including straight to the last boss! The choice was yours. I refused to put this game down, and to this day, I put in more hours into this than any other game on this list.
BOTW gives you a sense of wonder, which few games can match. The vast open world is set in the Kingdom of Hyrule. From a sprawling landscape filled with lush forests, towering mountains, monsters, hidden shrines, and ancient ruins to bustling villages, the world of BOTW feels alive. Every nook and cranny offers something to discover.
This game spawned a series of unworthy games like it (I’m looking at you Fenyx Rising). I hadn’t been able to find another game like it until its successor Zelda Tears of the Kingdom (TOTK) launched. Somehow TOTK expands upon BOTW rich lore, allowing the player to do much more. The new physics engine alone is a marvel of engineering. It allows you to solve puzzles in any way you deem fit. You can create all manner of contraptions. The community videos showcase the creativity of the fan base. Without BOTW, TOTK wouldn’t exist. I rank BOTW higher because of its impact on the industry and on me. I recommend The Ringer’s account of the enduring legacy of BOTW.
2. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
A landmark game for the open-world genre. You play as CJ, as he returns home to the tough streets of San Andreas. He finds that things have fallen by the wayside for his old family. The cast of characters you meet along the way are as colourful as they come. Each one with questionable morals. CJ must navigate a treacherous web of alliances, betrayal, and personal redemption.
Like BOTW, the sense of freedom in San Andreas is what stood it apart from its contemporaries. The possibilities are endless: steal a car, infiltrate a secure military base and soar the skies with a jet pack. The missions felt like mini-movies with more chaos than a Tarintino film. This game is built upon the foundations set by GTA 3 and GTA 4 Vice City. Everything feels bigger, better and more ambitious. This is a game I return to every so often. The heist mission remains a personal favourite of mine. It’s no surprise that this game shattered records on the PlayStation 2, cementing its place in history as a true classic.
3. Ghost of Tsushima
You are a Samurai, defending the lands of Tshushima from the Mongols. The opening scene has you meet the Mongols on the beach and lose. This loss forces a profound transformation within the game’s protagonist. Driven by a sense of duty and the need to protect his homeland, he rises from the depths of despair to embark on a perilous journey to reclaim Tsushima for his people.
If the story hasn’t captured your interest, the game’s scenery might. This is hands down the most beautiful game I’ve played. I rode my loyal horse through the flower fields and watched the flowers sway in the wind. The Kurosawa mode (named after the legendary Japanese filmmaker) gives the game a new cinematic dimension.
As you progress, your character becomes not only stronger but more nuanced, with intricate sword skills that reflect the depth of his transformation. It’s a testament to the power of video games as a medium for both storytelling and visual artistry.
4. Fire Emblem Sacred Stones
An epic tale of bravery and sacrifice, a classic in the strategy RPG genre. The game follows two twins as they fight against a great evil facing their kingdom. You can pick one of the twins to follow. This changes the story arc and lets players explore different parts of the game.
Alongside the main protagonist, the game starts you off with the overpowered Seth, a paladin who can defeat anything in your way. Resist the temptation as you’ll need to train other team members to overcome those tougher battles later on.
A simple weapon system underpins the experience making it accessible to all. You move a character to a tile, and they can then attack the enemy’s unit if in range. What sets this game apart from others is its replayability. For one battle, I could get my General to hold a bridge. For another, they lead the charge, protecting my archers and mages in the rear, whilst my cavalry outflanks my opponent.
Permadeath meant each action you made had a consequence. I grew attached to these characters and would do my utmost to move them out of harm’s way. Cue furious resetting of the level to ensure my trusty companions remained.
Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones is a cherished classic that has touched the hearts of gamers. Its captivating story, strategic gameplay, and emotional connection to characters make it unforgettable.
5. Pokemon Crystal
Pokemon has been a mainstay of Nintendo’s continued success. The goal? To catch them all, and compete for the title of Pokemon Master. Each successive Pokemon game follows this basic formula. Nintendo hasn’t deviated from this too much because it works!
My favourite Pokemon game is Pokemon Crystal. Why? It took the best bits of Pokemon Red, Blue, Gold, and Silver and refined it. In Crystal, the sprites have more animation and you can catch even more Pokemon. Journeying across Kanto and Johto became more enjoyable.
I trained my trusty Pokemon to scale the lofty heights of the Elite Four to become Champion. I wanted to complete my Pokedex. I wanted to be the best. There are few games that can drive you to be a completionist in the same way.
You cannot overstate the impact of Pokémon on pop culture. It has become a global phenomenon, transcending the boundaries of gaming to become a cultural touchstone. It’s the world’s biggest gaming franchise after all.
6. Star Wars Battlefront II
I played this game so much, the circuit boards on my PS2 fried. The story sees you play as a Clone Trooper through the old and new Star Wars Trilogy. It presented a new side to the conflict, you don’t see in the movies. You fight as the heroes but then find out you were part of the bad side all along. A fresh and engaging take on the Star Wars mythos.
The real thrill of Battlefront II was the multiplayer options. You could choose any one of the Star Wars locations to do battle as Jedis or as troopers. From the lush forests of Endor to the dusty deserts of Tatooine, every map is a meticulously crafted battleground, brimming with the essence of the Star Wars universe. You could jump into classic Star Wars vehicles and decimate the opposing team. One mode lets you battle out as heroes and villains. Sheer carnage ensues.
Another mode lets you experience space battles. Here you can pilot iconic ships like the TIE fighter or X-Wing in epic dogfights. You can even board the enemy’s capital ship, sabotaging it from within. It’s a breathtakingly immersive feature that captures the essence of Star Wars epic space battles.
Despite attempts by EA to recreate the magic of the Battlefront series, the original Battlefront II retains a special place in the hearts of fans. The force is strong with this one.
7. Tekken Tag Tournament
Tekken Tag pushed Tekken in a new direction by letting you play with two characters at the same time. It introduced a new dynamic to freshen up the franchise.
The roster list was huge. My favourite duo was Kazuya and Jin. I could spin, twist and kick my opponents into submission.
Surprisingly, the game had an addictive bowling mode. Certain characters in the game had special abilities that made bowling more enjoyable.
Please don’t ask me what the story was as I don’t have a clue. The story wasn’t the most important thing. It was all about bragging rights.
8. Resident Evil 4 Wii Version
As Leon, you navigate a creepy village to save the President’s daughter. Playing this game with a Wiimote made me feel like I was there. I held the controller as I would a weapon, to protect myself. Behind every door, lay a nasty surprise. The game’s haunting score plays a pivotal role in underpinning the atmosphere of eeriness. You had to use your bullets sparingly. Who can forget the first time you come across the man with the chainsaw? The sheer terror and adrenaline rush of surviving that encounter is something that lingers. The fact I played this game amazes me so much because I hate horror films. The remake looks as good as the original. At some point, I’ll work up the courage to get it…
9. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
I could have chosen any Mario game but my choice is Mario Kart 8 on the Switch. What you have is the perfect family game. It takes 1 minute to figure out the controls. It’s the most accessible game on this list.
The core of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lies in its frenetic racing gameplay. You use a variety of items to secure the coveted first place. Watch out for that dastardly blue shell. It will rob you of your hard-earned spot.
Mario Kart also has a battle mode. Battle your friends to collect as many coins as you can or to pop their balloons in a smaller battle arena. It’s pure unadulterated joy. No one seems to be able to bottle it up better than Nintendo.
10. Elden Ring
I can’t believe this is the first roguelike game I played.
Why the delay? People kept putting me off by lamenting the difficulty levels. The launch of this game made it impossible to ignore. I remember driving to the supermarket to get this game on Day 1 of the launch.
Elden Ring is like BOTW but much more unforgiving. The scale of the map means every nook and cranny has a dungeon, a mini-boss or an item to aid in your journey.
A key quality-of-life feature is getting a trusty steed to navigate the terrain. This makes traversing the map smoother.
You can play this game many times and focus on different aspects of your character. Play as a mage, or a knight, or combine the two! Use magic to pick off enemies nearby or go close and personal, slashing your sword to fell the beast. Where you put your skill points is key. It can make or break your experience.
The game’s deliberate air of mystery encourages exploration and personal interpretation. It doesn’t hold your hand and it is better for it.
Okami is a captivating masterpiece inspired by Japanese watercolours and folklore. You assume the role of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, who takes on the earthly form of a wolf. Your sacred mission is to rejuvenate a world on the brink of darkness.
As Amaterasu, you have the power to use celestial brush strokes. You can use them to vanquish enemies and solve puzzles, as well as conquer tough obstacles. The visuals are so beautiful I bought the dedicated art book afterwards.
First released on PS2, it was such a success, that it’s now found its way to almost every other console. I played it on the Switch. Being able to use a touchscreen helped to make the game more immersive.
This game stands as a testament to the enduring power of art and storytelling in the realm of video games.
12. Last of Us II
I am baffled by the amount of negative reviews this game received. It is a remarkable example of storytelling, taking the player on a journey full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, its impact has been so big, it’s now a TV show.
The genius of this game is that it puts you in the shoes of two different characters, allowing you to experience their emotional roller coaster as they make difficult decisions. Abbie and Ellie suffer severe trauma throughout. Often inflicting it on one another. They are complex characters. Their world isn’t black and white. They are trying to survive in a bleak and harrowing world. It’s a testament to the game’s storytelling prowess that it doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker aspects of human nature, painting a world where the line between right and wrong is blurred. Amidst the darkness and despair that pervade the narrative, there are also moments of profound beauty, hope, and love. It’s those moments which feel all the more special, especially as they are so fleeting.
These 12 games have left an indelible mark on my gaming journey. They showcase the diversity and richness of the gaming world, from open-world adventures to tactical RPGs and emotional narratives.
What games have had a significant impact on your life? Share your favorites and let’s continue celebrating the artistry and entertainment value of gaming.