In September of 1989, the world became a substantially greater place. That is to say, that’s when I was born.
It wasn’t long until I developed a deep love of video games, with my gaming life stretching back as far as I can remember. As the years have gone by, my love of video games has only intensified, as has my knowledge of them (at least I like to think so).
Starting around 2003, I decided to care more about what games I thought were best, or at least my favorites (which are the same as far as I’m concerned. MY WORD IS LAW!). Specifically, I started to think about which games stood out the most to me in any given year. That is to say, my Game of the Years.
Since that time, I have retroactively named my favorite games of every year I have walked this Earth. From my days as a humble baby up to the present, I have more or less compiled a list of my Game of the Year from then to now.
Since I recently named my Game of the Year for 2015, I thought now would be a good time to share my Games of the Year from 1989 to 2015. Keep in mind that I go by the years of each game’s North American release, because I’m American.
Admittedly, some years aren’t as definitive as others, with a couple of the years being a toss up as it currently stands (again, many of these are retroactive, so if I catch up on a game from a particular year that I missed out the first time around, and it proves to be the best game I’ve played from that year, it will take the cake).
I may as well say right now that I feel 1989 through 1997 are pretty much set in stone, as are 2000, 2003 and 2005 to today. 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2004 are marginally more flip-floppy, while I feel 1999 is currently feeling like a placeholder.
When the day comes that I feel those less decisive years become more definitive, I will create a new section of this site dedicated to my Game of the Years with more detailed descriptions of each. For now, I thought I’d shed some light on what I can in this post, especially seeing as I plan on revealing my favorite games of all time in the near future, I figured it made more sense to write about my Game of the Years before then.
So without further rambling, let’s hop aboard a DeLorean, boost up that Flux Capacitor, and hit 88 miles per hour. We’re going back to 1989!
Here are my Game of the Years from then to now (more or less).
1989: Mega Man 2
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Can you think of another game from 1989 that holds up so well? Mega Man 2 is close to perfection. The level design, the gameplay, the challenge, the music… Everything about Mega Man 2 is great. It’s timeless, and undoubtedly 1989’s standout game.
1990: Super Mario Bros. 3
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Basically the same reasons as Mega Man 2. Super Mario Bros. 3 is timeless and close to perfect. In fact, when most people think of classic games, Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the games that will immediately come to mind. It’s sublime.
Other contenders: Mega Man 3
1991: Super Mario World
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Everything that made Super Mario Bros. 3 a classic was improved upon with Super Mario World, and it added a sense of depth to the Mario series that still serves as a benchmark. Plus, can you think of a more solidly put together video game? No, you can’t.
Other contenders: Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter 2, Toejam & Earl
1992: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I have to repeat the word “timeless” again. That’s probably the key word for many of these early entries. These are games that haven’t aged a day. And few games have defied aging quite so well as A Link to the Past. It’s still arguably the definitive Zelda adventure.
Other contenders: Super Mario Kart, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Ecco the Dolphin
1993: Secret of Mana
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Combine Zelda with Final Fantasy, and you get Secret of Mana. With a combination like that, it’s a wonder why you don’t see Secret of Mana show up higher up on lists of best games ever. But Secret of Mana is more than just a hybrid of two classic series, it also has great ideas of its own, like the ring-style menus, and the way you can level up just about everything (characters, weapons, each character’s skill with said weapons, and spells). Plus, it was a three player RPG on the SNES. And don’t get me started on that glorious soundtrack!
Other contenders: Sonic the Hedgehog CD, Kirby’s Adventure
1994: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I had to give Sega some kind of recognition. And seeing how far the Sonic series has fallen since the Genesis days, the likelihood of Sonic claiming another Game of the Year is, well, very unlikely. More importantly, this is Sonic at his best. It’s just as fun as Sonic 2, but its difficulty has aged better, and the bonus stages are more fair. Sonic may have lost his luster, but Sonic 3 is still way past cool
Other contenders: Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, Mega Man X, Sonic & Knuckles
1995: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Because amazing! Seriously, everything about DKC2 is great. The gameplay, the visuals, the atmosphere, the level design, and that perfect, perfect soundtrack! How much do I love DKC2? Well, it claims this top honor in a year that also saw Chrono Trigger, EarthBound and Yoshi’s Island. Damn, 1995 was freaking awesome!
Other contenders: Yoshi’s Island, EarthBound, Chrono Trigger
1996: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Same reasons as DKC2, but in RPG form. This is a game that took the Super Mario series, and placed it in a genre that felt like the complete opposite of what Mario games are. And yet it all worked. So well, in fact, that it’s still my favorite RPG.
Do I also need to add that 1996 repeated the awesomeness of 1995?
Other contenders: Super Mario 64, Nights Into Dreams, Kirby Superstar, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
1997: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Because so few video games exude such excellence as Symphony of the Night. It mastered a genre, redefined a franchise, and remains a timeless and breathtaking gaming experience even today.
Other contenders: Mega Man 8, Star Fox 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart 64, Saturn Bomberman, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Platform: Nintendo 64
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I know, I know. I’m “supposed” to just place Ocarina of Time here and call it a day. But while Ocarina of Time may be excellent, I was more obsessed with Banjo-Kazooie as a kid, and I’ve replayed it more than Ocarina. So there.
Anyway, Banjo-Kazooie is one of the best 3D platformers out there, and one of the few N64 games that has held up exceedingly well with time. This was Rare at their best.
Other contenders: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Pokemon Red & Blue, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Brave Fencer Musashi, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, Mega Man Legends
1999: Super Smash Bros.
Platform: Nintendo 64
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I admit, I don’t recall a whole lot of 1999 video games, and those that I do remember don’t exactly hold up swimmingly (Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark). So let’s go with Super Smash Bros. for the time being. After all, Smash Bros. has always been fun, and this is the game that kickstarted one of my favorite series.
Platform: Nintendo 64
Why it’s a Game of the Year: In many ways, Banjo-Tooie is a great example of how to do a video game sequel right. It may not be quite as “perfect” as Banjo-Kazooie, but it does make everything bigger, and add more content to just about every category, including a surprisingly addictive FPS multiplayer mode.
These were the days where Rare’s games were seemingly endless bags of ideas. Banjo-Tooie exemplified this.
Other contenders: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, Pokemon Gold and Silver, Diablo 2, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
2001: Halo: Combat Evolved
Why it’s a Game of the Year: It’s easy to argue that the sequels added to the formula, but the fact remains that the first Halo got it right from the get-go. It’s also held up surprisingly well for an FPS, if the Anniversary Edition is any indication, anyway. Not to mention it was one of the most important launch games ever. And don’t tell me you didn’t spend countless hours with capture the flag.
Other contenders: Paper Mario, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Pikmin, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Ico, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
2002: Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Ignoring the fact that Blizzard has some of the poorest storytelling capabilities in the medium, their games tend to be really fun. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend more hours in Warcraft 3 than any other RTS I’ve played. Its four armies were all distinct and varied, and the hero units added a fun RPG element to the mix.
Other contenders: Metroid Prime, Animal Crossing, Super Mario Sunshine
2003: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Why it’s a Game of the Year: While everyone else bemoaned Wind Waker’s cel shading from the get-go, I was one of the few who was immediately drawn into its beauty (it certainly caught the eye more than the generic Spaceworld 2000 demo). When the game was finally released, it lived up to my anticipation, and provided one of gaming’s greatest adventures. Not to mention it’s arguably the most timeless Zelda.
Other contenders: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Viewtiful Joe, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Mario Kart: Double Dash
2004: Half-Life 2
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I’m going to be honest, 2004 could easily go to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. But for the sake of some variety, I tip the scale to Half-Life 2 here. It’s one of the few FPSs that gets the combination of story and gameplay just right, and created some wonderful innovations along the way, like the Gravity Gun.
Other contenders: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Pikmin 2, Katamari Damacy
2005: Shadow of the Colossus
Platform: Playstation 2
Developer: Team Ico
Why it’s a Game of the Year: The poster boy for the whole “video games as an art form” thing, Shadow of the Colossus manages to tell a story that could only be told through the video game medium, and combines it with a unique gameplay experience, turning what is essentially a giant boss rush into something truly meaningful.
Other contenders: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, Resident Evil 4, WarioWare Twisted
Platform: Playstation 2
Developer: Clover Studios
Why it’s a Game of the Year: The best Zelda not called Zelda, Okami is a truly breathtaking adventure. Gorgeous imagery, great gameplay, and wonderful Japanese aesthetics come together to create something beautiful.
Other contenders: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports
2007: Super Mario Galaxy
Developer: Nintendo Tokyo
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Super Mario Galaxy is pure magic. It captured that indescribable joy and high caliber excellence of Nintendo’s best titles from their heyday. It recreated the feelings one had when playing the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 or A Link to the Past, and made it brand new again. Few games are so joyous.
Other contenders: The Orange Box, Halo 3, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure
2008: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Yes, this is the Super Smash Bros. with tripping. But it’s also the Super Smash Bros. that had the most creative characters and level designs up to that point. It has its flaws, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend more hours in Brawl than any other game of 2008 (or any other game until Smash 4, for that matter).
Other contenders: Left 4 Dead, Street Fighter IV, Mega Man 9
2009: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Since I didn’t actually play Uncharted 2 in 2009, this would have originally gone to Batman: Arkham Asylum or Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. But Uncharted 2 is simply a classic, and a fine example of everything a sequel should be. It exudes excellence, charm, and captures the feel of an Indiana Jones flick like no video game before or since.
Other contenders: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, Left 4 Dead 2
2010: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Developer: Nintendo Tokyo
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Super Mario Galaxy was a near-flawless game in its own right. Yet somehow, Super Mario Galaxy 2 managed to better it in virtually every way. From a technical standpoint, it’s one of the most polished video games ever made. And it’s also one of the most creative, inventive and fun. It’s pure gaming bliss.
Other contenders: Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Halo Reach, Mega Man 10
2011: Portal 2
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Portal 2 is another example of what I consider to be a perfect game. Like the Mario Galaxy titles (of which the Portal series has a number of parallels), Portal produced a sequel that somehow outshined the sublime original, and polished its every aspect to near perfection. It’s genius.
Other contenders: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Sonic Generations, Mario Kart 7, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Developer: Arkane Studios
Why it’s a Game of the Year: I’m going to be honest, 2012 was probably the most empty gaming year I’ve experienced, as it seemed like few games were released that interested me, let alone wowed me. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that at least one gem was released that year in the form of Dishonored. A story-driven FPS that tried its hand at some gameplay twists, Dishonored was a surprisingly good game that has seen relatively modest acclaim. Hopefully the sequel gets more recognition.
Other contenders: Halo 4
2013: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Platform: Playstation 3
Developer: Level 5
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Ni no Kuni is a game that took old JRPG conventions and made them feel new again. A quasi-hybrid of Dragon Quest and Pokemon, Ni no Kuni combined great RPG gameplay with one of gaming’s most touching stories, inspired by the films of the unparalleled Studio Ghibli, who also provided the game’s beautiful artwork.
Other contenders: Super Mario 3D World, The Last of Us, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: A link Between Worlds, Animal Crossing: New Leaf
2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Platform: Wii U
Developer: Retro Studios
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Seldom has a platformer been this fun, or this challenging. Every level is something new, with each one of them given a staggering attention to detail. Few games have such a love of the craft so proudly on display. Also, David Wise!
Other contenders: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight, Bayonetta 2, Dark Souls 2
Developer: Toby Fox
Why it’s a Game of the Year: Because it’s the best indie game I’ve ever played. An RPG where every battle is something different, and you don’t have to hurt anything. It’s funny, touching, and original. A modern classic
Other contenders: Super Mario Maker, Splatoon, Bloodborne, Rocket League, Yoshi’s Wooly World
Now maybe you have a good understanding of my taste in gaming. I think it’s pretty obvious that I most enjoy games that emphasize gameplay over all else, my favorite narrative games tend to be ones that are humorous and kind of sad, and I’m bigger on exclusives than multiplatform games. Also, Mario is totally the best series.
Again, not all of these winners are set in stone, but I think they give a good insight into which games I feel have proven the best of their respective years. Here’s hoping 2016 gives us a worthy successor to all the above games.
Guess I better start on my favorite games of all time list…