Rather than do an opinion-based list this week, I decided to do one based entirely on facts and numbers. Quite simply, I’ve ranked the five game franchises in which I’ve finished the most games. Before I crunched the numbers, I was planning on making it clear that this isn’t necessarily a list of my five favorite franchises; but now that I look at the final list, I don’t think it is actually too far off from what I would also consider my actual favorite game series. As far as what are considered “true” entries in a series, for a few I just had to made a judgment call. For instance, I counted MGS: The Twin Snakes and Metroid: Zero Mission as their own separate entries even though they are technically remakes because they are substantially different than their respective originals. However, I didn’t count games that are just slightly enhanced or changed ports like the color-fied DX version of Link’s Awakening or the DS port of Super Mario 64 as separate entries.
If you are surprised by my relatively low numbers, I will admit that I am very much one of those games that starts a whole lot of games that I don’t finish, so to have any franchise where I have even four or five games completed says a lot about how much I truly enjoy that series.
5. Grand Theft Auto / Contra (TIE): Four Games Finished Each
Despite not caring for and completely passing over the early GTA games, I still got caught up in the hype for part 3 and eagerly picked it up the Friday before it was officially released (thank you local game stores that occasionally break street dates). I brought it home, put it in my PS2, and it didn’t leave there for almost a month (and that’s a huge deal for someone who was usually juggling three to five games at any given time and my PS2 being my only DVD player at the time). Needless to say I was hooked, and have remained a big fan of the series since. The play-it-your-way structure of the games makes it perfect for people like me who sometimes have trouble finishing games of extended lengths, which is probably the only reason I’ve actually finished as many as GTA games as I have. Even if you put a GTA game down for several months, you can still pick it right back up and not have to spend too much time regaining your footing.
You would’ve had to sleep your way through the NES era to not have finished the original Contra (even if you’ve never done it without a friend or “the code”). Contra games are among the most timeless in all of gaming: I don’t think there will ever be a day when I’m not in the mood to play one of the original Contras, especially cooperatively. Some Contra enthusiasts don’t think anything between Contra III: The Alien Wars and Contra 4 for DS is worth talking about, but for those that aren’t so closed-minded, Hard Corps for the Genesis and Shattered Soldier for PS2 are fantastic additions to the series. Each one is usually only an hour or so front-to-back, but that’s only after countless retries and restarts as you slowly learn the intricacies and patterns of each stage. Contras aren’t games that I play and finish once; they are games I revisit once a year, month, week, even day for the newest ones. If I could count each additional time I finished a Contra game and added those together, the series would’ve been the winner of this list by a crushing landslide. I can say without hyperbole that I’ve beaten the original Contra at least 50 times, a number that I haven’t come close to hitting with any other single game, not even any of the NES Mario games.
4. The Legend of Zelda – Five Games Finished
It’s a little funny to think that I’ve only actually finished five Zelda games in a 20 year span, since it feels like such a huge part of my gaming life and history (and I give Steve so much grief for not finishing any). I have played quite a bit of The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, The Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword, though, putting more time into each of them than I’ve put into a lot of games that I have actually beaten. Still, I couldn’t rightfully count those since I never finished them. The original was the first long, epic game I ever played, and it was the game that sealed the deal that I was going to be a lifelong gamer. What’s so amazing is how I get almost the same feeling of wonder and excitement playing a Zelda game at age 33 that I did playing the original at age 7. Sure, the fundamentals and basic structure haven’t changed much beyond the expected visual upgrades and each game’s unique “hook”, but there’s just something magical about a Zelda game and each one resonates with me so deeply that I feel so content and satisfied each time I finish one, enough so that it doesn’t matter how long it may before I play the next one.
3. Metroid / Metal Gear (TIE): Seven Games Finished Each
Entries in the Metroid series account for both my favorite SNES and Gamecube games respectively, due in no small part to what an amazing completed experience they are. Not unlike Contra games, the actual finished length of a typical Metroid game is relatively short; it’s all of the exploration required, especially in the map- and hint-free early days of the series, where you begin to pile on the play time. Finishing the NES original was one of my proudest early gaming achievements (especially for only being 8 or 9 at the time). When you have nothing but your own wits, intuition, and experimentation to carry you through a game, it makes every discovery and victory that much more exciting, and the feeling of getting to the end of a Metroid game is second-to-none, especially topped off with the tightly-timed “Get out before the whole place blows up!” climax of each one that just never seems to get old no matter how many times they repeat it. I even finished Other M, and maintain that it isn’t nearly as bad as people say it is (awful story and butchering of Samus’ character notwithstanding).
Outside of anything bearing the Nintendo Seal of Approval, there is no series of games that I am more infatuated with than Metal Gear (specifically the Solids). Each new entry in that series is a major event for me, and I completely immerse myself in it and forsake all other hobbies and pastimes (sometimes including sleep) until it is finished. Not only that, but once the final credits are finished rolling, it’s almost an uncontrolled reflex to immediately start a new game and play an hour or so into it in that same sitting, no matter what time it is or how long I had already been playing that day. I repeated that cycle with the original Metal Gear Solid every single night for about a month, beating it over 10 times in the process. I’ve never quite matched that with additional entries – both because they take significantly longer to beat and I just don’t have that kind of free time or stamina anymore – but I have yet to finish one and not play at least 20 minutes into a new game immediately after…even after Metal Gear Solid 4 and its movie-length climax.
2. Castlevania: Ten Games Finished
I only dabbled in the Castlevania series prior to Symphony of the Night, but after that I was addicted, both in the new entries that followed and in revisiting older games in the series. Where I really racked up the tally, though, is when the series hit the GBA and DS in a big way, with a new Castlevania coming out almost every year. Spending seven years at a job that involved nearly two hours on public transportation round-trip each day meant that I burned through portable video games at a very high rate, and I just ate the Castlevania games up. 2D Castlevania titles were like video game comfort food for me. There were never any big changes or surprises, but every time I started one I knew what I was in for, and I knew I was in for a fantastic time. My experience with the 3D Castlevanias is limited to Lament of Innocence and Lords of Shadow, but I did have a good time with those – especially the fantastic LoS – and they are two of the ten that I completed.
1. Super Mario: Twelve Games Finished
There may technically be dozens upon dozens of titles that could be referred to as “Mario games”, but only the core Super Mario platform games are what count as the main “Mario series”. And with the exception of the oddball Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (of which there is much debate over whether it’s a true entry in the Mario series) and the original Game Boy Super Mario Land which I’m sorry but I absolutely despise and always have, I have played and finished all of the rest (save for the two Wii U entries which I’m currently working on), and smiled a whole lot while I was doing so. What else is there to say? Of course it is my most finished series, my most played series, and my favorite series. Mario is video games. The rest is details.