My Favorite Games of 1985, 1995, and 2005

I didn’t play enough of 2015’s releases to feel qualified to make a favorites list for the year, so Steve handled those duties last week. But I always hate being left out of end-of-year list making, so I decided to make lists of my favorite games from years that I do feel informed enough to do so. Instead of just arbitrarily picking years, I went with 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and 30 years ago. I have to say, I really enjoyed doing this, and if you all enjoy reading it as well, I may have to make this a yearly thing. So check back next year for 1986, 1996, and 2006!

(Note: All years are based on North American release dates.)
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1985

#10 – Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (PC)

Carmen Sandiego

I was part of the generation that played learning games like Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and Lemonade Stand during “computer class” at school. It was also there that I was introduced to the mysterious villainous known as Carmen Sandiego who I had to chase from country to country, learning about geography and world history along the way. She’d eventually make me literally chase her through time and space, but nothing was ever as engrossing as the original globe-trotting adventure.
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#9 – Commando (arcade)

Commando

There’s no question that Contra is the king of 8-bit run-n-gun action games, but that isn’t to say that Commando doesn’t deserve its due (especially since it existed for three full years before Contra hit the NES). There is also something to be said for the intensity of an overhead shooter and the 360 degrees from which enemies and gunfire can stream from that horizontally-scrolling shooters seem to lack. There’s something about arcade action games from the 80’s that just haven’t been topped in the decades since, and Commando is definitely a great example of that.
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#8 – Rush ‘n Attack (aka Green Beret) (arcade)

Rush 'n Attack

While you do occasionally pick up long-range weapons in Rush ‘n Attack, the crux of the game is about dispatching enemies at close range with a knife. Having to wait until soldiers and attack dogs are mere inches away from you before attacking makes each and every encounter tense and potentially deadly in a way that games where you’re better armed can’t replicate. Rush ‘n Attack is also a shining example of classic arcade game memorization, where each time you play you get just a little bit farther as you slowly learn the enemies’ patterns, making restarts more addictive than frustrating.
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#7 – Space Harrier (arcade)

Space Harrier

Space Harrier blazed a lot of trails: It was one of the first 16-bit games, one of the first rail shooters, and one of the first games to use high-speed sprite scaling to simulate moving forward quickly through a 3D-esque environment in a genre other than racing. But beyond all of its pioneering technology, it was also just a blast to play, taking the largely slower and more deliberately-paced shoot-em-genre and making it a much faster and more exciting affair. The fact that people spent so much time playing it in Shenmue rather than Shenmue itself is more a testament to how fun and playable Space Harrier still was 15 years later than an indictment against Shenmue.
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#6 – Tales of the Unknown, Vol. 1: The Bard’s Tale (PC)

Bard's Tale

RPGs tended to be quite serious and heavy-handed until The Bard’s Tale came along, bringing with it a self-aware sense of humor that simultaneously reveled in and made fun of the conventions of the genre. Sure, it was a pretty straightforward dungeon crawler that didn’t do much to advance the genre beyond what Wizardry and Ultima had done by that point, but it more than made up for its rather unremarkable framework with its personality and fun-loving vibe. It was because of its lighter atmosphere that my young self was able to enjoy The Bard’s Tale while not being able to penetrate its aforementioned peers.
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#5 – Ghosts ‘n Goblins (arcade)

Ghosts n Goblins

Even though about 85% of the time I’ve spent playing G’nG throughout my life was just in the opening graveyard/forest area, hurling an endless supply of lances at zombies and snakes while trying not to lose my armor – and never ceasing to be amused when I did – was still one of the most satisfying experiences I had in arcades in the mid 80’s. Yes, the game was incredibly difficult, and that difficulty was more cheap than fair and challenging a lot of the time, but I can still hear that music and the sound of those lances in my head and remember how much time I spent smiling through the torture.
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#4 – Paperboy (arcade)

Paperboy

Home versions of Paperboy are typically good, but nothing can replicate playing the game in the arcade and having actual bicycle handlebars as the control input. For a game about delivering newspapers, there was a lot going on: not only did you have to avoid the completely random and insane obstacles and enemies and not put the newspapers through people’s windows, you could either just chuck the papers at the door or go for expert-level delivery boy skills and get them directly into the mailboxes. There were also two ways to fail: by losing your lives via crashes, or by losing all of the customers on your route. Yeesh.
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#3 – Gauntlet (arcade)

Gauntlet

In 1985, the world needed Gauntlet badly. At that point, video games were largely solo affairs beyond sports and racing games, with most “multiplayer” games consisting primarily of two players just taking turns playing a game. To have a whopping four people simultaneously tackle a dungeon crawl together was a revelation, and with the added bonuses of each character having different weapons and abilities and a narrator that both guided and chastised you, Gauntlet’s place in video game history – especially multiplayer video game history – was sealed. It also launched the tradition of friendship-ending co-op: “If you shoot the #&@%ing food one more time..!”
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#2 – King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (PC)

King's Quest II

I was unfortunately too young to experience text-only adventure games like Zork first-hand, but I at least got to play the genre’s evolution in games like King’s Quest II. Combining the seemingly limitless possibilities of being able to type “any” command with actual visuals, the King’s Quest series was the perfect way to bridge the era between Zork and the LucasArts adventure revolution that was a few years away. It would also be the last KQ game until part V to feature Graham as the hero, and I personally never enjoyed the Graham-less games quite as much.
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#1 – Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Super Mario Bros

Could there really be any other choice for best game of 1985? Seeing Super Mario Bros. in action for the first time is truly a “I remember where I was when…” moment in my life, and I can recall where I was, who I was with, and what level was being played (1-3) the first time I ever saw it in action. My young brain could barely even process that such a thing could exist, but I knew right then and there I was going to be a gamer for life. It would be two years before my first gaming love, The Legend of Zelda, but SMB was a strong enough crush to keep me enamored in the meantime.
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1995

#10 – Twisted Metal (PS1)

Twisted Metal

Admittedly, the Twisted Metal series didn’t really come into its own until part 2, and the original definitely feels like a game that needed a better-polished sequel to fully realize what the franchise was going for. But a lot of that is hindsight talking, and at the time, TM1 was a damn fun game and while it wasn’t technically the first “car combat” game, it was the genre’s Resident Evil or Wolfenstein 3D: the game that set the standard for what the genre would become.
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#9 – Vectorman (GEN)

Vectorman

Like the SNES’ Donkey Kong Country series, a lot of people accuse Vectorman of being a fairly standard – if not subpar – game hidden beneath revolutionary visuals. For me personally, I tend to agree with that assertion of DKC but not of Vectorman, a game that plays like a slower-paced (in a good way) Contra or Gunstar Heroes with the added bonus of an interesting sci-fi vibe and a character that can transform into a variety of vehicles and weapons. Add in exploration and x number of doodads to collect and you have a game that’s a unique blend of shooter and platformer years before Ratchet & Clank would take that angle.
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#8 – Panzer Dragoon (SAT)

Panzer-Dragoon

Much like light gun games, on-rail shooters began to be looked down upon at some point, treated as a stale genre that should be left in the past. Whether or not you agree with that notion (and I don’t), when the genre was still viable nobody did it better than Sega, first with Space Harrier and then with the gorgeous Panzer Dragoon. Set in a completely unique and compelling world, PD was one of the brightest spots of the Saturn’s troubled first year, an original IP in a sea of arcade ports. And that opening movie…whoa.
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#7 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES)

SMW2 Yosih's Island

For some reason, the two “Mario” platformers on SNES fall into the “like but don’t love” category for me. But I really enjoy when Nintendo uses one of Mario’s peripheral characters to explore gameplay concepts that wouldn’t suit Mario – like the fantastic Wario Land series – and Yoshi’s Island is a wonderful example of that. The levels are much more open-ended than a Mario game, Yoshi’s abilities are more significant and varied, and of course, that amazing visual style can’t be overlooked.
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#6 – Virtua Cop (SAT)

Virtua Cop

I’ve said it before on this website, but I’m going to say it again: I love light gun games and I hate that they don’t get much respect anymore. While there is another game on this list that hogged all the light gun glory in 1995 – and rightfully so, honestly – it’s still too bad that Virtua Cop didn’t get more love. It’s one of the only light gun games that I can actually tolerate playing with a controller, but I feel like it was designed that way, and that is part of what makes it so great. There aren’t too many novelty controller-focused games that aren’t all but useless without their intended controller.
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#5 – Jumping Flash! (PS1)

Jumping Flash!

While the PlayStation took an early lead over the Saturn, it certainly wasn’t because of an especially strong launch lineup. I honestly feel that the Saturn had better overall first year software than the PlayStation. That said, Jumping Flash! was the PS1’s best launch window game in my opinion, due in no small part to how well it demonstrated the system’s ability to render large 3D environments. It was also a wonderfully strange game that played far better than a first-person platformer in 1995 had any business playing.
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#4 – NBA Live 96 (GEN)

NBA Live 96

The PS1/Saturn/N64 era is when I feel that sports sims got too complicated for me, but in the 16-bit years I was still a big fan of EA Sports’ offerings. NBA Live was by far my favorite 16-bit sports series, just the right amount of realism without needing to be a hardcore NBA buff to play it well. My brother and I put countless hours into our respective custom teams full of our real-life friends, playing game after game in a virtually endless pretend NBA Finals series. We easily played hundreds of games of NBA Live 96, and we kept the Genesis hooked up way longer than we probably would have otherwise just for that purpose.
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#3 – Time Crisis (arcade)

Time Crisis

Yep, this is that other light gun game I was referring to. TC‘s ability to let you duck behind cover via a foot pedal on the machine completely changed the dynamic of a light gun game, meaning that avoiding enemy fire was no long about random luck or simply shooting bad guys before they could shoot you. The fact that no other light gun series bothered to adopt this mechanic meant that every series that wasn’t Time Crisis felt progressively dated and harder for me to enjoy as time went on.
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#2 – Virtua Fighter 2 (SAT)

Virtua-Fighter-2

After the missteps that were the flawed first Saturn version of VF1 and its freebie apology version, Virtua Fighter 2 hit the Saturn in its first holiday season and showed everyone what the Saturn was capable of when rushed deadlines weren’t a factor. Running at a “high-resolution” and steady 60fps, VF2 was a gorgeous game, but more importantly it took the rather shallow gameplay of the original and made the VF series a franchise to truly reckon with. To this day, it remains my second-favorite 3D fighting game behind Tekken 3.
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#1 – Chrono Trigger (SNES)

Chrono Trigger

Basically every well-loved game has its fair share of detractors and people who like to crow about how overrated it is. From what I’ve seen, Chrono Trigger is the well-loved game that gets labeled with the o-word the least. Few people seem to dispute CT’s standing as a masterpiece, and that’s because it is. Not surprising given that it was created by the main creative forces behind both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, as well as art by the creator of Dragon Ball, all still at the height of their creative abilities. There will never again be a gathering of that much different talent working together all at the peak of their powers, which is why there will never again be a game like Chrono Trigger.
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2005

#10 – Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GC)

DK Jungle Beat

A platform game that you have to play with bongo drums? I was just as skeptical as anyone. There was no reason to expect anything but DK Jungle Beat being a disaster, or at least a fun novelty that got old after a few minutes (like Donkey Konga). But against all odds it ended up being one of the big ape’s best games and a legitimate, full-fledged platform game. That the core team behind this game went on to be the core team behind Super Mario Galaxy – Mario’s best 3D game (yeah, I said it) – shouldn’t really be a big surprise.
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#9 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)

Phoenix Wright

The Phoenix Wright games are basically movies that you watch and occasionally interact with more so than actual “games,” but when they are this well written and have personality for miles (obscure pun intended), who the hell cares? The original is still the best of the series, but that isn’t necessarily a knock on the other games – the first game is just that good. The fact that such a niche-style game actually sold well enough in North America for Capcom to bring so many sequels here is a testament to the game’s appeal.
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#8 – Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit) (XBX)

indigo-prophecy

David Cage has gotten a lock of flack over the years, especially following Beyond: Two Souls, easily his most maligned game. And while a lot of that flack is justified, I still enjoy his games, and Indigo Prophecy is definitely my favorite. The Dragon’s Lair-inspired gameplay wasn’t as polished and well-integrated as it is in Heavy Rain, but I found IP’s story and characters to be far more interesting. Sure, a lot of it is B-movie shlock, with nonsensical martial arts fights against demons and women who had to be in low-cut tank tops and thongs during any scenes of them at home, but it is a wild, ridiculous ride that I enjoyed every second of, necrophilia and all.
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#7 – We Love Katamari (PS2)

We Love Katamari

Another game that did way better in the U.S. then I would’ve expected it to, Katamari Damacy also got enough love here for it to become a series that expanded across multiple platforms over the years. Still, this second outing remains the best, the last game in the series to be worked on by its creator (and it shows). The core gameplay of a Katamari game is admittedly unremarkable, and it’s]the characters, dialogue, music, and environments that make them memorable, none of which were firing on all cylinders in any subsequent Katamari games like they were here.
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#6 – Timesplitters: Future Perfect (PS2)

Timesplitters FP

I did an entire top 5 about why the Timesplitters series is the best FPS franchise of all time, so feel free to check that out if you want my full thoughts on this amazing series. But in regards to this installment in particular, it finally took the typically shallow story mode of previous TS games and made it into a compelling, full-fledged time travel epic, and genuinely one of the most enjoyable single-player experiences I’ve ever had with an FPS. Not that the typical wealth of modes and challenges that make a TS game what it is aren’t also in full effect, because they most certainly are.
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#5 – Mario Kart DS (DS)

Mario Kart DS

Even though I believe Mario Kart 8 to be the overall best MK game of all time, I still feel that MKDS has the best single-player experience of the entire series. It is the only MK game to actually attempt the “adventure mode” that made rival games like Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing so compelling, and Nintendo abandoning that for subsequent entries is something I still don’t understand. There is nothing less interesting than when a game’s single-player mode is basically just multiplayer vs the AI.
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#4 – God of War (PS2)

God of War

Back before “press X to do something awesome” became an overused cliché, it was still a fresh, fun idea when it was presented in God of War. The over-the-top stylish action game genre was at its best in the early to mid 00’s, and God of War was the best one not made by Capcom. Kratos’ quest for revenge would get increasingly ridiculous and more mean-spirited as the series went on and he just began murdering god after god seemingly for the thrill of it, but in the original GoW you still felt like there was a noble, justifiable purpose for all of the bloodshed, which made the violence more compelling.
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#3 – Psychonauts (XBX)

Psychonauts

Gamers seem to have a conflicted relationship with Tim Schafer in recent years, but he used to be gaming’s golden boy, and Psychonauts was one of the big reasons why. A platformer/adventure game taking place literally inside the twisted subconsciouses of the game’s wild characters, that conceit gave Schafer and co. creative license to make a series of levels that didn’t have to make any sense and could be as crazy and rule-breaking as they could dream up – and in that regard, they did not disappoint.
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#2 – Resident Evil 4 (PS2)

RE4

I was never a huge RE fan – I loved the first one but then quickly grew disillusioned with the series beginning with part 2, instead preferring the psychological horror of Silent Hill. But I bought into the RE4 hype and took the plunge, and as the end credits rolled I knew I had just experienced one of the best games of all time. I immediately lost my interest in the series again with RE5 and have gone right back to being lukewarm about it since, which speaks to just how amazing of a game part 4 truly is.
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#1 – Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)

Shadow of the Colossus

Not only is this my favorite game of 2005 and my favorite game on the PS2 and one of my favorite game of that entire generation, it is one of my absolute favorite games of all time. If I were to do a list of compelling, memorable, exciting, and powerful individual moments I’ve ever experienced in all the games I’ve ever played, moments from SotC would completely overwhelm the list. I know that no game will ever truly be perfect, but for me, Shadow of the Colossus is right up there with Tetris, Super Metroid, Super Mario Bros. 3, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Street Fighter II as games that come as close to flawless as you can get.
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4 thoughts on “My Favorite Games of 1985, 1995, and 2005

  1. Yeah, after researching, 2005 was a great year. My top 10)Top 10 games of 2005
    1) Dragon Quest 8
    2) Resident Evil 4
    3) Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
    4) Guitar Hero
    5) Meteos
    6) Shadow of the Colossus
    7) Stubbs the Zombie
    8) Spiderman 2
    9) Kirby’s Canvas curse
    10) Geometry Wars: Retro evolved

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apart from the top 2 games, 2005 was a pretty bad year judging from this list imo. I woukd flip one and two, personally. Re4 is maybe the best game of that whole generation.

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    1. I’m not sure how Psychonuats, God of War, and one of the better Mario Karts equates to a bad year. And these are just my personal favorites; it was also the year of Guitar Hero, Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow, Dragon Quest 8, KOTOR 2, Gran Turismo 4, Lumines and Meteos, Burnout Revenge, Soul Calibur 3, and Stubbs the Zombie, among others.

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