I tend to operate a few years–if not decades–behind when it comes to playing video games, and 2016 was no exception. As it has gone since I’ve started this website, I haven’t played enough of this year’s releases to do a proper “best of” list for 2016. But I also hate being left out of the fun of year-end list-making and always find some other way to still make a list to close out the year. Like I did last year, I’m doing my top ten games for 30, 20, and 10 years ago. Here are my favorite games of 1986, 1996, and 2006, according to North American release dates and, in the case of multiplatform games, the version I happened to play.
#10 – Arkanoid (arcade)
Breakout did it first, Alleyway did it later, but Arkanoid did it best. It’s still a blast to this day, especially in the arcade with a proper paddle.
#9 – Where in the U.S.A is Carmen Sandiego? (PC)
Sure, it was just a glorified geography quiz and most of us only played it because we were forced to in school. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t also a lot of fun.
#8 – Space Quest: Chapter 1 – The Sarien Encounter (PC)
While King’s Quest took a bit of a stumble in 1986 with its divisive third installment, the terrific debut Space Quest game was there to pick up the adventure game slack.
#7 – Balloon Fight (NES)
Taking Joust and making it more forgiving (and more fun) would’ve been enough, but Balloon Flight mode put this game over the top. R.I.P. Satoru Iwata.
#6 – Rampage (arcade)
Decades before Minecraft had you tediously punching trees, Rampage let you punch down entire buildings–and trains and helicopters and tanks and boats and…
#5 – Ikari Warriors (arcade)
In addition to bring two-player co-op to the Commando formula, Ikari Warriors was also one of the first arcade games to feature rotary joysticks.
#4 – Out Run (arcade)
There isn’t enough space here to list all the ways Out Run was innovative. But what matters is that it was–and still is–an absolute dream to play.
#3 – Gauntlet II (arcade)
The sequel to one of the first great co-op games refined the formula and made for an even more compelling quest, especially with three fellow adventurers. Don’t shoot the food!
#2 – Bubble Bobble (arcade)
Speaking of great co-op games, whether you played it at arcades or on NES, with the possible exception of Contra there was no funner game to tackle with a friend in the 80s.
#1 – Rolling Thunder (arcade)
Rolling Thunder proved that action games could be more deliberately-paced and have an extra layer of strategy and stealth–featuring a cover system decades before Gears of War.
#10 – Metal Slug (arcade)
Just as Contra began to falter, Metal Slug reinvigorated the run-and-gun genre with a big dose of humor and some of the most gorgeous pixel animation of all time.
#9 – Mr. Bones (Saturn)
What Mr. Bones lacked in polish it more than made up for in miles and miles of personality. No two levels are alike, and every one is as delightfully batty as the last.
#8 – Jumping Flash! 2 (PS1)
The sequel to the most creative game in the PS1’s launch lineup was another adventure full of nausea-inducing jumps and smile-inducing gameplay.
#7 – Virtua Cop 2 (Saturn)
The following year, House of the Dead would be released and become Sega’s flagship light gun franchise. But 1996 belonged to the wonderful and unfairly overlooked Virtua Cop 2.
#6 – NiGHTs Into Dreams… (Saturn)
No, it wasn’t the 3D Sonic game we were waiting for. But NiGHTs ended up being something far better, half-platformer, half-flight game, and all dreamy magic.
#5 – Super Mario 64 (N64)
Nintendo faced the nearly impossible task of both bringing Mario into 3D and still making another grand Mario adventure in and of itself–and they absolutely nailed it.
#4 – Guardian Heroes (Saturn)
By the mid-90s, beat-em-ups had begun to feel stale–so Treasure decided to breathe new life into the genre by brilliantly combining a beat-em-up with an action/RPG.
#3 – Tomb Raider (PS1)
It wasn’t just Lara’s looks that made her a breakout star in 1996, it was her groundbreaking game and its mind-blowing 3D environments.
#2 – Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (Saturn)
Before the series transitioned into an RPG, Panzer Dragoon delivered what remains one of the greatest rail shooters of all time–if not one of the best action games, period.
#1 – Twisted Metal 2 (PS1)
Car combat games–and the Twisted Metal series itself–have been trying for the last 20 years to surpass the greatness of TM2. And nothing has come close to accomplishing that.
#10 – Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox)
After one of gaming history’s biggest falls from grace, Lara managed to do the impossible and make a fine return to form with this solid pseudo-reboot.
#9 – OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast (PS2)
Developer Sumo Digital has been responsible for some of Sega’s best post-Dreamcast output, including this great modern reinterpretation of Out Run.
#8 – Guitar Hero II (PS2)
Plastic instrument-based music games would eventually become a punchline. But in the early years, few genres were more fun, even before the rest of the band joined in.
#7 – Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (PSP)
Syphon Filter made a glorious–but all-too-brief–return on the PSP with a pair of extremely well-made shooters. Dark Mirror was definitely the better of the two.
#6 – Okami (PS2)
One of the most beautiful games ever made, it was only Okami‘s reliance on game time-padding fluff that kept it from being a true masterpiece.
#5 – Black (PS2)
The only way to open doors in Black is to blast them down–you literally can’t open them in a non-violent way. That says all you need to know about this exhilarating FPS.
#4 – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (NDS)
The penultimate game of Castlevania‘s 2000s renaissance–and one of the best–Portrait smartly called back to the character-swapping of Dracula’s Curse.
#3 – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN)
Although it arguably has the slowest introductory area of any Zelda game, it’s also the most creatively daring game in the franchise outside of Majora’s Mask.
#2 – Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (PS2)
Finally letting gamers fully control the camera in a MGS game made the already-fantastic Snake Eater into one of the greatest stealth games of all time.
#1 – Bully (PS2)
GTA is great, but it’s when Rockstar does something different with that formula–this game, Red Dead Redemption, etc–that their brilliance really shines.
Any thoughts on my lists? Care to share your own? That’s what comment sections are for!
Have a great New Year, and I’ll (hopefully) see you in 2017!