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11/20/2019

21 Best Games of the Decade (2010-2019)

As usual for these lists, keep in mind that I have played every single game released over the last decade on every platform imaginable, from the OUYA to the PS4 to obscure Atari Jaguar demoscene productions, to spare you the trouble of telling me I forgot something. Please, hold your applause.

21. Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition (Square Enix, 2016)

Final Fantasy XV had a long and convoluted history, beginning first as a Final Fantasy XIII spinoff before eventually becoming its own thing, though losing a lot of plot scenes to rewrites, redesigns and strange management decisions in the process.  The end result, while somewhat clunky and awkwardly balanced, is nonetheless a great open-world RPG with some well-written characters, solid acting, surprisingly fun (if simple) combat and just a well-told story in general.  Even the DLC is solid, expanding on the narrative and changing up the gameplay style for each individual character, and the Royal Edition polishes up a lot of elements that felt lacking in the original release, making it feel like a much more complete game overall.  Not perfect, but easily the best Final Fantasy since 12.

20. Indivisible (Lab Zero Games, 2019)


An RPG from many of the minds behind the cult indie fighter Skullgirls, Indivisible is also a masterful blend of platforming, metroidvania and fighting game elements into one smooth experience.  Combat in the game is similar in format to Valkyrie Profile, assigning each of your four characters to a button and giving them three normal attacks, plus supers, to chain together, with more damage resulting from higher combos and air juggles.  The environments in the game are gorgeous, the soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta (of Secret of Mana fame) is fantastic, the dialog is consistently funny, your movement mechanics make exploring a blast, and the fact that there are over twenty playable characters to experiment with (with more on the way as future DLC) makes it a game with a lot of depth, challenge and replayability.  Indivisible may not quite hit "masterpiece" status, but it's still a highly entertaining game that's well worth a look.

19. The Outer Worlds (Obsidian Entertainment, 2019)


Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky return for a twisted tale set in a space age run by enormous mega-corporations, and the storytelling therein is fantastic - oppressive and unsettling, yet rife with the dark humor and sharp wit they've built their names on, not to mention featuring branching paths depending on the choices you make throughout.  The gameplay makes a lot of common sense improvements to the Fallout formula - a more streamlined weapon/armor repair system, allies adding their carry weight and inventory space to your own automatically, and you each get your own sets of perks and special abilities.  Another thing I quite like is the "flaw" system - if you repeatedly fail at certain tasks or get beaten up too much by certain enemies, you have the option to take a penalty on future encounters in exchange for an extra Perk, so you get a benefit with a string attached.  It may not grant as much exploration as I'd like for a space game, but it's still a stellar RPG with a lot to offer any discerning fan.

18. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo, 2019)

As those who know me know, I wasn't really taken with the first Mario Maker; it felt very limited in many respects and lacked a lot of elements of the games it was purportedly allowing you to build, the lack of quality control on random level assignments was frustrating,
and the fact that Nintendo seemingly was just using it as a cheap excuse to wage war on ROM hackers and modders just left a sour taste in my mouth overall.  Thankfully, Super Mario Maker 2 addresses many of these faults, with many more features (working in Mario 3D World and even Super Mario Land elements), and having a single player campaign with well-designed example stages, a difficulty select for its endless mode and a tutorial full of pointers built in has seemed to significantly cut down on unplayable crap levels.  And with all that nailed down, it's classic Mario action in an engine that lets your imagination truly run wild - a ton of fun, and what the first game should have been.

17. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Artplay, 2019)


Three years after Mighty No. 9 ruined Kickstarter for everybody and almost a full year after a buggy demo was released, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night finally made its debut.  And thankfully, they did very much learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and (with some help from WayForward) delivered a polished, entertaining and aesthetically-impressive indie Castlevania title.  And it really does capture the feel of its parent exquisitely well, even retaining finer elements like jump-cancelling, many very similar enemies and obstacles and the intricate equipment customization and souls shards system of games like Aria of Sorrow.  But it also does enough to keep itself distinct, with some creative level designs, gameplay elements and a very in-depth crafting system that, properly used, lets you get a leg-up throughout the game and customize your character to a T.  I did still hit a few instances of lag and slowdown and the odd visual glitch here and there, but all things considered, this is a fine return to form for a classic franchise and format after Enric Alvarez coated it in feces and threw it into our faces.

16. Cuphead (Studio MDHR, 2017)

A game built on a gimmick, but it's a damn good one. Cuphead quickly became known for its high quality hand-drawn animation reminiscent of old Looney Tunes cartoons, and that alone would be enough to sell it to a classic cartoon dork like me. But when you use it as a vehicle for a crazy, Treasure-esque action game with tons of imaginative and challenging boss battles, you have a truly excellent experience.  Moreso because the game is well designed enough to never feel cheap or unfair, and unlike many games of this type, you aren't punished for buying and using power ups. Great fun in both co-op and single player.

15. Torchlight II (Runic Games, 2012)


Diablo III was a complete letdown, but thankfully, where Blizzard fails their former staff picks up the slack.  Torchlight II is a celebration of everything great about the format, featuring four classes with a ton of customizability and some surprisingly innovative features.  Like being able to dynamite-fish or send your pet back to town to cash in items and even buy potions, keeping yourself in the field for much longer.  Unlike its predecessor, the game also supports online co-op and modding, adding even more replayability to the game, and mods can even be used online with friends for even more fun.  Generally just a well-made, fun action RPG experience, and everything Diablo III should have been.

14. Puyo Puyo Tetris (Sonic Team, 2017)

Tetris is an untouchable classic and Puyo Puyo is a great competitive action-puzzler, so hey, why not mash them both together and make bank?  That's exactly what Sonic Team did, and the end result is ingenious, letting you play one game or the other, pit one game against the other, swap between them at set intervals (30 seconds by default) or play a strange mashup of both where you can rack up some truly insane combos, and all of it is extremely fun, especially in competitive multiplayer.  Sonic Team's passion for its namesake may have died years ago, but they can still turn out a damn fine puzzle game.

13. Bayonetta 2 (PlatinumGames, 2014)

It was no easy task to make a worthy followup to one of the best action games ever made, but Yusuke Hashimoto certainly made a very good attempt at it.  Bayonetta 2 is perhaps even more crazy than the original, bringing in outlandish weapons like a giant scythe, a bow-and-arrow, deadly ice skates and chainsaws for both legs and arms, and puts you against new hordes of demons and angels in constant, crazy over-the-top setpieces.  It's not quite as fine-tuned as the original, but it's still a standout action game and well worth your time to check out.

12. Saints Row IV (Volition, 2013)

Saints Row is definitely a strange franchise, starting out as a fairly mundane GTA clone and only becoming sillier as it went until it resembled a full-blown Tex Avery cartoon by the third game.  IV somehow gets even sillier than that, throwing aliens, superpowers, insane weapons like the Dubstep Gun and countless pop culture references into the mix, but somehow it all works.  Mostly because the game doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest and manages to engineer every aspect of its gameplay for maximum fun - missions, combat, and just charging around the city smashing everything in your path are all a blast.  A game that's brilliant in its stupidity and genius in its madcap execution.

11. XCOM 2 (Firaxis Games, 2016)

The XCOM series is a beloved classic among PC gamers that found new life in 2012 with a solid reboot, but for me, it doesn't get much better than its sequel.  Set in a darker future where XCOM lost the first alien war and the aliens now run a shadow government across the entire planet, the stakes are definitely high this time.  Because of that, the odds are stacked against you from the start, with a constant race against a sinister "Avatar Project" and the aliens only becoming more resilient and aggressive as you step up your efforts, often making you choose between one mission or another with your limited time and resources and usually finding yourself at a disadvantage when you show up.  The expansions are excellent too, adding in new playable classes and characters and even three badass boss characters for you to battle throughout, who only get more powerful and dangerous as the game goes on (but once you finally manage to finish them off, you get to take their awesome artillery for yourself).  And of course, a plethora of mods on the PC version only let you take things even further.  Firaxis does it again.

10. Dust: an Elysian Tail (Humble Hearts, 2012)

A 2D Metroidvania that was designed, animated and programmed by one guy over a three-year period.  That'd be pretty impressive on its own, but the fact that it has gorgeous and fluid animation, a fairly basic but surprisingly fun combat system throughout, and and manages to tell a surprisingly good, dark story in spite of its cute Disney-esque aesthetic really sold it for me. Top that with an incredible soundtrack by Hyperduck Soundworks and some high-quality voiceover, both of which very effectively draw you into the world and the story, and you have one of the finest indie games I've ever played.

9. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Spike Chunsoft, 2017)


The second in the Danganronpa series - a twisted visual novel franchise with some detective and trial elements reminiscent of Phoenix Wright, though strewn with a lot more minigames, neon colors and general lunacy.  But throughout it all, the writers show a sharp wit and a consistently strong sense of humor, crafting some of the most devious villain characters and strange, yet likable protagonists I've encountered in any video game, and the constant twists throughout make for a captivating experience from beginning to end.  If you give this one a chance, it'll take you for a wild ride.

8. Marvel's Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, 2018)


Superhero games have been around as long as home video games were really a thing, but their quality has usually been pretty dubious.  The success of the Batman Arkham games marked a time when they really started to be taken seriously, and with the release of Marvel's Spider-Man, a new bar has been set.  Everything in this game is masterfully done, capturing Spider-Man's powers, personality, villains, and a well-realized New York setting in fine form, as well as managing to make every single mission objective in it extremely fun.  Combat is a blast, stealth segments are surprisingly well-realized and never frustrating, zipping around the city is a delight, and it has a great storyline that pulls no punches in its emotional moments.  Not only is it a triumph for a legendary character like Spider-Man, but it's easily the best superhero game to date.

7. Axiom Verge (Thomas Happ, 2016)


I'm still flabbergasted that one guy can make an incredible 2D Metroid game all by himself, yet Nintendo, with all the money and talent at their fingertips, hasn't done so in well over a decade.  Axiom Verge is a brilliant example of the format, showing off an eerie alien atmosphere with some unique takes on powerups like a gun that corrupts enemy data (glitching out their graphics and often changing the properties of their movements and attacks), a unique take on the morph ball, and a huge arsenal of weapons that give it something of a Contra feel.  Not to mention an absolutely stellar soundtrack that only compounds the unsettling mood.  Tom Happ is an enormous talent and I eagerly await his next project.

6. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo, 2017)

People had demanded another 3D Mario in the style of 64, Sunshine and Galaxy for quite a while, and though it took a long time to happen, it was very much worth the wait.  Mario Odyssey has a ton of interesting new levels (including probably my favorite Bowser world ever - pictured to the right) and a great central gimmick in the form of Cappy, letting you possess and control almost any enemy in a level and use their abilities to your advantage to maneuver around and complete objectives.  That, plus some great music, stellar visuals and a massive variety of secrets to find, missions to complete and costumes to unlock, make this an extremely entertaining romp.  Mario has his ups and downs like any long-running franchise, but at the height of his game, he'll always be the best at what he does.

5. Persona 4 Golden (Atlus, 2011)


Persona 4 was a fantastic RPG and a great send-off to the PS2 era for the genre, and Golden, released three years later on the PSVita, only made it better.  Adding in a ton of new content in the form of plot scenes, social links, areas to visit and new mechanics (including a plethora of new battle animations and special effects), and all of it is surprisingly well-integrated into what came before.  A game brimming with content and possessing some inspired comedy, a great running storyline and some extremely memorable and captivating characters, Persona 4 Golden is just an amazing experience on every front.  It's a shame it's basically the last gasp of that classic Atlus quality before Sega bought out the company and converted them into another soulless cash cow machine.

4. Shadowrun: Dragonfall (Harebrained Schemes, 2014)

The second game of Harebrained's rebooted Shadowrun franchise, and it's easily my favorite of the three.  Set in an anarchic future Germany, your characters set out to discover the reason behind their comrades' sudden death and, in doing so, unravel a vast conspiracy that threatens the future of the world itself.  The game is brimming with atmosphere to that end - every choice you make feels like the wrong one, and something that benefits you in the short term will often make things harder for you in the long run - usually pissing off someone powerful and dangerous.  A great tactical combat game with some inspired storytelling throughout.

3. Undertale (Toby Fox, 2015)


A game very much inspired by Earthbound (my favorite game of all time), so naturally I had to check it out.  And like that game, it's also brimming with a sincerity and charm that few other games can match.  Of course, it's also not without its fresh elements - a combat system that works a bit like a bullet-dodging shmup at some times and a platformer or rhythm game at others, and multiple paths through the story depending on one's choices throughout, letting the player "defeat" enemies nonviolently or through the traditional RPG method of smashing them to pieces with a blunt instrument.  This, plus simple but charming graphics, great music and some amazingly well-written characters and heartfelt, yet hilarious dialog, make it a very captivating experience.  Not to mention that the things you do in previous playthroughs will change things up for later ones, so it has plenty of replay value on top.

2. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games (2017)


Easily my favorite visual novel franchise of resent years, Zero Escape at first seems to be something akin to a horror movie - nine people trapped in a life-or-death scenario and desperately trying to make their way out before it's too late.  However, it soon gives way to something much deeper, quickly working in elements of urban legends and some surprisingly cerebral science fiction and philosophical themes, and while it does get extremely convoluted, it's nonetheless a journey that remains thrilling every step of the way.  As ever, I can't say too much without giving things away, so I'll just say that you should play it - you won't be let down by what you find.

1. Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment, 2011)


Like most long-time Fallout fans, I had mixed feelings about the franchise being bought out by Bethesda, as well as their insistence on scrapping everything that had been done with Black Isle's Fallout 3 and starting from scratch to tell their own story.  I think they did a pretty good job capturing the mood of Fallout, but it just didn't feel quite as good as the two PC classics that came before.  But when New Vegas was announced as a game that would bring the original dev team back to the franchise, I was naturally very excited to see what they would have to offer.  Thankfully, they did an incredible job bringing the series back to its roots with a vast and complex web of factions, dozens of locations to explore, hundreds of quests to complete and characters to interact with, as well as some of the most inspired DLC missions I've ever seen in any game (particularly Old World Blues, which is incredibly surreal and downright hilarious).  It is hampered somewhat by the dated Gamebryo engine and still very buggy even after numerous patches, but none of that can change the fact that it's a fantastic RPG and, in my book, one of the finest examples of the genre ever created.