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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.

Oh, and I'm limiting myself to one game per franchise to keep the list more diverse.  You're welcome.

HM. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo, 2019)


Yes, I'm breaking my rule right away, which is why this one's only an honorable mention.  But I just have to give Mario Maker 2 some props for how much of an improvement it was over the original game.  Not only did it address some significant shortcomings by returning many missing level elements and adding in quite a few more (Mario 3D World and even Super Mario Land are now represented), but they included a campaign mode with several high-quality example stages, a difficulty select for its endless mode and a tutorial full of pointers, which has greatly cut down on the volume of unplayable junk levels.  With all that nailed down, it's classic Mario action in an engine that lets your imagination truly run wild - a ton of fun, what the first game should have been, and easily one of the best games on the Switch.

HM. No Man's Sky (Hello Games, 2016)

Like most, I was let down with NMS's initial launch; it promised a grand spacefaring adventure with everything you could possibly want to that end, but just delivered a threadbare experience with virtually no story and nothing interesting to really do in it, and was met with an extremely hostile reception as a result.  However, they have since made great strides in turning the game around with a series of updates, adding in a lot of content that was initially promised and much more.  There are now multiple game modes, many more story beats, the ability to build you own bases, raise animals, craft upgrades for your suit, multitool and ship, and even reshape the terrain on planets you've inhabited, and a proper multiplayer mode among numerous others.  Granted, I would have much preferred they pushed the game back and included that stuff in the first place instead of releasing it in a threadbare state with a promise to "fix it later", but at least all of these updates are free, and there's no microtransactions or other dumb bullshit either (COUGHEliteDangerous).  So if you wrote off No Man's Sky before, give it another try now; I think you'll have a lot more fun with it.

21. 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.

20. 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 piecemeal 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 it's everything the XIII trilogy tried and failed to be, and easily the franchise's best entry since XII.

19. 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.

18. 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.

17. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Eluisive Age Definitive Edition (Square Enix, PS4/PC/Switch/XBone)

Dragon Quest is a series that was largely ignored in the west for a long time, but XI was the first in over a decade to really take off and become regarded as one of the genre's finest.  It's easy to see why, too - while the core design, aesthetics and even sound effects and music cues have stayed unchanged for over three decades now, the game is so finely polished and flawlessly executed in every respect that they add to its overall charm, not subtract from it.  The characters are fantastic, the writing is solid and Akira Toriyama's distinct character designs are brought to life with expressive animations and great voiceover.  There is still a heavy focus on monster killing and item farming, though you can greatly speed up the combat and even assign party members to AI control to quickly blaze through mundane fights and switch back to manual on the fly whenever necessary.  The game even pays homage to all of its predecessors with a game-spanning questline where you set the past straight, which is just awesome.  Lots of companies are content to just make cynical cashins that look the part but are no fun to actually experience, but Dragon Quest XI gets it, embodying everything great about old-school RPGs while working in enough quality-of-life features to ensure that it remains fun to even the most jaded modern RPG fan.

16. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, Wii U/Switch)

Breath of the Wild marks Nintendo's first foray into open world gaming, and while it doesn't go off flawlessly, they certainly put forth a valiant effort to make it a unique take on the format.  The game shows an incredible level of polish in its overall design, with a very solid physics engine, clever (though somewhat shallow) cooking/crafting mechanics and some intense combat thanks to the revamped mechanics and more aggressive enemy AI.  The player is also not locked into completing puzzles in one "intended" way - they're given most of their tools right out of the gate and told to use them however and whenever they see fit to get their current objectives done.  Of course, the Zelda staples of incredible setpieces, creatively-crafted dungeons and enormous boss encounters remain, but Breath of the Wild puts a unique spin on nearly every element of the franchise, and for that alone it deserves some respect.

15. Skullgirls: Second Encore (Autumn Games/Lab Zero/M2, 2012)

A sleeper title that slowly built it way up to becoming a cult classic over a number of updates, rereleases and platform ports, Skullgirls is a great fast-paced fighting game with some fantastic hand-drawn animation, very creative character designs and surprisingly innovative elements - infinite combo protection, virtually no unblockable attacks, and surprisingly robust rollback netcode that makes playing online a breeze even without a high-end connection.  Even the story is great, which is pretty rare in the fighting game genre; it hits the perfect blend of humor and drama and ends up being extremely memorable.  It may never be as big as Street Fighter or Tekken or (ugh) Smash, but it's the one I'd much rather play any day of the week. 

14. 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.

13. 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.

12. Divinity: Original Sin II (Larian Studios, 2017)

I never had much interest in the Divinity series; they all just seemed like mediocre knockoffs of games that came before them at a glance, and judging from the unimpressive reviews most of them have gotten, I'm not too far off in that assessment.  Original Sin was allegedly their big breakout title, but I didn't much care for it either; the constant bugginess and jank, inane dialog and slow, tedious combat just wore on me before long.  However, Original Sin II is where they finally got things right.  It takes the inventive and playful ideas of the original game and puts them in a smooth, responsive engine, and it actually becomes a ton of fun to explore the world, discover its densely-packed secrets and find clever ways to reach out-of-reach items, and battles are used much more sparingly so you don't get utterly sick of combat within the first few hours of gameplay.  But when it does happen, it's a thrill to turn the field of battle to your advantage at every opportunity - dropping oil and setting it ablaze, teleporting enemies into spikes or acid/fire fields, channeling lightning through steam clouds, knocking foes out with chloroform and backstabbing their friends, to name just a few.  The narrative is also vastly improved this time, with far less grating party banter and voiceover, genuinely engaging and witty dialog and a plethora of well-written and interesting pre-fab protagonists (and you can still create your own if you choose).  Some of the other mechanics are also unique and downright inspired; conversing with animals, eating the dead to see their memories; even the ability to choose the dominant instrument in the music is something I've never seen in another game.  Hell, I don't even mind the crafting as much now - it actually feels intuitive and doesn't just turn the game into a tedious scavenger hunt as most similar systems tend to.  It took a long road to get here, but Larian made a damn fine RPG with Original Sin II.

11. 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 captivating 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.

10. 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.


9. 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.

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. NieR: Automata (PlatinumGames, 2017)

Yoko Taro is famous for making games both deranged and surprisingly emotional, but they were always rather lacking on the gameplay front.  Automata definitely fixes that right away, combining Platinum's over-the-top style and smooth animations into the mix, and the result is sublime.  A tragic, beautiful, twisted and thoroughly gripping ride, made all the more impactful by an incredible soundtrack (that changes on the fly based on the in-game action) and some incredible voiceover from all involved, but particularly Kira Buckland as 2B and Kyle McCarley as 9S.  It may go on just a touch too long, but it's a journey you'll never forget after you take the plunge.

6. 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.

5. 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.

4. 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.

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, 2010)


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 made a good attempt at capturing the mood of Fallout with 3, but it just didn't feel quite as deep and solidly-crafted 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.