I honestly feel like I don’t know where to start with this one. I wasn’t even planning on running a ‘Games of the Decade’ blog post, but why the hell not, right?
So, I started thinking about the games which sucked up so many hours of my time, those which while I may not have spent a long time with, but have stayed with me. Ten years is a long time and that’s a lot of games, too. Rather than write a first draft list, I thought I’d just choose the games which come to mind first. And no, it’s not TEN games because I’m awkward and fuck the police.
I considered picking one from each year, but with so many restrictions, it stopped being fun. With that in mind, here are my games of the past decade (one thing I’ve noticed, reading back over this list, is that my love of rogue-likes and indies is clear, but also my decade revolves a lot around the games I play with my kids. And that’s pretty damn cool)
The Binding of Isaac (Rebirth/Afterbirth) – What else could come to mind first? Over PS4, Vita, PC and Switch, I’ve logged around 3,000 hours in The Binding of Isaac. I’ve got two tattoos dedicated to Edmund McMillen’s rogue-like masterpiece, with a third planned for next year. I could distil my thoughts about this game into simplistic notions; wonderful pixel art, gross humour, deep meaning behind the lore, replayability, the scaling of the difficulty and the hundreds of items behind gaining a 100% clear. This game means a lot more to me than those points. It got me through tough times. It pushed me through my depression and anxiety, it gave me a purpose at times and more than that, it became a home, a place to feel comfortable. Even amongst all the poop jokes and blood spatters. It probably came into my life at just the right time, I needed something repetitive enough to let my mind go, but that contained variety and moments of determination. I found that in the Basement, the Chest and in the Dark Room. It’s still a game I’ll revisit often and it was Isaac which kindled my love of the rogue-like genre; pushing me to strive for the perfect attempt through all the chaos, gaining some form of control.
Minecraft – I got on in year one and haven’t stopped playing since. Through all the updates, from Java edition on PC up to handheld playing on Switch with my daughters. Much like Isaac, Minecraft was there through the rough times, but this blocky adventure unleashed creativity as well as challenge. Worlds sprawled, farms were planted and dragons slain. I built castles, towers, monumental murals made from dyed wool. The appeal of Minecraft has never faded because it offers so much. Never one for building working calculators, I log in and just wander the maps, genuinely in awe of large vistas filled with mountains and oceans or I can set myself goals and mini missions, knowing that my kids can drop in and help out. Working together on something like this with them shows me their creativity and ingenuity. My eldest will drag information from the depths of her brain informing us of the intricate nuances in our shared world. My youngest feeds her passions for exploring, setting off with me – only a map, sword and pick-axe. At the moment we’ve created a self-sustaining village where our crops are bountiful, we’ve got barns of animals and mines being stripped of ore. Our goal is the Ender Dragon, I guess, but along the way we’ve laughed, pined after lost XP on death and built something solid.
Tetris Effect – Mesmerising. Monumental. Surreal. Hypnotic. Genius. Wonderful. Adventurous. I could go on. I never thought a simple game like Tetris could make me feel a swell of differing emotions over the course of an hour. On my first playthrough I smiled, laughed, raged a little and even felt my eyes get wet as the combo of sumptuous visuals and beautiful audio met. It’s the first game I get friends to play when they visit, the first I loaded up when I upgraded to 4K and I always play in the dark with headphones on, so it feels like I’m completely immersed – I’m yet to play in VR due to the price point of headsets, but it’s on the list. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve played through the full game in one sitting, striving to better my score. But it always comes down to the fact that I just want to experience it all over again, from banging jungle drums to ticking Arctic sounds and thumping bass. If I could erase any game from my memory and experience it all over again, this is the title I’m choosing. Read this REVIEW from Donlan for more words on this absolute gem.
Overwatch – Sure the game hasn’t evolved much recently and Blizzard have made many missteps of late, but Overwatch is still a tight and enjoyable team shooter. It brought me and my friends across the country much closer. I haven’t played for a long time but the recent trailer for the ‘sequel’ got me excited all over again. I was always a filthy D.Va main, but loved to cycle through characters on a whim or a feeling. Not many games got the ‘hero multiplayer’ concept right, but props to Blizzard for nailing it. Each and every game brought laughs, some frustrations and plenty of golden moments in Play of the Game, which bombarded my Facebook feed for some time. I always itched for some PvE though and Junkenstein was always a great time to be had, here’s to more of that in the future! Oh and #FreeHongKong.
Portal 2 – The opening hour of Portal 2 is perhaps as close as videogames will get to perfection. As the world crumbles around you, the West Country tones of Stephen Merchant spring forth with witty jokes and a charismatic inflection – if robots can have that. Those opening minutes had humour, excitement and a teasing reveal of what was to come. Of course, as the game gets going it’s bursting with ingenious puzzles, bleak environments and one of the greatest antagonists ever created. Portal never loses sight of the human side of things, in that we must be entertained from several sides – it’s not just about puzzles, but fun, set-pieces and madcap lore. Portal spawned many clones, to the point where first-person puzzler was a genre relaunched.
Pokemon Go! – It’s an obsession now. It all started as a bit of fun, a few million of us tromping around the country on the lookout for these cute critters. It’s a game often lauded through memes that the release of the game made the world a better place, even if only for a short time. Those of us who stuck out the lengthy slow start evolved damn near everything possible, caught thousands of the little Pocket Monsters and are still going. For me, it brought to life my favourite videogame franchise, allowing me to collect my favourites, hunt for shiny ‘mons and even make some friends along the way. I set myself the goal of creating and honing a living Pokedex, never trading everything away so that I had one of every creature living in my phone. There are shiny versions, some with hats and region variants too. It’s always in my hand when I walk anywhere, always the first thing I open when heading to a new place. Nothing dampens my sense of joy, even when it’s raining and I’m battling a raid on my own.
Celeste – Brace yourself for a bold statement… In my opinion, Celeste is the best platformer from the last decade. It’s perhaps one of the finest platform games of all time and is certainly in my top three, up there with Mario Bros 3. Why? Ingenuity mostly. The abilities given over to the player create opportunities for moments. With such a small array of special moves, Celeste requires players to think fast and often outside of the box. Finally grabbing hold of the solution to movement has the ability to make a player feel God-like, as if each fingertip is filled with unlimited power. Celeste also looks and sounds wonderful. Utilising pixel art is a difficult process nowadays, striking a balance is the key to looking good. Too much detail and things becomes too busy on the screen, too little and the player won’t connect with the cast. It helps that Celeste often falls on a pastel palette which conjures a more peaceful feeling and/or world. For all its latter difficulty, the experience of playing Celeste always feels like the reward and reaching the top of the mountain? That’s a moment to relish.
Spelunky – Another pixel based rogue-like, another incredibly difficult indie game. Spelunky has stolen hundreds of hours from me, via playing normally, trying to speedrun it and just watching world records on Twitch. That popular streaming platform’s name highlights exactly why Spelunky works so well. It’s ‘twitch’ based mechanics at their finest. Completing anything in Spelunky is cause for celebration due to its feeling of difficulty. There’s a sense that one misplaced step will spell the end for your run and learning everything here is done through missteps. There’s no manual, no helpful guide and many of the hidden levels and abilities were only found through experimenting or sharing knowledge. For me, as you may have noticed, games mean the most when they push me to almost impossible situations, because when I eventually come out on top, I’ve achieved something. I’ve beaten the odds and learned something along the way. I’ll leave the last word to my favourite streamer, Jamie ‘Kinnijup’ White who is perhaps the best player on the planet, holding many World Records…
Super Mario Odyssey – Time for a very embarrassing admission. This probably would have been Galaxy on the Wii, but I never finished the first one or even played the second. It’s not because I didn’t want to, but because I never made time and now they feel like they passed me by. So Odyssey steps in and takes the place instead. Because it’s a genuine masterpiece. Not only does this latest Mario entry look and sound utterly brilliant, but it brought in a great new mechanic in using the hat to control enemy characters. However, for me, the best aspect of Odyssey are the many worlds to explore. Each offering something new laid over the foundations which Mario has used for years, meaning that yes there’s a water world, a desert world, etc, but each feels fresh and exciting. Also, no other company can produce colours on screen like Nintendo (they can, but allow me my hyperbole) bringing games that are so bold they stay burned onto your retinas for weeks after the credits roll. They’re childlike and tap into that part of us which needs an aspect of colurful play.
Senua’s Sacrifice – I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a game like this before… or since. I was slightly late to this party. I heard good things and people talked about how it handled mental health, so I downloaded it, turned off the lights and put my headphones on. I didn’t get up once during play and around six-ish hours later I’d finished the game. It has flaws – the combat isn’t great and sometimes the exploration was too linear, but it played with sound and visuals in a very unique way. Without giving too much away, our protagonist hears voices and cannot trust what she sees. This is transferred to the player through distant voices, angry outbursts ringing through your ears and movements on screen that may or may not actually be there. The story follows this feeling along and never does it feel cheesy or overly dramatic, in fact watching the documentary included with the game, it shows that the developers were very careful in their handling of intrusive voices. It’s a truly amazing piece of work, one that requires a lot from the player but also creates a memory which will stay with you for a long time.
Fortnite – Alright, alright, I had to put it in somewhere. So it’s not a piece of artistic genius, it won’t win any awards for being brilliantly written, but there’s no doubting the success and the way it has captured my need for a shooter which doesn’t always take itself seriously. Fortnite is a game that has brought me and my kids hours of fun, it has made some great moments online and to be a bit selfish for a moment, it has begun to define my career. Without Fortnite, I wouldn’t have seen the success I have and I’m very thankful for that. I’m grateful that a game I enjoy playing and watching has given me opportunities I never thought I would have. At one point I’d have said my enjoyment was partly ironic, but over time I’ve begun to love this game in a way I’ll never love others. For me, it’s never about the Victory Royales (though they’re great) it’s about exploring, connecting and being a part of something bigger than me. Plus, it oddly strikes the same chords as a rogue-like in that I’m required to build a loadout from RNG randomness, but I get to do it on a grand stage with millions of others.