As anyone who has read my reviews knows, I tend to be very sparing when handing out 9/10s or 10/10s. While mainstream outlets tend to hand them out like penny candy when a game is promoted enough, I make games (and films, for that matter) work for those grades. I have it so that when a work earns a passing grade, even if it’s a 7/10, it’s a cause for celebration. With me having awarded no 10/10s in this block of 50 reviews, all we have left to discuss are the ones I awarded a 9/10. These are the games I point towards when talking about the hallmarks of a given era or decade, so if you’ve haven’t played them, check them out right away.
5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Yoshi’s Island stands above not only its follow-ups, but any of the 2D Mario games due to its excellent level design, inventive gameplay, and memorable boss fights. Speaking of which, the Yoshi subseries is quite a bit different from Nintendo’s other big-name franchises. While Mario was consistently good and Fire Emblem and The Legend of Zelda had their ups and downs over the years, the Yoshi subseries had an incredible debut installment, achieving a level of quality none of its follow-ups were able to match. The problem is that any later game would either attempt to be “like Yoshi’s Island, except not” or would become overly gimmicky such was the case with Yoshi’s Story or Yoshi Topsy-Turvy.
Though each individual Nintendo fan may come up with a different reason as to why later Yoshi games couldn’t serve as a worthy successor to the one that started it all, I personally feel that Yoshi’s Island is a little like Uncharted 2. What I mean is that Yoshi’s Island managed to be good in so many unique ways from its art design to its self-contained scenario that it would be nearly impossible to create a straight sequel without it being stuck in this game’s shadow. It’s the kind of masterpiece that really could have only been released in 1995 when 2D games had reached their peak and the designers of which were firing on all cylinders. Any later attempt to recreate what made this game so good only grasped that these ideas worked so well without really pondering why they worked. In fact, the means to make a game this good in this specific way may be forever lost, and that’s perfectly fine because it means later creators must find new ways to make masterpieces.
When I started writing game reviews, I always felt that game critics should strive to be on the level of their film-loving counterparts. As of this writing, I no longer want that to be true. In fact, I believe these two critical circles to have the exact opposite problems as one another. One can theoretically count on a film critic to review indie films and big-budget Hollywood productions as though they’re on equal footing, yet in practice, they tend to favor the former for good or for ill. Meanwhile, game critics are so close to the big-name developers themselves that one can count on them to regularly overlook indie titles. The only meaningful exceptions arise whenever the indie game in question is somehow making a lot of waves upon release, which, in the scene’s earliest days, was often accomplished by the creators going out of their way to touch as many raw nerves as possible.
Now, what does any of this have to do with OneShot? The answer is simple. While film critics have their own set of problems, if a film as innovative as OneShot appeared, they wouldn’t have let it fall by the wayside the way game critics did (assuming it wasn’t subject to the “hey, we were wrong to bash this work; it’s a masterpiece now” clause). It’s not all doom and gloom, for I can say this ties into the one of the biggest advantages gamers have over cinephiles. While I find the latter tend not to stray far from their comfort zone, a significant faction of gamers will latch onto something innovative when push comes to shove. Indeed, they were far more responsible for Undertale becoming the sleeper hit of 2015 than the press, who likely would’ve ignored it had it not been for its memetic spread. The same principle applies to OneShot, albeit to a quieter effect.
Someone writing for Polygon believed Gone Home to belong to a master class of affecting storytelling. I feel that person should’ve waited three years for OneShot to come out before writing that because it is far more worthy of that description. Though its gameplay is minimalistic, it beats Gone Home or any given walking simulator handily because it’s not ashamed about what it is. OneShot bends the medium in ways few artists dared dream, and it’s much more forward-looking as a storytelling experience than almost anything the Western AAA industry issued in the 2010s (or even the 2010s film industry, for that matter).
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are fascinating case studies when trying to parse their receptions. Fans were dreading the release of The Wind Waker only for it to be retroactively declared a masterpiece when said fans realized they were betting against the house. Meanwhile, they were looking forward to the release of Twilight Princess, believing it to be the return to form the series needed. Now, The Wind Waker is popularly considered the better of the two games whereas Twilight Princess is often dismissed as Ocarina of Time 2.0.
Personally, I feel it’s an unfair assessment because there’s quite a lot more to it than that. Yes, speaking in retrospect, I can see a lot of what made Skyward Sword so tedious in Twilight Princess, a lot of dungeon items are useless outside of the areas in which they’re found, and one could make an argument that the dungeon design is less exploratory than that of The Wind Waker. However, I don’t think any of this matters in the end because Twilight Princess is a well-made game that has one of the series’ most creative scenarios on top of a solid dungeon design that impresses even to this day. Also, Midna. Fans may be divided on its quality, but I feel it managed to surpass the admittedly still superb Ocarina of Time.
2. Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – Prosecutor’s Path
One of the most intriguing things I learned when researching this game’s development process was that the writing staff spent five days and four nights in a place called the Capcom Manor to work on the game and brainstorm plot points. It turns out they took cues from the famed filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who would similarly gather writers in a hotel room to write scripts. Because of this, one prevailing thought was going through my head as I wrote this review: “were Eshiro and Yamazaki channeling him as they made this game?” Every Ace Attorney game before Prosecutor’s Path had interesting story beats, but never before had they complemented each other this well. There’s not a trace of fluff or filler to be found; every new episode successfully builds off the one that preceded it, forming a memorable story with incredible twists and a strong cast. Spirit of Justice was a great game itself, but Prosecutor’s Path is in a league of its own, being one of the greatest story-heavy games ever made. I can also say that, as of this writing, it is bar-none my favorite Japan-exclusive game, managing to defeat the flawed-but-still-great Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Part of what made the meme-laden writing of Tri Force Heroes or the meme-spewing Ghirahim in Skyward Sword so disappointing is the knowledge that Nintendo doesn’t need to do any of that to be good. In hindsight, they come across as attempts on Nintendo’s part to try to be cool. In reality, they’ve never been cool. This assertion was proven when enthusiasts began flocking towards Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. Sonic the Hedgehog was undeniably cool – early nineties cool, specifically – and the way his debut game overshadowed Super Mario World would set the tone for how Nintendo’s games would be received from that point onward. Their experimental titles would get ignored only for fans to realize they passed up gems and retroactively declare them to be masterpieces. Even back when they were the only game in town, they really stood out like a sore thumb when you compare their work to other facets of eighties culture. So having established that Nintendo has never been cool, I can say that there is absolutely no problem with that. Nintendo has always been about being fun, not cool, which allows their work to transcend the eras in which they debuted.
This brings us to Breath of the Wild. By the 2010s, Nintendo had a fair share of detractors – particularly among the independent critics at the time. As such, it was commonly insinuated that a Nintendo game receiving any kind of significant acclaim was the result of critics refusing to take off their nostalgia goggles. However, I would have to argue that gamers favoring cool over fun wasn’t a problem limited to fans, but also critics. With critics having to hype the latest trendy AAA release as a perfect experience, they often shot themselves in the foot when the next one was somehow even more perfect. Consequently, by 2017, I realized that the overwhelming critical acclaim Nintendo games got were some of the only consensuses I could blindly trust. Because Nintendo seemed to go out of their way to defy the cultural trends at the time and deliver experiences that were fun above all else, I knew they didn’t earn those accolades by fitting in with what was popular at the time.
This brings us to Breath of the Wild. It is easily one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played – not only in a visual sense, but a meta one as well. Hidemaro Fujibayashi and Eiji Aonuma managed to explore the open-world design in ways few Western developers had never considered. The result is that even when I, and many others, were feeling the effects of open-world burnout thanks to the Western AAA industry deciding that “linearity = bad”, Breath of the Wild still managed to deliver an experience that felt completely fresh. The team behind this game should be proud; they took everything that made the original The Legend of Zelda so memorable in 1986 and passed that feeling onto a new generation of enthusiasts in 2017. As one of the best games I’ve ever played, it’s the perfect choice to round out this list.
And that’s that! With me having ranked the 51 games I’ve reviewed between Majora’s Mask and now, here’s how they fare compared to the first 100 games I talked about. New and revised entries are bolded.
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
- Planescape: Torment
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – Prosecutor’s Path
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
- Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
- Metroid Prime
- Chrono Trigger
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
- Treasure of the Rudras
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
- Resident Evil 4
- Super Metroid
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
- Final Fantasy V
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- Super Mario World
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Super Mario 64
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Bravely Default
- Papers, Please
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
- BioShock Infinite
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
- Final Fantasy VI
- Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
- The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
- Live A Live
- Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
- Far Cry 3
- Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
- Metroid Fusion
- Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
- Metal Gear Solid
- Final Fantasy IV
- Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
- Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
- Metroid: Samus Returns
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
- Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
- The Legend of Zelda
- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
- Breath of Fire II
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All
- Metroid: Zero Mission
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
- Blast Corps
- Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
- Super Mario Bros. 2
- Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
- BioShock 2
- Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
- The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
- Super Mario Bros.
- System Shock 2
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures
- Breath of Fire
- Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
- Far Cry 4
- Final Fantasy
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
- King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human
- The Witness
- Metal Gear
- Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
- Earthbound Beginnings
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
- Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
- Laura Bow: The Colonel’s Bequest
- Mother 3
- Sin and Punishment
- King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown
- Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Super Mario Land
- Final Fantasy III
- Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
- Metroid II: Return of Samus
- Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line
- Dragon Quest
- Final Fantasy II
- The Stanley Parable
- Spec Ops: The Line
- The Last of Us
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
- The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
- Beyond: Two Souls
- Yoshi’s Story
- Adventures in the Magic Kingdom
- King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne
- Gone Home
- Sonic Heroes
- The Beginner’s Guide
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
- Metroid: Other M
- Snake’s Revenge
- Sonic R
- Lester the Unlikely
- Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
- Bokosuka Wars
- Friday the 13th (NES)
- Quest for Camelot
- Takeshi’s Challenge
- Deadly Towers
- Rise of the Robots
- Where’s Waldo
- Ride to Hell: Retribution
- Transformers: Mystery of Convoy
- Anubis II
- Ninjabread Man
- Isle of the Dead
- King’s Knight
- Nerves of Steel
- Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Metal Morph
- Dragon’s Lair (NES)
Full disclosure: Since my last milestone post, some of my opinions have changed slightly. Though I don’t remember all of the scoring changes I’ve made since then, I will list some of the more notable ones.
- My stance when it came to works with weak endings has changed slightly. The highest score such a work can receive is a 5/10 as opposed to a 6/10. I made this change because a 6/10 is still a work I can ultimately recommend when push comes to shove, and a work with a terrible ending is a difficult proposition no matter how good it may have been beforehand. Accordingly, games such as System Shock 2, Link’s Awakening, and Metal Gear Solid V have been dropped to that tier.
- Though Metroid Prime 3 remains my favorite Metroid game as of this writing, I reduced to a 9/10 because I feel in hindsight it’s not quite that once-in-a-lifetime achievement that warrants a 10/10.
- The original Uncharted was reduced to a 4/10 because it feels too prototypical compared to its sequels.
- Seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time demonstrated to me how Uncharted 2 falls short of capturing its essence. It’s still good, but I reduced it to a 7/10.
- Uncharted 3 was reduced to a 5/10 because I couldn’t come up with a metric that declares it a superior effort to System Shock 2.
- Because I feel BioShock Infinite is slightly better than the original Modern Warfare, the latter score was dropped to a 7/10 as well.
- Though Planescape: Torment is still a 10/10, I now consider Undertale the superior effort because it is more in tune with the medium when it comes to delivering its narrative.
- Even if it had more of an excuse than most cases, I probably wouldn’t award a game a passing grade if its cutscenes were as long as those of Metal Gear Solid 4. As such, it was dropped to a 6/10.
And for those who have been reading all this time, yes, I still maintain a spreadsheet of the games I’ve reviewed. This includes how many times I’ve awarded each grade and the decades in which each game originated.
We’re now headed into the last month of 2018, and I’ve been working on a new game review as usual. Given that it will be my 151st review, I thought it appropriate to talk about a game in which the number 151 is particularly important.
I wish to thank you all once again for your continued support!