I took a lot of L’s in the ranking sessions for That Ultimate Video Game List Show. I even sunk my ace in the hole, in convincing the others to put Bioshock at number 6. There was a lot of push, shove, and downright scrapes and tumbles. But it was only because we were all so passionate about Video Games. About how so many of these games not only defined us, but defined the generations they were a part of. We ranked art, and when does that ever go well? Outside a few games on this list, I don’t think there’s a bad game among them.
And sure, maybe I was the villain. I hate Wind Waker’s art design, I always have. I know most of you hate me for it. I don’t care. If I cared about being popular, I wouldn’t have voted to put The Last of Us at third with Frank. Love me, hate me, like me, want to shove me out a moving car rolling down a highway. It doesn’t matter, because you NEED me. You need me to sacrifice my game so other games can move on in the ranking. You need me to have these weird principled stances that give you the wild card factor to make it so THIS list doesn’t turn out like every other list.
Anyway, here’s my rankings of the twenty games we picked.
20. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Yes, I’m your villain. This game’s art style is, and always will be, an abomination in my eyes. After pushing the boundries between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, we get this cell-shaded abortion. I’m glad you like it, I never will. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Trevor DEFINITELY took the opportunity to use this game as the featured artwork for the post to troll Cam)
What in the world was Logan thinking? This is our Gamecube entry. This is our James Bond game franchise entry. Look at the rest of this list, there isn’t any other Smash game. He could have picked Super Smash Bros. Melee. He could have chosen Goldeneye. And I’M the villain???
I don’t know, maybe it’s good.
18. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic has never been good. I solidly maintain this opinion, and there is a mountain of empirical evidence to prove it. Sonic is the Neanderthal to Crash Bandicoot’s Homo Sapiens. But like the cave men, we remember it not because it was great, but because people made horny “original characters” versions of themselves in Sonic’s likeness.
17. Mega Man 2
I love Mega Man as a series, but let’s not kid ourselves. The early games of the series are janky and haven’t aged well. While MM2 is one of the best the franchise has to offer, the limitations of the time prevent it from being a game that holds up in a stellar fashion today. Great game to speed run, though.
16. Super Mario Galaxy 2
There are better Mario games and there are better Wii games. But I’ll take it any day over Super Mario Sunshine.
15. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2
I know, I know. I vetoed this game, but it was to save the console for future opportunity. I LOVE the Tony Hawk franchise, and while I prefer 1 over 2 (Goldfinger’s “Superman” is THE banger of the franchise), there is nothing like playing these early entries into the franchise. Turning cities and monuments into a playground for the young imagination of skater kids everywhere.
14. Portal 2
I’m sure you expected it to be higher on my list, but if you recall I actually don’t like puzzle games and only have seen Portal 2 played through. Game’s hilarious, and has some of the most incredible comedic writing I’ve ever seen, video games or elsewhere. Shame Valve doesn’t know how to count to three.
I love, love, love, the Japanese take on American urban legends and classic Rockwell-esque Americana. It’s a game that is filled to the brim with charm and heart. That it has the bonus mystique of being part of a series never to return to the Western shores. With Mother 3 being Trevor’s White Whale. Call me Ishmael.
12. Grand Theft Auto Vice City
I don’t think there’s a series I’m as room temperature for like the GTA franchise. There is something particular about them that I sincerely enjoy, but they are tied to an entire cargo plane of baggage that reminds me for all the fun there is to have, it’s intrinsically tied to a sense of nihilism that I rather prefer in small doses rather than a longer time frame.
11. Final Fantasy VI
I love FF6. It’s an incredible game, that has a sense of steam punk meets Star Wars, and tells a wonderful story with an incredible ensemble cast of characters. Terra is a false flag waif that turns out to be an incredibly inspirational hero, and the bonds she forges with her friends and companions are wonderful. It also has a twist with Kefka that is truly worthwhile to see play out, even if the spoiler is so enormous.
10. Pokemon Soul Silver
Pokemon Soul Silver is the best Pokemon game we’ve ever gotten. A remake of the original Silver version of the Game Boy/Color, it firmly established the concept of Pokemon that would come to define it, introducing genders, mating, day and night cycles, and an entire post-game that cycles you through the previous game’s areas, effectively making it the only sequel game until White/Black 2 years later. Remastered, bringing some of the best Pokemon into a more modern era, it came with so many bells and whistles, no game since has even come close to matching it as the peak of the franchise.
Hellblade is a special game to me. It’s an incredible story of loss, sacrifice, self-loathing, and most importantly, love. While it falters enormously in its final moments, the strength of the game and the emotions it evokes are truly masterful enough to make me reconsider my opinion of an entire studio. Hellblade showed me and the rest of the world that this effort of taking the time to explore something outside of power fantasies and instead telling the story of someone who really isn’t going to be the hero you play in any other game. Senua’s story, the entirety of it, is heart-wrenching, gut-punching, and beautiful.
8. The Last of Us
Am I your villain? Again? I love TLOU, I think it is in many ways to be a marvel of modern day storytelling. Naughty Dog are narrative magicians. The art of illusion by modern magicians is broken into three acts. The pledge shows us something ordinary. Joel is a man, with a brother, who has a regular blue collar job, with a daughter he loves. The tragedy of the fall of society and the man who Joel becomes is bitter, angry, and extremely violent. His time with Ellie causes the second act of the magic trick to occur, called the turn. The turn is that Joel is soft around Ellie, bonding with her, and letting her become a surrogate to the daughter he lost. He shows he’ll do whatever he can for her. And in a wonderful twist, the prestige, the final act reveals to us that Joel hasn’t changed, not really. This man we saw as selfless, willing to risk life and limb for this girl, while special, doesn’t mean he’s changed. The prestige of The Last of Us is that Joel might’ve changed, but it’s not into a better person. The prestige is that Joel didn’t get softer, he got sharper, and more dangerous than when the game begins.
7. God of War
God of War? Better than TLOU? I’ve gone full heel turn again, folks. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the last section of God of War, after the final boss fight, I’m not sure I would have it this high. The twist and reveal of Atreus, Kratos, and the invisible wraith that has hung over them the entire game, Atreus’s Laufey, come to a conclusion as Atreus and Kratos say their final goodbyes to the woman who has come to define their lives. The bond between son and father is forged and strong, they descend from the mountain as Atreus asks about why his namesake was used instead of the name his mother wanted. And Kratos tells the story of his friend, a man all of Sparta looked to. A Spartan who inspired these brutal and devastating warriors to laugh and smile. He filled them with hope and a love for life. That Atreus brought all of that to Kratos’s life.
6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I love me some pale blond vampire boy adventures. I mentioned this in the ranking, but please go check out MegaRan’s collaboration concept album about this game. “Sins of the Father” is still one of my favorite songs of all time. Such a great game, with some truly wonderful and innovative aspects that make the game a standout in a series of really amazing games. Alucard’s dedication to humanity, to their salvation from his own father, and the weight of this burden he feels in his knowledge of the eventual patricide he would need to commit. This operatic tale is matched by incredible combat, level and monster designs, and a dated voice cast. A true classic is one you can return to and get something new from, and SotN nails this.
My knockout punch from week 1 of the show is my number 5? No even going to lie, this was my goal the entire time. My list had some of my favorite and the greatest games ever made on it, but there were choices by other members of our panel I had to admit were better. Mostly from Frank, because as we all found out, Frank is literally the best of us. Bioshock is an on rails game that gives you the illusion of choice the entire way through. Jack’s journey through Rapture, the revelations of his relationship to the city, and the abject horror in the face of tragedy that this false utopia bore its population leaves its mark on you. I know because it’s left its mark on me and will continue to do so for years to come. A man chooses. A slave obeys.
4. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is the best Mass Effect game. It is the culmination of mechanics, story, and the quintessential Bioware experience. While Dragon Age Origins remains tied for my favorite game from the company, Mass Effect 2 is amazing in the way it allows new players and old to fully enjoy this incredible universe and rewards returning players for their dedication in a way that does nothing to rob new players of any experience. It also is the only Bioware game to work DLC in a way that actually works well.
3. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
My tied for favorite Bioware game, KOTOR is one of the best RPGs ever made. It is the pinnacle in the Star Wars franchise for storytelling, and remains the game that all other Star Wars games are judged by, regardless of genre. KOTOR gives an authentic Star Wars adventure in a time tested manner, has an incredible and nuanced cast of characters, and a story with a sudden twist, even knowing that it’s coming still sends chills up my spine.
But what makes KOTOR really special is that it would come to define the Bioware formula that has produced some of the greatest games of all time, and inspired countless young men and women in the dreams and aspirations in the gaming industry. It’s a game that defined Star Wars to fans for whom the last Star Wars cinematic experience was Attack of the Clones, a garbage fire of a film. People will call Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker the worst films, but those people weren’t me and my father walking out of the theater in quiet contemplative silence before I crossed a threshold of adulthood and upon realization of this new discovery, had to ask my father if that was a bad movie. That a Star Wars movie was a bad movie. And my father, with whom I have an incredibly complicated relationship with, told me, doing his best not to let me hear the hurt, failing to do so, and like a gutted fish uttered a simple: “Yes. Yes it was.”.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was a light in the darkness, a rope pulled taut to weather the storm, and a guiding beacon that Star Wars can be not only good, but nerf herding awesome. And it had MODS!
2. Persona 4 Golden
Someone told me that a very brilliant young man had told them that Persona 4 Golden isn’t a game you find or stumble upon at random. That it’s a game that finds you when you need it. I always thought that was a very interesting, and quite possibly true idea. Every time someone tells me they heard so many great things about it, they picked it up and were playing it but stopped and some point or another. After hearing this idea, I came to realize that if this happened to you, good. You’re not ready. The time isn’t now. Your day will come.
That day happened to me in an interesting way. I played Persona 4 on the PS3 emulator, where I devoured the PlayStation 2 version of the game. I really enjoyed it and it got me to play some more of the franchise. But it just seemed like a really cool game. That’s the difference between the original and the Golden version on PlayStation Vita. There’s a distinct difference, and it shows in the strangest and smallest ways. But when I decided I needed to play the Golden version, I took a journey.
My journey through Inaba, a small rural town in Japan, is one I’ll never forget. Not because it’s MY story. In fact, I don’t use my name in any of my playthroughs of any Persona game. I give the main character the canon, or most canon at the time of launch, name. The thing is, I really love the franchise because I am watching important moments in the lives of these characters I’ve come to love and adore. I especially appreciate the small, subtle, but significant ways the personality of the self-insert character makes themselves more noticeable. I loved seeing the writers of the anime and subsequent fighting games take this personality and use it to define him. I loved playing through the story of Yu Narukami and when the time came for the game to end, I felt pain in my heart. I was going to say goodbye to this world, this story, and all of my friends. But I accepted that grief, both in the game and outside of it. As an enormous struggle I’d been shouldering seemed to have found resolution in the revelation I received at the end.
1. Tetris Effect
Man. Tetris Effect. I described Tetris Effect as a spiritual experience for me when I played it in VR for the first time. But my relationship with Tetris goes back much further than that, and even stranger, before I ever played Tetris for the first time. I suffer from mental illness. I’ve been open about this before, and I expect if you knew me before reading this, it was something I’ve either told you or alluded to. Part of my illness is that I try and see patterns and systems where there often aren’t any. Not in people or society, those all actually have patterns, even if you don’t know about them. I digress.
Organizing patterns is something that calms me in a way almost nothing else can. Even if it can be frustrating, complex, or time-consuming, I find intense satisfaction in these practices. But nothing does it like Tetris Effect, not any other kind of Tetris either. Between sound design, soundtrack, gameplay, graphical design, and so many other small factors makes this more than a game for me. It’s therapy. It’s comfort. It provides me an exercise in creating a sense of purpose out of nothing. Slamming a Tetris, sliding a T-Spin, and when I’m at my peak, when I’ve reached what I can only aptly describe as a singularity of existing; overwhelmed by the sounds, the music, and everything around me is pushed away outside of my comprehension and vision. When I am transported from my singular state into a euphoric state of simu-tanious existence, where there is nothing between me and Tetris. Where I am Tetris and Tetris is me.
Tetris Effect is really good, folks.