Friday, January 3, 2020

Stage Select Start's Favorite Games of the Decade (2010 - 2019)

Happy new decade everybody!  

The idea for the post today is not new since at the end of last year everyone and their circus monkey was putting out top game lists of the decade, but we understand hubris a bit here and nobody associated with Stage Select Start has played all the games on all the systems so it did not make sense to write a "Best 10 Games of the Decade."  Instead, we decided to pull our top five favorite games, with emphasis on "favorite" since favorites are subjective and no one can argue how much entertainment you as a player took from playing a game.

And, because there are two of us, doing a list of 10 for each of us would turn out an incredibly long article that few people would want to read.  So instead, we shortened 10 games down to five each, which still creates a list of 10 games.  Well, nine really with one game picked twice, but the system/format was different so there is that there too.

The format for today is that we have the games listed in chronological order from their original release date on their original platform.  We then commented on each other's games where applicable, not in a judgmental way, but more of our own experience playing that particular game.  For context, Dr. Potts' posts and commentary use the Courier font, while the games I chose and my commentary use the Georgia font, you know like we normally do.

So without further yammering, let us introduce you to the 10 games Dr. Potts and I decided were our collective Favorite Games of the Decade (2010 - 2019).

LIMBO (2010) Various platforms
LIMBO is one of the very first games I wrote about for our blog in 2012.  LIMBO was highly atmospheric and moody, used simplistic 2D graphic design that really drew me in.  I remember when I first saw this game, it was after a rousing Rock Band session at my friend Zor the Red's house.  Everyone was relaxing after singing our hearts out, and another friend, John (of cooperative Indie gaming co-op) put on LIMBO and quietly played through the first section.  
Around this time there had been an explosion of cool indie games that were taking a different approach from what I had been seeing for a few years in the console world.  After years of 3d games dominating it was great to return to 2D and see that the format had grown through the years after being mostly abandoned by the mainstream.  I had been out of the gaming scene for a while, and this game was key to bringing me back in.  

I remember the first time I saw LIMBO, watching Beardsnbourbon (one of Conklederp's brothers) and was amazed at how great the game looked, how smooth the animation was and the overall dark tone, which is something that I'm just drawn towards.  There were light puzzles with platforming action, and nothing too complicated and everything seemed more geared towards experiencing fun without being punishing.  Like Dr. Potts said, this game came out at the right time when 3D high-def graphics were what the industry felt were the future of games and this black/grey palette cleanser, even nine and ten years later is just an all-around solid experience.

Dead Space Mobile [Iron Monkey Studios / Android: 2011]
I would be just a little surprised if there were more than six instances of Dead Space Mobile being on anyone's Top 10 list.  If you know anything about me however, you already know that I love the Dead Space series and I loved what IronMonkey Studios (now called FireMonkey) did with this franchise.  The inclusion of sanity effects that happened during specific times was something that I had been longing since Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem.  There were even a couple of effects specifically tailored for mobile users, like a grotesque face that appeared under the thumb area that is used for aiming Vandal's weapon, which legitimately made me pull my thumb off the screen because I did not want to touch it.  I have even kept my old Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini because the game is no longer compatible with existing smartphones, just in case I want to boot the game up again.  If there could only be one game from this entire franchise that I would love to see ported to the Switch, this would be the game.

I have not played any mobile games that were more graphically intensive than Angry Birds.  I'm impressed and intrigued. I played DeadSpace for the first time this year and found it fun and scary and gross, so I'm glad to hear this mobile game had some cool horror elements.  That gross face under your thumb sounds totally nuts!  

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP (2011) various platforms
Super Brothers has such a cool art style and really fantastic music.  Combination of action and point/click adventure. I've played through it twice on my own and once with Jane.  bizarre sense of humor,  and a fairly melancholy story. Strange themes that aren't exactly coherent, but I still really enjoy it.   It all combines to a world that feels very alive.  This is a game I wish would have a sequel or at least a spiritual sequel, from the same group.  I often complain that games are too long, though Jane says that all the good Indie games are too short.  
I think it's worth noting that the Humble Bundles were a huge part of my gaming experience in the 2010 decade.  Certainly, LIMBO and Super Brothers were a part of that.  It's also interesting how overwhelming it became after not-too-long.  My library inflated so quickly.  But maybe these observations are best left for honorable mentions. 

This is a game that I think has been sitting in my unplayed queue for a loooooong time.  I know you've talked about it a number of times and I am interested but for whatever reason, I just never got around to clicking that Install and Play button on Steam.  And oh shit it's available on the Switch!  I guess if I do not have it on the Switch by the time this article goes to press I may never get around to it.  But I probably will.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [Bethesda Softworks / PC: 2011]
This is the game that got me into The Elder Scrolls series.  I have started a handful of characters although I have only beaten the game with one character and I still have not finished all of the DLC. . .or any now that I think about it.  There are also plenty of guild quest lines that I have never done such as the Mage's College in Winterhold, the Thieve's Guild in Riften, or the Bard's College. . .wherever it is.  What I love doing is creating a character and exploring the early game, when finding a steel sword and being able to afford a banded iron shield are goals as opposed to hoarding one of your many houses with cheese wheels or heads of cabbage.  I have even played a couple of characters as just run-of-the-mill mercenaries by only doing jobs picked up from innkeepers.  The game obviously has its flaws

I did not play this sinkhole of time for more than an hour.  And now that I have Breath of the Wild, I'm not sure if I will.  I compare the two for that reason - sinkholes of time with big worlds and lots of freedom.  I think I've played very few American RPGs, and am still very much a JRPG fanboy.  Seems like this is a gap in my gameplay experience I may want to examine.  

And now that you have a Switch, Skyrim is perfect for that platform!

The Walking Dead - Season 1 [Telltale Games / PC: 2012]
If there was a game that was going to surprise me with all of the emotional feels over the last 10 years, I was not expecting it to be a game based in the same universe as The Walking Dead comic and TV show.  I love the comic and I loved AMC's adaptation of said comic, but what I was not prepared for was the emotional ride that Lee and Clementine would take me on during those 10 hours.  I know that because a lot of people make different choices during the game experiences are not often going to be identical, but there seemed to be an online-wide consensus that the end of this first season was devastating, and all the subsequent seasons almost felt like they were chasing that high.  I never finished the series due to technical difficulties but this first season will always be something special.

I have yet to play a Telltale game.  I've heard such good things, but... alas. You mention that people make different choices, so it sounds like your choices are impactful.  Did you find that the emotional weight of the game was in the choices you had to make?  Did you play any other Telltale games, and if so, how did they compare?

Choices do matter in this series, but not all choices.  Sometimes you will say something to someone and on the screen there'll be a "So-and-So Will Remember That" but will not lead anywhere.  It might be to put you off guard or possibly to have the player really think about the decisions their making instead of button mashing their way to another achievement.  Because of The Walking Dead, I did play Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us.  Both games were of a nearly identical format allowing the player to make choices and somewhat direct the story, but I never felt that I could break the game with my choices.  Like, you know going in that there are two or three possible endings regardless of any of the choices you make, but its how you reach one of those endings that makes these games fun and in some cases, gut-wrenching.

Journey (2012) PS3
Journey is like round 2 of indie games for me, after the initial discovery of Indie Games on Steam. Zor The Red and I sat down one evening and played through Journey from start to finish.  And I just loved it.  It felt so well crafted, visually and sound-wise.  With little to no written or spoken language, not terribly difficult puzzles or actions, you just let the game carry you along.  It felt like something new, some kind of action/story game.  I ended up buying a copy even without actually owning a Playstation 3.  

Journey is one of those games that I have had my eye on, probably around the time of its release or shortly thereafter.  I was sad when I discovered that it was a PlayStation exclusive and have been hoping ever since that it would be released from exclusivity because I definitely want to play it.  Recently, there was a Polygon interview with composer Austin Wintory that only deepens my desire to play this game.

It takes about 3 hours.  If we have a chance, you can play at my house.  

Yeah, it always felt like one of those games that's not very long, but it's interesting that I never heard anything about people being upset about the cost/play time ratio that cropped up with games like Gone Home.  If anything, I guess that just speaks to the quality of the entire experience.

Thomas Was Alone  [Mike Bithell / PC: 2012]
Dr. Potts introduced me to Thomas Was Alone through the Humble Indie Bundle that was available over six years ago.  The game's premise was simple enough, in that you took control of different rectangular pieces that each had their own ability and you navigated them through a stage using established platforming techniques.  There did not seem to be anything overly innovative about the level design or even the platforming.  What made me fall in love with Thomas Was Alone was the narration by Danny Wallace and the way that, through the story being told, that monochrome rectangles of varying shapes were able to be imbued with personality and emotion.  While the overarching story was a little confusing at times, it provided a reason for each of these shapes to exist and to interact with each other.  The music too, composed by David Housden is beautiful in the way it accompanies the game, never feeling obtrusive or trying to force the player into feeling something that is not there.  This combination of writing, music, and narration turned what could have been a basic puzzle platformer into an incredibly emotional journey for the red little square Thomas.

Great choice.  The addition of the narrator and also the way they incorporate the mechanics into the personalities really works.  It's like a sleight of hand trick.  I particularly like the little rectangle who has the weakest jump (Chris?).  He doesn't have any special abilities and starts out as kind of a grump.  But he develops through cooperation into a caring person.  
I feel like Thomas Was Alone is one of the best-case scenarios for an indie game.  They have a straightforward concept, and they develop and polish it until it shines.  Not too long, not too deep (mechanically), but very effective.  

Excellent point and something that I've been noticing more recently, or as recently as 2012.  That the game is not long, but at no point did I feel that the levels were being padded for length.  This is definitely a game that I have been longing for on the Switch and would have zero qualms about throwing money at Bithell Games if it was every ported.

Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Similar to the way LIMBO brought to Indie Games, Mario Kart 8 was the game that brought me back to consoles after a long absence.  I hadn't owned a Video Game console since I bought a second-hand Gamecube from a roommate, which I didn't hold on to for more than a year or so.  Jane and I played Mario Kart 8 with four players at a friend's house, and we had such a good time, we decided to buy a Wii U.  Of course, I looked at the horizon beforehand and saw Mario Maker and Breath of the Wild were coming out soon, which made me feel okay about buying a system so near the end of its life.  

I can't say exactly what it is that makes Mario Kart 8 so fun.  I think Nintendo is just really good at making these games by now, so it just plays really well.  The fact that Jane was also into it made a big difference, as it is always nice to find something we can play together. 

It's funny that you say that Mario Kart 8 brought you back to consoles with the Wii U, because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was the first game I bought for a Nintendo console since the days of the Game Cube.  I had kept abreast with the Mario Kart series with the DS and 3DS titles, and MK8 just seemed like a near-flawless racing kart game.  If there is ever a game that I am willing to break out if there is more than one other friend over who wants to play co-op on the Switch, we are going to be playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild [Nintendo / Nintendo Switch: 2017]
There are a couple of reasons why The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of my favorite games this last decade and it might be different than why it is on a lot of other people's' lists.  First, for me, it breathed new life into the Legend of Zelda franchise which I felt had become a little stale over the years; granted I have not played A Link Between Worlds, or Heavenly Sword so I cannot comment specifically about those stories/experiences.  Something that did surprise me a little was how little music there was everywhere that wasn't a town considering how much the lack of the LoZ in Ocarina of Time bothered me.  And unlike a lot of what I hear online, I actually really liked the durability system in the game, and conversely, I was not a big fan of the mini-dungeons/shrines.  Lastly, I thought that the fight against Calamity Ganon was perfect, especially after having already played 125 hours, the last thing I wanted was a super long and difficult, Final Fantasy XII - style boss battle, and instead, the two-tiered battle was perfect, especially with the final section out in the open where I had spent most of the game exploring.

Another great choice and this one will probably make my list as well.  It was one of the reasons I bought a Wii U.  Definitely the game I have put the most time into in years.
For me, the simple act of climbing a mountain, looking at something in the distance and heading toward it, is what made the game fun.  It was just simple exploration.  I would get distracted, and then pursue some other thing.  Just free associate.
I enjoy the mini dungeons just fine, and the occasional combat challenge.  And I agree on the Ganon fight.  Two-tiered, with the second one being big and spectacular, though not painfully difficult.  It made the point I needed it to, without being frustrating.  Besides, this game is about the vast, exploratory middle, not the ending.     

The Legend of Zelda:  Breath of the Wild (2017) Wii-U, Switch
What can I say about this game that hasn't been said?  This game lived up to all of my, very high expectations, and surprised me in some ways.  And Jane liked to watch me play it.   
I love this game.  This was probably the single most engrossing gaming experience of the decade.  I dumped dozens or hundreds of hours into it, mostly just wandering around and doing whatever.  And I can still catch moments of awesome beauty.
The game is a huge overhaul of the Zelda franchise; likely my favorite gaming franchise.  The freedom of the game is the best part, and it saturates the whole game.  Being able to solve puzzles in whatever way suits me best is really excellent, and I feel the lack of this when I play older Zelda games.  Breath of the Wild is the best thing to happen to the Legend of Zelda series in years.  

I think it's rather fitting that we both landed with TLoZ: BotW, for some similar reasons and others different, but I think we can both agree that this title lived up to all of the hype it received before being released and all of the accolades after. 

So that is our shortlist of 10 games, nine individual titles really with not counting The Legend of the Zelda: Breath of the Wild as separate titles on the Wii U and the Switch.  These may not be the absolute "best" games developed between 2010 - 2019 but I personally have never felt comfortable claiming something to be "the best" because it was something I loved, at least in recent years.  These are our favorites and I can honestly say that when I look at these games, they definitely elicit a positive emotional response deep in my brain.

Like any list, there were a number of games that we had to cut after whittling down from 100+ down to only five, but we have decided to release an Honorable Mentions article that will be coming out next week, so stay tuned for that if you are at all interested in seeing a few games that come close but did not quite make our respective top five.

If we are still around in another 10 years, and I see no reason to believe that we won't be, it will be interesting to see how much video games have changed as well as our personal tastes with being nearly 50 years old at that point.  Will the PlayStation 7 be coming out with an exclusive edition of Final Fantasy XX?  What new way to play video games will Nintendo come up with that a lot of people will poo-poo but ultimately be adopted by the industry at large?  Will you have caught all the new Pokémon recently released in Pokémon Galaxy/Nova?  How surprised will everyone be at OUYA's revival at the hands of Google Stadia?  10 years is a long time almost no matter how you look at it, but seeing where we were in 2010 and where we are now in 2020, 2030 is going to be interesting, hopefully in all the best ways.

~Dr. Potts & JWfW/JDub/Cooking Crack/Jaconian
What Song Is Next?

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