FreezingInferno: Sure, its older sibling Ritual Of The Night is a loving return for the Igavania exploratory platformer game, but Curse Of The Moon is far more impressive to me. Ritual Of The Night is, to me, a very good game of its genre homage ilk. Curse Of The Moon is a homage to games like Castlevania 3, but its quality of life improvements mean that it actually surpasses its inspiration thanks to removing the clunky aspects and only leaving tight fast action platforming in its wake. It's a revelation, and one of the best pixel platformers to come out this year.

Beepner: Turns out Castlevania III was the installment they should have been trying to base a whole subgenre of action platformer around this whole time. The base game is challenging enough, but it's really worth going back and doing the New Game+ to poke around at everything this game has to offer.

Pauncho Smith: It's like Castlevania III, but you can probably beat it without breaking your controller in the process.

Carmichael Micaalus: This. Is a game. A game about a man. A man... who hates demons. Like, a lot. But yeah, from what I understand, this game was made to tide people over until the other long-named Bloodstained game came out... and it was pretty fun! A little beyond my skill level at times, but yeah. One of the only Castlevania games I've beat.

Durante Pierpaoli: I'm a really big fan of Castlevania III, the final game directed by series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu. There are scenarios with questionable decision making, but in my estimation its atmosphere and aesthetic more than make up for it, with some really incredible color choices and one of the better individual soundtracks in the entire series, especially if you're playing the VRC6 version, which is unreal.

Bloodstained: Curse of The Moon is more or less a fanfiction romhack of Castlevania III that, in my estimation, is probably better in almost every way, which, like Shovel Knight, makes it one of the better 2D platformers almost by default. That said, CoTM still has a lot of its own individual flair, like an incredibly memorable Sand Pyramid third level that ends with a boss made out of stacks of coins. Boss fights are a category where Curse of the Moon trounces the game it's formatted on soundly, and as well, thanks to technical advances, you can easily switch between the playable characters, which the game encourages you to do as you can combine the effects of multiple characters to more easily complete a stage or fight a boss, giving good reinforcement to the game's simple theme of cooperation that the sparse dialogue centers on. (Likely coincidental given most of the cutscenes are the main character speaking to somebody who is about to join the party.) In particular the third character you get is an old wizard who has a terrible physical attack and low max HP, but some incredibly powerful subweapon spells to protect himself with if you have the ammo, as well as support spells that will actually stay on your other characters if you switch to them, allowing you to achieve things like the Bat Flight mode while protected by a ring of fire. Not to mention there's basically an unlockable Ninja Gaiden mode. Guess who has two thumbs and likes Ninja Gaiden. As well, although the sound quality and production is not quite as good, Michiru Yamane's compositions arranged as chiptunes will also slap you silly.

I really didn't expect to like this game as much as I did, but in the end, I think it ended up far outdoing the game it was intending to hype up.

lieronet: IGA's masterpiece. Feels like every idea he had over the course of making his games for 15 years got thrown into this one and it all works spectacularly.

TenguGemini: This is only the second Igavania I have ever played, and it makes me crave more.

Carmichael Micaalus: I can appreciate a game that eventually gives you workarounds for bullshit low % drops. I'm usually not all that big on the Castlevania aesthetic, but this one just clicked right with me.

FreezingInferno: I'm not that big an Igavania stan, so this didn't hit my nostalgia bones quite as hard as it might have hit others. Nevertheless, this is still a pretty solid One Of Those. If you swear by Symphony Of The Night or Aria Of Sorrow, this thing will be your jam. If not... well, it's perfectly fine.

Pauncho Smith: For everyone who yearned for another Symphony of the Night, well you got exactly what you wanted.

Polly: Mark of the Ninja is the standard by which I judge all stealth ANYTHING these days. It's the smartest and most fair implementation of stealth I've experienced anyway. There's just so many fun ways to approach this game, from going straight up murderface on everyone in the vicinity, to being as quiet as you can, to achieving all the mini goals on each level. You're backed up by a set of unique equipment and abilities that only make the environments and enemies more fun to interact with, so the game's also pretty big on player expression, making it an even easier recommend.

lieronet: This is how you do stealth. Very clear when you are seen or unseen, heard or not heard, and this knowledge gives you the ability to pull some Crazy Ninja Shit. Story and presentation elevate the whole package.

Ghosty: A game where you don't play as a ninja - you are a ninja! And some ninja you are! Expertly executed stealth game.

Pauncho Smith: 2D stealth done properly.

Peaches the Rayven: There aren't many 2D stealth games, are there? I mean, they tried with Assassin's Creed Chronicles and maybe the earliest Metal Gear games, but how do you move in a flat space and really feel like you're exploting the world to hide yourself from ruthless guards or angry, heavily-armed thugs.

But this game... I think this game pulled it off very nicely. Using a limited number of tricks familiar to the genre (distracting noisemakers, unconventional hiding places, quickly stashing bodies etc) each level does have its own ways of navigating. I felt a surge of pride at making it through without so much as having a single enemy glance at me, but also a smug satisfaction at getting the same mooks to gun each other down in terror at the warnings I brazenly left them.

As with most of the entries here, there's a meaty story to be had as well, with your supernatural powers granted to you by poison tattoo ink that means your bloodthirst increases until your career in ninjitsu becomes... well, let's just say you're gonna end up with a lot of blood on your katana, you just pick whose it is.

Rhete: This is 100% unironically, my favorite fighting game ever. Divekick gets rid of nearly all of the cruft that has accumulated on the fighting game genre, and boils it down to what really matters: playing footsies.

Rainiac: A fighting game that accomplished with two buttons what most other fighters can't pull off with twelve. Boiling the fighting mechanics down to the barest minimum really allowed the devs to focus on the actual combat, a decision that pays off big time. The netcode is excellent too.

Zeloz: This game is utterly frustrating. It taught me so much about how fighting games are played, distilling the genre's essence to an absurd degree But it also removed my desire to ever play any other non-party fighting game ever! Ugh.

Carmichael Micaalus: DIVEKICK! It's a fighter even I can play, and that's pretty cool.

Polly: The fighting game community meme that literally became THE. ONE. TRUE. VIDEOGAME.

Polly: Sonic Generations was the first Sonic game I played since the mid-90's that legitimately struck a chord. With Generations, they'd finally gotten a handle on how modern Sonic's boost mechanics and automation should work, and the idea of replaying older levels in the series in classic or modern Sonic mode made unlocking each new world exciting. It's the celebration that an iconic and long-standing series deserves, and Sega's not likely to hit on that kind of gold again for a long time, unfortunately...

Nate: You know, for a brief moment in time, we got a really good Sonic game and things looked up, and then, fairly quickly, Sega screwed it up and now we're back to hoping they do something decent again.

Zeloz: This game is (as of this writing) around 9 years old, and yet it still (as of this writing) looks goddamn gorgeous. Not the biggest fan of how it's structured or how it plays, but the game is an audiovisual delight and a heartfelt homage to 20 years of Sonic; even Crisis City's fantastic here.

jetstorm4: Honestly, Sonic Generations has gotten worse for me every year, but I cannot deny the fact that the game came out running early on in the 2010s and remains a loved game still. There are many things I still like about it! Levels are typically fantastic and the soundtrack is great, but I think the flow has always felt rough to me. Its best levels are infinitely replayable though, which is why it still makes the list.

Rhete: A wonderful love letter to the Sonic Games of the past, and a vision of a brighter future... that totally didn't come to pass, what the heck happened after this game? Anyways, Sonic Generations rules, it's easily my favorite Sonic game since 16 bit games and Sonic Adventure. I had a blast getting every red coin and doing every side mission, and will still go back to this game regularly for a good boost of action. Every time I get a new piece of hardware, be it a new video card or monitor, Sonic Generations is the first game I go back to, just to see how much better it looks.

Durante Pierpaoli: In the world of character action games, the one you play most is the best. For a long time, this was my best character action game after finally playing it on the Switch. I have no clue what the story is about from a beat-to-beat perspective but, much moreso than even the original game, Bayonetta 2 is a game that visually depicts the triumph of (Bayonetta's particular brand of) femininity over the powers that be that hold that femininity down. Tweaks to the combat system were controversial but much in the same way that implementing Devil Trigger was ultimately important to how DMC tells its stories, the implementation of the Umbran Climax aesthetically reinforces what the game is about while also giving you something actually useful to spend your magic meter on. As a result, because Umbran Climax is so powerful at controlling hordes of enemies, the game is then open to introduce difficult situations where Umbran Climax (and knowing how to get to it) are crucial to moving on. I just felt like this was a lot better than the original.

Pauncho Smith: Doing what a good sequel ought to, Bayonetta 2 ups the ante, giving you even more foes to fight (angelic and demonic alike) and more means of dishing out the punishment across a variety of elaborate battles and set pieces. Plus, the short hair is simply a better look for her, don't you agree?

jetstorm4: A fun, high energy action game that at the time of release was one of the best games I had ever played. I'm a bit more muted on it these days but I still love the hell out of this game and the setpieces it delivers at full blast the whole way through.

Rhete: "I thought to myself, this is the most fun I've ever had playing a video game" - Me, on the Sockscast.

Nate: Nice.

Polly: FEZ is a fun little puzzle box in and of itself, but what brought the game to another level was experiencing its world-turning, codex deciphering mechanics with a group of people all working together to figure the mystery out. More than that though, the game is just a delight to play. It's breezy and fairly low-stakes, and the visuals and audio make sure things always stay at a nice comfy pace while you're wracking your brain trying to figure out how to get that next cube.

FreezingInferno: Artsy, cryptic, and just plain weird... but half the fun was discussing it with friends back in the day and cracking the mysteries of this Rosetta Stone.

Zeloz: I dropped the game pretty early during when the old forum had their "Let's Play Fez" thread (the last thing my sun-baked mind wanted to do after 8 hours of pushing carts in the sweltering heat was solve logic puzzles, apparently), but it felt nice playing through the game with others, seeing the other forum members work out the game's many eccentricities. Plus, the soundtrack still makes for real chill background music.

Carmichael Micaalus: One of the big draws for FEZ was the story you had to work out yourself by decoding the game's alphabet. Unfortunately that kind of stuff isn't really my jam, but luckily the gameplay doesn't suffer for that.

Rhete: A mysterious world that begs you to explore it and uncover its secrets. No game has even captured the feeling of mystery quite like Fez did for me. Having a notebook full of symbols and drawings from the game, and discussing things with friends on the forum was one of the coolest moments of this generation. Fez managed to recapture the magic of hearing rumors about a game on the school playground, which in a way makes it the best NES era tribute of all.

Rhete: There are games I didn't think should get sequels and Portal was one of them. Portal 2 does the impossible and expands on a game that I didn't think needed to be expanded on, and does so in great and clever ways. The characters and story are both completely on point, and the game manages to balance humor, sentimentality, and drama perfectly. I also got really into the level editor, even though my levels were junk.

Durante Pierpaoli: The conciseness of the original Portal is really overrated, it's not like there aren't still a few rooms that just suck to get through. Portal 2 is an already-classic example of overexplaining the backstory of a simple situation and removing a great amount of mystery from the original scenario, but to be honest, I just really like the bizarre backstory you eventually Environmental Storytelling your way into figuring out. There's a nice contrast between what the fervor and enthusiasm of the dialogue you hear and the truth of what you actually see with your eyes. Cave Johnson is also still just really, really funny.

Remnant: Valve's excellent, exploration-based storytelling at its peak, the return of Portal's excellent dark comedy, intriguing vistas, and excellent puzzles. Doesn't quite reach the heights of the first (few sequels do), but still pretty much peerless in its own right.

FreezingInferno: 7 hours or so of portal puzzle solving with some interesting lore and neat challenges. Like, it was pretty good.

Polly: Portal 2 expands on the ideas that made the first game fantastic and adds a whooooole lot of AAA polish. This one gets credit for consistently giving me reasons to laugh at a time when laughing and smiling again felt impossible.

TenguGemini: One of the best Kirby games ever made. It has some of the best fanservice in the series, some of the most fun abilities in the series, an EXCELLENT soundtrack, and is just all around amazing. The only Kirby game I like more is Super Star, and I don't know how much of that is nostalgia.

FreezingInferno: Kirby gets a giant robot and fights other giant robots and stuff. It's simply a solid traditional Kirby game, and the robot gimmick works great for this particular era of Kirby. What's not to love?

Pauncho Smith: I can't quite fathom why it took Nintendo so long to put Kirby in a mech suit and have run roughshod over any baddie that steps in your way. There's probably some subtle theme at work with the main villains being part of a corporation that turns everything into machines, but maybe I'm thinking too much about it.

jetstorm4: Of all of the Kirby games released in this decade, this is the one that Absolutely Does It. The Mecha gimmick this game has is one of the most fun, delivering level design that just nails it every chance it gets. Such a good, fantastic game.

DoorCurtain: There was a year where I focused on catching up on all the main series Kirby games I didn't play. Out of all them, the one released this past decade that impressed me the most was Kirby: Planet Robobot. Its gimmick, for once, actually interacts with Kirby's copy abilities: a giant mech that gains powers depending on Kirby's ability. The game felt sharper than Triple Deluxe, and told a better story about Kirby's home being exploited for resources and needing to fight back.

Polly: VA-11 Hall-A is a visual novel/adventure game that was so engrossing and engaging that I literally finished it, managing to grab all of its endings, in almost one sitting. It's a 10+hour game if that tells you anything about how quickly bartender Jill Stingray's story pulled me in. It's all about the conversations and glut of interesting folks you meet along the way and how, by helping them sort through their own emotional baggage, Jill is able to start learning more about herself and maybe beginning to finally pry herself out of the rut her life has her in. It's touching, it's funny, it's crass, and it's unapologetically FEELS-ey. This one also goes up there as one of the best damn soundtracks of the decade.

jetstorm4: A visual novel with a striking art style, incredible soundtrack, and excellent character interaction. The thing I love the most about this game though is Jill herself. Her story, perspective, and the events that surround her development made me love this game more. A game I appreciate more as time has gone on.

Carmichael Micaalus: This was one of those games that was just what I needed. The graphics, the music, the overall aesthetic, and the terrific writing make for a great game.

Pauncho Smith: Mixing drinks has never been this fun. Jill's story gyrates between the zany moments that result from serving the many patrons that belly up to the bar, to the emotionally devastating hits when her past comes back to haunt her. Also, Dorothy is best girl.

Pauncho Smith: Jump down the well and fall. Seems simple enough, but the action intensifies to an absurd degree in no time flat. Perhaps the one game that's come closest to that arcade feel I've played in years.

Rainiac: This game occupied all my lunch breaks for three months after I first picked it up. Fast paced arcade-style action with a steep but fair difficulty curve. Extremely addictive too: you'll keep coming back for one more go until you finally beat it.

John: There were a lot of rogue-like-y action games released in the last decade. This is the one that grabbed my attention and kept me playing until I finally managed to win. The simple scenario and tight pacing helps it transcend the absence of hand-crafted level design, and every attempt feels kinetic and exciting and fair.

Zeloz: A tense, novel arcade shooter that feels like a cross between Mr. Driller and Doom, blending the gradual downward-progression of the former with the "deadly-foes-at-every-corner-getting-in-line-for-a-faceful-of-buckshot" constant thrill of the latter. I can think of few other games that distill immediate, unpredictable Action so well.

Peaches the Rayven: Shoot stuff and don't get hit.

The classic formula gets the freshest take I've seen this decade with a simple twist in mechanics - instead of flying right endlessly through space, or up over an endless ocean or cityscape, you're just falling. Your 'gun' also acts as a kind of brake, which you can use to control yourself better during the fall as well as dispatch baddies.

And when you realize that you can Goomba-stomp some of these enemies or bits of the environment to rack up a combo and keep in a continuous fall - well, a bare-bones bullet hell becomes a heck of a fun challenge.

To complain, I tend to dislike the overwhelming buffet of quirky powerup choices - which kind of turns me off of the similar mechanic of Binding of Issac - but here, you do have at least one play mode where those upgrades get swapped for cheaper ammo and health, which suits me fine.

If you like it short and sweet when you're learning it but dang near impossible when you're finishing it, here's your game.

jetstorm4: Of the Sonic the Hedgehog media that came about in this decade, Sonic Mania is the one I will point to and say "That's It, that's what I want right there." While it's only problem is probably too many reused level themes from past games, each level is it's own space in some way, every moment in the game feels tightly constructed and meaningful in the celebration of Sonic the Hedgehog, and every encounter with Dr. Eggman, the minibosses, and the Hardboiled Heavies is the best set of boss fights any Sonic game, 2D or 3D, has ever had. Still one of my new favorite Sonic games and one I have gone back to multiple times already since its release.

Nate: You know, for a brief moment in time, we got a really good Sonic game and things looked up, and then, fairly quickly, Sega screwed it up and now we're back to hoping they do something decent again.

FreezingInferno: I'm not a big Sonic person so this didn't light my world on fire, but it's still good and the soundtrack is great. I appreciate it being there for the people who are into Sonic, but it definitely belongs on here.


Zeloz: As someone who experienced pre-SNES games primarily through emulation, collections, and pirate famiclones, my take on "nostalgic" videogame moments has always been a bit skewed in comparison to others who've grown up with the systems or arcade machines in question. But this game, specifically playing the Steam version on keyboard, struck me with such a profound longing for the summer afternoons of playing the Sonic and Knuckles Collection on my dad's Windows ME PC, and for the autumn evenings playing Sonic CD on my own mid-90s Packard Bell before that.

One could argue game itself not being as "good" as S3&K or CD, or Generations, but the way the game so perfectly resonated with my initial experience with Sonic makes Mania feel like a game specifically tailored to me.

Durante Pierpaoli: (In the interest of full disclosure not only am acquainted with the lead developer of this game, who gifted me a copy of the game, but they're also a fan of my work which I didn't even know until LUCAH was released.) Play this! LUCAH is a lot of things but the way I like to describe it most is sort of like Kingdom Hearts shoved inside the Diablo engine. This gives its combat the capacity for wild brawls as well as tense one on ones and memorable bosses. Story wise as well, this is a compelling game with a scratchy minimal look that matches the decaying, recursive, and collapsing nature of the world it takes place in. The collapse these characters are desperately trying to survive is a relatable tale through and through. In the overall this is my favorite game of the decade.

Atamine634: An angst driven survival-horror action game with an inspired timer gimmick, LUCAH takes after the obtuseness of Silent Hill and Lynch and weaves a story of trauma and healing in the brutal path of religious salvation. The greatest thing I can say about LUCAH is that it's a game most people wish they could make. Can you imagine how many people WISH they were skilled enough to make Kingdom Hearts meets Silent Hill?

LastZimOnEarth: This beautiful combination of an oppressive atmosphere and challenging yet incredibly satisfying combat form a remarkable experience through a nightmare-ish world. The fact that I still haven't actually finished this is the only reason it isn't a lot higher on my list.

jetstorm4: One of my new favorites, this action game is just an incredible time, with some of the best customization of abilities and gameplay styles that I've seen and some fantastic boss fights, and that's before the visual novel sections show up and give this game even more to love.

John: This is the game that made both parry mechanics and also Kamiya-style 3D beat-em-ups make sense to me. It's stuffed with amazing enemy set-pieces and boss fights, and for the first time I actually dug deep into reading beat-em-up enemy animations and learning parry timings. The high-stakes play language in the second loop once the timer comes into play in earnest spoke to me, and I spent a lot of time mastering each chapter of the game and doing them in one clean attempt.

That the game also works in such a moving story on top of the S-rank action design is miraculous. It introduces full-on twine-style text game interludes in the second loop, and they're as tense and visceral and affecting as anything I've played in that style. That's as much thanks to the excellent writing as it to the fantastic soundtrack.

A year after its release the game added an arcade-style gauntlet mode with its own story and bosses, prompting me to revisit the game and fall in love all over again. It's a generous beautiful treasure of a story, and I'm very excited for whatever its creators make next.

Polly: Of course my favorite of the Zero Escape series would be the most fucknutty of the three. From the jump, Virtue's Last Reward doesn't even bother trying to lull you into a sense of familiarity. Something seems "off" from the moment the game starts and continues to only get more "off" when you meet your fellow participants in the new Nonary Game. The Prisoner's Dilemma framework for the game sets up an intense amount of interpersonal drama, and even though you know it's a visual novel and the routes are defined, each AB Game still manages to feel like it has stakes. When you're in the final batch of endings and VLR is hitting on all cylinders is when it's at its best. It was hard not to be stunned silent as the game peeled back all the layers of its overly-complex narrative, but it was definitely enough to keep me excited for what HAD to come next for these characters to escape their terrible fate.

jetstorm4: Believe it or not, I played this game, the second of the Zero Escape games, first! Why? Because it was the one available and I kinda had no idea it was pretty much a full sequel, adding to the concepts and ideas from 999. Yet I still think this is a fantastic game all around. Play them in order if you can though...

Pauncho Smith: Probably my least favorite in the Zero Escape series, but the rabbit was pretty funny.

Rainiac: Takes the insanity of 999, cranks it up to 11 and adds in a half-adorable, half obnoxious host of the Nonary Game in Zero III (I wonder where they got that idea from). The revelations presented at the end of the game means that I can't wait to see where things go from here whenever I get around to Zero Time Dilemma.

Rhete: This second game in the Zero Escape series really opens up the floodgates that 999 had only begun to explore at its conclusion, going much further with the ideas presented. This game fucked with me in ways I never saw coming. It's an absolutely wild ride.

Rhete: Celeste is basically my perfect platformer. When it first released to massive acclaim I brushed it off thinking there was no way it could be as good as people said. Turns out it's even better. Celeste is the perfect game where the story and gameplay work together to enhance each other. The struggles Madeline faces climbing up the mountain mirror the difficulty of the gameplay, and the whole thing is tied together by one of the greatest soundtracks ever.

Polly: Celeste is a game that I initially bounced off of in a pretty hard way. It took a second playthrough and better mindset to fully appreciate the game's near flawless platforming mechanics and incredibly touching story about taking that first step toward overcoming one's own self-doubt, anxiety, lack of self-esteem.

John: Thorson drops the mic on a genre he helped bring to life over a decade ago with the Jumper series. The movement is nuanced and delightful, and it's elevated by a nice affecting story.

Zeloz: Story aside, Celeste is an smartly-designed difficult platformer with some pretty fun air-dashing mechanics, an endlessly listenable soundtrack, and a very cute, kinda smooshy take on pixelly artwork. But taking into account the lovable characters and relatable protagonist in mind, as well as a narrative and meta-language dedicated to overcoming the seemingly insurmountable adversity before you/Madeline, and you've got a game with a a greater sense of humanity than most others. It's a game that expects you to fail, a lot, but hardly ever does it feel mean-spirited or discouraging.

DoorCurtain: This game feels like a rumination on the nature of difficult games. Celeste is incredibly tough, but it also really wants you to succeed. Death, like in VVVVVV, is often a slap on the wrist, and you can instantly retry whatever section you were working on. Little touches here and there are made to make sure Madeline is responsive and make sure she navigates the environment fairly. Whether or not you relate to the game's vague diatribes on mental illness is up to you, but the game will be right there with you to be supportive, whether you do or not.

Polly: Meganep, for our group at the time, was like a fucking event. Most of us didn't have PS4s at the time (except Rhete) so we all waited patiently for the PC release. It was a really fun time to be a Nep fan in the Socks community. But this game, even with its squishy middle chapter, is the high watermark for the Neptunia series. Re;Birth3 was great, but I feel the storytelling and character writing chops of Meganep are the best that series will ever see, and no character introduced in the series since has topped Uzume, Big Neptune, and Umio.

Rhete: Megadimension has highest highs of the Neptunia franchise, that it may sadly never hit again. The story of Uzume is incredibly touching, and the main cast is on point as always, joined by some great new characters like the gentleman fish Umio. Rarely do I think playing through a game twice is worth it, but the way Megadimension does so with how its normal ending plays out, it made me immediately speed through the game again to get that true ending and seize victory.

TenguGemini: Uzume's story is very moving, and Big Nep is always a plus. (Please donate to Polly's Big Nep Figure Fund)

Carmichael Micaalus: I think I've said my piece on this in a 3 hour spoilercast.

Iffy: What happens when you combine Neptunia with a damn good story and well-written characters? You get this masterpiece. Has a bit of a weak middle, but the way this game wraps up blew my mind.

Beepner: While I enjoyed how the Uncharted games showed what the PS3 could do from a technical standpoint, they left little more impression than Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time clones without time rewinding where a gunfight occasionally breaks out. Naughty Dog's survival/stealth follow-up shows that they can also craft a lived-in post-apocalyptic environment that's simultaneously beautiful and haunting, with a side of narrative gut-punch to boot.

Polly: Robbing the player of catharsis and putting them in the shoes of an almost entirely unlikable protagonist are two of the main reasons The Last of Us hits the way it does. It's a game where you never feel comfortable, whether it be during gameplay or the next awful scenario the narrative has thrust Joel and Ellie into. It's a game that's unnaturally confident in what it is and the story it's trying to tell, player be damned, and I admire that a lot.

John: The rise of weightless checklist-focused open-world games in AAA means there's been a tragic absence of "linear string of expensive set-pieces" games. Of the ones that managed to make it through last decade, The Last of Us was my favorite, for its strong character psychologies and its haunting story.

Atamine634: A bit bitter with Naughty Dog right now, but The Last of Us was a game I enjoyed far more than Uncharted, with beautiful landscapes of nature overrunning the ruins of modernity, great characters, action I actually clicked with for some reason, and a memorable ending.

Durante Pierpaoli: As a critic I have to be honest when something like The Last of Us comes out. The story is, of course, seriously unoriginal and (almost resultantly) not nearly as compelling as Naughty Dog would like it to be, not aided by the fact that the game is, from a genre perspective, basically the same as the much lighter-hearted (and better beloved) Uncharted games. However: there's some really excellent and memorable scenario design in this game that perfectly sells the story it's trying to tell, and the world is fully-realized with minor details that make things come together (best cataloged by James Howell in a now-defunct video essay series), and as such, this is one of those games where the storytelling techniques are of significantly fresher vintage than whatever tripe the story actually is. (Think Dragon Quest.)

Remnant: When is the cost of survival too much to bear? In a deadly survival situation, who gets to decide who lives and who dies? When people do decide what lines can and cannot be crossed, decide who lives and who dies, what, if anything, gives them the right to make those decisions? And does anyone have the moral high-ground to tell them that they don't have that right? These questions underlie The Last of Us, and the game doesn't leave us with any clear answers after we've guided Joel and Ellie through a hostile and compelling world with smart stealth and survival gameplay that demands care and strategy without bogging itself down.

Polly: Dude, I slice apart a fucking Metal Gear in the first five minutes of this game, OF FUCKING COURSE IT'S ON THIS LIST!

John: That opening man... it's so goddamn cool. The rest of the game mostly maintains that energy, and it's further elevated by the story's furious politics.

jetstorm4: A game that only became more cathartic as the decade went on. A game where parrying becomes the most important element and every setpiece and fight work around this mechanic to make a satisfying game and probably one of the best Metal Gear games overall.

Atamine634: It's so goddamn fun to play and it gives a satisfying "fuck the system" power fantasy that isn't exactly saying much, but it's appreciated anyway.

Durante Pierpaoli: Not really a character action game, more of just An Action Game. This game is proof that if you take a B-tier Metal Gear script and combine it with a potentially B-tier Platinum game, sometimes magic can happen. The basic plot here is that, in a world where Metal Gear refuses to end, "Jack" the family man devolves back into "Raiden", a supposedly deterrent warrior of peace. But in a world where Metal Gear continues to exist, "Raiden" is merely a transitional state between a healthy, happy Jack, and a delusional, horrifically violent "Jack The Ripper" that comes into play when "Ripper Mode" is unlocked. What brings this home is that Raiden was more or less a mask for Jack the Ripper the entire time, and when his battle is over in Metal Gear Rising, he simply returns to the battlefield, where he was born, and where's destined to stay. Rising is, like much of late Metal Gear, a knowing prod to the player. "Do you *really* want to know what happened to this guy? You can't just rock with the happy ending? Aight, you asked for it." Also the soundtrack was a top 5 metal album in a 2013 that was overstuffed with great heavy metal. The parry system in this game is more satisfying to use than any whacky combo move Dante has. (And also Royalguard, you heard me.)

TenguGemini: Nanomachines, son.

Rhete: The game that launched Neptunia into a new wave of popularity. It took a bit to click for me, but I was eventually won over by the charming cast, fun combat, and great storyline. By the end I knew that Neptunia had hooked me, and it would go on to become one of my favorite franchises.

Polly: It's almost hilarious how I ended up starting the decade hating the PS3 originals and loving this series to pieces by the middle part of the decade (then completely disavowing Idea Factory/Compile Heart by the end of the decade...). Re;Birth1 hit at the right time. A time when I just needed something to laugh at and with, but also came packed full of some warm and sappy themes to complete the package. Add in RPG mechanics that are just fun and simple enough to engage with and you got yourself a pretty breezy way to spend 35'ish hours.

Zeloz: When I first looked up footage for the first Hyperdimension Neptunia, I thought it was the most amateurish, most hilariously sleazy thing ever. I thought the remake would be much of the same, even as Rhete first mentioned it favorably on the Sockscast so long ago. When I bought it on sale and loaded it up on my Vita, though, the ways this game improved on the jank original were noticable immediately. The writing was actually pretty funny! The game itself, though unbalanced and a little clunky, played better than the sluggish PS3 original by many orders of magnitude. Neptunia turned out to be a really lovable protagonist, and the supporting cast likewise was fun to listen to! The entire SMPS community being stricken with Nep-fever at the time may have contributed to my own obsession with the game as I was playing it, but there's no denying the game still remains as one of the most delightful games I've played to Platinum on the Vita.

Carmichael Micaalus: While I stand by my statement that anyone who thinks re;birth3 is better than 1 is right, I feel a stronger connection to 1 since it was the first Neptunia game I played. Not only that, but whenever I replay any of the mainline games, I always start with 1, and I always enjoy it.

Iffy: This is where my Neptunia journey started, and it's one of the best. The humor was fresh and original, and it never seemed to over-stay its welcome.

jetstorm4: The best Mario game of this decade. The choice to go back to 3D Land's gameplay and expand it to a fanastic platformer is something special to look at. This was the Mario game I showed to my little brother as his first and I know it's still one of his favorite games (he even had his first "accidental save erase incident" with this game). WHen this game came to the climax, it was a moment I didn't know Mario could still deliver for me. I hope this comes to more people one day, this is the Mario game to play.

Pauncho Smith: Think of everything Super Mario 3D Land had to offer, but pushed to its absolute breaking point AND with multiplayer added on top of all that. Attempting to play this with my brother and his friends was nothing but absolute mayhem. It's a wonder how I didn't end up strangling anyone in the process.

FreezingInferno: It reminded me of after school days playing Super Mario 2 and 3, only with a grander scope and like a hundred massive levels. Just a really charming and fun Mario game with enough secrets and bonus levels to make you wanna blast through the challenges.

Remnant: This was one I couldn't put down for weeks until I'd beaten every single level. Didn't go for every collectible though. I don't have the skill nor time for that kind of dedication.

DoorCurtain: This game rules. It's linear 3D Mario perfected. Yeah the worlds aren't themed for the most part which takes some of the feeling of adventure out, but every single level felt incredibly fun to navigate. While "World" is in the title, it's more like Super Mario Bros. 3 in terms of quality. The cat power up was super fun, even if the act of climbing a surface could momentarily feel a bit boring, it finally meant we had a power up that kept Mario and company at "small" size. I really loved the cherries that cloned you, as well, and I liked how you would always end up controlling the last clone standing. Despite being a follow up to a 3DS entry, it felt far more inventive than most previous Mario games up to that point.

Psychic_Heist: Allow me to talk a little further out of my ass, this game feels like a video game designer's game. It is a treasure trove of many game ideas, polished and executed in a well-rounded manner that leaves one satisfied. I feel like I could take any idea, or gimmick, centered around any one level in 3D World and make a full game out of it. 3D World just has lots and lots of different concepts on its mind, and openly wants to share them with everybody of all ages.

The word 'Epic' carries little weight these days, but I can't think of a better way to describe the bold choice that the designers of 3D World took in exploring every nook and cranny of the game's engine and format. 3D World exhausts its unique perspective on 3D platforming completely, and I highly doubt we will ever see a new Mario game presented like this again.

DoorCurtain: I loved this game, and not just because A Link to the Past on the GBA was my first Zelda game, meaning I was already going to love a follow-up with a near-identical layout for Hyrule. No, I loved this game for how damn *snappy* it felt. Attacks come out instantly, your running speed feels pitch-perfect, and dungeons blaze by in the blink of an eye, as you determine what to do next far faster than in previous Zelda games. I don't really replay games these days that much anymore, but I played this game three separate times because doing things even more efficiently each time became comfort food for a while.

Carmichael Micaalus: If Nintendo set off to make another game with the SNES Zelda feel, I'd say they pulled it off. While A Link to the Past didn't need a sequel, they did a pretty good job with this one.

Pauncho Smith: A return trip to the Hyrule of A Link to the Past might seem like a easy retread, but this game blazes its own path with new mechanics, new dungeons, and an open-ended approach to progressing in the game. I must admit that I groaned audibly the first name the name "Lorule" flashed across my screen.

FreezingInferno: Hey, some Zelda games came out this decade. This is a good one. It's Link To The Past 2 with a cute "painting" gimmick. It has some lovely innovations and neat puzzles, and it's just a solid-ass traditional Zelda game.

Remnant: As many things there were that were "meh" about this game--the story, the shameless redux of the world from A Link To the Past--it was just too much FUN for the "meh" stuff to matter to me in the end. The non-linear, breezy pace of the whole experience kept me hooked from beginning to end.

Atamine634: Perfect to a fault, ALBW is at once one of the best zeldas and one of the least memorable. The Greatest Hits vibe IS what is was going for though and it's a terrific tightly designed little adventure with a fantastic climax.

Polly: By this point we were already bought into the Neptunia idea and after the slightly disappointing Re;Birth2, Re;Birth3 comes out swinging with some of the best writing the series has seen. And Plutia. We love Plutia. Top that off with a series of quality of life improvements and you've got the overall best package of the Re;Birth series.

Carmichael Micaalus: Takes everything from the first two and distills it into utter joy. Anyone who says this is the best Neptunia game wouldn't be wrong.

Iffy: I would like this game more if the middle of the game didn't feel like it was dragging on forever, and I was a bit bored of the structure and tropes at the time, but this really is a solid RPG. Really liked how it all wrapped up.

TenguGemini: Plutia has the best priorities. Naps are good. Also, this is a very good game.

FreezingInferno: The best Neptunia game of the 45 that released this decade, and also the only one I actually finished. And wrote a giant screed on. That alone gets it on the list, but it's like okay. If you like the Neptunia thing, I mean.

Rhete: Probably the funniest game I've ever played. The game feels like the best realization of the whole "video game consoles as anime girls" concept as they travel back to an alternate 1980s to really see the console wars from the start. The characters dunk on and tease each other other for a good 30 hours straight, but deep down you know they're the best of friends. As cheesy as it is, this game made me think about my own friend circle differently, and appreciate them more.

John: This is my favorite RPGmaker game! I can't fully explain why I hold it in such sky-high esteem. It just feels so Right to me. The battles are crunchy and fun, the maps are satisfying mazes, the climax goes hard, the writing and aesthetic are next-level charming -- it's just a really fun nice videogame. It makes me want to make videogames, maybe more than any other game on this list.

It's hard to recognize the humbler masterpieces like this one, where there's no huge emotional catharsis to tearfully relate to friends, or immediate formal hooks to gush about. It's just a game with its own voice that doesn't ask too much of your time, and is perfect at being what it wants to be. In some ways these are my favorite games of all.

Polly: Forget the RPG Maker part of this game, because that qualifier is usually only used to discredit games made in creation engines. Helen's Mysterious Castle is just straight up a fantastic RPG with an incredibly inventive battle system and a story that ends up being quite a bit more than its early going may indicate. This one is wholly Sockscast approved for a reason.

Rhete: While Helen's Mysterious Castle tells a very cute and great little story, what stuck out most to me was its incredible delay based combat system that lets you know exactly how long each attack is going to come out, allowing for much more strategy that I've ever seen in a JRPG where you only control one character. It was inspiring to me, both wanting to rip it off shamelessly for my own game, and also wondering what the heck a party based version would look like.

Iffy: A unique little RPG that threw me for a loop many times. I wasn't expecting much going in, but it was very enjoyable to play.

DoorCurtain: There's a glitch that hasn't been fixed where, after a certain boss fight, if you go through the left half of a two-tile-wide door, the game crashes. If you play this game, save before every boss fight to make sure this doesn't become a huge deal.

Otherwise, I have nothing but great things to say about this game. It's an RPG Maker game with a unique and awesome battle system. You collect weapons and tools with their unique Attack, Defense, and Wait numbers. Attack is how much damage it will deal, Defense is how much damage it will block, and Wait is how long you will need to wait before you act. Simple, intuitive, and super fun. Any RPG that decides to do something fun instead of having a single generic "attack" command is awesome, and the one-on-one fights Helen partakes in to solve the mystery of the castle remain good for the brain the whole way through. Also: it's like $2 on Steam! Just...go get it! Knock yourself out!

Pauncho Smith: A heart-warming tale of a girl who won't let her relative illiteracy hold her back.

Polly: This was Sonic Mania before Sonic Mania was Sonic Mania, and as fate would have it, it's about 100 times better. Freedom Planet wears its origins as a Sonic Fangame on its sleeve, and the vigor with which it throws itself headlong into its far-too dense narrative is admirable. What really makes the game shine however, is the gameplay, which is as fast and frantic as you want from your 2D Sonic-likes, but combines that with over the top Treasure-influenced melee combat and screen-filling bosses that really lets the game establish its own identity despite where it comes from.

Ghosty: I ended up playing this game during a period I was dealing with a lot of anxiety. I wasn't sure what the game was, but the art looked cute and screenshots looked 2D Sonic-ey. I don't like Sonic, but I do like this game! The story and positive vibes and just fun platforming gameplay is what got me through the week, not to mention the awesome SOUNDTRACK! Cripes!

TenguGemini: This game does "what if Sonic had a Saturn game" better than Sonic Mania imo, and is just excellent at being that. It also has a boss directly based on Seven Force (the best boss in all of gaming) so props for that.

Pauncho Smith: What started out as a Sonic fan project turned out to be so much more. Freedom Planet felt like a long-lost Sega CD/Saturn platformer that in many ways exceeded any number of the blue hedgehog's own games. Saturated with both action and style, it's an absolute blast to play. I'm glad this is going to be more than a one-off, because that FP2 demo has the makings of something amazing.

Rainiac: Freedom Planet: The best Sonic game in over 15 years at the time of its release (apart from Sonic Generations), despite having nothing to do with the speedy blue hedgehog. Blasting through the various levels is great fun, and the final climatic showdown with evil mastermind Lord Brevon really gets the blood pumping. Eagerly anticipating the sequel. whenever it comes out.

Beepner: Lilac the Dragon 3 & Carol has no right to play as well as it does, given how difficult it is to get a Sonic clone right (even if you're SEGA). There are a few rough edges and some borderline unfair bosses, but big multi-part bosses reminiscent of 16-bit Treasure games and breakneck action make Freedom Planet worth the price of admission. Hope the time they're taking with FP2 pays off!

jetstorm4: Now here's a fun one. A borderline Sonic fangame with its own OCs, a fantastic villain, and wonderful levels and boss fights that feel more like a combination of a Treasure game along with some of Sega's best. A wonderful game every time I replayed it.

Rhete: Spelunky isn't a game where you learn the levels, but rather the rules of the game itself. It's a strict teacher, as each mistake has a chance of being fatal with how a chain reaction can cause a situation to spiral out of control in seconds. Getting good at Spelunky is incredibly rewarding, as you get more and more consistent at it, and can see that nothing is ever out of your control. Getting all the way to Hell and defeating the true final boss was one of the most exciting things I did in a game this generation.

Polly: Spelunky is that game you throw in with all the intention in the world of playing it for about 20 or so minutes, and before you realize, it's been three hours, and you've still not cleared the ice caves this session because this game is a son of a bitch. It's a son of a bitch you come to love through those failures though, because the eventual success is so goddamn delicious.

Zeloz: I like Rogue, and I like Mystery Dungeon, and I like a lot of procedurally-generated games which claim to borrow from these two. But the way Spelunky adapts this gameplay style to an action-platformer with a fragile protagonist is amazing, even if 9 out of 10 of my runs still end in embarrassing death in the mines. The problems the generated level layouts present players often encourages creative thinking and experimental play to get around, making playthroughs still feel different even if they end in similar, face-palming ways.

Spelunky HD was what really sold me on playing games online, with its Daily Spelunker levels and its rather ridiculous (but doable!) achievements. While, shamefully, I can't say I've ever finished the game, this game is still the finest "roguelike" (or "rogue-lite," if you prefer) I've ever played.

FreezingInferno: One hell of a roguelike, and a game which encourages "one more run" to blast through and maybe get deeper than you ever have before. The depth on display here is staggering, and it's a game you can play for hundreds of hours.

Rainiac: One of the best rogue-lites ever made. There is little better in terms of catharsis than finally completing the fabled Hell Run after countless attempts times trying and failing. Occasionally your deaths feel unfair, but more often than not you simply weren't paying close enough attention to your surroundings.

Beepner: Exploring, bombing, trying not to waste ropes, getting knocked out by yetis, accidentally blowing yourself up, getting impaled, going back for more. That's Spelunky in a nutshell.

lieronet: What's to say about Minecraft? There have been oceans of ink spilled over this game. Best LEGO set ever? Better mod platform than any Bethesda game? Inspired unending legions of imitators, successors, and riffs? This game hooked me way back in the Creative/indev days and has yet to let go. I doubt it ever will.

Atamine634: I'd be lying to my soul if I said I didn't believe Minecraft was one of the best games of the 2010s. Minecraft sparks that part in my brain that likes to play pretend more than any videogame I've played and the weight of how special that is to me is heavy. I've had some of the most childlike enjoyment from the last decade in Minecraft and the lonely worlds I inhabited. The range of possible playstyles and moods that Minecraft's systems allow for make it one of the most expressive games ever made.

Remnant: The comparison has been made to death, but discovering Minecraft really did make me feel like a kid playing with LEGO blocks, except that there's an unlimited number of blocks! And the world spawns bad guys to fight! And look at my awesome sky castle! I envy the kids who've been able to grow up with this one.

Iffy: I've sunk hours upon hours into this one and it has been a nice outlet for my creative side.

Zeloz: This game has become so many goddamn things in the 10 years I've known of its existence. It's a game that I can't say I've played heavily - never was organized enough to build that diamond armor, make ridiculous automated structurs, craft a portal to The End, and beat the Ender Dragon - but it's been such a constant presence for me during this decade. Whether it be solo on some vanilla build of the game, or on a server with some magic/cyberpunk/Pokémon mod pack and people I barely know, my experiences with this game have been many and varied. If there is a single game that defines the 2010s, it's this one.

Ghosty: This game was gifted to me by someone that later disappeared from my life and the internet at large. But I'll always remember those early days of trying to pretty up the base while being bewildered at all the mods they tried.

While the 'Survival' mode wasn't all that fun for long, the 'Creative' mode let me focus on the stuff that was actually fun. But looking at other people's pretty things they made, eventually led to me getting frustrated with the game. I just wasn't making things I was happy with anymore. I barely played it off and on before I eventually decided that I wasn't going to stay at the level I was at. I was going to get better! So I started downloading maps off of the intertubes of cool projects people had built and I went around and looked at them hard. What, precisely, were they doing that I wasn't? What made their designs look good when mine looked like shoeboxes?

Bit by bit I found the tools to make buildings and structures that I could feel happy with. I was no wizard that made giant awe-inspiring structures, but I made pleasing little houses and spaces that made me feel good. It's probably the nicest achievement I have made in any game. Even if calling Minecraft a 'game' feels a bit contrived. I feel that Minecraft is a toy and not a game. A comparison not coined by me.

Polly: Believe it or not, I wasn't sold on my first trip into the world of Kotaro Uchikoshi. It took another go and a better mood for me to fully appreciate what 999 was doing. It may not be a story you connect with on a personal level, but the atmosphere and tension are cranked to 11 and the finale is one that has to be seen to be believed.

Rhete: A great visual novel thriller with some lofty ideas that get explored more in its two sequels. It's my favorite of the trilogy because of the very emotional ending, which was my personal high point of the series. I played the PS4 port , and its wild that in spite of how incredible the ending is, I can't help but feel it's a pale shadow to what they originally pulled off on the Nintendo DS.

FreezingInferno: One hell of a visual novel/adventure game. It took me a few tries to get into this, but thanks to the Nonary Games version which has a flowchart I got into it, and really wanted to uncover the mysteries within. Realizing certain things were features and not "plot holes" really made my mind open up to the possibilities within, and the big reveals are absolutely wild and intriguing to think about.

Rainiac: Not quite as engaging as its sequels but the Nonary Game concept is intriguing, the various puzzles are well-implemented and the voice acting is stellar. Richard Epcar stands out in particular as the mysterious Ace.

jetstorm4: The first of the Zero Escape trilogy and a very strong game on its own. Whatever version you play you're in for a ride with long conversations about various concepts that eventually come together for an incredible finale.

Pauncho Smith: For my money, this is the strongest, most focused of the Zero Escape series, and it also works perfectly fine as a standalone game. And unlike After5, looking underneath the pillows was the FIRST thing I did.

Iffy: The top of this list should be no surprise--my favorite video game of all time, and the one that changed my life forever. Not only was it an amazing conclusion to my favorite trilogy of all time, it spoke to me in a very personal way that still inspires me.

Polly: It's honestly hilarious that as I was digging my way through the original Sky trilogy that I'd been made believe that this was a "side story" of sorts, and had no interest in playing it at all (until...a big moment in SC's finale, that is.) I was, in no way, prepared for what this game would do to me emotionally, as the final two to three hours left me a sobbing mess, with the climax STILL leaving an impression that I can vividly feel today. That's not even counting the multiple times BEFORE the finale that this game left me reeling with a lot to think about. The meat of 3rd is the side stories detailing characters' actions since the end of SC as well as their pasts, while at the same time trying to crack the mystery Kevin Graham has found himself in. There's a LOT to unpack here, and Falcom doesn't spare a single detail (even the uncomfortable ones) in making their cast of JRPG characters somehow feel more human and alive than any other cast, despite their anime JRPG trappings.

jetstorm4: Play the first two first, as this serves as an epilogue of sorts to finish off several themes and ideas as well as setting up events and concepts for the series future games. It's a fantastic final twist to Sky's gameplay and helps to round off everything else about this trilogy.

Rhete: There's really nothing else I can say about this game that hasn't been said either right above this blurb, or on the many many times this game has come up on the Sockscast podcast. Either way I'll just say that this game made me love JRPGs again. Having to say farewell to this cast of characters was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

John: I think this is the best videogame Falcom is capable of making. Which, of course, makes it an all-time favorite. It has all the same strengths as the preceding Trails games. But there's a darkness to this one, an extra bit of edge I haven't seen in any of their other games. And because of the setting, there's a psychological bent to the map design that isn't present in their other work. It harmonizes well with the darkness.

Trails 3rd takes place after the big JRPG story finishes. It's explicitly about picking up the pieces after a disaster and untangling trauma. It's often episodic, telling small side-stories about characters from the first two games, both major and minor. It's by far the weirdest, most Falcom game I've played, without sacrificing any of the strengths that make them my favorite large studio developer. That makes it my favorite of their games, and a story I cherish.

Polly: Nine years after the fact and Bastion is still as gorgeous, haunting, and as fun as it was when it first launched. The fast-paced melee combat and unique narrator-driven storyline are enough to carry it, but this game is just breath-takingly gorgeous at times and the soundtrack is easily one of the top-ten best of the decade without question.

Rhete: While the gameplay is a little basic, the amazing voice acting, music, and story easily carry this title to greatness.

TenguGemini: This was one of the games that helped launch the indie revolution, and it does a lot of neat stuff.

Pauncho Smith: I like to imagine it's Tom Waits doing all the narration.

lieronet: Honestly, this game would have been kinda forgettable without Darren Kord and Chris Metzen, but those two people joined forces to create a fantastic experience.

Iffy: A really great game--I'm just not sure it was quite for me. One of the most beautiful games on this list though.

Rainiac: Along with Super Meat Boy, Bastion is probably the game most responsible for the Independent scene taking off as much as it did in the past decade. The story isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the gameplay is excellent and the game really nails how to handle a silent protagonist.

Peaches the Rayven: This game is important to me because it showed how there can be a good game conceived in a hybrid of modern tech and classic style. It didn't need a ginormous brown and grey hellscape to feel big and challenging. But it did bring action, story, and even a craft system where you could customize weapons just to your playstyle. Not much that other games hadn't done before, but this game does it to near-perfection and blends those elements in just the right way.

This game really started winning me over when I found myself getting more choices of weapons as the game went on, and playing and replaying the bonus stages. It was genius how those side stages not just train the player how to use new weapons, but also challenge them to take full advantage of each tool. And aiming the ranged weapons made the game feel so three-dimensional, even if you were locked into that isometric point of view.

I find it hard to describe just how great the storytelling is. Like many others, the game is mostly told via narration, with a few sparse cut-scenes, but the way it makes that narration work could get this thing in a museum. I still get chills from the level where you are forced to relive the game's opening sequence, but from a skewed perspective.

John: The dream of Flash 4 continues... A super-ambitious comedy game that succeeds on the strength of its endearing aesthetic, pitch-perfect soundtrack, and across-the-board hilarious writing.

Zeloz: Taken to its logical extreme, dungeon-crawling roguelikes are more-or-less a series of coin-flips. This game takes that premise and then, in true Polly faschion, adds a very Polly sense of humor to it. The result is perhaps one of the most delightful amalgamation of puns and fart jokes I've ever come across, culminating in a stupidly awesome and sorta heartwarming climax.

Nate: Polly Dungeon, like Polly, is a mad-dash of charismatic charm wrapped up in a slick package and something I want more of. Thank goodness there's two podcasts now.

Carmichael Micaalus: A fun little dungeon clicker game; just mind the bear traps.

Pauncho Smith: There's a final boss fight in SPACE, what more do you really need?

DoorCurtain: It's a shitpost generator, what's not to love? There's technically no real choice in it, but I'm still classifying it as a game because it's clearly mocking roguelikes and the tendency for them to screw you over in such a way that you can't reasonably beat it after a certain point. If you "stick with it", though, you can "beat" it. The music by Ghosty in particular is so twee it makes me smile, I still listen to the complete soundtrack on Polly's YouTube channel when I wash dishes sometimes. Lute boxes!

Iffy: F A R T S.

Iffy: A very close second is my favorite action game ever, and one that surprised me with its characters and story. Dana might be the most well-written character ever conceived, and the gameplay keeps me coming back for replay after replay.

Polly: I don't know what I can call Ys VIII other than a perfection of the formula they've been working on for a while. Everything about playing Ys VIII feels so effortless and meaty all at the same time. The combat and fights with huge bosses just always nail the feeling they need to and it's so consistently fun unlocking new parts of the island and new castaways to interact with. Above all though, is the story and writing. Falcom knocked an Ys story out of the park, taking some cues from the Trails series tone-wise. This is Dana's story and her's is one absolutely worth experiencing.

Rhete: This was the first Ys game to really grab me with its story, telling the tale of a group of shipwreck survivors on a mysterious island. The story takes a while to unfold, but eventually I fell in love with the entire cast of characters, and was truly sad at the end when it was time to part ways. On top of that you've got your classic Ys action that never gets old, despite this being a much longer game than other entries, and a jammin soundtrack. Pretty much the complete package right here.

John: Ys VIII feels like an old story. One that's been been told and retold for a long time. A lot of Falcom games have that energy, but there's a unique weight to this one in particular. I think folks that have played the game know what I mean.

I think it's because it's an epic, in the classical heroic sense. It's a story about a regular person that you care about, and how they become something larger-than-life. There's a whole lot about Ys VIII that's special, but the singular focus and power of that messiah narrative is the part that really shook me.

TenguGemini: The best Ys game. If you need to know more, ask After5 about Dana's tummy.

jetstorm4: The moment I stepped onto the Isle of Seiren and heard "Sunshine Coastline", I knew this was going to be something special. Ys VIII uses the form Falcom developed through the later Legend of Heroes games and applies it to Ys, making a much longer game than normal Ys games, but a more rich, fulfilling game than I thought it could be.

Thank you for Ys VIII, Falcom.

Pauncho Smith: The Persona series at its zenith. As I mentioned in my 2017 Game of the Year list, it's the perfect marriage of both style and substance. Everything from the soundtrack to the artwork used for simple stuff like screen transitions for menus just blows me away. The dungeons are more elaborate than they've ever been and the combat is polished to a reflective sheen. The main cast is the strongest yet, and the villains can be truly loathsome. Incredible.

Polly: "Winter 2014" took its damn time getting here, but the wait was mostly worth it. Persona 5 is a bit of a trainwreck of a game. It's a case of too many cooks in the kitchen not communicating if I had to address the game's narrative, but that old familiar loop that worked in Persona 3 and 4 is executed better than it ever and easier to engage with. The combat is as tight and strategic as you'd come to expect from the series, and the amount of money thrown at this game's production shows from top-to-bottom.

lieronet: Persona at its peak. It's got all the familiar elements, only more so. If this were a list of the most stylish games of the decade, this game would be #1 no question.

Psychic_Heist: *Putting to the side Famcom's Trails series, which I have yet to play.* Something happened to one of my favorite game genres, the JRPG. If I were to make Games of the Decade lists centered around the 90s and 00s, those lists would be flooded with JRPGS. Noticing the lack of a strong JPRG presence in my list kinda hurts.

Thankfully, "Persona 5" is a game that fully encapsulates that feeling of excitement around a show-stopping JRPG that I'd been sorely missing for a lot of this last decade. It's marriage of so many elements - rpg mechanics, art direction, music, dungeon crawling, visual noveling, high school simulating, demon swindling/summoning, with sweet delectable menus on top - that when it does make its missteps, it's hard to fault it because there is something beautiful to make up for it just around the corner.

Beepner: The installment of the "modern" Personas that is the most ambitious is also the most refined take on the formula. I have an affection for this game's characters on par with that of Innocent Sin.

jetstorm4: Persona 5 is a game that does a lot of things right, but misses the mark in narrative themes from time to time. It's a game that starts strong and delivers great moments throughout but does lose some of that as the game goes on. But I cannot deny I had a lot of fun with this game and even revisiting it I've had a blast. Give me these solid dungeons and SMT Demons with negotiation over the randomized dungeons and Shadows any day.

DoorCurtain: Though it keeps a few of the changes Persona 4 made that I didn't like, like how (for the most part) you can still get the dungeons "over with" instead of steadily tackling them within a designated spot just for doing so, Persona 5 was otherwise a huge improvement from Persona 4 in terms of gameplay. The battles are far smoother and the decision to fight Shin Megami Tensei demons again instead of the weird but comparatively generic shadow enemies from P3 and P4 was much appreciated. The music is even catchier than P4's was, which is an achievement. I don't think the game nailed its theme of rebellion compared to P4 and especially P3's themes, but I can't deny feeling electrified when fighting some of the scumbags in the story. Overall, despite my numerous hangups with the game, the game should be on this list for its incredible sense of style alone. The graphical style is utterly gorgeous, and never have menus felt so cool to navigate at every level.

Iffy: I REALLY wanted to like this game as I was drawn toward its world and character immediately, but I found the gameplay to be dreadful. Never made it past the second palace.

Polly: Woops! We accidentally made the best Shantae game the one where she uses her rival's powers instead! Also, the most consistently humorous entry in the series as well as home of the best level and boss design hands down.

Rhete: The best Shantate game, there I said it. Genie transformations are fine but the pirate abilities in this game are just so much more fun, and able to be strung and comboed together in ways that feel really good, and you could never do with stopping to dance and transform in the other games. Also this game is just... ridiculously thirsty in a way I did not expect.

Ghosty: Best Shantae game of the ones I've played! Makes you smile!

Carmichael Micaalus: Other devs: hey, here's double jump! WayForward: Hold my beer, y'all.

FreezingInferno: It's many people's favorite Shantae game ever, and they're not wrong to love it. The pirate gear adds a new (and some would say preferred) twist to Shantae, and its stage-based exploratory nature makes things quite interesting to go back to with your new arsenal of mobility tools. It's just fun. Shantae games are fun, y'all.

Pauncho Smith: This is the one Shantae game that I can unequivocally and wholly recommend.

Rainiac: The best of the Shantae games ditches the transformations from Risky's Revenge, replaces them with much more enjoyable abilities borrowed from Shantae's nemesis Risky Boots and proceeds to reap the rewards. The writing is fantastic throughout.

Beepner: The Shantae franchise finally hits its stride by removing the continuous world and much of the tedium. Imaginative characters with robust spritework and discrete levels that are actually fun to explore (and revisit). There's a couple of parts that hold it back from greatness (the princess stealth sequence, the sky fortress), but it's still a fun and endearing 2D character platformer.

Polly: If there's a game out there that exudes more hope, kindness, and optimism in the face of adversity then I certainly didn't play it this decade. Wandersong can easily be confused with a game that's just "happy for happiness' sake" given how outwardly joyous and hilarious it is, but to me it feels more honest than that. It fully embraces the darkness we can sometimes find ourselves wallowing in and lets you dwell there too, but it also makes the point that you don't have to be anyone or anything special to be a light for someone else in that darkness. It examines these roles as thoroughly as you can with our hapless bard and best witch Miriam both going through satisfying emotional arcs that help them find that light within themselves. I'm not sure we'll ever see another game that exudes as much honest hope and love as Wandersong does, but the fact that it exists at all is proof of its own lessons, I think.

Rhete: A game about positivity and optimism defeating negativity and cynicism. The cast of characters you meet in this journey is delightful, and Miriam may be the realest character I've ever seen. The message of this game is simple but really wholesome: When given a choice, choose to put something positive out into the world.

John: What a warm kind-hearted journey. The game is syrupy-sweet from the jump, but it always balances it out with a dose of reality. The conversation with Miriam on the dance floor always jumps to my head when I think of the game, because it best shows how the game avoids being saccharine and slight by building real human connections between its characters.

Ghosty: A life-changing game. I know that sounds a bit much, but it's true! This game really gave me the pickup I needed in a difficult time. Well that's not really the best description. More like... It changed the landscape in my mind from an extremely bleak one to one that... At least has life. That, my friends, is more helpful than you know.

LastZimOnEarth: An incredibly charming game that espouses the importance of being able to be hopeful in the face of a potentially dire crisis, which is a very good message for these trying times.

TenguGemini: One of the most positive games I have ever played. Miriam is the best witch.

Pauncho Smith: If only it were that easy to remedy all of the World's ills with the power of song. Nevertheless, we can still enjoy the imaginative mix of art, gameplay and touching character moments.

LastZimOnEarth: Just a phenomenally charming and likable game from beginning to end, with a great cast of characters brought to life by the incredible character movements and a story filled with all kinds of crazy twists and turns that manages to pull itself together incredibly well. The puzzles were also challenging yet never felt insurmountable, which is how I like it.

Polly: Absolutely brilliant, clever, and touching. Top-to-bottom, Ghost Trick is a LOT. Style, substance, and grace. I could spend all day heaping praise upon this game in three-adjective format and be at it for a damn long while. Not a lot of games aspire to be as smart, funny, and warm as Ghost Trick is (FUCK! I KEEP DOING IT!). It's a game whose entire narrative stuck with me throughout the entire decade.

Rhete: The best rotoscoped pixel animation I've ever seen. Seriously on the Nintendo DS this game has such a cool look to it. The puzzle mechanics are incredibly unique and the story is great, and GOSH that ending.

John: It's fitting that a game so often about setting up (or interrupting) rube goldberg machines is also a master of setup and payoff. Many games would fumble an amazing premise like this one. Ghost Trick instead starts strong and then builds beautifully to a transcendent climax.

FreezingInferno: A fantastic story-based adventure game with a pretty unique puzzle mechanic of having to manipulate objects as a ghost to save people's lives and solve the mystery that continues to unfold. As expected of Ace Attorney alumni, the story and puzzles are absolutely On Point, and Ghost Trick's just fantastic.

Atamine634: Charming as heck and it's good reputation is more than deserved. I thought the whole experience was lovely and its lo-fi 3D aesthetic inspired, but that last third of the game left me floored and it was one of the few games to make me waterworks cry.

DoorCurtain: No one ever talks about this game, because they don't want to give anything away. All they ever say is "play Ghost Trick," and squeal with excitement whenever anyone else mentions it.

Anyway, play Ghost Trick.

Iffy: What I consider to be the pinnacle of 2.5D action games and was a fun, challenging reimagination of the first Ys game I played as a kid.

Polly: Oath in Felghana is essentially where modern Ys found its legs. The Ark of Napishtim was a good foundation, but Oath builds on that in subtle, sensible ways that make everything feel much tighter. The level design and boss fights also carry just the right level of challenge, and getting back to where you ate shit is never too hard because the game is just so damn brisk and pleasant to engage with.

John: This was my very first Falcom game, years ago! I didn't stick with it at the time, so finally coming back and closing the book on it after playing through a bunch of other great Falcom games was cathartic. Oath's setting and story feels a bit simpler and more videogame-y than Ark of Napishtim's, but it might have the best and most refined action of any of the Ys games.

Zeloz: Haven't played a lot of this, but props to it for putting out maybe the best version of the best (80s-era) Ys soundtrack!

Carmichael Micaalus: I will forever call this "Oath in Flargenhargen." A remake of the first Ys game I played, which probably makes it the whole reason I picked up the Ys series on PC. Unfortunately, the Ys games are a series where Normal difficulty remains just a tick or two higher than my own skill level, leading to a lot of rage.

TenguGemini: This game introduced me to Ys and Falcom in general. A very solid game that is just balls to the wall action all the time.

Pauncho Smith: The one Falcom game on my list. People like those, right?

jetstorm4: A remake of Ys III, Oath in Felghana takes that plot and puts it into an Ys game that plays like Ys VI, giving that game the love it really deserves. For a lot of people, I bet this was their first exposure to Adol's adventures, which is a good one because this game is a fantastic time still.

Iffy: A game I waited five years for, and one that did not disappoint. The game that topped Chrono Trigger for my "best plot ever" title and probably the most complete, solid JRPG I've played front-to-back.

Polly: The game that cemented Estelle Bright as one of the best protagonists ever. She's headstrong, stubborn, and stumbles from time to time, but her conviction and determination are undeniable, and this game cements her as someone you absolutely wanna get behind. Shoutouts to Liberl Ark and this game's entire finale for being some of the best over-the-top anime bullshit ever, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Rhete: One of the greatest adventures ever. The first chapter spent an entire game introducing you to its characters and world, so when shit hits the fan and things become perilous, the game KNOWS you care by this point.

John: All the big JRPG story bits land perfectly of course, but it's the handful of intimate human moments that really make this story. The end of chapter 6 is the big one. It's the payoff to a conflict the game's built up for two whole games. And yet it's a quiet scene, just two characters you care about talking to one another.

It's a mature conversation. The kind we all have to have in life with the people we care about when things get hard. The kind of conversation we mostly have to figure out how to have on our own, because we're all bad at them, and very little art is adult enough to give us an example to work from.

Trails in the Sky knows how hard things get when we can't communicate our feelings with the people we love. Often it's because we don't understand what we're feeling in the first place. It shows how much WORK it is to be self-aware, to really understand ourselves, and to really talk to and understand the people we love. That maturity is what elevates the games into something truly special.

Ghosty: This is where the payoffs set up in the first game roll in, and some scenes are just so powerful and amazing, I don't think I've experienced anything quite like it in any other game.

Sadly I didn't feel as much for the plot in this game compared to the first. Where the first game's plot felt more 'grounded' this one feels more like something out of an anime, and I can't say I care for that direction much.

It was great to see some minor characters from the first game get more screen time and involved in the plot.

TenguGemini: I have a very hard time separating this from FC, because they are both parts of the same larger story. This is only #2 because you really can't play it without having completed FC.

jetstorm4: Masterful. Quite possibly one of the best JRPGs I have ever played. From narrative flow, world-building, exploration, battling, and emotional impact, Trails in the Sky SC succeeds from the outset all the way to the finish. It is an experience I am proud to have finished, and hope others will find it as incredible as I have.

Ghosty: This game manages to talk about something I thought was impossible to talk about. Something I could never find the words for. I still can't find words for it, but it's in this game. This game freed me from what felt like a small stone in my heart. A stone that made me feel alone. It's not the only thing in the world to make me feel alone, but it was one of them. So I just want to thank Polly, John and the others for this game. Thank you for existing, Her Lullaby.

Nate: I think this is one of the only times I've really gotten into a game like this before, and the less I say the more justice I hope it does to those who try it for the first time.

LastZimOnEarth: An excellent VN that manages to be nail-bitingly intense and suspenseful with stakes that constantly feel like they heighten to the very end.

TenguGemini: Extremely good short little VN by a couple of pretty rad people.

Pauncho Smith: I'll never get used to pronouncing it as "Taco". Sorry, just can't do it.

Atamine634: Captures the frustrations and hopes of its creators while throwing some good goofs along the way.

jetstorm4: You're reading the site of the creator of this game so I'm going to be a little careful here and not say much. Her Lullaby is a real interesting piece of work that goes into the thoughts of two people trapped in a terrible situation. I won't say much more, just go play it for free.

DoorCurtain: This is a very dark, visceral tale of horror and the drive to kill. I don't want to give too much away, just that Polly, John, and everyone else who worked on Her Lullaby did an incredible job with this visual novel. While I felt annoyed that I was doing the right thing, only to realize it was one of two routes I needed to do to unlock the rest of the game, made to basically make me exhaust all the other preceding routes with *very* unpleasant and uncomfortable dialogue and inner thoughts, I otherwise was on the edge of my seat as I made my way through Her Lullaby.

Iffy: I couldn't finish it due to some specific scenes, but this is a fantastically-written visual novel from a place of brutal honesty. Not everyone's cup of tea, but it's very well-written and visualized.

Zeloz: Gonna go ahead and vote in this one even though I've technically had more experience with the Wii U entry before it, but what's the difference between these games, really? Not to mention this game is just ridiculously packed with content, much of it Nintendo-centric but a large part dealing with franchises that, honestly, you wouldn't associate with the brand (not since the SNES days, anyway). Regardless of whether or not you think the actual mechanics of the game are up to the hardcore competitive reputation it's garnered, the Smash Bros. series is an amazing celebration of video game culture, and Ultimate is probably the best summation of the series.

Nate: The game that brought back the Ice Climbers.

TenguGemini: Smash Bros is a great party game, and this is the best Smash Bros. The spirit battles are brilliant.

FreezingInferno: It really is the ultimate Smash experience. Everyone you could ever want and more is in it (Robin for life, yo), and the madman that is Masahiro Sakurai is still adding people to it. There's not much else to say here. It's the best Smash Bros. game, and that's a very good thing.

Rainiac: The Super Smash Bros games have always been well designed and this definitive version is no exception. With over 70 characters and counting, 100+ stages and a whole lot more besides, this is absolutely stuffed to the gills with content and that mad man Sakurai just keeps on adding more. We're all extremely grateful for your efforts Mr Sakurai but please, take a rest some day, I'm begging you.

lieronet: Melee is one of my favorite games of all time, and Nintendo has finally delivered on a worthy successor. The action is finally close to Melee speeds, with a roster that borders on the obscene. All I need now are friends who wanna Smash.

Remnant: It's Smash Bros. There's been one on every Nintendo console since the late 90s. Either you're on board at this point or it's just not for you.

Iffy: I had my fun with it, but these games just don't grab me the way they used to. Still, it's hard to get bored with its roster.

DoorCurtain: Whereas Project M felt like a super fun reimagining of a game whose roster I liked but whose gameplay I didn't, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was the actual creator of the series taking a good, long look at the series he made, and addressing everything fans have been voicing for years, while *still* managing to keep the fun party atmosphere he's always emphasized.

The game feels as sharp as Melee again, after the baby steps that Smash 4 took! Directional air dodges are back! Battlefield forms for stages alongside Final Destination forms! You can turn hazards off for stages if you find them more disruptive than fun now (admittedly this wasn't perfect, as it made certain stages boring rather than distraction-free, but, points for trying)! And, best of all, *every single character from the series came back, no one got cut*! This was all honestly a miracle, and the culmination of what I wanted from Smash as a series for so long.

I haven't even talked about the roster! I love that we can play as Simon Belmont and Isabelle in the same game, and the heroes of Dragon Quest (I'm still miffed the female heroes of Dragon Quest III and IV were left out) can face off against Link and Cloud. Cloud Final Fantasy VII came back, too, what the fuck!!! That's just scratching the surface, too. It blows my mind that we still have 6 more characters to look forward to in DLC at the time I type this.

What else? Tons and tons of incredible remixes of beloved Nintendo songs, as well as for the third-party guest characters like Mega Man and Metal Gear. Way better single-player content than any of the past entries (though admittedly the Adventure Mode is just "do you get the reference? I hope you do, otherwise the fight will be annoying probably" over and over again). Being able to use the game as a music player in portable mode, meaning I used this game frequently to study.

Finally, if you agree with Sakurai that Smash is best enjoyed as a wacky party fighting game, then crash landing into your opponents with a Warp Star before you get shot with a Steel Diver gun before you counterattack by summoning Knuckles the Echidna while they summon Pong (sorry, "Color TV Game 15") and you throw a Poke Ball that summons Ditto to create a clone makes for the most delightful and chaotic experience you'll ever have when playing a game juggling this many different IPs. It really makes me wish we could play with friends online in groups of more than four at a time so we can enjoy the same fun online that we can locally on the couch, but asking Nintendo to have good online experiences is a fool's errand I suppose. Otherwise, damn, I love this game. Whenever I'm not driving around in my car, I play it to do something with my hands while listening to podcasts.

Polly: I was not ready for the experience I had with AI: The Somnium Files. All I knew going in was that it was Kotaro Uchikoshi's newest game and that it had something to do with dreams. For reasons unknown, I decided that I'd stream the first part of the game the night it came out. What happened was I ended up streaming the game in its entirety over the course of about 10 evenings, and even though the game's story, characters, world, and pacing are all top-shelf, 255% A+++++, would play 100 times again, it was the experience I had with an audience that elevated the experience. EVERYONE seemed to be hanging out and wanting to know where this absurd tale was taking us, and by the time we reached the finale at after 2-3:00AM, September 28th, 2019, it was clear that the journey was worth it, both because the game had wrapped itself up so elegantly and because the shared experience was such an amazing time within the community.

Rhete: A great mystery visual novel with an incredibly lovable cast of characters. Few games can balance humor and horror so effortlessly. The last few chapters of this in particular are just a non stop parade of *mind explode* moments.

TenguGemini: So this game fucking rules. Mizuki is the best.

Pauncho Smith: Science Fiction and Police Procedural; two flavors that always seem to work well together. The game features Uchikoshi's strongest cast of characters to date, including horny detectives, Internet idols, fanboy Yakuza, and many more. It's worth pointing out that "Invincible Rainbow Arrow" was the only song worth listening to in 2019.

Atamine634: Stylistically inspired, gorgeous and totally on My Brand of bullshit comedy, AI is one of the most likable games I've ever played with a straightforward sci-fi mystery offset by its wonderful characters and the interpersonal relationships they weave. The theme of family was what I took away most from AI and it's a beautiful story of finding family in dysfunctional ways, but it also deals in some existential examinations of identity that I admire from this type of science fiction.

jetstorm4: The game that finally delivered the same feeling I got when playing through Snatcher for the first time -- even better so as I believe it has exceeded that game to become one of my favorite adventure games.

Protect Kaname Date.

DoorCurtain: I didn't play the other Uchikoshi games, sorry! But I did play this one, and man, was it a trip. You play as a horny himbo detective with a hot AI partner and an even hotter boss as you uncover mysteries surrounding identities and eyes. Soooo many eye things happen. The plot gets entertainingly out there as you uncover the mystery behind murder victims with their eyes removed. Great stuff about brains, perception, and connection in here. Invincible Rainbow Arrow is the cheesiest and best song ever.

Iffy: I didn't actually play this one, but experiencing this journey with Polly was incredibly memorable and impactful on my personal life to say the least. One of the best character casts of the decade and it isn't close.

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