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My Ranking of Gaming Years (1991-2021)

On the surface, this list is exactly as it sounds: my personal ranking of the years in gaming from 1991 onward. Every year during GOTY time, there is some discussion on whether it was a “good” or a “bad” year for gaming. So for fun, I finally decided to sit down and think through what years I like more or less than others. Unlike the other rankings I’ve done, however, ranking years is a much, much more complicated task than ranking individual games, for many reasons. Gaming trends and norms have changed dramatically since 1991, and there are so many variables that go into making a year better or worse than another -- quality of games, quantity of games, standards of the time, even your age and what games you had access to -- that the subjective nature inherent to any ranking is only exacerbated here. But I did my best to think through all the factors that go into making a year what it is, and ended up with a list I feel accurately represents my personal ranking of gaming years.

If you want to see the more detailed explanation of my process and choices for creating this list, and all the caveats involved, please see the (very lengthy) spoiler block below. Otherwise please keep in mind that this ranking is based on my personal, subjective preferences alone; the subjective nature of this list cannot be understated. The only metric I have to compare years is how much I personally liked the games I played within each year, which is going to vary wildly from person to person. For transparency, I list my favorite games from each year, which are the games I used in my comparisons. A couple other quick notes: years are represented on the list by my favorite game from that year, I go by original US release dates where possible, I will amend the list every year, and every single year since 1991 has games I thoroughly enjoyed; there are seriously no bad gaming years on this list. And with that, hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!

How Was This List Made?

So how did I go about ranking the years in gaming? It turns out that’s not as straightforward as it might seem, and right up front I had two blatant problems to address. First, how do I compare years from the early 1990s to more recent years? The sheer number of games released each year has increased over time, and I had to account for that to avoid seriously handicapping the 1990s. Second, and more broadly, how do I measure quality vs quantity in years? Put another way, is it better to have one or two all-time great games and not much else, or a multitude of good games that may not be masterpieces? Everyone is going to land at a different place on that spectrum, and I fall somewhere in the middle; I think the best years have both all-time greats as well as many other worthwhile games. So how do I find that balance when ranking years?

My solution attempted to solve both of these problems at once, with varying levels of success; sadly no solution is perfect. The first thing I did was look at the games I played from every year in contention, and create a personal top 10 list for each. These top 10 lists (based on my personal preferences alone) formed the foundation for comparing years. It’s also the clearest indication of how subjective this list is: I can only compare years based on what games I played and liked each year. Once I had these top 10 lists, I then reduced them to 5 “seeds” for each year, so to speak. This is the step that I intended to account for the two aforementioned issues, so let’s dig into it.

The first issue was that, for me, I simply played fewer good games in older years. Therefore, if I compared my entire top 10 list for every year equally, the 1990s would suffer an insurmountable handicap; I think of it as a gaming inflation of sorts. To account for this inflation, I varied how far down a year’s top 10 list I pulled its 5 seeds from. The breakdown is as follows: for 1991-1997, the 5 seeds are simply the top 5 games. For 1998-2002, the 5 seeds are the number 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 games from my top 10 lists. Then for 2003 on, the 5 seeds are the number 1, 2, 4, 7, and 10 games from my top 10 lists. How I came up with these exact numbers was a series of thought experiments and trial and error. For me and my gaming history, 1998 and 2003 proved to be two clear inflection points in the sheer number of good games I played, so I knew handicaps needed to ramp up in those years. I also knew I wanted to keep the top 2 games for every year, as even years in the early 1990s had 1 or 2 strong games at the top. In fact, just looking at the top, years actually compare pretty well across time. The real inflation happened further down the top 10 lists, so I adjusted the seeds in this way to demand more depth in later years. I think this achieved the desired goal of mostly accounting for inflation, even if the early 1990s still struggle a little more than I’d like.

Creating the “seeds” this way also addressed the second issue of quality vs quantity. I didn’t want to compare years solely on which year had the “best” game (quality), nor did I want to compare them solely based on which year had the “most” games I liked (quantity). After some experimenting, reducing each year to the aforementioned 5 seeds felt like the right number, and for me and my values, seemed to strike a decent balance of quality and quantity. Years that have an amazing game or two can leverage their quality at the top, while years with a deep lineup of good games will similarly leverage their quantity at the bottom. Yet with 5 seeds in play, it’s hard to truly dominate with quantity or quality alone, which is exactly what I was going for.

Finally, once I had my top 5 seeds for each year, I simply pitted every year against each other in a “best of 5” matchup. I compared the #1 seeds to each other, then the #2 seeds to each other, and so on, deciding which game I liked better between each of the 5 seeds. The year that won at least 3 of the 5 seeds emerged victorious between the two years, and once I had done that for every pair of years, I had ample data to rank this list. This process did bear out some interesting results, however, especially in the way that victories were not transitive: just because Year A beat Year B, and Year B beat Year C, that did not imply Year A beat Year C. So I still did not end up with a clear, definitive ranking devoid of ties, but it did get me most of the way there, and gave me a lot of useful data to help me make the final decisions on my own. Which, I should note, I did take liberties with some final tweaking in a few spots. But for the most part I followed the above process faithfully.

Whew. If reading this sounds involved, it absolutely was. And even then, I have to acknowledge my method isn’t perfect, but I do think it does a pretty good job at helping me rank the years in gaming based on my personal preference. Before I stop typing, a few other caveats that clearly contribute to the subjectivity of this list:

  • I was born in 1986, and the SNES, which came out in 1991, was my first console. Hence why the list starts with 1991. My age also contributes to the games I played (especially during the 1990s), and which ones stuck with me.
  • I have only gotten meaningfully into Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft consoles and handhelds over the years (with a tiny bit of Sega Genesis sprinkled in). Games from other consoles don’t have much influence on this list.
  • I did not play many PC games at all until the late 1990s, which is another factor hurting the early 1990s. As the years go on, PC becomes more and more of a factor.
  • I am using original US release dates where applicable. The main exceptions are games that were originally released only in Japan, and only got a US release years later via ports/remakes, such as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood or Final Fantasy V. In those cases I uses the Japanese release date.
  • I did not count remakes/remasters towards a year’s strength unless it was meaningfully different enough from the original. For example, I did not count Persona 4 Golden (only the original Persona 4), but I did count the 2019 Resident Evil 2 as its own game. This was decided on a case by case basis where it made sense to me.

And with that, I think I may have finally covered all the important details. If you actually read this far, thanks! I hope this list makes a little more sense now, and that it’s a fun read.


Last updated on February 5, 2022 (to add 2021)

See my other rankings of: Metroids | Marios | Zeldas | Final Fantasies | 2D Castlevanias | Fire Emblems | Gaming Years | Consoles and Handhelds | From Software Games | Nintendo Franchises

List items

  • As I made this list, and started comparing the top years in gaming, many of them stood out in one way but not another. Some years had one or two of my favorite games of all time, unassailable classics at the top (1994). Others boasted a deep stable of great games I enjoyed (2003). Others found a middle ground by having a good balance of the two ends, without being the best in either (2007). 2005, for me, has it all. Between Resident Evil 4 and Civilization IV, it has a personal top two that are virtually unbeatable. Those two classics are followed by a lengthy list of favorites that give it equally strong depth; from God of War to Shadow of the Colossus to Dragon Quest VIII to The Minish Cap, the list of games I highly enjoyed from 2005 is longer and better than almost every other year. It has no relative weaknesses, and competes well against every year across the board. That uniform strength makes 2005 my clear favorite year in gaming.

    2005 Favorites: Resident Evil 4, Civilization IV, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, God of War, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Shadow of the Colossus, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Psychonauts, Mario Kart DS, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Meteos

  • 2003 absolutely dominated the lower seeds in this ranking, making it the undisputed deepest year on this list. That’s precisely what carried it all the way to a second place finish, and it’s absolutely worth praising. Often I think we tend to remember years by our one or two favorite games from them, but as I designed this list, I wanted sheer quantity of great games to count just as much. 2003, more than any other year, takes advantage of that. It’s one of the few years where I could easily make a worthwhile top 20 list, and it’s also the year with the most games on my personal favorite games list. So even if its top games, while fantastic, don’t always compete with the top games of other years near it on this list, its bench is deep enough to beat almost all of those years anyway. 2003 simply had a crapton of games I really, really liked.

    2003 Favorites: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fire Emblem, Freedom Fighters, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Top Spin, Gladius, Viewtiful Joe, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, Beyond Good & Evil, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

  • Yes, I know that 1998 is traditionally supposed to be named the best year in gaming history, and its strength is undeniable; it provided a ton of groundbreaking and influential games whose impact is still felt today. And for the purposes of this list, it’s the rare year that competes across the board. Its quality is extremely high, with obvious classics like Ocarina of Time, StarCraft, the original Pokemon, and more beating out many years by themselves. But its quantity is equally strong, making 1998 a year that wins just as much with its depth as it does with its top games. It’s the only year on this list other than my top year that has no real weaknesses, and that uniform strength rightfully earns it a very high placement on this list. And if one or two more of its popular games had connected with me, it probably would have topped this list.

    1998 Favorites: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, StarCraft (plus Brood War), Pokemon Red and Blue, Banjo-Kazooie, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Final Fantasy Tactics, Half-Life

  • It’s kind of hard to fathom how many good games 2008 had. I didn’t even like its two most popular games -- Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4 -- and plenty of other hits I found myself indifferent towards. But 2008 had such a deep stable of awesome, diverse games, that I still found a whole lot to like, and from all genres too. Shooters, RPGs, strategy, fighting, platformers, puzzle, AAA and indie; you name it and 2008 had you covered. It is easily one of the deepest years on this list, and even if its top games aren’t the strongest (relatively speaking of course), its depth and variety were simply too good for almost every other year.

    2008 Favorites: Dead Space, The World Ends With You, Burnout Paradise, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Braid, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Valkyria Chronicles, World of Goo, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Prince of Persia, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, Ninja Gaiden II, Sins of a Solar Empire, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

  • Aside from my top year, 1994 is the undisputed champ when it comes to quality at the very top. Like many other years from the 90s it struggles with depth, but its top two -- Super Metroid and Final Fantasy VI -- are so strong for me that they alone make 1994 nearly unbeatable. With the way I designed this list it takes three to be truly unbeatable, but 1994’s supporting cast, particularly Donkey Kong Country, is just good enough to get it there against most years. That earns 1994 its very lofty position on this list, and with one or two more strong games it could have gone even higher.

    1994 Favorites: Super Metroid, Final Fantasy VI, Donkey Kong Country, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Mega Man X

  • At the time, popular first-person shooters like Halo 3, Modern Warfare, BioShock, and The Orange Box made 2007 a common pick for one of the best years in gaming history. As someone who only got into some of those games, that initially sounded overblown, but in retrospect 2007 was about a lot more than its first-person shooters. It stands out as one of the most consistently strong years on this list, with the quality, quantity, and variety of games needed to earn this high placement. It was just an all-around good year.

    2007 Favorites: Super Mario Galaxy, BioShock, Aquaria, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, Portal, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, Picross DS, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, God of War II, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Rock Band, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

  • At first glance, the Wii and PS3’s launch year was another top heavy one with very strong titles at the top, but a lack of depth down the line. Games like Elite Beat Agents and Oblivion are obvious personal favorites, but upon further inspection, 2006 proved to be much deeper than that; from Gears of War to Okami to Company of Heroes and more, 2006 had a surprising number of games that really connected with me. It does trail off at the very bottom, but 2006 ended up being a meaningfully deeper and stronger year than I expected.

    2006 Favorites: Elite Beat Agents, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Okami, Final Fantasy XII, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Company of Heroes, Dead Rising, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfare, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

  • I primarily remember 1999 for two things: it had the impossible task of following the esteemed 1998, and it came at the height of my personal JRPG fever. To me, it performed admirably at both. My two favorite games -- Star Ocean: The Second Story and Final Fantasy VIII -- were a pair of JRPGs that really landed with me, but for the purposes of this list, 1999 truly shines (and scores most of its points) as one of the deeper years here. It gains that depth through a lot of variety across all platforms too, which is extra impressive to me given the standards of the time.

    1999 Favorites: Star Ocean: The Second Story, Final Fantasy VIII, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Super Smash Bros., Syphon Filter, Jet Force Gemini, System Shock 2, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

  • The best years have both strong games at the top and substantial depth, and 2016 earns high marks on both fronts. With Doom and The Witness, it has the necessary personal gems, and they are followed by a whole lot of fantastic games. If anything, 2016 scores more from its depth, and it stands out as one of the only years where I could easily list a strong top 20 instead of a top 10. While that extra depth only helps 2016 so much for the purposes of this list, it underscores just how many games it had that I liked.

    2016 Favorites: Doom, The Witness, Dark Souls III, Fire Emblem Fates, Forza Horizon 3, Hitman, Titanfall 2, Hyper Light Drifter, XCOM 2, Picross 3D: Round 2, Civilization VI, Superhot, Firewatch, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, The Banner Saga 2, Thumper

  • Depending on who you ask, 2019 was either a very weak year or a very strong one. I clearly lean much more towards the “strong” end of the spectrum, as a handful of 2019’s games really connected with me: Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Sekiro, Resident Evil 2, and Outer Wilds are about as strong a top quartet as any year's. It was also a sneakily deep year, with a variety of interesting and varied games rounding out the rest of the list. The result was a steady year that competes equally well across the board.

    2019 Favorites: Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Resident Evil 2, Outer Wilds, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Wargroove, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Dicey Dungeons, Super Mario Maker 2, Cadence of Hyrule

  • At the time, 2004 was heralded as one of the best years in gaming history, with Half-Life 2, Halo 2, GTA San Andreas, Metal Gear Solid 3, and World of Warcraft taking the lion’s share of the credit. It’s telling, however, that none of those games grabbed me and I still got really into a whole lot of games from 2004. It was an incredibly deep year, and while its top games don’t compete that well with other years’ for me, 2004 gets a ton of points as one of the undeniable stalwarts of quantity on this list.

    2004 Favorites: Ninja Gaiden, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Pikmin 2, Katamari Damacy, Burnout 3: Takedown, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Metroid: Zero Mission, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Tales of Symphonia, N

  • 2017 was another year considered among the best ever at the time, and it undoubtedly had a couple incredible titles at the top. For me those were Breath of the Wild and Hollow Knight, which became instant classics and combine to put 2017 in a very strong position compared to most other years. Maybe not all of 2017’s popular hits clicked with me as much as they could have, and relatively speaking 2017 struggles a bit with its depth as a result. But it still had more than enough games I liked to earn this spot.

    2017 Favorites: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Hollow Knight, Persona 5, Pyre, Cuphead, Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Nier: Automata, Super Mario Odyssey, Nioh

  • 2011 felt like the industry going all in to cap off the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation with as many big, expensive sequels to popular franchises as they could muster. While I certainly suffered some sequel fatigue in 2011, and not all of its big names landed with me, there were so many to choose from that I still came away with a lot of games I really enjoyed (topped by the extremely influential Dark Souls). 2011 is one of those years that’s kind of hard to deny, and was strong across the board.

    2011 Favorites: Dark Souls, Bastion, Top Spin 4, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Portal 2, Outland, Gears of War 3, Pushmo, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Dead Space 2, Radiant Historia

  • 2009 is one of those years that doesn't necessarily look all that strong on paper, but once I started comparing, I realized it doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses either. Relative to other years it’s a pretty balanced one; Arkham Asylum and Demon’s Souls are solid favorites at the top, and the drops are manageable as it goes deeper. That means 2009 was able to score points against other years wherever they dipped, and that balance lands it a respectable spot near the middle of the list.

    2009 Favorites: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Demon’s Souls, Borderlands, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Shadow Complex, Resident Evil 5, Little King’s Story, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, Splosion Man, Rhythm Heaven, Dragon Age: Origins, Infamous

  • If you’re looking for a top-heavy year, it’s hard to find one more so than 2010 for me. I didn’t even like Red Dead Redemption, but between Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II, Civilization V, and Mario Galaxy 2, it still has a quartet of heavy hitters that most years cannot match. What hurts it, relatively speaking, is that 2010 drops off drastically after that for me. That imbalance is why it lands in a more central spot on this list, and further highlights the importance of depth.

    2010 Favorites: Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Civilization V, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Meat Boy, Cave Story, Limbo, BioShock 2, Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, VVVVVV, Heavy Rain

  • When it comes to depth in the early 1990s, 1992 is my clear winner. Every other year on this list prior to 1998 suffered greatly from a lack of depth, but 1992 stepped up with a lot of games I got really into (including some rare Genesis games). It was strong at the top too, with A Link to the Past standing tall as one of my absolute favorite games. And when you can combine an all-time classic such as that with better-than-average depth, you’re going to move up this list pretty swiftly.

    1992 Favorites: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Final Fantasy V, Super Mario Kart, Mario Paint, Streets of Rage 2

  • For our purposes, 2015 is primarily defined by its quantity more than its quality. It had a whole lot of really cool games that I got really into, which earns it a lot of points compared to the years below it. And while its top games didn’t stick with me as much as those from the years above it (its main drawback), they are all wonderful games I thoroughly enjoyed. Sprinkle a lot of variety throughout, and 2015 succeeds as a surprisingly diverse and well-rounded year.

    2015 Favorites: Axiom Verge, Super Mario Maker, StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, Bloodborne, Pillars of Eternity, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Life Is Strange, SteamWorld Heist, Ori and the Blind Forest, Rise of the Tomb Raider, N++, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Flywrench

  • 2018 was a bit of an odd year, and may not appear that strong on paper, especially given I didn’t care for its “biggest” games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. But it did have both a legitimately great game via Into the Breach -- a contender for my personal favorite game -- and a large roster of good games I genuinely enjoyed. Every year below this has at most one of those two traits, meaning 2018 leapfrogs higher than I would have guessed.

    2018 Favorites: Into the Breach, Monster Hunter: World, Subnautica, Return of the Obra Dinn, Tetris Effect, Hitman 2, Celeste, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, The Banner Saga 3, Dusk

  • In some ways, 1997 could be viewed as a flawed year that doesn’t hold up well: Final Fantasy VII, GoldenEye 007, Symphony of the Night, and the original Age of Empires are all games that, in retrospect, have a lot of rough edges. But they were also ambitious games that defined genres, pushed the industry forward, and most importantly, had a large impact on me and my own gaming development. So while 1997 has its limits, it’s also a significant year for me personally.

    1997 Favorites: Final Fantasy VII, GoldenEye 007, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Age of Empires, San Francisco Rush

  • 2021 was a somewhat slow first year for new console releases, and that's especially true at the top. A lot of big games were delayed to 2022 at the time, which left 2021 without many strong standouts to its name. As such, for this list, it gains few points at the top, yet it gains a surprising amount from its depth. It was a year that saw a lot of varied, interesting releases all year -- especially from the indie space -- and that made it a better year than perhaps it first appeared on paper.

    2021 Favorites: Unsighted, Chicory: A Colorful Tale, Axiom Verge 2, Hitman 3, The Forgotten City, Monster Hunter Rise, Unpacking, Astalon: Tears of the Earth, Metroid Dread, Psychonauts 2

  • 2020 was a volatile year for many reasons, and also saw the launch of two new consoles in the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S. But to me, the games themselves turned out to be pretty steady and "workmanlike." It was a year with a lot of generally solid games (and one really strong one in Hades) that doesn't falter in any notable way, yet doesn't stand out much relative to other years either. One or two additional great games could have made a world of difference here.

    2020 Favorites: Hades, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Monster Train, Demon's Souls, Desperados III, Paradise Killer, The Last of Us Part II, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Gears Tactics

  • 1996 was, in some ways, one of the more pivotal years for gaming on this list. Super Mario 64 was a brilliant launch game for the Nintendo 64, and an important step in proving the viability of 3D games on a home console. Yet for all that fanfare, 1996 still suffers a similar fate to many other years near the bottom of this list, and that of many other years in the 1990s: it had some strong games at the top, but not enough other games that connected with me compared to other years.

    1996 Favorites: Super Mario 64, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble, Diablo, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey

  • Where many years near the bottom of this list struggle with their depth, 2013 has the opposite problem: it has a whole lot of good games, but very few (if any) true classics. That’s not strictly a bad thing, and 2013 was full of games I have a lot of fondness for. The flipside is that 2013’s top games, while very good, can’t compete with my favorites from other years. Just like a few great games can only get you so far, a deep year without all-time greats also has limits.

    2013 Favorites: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Pokemon X and Y, Papers Please, The Swapper, Fire Emblem Awakening, The Last of Us, Gone Home, Antichamber, Pikmin 3, Tomb Raider, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

  • 2001 was a big year for the industry, with multiple new consoles and handhelds, and a ton of popular exclusives for everything. Yet many of its biggest games -- including Final Fantasy X, Halo, Grand Theft Auto III, Metal Gear Solid 2 -- didn’t connect with me all that much, which makes 2001 not as strong for me as it might look on paper. I certainly enjoyed plenty of its games, but for me and my tastes, 2001 is simply outclassed by a lot of other years.

    2001 Favorites: Super Smash Bros. Melee, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, Civilization III, Paper Mario, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Red Faction, Advance Wars, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Ages

  • To me, 2002 feels like a slightly beefed up 1991. In Metroid Prime, it has one of the few contenders for my personal favorite game, and that’s the primary reason 2002 is able to gain a few spots on this list. But its other (admittedly good) games did not connect with me strongly enough to push it above other years. Said lack of depth is, in some ways, even more striking in 2002, when I was older and more games were coming out. Alas, Metroid Prime deserved better.

    2002 Favorites: Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Neverwinter Nights, Metroid Fusion, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, Age of Mythology, Battlefield 1942

  • 2000 had a lot of really cool games to cap off the end of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era, as well as some landmark PC titles. It would place a lot higher if some of those games connected with me more strongly (like Majora’s Mask), or if I had gotten around to more big PC games (like Baldur’s Gate II). But for me, 2000 is primarily carried by a handful of personal favorites near the top, which is the case for multiple years near the bottom of this list.

    2000 Favorites: Chrono Cross, Perfect Dark, Final Fantasy IX, Deus Ex, Counter-Strike, Banjo-Tooie, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Pokemon Gold and Silver

  • 2012 kicked off a three year period that felt oddly slow by the standards of the time, as the industry was working through all sorts of changes. Yet 2012 still had its positives: it had a decently strong number one in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and also a decent depth of good games I enjoyed. That’s enough to propel it ahead of the years below it on this list, but as is always the case with relative rankings, being “decent” only gets you so far.

    2012 Favorites: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Journey, Mark of the Ninja, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Borderlands 2, Diablo III, Mass Effect 3, Far Cry 3, Rhythm Heaven Fever, ZombiU

  • Before sitting down to make this list, I would have pegged 1995 to place a lot higher given how many popular platformers and JRPGs it had; two of my favorite genres during the 1990s. Yet some of those popular games -- most notably Chrono Trigger and Earthbound -- didn’t endear themselves to me quite as much as you'd think (despite being good games). 1995 struggled a lot more as a result, and when I wrote it all down I realized that other years simply had games I like more.

    1995 Favorites: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, NBA Jam Tournament Edition

  • 2014 was heavily criticized at the time for being one of the weakest years in gaming history. While I always felt that was a bit harsh (it was), and that 2014 was a totally solid year with a lot of games I enjoyed (which it also was), “totally solid” only gets you so far in a relative ranking such as this. 2014’s large stable of good games is certainly worthwhile in a vacuum, but its lack of true standouts prevents it from, well, standing out when compared to other years.

    2014 Favorites: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, The Banner Saga, Far Cry 4, Dark Souls II, The Talos Principle, Titanfall, Shovel Knight, Transistor, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Nidhogg

  • Despite sitting near the bottom of this list, 1993 was certainly not a bad year for games. The main thing against it is that I was neither old enough nor into PC games enough at the time to properly appreciate enough of its hits; most notably Doom. So while games like Rondo of Blood, Link’s Awakening, SimCity 2000, and more are very good, almost every other year has games I personally have more fondness for, which means everything in a relative ranking such as this.

    1993 Favorites: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, SimCity 2000, Aladdin (both SNES and Genesis versions), Doom

  • I feel bad for 1991, the year of the SNES launch, and even worse for Super Mario World. It’s one of my absolute favorite games, but one game does not make a year. Perhaps it’s no surprise given 1991 is the oldest year on this list, and I was young at the time, but its other offerings did not connect with me nearly enough. That lack of depth sadly earns 1991 a last place finish, but make no mistake: it was by no means a bad year for games, and Super Mario World is awesome.

    1991 Favorites: Super Mario World, Final Fantasy IV, Super Castlevania IV, ActRaiser, Metroid II: Return of Samus