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Marino

Is it the shoes?

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GOTY of the Years

This is a running list of my Games of the Year. Are they the best games? Maybe not. Probably not even. But, they're mine.

So, where do we start? Well, my first gaming experience was thanks to a TI-99/4A that my mom had for transcribing/dictation work. But, I barely remember it aside from Car Wars and a couple others. I did buy one and a bunch of games a while back though. Regardless, I'm starting with...

1987 - The Legend of Zelda

The music is burned into my brain.
The music is burned into my brain.

That's right. I've been traveling north, west, south, and west since '87. It's the first great game I ever played. The kind of experience that leaves an indelible mark and solidifies a lifelong hobby. And that gold cartridge was downright magical.

Runners-Up

1988 - Contra

The infamous waterfall level.
The infamous waterfall level.

Probably the first truly great multiplayer gaming experience for me. Just countless hours running these missions, killing each by going too fast on the waterfall level, and just hoping that 30 lives were enough to make it.

Runners-Up

1989 - Tetris

Screenshots you can hear.
Screenshots you can hear.

A wise man once said that if you had to objectively choose a "greatest game of all time", Tetris is probably the one. And when paired with the revolutionary Game Boy, a phenomenon was born. Do you understand how many AA batteries I killed before my dad smartened up and bought rechargeable ones?

Runners-Up

1990 - Mega Man 3

Let the order debates begin.
Let the order debates begin.

I know most people will probably say Mega Man 2 is the best, but they're wrong. It's 3 all day. I mean... you can slide! And you have a dog! A red guy with a whistle shows up! And you can shoot snakes at people! What's not to love here?

Runners-Up

1991 - Super Mario World

Mastering cape flight is so satisfying.
Mastering cape flight is so satisfying.

Still the best 2D Mario. Just pure excellence from top to bottom. And it stands the test of time as it's still popular today with all sorts of speedruns and ROM hacks.

Runners-Up

1992 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

At the time, this seemed massive.
At the time, this seemed massive.

No game is perfect. But, A Link to the Past is the most perfect. Easily my #1 console game of all time. At this point, I don't think anything will ever top it. Breath of the Wild got close, but LTTP is simply too pure and good.

Runners-Up

1993 - Mortal Kombat

You know the line.
You know the line.

Mortal Kombat was a revolution. Never before had there been so much chatter among classmates as when we discovered MK. Collectively, no one seemed to care about Street Fighter anymore and rumors about crazy things that may or may not be in MK were relentless. The arcade version is from 1992, but our countless hours were primarily on home versions in 1993.

Runners-Up

1994 - Mortal Kombat II

Still haven't figured out how to uppercut someone into the mouths of those trees.
Still haven't figured out how to uppercut someone into the mouths of those trees.

Bigger, badder, and better in every conceivable way. More finishers, more secrets, more crazy ass rumors and speculation among friends, and much better gameplay that allowed for some creative combos.

Runners-Up

1995 - Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Can you believe Scorpion wasn't in MK3 until Ultimate?
Can you believe Scorpion wasn't in MK3 until Ultimate?

By this point, my friends and I were finding ways to get to the mall for the arcade. This was the pinnacle of MK fandom too thanks to the introduction of the internet. Dialing in and checking rat.org as often as possible for new move lists and rumors was a near daily occurrence. Weekly trips to the grocery store to scour every gaming magazine became required reading. Finding a cabinet in a random gas station or hotel and realizing you can be the one to unlock Mileena, Ermac, and Classic Sub-Zero was a treat.

Runners-Up

1996 - Super Mario 64

The year we all met Charles Martinet.
The year we all met Charles Martinet.

As they've done many times now, Nintendo welcomed us to the new generation with a genre-defining game for the ages. Moving Mario from 2D to 3D should not have been this good on the first shot, but they did it. The Nintendo 64 only had two games at launch, but most people didn't care.

Runners-Up

1997 - Star Fox 64

These animals talk now!
These animals talk now!

Being a Star Fox fan ain't been easy for the last 20 years or so, but Star Fox 64 was so good that it makes us continuously hopeful after countless disappointments. This was also the very first game I played at my first E3. My friend and I just had to know what the rumble felt like.

Runners-Up

1998 - Crash Bandicoot: Warped

Must. Smash. All. Boxes.
Must. Smash. All. Boxes.

Definitely the pinnacle of the Crash Bandicoot franchise and one of the best 3D platformers of all time if you ask me. This is where Naughty Dog found the perfect balance of goofy fun and sweaty controller difficulty. The game allows you to decide just how challenging you want it to be with its optional goals on every level.

Runners-Up

1999 - EverQuest

My home sweet home of Rivervale.
My home sweet home of Rivervale.

My #1 game of all time obviously has to be my 1999 GOTY. It consumed my life, for better or worse, and despite not playing it for well over a decade, I still think about it almost every day. I could talk about EQ for days on end. If you check out the wiki page for the game, you'll see what I mean.

Runners-Up

2000 - EverQuest: The Scars of Velious

The Sleeper has left the building.
The Sleeper has left the building.

The Ruins of Kunark is arguably the best expansion, but the memories of the Velious era are more vivid to me personally. Every day, logging on felt like there was a possibility of an exciting adventure. Sure, sometimes you just ended up grinding for 11 hours in Velketor's Labyrinth, but many of those days turned into an all-hands-on-deck race between our guild and some other one when someone realized Dain Frostreaver had popped in Icewell Keep, King Tormax had spawned in Kael Drakkel, or holy shit someone spotted Lodizal roaming the shores of Iceclad Ocean. There's also my favorite zone of all time, Plane of Mischief. And I haven't even mentioned the whole Sleeper's Tomb drama.

Runners-Up

2001 - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3

Quite possibly the only thing that could tear me away from EQ at the time.
Quite possibly the only thing that could tear me away from EQ at the time.

While Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is my personal favorite because it's where I fell in love with the series, THPS3 is inarguably the best one. The revert literally tied everything together making for the optimal trick system with a ridiculous amount of depth to master. It also pioneered online gaming on PS2 well before there was even an official method to do that.

Runners-Up

2002 - EverQuest: The Planes of Power

Plane of Knowledge made traversing the world trivial, which was for the worse in the long run.
Plane of Knowledge made traversing the world trivial, which was for the worse in the long run.

Admittedly, this expansion is where things started to go downhill a bit. Luclin was a bit of an unfinished mess when it released in 2001 due to the departure of Brad McQuaid and other key members of the team. SOE's answer to appease us was creating an expansion filled to the brim with raids upon the gods that govern Norrath. It was a non-stop race for countless raid targets, which was exciting, but also resulted in large numbers of burnout. Even I never saw Plane of Time myself as I took a break. But, 2002 wasn't a very good year for games, and I still have a lot of great memories from this era of EverQuest; mainly because of the people.

Runners-Up

2003 - SSX 3

From the highest peak to the bottom of the mountain could take you 30 minutes.
From the highest peak to the bottom of the mountain could take you 30 minutes.

Whether you wanna call the genre action sports, extreme sports, arcade sports, or whatever the hell else, SSX 3 is the best one ever made. It's also my favorite PS2 game overall and I own around 140 of them. Tricky was good, yes, but it was basically a special edition version of the original. SSX 3 takes everything that was great from those first two games and ratchets it up several notches. Plus, they introduced an entire mountain full of events that load seamlessly as you traverse down the peaks. It's still incredible.

Runners-Up

2004 - ESPN NFL 2K5

Imagine how good it could've been for the years after this.
Imagine how good it could've been for the years after this.

If SSX 3 is the best action sports game ever made, ESPN NFL 2K5 is the best traditional sports game ever made. It's so good, in fact, that it terrified Electronic Arts into buying the exclusive rights to the NFL license. When you make a game this great and sell it for $20, you're going to ruffle some feathers.

Runners-Up

2005 - Battlefield 2

Never better.
Never better.

You haven't lived until you sit in the back seat of a Black Hawk helicopter with your laptop open in Commander Mode™ dropping supplies and artillery strikes all while your ace pilot is swooping back and forth across the map capturing bases. Battlefield was never better than it was here.

Runners-Up

2006 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Every new console generation needs a wow moment and this game was it.
Every new console generation needs a wow moment and this game was it.

Oblivion was the first truly "next gen" game on Xbox 360 and is largely responsible for popularizing open world RPGs. It set the standard for that generation and blueprint for the next decade+. It might also be the beginning of my tradition of wandering off in a random direction and not touch the "main" quest for at least 50 hours.

Runners-Up

2007 - Mass Effect

Shepard.
Shepard.

After years of working on licensed games, BioWare finally got a shot at something of their own creation. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had introduced their brand of RPGs to a much wider audience and set the bar quite high, but they stepped up to the plate and hit a home run in their first at bat.

Runners-Up

2008 - Fable II

It also looked great.
It also looked great.

Peter Molyneux promised a lot of wild shit over the years, but Fable II was the closest he ever got to delivering on those promises. It's got a good story and is incredibly fun to play no matter what type of character you choose to be. I also loved the online "bubbles" feature that let you see other people and trade with them even though it was a single player game. I don't know why that didn't catch on more prevalently.

Runners-Up

2009 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Gotta have a Bandicooting™ segment.
Gotta have a Bandicooting™ segment.

The first game was fine. But, with the sequel, Naughty Dog set the standard for what narrative action adventures games could be for many years to come. Incredible action set pieces. Great performances from the cast. A well-written story. Fun twists. It's the complete package.

Runners-Up

2010 - Mass Effect 2

Reminder that they got Martin Sheen for this game.
Reminder that they got Martin Sheen for this game.

Truly one of the most well told stories in the history of games. BioWare "purists" didn't like the shift to a more action-based gameplay, but it works greatly. And the game is simply stacked with characters to care about. I've played through it several times and deciding who to take on missions is still agonizing. It's one of the best games of all time.

Runners-Up

2011 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

They always know.
They always know.

I love this game and I am 100% part of the problem. By which I mean that I played over 250 hours on Xbox 360, then played it on Switch, and then put over 100 hours into it again on PS5 and got the Platinum Trophy. It's definitely the best thing Bethesda Game Studios has made to date. I'm just glad they're finally done fucking around in Fallout for a while so that we can get to The Elder Scrolls VI sometime this decade...maybe.

Runners-Up

2012 - The Walking Dead

It wasn't okay.
It wasn't okay.

The thing about Telltale Games' The Walking Dead is that it encompassed the whole year. It was an emotional journey, and, in a way, it felt like I was taking care of Clem that whole time. I feel like that's something that's lost on people who played it after all the episodes were out. Keep that hair short, Clem.

On My Top 100: #49

Runners-Up

2013 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

It also has baseball, so you know I loved this game.
It also has baseball, so you know I loved this game.

As previously stated in 1992, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is my favorite console game of all time. So, the prospect of making a sequel was both exciting and worrying. How do you improve on perfection? How do you not fuck up a good thing? Well, they somehow beat the odds and made a worth sequel with a fun mechanic and great puzzles. And they also shook things up a bit with the non-linear path, which probably was a testing ground for a certain game later on in the series.

Runners-Up

2014 - Dragon Age: Inquisition

If pope Leliana is canon, that is gonna be fuckin' wild.
If pope Leliana is canon, that is gonna be fuckin' wild.

2014 was notoriously not a great year for games, but there were two on my list that could've been #1 that were lightyears beyond the mediocrity of that year. I was immersed in Dragon Age Inquisition for around 180 hours and loved all of it. The conversations, personal relationships, and seemingly endless line of impossibly difficult, potentially world-altering decisions in Inquisition are BioWare at its best.

Runners-Up

2015 - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Did you find cool shades for Geralt? I sure did.
Did you find cool shades for Geralt? I sure did.

I'd never played a Witcher game before this, but it took my #1 spot in 2015 with ease. The way the quests and storytelling here were interwoven throughout the game were lightyears ahead of any other game at the time and still ahead of many games now. I never did finish Blood & Wine, so I should do that now that the PS5 version is out. Hmm...

Runners-Up

2016 - Titanfall 2

Honey BBQ + Asian Zing 4 Life
Honey BBQ + Asian Zing 4 Life

Every aspect of Titanfall 2 is incredible. I'm not normally a competitive multiplayer guy, but Titanfall 2 is so undeniably good that even I was addicted for a while. And the campaign was amazing with a story that made me emotional about a robot and unique levels that I will remember for a very long time. It just feels good to play it. It's the best FPS ever made in my book.

Runners-Up

2017 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Chills.
Chills.

That's right. The fourth Zelda game on this list. Breath of the Wild is simply one of the best games ever made. It captures the sense of adventure like no other game with its version of open world design. It constantly encourages you to just try shit. Mess with the AI. Test the physics. Do something weird. It might just work. Even the much debated weapon degradation is great once you accept the idea of using items you wouldn't normally use. Use anything. Use everything. Figuring out how to complete a task that you're quite certain you shouldn't be able to do yet is an amazing feeling.

Runners-Up

2018 - God of War

Getting to the top of this mountain took a little longer than expected. Thanks, mom.
Getting to the top of this mountain took a little longer than expected. Thanks, mom.

The fact that Cory Barlog and the team at SIE Santa Monica Studio transformed Kratos from a one dimensional, rage-fueled, vengeance seeking asshole into... well... [waves arms wildly at this whole game] ...is incredible on its own. But, then you include the fact that they changed the camera angle, changed the combat mechanics, gave you a kid to escort for the whole game, and it all just worked...damn. It's also full of memorable moments whether it's just that first time calling the Leviathan Axe back or that whole sequence with Athena guiding Kratos back to the Blades of Chaos. Just a stellar experience in every aspect.

Runners-Up

2019 - Control

Truly the most unsettling room in the whole building.
Truly the most unsettling room in the whole building.

2019's hottest Game of the Year has everything; upside-down pyramids, FMV projectors, creepy janitors, hallucination pods, pneumatic tubes, vindictive rubber ducks, attention-seeking refrigerators, rigged roulette wheels, and ten minutes of blood-pumping prog rock.

I was never a fan of Remedy's prior games, so I had no real intention of buying Control. But, I'd heard good things, so I figured I'd give it a shot and it immediately became my GOTY. The Ashtray Maze is one of the coolest moments of the last decade in games.

Runners-Up

2020 - Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Pascal is a legend.
Pascal is a legend.

In a year that changed all of our lives in one way or another, there was one game that defined that year. Animal Crossing: New Horizons released about five hours after I got a call from my supervisor to come get my stuff because we wouldn't be allowed in the building the next day. I've been back to that building once in nearly three years. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, ACNH was a comfort blanket. It allowed me to take my mind off things, interact with friends, and just pass the time alone.

Whether we were trading tarantula strategies, commiserating about a god damn stringfish, trying to figure out the science behind blue roses, or working together to own the stalk market, New Horizons was an escape. It also gave me something to look forward to each day, which was a major factor in making it through 2020.

Runners-Up

2021 - Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Game is just gorgeous.
Game is just gorgeous.

Kena is one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, which is astounding considering it was Ember Lab's first game. But, what makes it great is the emotional storytelling, cool puzzles, and its deceptively challenging combat encounters. This game will kick your ass if you're not paying attention. The game feels like if those PS2-era 3D platformers kept iterating for 20 years even though that genre died a long time ago. It feels nostalgic but also fresh and new at the same time.

Runners-Up

2022 - Tunic

What a twist!
What a twist!

Tunic captures that sense of wonder and mystery that most current games could only dream of. The music is a major part of that as well. And explaining the instruction manual feature makes it sound like a gimmick, but it's so masterfully woven into every element of the game, you just have to play it to believe it. Deciphering the clues within it produces countless "Ohhhhhhhhh!" moments. The kind that simultaneously make you feel like a genius for spotting something and an idiot for not realizing it was in front of your dumb face the whole time.

Runners-Up

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