The 2010s brought us many amazing games as we jumped console generations to offer bigger and better experiences. Now as we look to a new generation of consoles and decade of gaming set to bring many surprises and surely changes, I want to reflect upon the past and talk about the games that stood out from this decade for me. Please note that this is in no particular order, and I decided to pick one game per franchise for diversity. With that said, here are the most notable games of the 2010s for me.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It's rare that I get truly excited for a new game that I count down the days. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was one of these games. I had become a fan of the series a couple of years earlier but was excited for the first Zelda I would play on launch day. I wasn’t disappointed; as soon as I got home from the shop, I threw the game into the Wii and barely put it down for days. The gameplay was phenomenal. Between its ever evolving sections of the world and the perfectly crafted and intelligent motion control combat system, it was hard not to love this game.
But most important for me was the story. Skyward Sword offered a narrative with such drive and heart, finally making Zelda feel like a fleshed out character in a bittersweet love story. I felt driven to push forward in my journey to bring Link and Zelda together again thanks to the brilliant chemistry. Meanwhile I was loving Fi and her ever-evolving personality. This is just scratching the surface, but even to this day, Skyward Sword remains my favorite Zelda game and one of my favorite games of all time.
Life can be challenging, and sometimes we need to take a break from it all to get piece of mind and figure out our next step. This premise is exactly what Firewatch starts as; a depressed man facing a rough run in life with his wife among other things takes a job watching for fires in a national park. What makes this game interesting is how symmetrical our journey can be with our protagonist. Starting Firewatch is like taking a break from everything as we step away from our own problems to just explore.
But like life, Firewatch twists as we discover a mystery in the mountains and chase it. Just like that, we are shaken from our peaceful bliss and are forced to face the truth of our lives, thinking about what’s important. Firewatch isn’t just a brilliant game in many regards including visuals and storytelling, but what can be taken from this speaks volumes.
Blackwood Crossing isn’t the most exciting game of the decade, but for me it was easily the best game. It was something special. This is another “walking simulator” game that focuses on a primary narrative as opposed to traditional gameplay, and for the narrative alone it was incredible. The story focuses on Scarlett and her brother Finn, both of whom are on a train journey to an undisclosed location, and while it starts simple, it became anything but that.
The narrative is complex, focusing heavily on the effects death can have on those around you and how you regret never being there when you should have been. Ultimately it’s a game about loneliness, about the fear of losing everything you care about and being forced to say goodbye to those you care about. Blackwood Crossing is a deeply moving experience that had me in tears, and will have me remembering this train journey for years to come.
Bioshock is my all-time favorite franchise, and of the two games that released in this decade it was a true challenge to decide which to mention but I ended up settling on Bioshock 2. Often seen as the black sheep of the series, Bioshock 2 is anything but a bad game with a continued exploration of Rapture that feels fitting in its world and manages to deliver a story with more heart. At its core, this was a game about family and the love of a daughter who goes against the odds to revive her “father,” who fights to rescue her while shaping what she becomes.
Even without knowing the moral stakes that Bioshock 2 puts into its relationship between Delta and Eleanor, I was still left to ponder the moral choices, something I still do to this day. Few games have made me think so deeply, but Bioshock 2 made me think at almost every turn. It even made me cry at the twists and turns of the narrative, especially the family elements. Besides this, Bioshock 2 was a pleasure to play with a great world that expanded upon the already fascinating Rapture, great new weapon options, and decent refinements.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
How can a game that is shockingly boring to play ever become something someone could hold in such a high regard? This is a question I constantly ask myself as I find my mind wandering back to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and the answer is simple: gameplay isn’t everything, even in a game. For me, story and characters are the most important factors in a game's enjoyment, and this couldn’t be truer than in Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
This game was an emotional rollercoaster filled to the brim with powerful moments and excellent characters. I gained an emotional connection to every party member and even an affinity for an antagonist who becomes the game's most compelling character. I am always surprised with how often I think about the characters or the breathtaking environments, and despite knowing that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is heavily burdened ,I love it regardless. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game that means the world to me.
Super Mario 3D World
In a world filled with grand storytelling and stunning scope, we often forget the simple basics of games; we are meant to have fun. That is what is Super Mario 3D World is: unadulterated fun. Where many clamored for a game in the vein of Super Mario 64, Nintendo offered Wii U players a game that was anything but what they wanted, and this for the best.
Super Mario 3D World took the basics of the New Super Mario multiplayer style and adapted it into 3D level design. Up to four players can run through some of the best levels in the series, fighting for power-ups, getting in each other’s way, and working together to reach the end goal. Sure, you could play the game alone and it was fun, but add another player and you were set for an amazing time, accidentally killing each other or cooperating. 3D World was pure fun.
Say what you will about “walking simulator” titles. Some of these games manage to offer one-of-a-kind experiences that aim to tell a meaningful story. That is what Gone Home offers. There are no fancy game mechanics, no boogiemen lying in wait (although the game's atmosphere would have made an awesome horror game). It was just you as Katie Greenbriar, exploring a foreign house aiming to discover where your family has gone.
There are no objective markers pointing you to the next point of interest; it's just you wandering and looking at what grabbed your fancy. What made Gone Home stronger was the player connection. Just like you, the character was a stranger to the location, and we could truly connect with her as we explored a history that also seemed foreign to her. It's really well done. Gone Home also has a powerful narrative that is beautifully explored.
It took years for Nintendo to bring us Pikmin 3, skipping the Wii entirely and not showing up until the Wii U, but it was worth it. With Pikmin, Nintendo proves how clever they are as each game presents its own style, challenges, and identity. Sure, they followed the same general gameplay presentation, but you don’t feel like you are playing the same game, which is great.
Pikmin 3 expanded upon the character strategy elements with a third playable character that could be used to expand your exploration potential or even sent to a specific location. The game also put a bigger emphasis on collecting fruit since this was your life source, and this was fun and even stressful later in the story. Then there are the boss fights, which are unique and fun. But most importantly, the Pikmin just look even cuter in this, which is worth more than anything else to me.
Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure
I am not a big rhythm game fan, but sometimes a game comes along that makes me pay attention. For me, that was definitely Rhythm Thief for the 3DS. I remember finding this game cheap a couple of weeks after release and just randomly picking it up, and I had a blast. As a rhythm game, it was varied and fun with various rhythm challenges to overcome as part of the narrative, some better than others, but each being fun to play.
But like most games, all of this was tethered by a narrative, and what a narrative it was. You played a thief who, with a rhythmic style, would break into various Parisian establishments, aiming to get works connected to your absentee father. This brought together an amazing mystery connected to a young violinist girl, a beautiful relationship, and a story that even years later I still adore.
What Remains of Edith Finch
I am often impressed by what smaller developers can do. Without the limitations that come from the demanding AAA market, developers are free to create projects that feel personal, and with it are creative and clever. What Remains of Edith Finch, like other games I have mentioned, isn’t a big fancy shooter, or a mechanic-heavy experience. Rather, it's just a sombre story that explores the tragic history of a cursed family and does so in such a poignant and emotional way.
The use of visual imagery and metaphors presented through the gameplay allowed for unique experiences, as we were able to explore tragic ends. Through this, we gained a true appreciation for the difficulties surrounding this family. Every step was moving and so well designed. This game is one of the best examples of freely creating grand experiences that can move the player.
As much as I love stories, sometimes the greatest adventure one can take doesn’t require anything so grand. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of busy work, a love of well-developed towns folk, and a willingness to succumb to the peaceful tones of a quiet life. That is Stardew Valley in a nutshell, a game that isn't necessarily anything amazing when you decide to take a step back and view it without the blinders of “everyone tells me to play this." Yet in action, Stardew Valley has robbed me of hundreds of hours, but I don’t mind because for that time, my troubled mind was at ease.
It’s the hypnotic spell of peace that makes this game so engaging, whether I am working on my farm, obsessively completing community center bundles, exploring mines, or vying to do what I don’t in real life and become friends with people. Stardew Valley is magical; I’m not sure I will remember my time in this world in the future, but my knowledge of the spell this game cast over me will forever live inside me like a scar.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
The Wii U never offered the greatest variety of games, something that became more apparent as we reached 2016 and were getting next to nothing. But a light in the darkness came offering a bright color palette, plenty of style, and a unique combat system: It was Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Sure, say what you will about the lack of English voices and the opening hours being a little tedious, but as you got deeper into this game, it gets harder not to fall in love with it.
From its beautiful characters and their personal journeys to its creative dungeon environments and its magnificent combat system which blended Fire Emblem with Shin Megami Tensei, this game is incredible. The combat system always evolves as you learn how to weave bigger attacks with the sessions system, and there are more character style with their personal narratives, offering new techniques in combat. This is such a satisfying game to play.
You have three targets, all are in different locations. How are you going to get them? That is up to you. Choose your approach carefully, make sure not to get spotted, and try to complete your mission as cleanly as possible. That is the general mantra of the Hitman reboot, as these games gave players full control, dropping us in large sandbox and telling us have fun. Sure you could follow narrative paths, or you could just choose your own path to victory. Both were valid options, both just as fun.
Featuring many large maps to play on, opportunities to exploit, disguises to wear, and fun to be had, Hitman is one of those games that has offered me hours of enjoyment as I aimed to complete a mission perfectly or just have fun.
With the change of a generation we see many games left behind. Some games were just released poorly, and with the excitement of a new generation, last-minute releases on the PlayStation 3 could easily be ignored undeservedly. Case in point: Rain. This game released on the PlayStation Store only a month before the PlayStation 4 released, quickly being overlooked as many jumped to the future, and it’s a shame.
Rain is a beautiful game that featured a boy chasing a young girl through a twisted, rain-soaked version of his hometown. The rain was the only method of seeing your character after he mysteriously loses his physical presence, but being in the rain also caused problems with random enemies. This is a cool little game with a brilliant melancholic narrative and an amazing soundtrack.
The Last of Us
Often I say that storytelling has taken a major tumble in the AAA market, but there are rare glimpses of greatness that shine from the overabundance of releases. The Last of Us is a shining light in a sea of mediocrity, offering players one of the most gripping, heart-wrenching, but also most powerful narratives ever crafted in this medium. The Last of Us is a tale of love and loss, of finding hope in the smallest of places and fighting to keep that hope just so you can keep going.
Through its narrative, The Last of Us hits so many highs and lows as we journey with Joel and Ellie, facing every hardship that comes their way. Whether it’s the death of an ally that hits us hard, the ranch scene where Ellie speaks her mind, or the divisive ending, there are many memorable moments for anyone who played this. The Last of Us is a touching and challenging journey from start to finish, which, like many others, trapped me in a web of heartbreak and tears so many times. But if one thing is to be loved about this game in general, it's the giraffe scene; this game is incredible just for the beauty of that scene.
There were so many great games in the 2010s, and it was difficult narrowing down the games I wanted to mention. There were many games of note on the Wii U, the PS4, the Switch, and even the 3DS, and so many I could have mentioned. But those were mine. Do you have any games that stood out from the last decade? Please let us know. It's great to look back at the years and see which games stood out, and might even be remembered fondly from the early reaches of the decade. With that, let’s look forward to another decade of great games and standout design in 2020.