10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
If there is one complaint that could be thrown at Zelda, it’s that it has been following a formula since 1985. Except for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link but that game was straight weird. Skyward Sword was the first attempt to change the formula. You could only have one sub-weapon equipped at a time, but with the power of the Wii Motion Plus, you could switch items with the flick of a wrist instead of pausing the game. You could spend your rupees to upgrade weapons, as long as you grinded for some of the materials needed as well. Grinding for mats in a Zelda game? It sounds unlike the genre. The recently-released A Link Between Worlds goes farther to tweak the formula, but it was Skyward Sword that took the first step to try and change the 30-year old formula.
It also helped that this was the most cinematic Zelda ever. It may not have any voice acting, but there were an hour-plus worth of cutscenes, and a more memorable villain than Zelda has had in some time. As the last major first-party release on the Wii, it definitely was a memorable one. I really liked the entire presentation, and musically this may have the best soundtrack of them all.
A lot of people pooh-pooh the motion controls of the Wii, but they were put to good use here. Fights made you think about the orientation of your sword and the angle of your slash. You could also mimic awesome drama slashes after a particularly tough fight, and watch Link mimic them. It felt a bit more real than what I am used to.
9. Dance Central 3
Kinect was an untested proposition that people had a lot of high hopes for. While for the most part it fell on its face, there was one franchise from veteran music developer Harmonix that lived up to the potential of the peripheral. Dance Central actually graded you on how well your entire body could mimic a dance. I can remember all the times I thought I was nailing a move, but some part of my body that wasn’t involved in the move wasn’t positioned or oriented right. I had to think about my entire presentation.
In one day I went from not caring about a Kinect to buying one at Target. Admittedly, all I ever got for it was Dance Central 1, 2 and 3, and Child of Eden. I don’t think there were any other standout Kinect titles.
8. King of Fighters 13
I was a big, big SNK fan since about 1998. For a while, the King of Fighters franchise was my favorite series. However, SNK has had many documented problems, and they haven’t had many releases at all on this generation. One that they did have was King of Fighters 13, a followup to the disastrous King of Fighters 12. This game featured characters that were actually finished, and improved netcode. A larger character roster brought back many fan favorites. But more than anything, people that I hadn’t seen playing KoF were picking up the game.
The highlight for me was Evolution 2012, when the game stole the show on stage at the Grand Finals, with an epic set that brought the game tons of notoriety, and the assurance that it would show up the next year. The heated chants for each competitor turned to chants of “KOF” as the community finally achieved what it had sought for decades: mainstream recognition.
7. Rock Band 3
It wasn’t that long ago that plastic instruments ruled the world. Just a few years ago, the Rock Band franchise was THE party game. Taking Guitar Hero’s concept one step further, you had four to seven players with a variety of instruments playing songs. Rock Band set itself apart from its competition by releasing new songs every week, without fail, for years. Players could pick and choose from over 3,000 songs to build their preferred library.
It’s a shame that this genre has been forgotten so quickly, because we had so much fun with it. It was probably the gold standard, but Guitar Hero and its spin-off, DJ Hero, were ridiculously fun, and they probably wouldn’t have been as fun without their peripherals. I think it stings a little extra, especially given the amount of money we may have each spent on plastic guitars and drums. But wasn’t it so fun? Even if I played Pearl Jam way, way too much.
Ultimately, the people that left Rock Band were only in video games for Rock Band. It is my hope, though, that some people stuck around and enjoyed a few other games here and there, and maybe got converted into core gamers that still enjoy this entertainment medium.
6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
At the time, I think we were just tired of World War 2 shooters. It’s easy to forget how many times, in how many different games that we stormed Omaha Beach. A shooter… set in modern times? 2007 seems so long ago, especially now that we have not only Call of Duty, but Battlefield as well, set in modern times.
Back then, Halo 3 was the Xbox 360’s shooter of choice, but Modern Warfare took over. With its near-instant respawn times and near-instant kills, its frenetic pace proved popular. Add in loadout customizability and powerful killstreaks, and the face of FPS was forever changed once again. Nowadays, no one even thinks about Call of Duty-style first person shooters, because that is simply what they expect.
I had only ever played Halo online on consoles when it came to console shooters, so jumping into something that gave me instant respawn like Modern Warfare was the craziest thing. It opened my eyes to different possibilities and gameplay designs.
It’s not like indie games started with Minecraft. Long ago, before the entire world was on the Internet, we had a thing called shareware. But as the cost of development grew, it seemed like only AAA titles would survive, and mid-tier publishers would drop off the face of the earth. While that has been happening, a bunch people started publishing less technically demanding games on the PC.
Minecraft looks like a bunch of blocks, because it is. But that belies its status as a creative sandbox. As time has gone on, regular updates have increased the complexity of what you can create.
I spent a lot of time just chilling with friends as we combined our efforts to build stuff. Eventually, I would get bored and try to build structures out of dyed wool. I liked the colors. I remember watching sunsets, and realizing that my time hanging around in the open should be coming to an end, as much as I wanted to take in the scene.
I remember the first time I played Skullgirls, it was at SoCal Regionals 2010. It only had one character model, and 3 versions of it to play as. The game released 2 years later after several delays, and while it was a success, started encountering difficulties. They weren’t getting paid, and DLC they were planning on releasing might never come to light.
An IndieGogo campaign asking for $150,000 earned almost 6 times that, funding not 1, but 5 DLC characters. And yet, the trouble still seems to be happening. Patching troubles on consoles, their old publisher threatening to delist the game, and yet they soldier on.
I got relatively close to the development team during these rough times, and the consternation was clear on lead designer Mike Zaimont’s face. And yet, with the support of their fans, Skullgirls soldiers on, with the second DLC character playable in beta.
What makes Skullgirls fun to me is the open-ended combo system. Lead designer Mike Z has taken great care to allow for freeform combos without letting these combos go on forever, and the latest patch reflects this. These changes, and the 5 total DLC characters, will make the new edition of Skulgirls, Skullgirls Encore, a full-featured game that I don’t understand why it doesn’t get more high-level play.
3. World of Warcraft
I hope this one counts, even if you define the start of generation as November 2005. With its release in November 2004, World of Warcraft introduced a genre to people that hadn’t played an MMO before. And, in true Blizzard fashion, World of Warcraft took an existing game idea and polished it to perfection. Quests were easily found by looking for “!” and “?” signs. Leveling was relatively simple, and there were no long-term punishments for death.
The funny thing is, if you look at how the game is now, World of Warcraft circa 2004 is outdated as hell. No Quest Tracker, 40-man raids instead of 25, really janky-looking graphics, no daily quests, no reward for doing quests at level 60. Does anyone remember 15-man UBRS runs? Remember those? Those were cool. The exact opposite of challenging, but they were cool. Also Tarren Mill fights, the old PvP system, Barrens chat… when Barrens was one zone.
Nowadays, the starting areas in WoW have had a huge makeover with the Cataclysm, and the level cap is about to hit 100. I may have quit, but the sheer amount of time and energy I put into this game puts it on this list.
2. 999 Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors
I believed that video games were not necessarily the best medium to tell stories. Books had been doing a very good job of this for centuries. Then I played 999. If I ever review this, it’s getting a 10, as it has been stuck in my head for years since I have beaten it.
While it is a straightforward visual novel with puzzles that aren’t too difficult, its unabashed and uncensored, grisly portrayal of violence will turn your stomach, as you follow these nine people as they fall deeper and deeper into madness.
The game’s reveals are slow and meaningful, with nothing major known halfway through the adventure, but by the end everything has fallen apart, or come together, and almost every question is answered. The ultimate reveal is one that no one can see coming, even if you’re jaded to plot twists. It is one of the greatest moments in gaming.
Some questions were left open in case there ever was a sequel, which there was with 2012’s Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward.
1. Street Fighter IV
Fighting games were basically dead. Their hubris and complexity had done them in; monuments to difficulty accessible by an elite few. I loved them as a child and can vividly remember lining up 6-10 people deep to play Street Fighter 2 at my local arcade. All arcades were like this, but now it was all over.
A funny little man at Capcom named Yoshinori Ono thought that this shouldn’t be, and had just enough stroke to start a project. A teaser came out in 2007 for Street Fighter IV and most everyone went nuts. In July 2008, Capcom held a very small event in a bad part of Los Angeles. It was the first public demonstration of Street Fighter IV.
I was the first person there, in line. Yes, this means that I was the first member of the public in America to play Street Fighter IV. Actually, I was sixth or so. I went to get pizza before I sat down. And, actually, they let pros like Justin Wong and Joey Cuellar in first. Regardless, those several hours playing the game might as well have been magical. I noted at the time it was like a sublime mix of Street Fighter 2 and Street Fighter 3. The game came out in arcades that December, and released to consoles in February 2009.
Something unexpected happened. The game was so good, other companies released other fighting games. The fighting genre was BACK.
Nowadays, many older titles saw digital HD rereleases, and it can be argued there are TOO many fighting games. The genre I loved as a child is back, and we have Street Fighter IV to thank for it.