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Top Video Games Of The Past 10 Years

Updated on August 24, 2011

There have been a lot of video games in the past ten years. Almost too many. But a constraint of ten years removes a lot of options for what would normally be shoe-ins for the spot. Good bye, NES! Good bye, Super NES! Heck, even parts of the Playstation's early history are locked off.

A list that focuses more on the new classics will hopefully give a slightly less "done-before" list than others you might have seen. But I don't know what you've seen, so that could be a lie. Time will tell!

Ryu Hayubasa versus Demons in 360's Ninja Gaiden
Ryu Hayubasa versus Demons in 360's Ninja Gaiden

#10 - Ninja Gaiden, XBOX (2004)

Don't think of it a remake: think of it as the as the star quarterback on the highschool football team who has a little brother you've met before. Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox combines cutting edge graphics and Nintendo-era difficulty to create the best action game a console has seen. Combat is virtually indistinguishable from one of the better games in the fighting genre, but it never looses the smooth control that really defines a platformer. You can jump off an enemy's head just as easily as you can cut it off.

Blisteringly difficult, the game pulls no punches. For a first-time player, you're thrust directly into a grinder as other deadly ninjas dart around and toss throwing stars at you. It'll be more than a few game over screens before you get to level two. While the game might feel like the difficulty never lets up, once you've gotten some experience under your belt and you go back to that first level with its snowy white ninjas, you'll see how far you've come. Like any good teacher, the game gradually amps up the difficulty, and you learn to become a true Ninja Master along the way. Just don't expect to make it out of training without a few bruises.

Following a disapointing sequel for the Xbox 360, the creator of Ninja Gaiden and most of his team have left and formed their own company, but have not retained the rights to the Ninja Gaiden franchise. So, don't expect a sequel with the same qualty as the original. But who needs sequels when the first was this good?

Tidus and Airship From FFX
Tidus and Airship From FFX

#9 - Final Fantasy X, PS2 (2001)

With twelve official entries into the series, a thirteenth to come, and innumerable spin-offs, it wasn't hard to guess that a Final Fantasy game would make it into the list. While no fan can ever truly agree on what the best installment in the series is, it is tough to argue that Final Fantasy X wasn't the best of the post-Nintendo era at the very least.

As the first installment of the storied franchise on Sony's Playstation 2, it had a lot to prove. And it hit the ball out of the park. It introduced an entirely new battle system, eschewing the previous active time battles in favor of a slower-paced turn based system which lets you see exactly who gets to move and when. Making sure that it just wasn't a new way to press "Attack" over and over again, it was one of the first Final Fantasy games where status effecting magic like blind and silence were actually useful.

Its not just a joy to play, either. The graphics were the best anyone had seen on any console at the time, and would still be one of the most visually impressing titles for years to come. I won't go on too much about the graphics, I'll let the cutscene below do the talking.

With a touching love story and 70 hours worth of diversions, Final Fantasy X deserves a place on the list.

Phoenix Wright Cover Art
Phoenix Wright Cover Art

#8- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, DS (2005)

The only portable game that makes the list, the first Phoenix Wright game heralded the return of marketable adventure games. A series long in hibernation, surviving as a low-budget niche on the PC has been revitalized on the Nintendo DS.

You play Phoenix Wright, a defense attorney trying to prove his clients innocent in a brutally inefficient judicial system. Gathering evidence and carefully questioning and contradicting witnesses on the stand, you do battle with a series of increasingly unethical prosecutors. While the series shouldn't be confused with a civics lesson, it has quirky characters and a laid back attitude that just scream "fun."

The game gets a little difficult and has some guess work, but the puzzle solving is rewarding. In a generation with six hours of Law and Order on per day, a game where you get to be the lawyer is perfect. Ace Attorney has already spawned three sequels, with more to come and has a planned spin-off that will let players try their hand at the prosecution side of the bar. This is a game that revived an industry that has long laid dormant.

So a tip of the hat to you, Phoenix Wright, you come in at number 8.

#7 Team Fortress 2, PC (2007)

Team Fortress 2 is the best multi-player FPS of the decade, and quite possibly the best ever released. Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, this takes NOTHING away from Halo.TF2 just has more to offer than any of three Halo games. The game is just the top of the line, and it looks like the men at Valve plan for it to say that way for some time.

Pushing grizzled staff sergeants and space marines to the curb, Team Fortress 2 offers eight different characters with different weapons and skills, each brimming with personality and a cartoony look that sets them apart from other games rough-around-the-edges heroes.

A game built around teamwork, the maps are designed to take advantage of all of the classes special abilities so that only through cooperation and planning can you pull out a victory over your opponents.

Please note that while this game is available on consoles, only the PC edition deserves recognition as one of the great game of all time. Featuring constant content update that the consoles lack, along with more robust servers which are capable of handling more players at a time, the PC is the definitive edition of Team Fortress 2.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Words, words, words - but pretty ones.
Words, words, words - but pretty ones.

#6- Planescape Torment, PC (1998)

What can change the nature of a man? Regret? Belief? Hope? Hatred? If you think you know the answer, you don't know anything. Planescape: Torment may be the single greatest literary achievement in a videogame, period. And when I say literary, I mean it- you better be ready to read a novel.

A game where no option is off limits, you can talk, steal, bash, or even just believe your way out of almost any situation. Even the final boss can be talked down without a single spell cast or blade brandished. Rarely do games offer so many choices, and even less frequently do they do it with such masterful turns of phrase.

You play an amnesiac immortal who has grown tired of his infinite cycle of dying and forgetting. Coming together with a party of miscreants who have all suffered in the strange city of Sigil, you seek out your own mortality so that you may reach your final death. Along the way, you learn the power of belief and the cost of pride and the lust for power. Fantasy and philsophy collide and you better set aside a few days: you'll want to play this one a few times.

Not as big as Baldur's Gate 2 or fine-tuned as the Icewind Dale series, Planescape Torment still elevates the genre to heights not yet matched.

Screwing with the local poultry is only the start of the fun you can have in Ocarina of Time
Screwing with the local poultry is only the start of the fun you can have in Ocarina of Time

#5- The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, N64 (1998)

The Nintendo 64 was not the best console of its generation. There was a paucity of good games, and even the bad ones were slow to be released. If you happened to have one, there was one saving grace after two years of playing Goldeneye 007- Zelda was coming.

And it was worth the wait, too. Link made the jump to 3D, and he came out swinging. The game offered a huge overworld, well-crafted dungeons, and a time traveling storyline that explains where all your favorite character came from and shows exactly what set up the events that have been replayed over and over again since Gannon first kidnapped the Princess Zelda.

Introducing lock-on targeting, for the first time in the series history combat was just as much fun as exploring the dark corners of a new dungeon. Enemies blocked and dodged, and some truly epic sword fights with giant skeletons and wolf creatures would have you putting Errol Flynn to shame as you fight around the room.

There are several pages worth of analyzing what Ocarina of Time did right, but I'll leave it completely made up for the frustration N64 owners were feeling during the lean times. If you haven't played this iteration of the Zelda series, it was recently released on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, so give it a look.

#4- World of Warcraft, PC (2004)

Even if you've never played a video game in your entire life, chances are you know how important World of Warcraft is to the gaming industry. Pulling in literally billions of dollars, this MMORPG has won over the largest fan base in video games today.

And not without reason! With characteristic Blizzard flair, you're guided through your long journey by heroes of myth across a world with more area to travel than some American states (I'm looking at you, Delaware). The ultimate goal, of course,is to join those heroes through the merits of your own adventures.

Letting you grab a friend or forty and quest for gold, loot, and world renown can be addicting. So addicting, in fact, many people have become overtaken by World of Warcraft like it was heroin. Who am I too argue with a game that takes in the GDP of several European nations and is taking over cocaine as the suburban drug of choice?

Blizzard is the best developer out there, and World of Warcraft is just one more trophy to sit on their mantle of greatest games.

Gordon and Alyx - BFFs?
Gordon and Alyx - BFFs?

#3 Half-LIfe 2, PC (2004)

Half Life 2 heralded a new generation in gaming. The patented Source engine used to create the game introduced the world to rag doll physics. Still being used today, the technology behind Gabe Newell's classic series shows the strength of the programmers and design team.

In addition to the usual compliment of pistols, shot guns, and uzis, silent hero Gordon Freeman is given use of the "Gravity Gun" which lets him pick up the scenery and throw it around like he was Carrie on prom night. Turning everything in the level (including the corpses of your enemies) into a weapon should be enough, but Half Life 2 has an amazing story filled with realistic characters with actual motivations. I didn't know those existed in first-person shooters, either.

Taking place in-and-around a city occupied by an invading alien force and their human collaborators, Freeman and his battalion of rebels try and take back earth, one Combine soldier at a time. Among these rebels is Alyx Vance, scientist, marksman, and one of the few women in video games written like someone we actually know in our real life instead of a half-naked warrior or a prissy damsel in distress. Your interactions with Alyx during the games great story sequences are just as much a highlight as the intense action. In future sequels to Half Life 2 (released as episodic content), she wil be your constant companion and a valued partner in battles to come. Here, in Half-Life 2 you should take the opportunity to get introduced to the best video game character you'll see this decade.

I kind of want those stars to be my friend...
I kind of want those stars to be my friend...

#2- Super Mario Galaxy, Wii (2007)

Super Mario Galax can only be described as "pure fun." It doesn't matter how old you are, this game provides a childlike delight I have yet to see duplicated in any game in recent memory. The story is just like you remember: Bowser has kidnapped the princess, and the little fat dude has to go and save her.

The game is just perfect. Whimsical stages with perfect design make every level, every task an utter joy to play. Orchestral music creates new classics that sit alongside the old Mario classics that have become part oft he video game canon. Little throwbacks to fans of years past like the return of the Koopa Airforce keep the smiles coming.

Defying gravity, Mario (and if you're real good, his brother Luigi) run up walls and around the dangerous curves of planetoids. One wrong step and you could end up cast off into the cold darkness of space. Like the NES classics before it, the jumps and turns are always difficult, but if you make a mistake you always know it's because you weren't playing well enough not because the game is being unfair. Always just hard enough to keep the game fun, Super Mario Galaxy is a testament to good design.

It seems like everyone in America has a Nintendo Wii. If that's true, than everyone in America should own Super Mario Galaxy, a true masterpiece that may well be the happiest game ever made.

Through the looking glass..
Through the looking glass..

#1 - Portal, PC/360/PS3 (2007)

Portal was a game changer. This lean, mean, four hour long game showed that you didn't have to artificially inflate video game lengths by requiring backtracking or annoying side quests. All you need is a good game you can sit down and play and it will sell itself.

Billed under Team Fortress 2 and HL2: Episode 2, Portal was the sleeper hit of 2007. The game provided graphics AND abilities never before seen in video games. Featuring innovative technology, the game gave you a gun that could put two portals on any flat surface in the room and use them to instantly transport yourself form one to the other. This could quickly become a roller coaster as you go from the wall to the ceiling to the floor and then out through the wall again in a dizzying display physics.

Taking these innovations, the designers of Portal crafted an ultra-tight puzzle game, forcing you to use your portals to perform increasingly complex tasks. Requiring both an agile mind and quick reflexes, Portal is the best mind-bender to ever reach mass markets. You have to use the power of momentum to build up huge jumps, geometry to angle yourself into areas you normally wouldn't be able to get to, and quick reflexes to avoid the traps and pitfalls of the test chambers you've been dumped into without an explanation.

Your escape from these test chambers provides the aspect of Portal that elevates it to the best game in the past ten years: the story. Your only companion is the disembodied voice of a computer program/tester named GlaDOS who continues to urge you onwards. As the game progresses, you learn not all is as it seems with your AI narrator, and as her programming breaks down the story perfectly blends the comedy and horror. A true work of art, Portal is just as unique when it comes to narrative as it is with gameplay.

A true original, this one of a kind game will inspire imitators, but none will match it. In twenty-five years, people will be talking about how Portal changed the gaming forever. They'll be right.

*NOTE* This game was released alongside two other entries on this list Team Fortress 2 and Half Life 2 (along with two other Half Life games and a great TF2 modded demo of the casual hit Peggle). If you haven't picked this up, it's a great opportunity to play some amazing games for cheap.

Portal has to be seen to be believed

Honorable Mentions: Some games that just missed the list

  • Grand Theft Auto 4 - Great, but narrowly missed the high bar.
  • Halo 2 - The best multiplayer game on consoles. It just doesn't hold up to the PC FPS though.
  • Puzzle Quest- Casual gaming at its best.
  • Bioshock- Great, but not enough of a game changer.


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