I’ve always felt that being my age (born in 1990) I lived through a very good time in gaming. By the time I was at an age to play them properly, the SNES was the king and its games were very friendly towards young gamers. And, as my age grew, so did the sophistication of games. I lived through Zelda at its peak (although not in its infancy), Pokemon from the beginning (even if I left the franchise for a few years) and I’ve watched year-by-year FIFA’s graphics improving. All those games, as well as many hundreds more, mean some games hold a special place in my heart. This list, then, is the best-of-the-best when it comes to games I’ve loved over the years. (Note: This is not a list of my favourite games nor the games that I believe are the best. It is a list of those which hold a place in my heart for one reason or another.)
10 – WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain (2003, PlayStation 2)
I was late to the wrestling party as I didn’t really watch too much during the attitude era (arguably WWF/E’s biggest period) as I became a fan in 2002, and that fandom brought me to Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain. Arguably the best WWF/E game they’ve produced (if not, then definitely one of them), Here Comes the Pain had everything that made previous games great and so much more. This came at the peak of my wrestling fandom and within two years I’d stopped watching, but I’ll always remember how much I loved this game.
9 – Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (1993, SNES)
Easily the worst game on this list, but there was no way the child in me could have a list of games that hold a place in my heart without including this. I don’t remember too much about its gameplay (aside from building tracks and racing other trains), but I remember playing it a lot as a child as I was a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan.
8 – LMA Manager 2005 (2004, PlayStation 2)
As a huge football fan (with tattoos to boot), it is quite surprising to me that no FIFA game really stands out in my heart. FIFA 2003 is probably the closest, as it was the first version I played with a friend. But of a football game in general, LMA Manager 2005 wins hands down. From dominating with Liverpool (and nurturing what was then an unknown Vincent Kompany), rising from the bottom to the top with Leigh RMI (who went extinct not long afterwards) to continuous journeys with one team after another. Crewe, Norwich and Cambridge are others who benefitted from my magic (and a relatively easy game). And my love of management games continues to this day with Football Manager, but you always remember your first.
7 – Halo 3 (2007, Xbox 360)/Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008, Nintendo Wii)/Mario Kart Wii (2008, Nintendo Wii)
Remember that episode of The Big Bang Theory where it’s revealed that Sheldon and the gang have a weekly Halo night? Yeah, we did that, too. What started out as a couple of games of Halo 3 became a weekly ritual which morphed over the years from Halo to Super Smash Bros. to Mario Kart to a variety of games and sequels. And the only thing that stayed true all those years was the pizza. I can’t think of one of these games without thinking back upon those pizza nights and how much fun they all were. Plus, I bossed most of the games (although my gung-ho strategy never quite worked on Halo 3 where the idea is to be more stealthy with your approach).
6 – Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (2001, PlayStation 2)
After my mother returned from her honeymoon, she brought me back a game. A game from the same makers as Crash Bandicoot. A game called Jak & Daxter. And I fell in love. Immediately. The world was beautiful, the characters were interesting and the story kept me going. From the moment the Green Sage mocks you for being immature to the finale where Daxter has to sacrifice his humanity for the greater good, everything is wonderful. It’s just a shame Jak II: Renegade was such a disappointment.
5 – Crash Bandicoot (1996, PlayStation)
Speaking of Crash Bandicoot. This was probably one of the first more serious games I properly played as a youngster, moving on from the more Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends style of game. And while I played Sonic a lot as a kid, it was Crash and his adventure that I loved so much. Certain games evoke memories, and I remember playing it with my cousin when we were younger and both loving it. Its two sequels are also honourable mentions, but I wanted to keep this list to one game per franchise, and as I said before, you don’t forget your first.
4 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991, SNES)
There is an argument among Zelda fans about whether A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time is the better game, and I’ve never been able to decide (every time I play one I think it’s the best). But it was A Link to the Past that introduced me to Link, Zelda, Ganondorf and Hyrule. A journey that has seen me battle evil in a multitude of games after this one. But as a young gamer I loved those open world games where it felt like I could go off on my own adventure (even if this list is full of a lot of level-based games), and this game had that. Dungeons, items, villains, secrets, dark worlds and so much more. One day I’ll answer which is the better Zelda game, but this is certainly more memorable for me.
3 – Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble (1996, SNES)
This wasn’t my first Donkey Kong Country game, which contradicts a lot of this list, nor is it the best (Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest takes that prize), but I’ll always remember getting this at Christmas. I loved Donkey Kong so much I remember writing a letter to Santa asking for a third instalment, not even knowing if such a game existed. How elated I was when not only did Santa bring me the game, but invented it, too! He invented a whole new game for me to play (of course I had no idea the game had been out in the world for over a month by this point). And that memory alone takes the Donkey Kong Country crown for my nostalgia.
2 – Super Mario World (1992, SNES)
For a gamer born in 1990, there are a lot of common names here and Mario is no exception. What a game this was. The second I got the SNES-Mini I booted up this game just to run and listen to the music and enjoy the visuals and the levels and the secrets and the world and just how much fun it was. If it wasn’t for number 1, this would win by a country mile, not only because of how good a game it is, but how it hooked me into computer games from the start.
1 – Pokémon Blue (1999, Game Boy)
It had to be. A young me once went to his friend’s house and was shown his friend’s brand-new game. A young me soon ran home begging his mother for that very game (I even refused Pokémon Red, despite using the box-art Pokémon, because I was so afraid it was a completely different game). I’ve completed this game so, so many times and I would happily boot it up at any given time and play again. So much so that I bought Pokémon FireRed when it came out. And then bought Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee when that came out (both remakes of this game). I know the game is broken, I know Pokémon Silver/Gold are better games overall, I know I’m probably a Genwunner (someone who waxes lyrical about the first generation of games above all others) but I just don’t care. This is my favourite game of all time. Even if I chose Charmander which probably contradicted Blue’s appeal. The music, the battling, the adventure, the options, the characters, the story, Dragonair, Ninetales, Charizard; just so many things make me love this game. And it has one of the greatest lines of dialogue ever featured in any form of entertainment: ‘I like shorts. They’re comfy and easy to wear.’