My standout games of the decade (2010-2019)31st December 2019
A lot can happen in a decade. Ten years ago, the Xbox 360 was king of the console castle, and indie games were just starting to become a major force in the industry (but wouldn't go into turbo overdrive until the release of Indie Game: The Movie in 2012).
Today, we stand on the brink of a brand new decade. Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to look back over the past ten years and single out a handful of games that have been the most noteworthy for me during that time.
Note that this is not necessarily my selection for the best games of the past ten years - I don't think my play experience has been broad enough to make that kind of an assessment. Instead, I'll be discussing only those games which, for whatever reason, have been particularly meaningful for me or have had the biggest impact on my life.
Super Meat Boy (2010)
It's hard to remember now, but this game was a revelation when it came out a decade ago. Back in an era when the indie game aesthetic was a novelty, the no-frills Flash-style graphics and old-school-inspired soundtrack had an irresistible charm - and the tight, fast-paced gameplay and immediate resets upon death became a benchmark and reference for small-time game developers the world over.
Super Meat Boy's influence over the industry was enormous. Its starring role in Indie Game: The Movie (alongside Fez and Braid) was a lightbulb moment for a generation of budding developers, who suddenly realised that hugely successful commercial games were no longer the exclusive domain of monolithic games corporations but could be developed by just a couple of hobbyists operating essentially on a wing and a prayer.
It was a key component of the indie game revolution that swept up all the game development hobbyists like me who suddenly realised that our seemingly fruitless, nerdy and mostly pointless pastime might actually have some application in the world.
The game is far from the best or even the most remarkable of the decade in terms of its merits as a gaming experience, but it's on my list simply because I've spent an inordinate amount of time playing it and thinking about it over the years. Super Meat Boy was instrumental in paving the way for whatever I am today, and I can't overlook that.
These days, Minecraft has somehow morphed into a game that's sort of seen as being primarily for children. How has that happened? Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that explaining to fellow adults that I enjoy Minecraft has become something of an embarrassment, as if I were owning up to still watching The Sooty Show every day or getting somebody else to tie my shoelaces.
As a result, it's fallen out of my gaming rotation in recent years, but it's on my list today because there was a period during which Minecraft completely took over my brain. I can't think of another game of the past decade that captured my imagination to the same degree - and I must have spent thousands of hours exploring those voxel hills and caves.
If I regret anything about Minecraft, it's that its enormous and completely unprecedented financial success caused something of a mania for crafting mechanics (of which I'm not generally a huge fan) to ripple out across the industry, often into genres and franchises where they don't belong.
However, that small complaint doesn't change the essential fact that I've spent countless happy hours in the procedurally generated landscapes of Minecraft. I've built giant pixel art monuments, designed castles and cities, and most importantly, spent quality time with many dear friends there.
In my adult life, it's been extremely rare for a game to grab me to the degree that literally all I wanted to do was to keep playing - but Minecraft dug its claws deep into me.
Rayman Legends (2013)
I love platformers. The genre is easily my favourite, and I honestly think Rayman Legends is one of the best 2D efforts to have ever been released.
Its gorgeous painterly graphics are peerless, the platforming feels tight and satisfying, and the fully orchestrated score is catchy, dramatic and beautiful in equal measure. I pretty much consider it to be a masterpiece, and an amazing work of art - but that alone isn't enough to earn it a spot on my list.
It's one of my picks of the decade, in fact, because of its excellent co-operative mode. For years it's been one of my go-to games to play with visiting friends, as even for gaming novices it is extremely easy and fun to pick up.
When I think back over my fondest gaming memories of the last ten years, the many, many sessions I've spent playing Rayman Legends with different people come to mind again and again. Simply put, this game means a lot to me - and it's provided happy memories and experiences far beyond that which might be expected from its modest asking price. Superb.
Of all of my picks in this article, this is probably the most likely to raise eyebrows. While there are millions of people who love Undertale and will defend it to the death, it does seem as though detractors have appeared with increasing frequency as more time has passed from its release.
I've heard plenty of arguments about how Undertale is overhyped, or that it's a Mother ripoff, or that the fans are terrible, or that the pacifist message is overbearing - and to be honest, I would be happy enough to agree with a good amount of the criticism. I'm not going to take the "if you don't like Undertale there's something wrong with you," stance, because the game isn't perfect.
However, this isn't a list of my most 'most perfect' games - it's a list of those which have proven the most meaningful for me over the previous decade, and the fact is that Undertale completely blew me away when I played it.
From my perspective as a game designer, I found it impossible not to be inspired (and fairly intimidated) by its skill at storytelling and its thematic cohesiveness. Although it's visually a bit rough around the edges, and whether or not it's fair to say that it's heavily derivative of certain other games (I haven't actually played any of the Mother series, so I'm not really qualified to comment), I think it does what it does extremely effectively - and it's something I've found myself returning to on multiple occasions essentially to watch the master at work and take notes.
There have been few games in the past decade for me that have been the subject of so much real-life discussion with friends. There are so many titles out today that the very idea of everybody I know all happening to play the same game during any given period is patently ridiculous, but I sort of miss those schoolyard times of discussing the new Zelda with classmates - and the arrival of Undertale felt like a revival of those days. We were all into it around these parts.
Undertale has been a huge creative inspiration for me as a game designer, and while it might not be for everybody, it nevertheless poured a gallon of gasoline on my budding game developer fire and heavily influenced many of my thoughts about design.
Drawful 2 (2016)
Ah, the Jackbox oeuvre. I'd like to nip in the bud any notion of my endorsing this family of titles as among the 'best' games of the decade, because they're not by any stretch.
There are many design aspects of Drawful 2 and its companion games that I truly believe are objectively bad and could be improved. However, the unavoidable fact is that despite its shortcomings it has become the go-to party game for myself and my group of friends, and has been a firm favourite for years.
In contrast to other games like Cards Against Humanity (which provided some fun for a short period and then quickly lost its freshness), Drawful 2 has never yet failed to entertain us - and with the custom prompt entry thingy serving to unearth the many ways in which my friends and I are terrible, terrible people, its longevity owes a lot to the fact that its scope is essentially limited only to our (disgusting, juvenile) imaginations.
Considering that it costs a mere £6.99, we've thus far gotten an enormous amount of mileage out of Drawful 2 over the past few years (and to a lesser extent, other Jackbox titles such as Fibbage). I've spent far more on physical board and card games that never seem to catch on, and yet we always seem to end up gravitating towards the Jackbox offerings time and again.
If Jackbox Games should happen to read this - please make a Drawful 3! I have some suggestions.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (2017)
I've always loved the Zelda series. I alluded to my fond memories of discussing Ocarina of Time with school friends in 1999, sharing tips for navigating dungeons and discussing rumours (my friend Ben was adamant you could find the Triforce in the game...).
It's fitting, then, that the game which has most strongly brought a return to those days of discussing videogame worlds with real-life people, twenty years later, is another Zelda game (albeit one completely unlike its predecessors).
Breath of the Wild's focus on exploration, enormous world map and copious quantities of obscure secrets has been the catalyst for many conversations with friends and coworkers. The internet has largely spoiled us in terms of access to information in today's world, and a lot of the mystery that used to exist in gaming has evaporated as a result - but Zelda is so dense with content that even after reading countless web pages about it and watching inordinate numbers of videos, people I know in real life have still been able to tell me things I didn't know about hidden wonders in the land of Hyrule. That earns it a spot on my list by itself.
Mysteries aside, Breath of the Wild is simply an incredible game. I managed to sink at least fifty hours into it without caring even slightly about the main quest (to this day, I've still made essentially no meaningful progress in terms of freeing the Divine Beasts and tackling Ganon). The part that grabbed me was the exploration, and I can't wait until enough time has passed that I've forgotten where everything is and can therefore explore it all again afresh.
Throughout the decade, I've enjoyed dozens and dozens of remarkable and enjoyable games - but the six I've mentioned here today are the ones that have had the most impact on my life, have been the most meaningful, or have otherwise stood out as bearing a powerful influence in my world during the past ten years.
Honorable mentions of other notable games of the decade for me have to include Super Mario Odyssey, Jurassic World Evolution, Rocket League, Grand Theft Auto V, Stardew Valley, The Stanley Parable, and probably a long list of others that it would be tedious to recount.
Anyway, those are my picks. What about you?