My Favorite Games
I’m only including games I’ve enjoyed enough to play more than once, which keeps the list manageable in size. I’ve sorted them chronologically because I think it’s fun to see how games evolve (or not) over time.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are both terrific 16-bit platformers in their own right, with sprawling levels, gorgeous sprites, addictive special stages and some of the best (and most infamous) music of its era. But combining the two games via S&K’s lock-on technology gimmick unlocks the most epic 2-D Sonic adventure to date.
I love games that make me feel like a virtual tourist, and Grim Fandango is a prime example. Each environment, character and line of dialog is so unique, endearing and well-crafted that I find myself missing the Land of the Dead long after boarding the Number Nine.
Sonic’s first proper 3-D outing sold me on the Dreamcast. Graphically, it felt like a quantum leap from the 32- and 64-bit adventures I was used to. I adored its combination of narrative exploration with more traditional action stages. While it hasn’t aged evenly (especially if you’ve only played the flawed “deluxe” port), I still love its ambition, irreverance and variety.
Look, I’m not good at fighting games. I don’t have the patience to learn the combos or the reflexes to execute them well. But this game’s adorable chibi sprites, simple two-button control scheme and generous difficulty settings make it surprisingly addictive… especially with the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s clicky joystick!
While Shenmue would influence many other games, none of them completely capture the magic of the original. The environments are so obsessively detailed, the characters so charmingly awkward, the pace so deliberately relaxed. Shenmue II is my personal favorite: Your gradual descent into the criminal underworld of 1980s Kowloon sets up a stunning visual and tonal shift in the game’s final act.
Between the linear reflex-based platforming of Crash Bandicoot and the more cinematic action-adventure that would become Naughty Dog’s focus thereafter, Jak and Daxter is the porridge Goldilocks chose. It’s a collectathon platformer at heart, but with sprawling open environments and expressive character animations that still impress today.
I love most of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s games, but Rez completely takes the cake. Its hypnotic combination of music that reacts to your actions, abstract visuals and deceptively simple gameplay make it the only “on-rails shooter” I consistently revisit.
Keita Takahashi’s masterpiece works for me on multiple levels. First, this is just a fun concept for a game a unique yet approachable control scheme. Secondly, it’s executed with such humor and panache. But most meaningfully to me, rolling a ball the size of a thimble until you can eventually roll up whole continents is a surprisingly moving, even meditative, experience.
Like a lot of its fans, I “discovered” Psychonauts by accident… I swear it magically appeared in my Steam Library. I was quickly ensnared by its charm, its humor, its unique spin on a “hub and spoke” world, and the way it balances a positive overall vibe with some surprisingly dark themes. My personal favorite combination of 3-D platformer and narrative adventure.
A charming, beautiful and polished culmination of Super Mario 64’s ambitions. I even dig aspects of the game others might criticize… I think the motion control segments are fun, I enjoy all the power-ups (yes, even the Spring Mushroom), I prefer the elegant simplicity of the Comet Observatory’s various rooms to the sequel’s Starship Mario, and its modest difficulty level is just right for me.
I love classic animation, so setting a game in a land of forgotten and twisted Disney characters and locations is just fantastic. The mix of platforming, adventure and light RPG mechanics strengthens my connection to the story and world. And I think the paint/thinner mechanic is really fun.
Arkham City has all the elements that make this trilogy great: The rhythm-esque combat, the harmlessly sadistic stealth segments, the masterful voice-acting. While it’s tough to pick a favorite, City wins out for being less claustrophobic than Aslyum and less intimidating to revisit than Knight.
It’s almost unbelievable how seamlessly Valve was able to blend deeply satisfying puzzles, laugh-out-loud humor and a compelling narrative within the same experience. Basically perfect.
Fez is a retro 2-D platformer with a fun 3-D mechanic: Explore the world, collect cubes, solve puzzles. You can enjoy the game purely on that level. But you may notice some curious details along the way: An owl in a tree, some symbols on a wall. I chose to tumble down that rabbit hole, and the experience still haunts me in the best way.
I find every Animal Crossing game charming its own way, but New Leaf is the one I fell hardest for. The townsfolk feel like real, spontaneous personalities, not just parroting the same interactions over and over. There’s no breakable equipment or crafting elements to pad the gameplay past 10 or 15 minutes per day. And the 3DS is the perfect form factor for ergonomic access to this cuter, simpler little world.
I find Persona’s unique mix of teenage soap opera life sim and Pokémon-esque turn-based RPG irresistable, and Persona 5 is the culmination of P-Studio’s 20+ years of delivering that experience. Triumphant in execution and unbelievably stylish in presentation.
Developed by SAGE alumni who truly understand what made the Genesis originals great, Sonic Mania succeeds as both a love letter to what came before and (hopefully) a sign of things to come.
I’ve always admired the original Spyro the Dragon for taking on Super Mario 64 within the constraints of the PlayStation, but I find that era of games tough to revisit. The Reignited Trilogy upgrades the visuals, subtly modernizes the controls, and adds an optional feature for tracking down those last missing gems. The result is pure 3-D platforming comfort food.
Capybara Games rescues the addictive color-matching puzzle genre from the clutches of ad-riddled Candy Crush clones… and does so with gusto! I’m over the moon for the cartoony art direction and Sam Webster’s infectious beats.
This is probably the closest I’ll ever get to an open world Usagi Yojimbo game, and it is glorious. The environments are stunning, the combat is thoughtful but never frustrating, the UI (or lack thereof) inspires me, and this is my personal favorite iteration on the past 20 years of open world game design.