No matter how many new games are released every year, I always find myself returning to a handful of games that have dramatically shaped my gamer identity. I’ve heard people talk about desert island gaming and what one game they would choose to have with them if they were isolated from the rest of the world.
People also discuss their favorite games of all time, but that usually boils down to the first title that really grabbed them in their childhood. In fact, from all the YouTube gamers, I can’t remember one saying their favorite game was something they played past the age of 20. There might be games that they say are their favorite in the series or genre, but tasked with picking a favorite game, it tends to be something from the 8 or 16-bit generation, with 32/64 bit one creeping in because time stops for no man.
In the same vein as the favorite game, people will discuss their favorites in each genre. This is fine, but it doesn’t force someone to make the cutthroat decisions when picks are more limited. If Mario Kart isn’t the racing game pick, it could find its way in through the backdoor of a multiplayer game.
Ultimately, these lists are meaningless and do nothing other than offer fans a chance to bicker about nonsense, but if that wasn’t so popular then none of us would be here. With that in mind, I propose a listing of our five essential games.
Essentially, there are no rules. No one game per franchise or genre shiz that people force on other lists. If you have Super Mario 2 AND Super Mario 3 on your list, who’s to say you are wrong? Besides the anonymous trolls of the internet who obviously know more than you, you fucking swine!
If you have some maze game from the Magnavox Odyssey and a shitty mobile game no one’s ever heard of on your list, even better. Let’s break out of our hovels and see what others enjoy. Maybe it will help us discover a hidden gem to seek out.
There’s no ranking or anything necessary, just list the five games you would consider “essential”— however you choose to define that.
To help spark some ideas, I’ve provided my five below:
Street Fighter II (multiple platforms)
Because there are a million different versions of this game, I’m not going to stipulate which one I would pick. I grew up with the Genesis’ Champion Edition, so I guess I would pick that one as long as I could have a six-button controller. In more recent years, I’ve played the SNES Turbo version because that’s what I got off the Wii Virtual Console. I would also give props to the HD version that came out about a decade ago; although, the new fighters do nothing for me, and I prefer the original lineup.
I chose this game because it’s simplistic enough to pick up and play, yet challenging enough to not get dull. The unique blend of fighters helps to make the game easier or more difficult. I tend to spam E. Honda’s slap or Chun Li’s kick, but I play as Zangief if I want a more level playing field.
This game has stood the test of time, and it’s one I’ve played steadily since its release 30 years ago.
MVP Baseball 2005 (PS2)
I struggled with deciding between this or World Series Baseball II on the Sega Saturn. While the latter is a fine arcade-style baseball game with a fun home run derby, there’s not much more to it than a solid baseball game.
This game, on the other hand, provides a handful of pitching and batting mini-games that I may have sunk more hours into than the actual game. The pitching game is almost a Tetris-style puzzle game, and I spent many afternoons in college playing that rather than doing whatever report on some Marxist literary critic I was supposed to be researching.
The actual baseball in the game is great fun while balancing the arcade and sim-style of gameplays. The games go by quickly, but there’s more strategy than throw the ball/hit the ball. Add in a season mode that allows players to call-up and send down players in the lower leagues, and every baseball fan will find something to enjoy here. The unlockable Legends players are the chef’s kiss on this already spectacular sports game.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U and Switch)
Again, I was distraught between picking this game and my beloved Zelda II. Before playing this game, it may have even been Ocarina of Time, which just shows how malleable this list can be depending on the day. What pushed Breath Of The Wild onto the list, though, is its encapsulation of everything Zelda. This is the game Nintendo was always building towards, and it feels too archaic to go back to the older games.
When I was discovering things in this game, I felt like I was discovering them on my own. In the NES ones, possibly because of my young age, I would only find out how to get past a puzzle or roadblock if a friend or magazine told me how. The exploration feels more natural here, and the endless options of how players can choose to tackle this game make it endlessly repayable.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)
If the Bloodstained series has shown me anything, it’s how hard it is to make a Metroidvania game without it feeling like one. Obviously, this game has the luxury of being one of the pioneers of the genre, so all the good ideas got splooged out in a cacophony of madness like when I was 13 watching late-night Cinemax. Nowadays, though, if a game is cited to be a Metroidvania game, it’s easy to see the fingerprints of this game all over it.
I (literally) know this game backward and upside down, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying my playthrough every year. I’ve only fully completed the game once, but that’s more because I don’t have the time to spend as a gas cloud going around every nook and cranny in the massive castle.
These are some of the most gorgeous and horrifying sprite-based graphics in this title, and the music helps me understand why people listen to game soundtracks. Nearly every piece is perfection, save the stupid final transformation of Dracula at the very end. Seriously, why does his “true form” look like regular him chilling out on the back of a hell beast?
Super Mario 3 (NES)
The first title will always be what hooked me on gaming, but this has been my favorite in the series since 1990. People point to Super Mario World as the culmination of 2D Mario, but there’s not enough that the game does to refine the series. There’s Yoshi, but that’s more of a superficial powerup and can never surpass how it felt the first time to fly with a raccoon tail.
Each world Mario travels in this game is unique and keeps the game from being a simple run and jump platformer. There are puzzles, automatically scrolling, and hard as balls levels if the player doesn’t have the right powerup. The Koopa Kids put different spins on how each boss fight is encountered. There are also secrets to this game I’ve forgotten: how do you find the coin ships and where do you get the anchor?
I recently played the GBA version of the game and did a perfect completion of every world, and I’d start over and do it again today. I could play this game on a perpetual loop, and I’d still be able to see the magic in this game.
There probably weren’t too many surprises on my list, but that doesn’t mean you have to go by the chalk line on yours. Put you’re Essential Five in the comments before I come and bang your fatass of a mom…