The 2010s were a really important for me as it was the decade where I changed from game player to game maker. Smack dab in the middle of the 2010s I made the switch, after being somewhat fed up with the games I was seeing and a desire to make my own.
I don’t really believe in the concept of good games and bad games as much as I believe in the concept of interesting and uninteresting games. I’ve played plenty of games that are universally praised and had trouble finishing them (or in some cases, getting more than an hour in). I’ve also played games with seriously mixed or negative reviews and found myself unable to put them down.
I wanted to create a top ten games of the decade list, but not with any pretense. These aren’t ‘The Top Ten Games that Defined the 2010s’ or ‘The Hidden Gems of the 2010s’- these are simply the games I found most exciting and noteworthy over the last ten years. Some of them you’ll know, some are more off the beaten path.
I’m also not putting these in any particular order. It’s not a ‘top ten’ list, it’s just a ‘list of ten.’ It’s my hope that my perspective (as someone who went from average player to joining the industry and shipping three games) might be unique enough to warrant a second (or first) look at some of the games I’m going to talk about. So, without further ado:
1. Sin and Punishmet: Star Successor (2010)
What can I say about this game that I haven’t already in the article I wrote previously? This is the pinnacle of Treasure’s action game expertise and a fitting send off not only to my favourite developer (who sadly only followed this up with Bangai-O HD and two Japan-only transmedia projects) but also to AAA pure action games. No one has invested this much money into a shmup or arcade-style console title since.
2. Crimson Shroud (2012)
This game is so rich and atmospheric it feels almost like reading a fantasy novella. Part of that probably has to do with the amount of reading you have to do. . . The game has no voiceover, very little animation, and nothing in the way of traditional cutscenes. You get most of the narrative by reading on screen dialogues or just straight pages of text. Don’t let this dissuade you as the game never overstays its welcome and gives you just enough through beautiful music, tight prose, and sharp scenarios that your imagination can run with the rest. It allows the player to envision the world it describes with text and maps much like a game of D&D does. This is an example of a low budget working wonders for a game, because if this game was realized with HD visuals and fully detailed environments it would just be an OK JRPG. But since it’s presented as if Squaresoft made a D&D module, it becomes transcendent. And it neatly avoids the pitfall of most JRPGs: bloated playtimes.
3. Bayonetta 2 (2014)
I easily could have put Bayonetta 1 here, as it is just as good (in fact, in some ways it overshadows its successor), but Bayonetta 2 pushes everything to 11. The combat in this game is buttery smooth. The movement, the expressive combos, the camera, the art direction. . . Everything has been refined to a point of near action game perfection. And the scenarios are absolutely insane this time around. Case in point: there is a boss who wields a massive sword with his face on it and you end the fight by plunging that massive sword into his body repeatedly like an old maid churning butter. It can be hard to play other action games after playing Bayonetta 2 because, well, there aren’t many games that have the mouthfeel of this one.
4. Tatsunoko vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (2010)
Tatsunoko vs Capcom is the fighting game of choice for goldilocks. It exists in this magical space between the methodical complexity of Street Fighter and the F1-paced chaos of Marvel vs Capcom 2. TvC has super-jumping, ultra combos, tag-team matches, air-dashes, and the kaleidoscopic veneer you would expect from Marvel vs Capcom (or other anime fighters) but offers a better depth-to-complexity ratio than any Guilty Gear or KoF on the block. The game uses only three attack buttons, limits your pre-match choices to two characters, and features simplified fighting game inputs (no pretzels, 360s, or double half circles here) but it offers so much with that. Meter can be used offensively and defensively (sometimes at the same time!). Red health becomes an incredibly valuable tool (risk it to cancel into a powerful combo or tag out and let it recover) and the character roster is pretty much entirely viable and is so free of clones and flavourless fireball chuckers that it can excite even the most jaded fighting game enthusiast (A super hero that can turn into a car? A cleaning robot that can heal herself? A good grappler in a Vs. game?). It’s just the cherry on top that Tatsunoko and Capcom characters are among the most fitting counterparts (once you learn their histories) and that the game is a feature-packed audio-visual delight. Sincerely, one of my favourite fighting games of all time. It’s a shame it’s gone dormant since 2010.
5. The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa (2018)
The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa has, hands-down, the best dialogue I’ve read in a video game. It uses the trappings of River City Ransom (or Kunio-kun) to tell a story and build a world that is communicated both through dialogue and mechanically. You don’t need to tell me what your character is feeling when you made him lose his job, or when you maxed out his grades and in the process missed out on important events he could’ve partaken in. This is a game that knows when to talk and knows when to let you rest with it and take in what you’re experiencing. I don’t want to say too much. This is a special kind of game, one that has flaws sure, but its beautiful melancholy stuck with me as the most memorable game of 2019 (note: the Switch version released in 2019, the original release was 2018).
6. Yakuza 0 (2018)
It is rare nowadays that a game engrosses me so much that I play from the moment I get home to the moment I go to sleep. Yakuza 0 is one of those games. Yakuza 0 is a pizza milkshake that works. It blends bone-crunching beat-’em-up action with joyfully mundane fetch quests. It combines virtual tourism with host club management simulation. And it combines a gut-punching crime melodrama with some of the dumbest, wackiest shit in video games. Yakuza as a series is a brilliant combination of genres that ends up being much more than the sum of its parts.
7. Deadly Premonition (2010)
If Yakuza 0 is a pizza milkshake that works, then Deadly Premonition is a pizza milkshake that clearly doesn’t work, but you love it anyways. This is a game about charm, and how with the right balance of wit, tone, and character, charm can be everything for a game.
8. Super Mario 3D World (2013)
I sat down to play Super Mario 3D World with a good friend of mine a few years ago. We reached a level where we boarded a dinosaur and swam down some raging rapids with cheerful music, crystal clear water, and the enjoyable chaos of steering it together. After we reached the end, my friend looked over at me and said “can we just play that one again?” and so we did. About 3 more times (even after we got all 3 stars from it). I hadn’t replayed a level in a Mario game just because I enjoyed it since I was a kid. I don’t really need to say more about this game.
9. Monster Hunter (series 2010-present)
This decade saw Monster Hunter grow into a real defined series. It started with 2010’s Monster Hunter tri and the franchise slowly got a foothold until it exploded with 2018’s Monster Hunter world. I’ve loved all the Monster Hunter games I’ve played, and I’m still impressed with how finely tuned their combat mechanics are, how unique and exciting their monster encounters continue to be, and how lush and unique their world design is. I also like how I no longer have to go to bat for the series to convince people it’s worth their time. What was once a bit niche (in the west) has since become Capcom’s best-selling game ever.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
I always wanted to enjoy the Legend of Zelda series. I love the characters, lore, setting, music, and even the basic gameplay and premise. But in every game, I would run up against the same issue: I would get stuck, confused, or disoriented any time I tried to question the game’s logic. Old Zelda games are strictly tuned to the designer’s rules and laws and logic. The hookshot in Ocarina of Time doesn’t work on trees. Except that tree. Why? Because the designers said so.
This lead to a lot of frustration for me. I’d get hopelessly stuck and not know I was supposed to bomb a certain bush, or dig in a certain spot to open a door to the next area. And any other ideas I had about how to solve the next problem that weren’t the designer’s simply weren’t allowed. The game was giving me a lot of “no.”
Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game that just says “yes” to all the ideas you can come up with. All within the neat framework of mechanics it gives you in the opening hour of the game. How do you want to solve this puzzle? Maybe you want to chop down trees and build a bridge? Or maybe create blocks of ice? Or just pick it up with magnesis? The choice is yours and the game often gives you at least two ways to solve any puzzle. And if you can’t figure a puzzle out, don’t worry, there’s a world chock full of stuff to do. Nothing puts up a blockade. Nothing says “No, you can’t do that.” It lets you try.