Minecraft has united the world in a way few pieces of entertainment have in the history of planet earth. Minecraft is the best selling videogame of all time, yet it represents something different to everyone who experiences it. Minecraft is at once an organic bonding tool for parent and child, a canvas for vast in-game political kingdoms, a training space for budding engineers, and a hostile playground where there are friends to make and monsters to slay.
Minecraft is a classroom tool, a game used by city-planners, a slate where the entirety of London was recreated for virtual denizens. Yet accessibility and infinite variation does not alone make Minecraft great. Minecraft’s sweeping vistas, craggy depths and sinking oceans inspire a wonder closer to Lewis and Clark’s than most of us will feel in our lives. Gaze upon this blocky land, for it is ours to shape, foster, and make good. Minecraft, more than any game before it and more than the hundreds of games it would come to inspire, is a world where human ambition can soar.
Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter’s neon-soaked world is sullen, dreary, and forlorn. “The Drifter,” the game’s protagonist, is a pseudo stand-in for the game’s creator, Alex Preston. both suffer from diseases that could kill them in an instant. The game’s art style and rich pastel color scheme are among the industry’s best, and its action-combat is challenging, visceral, and a fitting analogue for an in-game character on the verge of collapse.
Death and life stand in grave tension throughout the game’s 12-hour runtime, and in many ways, Hyper Light Drifter feels like the complete maturation of the indie sphere’s creative obsession with abstractly presented inner turmoil and lush pixel art.
Before it is a Metroidvania, Hollow Knight is a masterclass of immersive world design. Every inch of the game’s bug-sized setting, Hollow Nest, is full of both hopelessly macabre grit and loveable characters who are doing their best to live another day. Hollow Knight is the pinnacle of the game design principles that began all the way back with the first Metroid game, but unlike the latest Metroid or Castlevania, Hollow Knight feels fresh and vital. It isn’t held back by more than two decades of franchise tradition. From the game’s fluid, punishing combat and the layered, adaptive score, to the game’s maddeningly creative boss battles, Hollow Knight is the best Metroidvania ever made.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us feels like a narrative watershed moment for mainstream video games.
Developer Naughty Dog proved with Uncharted that they can write believable characters, but with The Last of Us, they proved capable of creating a world and narrative of equal heft. The game tells a story that cuts to the heart of human selfishness with a protagonist, Joel, who is equal parts empathetic and despicable. The game is confident enough with the moral questions it presents to leave the player with an ending that offers no proud resolution, all backed by a combat system with more punch and weight than most of its contemporaries. The Last of Us so often relishes in quiet moments of character development, a restraint so rare in high-budget video games.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Breath of the Wild may have laid to rest the tired Zelda formula, but A Link Between Worlds exemplifies was the first Zelda title to exemplify the best elements of open-world design with confidence and, in many ways, more successful results than its 2017 counterpart. A Link Between Worlds never falls into repetition or barren world design; its combat is punchy and fast, and its dungeons are among the most inventive the series has ever seen. This is 2D Zelda at its absolute best.
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is a story of complicated love for the American South. Conway, an antique delivery man, and his dog find themselves hopelessly lost on the Zero, a fictional Kentucky highway where neither time, matter, or meaning are as they seem.
Kentucky Route Zero is slow, ponderous, and in many ways unknowable; it teases greater questions about capitalism, isolation and companionship through whispers and imagery, never through overbearing monologues or straw-men. Kentucky Route Zero has much in common with a Faulkner novel; both show a deep love and appreciation for the beauty of the American South, but present its thorns and spikes with no apology. And like a Faulker novel, Kentucky Route Zero’s confusing structure and abstract whims reward those with the patience to unravel its hazy mystery.
In many ways, Portal 2 is the opposite of its predecessor. Portal 2 is long, story-driven, and cinematic where the first Portal was concise and quaint. This sequel feels like lightning in a bottle; 2011 Valve harnessed the greatest writers, artists and level designers in the industry to craft a tale that would not work in any other medium. Portal 2’s atmosphere, slow worldbuilding and satisfying puzzles are essential to its narrative, and it stands as one of the chief arguments for the worth of video games as a medium.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 boasts the most (and best) tracks in the series history, the most compelling core mechanics in a Mario Kart title, beautiful lighting and graphical sheen, and a stunning focus on detail in every nook of every racecourse. In an industry where even a remake of the beloved Crash Team Racing is bogged down by predatory microtransactions, Mario Kart 8 is a reminder that a no-nonsense commitment to quality and consumer-first practices still has a place in the games industry. Mario Kart 8 is one of the greatest party games of all time, but it is also artisan in areas no other company would bother. It is a true delight to race down the frigid “Mount Wario,” Mario’s moustache literally blowing in the wind as a swelling orchestra reminds the player: even Mario Kart is a testament to videogames as a vital artform.
There is no game like Tearaway. It faces stiff competition for the best platformer of the decade, but its sincerity, brazen commitment to its papercraft artstyle, well-written characters and heartfelt themes set it apart from any Mario game released this decade. Developer Media Molecule has always preached the value of imagination, compassion, and whimsy in its games; Tearaway, with its clever puzzles, whimsical characters, and kooky platforming, is a testament to a developer with a singular vision for a world that takes itself a bit less seriously.
Doom eschews more than a decade’s worth of first-person-shooter design trends to deliver a refreshingly simple experience: shoot demon, jump high, shoot demon, demon explode. Sometimes Doom shakes it up: punch demon, jump high, punch demon, demon explode. Ten hours of this with expert pacing, intense combat, an excessively gory presentation, and hilariously over the top criticism of unfettered capitalism make Doom one of the standout shooters of the decade.