Welcome to the fourth entry of our series on the best games of all time! Since Loresworn has only been around since 2015, but D.M. and T.J. have been having opinions about games much longer than that, we’re embarking on a journey through every year from 1980 to the present, listing our favorite games that came out each year. Every week we’ll be discussing a specific year, listing what we think are the five best games from that year. At the end of this saga, we will look over all the games from each year to create Top 25 Games of All Time lists for each of us, and a grand Top 100 Games of All Time to stand as Loresworn’s final word on the subject!
Be sure to check the last page for the current rankings in the Best Game-lympics, where we will be scoring the current leaders in the Platform, Developer, and Country of Origin categories based on where each of their games place on each year’s list.
Last Week: Best Games of 1991
May 20*: Best Games of 1993
*This series will be taking a week off next week as T.J. will be at PDXCon in Sweden.
T.J.’s Picks, #5 – #2
5. Dune II
This is another of those “Played it later as a curiosity” games, but it deserves a spot on this list for being the first, true real-time strategy game – at least as far as we’d define the genre today. Before Command & Conquer, before Warcraft, Westwood put us in control of the armies of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe (which is almost always an automatic plus for me) and introduced us to the concept of moving guys around from a top-down perspective to fight battles and conquer maps. While a primitive precursor to the genre in some ways, in others, it remains fairly sophisticated and interesting even today – particularly in the way it portrayed the unique geography of Arrakis and the challenges inherent in waging a war there.
4. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
There weren’t a lot of dudes out there who compared with Indiana Jones in my childhood. I so idolized the character that I even asserted at some point before growing a beard that I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. Fate of Atlantis thus remains one of the most memorable 90s adventure games, populated with mysterious and intriguing locations, a fairly sophisticated plot, and layered characters. It was a bit jarring that its version of Indy seemed to be a bit Saturday Morning Cartoon-ified, neither sounding like nor, particularly, acting like Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the character. But the slightly more light-hearted, slapstick-prone incarnation worked for the type of game Fate of Atlantis was trying to be. And in being that type of game, it did very well.
3. Mortal Kombat
It’s perhaps revealing that a lot of my top picks of the early 90s are in the pantheon of Games Your Parents Didn’t Want You To Play. And before Doom came along, Mortal Kombat was the king of that particular Mount Olympus. Street Fighter was colorful, fast-paced anime action. Mortal Kombat was gory, obscene, irreverent and over-the-top in every way. The fighting was fun and technical, with each character feeling stylistically and thematically unique. Introducing the concept of fatalities was like turning an antisocial junior high school student’s imagination loose on the problem of how to end a living being in creative and spectacular ways.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Better in just about every way than the original, Sonic 2 remains a landmark platformer of my yesteryears. Aside from the improved visuals and tighter-feeling movement, it featured some of the most creative, memorable, and challenging stages I’ve ever sprinted, jumped, and dashed through. It had a great soundtrack, creative boss fights, and more of that satisfying, kinetic feeling shared across all the 2D Sonic games. But best of all it had the Chaos Emeralds and Super Sonic. It’s hard to even describe the feeling of unlocking Sonic’s glowing, levitating ascended form for the first time. It was such an arduous process, even if you knew what you were doing. The opportunities to rush for an emerald were limited, and the bonus stages themselves – especially the later ones – were really difficult. But the reward was so worth it! Being invincible and getting to zip around popping enemies and levitating on spikes as Super Sonic would have felt like cheating, except that you knew you’d earned it by completing some of the most difficult optional levels you’d ever encountered. The lack of that, specific risk/reward mechanic is no small part of why later Sonic games have fallen flat for me. The feeling of going Super doesn’t mean half as much if it’s a scripted part of the game that you don’t have to work for.