We’re back with the fifth 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 1993
Next Week: Best Games of 1995
T.J.’s Picks, #5 – #2
5. SimCity 2000
While I appreciate the original SimCity for what it is, SimCity 2000 is where I really dove into the franchise. It was the first city management game I played for dozens upon dozens of hours – not even really understanding many of its systems, but content to poke and prod at a living sandbox and see what happened. The 2.5-D isometric graphics gave it more of a feeling of being a real place you could peer down at, as opposed to some kind of abstract, board game representation of a town. You could watch little cars zip around in a way that looked realistic enough I didn’t even realize they weren’t proper agents within the game until more recent city builders have boasted that theirs actually are. And of course, you could call down a giant robot to smash it all, which was the virtual equivalent of knocking over the block castle you just built with a Godzilla action figure. That’s always the best part.
4. Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
Wing Commander was already great. Wing Commander III built upon that greatness in a huge way by introducing full motion video cut-scenes featuring some A-list sci-fi talent. The writing hasn’t held up flawlessly by modern standards, but the storytelling flair and presentation was a league above just about everything else out there at the time. I mean, it had Luke freaking Skywalker in it! Alongside the best iteration of the series’ 3D space combat yet, it was a pairing fit to be called an all-time classic. Heart of the Tiger was so good that I agonized about putting it only fourth on this list. But hey – ’94 is a tough year, and we’ve got lots more of those ahead. From here on, we’re talking about a game of inches in a lot of cases.
3. WarCraft: Orcs and Humans
Compared to later games in the series, the original WarCraft is fairly unimpressive. The graphics were hard to parse. The mechanics weren’t terribly nuanced. The story was bare-bones, just kind of existing to hang a gameplay framework on – very different from the kind of narrative epicness Blizzard would come to be known for later down the line. But at the same time, it let you unleash a bunch of sword dudes to fight orcs and demons across sprawling maps while trying to maintain a feudal economy that would be the basis for so much to come. It introduced us to Azeroth, which would go on to be one of the richest and most beloved high fantasy universes in any medium. It would be blown clear out of the water by two, spectacular sequels, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t fully earn a spot on this list.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
Sonic 3 by itself was an outstanding platformer with inventive levels, memorable bosses, and fun, outside-the-box obstacles to overcome. When you hooked it into the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge and played them together as one, huge, epic game, however… it became the pinnacle of the series without question and possibly the best 2D platformer of all time. It was sprawling in scope. The gameplay differences between Sonic and Knuckles gave you totally new ways to go about completing levels. And best of all, the jewels in the proverbial crown: it had the Super Emeralds. As if collecting the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 2 to become Super Sonic wasn’t awesome enough, S3&K let you give up that power and complete even more devious bonus stages to upgrade your emeralds and unlock Hyper Sonic and Knuckles. It was such an arduous, patience-testing side objective (arguably an Easter egg considering how much of a pain it was to complete) that the payoff was pure elation. It’s one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my entire gaming career. I’ll never forget the day I unlocked and transformed into Hyper Sonic for the first time. That moment alone would make this an easy call for my best game of 1994. That is, if it weren’t for the fact that it sits in the shadow of a genuine godsdamn masterpiece…