We’re back after taking a week off for Denver Comic Con with the seventh entry in 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 1995
Next Week: Best Games of 1997
T.J.’s Picks, #5 – #2
5. Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Red Alert brought together an evolution of the original C&C’s mechanics and a storytelling flair on par with Wing Commander – full motion video and all. It was hard to go back to older RTSes once Westwood opened the box on the idea that it didn’t have to be a pain in the ass to do literally anything in this type of game. And the delightfully absurd alternate history made for an unforgettable, somewhat madcap campaign scenario. I mean, it had freaking Stalin in it. And Albert Einstein time-traveling to kill Hitler. What ever happened to that breed of game writing?
“Oh, you’re not ready for The Butcher.”
Those words, uttered by an older relative of one of my elementary school friends who first introduced me to Diablo, still echo in my head today. It may seem silly now, but for a seven-year-old in the 90s, Diablo was fucking scary. Legitimately. It did a terrific job of presenting Tristram as this gloomy, foreboding place with all kinds of unspeakable evil and horror buried beneath. The various boss demons were alluded to in frantic conversations with townsfolk that encouraged you to build a mental image far more terrifying than anything the engine could render. When I finally stumbled into The Butcher’s lair, all it took was the utterance of “Fresh meat!” to send my skin crawling, as my brewing nightmares blended with the pixels in front of me. Diablo fully deserves the title “Lord of Terror”, as the game bearing his name was the first to ever truly terrify me.
3. Pokemon Red and Blue
There are only so many times in my life I’ve been fully aware that I was participating in the start of a phenomenon. Often, you come along after the train has already gotten going, or don’t realize how big your current passtime is going to get. When I first plugged Pokemon Red into my Game Boy Color, it took me less than an hour to realize I was holding something special. It’s another one of those experiences that’s hard to contextualize if you weren’t around before it changed things forever. With a richly detailed world that made kids feel empowered, 151 unique creatures to collect, trade, and evolve, and a complex, rock-paper-scissors-based RPG battle system that forced you to plan ahead and work hard for a very long time to develop an optimal team, Pokemon is undoubtedly a watershed moment in gaming history. It’s a testament to how stacked ’96 was that it lands behind two other games.
2. Resident Evil
The original Resident Evil was a fantastic onion to peel back, and the most successful entries in the franchise since have really followed that example. You start out getting trapped in a spooky mansion, but by the end you’re dodging mutant sharks in a crazy, underground laboratory. Its deadly enemies, deliberately cumbersome controls and camera, and lack of ammunition really sold the horror element of the survival genre’s oft-cited progenitor, really forcing you to run and hide just as often as you had the luxury of fighting. Diverse, creepy environments and clever puzzles kept you guessing and ensured that the oppressive, shirt-wringing atmosphere never really let up. And the enemy designs always had new surprises in store, making you wish you weren’t running for your life so you could truly admire them.