Yes, sports themed video games are very popular. I get it, ESports is a thriving industry. Sure, even at a basic level, one of the best parts of video games is competing against people online and against friends locally. Actually…fine. You win. Maybe this isn’t exactly “un-sticking to sports.” Well you know what? I don’t care. Just read our panel’s top 3 video games of all time and let us know what your favorites are as well on Twitter – @PFOCulture.
Dave P. – It’s all about nostalgia
- Halo 2 – This came out in college where I could play with my friends in real life and online. Never a better feeling than sticky grenade-ing a friend. Now, as for game play, the single player campaign was actually pretty great. You dive a bit more into the mythos of the Halo Universe, but obviously this game was all about multiplayer. Halo was fine with multiplayer – if you had a LAN connection; otherwise, you were sitting on top of your friends on a 32 inch TV. However, the advent of Microsoft Online changed everything for this game. Honestly, if GoldenEye had an online feature, then maybe this gets top spot for best multiplayer game, but it didn’t. Halo 2 allowed me to play with anyone at anytime. When you’re in college, that’s a tremendous amount of freedom.
- Mario Kart 64 – Unlike Halo 2, I still play this game. Mario Kart is simple to learn, everyone loves it, and it makes a decent drinking game. I still remember the day I learned to drift, and I still won’t tell the wife how to do it because this game is that competitive. People will say GoldenEye and Ocarina of Time are the best N64 games, which is correct. However, neither of those have the intensity of playing Battle Mode 1v1 on the Volcano Donut track with one balloon.
- Pokemon – MissingNo., Game Sharks, Freezing Articuno (still makes no sense to me), having to force my little brother to trade with me so I could collect the original 150…you bet it’s a great game. Pokemon came to the States when I was in middle school, but even then I appreciated the forethought Game Freak had: make kids have two different versions of the game so they were either (a) forced to buy 2 versions of the game or (b) forced to meet other Pokemon Trainers (which must have thrilled parents). This was also my first JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game), which allowed me to expand my understanding of what video games could be. Pokemon was my gateway into Monster Rancher, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger.
Honorable Mentions: Gears of War, Star Fox 64
Brandon Apter – Nintendo domination
- Super Mario World – The first game I ever played as a kid, and it still has incredible replay value. I still own my Super Nintendo and have also played through the game again with a friend online. The nostalgia never fails.
- Mario Kart Double Dash (Gamecube) – While a lot of people prefer the Nintendo 64 version, I enjoyed the chaos of Double Dash. “Baby Park” races are always a toss-up, while “DK Mountain” is one of the best tracks of all time. Having two characters on a kart with special items is fun.
- Pokemon (Blue) – After watching the TV show and collecting the cards, I finally got the chance to play Pokemon Blue. An absolute classic, trying to “Catch ‘em all!” and beat the Elite 4 provided countless hours of fun. I still play Pokemon Go and enjoy trying to go back to the old games, until I get to Silph Tower. That building maze gets to me.
Honorable Mentions: NBA JAM, Sonic 2
Eric Marturano – Always adventuring
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – What can be said about this mind-bending sequel to Ocarina of Time that hasn’t already? For me, Majoras Mask not only represents an incredible creative achievement in what can come from limited means and tight deadline, but also a strange philosophy on life itself. In a continuously resetting world (a la Groundhog’s Day) in which a Doomsday Moon looms in the sky as a stark reminder of finality (literally, in a land called Termina), the more you help others in side-quests, the better prepared you are for the final battle. Take that to mean whatever you want, but this classic not only plays well, but makes you think about life itself.
- Metroid Prime – A game of both grand exploration and isolation, Metroid Prime is a masterpiece. From the first-person perspective of Bounty Hunter Samus Aran, you explore and learn about the planet Tallon IV, which has been corrupted by a weird blue sludge, Phazon. You fight, solve puzzles, and scan literally anything and everything you can to thwart both Space Pirates and a mysterious evil substance in a lost world. I try to get lost in this game at least once a year.
- Banjo-Kazooie – The first adventure game I ever played sticks in my mind as the gold standard of what a game can be. Fun characters and crazy music combined with linear task-based game play for fun at any age. I played this game with my father, and I intend to play it with my children. If you play it for more than an hour, good luck trying not to hum the music of Grant Kirkhope while you tackle day-to-day life activities.
Honorable Mentions: Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door, Mario Golf
Ben Dunst – Saving worlds in turmoil
- Fallout: New Vegas – This installment was the absolute peak of the Fallout franchise. The Fallout 3 framework was mastered by Obsidian Entertainment, and they made a borderline-unrealistic amount of improvements. The quality of life upgrades like simplified weapon repair and weapon modding (which was severely overdone in Fallout 4) made the entire experience work. The factions were far more interesting than any of the Bethesda installments. The weakened “Brotherhood of Steel,” the erratic “Families of the Strip,” the militaristic “NCR,” and “Caesar’s Legion,” the Citizen Kane-esque “Mr. House” all contribute to this balanced plot that makes you want to go back over and over to see what they all do. Characters like Benny, the sharp-dressed man who puts a bullet in your brain in the opening cut-scene, make the advancement of the plot enjoyable. However, characters like The King, who leads a gang of Elvis impersonators, and Rex, the lovable robot dog, bring the classic Fallout goofiness. The DLC takes this game to a whole new level, especially Lonesome Road, where a forgotten enemy leads The Courier down a trail he blazed a lifetime ago. My personal favorite moment is a tale told by a companion, Boone, the sniper. His story involves his wife being kidnapped and enslaved by “Caesar’s Legion.” He tracks her down, finds her bound, and with a tear, puts one shot between her eyes. Also, you can hit people with a “Nuka-Cola” sign. It’s a game filled with bugs, but you won’t mind them, I promise. Play this game.
- Bioshock – The series broke solidly into the mainstream with Bioshock: Infinite, but I believe the game peaked with its first installment. For a game with relatively simple combat, it never feels boring. How could it, when you’re shooting WASPS OUT OF YOUR WRIST? The decisions you make change the fate of everyone, and the tapes you recover throughout your journey fill in the haunting tale of a Rand-ian underwater city. The narrative’s climax may be the greatest in video game history. The characters encompass the larger-than-life feel of John Galt to perfection, and the bosses feel iconic while you’re battling them. A masterpiece of a narrative-driven game.
- Kingdom Hearts – For a young RPG nerd, this game was perfect. All the familiar Final Fantasy faces juxtaposing Donald Duck makes this game instantly recognizable and incredibly memorable. The combat was intuitive yet complex, and the spell codex out of Final Fantasy was just simple enough to keep all spells handy. Regardless of the game play, this series has become far larger than itself. Sora, Riku, and Kairi created the profile pictures of a generation of awkward nerds. With Kingdom Hearts 3 just coming out, I expect to feel like I’m seeing old friends. Other games may have been more innovative, more exceptional, but this game is singular in my life.
Honorable Mentions: Super Smash Brothers: Melee, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Adam Coey – Soundtrack expert
- Snowboard Kids – An off-the-beaten-path choice here but a personal favorite, Snowboard Kids may very well be the most-played game of my childhood. Think Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing but with more charming quirkiness while maintaining the same tight game play. The characters are cartoon-ish and delightful, and the soundtrack may be second only to Banjo Kazooie. My brother and I played this game so much, our child selves decided to pool our money for a GameShark Pro and figure out how make our own cheat codes. Infinite gold, infinite items, and the longest course on the maximum number of laps makes for a great night. The only other thing you could hope for is to correctly time the lift.
- Halo 3 – Halo 3 represented the finale of the trilogy for one the most popular and epic stories for a generation of gamer (and that’s just the campaign mode). Compared to the multiplayer experience though, the campaign felt decidedly “meh.” This game took everything good about the earlier Halo titles and made better versions of them while adding more to the experience. The sandbox of “Forge” mode made for infinite possibilities, and game play films allow the reliving and dissection of all the crazy events. Halo 3 was, to me, the ultimate LAN party game: make any rules on any map with any game mode, weapons, health, armor, speed, gravity, and vehicles. Let the good times roll.
- Diddy Kong Racing – “Hello friend.” Lovable cross-content Rare characters, some catchy tunes, and a giant, magic space-pig-wizard villain with a fondness for racing: what’s not to enjoy? The game is quick, clean, and fun. Its multitude of game modes and all their variations keep you hooked: races, battles, boss battle races, surprise worlds, silver coin races, mirror races, mirror silver coin races…the replay value just keeps coming in a way that says “This is for you.” It’s never a title you truly put away, just one to which you say “Bye bye for now.”
Honorable Mentions: Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64
Deibs – RPG’s for me
- Deus Ex – This game released when I was 16 years old (2000). I was looking for something deeper and more mature than the regulars such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, Banjo-Tooie, and Madden NFL 2001. The music, level design, top notch conspiracy story, and incredible RPG elements in Deus Ex are insane. You can truly play however you want with multiple methods of approaching each level. I love games when you can become completely engrossed with the mythos, its characters, and the environment. Some of the best gaming of my life came from running around the streets of Hong Kong. If you haven’t experienced it, then what are you waiting for? This is where my love for open world games was born.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Morrowind was released in 2002 from Bethesda Studios. Fresh off of Deus Ex, Morrowind blew my mind with its sheer size and replay value. You really can do whatever you want in this game. This was the first game where I felt truly lost. However, once you became familiar with the map and your inventory, everything else seemed to fall into place. In initial play-throughs, you would traverse different environments, meet new characters, and steal tons of ingredients while completely forgetting what the heck you’re supposed to be doing. Want to become a soldier? Join the “Fighters Guild!” Have a penchant for using magic? Join the “Mages Guild!” Want to become a stealth master? Join the “Thieves Guild!” Morrowind is such a huge experience that it makes it impossible to explain its impact in just a few sentences. No, the combat wasn’t perfect, but this is a masterpiece that must be played.
- Bioshock – When it comes to writing, sound, and story, this is a timeless classic. Progressing through the story and uncovering the mystery of “Rapture” is pure gold. There is such subtle and hidden mythology to be experienced after multiple play-throughs. The combat was a blast and the level design was incredible. However, the real draw here is the atmosphere. From the jump, you are thrust into a feeling of fear and claustrophobia. This was the first video game that made me think I was actually playing a piece of artwork.
Honorable Mentions: Uncharted 2, Half Life 2
Paul C. – Will lay the Smackdown on you
- Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 – Before WWE began to experience a gradual decline in ratings, THQ created games which were the epitome of battling with your friends in the ring (since we weren’t allowed to try it at home). Creating your perfect alter ego and dishing out punishment were some of the most fulfilling gaming experiences. SvR featured full customization, interaction with various objects and terrains, and a deep story line comparable to being a WWE Superstar. Easily one of my cornerstone games that will always be special to me in more ways than one.
- NBA Street Vol. 2 – Growing up playing less conventional sports games, NBA Street Vol. 2 was my introduction to the culture and dynamic of basketball as a whole. I grew to love the game through picking and choosing NBA superstars to join my team and take on the world one court at a time. Learning about the history of each court and the legends that graced them decades ago made me appreciate the game even more. The fast paced and dynamic game play was the pinnacle of what made basketball so important and cool to me. I owe my love of the game to the love of the streets (this might be a lyric, and if it isn’t, someone write this down).
- Skate 3 – I was a Tony Hawk junkie growing up. You name the game, I’ve played it til the CD stopped working. However, the interactive customization and open world game play of Skate 3 was what I had been dreaming of since I first nailed a 900 on my original PlayStation. Playing online with my friends in completely custom skate parks became the daily catch-up session we needed to keep our friendship active and connected. It simply felt real; your extremely realistic character riding next to your friends and expressing real time reactions to tricks and bails that would wake up the parents every single night. I’ll never apologize for my 1AM freak outs playing Skate 3; it was a return to my childhood that I got to experience as an “adult.”
James DiTucci – Heyyy Ocarina
- Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – When asked to rank your top three favorite movies, bands, or video games, there is a temptation to go off the beaten path. To choose something unique. To show why you are special and to give some insight into your own personality. However, sometimes the best choice is the clear choice. My favorite band of all time is The Beatles and my favorite video game of all time is Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, because of course it is. Ocarina of Time defined a generation of video games, and it defined the lens that I viewed video games through for the rest of my life. Ocarina modernized gaming in a few technical ways: it was a lifelike open world, and introduced Z targeting. However, what sticks with me more than anything, is the music. The game was centered around a magical Ocarina that played magical songs that could transport you from location to location, control the weather, and signal that you are in fact “The Hero of Time.” The music that played through my television speakers was even more magical than that. The “Hyrule Field” theme triggers the endless urge to adventure and explore (despite the fact that Hyrule Field itself is rather small). The somber, eerie “Song of Time” theme in “The Temple of Time” is as haunting today as a 24 year old as it was when I was six. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my favorite game ever because despite some of the dated graphics and game-play, the spirit and the soul of the game are still alive twenty years later. All I have to do to relive it is search the soundtrack on YouTube and hit play.
- Starcraft 2 – Starcraft 2 is on my list of favorite games ever because I have been playing it for eight years, and I am still bad at it. SC2, for the uninitiated, is a RTS (Real-time strategy) by “Blizzard” that debuted in 2010. The RTS genre is notoriously difficult and tedious and SC2 is no different in that respect. If you want to be good, your first few months playing the game should exclusively be spent making workers. After you master the art of making workers maybe, just maybe, you are ready to play the game and make a basic fighting unit or two. Once this game has dug its claws into you, expect your sleep schedule to suffer while you are up late watching tutorials, hour long best of sevens by the pros, staying up to date on the latest meta, and reading the lore. The lore and story mode feature incredible, real, and touching characters such as, the hero Marine turned Rebellion leader, Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, the “Queen of Blades,” and Jim Raynor’s lover, who was turned by the alien hivemind “Zerg.” SC2 is on my list of favorite games because of its constant challenge and replay value. Every ladder match is a new experience and a new challenge.
- Final Fantasy X – Final Fantasy X makes my list of favorite games ever simply because I love it. I’m not even sure it is a good game, but I am sure that I love it. The music, the corny dialogue, the unapologetic ridiculous costumes, give me all of it. This game is my childhood blanket. I was first introduced to it watching it over my older brother’s shoulder as a child. Shortly after beating the game, he moved across the country to live with our mother. He and I never had much of a relationship after that, but I played his game over and over again. 15 years later, it became an easy way for us to start to rebuild our relationship. On the game-play side, FFX is a wonderful ‘3D’ turn based JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game). It features a unique leveling system known as the “Sphere Grid” that lets you have control over how your party plays (my Kimahri was always a black mage + thief). This feature gives much more replay value than a traditional linear leveling system. FFX also featured my favorite mini-game of all time, “Blitzball,” which is basically underwater water polo. If Square just released a full priced $60 “Blitzball” game, I would buy it in a second. FFX makes my list because it is uniquely personal to me. It probably isn’t even the best Final Fantasy game, but it is in my top three favorite games of all time.
Honorable mentions: Bayonetta, Super Smash Bros. (N64)
Shane Sullivan – Gunslinger
- Halo – Asking me to pick my top three favorite video games is no easy task. I’ve played a ton of games, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few. I’ll start it off with Halo. I couldn’t pick one of them, so I’m going to take take the cowards way out and say Halo: The Master Chief Collection is my favorite one. This edition has the first four games on one disc, so technically it’s only one game, and I’d appreciate it greatly if no one called me out on this clear cop out (Editor’s note: choose a single game, you coward!). The campaign mode in the Halo series is extraordinary. It was possible to spend countless hours, with or without your friends, trying to beat the game on either the “Heroic” or “Legendary” difficulties. One of the main reasons Halo is on this list, however, is its lasting effect on the games that I play. As a kid, Halo was always being played, and even now I’ll occasionally find myself playing it. While in college, my three roommates and I would use the “create-a-map” feature to make “Hunger Games” style maps. We’d then load up four controllers, set our lives limit at three each, and have a “Hunger Games” style Halo experience. This was well before the Fortnite/Battle Royale craze, mind you, so I was well ahead of the curve. The possibilities of what you can do in Halo are endless though. It’ll always be a top tier game for me
- Red Dead Redemption – I’m not sure if Red Dead is more my favorite game or my favorite story. For that alone, I put it in my top three. Storytelling has become a huge element of video games, and more and more games are made with deep, riveting stories that leave lasting impressions. Red Dead tops all of them with their story of…you guessed it: Redemption. Between the story, characters, and gameplay, Red Dead will always be a world I’m interested in visiting.
- Alien Isolation – Horror games are my guilty pleasure, which is strange because I’m not that into horror movies. I enjoy horror games because I get to control the character and not make a bunch of terrible decisions that lead to my demise. Although, come to think of it, when playing I tend to make a bunch of terrible decisions that lead to my demise…hmm. First person horror games are the cream of the crop when it comes to this genre, and Alien: Isolation nailed it. I’m a huge Alien franchise fan, and I think most people can agree that the movies aren’t that scary compared to other notable horror films. However, the game is very frightening. “Alien” is unable to be killed (staying true to the original film). All you can do is run and hide as you navigate from objective to objective. What makes a great horror game is its ability to make you feel pressured. Sometimes this can be overdone, where you only want to hide and never actually gain progress. Alien, however, successfully makes you feel safe enough to inch forward while still being on the edge of your seat. If you can handle a little horror and jump-scare moments, I recommend it to everyone!
Honorable mentions: Metal Gear Solid 2, Oblivion
Dan Morgan – Remake FFVII already damnit!
- Final Fantasy VII – This was my easiest pick. The rest were difficult. Story: check. Graphics: check. Gameplay: check. Side quests/mini games: check. Replay value: check. This game had it all. I am likely to fall off the face of the earth when we FINALLY get the remake. Even just following the linear storyline is an enjoyable experience, but add in Chocobo breeding to obtain “Knights of the Round,” hunting down all of the “Weapons” and the impossible task of defeating Ruby and Emerald, acquiring all the characters’ final “Limit Breaks,” two secret optional characters, and an epic three (four if you’re being technical) stage final boss encounter; I’m not sure what else anyone could want in a game. This game was literally described as “the game that sold the ‘Playstation.’” Over 10 million copies later and a remake on the way, no one should question this game’s legacy and All Time Great status.
- Super Mario RPG – So many amazing Mario games yet I have to pick the only RPG, which shouldn’t surprise anyone based on my list. My love for Super Mario World, Super Mario Odyssey, and Super Mario 3, amongst others, is very strong. Super Mario RPG, however, was such a fun story, and had insane graphics at the time for a Super Nintendo game. I still have a physical copy of this game because I have to give it a run at least once a year.
- Destiny – While many prior contributors chose Halo, Destiny combined my love for first party shooters like Halo with RPG elements and also added in World of Warcraft-esque raids and team strategy dynamics unlike any other game I had ever played. Playing solo provided plenty of fun, a deep storyline, and good online competitive multiplayer. However, the concept of running 6-player cooperative raids was an entire other dimension and provided weeks and weeks of enjoyable play. It was tedious sometimes having to use online forums to build teams, but I never gave them much issue with it as using matchmaking to form a serviceable cooperative team that size doesn’t seem like a better formula. It’s a shame D2 was so disappointing.