It wasn’t until I read Ben’s top 10 it really hit me how long the 7th generation of gaming actually was. This generation began when I was a senior in high school, and since then I’ve graduated college, grown exponentially as a person, and somehow have begun enjoying video games even more than when I had all the free time in the world. It’s also made me a bit more harsh, jaded, and critical of the games I tend to play, almost requiring myself to shut my brain off to remember “Hey, this is still about having fun.” Luckily, Gen 7 had no shortage of genuinely fantastic games that didn’t require me to shut my brain off. Here are the 10 I deem to be the best of the bunch.

10. Company of Heroes

At the time of this game’s release, I wasn’t really into real-time strategy games, and I was of the opinion that World War 2 was a stale setting. So it’s not just remarkable that I enjoyed this game, but more so that it resonated with me almost 8 years after it released. It made strategy games feel intense again because of the the way the landscape completely changes after a battle. Entire towns would be decimated, explosions would launch bits and pieces of bodies, and remind you that just because a setting is stale doesn’t mean the game can’t do something novel. In fact, Company of Heroes is still one of the most unique games in the genre.

9. Team Fortress 2

If there is a game that has changed as much I have changed as a person, it’s Team Fortress 2. Almost unrecognizable from the game that launched in 2007 with The Orange Box, Team Fortress 2 is a bustling ecosystem for Valve’s hat selling black market, and a variety of crazy loot. Underneath all that is a brilliant class-based first person shooter that genuinely rewards and forces teamwork on its players, while oozing personality out of every pore. There was a time between 2008 to 2010 when it could be argued Team Fortress 2 was the most balanced FPS on the market. As it stands now? Still excellent. Way too many hats.

8. Super Mario Galaxy 2

When I was finished with the original Super Mario Galaxy, I was sure Nintendo had officially hit their peak with Mario. That it would all be downhill, as they couldn’t possibly top the imaginative and creative level design of the Galaxy. Sure, they could make a game harder, but certainly not more creative. In comes Super Mario Galaxy 2 to promptly tell me I’m wrong, and I should never bet against Nintendo. The wizards over at the Mario factory created a sequel that offered a more diverse range of challenges, levels, stars, secrets, and the whole 9 yards to the point where it straight outclasses its predecessor. I’d argue that there is no way Mario can go higher than Mario Galaxy 2, but I know how things ended for me the last time I said that. Until Mario’s next mind-blowing adventure, Galaxy 2 is the greatest 3D platformer of all time. No one else need apply.

7. Super Street Fighter IV

IN-DE-STRUCT-IBLE is how I felt any time I got a victory in Super Street Fighter IV. While I still suck at fighting games, it hasn’t changed that Street Fighter IV was the game that got me more into fighting games than I ever was in the past. The purity of one-on-one competition, the brilliant mechanics layered on top of each other to create a sophisticated gameplay engine that could offer the player new things years after the initial release, and of course my homegirl Juri. Sure, I didn’t quite enjoy getting triple perfected by Aljosa, but I’ve become a lot better at the game since then. I swear, I suck way less.

6. Valkyria Chronicles

I’m not the biggest fan of the traditional JRPG, but the strategy RPGs in the vein of Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, and things like Shining Force? That’s my jam. It’s a genre I openly go out of my way to try to consume, and sometimes I’m punished for it by playing something lame like Disgea. In other instances, I’m rewarded with something terrific, unique, and nothing like anything else I’ve played. Valkyria Chronicles was that game in 2008, and it remains a gem to this day. Combining third-person shooter mechanics with turn-based strategy should have been conflicting elements that doomed the game, but instead Valkyria nails both elements effortlessly. To say nothing of how varied the game is, how brilliant the soundtrack is, how appealing the art style is would be a tragedy to this classic. The bigger tragedy? IT SOLD POORLY. I’m still waiting on a true sequel to the game on consoles. Throw me a bone Sega, and give this series the treatment that it deserves. Also The Bonnet (Alicia), so awesome.

5. Super Meat Boy

A platformer higher on this list than the greatest 3D platformer of all time? Actually yes, you see that’s because Super Meat Boy has stiffer competition for being the greatest 2D platformer of all time. Now Super Meat Boy doesn’t quite hit that high, but it’s still one of the greatest platformers I’ve ever played. It’s mechanically one of the tightest games this past generation, with slick controls that make moving around in Meat Boy’s world an effortless affair. Those same slick controls are exactly why Super Meat Boy can demand the player work for every inch, as the game routinely challenges you level after level rarely throwing you something easy. Also, no bullshit bird levels or motion control nonsense. Thus, a better game than Super Mario Galaxy 2.

4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl

Shadow of Chernobyl was the gem of the 2007 releases, and easily the best first-person shooter of generation. Why? Because it showcased ballistics that were stylized, but every bit as deep and engaging as “sims” like ARMA. It offered a shooting experience that required you to pace your shots, account for distance, the quality of your weapon, and above all else, it made shooting a gun feel powerful by making it skillful again. That it offers level design that, on its initial look, can be simplistic to the point of feeling non-existent is one of the games’ greatest strengths. Because the simplistic but elegant nature of the environments and the unobtrusive nature of the game means that the enemy AI gets to dictate how battles play out, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s enemy AI plays second fiddle to no one. It’s a brilliant shooting experience that is expertly designed (do not confuse the lack of polish for lack of design quality) and offers something the rest of the genre doesn’t come close to delivering. Also, the X18 labs scared the shit out of me.

3. Braid

John Blow’s 2008 indie puzzle game opened the floodgates for my love, admiration, and sheer joy for everything and anything indie games. In many ways, it showed to me the credibility of smaller projects, that a game like Braid could easily be the best games of its respective year, and Braid is good enough to be one of the three best games of its generation. Expertly crafted puzzles that challenge the player to think outside of the box with Braid’s simple but effective mechanics. The game routinely finds ways to have the player staring right at the answer, only to have the player punish themselves from overthinking it. While the game doesn’t really offer the cleanest example of brilliant writing, I did find the story elements to be effective, especially the ending. Given how obsessive an individual Johnathan Blow can come off as in his interviews and discussions on video games, it’s easy for me to follow along with what he was intending with Braid. Braid is, to this day, the gold standard that shows why an indie game can be excellent, and that makes it one of the true must plays of the generation.

2. Demon’s Souls

Atmospheric, frightening, tense, and all sorts of punishing; Demon’s Souls was a breath of fresh air in the retail space for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest was the mindset that drove the game. In an era where failure in gaming had become a speed bump, Demon’s Souls made it a meaningful part of the gaming experience again. It went beyond just game over screens, or restarting from a checkpoint, and into the territory of a learning experience. Sure, there was the obvious level of frustration from losing all your souls that made death a genuine punishment again, but it was the opportunity to learn something new about the game that makes Demon’s Souls a true joy. Throw in what was, at the time, the most unique use of online multiplayer, some of the best boss fights, and in my opinion, the best combat in any RPG of any kind, and you had a game that I couldn’t possibly put down. Every death was a moment to get my Johnny Cash on, and show every menacing enemy in that game that there was no grave that could hold me down.

1. Bayonetta

Sexy, stylish, and satisfying are among the plethora of adjectives I’d use to describe what playing Bayonetta is like: imaginative, hilarious, elegant, dazzling, exuberant, dynamic, but the one above all of them is that I think it is the best game this generation had to offer. The 3D beat-em up quickly became one of my favorite gaming genres after Hideki Kamiya’s Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta was excellent enough to rank among the best the genre has had to offer (take your pick between it, Ninja Gaiden Black, and Devil May Cry 3, because any other game is incorrect). The game offers a combat engine with just about any animation cancel one could think of, an ocean’s worth of depth, a variety of weapons that were all enjoyable to use, and a whole mouth full of crazy. There are mid-game boss fights in Bayonetta that could have just as easily been the final bosses in other games, and that ending? Few things offer the type of spectacle that Bayonetta does, and even fewer can offer that same spectacle while offering you a satisfying way to play it all.

Bayonetta is absolutely divine when it comes to its gameplay, and sure the character has her shortcomings. Maybe she’s a little overkill in her sexualization, but I also appreciate the fact that she’s funny, entertaining, sassy, witty, and all around an actual character. The soundtrack ranged from offering you music that made every fight feel, for the lack of a better term, “epic”, and hey I thought Fly Me To the Moon was catchy, and Bayonetta absolutely felt like I was playing among the stars.

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