AJ’s Picks: The 12 Best Games of the 2010s

With the end of 2019, the 2010s also finally came to a close. And now that I've looked back on all the great games of 2019, it's time to take a look back at the decade as a whole and talk about the titles that really stood out as the very best of the best. It may have been a long 10 years, with lots of changes in the gaming world, but it was chock full of gaming experiences that were absolutely second to none. While it may have pained me to narrow so many fantastic games down to only a dozen, I have done exactly that, just for you. Here are my picks for the 12 best games of the 2010s:

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing (2010)

  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Steam

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is actually one of the greatest kart racing games of all time - - and yes, that includes the Mario Kart franchise. Though it may be true that S&SASR probably never would have existed without Mario Kart to pave the way, just because a series created a genre, doesn't mean it's always the most outstanding example of that genre. Sonic & SEGA All-Star was able to surpass that series by taking everything that was great about Mario Kart and making it even better.

‚ÄčInstead of just focusing on one corner subset of SEGA's massive stable of great characters (like Nintendo did with theirs), SEGA decided to include a broad swath of popular choices from several of their different well-known properties. They did this with the stages too, offering a much more interesting and diverse set of locations in which to race. Each stage also featured an amazing level of detail and care that really fit the tone of the game from which it was taken, as opposed to just having more generic-looking tracks that just happened to share the same name as random characters in the game (also like Nintendo has done, for numerous uninspired stages over the years). Finally, with the addition of a multitude of unlockable bonuses and racing missions to participate in, in addition to the standard single and multiplayer racing options, Sonic Racing offered up a pretty significant amount more replay value too. I guess you could say that the main reason why Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is just better than Mario Kart is that, once again, SEGA did what Nintendon't.

Red Dead Redemption (2010)

  • Publisher: Rockstar
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, (Xbox One)

Before 2010, the Western was a genre of video games that had been attempted far too few times, and had been done right far fewer. Then came Red Dead Redemption, the mother of all Western games. A game unlike any that had come before. A game that people the world over were still playing months, if not years, after being released. In fact, this isn't the first time I've discussed on this site just how impactful and groundbreaking it was. The way Rockstar was able to make such an outstanding game was essentially by taking their earlier hit title, Grand Theft Auto IV, and simply converting it to a more rugged and rustic Old West setting. Though it certainly helped that they also wrote a superb original story and did plenty of research in order to create such an incredibly detailed and convincing world. In doing so, Rockstar created, both an instant classic, as well as the de facto standard that all future Western games should (and will) be measured by.

Rock Band 3 (2010)

  • Developer: Harmonix
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

The first Rock Band represented the natural progression of the instrument peripheral music genre Harmonix first popularized with the Guitar Hero series. It expanded things from a single instrument focus to the full band. Similarly, Rock Band 3, represented the natural progression from letting pretend bands just simulate the playing of instruments, to allowing people to form actual bands that could learn to play their instruments for real. But Rock Band 3 went beyond the guitar, bass, and drums that had become standard for the series, by adding keyboards to the mix as well. And that's not even all - - in addition to offering their own simplified guitar, drum set, and keyboard options, via their partner/publisher, Mad Catz, Harmonix also made it possible to play the game with real, professional, MIDI-compatible keyboards and drum sets.

But the real beauty of Rock Band 3 was that they didn't abandon the fun and fantasy of the previous games in the name of authenticity. The game was just all of that and more. It allowed players to make the experience as fun and as authentic as they wanted it to be. It was an instrument peripheral music game that catered to everybody; and it gave players more than any game before or since. Rock Band 3 didn't just represent the progression of the genre, it was the pinnacle. The best there ever was and, sadly, very likely ever will be.

Portal 2 (2011)

  • Developer: Valve
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Steam

The 2007 smash hit Portal was an absolutely phenomenal creation. It was one of those rare titles that took the gaming world by storm. The type of release that everybody everywhere knew and was talking about it. It was the kind of game that was so unique yet, so good, the developer would have been insane for even thinking they could ever top it. But somehow, in 2011, seemingly in open defiance of the very nature of reality itself, Portal developer, Valve, did exactly that. Portal 2 was every bit as good as the first, only more so. There were more stages, more characters, more physics, more of everything. Not only was it one of the greatest games of its own decade, Portal 2 (along with the first game) remains one of the most important games of all time.

Super Mario 3D Land (2011)

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: 3DS

If there was one absolutely standout game on Nintendo's 3DS system, it was Super Mario 3D Land. It did for the 3DS what New Super Mario Bros had done for the original DS, five years earlier - - it was the first and greatest killer app the system would see. Yet while New Super Mario Bros felt like a mostly standard extension of the classic 2D Super Mario games of old, Super Mario 3D Land was a proper, yet somehow superior, follow-up to the three-dimensional Mario Games that preceded it. It was just tighter and more polished, especially in comparison to Super Mario 64. And with the exception of the 3DS's stereoscopic effect, it lacked all of the silly gimmicks of Super Mario Sunshine and the Super Mario Galaxy games; and the stereoscopy could be turned off at any time. Basically, Super Mario 3D Land is the purest, most focused 3D Mario game ever created, which makes it both a modern classic, and one of the best games ever made, Mario or otherwise.

Persona 4: Arena (2012)

  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Platforms: Arcade, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

How do you create one the best fighting games of all time? Apparently, if you're Atlus, you start with yourself, one of the best JRPG publisher/developers of all time; team up with Arc System Works, one of the best fighting game developers of all time; take your own game, Persona 4, one of the best JRPGs of all time; and you set to work turning it into a kick-ass 2D arcade fighter. That's exactly what they did with Persona 4: Arena, and kick ass, it most certainly does. It has the style, story, and uniquely fantastic characters of Persona 4 and tosses it all into a brilliantly entertaining, and deep, yet accessible fighting game. It didn't matter whether you were a fan of RPGs or fighting games, either way, this was the game for you. While Atlus and Arc System Works did team up again to create an amazing follow-up title in 2014, the original is, and always will be, the best.

BattleBlock Theater (2013)

  • Developer: The Behemoth
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, (Xbox One, Steam)

You may recall from my 12th anniversary retrospective on the Xbox 360 that I recognized BattleBlock Theater as one of the 12 finest reasons to have ever been fortunate enough to own that console. It should come as little surprise then that I've listed it as one of the 12 finest games of the decade as well. As I said of it then:

  "2013's BattleBlock Theater was a hilariously-narrated, somewhat-horrifying puzzle-platformer about a character named Hatty Hattington and his friends who are shipwrecked during a storm. After washing ashore, Hatty becomes possessed by an evil hat, while his friends get captured by villainous cats who force them to navigate dozens of deadly stages for their amusement. With plenty to offer, including single-player and co-op (in addition to several versus modes), and even a level editor, BattleBlock Theater is about as off the wall brilliant as they come."

The Last of Us (2013)

  • Developer: Naughty Dog
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3, (PlayStation 4)

As one of the very best games of the decade, of course The Last of Us also made the top 12 from my PlayStation 3 retrospective. Here's why:

  "After wowing gamers with not just two entries, but an entire trilogy of unbelievably great Uncharted games, the [Naughty Dog] then decided to focus their incomparable skills on the creation of another new franchise, The Last of Us. A survival horror adventure about a man and a teenage girl's harrowing trek across America following a zombie-esque apocalypse. Some of the highlights of the game include the same exceptional attention to graphical detail and brilliant storytelling that made their Uncharted series such a sterling success. Add to that the impeccable sound design and a highly entertaining multiplayer mode and it's no surprise why The Last of Us remains one of the most lauded games ever to grace the PlayStation 3. It was also one of the system's last big hits before the arrival of it's successor, the PlayStation 4."

Bayonetta 2 (2014)

  • Developer: PlatinumGames
  • Platforms: Wii U, (Switch)

Of all the crazy Japanese action games out there, Bayonetta 2 might just be the craziest...and one of the most fun. Despite the first game, a multi-platform release for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, being very well-received and pretty all-around outstanding, the sequel likely wouldn't have ever occurred had Nintendo not stepped up and offered to help fund its creation. As a result, Bayonetta 2 came into being as a Wii U exclusive; and Nintendo got to help create, not only what was arguably the best title to ever grace their underrated, yet ill-fated console, but one of the very best action games ever made.

Forza Motorsport 6 (2015)

  • Developer: Turn 10
  • Platform: Xbox One

The Forza Motorsport series has reigned comfortably as the undisputed king of racing for many years now. Though it did see an unfortunate dip in quality with the last entry, for the most part, the series has gotten better and better with each and every release. What this all means is that 2015's Forza Motorsport 6 is the high point for the series so far. That entry saw the fantastic, unparalleled racing the series is so famous for polished to absolute perfection; and the game included more of everything you would expect. More cars, more tracks, new driving conditions... Basically, you would have to try very hard not to fall in love with it. Not only was Forza Motorsport 6 the best racing game of the decade, it may just be the best racing game of all time.

Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)

  • Developer: Guerrilla
  • Platform: PlayStation 4

I can't talk about Horizon Zero Dawn without comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They were both AAA console exclusives that released right around the same time in 2017, but the similarities don't end there. Both games were also action-adventure titles set in a vast, post-apocalyptic wilderness full of ancient technology. And they both featured similar weaponry, such as bows and arrows, bombs, and spears. But while both games may have been good enough to make my Best Games of 2017 list, only Horizon: Zero Dawn appears on my best games of the decade one. That's because, while each game was quite entertaining and well-made in its own right, I simply had to give the edge to Horizon: Zero Dawn.

‚ÄčAs another entry in the long-running and much-beloved Zelda series, Breath of the Wild just felt a bit lacking, especially with regards to some of the missing features and feel of earlier titles. This fact remains true, even despite all the positive new features and changes it introduced. As a completely brand new property, Horizon: Zero Dawn didn't have that problem. In addition, even taking into account the novelty and literally hundreds of hours of gameplay it offered, Breath of the Wild had a tendency to feel quite repetitive after a while with all of its carbon copy enemies and shrines littering every inch of the landscape. By contrast, HZD did a fantastic job keeping things fresh by continually introducing new locations to visit, enemies to fight, and weapons to defeat them with.

That isn't to say that Breath of the Wild isn't great. I actually think it's one of the best Zelda games ever made. But the fact that there was a similar game, that same year, that is somehow better than one of the best? Well that makes Horizon: Zero Dawn one of the best games of all time, and, certainly, one of the best of the decade.

Super Smash Bros - Ultimate (2018)

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: Switch

You might remember that Super Smash Bros - Ultimate took the number 1 spot on my Best Games of 2018 list. Even now, over a year later, Nintendo is has kept me hooked on the game with a steady stream of new content (and even more planned, over the next year) - - and I am still just as insanely impressed by it as I was then:

  "So much more than a game series, Smash has been a way of life since its second installment on the GameCube. While each of the two previous entries added new characters, they both had characters cut as well. True to its name, Smash Bros - Ultimate made up for this (and then some) by not only adding several additional great new fighters to the mix, but also including every single previous fighter, ever; resulting in a mind-smashing total of 74 characters. In addition, the game featured the vast majority of stages from every prior Smash game as well (even the ones previously exclusive to the 3DS). Who knows if there will ever be another Smash game after this one? Even if not, they certainly ended things on a heck of a high note. Super Smash Bros - Ultimate is the only Smash game you will ever need. Period."

So, those are my choices. While you may have a difference of opinion about whether or not some of these are, indeed, the very best games of the last decade, you would be very hard-pressed to deny that these are all truly excellent titles. Still, I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts about them and would love for you to share your own picks in the comments below.

[Images: Rockstar, SEGA, Harmonix, Valve, Nintendo, Atlus, The Behemoth, Naughty Dog, PlatinumGames, Turn 10, Guerrilla]

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