Super Mario Bros 3
An early summation of Nintendo’s creativity, no 2D game has so many brilliant ideas thrown at it, including a new level structure that could hold them all.
Its levels mercilessly dissect and reform the platformer, working every conceivable test for players into their thoroughfares and diversions. Forget the Tanooki suit: what about a literal Frogsuit Being a Hammer Brother
Even Nintendo could only refine 2D Mario after this, the one 8bit game that still shines today, no caveats required.
Though the quickfire, stripped-down Civ Rev intelligently brought Civilization into sharp focus for a new audience, it’s IV that we keep going back to.
Deeper and more nuanced, IV carefully reconfigured a ruleset that had become punitive and over reliant on micromanagement, and committed us again into possessive obsession.
Expanding cultural boundaries is as absorbing as forcing borders wider through armed conflict, making the appearance of Elvis as great a cause for celebration as creating your first tank.
By stripping out the petty side to running an empire, IV always keeps the bigger picture of your delighted meddling with history to the fore, making it the best of the series – and the genre.
Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warfare
The greatness of Infinity Ward’s COD series is often attributed to its sense of spectacle and pyrotechnics. Modern Warfare has this, but its most profound moments are its quietest: shooting sleeping sailors, listening to whispered encouragement as you snipe an arms dealer, and the flat, bored “That’s a hit” that breaks the insulated silence of a gunship.
Multiplayer is noisier but just as refined, chaos and strategy balanced, the perks system endlessly tweakable and rewarding. The god of the war genre.
World Of WarCraft
Blizzard’s take on the fantasy MMOG has, for over ten million players, almost become the principal function of their PCs.
From the gentle early personal questing to the broad and compelling PvP end game, it’s all wrapped up in Blizzard’s careful, accessible game design.
Silicon Valley wags have dubbed it ‘the new golf’ for its parallels as a social network – certainly, it’s now embedded so firmly in gamer culture as to be a paradigm, raising the MMOG stakes with every new expansion.
You might not think it, but Super Metroid is a paean to loneliness. Or is it panic Or claustrophobia Proof positive that you don’t need 5.1 and HD for an atmosphere, Samus’ back-and-forth descent deeper and deeper into Brinstar is an exercise in pressure and tension.
Its other great trick, the upgrades that eventually transform Samus into a power-suited god, is always balanced against the fact that more power means travelling deeper, closer to the ultimate nightmare of the Mother Brain.
Unsettling, occasionally terrifying, and still irresistible, risk and reward are rarely played off each other so well.
Rock Band 2
Three friends and beer are the accessories that catapult Rock Band 2 to a different level of multiplayer experience.
For as long as you take care of yourselves, Harmonix’s eye for detail, ear for a tune and nose for how people actually play games socially take care of everything else.
Apart from its better notation, it’s RB2’s unwavering eye on the goal of making you feel like you’re in a band that sets it apart, an eye that frees the song list from having to focus on heavy rock and metal, and from presenting players with features that distract from its primary attraction: playing in the band.
Street Fighter IV
To call Street Fighter IV the pinnacle of reimaginings is faint praise: it’s a rethink of the 2D fighter from the ground up, one with the confidence to enable rather than frustrate players.
By simplifying inputs, lengthening combo windows and adding an easily executed, totally flexible, Focus attack, SFIV opens up the depth of the genre to all-comers without ever compromising the system’s depth or fidelity.
Finally, fighting is about fighting your opponent rather than the joystick. Finally, Street Fighter’s back.
Left 4 Dead
It may be the only online experience outside RPGs in which personality is more important than skill. The player who’s a cowardly wretch becomes an almost essential role in your own brilliantly traumatic, draining horror tale, alongside the gung-ho fool and the unflappable veteran.
Survival or death drift away from their usual equation to winning or failing as you find yourself in a drama as taught and involving as any of Valve’s singleplayer efforts.
L4D’s design compels co-operation like no other online game. The results may just tell you more about your friends than you wanted to know.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Rockstar knows that better open worlds don’t just mean bigger sandboxes to smash.
GTAIV brings us a Liberty City that is a bustling, heaving creature in its own right. More profoundly considered than in any other GTA before it, the city here is a breathless mix of simulation, exultation and satire that effortlessly envelops the player.
Sure, you can still mount the curb to bounce peds off bonnets, or leap from a helicopter on to the Statue of Happiness’s face, but Rockstar’s triumph is that such actions feel incongruous in the ruins of the American Dream – a place you call home.
LBP can charm just about anyone. Children are entranced dressing its sackcloth dolls and knocking things over, while engineers can build astonishing systems of switches to form nascent CPUs. And then there are the storytellers and the spectacle makers, the Trophy whores and the fanboys – oh, and it seems to satisfy game designers, too.
LBP’s blend of accessible game-making tools and an aesthetic that marries Metal Gear with Dia de los Muertos has proven as fascinating and revolutionary as it promised, and it’s getting even better, as new DLC and users’ imaginations expand its horizons by the day.