10 Games From the Last 10 Years I Should’ve Ranked Higher

I thought I’d never do this, but ten years gives you a bit of a stretch to think.

It takes time, careful consideration and countless drafts to finalise an annual videogame countdown; some would say such an abundance of effort is a waste. But as far as I’m concerned it’s all fine and dandy, because the result is a ranking that might as well be cast in iron. Once published, it’s not just that I back my choices confidently; the order I’ve chosen becomes unquestionable canon within my head, ready to reference at a moment’s notice as if it was as tangible and unchanging as a musty library book on a shelf.

But I’m also human, and looking back on a decade worth of Game of the Year countdowns earlier this year pushed up an eyebrow or two. Not only that, but the absences of a few great games I played too late from some past years’ lists now stick out as annoying missed opportunities under the cold glare of hindsight. But what if there was a way for me to purge those small frustrations – gathering as they have over years – via a nice neat list? Well, luckily there is, and you’re about to read the result.

Of course there’s always a danger with this kind of project that picking at one thread will unravel several more. So to avoid a chaotic, sprawling tinker-fest and the potential 50+ item list that may have produced, I set up a few tiny rules:

  • Games that might have hypothetically risen up a list just because I overrated titles appearing above them cannot qualify – no Steven Bradburys here, positive vibes only;
  • Even if my newfound appreciation for one of these ten games has arrived courtesy of a newer, shinier and/or more accessible version of said game, I must make an effort to judge it based on the version(s) available in that relevant year;
  • Most importantly of all: I must be able to justify these inflated rankings as if I was still in the year they were published, but had way more free time (or just better time management). This is probably the trickiest part and there’s obviously no way I can do it flawlessly, but I’ll try.

Persona 4 Golden

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Original Position: 4th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 1st

Starting off with a bit of a free hit here, as once I completed it Persona 4 Golden landed in my all-time videogame top five – and it hasn’t left that club since.

Looking back on my janky first public GOTY list today is a cringe-inducing experience for me – I sure did make some sweeping statements about Halo 4‘s multiplayer – but it’s surprisingly easy to put myself in the somewhat rigid mental space I was in a decade (!) ago, because the videogame analysis zeitgeist was in such a distinctly turbulent place that hasn’t quite been replicated in any year since.

2012 was the last full year of a GFC-stretched console generation; incessant commentators predicted the industry’s downfall as two woefully mismanaged new platforms began their all-too-short lives. Major triple-A releases were in short supply, and as those ten main list entries and five (unexplained) honorable mentions reflect, the industry was only just beginning to erase the prestige line between full physical game releases and “downloadable” games, as we used to call them. Despite their quality, there is just no way the 2012 version of me would have been able to give either Journey or The Walking Dead a fair crack.

Still, one of those aforementioned new platforms was the Playstation Vita, and I played arguably its best game over an intense four-month period straddling the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

I probably haven’t written enough about Persona 4 Golden over the years considering the special place it holds in my heart – perhaps a better chance to dive into all that in earnest will arrive another day. For now all I’ll say is that the very best parts of the game take place much further into its hefty length than I had the time to reach by the end of December 2012, and even if that weren’t the case, the game (and series) has a knack of making you appreciate its characters and setting steadily more the longer you spend playing.

As good as Pokemon White Version 2 is – and if anything, its seam-bursting suite of content and still-unique approach to storytelling within the mainline Pokemon series has only made it more revered in 2022 – P4G still has it beaten for legacy. Had I somehow managed to play at warp speed and finish it before the end of 2012 the game’s impact on me may have been dulled slightly, but it’s hard to see a world where it wouldn’t have been the first-ever Vagrant Rant Game of the Year.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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Original Position: Honorable Mentions
Where It Should’ve Gone: 5th

I don’t know where my head was at for this one. This is the only game on the list that I haven’t played at all since writing the original countdown, meaning the considerable appreciation growth curve I’ve been on since has come about purely through the added context of a chorus of critical voices praising its many design accomplishments. All the little ways decorated developer Retro Studios pushed past the expected bare-minimum quality line of the early-2010s 2D platformer add up over a meaty campaign loaded up with wondrous mechanical ideas and packed with deviously-hidden secrets. No new idea outstays its welcome, yet each one is explored with a near-perfect difficulty curve. The visual presentation is artistically stunning, the controls are fluid, the musical tracks often soar. And the weird thing is that I knew all this while I was playing through the game in co-op with a mate.

The problem for both its initial reputation – and indeed my 2014 ranking of the game – is that premium-priced 2D platformers felt like they were a dime a dozen throughout the very late 2000s into the early 2010s. Nintendo was responsible for the lion’s share of these, and the company’s comparative lack of output in other genres ensured a palpable fatigue among fan circles that was difficult to avoid. Amusingly enough, Tropical Freeze was essentially the last of them, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Nonetheless, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a 2D platforming masterwork, and belongs right under the one-two punch of the Danganronpa titles and Nintendo’s formidable Kart/Smash Wii U combo on that 2014 list. I’m convinced that with a bit more time spent ruminating on the game, I would have – and should have – given it the rank it deserved.

Bayonetta 2

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Original Position: Unranked
Where It Should’ve Gone: 6th

Right under DK Country I’d have this absolutely audacious audiovisual assault, if I had actually played it within the year it released.

Bayonetta 2‘s original 2014 Wii U release is functionally identical – nay, arguably even superior overall – to its 2018 Switch port, which is the version I’ve had installed waiting around for the day its native sequel received a release date (which finally happened while I was compiling this list). I say that despite the sheer eye-popping splendour of a Nintendo Switch OLED Model in Vivid mode running this gore-splashed jet fuel rainbow at native resolution and 60 frames a second. So I have little reservation that I’d have slotted Platinum Games’ most iconic heroine in at sixth.

Despite starting it three or four times over the years, I didn’t actually complete the first Bayonetta until 2019, so that game’s own brand of wacky obscenity was reasonably fresh in the mind when I dived into the sequel. And while that very sequel arguably doesn’t quite hit the heights of sheer disbelief the first game did, I found Bayonetta 2 more enjoyable overall. Boasting a much more vibrant colour palette, several more viable weapon options, consistently superior pacing and a noticeably less stingy combat system, Bayo’s pixie cut adventures also soar on a suite of sensationally upbeat tunes led by the best cover of Moon River ever. The nine hours it took to complete simply breezed by.

2014 was the third and final year I restricted Vagrant Rant’s annual videogame countdown to just ten entries, but had I actually played Bayonetta 2 on release – and properly contextualised Tropical Freeze – I daresay I might have made the call to expand to a Top 15 a year earlier. I know exactly why I couldn’t fit in the confident character action extravaganza – it came out right in the middle of the biggest period of status quo upheaval in my adult life – but I distinctly remember thinking it was going to be some head-smashing skill-dependent timesink, which it distinctly is not. A missed opportunity, then – although I’m kind of glad I played it for the first time with mere months to go until Bayonetta 3, rather than years…

Titanfall 2

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Original Position: 12th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 3rd

The 2013 and 2015 lists don’t feature any real obvious growers (Tomb Raider aside, but I’ll come back to that), although this glaring 2016 snub simply has to be called out. Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall 2 is almost in the same boat as Tropical Freeze in that I kinda already had all the experience I needed to rank the game much higher within its release year; the wording from the original 12th-placed entry almost looks apologetic. The impossibly fluid momentum-is-king gameplay effortlessly balances great lumbering mechanised firepower with exhilarating greased lightning agility as players are given the tools to treat walls like floors and vice versa.

Underrating the game is understandable, to a degree: after all it’s been well-documented over the last half-decade that Titanfall 2’s release timing was infuriatingly terrible. Dropping right in the middle of the venomous marketing stoush between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – one week after the former and one week before the latter – this multi-platform sequel to an online-only game trapped on the floundering Xbox One simply had too many towering obstacles to clear. It sold (predictably) terribly and its legacy should have been consigned to the history books, but the eventual runaway success of Respawn’s follow-up Apex Legends had a glowing effect on T2 after the fact, sending multiple online player spikes its way over the ensuing years. I knew the game’s DNA was incredible from day one, and it should’ve been rated several spots higher; I just doubted I’d put in quite enough matches to secure that opinion. That is no longer the case.

And then, as I was writing this list, I finally played the campaign.

Wow. It turns out that Titanfall 2‘s single player really is as good as people say. I’d heard plenty over the years about the emotional connection the story plants between the protagonist and his battlefield-forged robotic partner “BT”, and I knew how good the shooting felt, but what really blew me away playing it six years after launch was the platformer-oriented level design. Almost every one of the game’s eight punchy levels has a remarkably distinct feel clearly built on a central acrobatic gameplay gimmick, and the ones that don’t go for full-on spectacle instead – as only ex-Call of Duty dev talent can. And yes, those emotional moments do land, backed by remarkably concise writing and a gorgeous musical score.

Titanfall 2 should’ve been in 3rd position on that 2016 list; right above Overwatch, Final Fantasy XV, and Pokemon Sun. Add another person to the growing list clamouring for a proper trilogy-ending sequel.

Resident Evil Biohazard

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Original Position: Unranked
Where It Should’ve Gone: 8th

“The further we move away from the juggernaut gaming year that was 2017, the more ridiculous it looks in hindsight. It’s not as if the wider gaming community wasn’t aware of the quality we were getting at the time, but five years on it’s really a whole lot easier to appreciate how good we really had it.”

That was the opening paragraph of an unpublished draft post I’ve had simmering on and off the proverbial stove for a couple of years, borne from a disproportionately large volley of quality games released throughout the blockbuster-stuffed 2017. The draft’s working title was “Rediscovering the Lost Five Games of 2017”, and would have settled around my gradual catch-up on Yakuza Zero, Gravity Rush 2, and the next three games on this page. I’ve since made my peace with failing to get through the former two – each for their own reasons I won’t go into here – but I sure am glad I eventually got to play through Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

I fell for the RE franchise just two short years after Biohazard‘s release, after all, thanks to the phenomenal reimagining of 2; I can think of no good reason I couldn’t have jumped in amongst the considerable hype of the series’ first-person revitalisation if I had spoken to the right people at the right time. As it happens I played RE7 – and its excellent story DLC – as homework before the eighth mainline game, and once I was through its genuinely terrifying opening few hours, that old-school lock-and-key gameplay I didn’t know I’ve been craving for years had me well and truly strapped in until the gruesome end.

You can bet the videotape puzzle room sequence would have made my gaming moments list, and the ultra-satisfying game itself would have sat proudly as the new midpoint of my 2017 top fifteen.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

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Original Position: Unranked
Where It Should’ve Gone: 6th

Even more than RE7, Horizon: Zero Dawn has been hanging around my proverbial neck like a shiny miniature robot dinosaur for half a decade. After years of anticipation, I had to leave my original save file of barely two hours progress unfinished amid that chaotic early-2017 maelstrom when a little thing called the Nintendo Switch (and Zelda: Breath of the Wild) released a mere two days afterwards. Then, three years later, an unexpected second chance to give the acclaimed title its due arrived in the form of a landmark PC port – but alas, that launched in a truly sorry state and took another several months before it was even able to run on my hardware to the minimum standard of the PS4 original. It thus became clear that I should probably let the hope of finishing HZD go, as I had so many other 2017 titles over the years.

Fate had other ideas. In the time between that PC release and the publication of this article, I received four extremely enthusiastic recommendations from people who didn’t play the game in its launch year: two good friends from different circles and two YouTubers with particularly persuasive arguments. A handful of genuinely good performance patches helped the game along in the meantime. And so, with a sequel already out, I resolved to give Aloy and the gang one last try this year, resolving to ignore as much side content as possible and actually finish the game.

My 31-hour playthrough, mostly at the ridiculously stunning 32:9 super-ultrawide aspect ratio patched in by the developers as one of many apologies for the initial state of the PC version, was actually a pretty good time. Though the world and quest design still reminds me of the cookie-cutter “Ubisoft formula” five years later – and I already found that tiresome at the time of release – the game’s Monster Hunter-esque combat reveals more depth the further you progress, eventually reaching a state where no one or two options can be relied upon and a wide variety of approach is required for the tough battles. By that point it’s kind of amazing.

Horizon: Zero Dawn might also have the best story I’ve ever experienced in an open-world game. The expository cutscene that untangles the story’s secrets using a plethora of Greek pantheon-themed AI programs would absolutely have gone on my gaming moments countdown from 2017. And had I finished the game that year, I’d argue its qualities that shine in 2022 would have seemed all the more impressive; its flaws less consequential. I’d surely have it ranked right above Resident Evil 7 and:

A Hat in Time

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Original Position: Unranked
Where It Should’ve Gone: 7th

In many ways my way-too-late experience with A Hat in Time requires an opposite thought pattern from the rest of this list: I eventually played it on the Nintendo Switch with all the post-launch downloadable content included in the package, cleverly sprinkled throughout the main game so as to look like it was always there. On balance, the larger DLC pockets are my least favourite parts of the game, so for the purposes of this project I had to pretend I was playing a leaner release I would theoretically enjoy even more – and which looks much sharper too (the Switch version didn’t actually release until 2019 and is easily the ugliest way to play).

I’d followed AHIT since its announcement almost a decade ago, before even Yooka-Laylee had seen the light of a Kickstarter page. Back then the very idea of a “3D collect-a-thon platformer revival” seemed impossibly exciting, but in the years since many a project has failed to live up to the hype of ravenous ’90s kids. So it warms my heart to discover at last just how skillfully A Hat in Time walks the nostalgia/quality tightrope. The game strikes a finely-tuned flow balance by partnering genuinely tough platforming challenges with mercifully forgiving aerial movement and hit detection, opening the roof for some crazy slices of level design simply begging to become frustrating camera traps in the hands of less careful developers.

Indie team Gears For Breakfast don’t stay in one place for long, either: after a leisurely opening world that plays around firmly between the throwback lines of Super Mario 64’s distinct chapter structure, Hat springboards into a triple-twist dynamic level revolving around an antagonistic ego showdown, then goes all non-linear spooky time before finishing with an open-ended world punctuated by brutally unforgiving platforming pillars into a thrillingly colourful final boss bonanza. Though it has its frustrations, the entire game from start to finish just does not miss with its soundtrack, which I am listening to as I write this.

Whether I feel the push to return to A Hat in Time like I do its N64-era inspirations remains to be seen, but by the end credits I did find myself feeling some wonderfully familiar emotions about it, and that’s a testament to the game’s charm and substance. To complete the theoretical hack job on that stacked 2017 countdown as smoothly as possible, I’d have wedged A Hat in Time right in between the other two late entries; that effectively pushes the superb storytelling achievements Danganronpa V3 and Doki-Doki Literature Club right to the foot of the top ten, which makes me wince hard, but I’m sure I’d find a way to live with it.

A Short Hike

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Original Position: Unranked
Where It Should’ve Gone: 3rd

That’s right: the biggest jump on this list. But if you think it’s a little excessive to slingshot a game from the unplayed pile to the top 3, you should probably go take a look at playing A Short Hike.

Seriously, the whole thing is over in a couple of hours – even if you go for 100% completion – and exists almost perfectly in the peaceful space between Animal Crossing Wild World aesthetics, Breath of the Wild traversal mechanics, and early-2010s narrative adventure storytelling. Whimsical chuckles abound, as do sidequests with perfectly-paced payoffs, gleeful a-ha moments borne from natural world exploration, and the odd deviously difficult race challenge sprinkled in for good measure.

A Short Hike is a triumph of bloat-free game design and you should definitely play it; had I done so on PC in 2019, I have no doubt it would have lodged itself right under Resident Evil 2 in my personal top three of the year. And its subsequent Switch release is probably an even better version, just FYI.

AI: The Somnium Files

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Original Position: Honorable Mentions
Where It Should’ve Gone: 8th

I made a rather big deal about the release of this one back in September of 2019, as its launch timing on the very same day as the Switch Lite seemed like a deliberate attempt by all involved to bring back the magic of the PS Vita: once the undisputed home of quality console visual novel experiences. Helmed by Spike Chunsoft legend Kotaro Uchikoshi of 999, Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma fame, AI: The Somnium Files is yet another niche visual novel classic from a master of batshit twists playing by cooked fantastical sci-fi rules. The problem is, it shared a release week with headline-grabbers like the Link’s Awakening remake, Untitled Goose Game, the Ni No Kuni port, Daemon X Machina, and Dragon Quest XI S. Even people of the persuasion to notice AI would have had their plates full at the time, and I know almost no-one who finished it.

The story also takes some serious time to reach the customary full Uchikoshi-ness in terms of meta-mechanics – understandably preferring to give you some time with its quirky characters first – and relies on the entertainment value of its fail states to sustain what is essentially a trial-and-error gameplay style. The performance of the Switch version is also technically rough in a way the game’s own much smoother 2022 sequel lays bare. But it really does get there in the end, delivering several of the coolest and best-engineered plot twists I’ve witnessed back-to-back in a stupendous finale – and then a weirdly triumphant large-scale dance number. Don’t ask.

If there’s one persistent anxious thread running through the year-end countdowns I’ve written up over the last half-decade especially, it’s the regular sprinkling of visual novels and/or heavily story-driven titles that I don’t complete by the end of the year. These are much harder to rank accurately than most games when unfinished, as their worth tends to be almost entirely dependent on presentation and narrative quality; gameplay variety isn’t really a crutch they can fall back on. So when one comes along that does make all the seemingly idle build-up worthwhile, it absolutely needs to be recognised. Which brings me to…

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

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Original Position: 10th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 2nd

This is the singular game that transformed my vague plans for a 2017-focused article into the one you’ve just read; it’s also the reason said article happened to land in 2022. This year’s enhanced Switch port of 2020 visual novel/tactics hybrid gem 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is absolutely incredible, and a poetic course correction for the scrapped PS Vita version of the game commenced all the way back in 2015; but despite a few combat balance tweaks it isn’t all that different from the PS4 original. Most critically, the acrobatic trope-surfing story is virtually untouched, and that story is the sole reason I believe I would have placed this game at the dizzying position of number 2 on my 2020 list – had I just managed to complete the thing in time.

Unseating the tremendous Ori and the Will of the Wisps would have been no small feat, but 13 Sentinels is no small story. Encompassing just about every major branch of science fiction ever explored on a screen and somehow weaving them all together, this dystopian slice of painterly Vanillaware magic packs in more twist reveals per hour than just about any piece of media I’ve ever experienced – yet has the gumption to give its players a surprising amount of control over the order in which they see it unfold. This design decision turns what might be a piece of unremarkable dialogue for one player into a reality-shattering reveal for another – my standard post-visual novel spoilercast search was a real doozy after this one wrapped.

It’s exceedingly difficult to say anything else about 13 Sentinels without inadvertently spoiling something crucial – but it bears repeating: my urgency to correct the mistake of failing to finish this game by the end of 2020 spawned an entire ten-game article. If you have ever enjoyed a sci-fi visual novel – actually you know what, you can even scrap the word “visual” in that sentence – go and get yourself this game. You’ll thank me later. Although good luck if you’re after a physical copy.

Some Other Quick Mentions

I don’t actually make a habit of playing (or replaying) too many games I missed from their original release year; if anything the one or two older games I tend to play to completion each year are either really old (like, say, my first-ever playthroughs of Zelda II and Final Fantasy IX in 2019, my saga-long Halo campaign project throughout 2020/21) or guilty-pleasure fresh runs of Pokemon games I’ve already finished multiple times. Even 2018, the year I got my first gaming PC and played so many older games I felt compelled to write about them all, was filled almost entirely with releases from before I started this site. So that makes the above list of ten pretty exhaustive, but there are a few more games worth a mention.

Firstly, there’s one clear-cut potential eleventh entry on this list that comes to mind, and it’s another Respawn joint: Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. In fact, it was on the main list for most of the time I was putting it together – right up until the Bayonetta news came through. The blockbuster 2019 souls-lite decided to release on the same late-November day as Pokemon Sword & Shield, starting it well and truly on the back foot; I only managed JFO‘s prologue chapter before 2019 was consigned to the past. Fast-forward a year later to the launch of the Xbox Series X, however, and the game’s performance-boosted addition to Game Pass Ultimate hit just around the breakout first season of The Mandalorian. Thus appeared a perfect cocktail of reasons to play the game, and though it took me almost a further two years to finish the story (I got stuck twice on obscure dungeon puzzles and kept getting distracted), I’m confident it would have made my 2019 top fifteen – possibly around ninth or tenth spot. The dusty environments are somehow still beautiful, the combat is fantastic, the blockbuster finale feels like it comes from another dimension and – shock-horror – the rumble motors in the Xbox triggers actually get used!

Elsewhere, the 2013 list features a lowly seventh place for the exemplary Tomb Raider reboot that I have since listed among my top ten favourite games of the entire last decade. Despite this, I look at that very list and for some reason remember the exact state of mind in which I was entrenched; I know I spent a ridiculous amount of time cross-examining my reasoning and that list simply was not going to change.

It’s probably also worth mentioning the original Hyrule Warriors, which hit the Wii U in 2014; but the two years my brother and I spent playing through the campaign slowly were held up by a robust and rewarding DLC release schedule that lasted well into the following year, so it probably can’t qualify by this article’s rules.

I’ve also played a fair bit more of the likes of Metal Gear Solid V, Dragon Quest XI and Fire Emblem: Three Houses over the years – enough that I’d definitely have more to say on them if I rewrote their respective countdowns; but top spot doesn’t exactly give you room to move up. I’m also realising as I write this that I should probably go back and play more of Astral Chain from 2019, but there’s no guarantee I’d like it any more than I already did. And with that, I’m feeling myself transitioning into nitpick mode, so let’s call this thought experiment a modest success and move on!

One response to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on DDOCentral.


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