Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture. I promised you it was coming, I teased you that it was still coming, we’re in the last week of January and so I say here it is, the top 10 games of the decade here on The Pulse! And what a decade it has been, my God my beloved and devout readers, my gaming pals, my fellow geeks, what a decade it has been. We have seen everything from the birth of the Souls-like genre to the major surge in popularity for indie titles to massive open world games, MOBAs, battle royales, holy crap a lot has happened in 10 years hasn’t it? The end of one generation, the beginning of two new ones (PS4/X1/Wii U as well as PS5/XSX/Switch though only one of those actually launched within the decade). Hell, we had three whole years with the Switch this decade, how time flies right? Wow I have dragged this intro on long enough haven’t I? One last thing before I let you go and get to the list (well, two last things but we’ll get to the last last thing..last), first and foremost I would like to shamelessly plug my newly launched Patreon, so if you enjoy my content here on The Gathering and want to give me a hand and help support what I do feel free to stop by and make a pledge, every dollar helps and is greatly appreciated, if not then I still love you guys <3
So, last last thing, as promised. When deciding on this list I opted for the somewhat easier to manage “this was my game of the year for X year in the decade” methodology and I am going to be listing the games chronologically as such rather than doing it as bunch of games from one year, none from another, etc. or actually ranking them against each other. Call it lazy, call it the easy way out, it’s just how I roll. On with the list!
10. The Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (2010)
Starting things off with a bit of an unusual pick. So I absolutely loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for the Nintendo DS. It was a fun bit of a noir inspired visual novel that made..err novel use of the DS’s unique features up to and including using its clamshell design in order to solve puzzles. The art style, namely for the characters (as the backgrounds are..yikes) gorgeous, the music is phenomenal and the story is a solid little period piece that, apart from tying everyone together a bit too conveniently was pretty good. So imagine my anguish when it was announced that the sequel would not be receiving a release in the good ol’ US of A. Thankfully it did leave the shores of Japan after its release in 2010…but only in Europe. I was eventually able to get myself an imported copy of The Last Window and I honestly think I like it more than the original. Everything about it is bigger, bigger setting, bigger cast, bigger and yet much more personal story. The art style and music are still top notch, Kyle is easily one of my favorite protagonists in a visual novel, while I unfortunately don’t have a DS or 3DS to my name anymore to be able to replay it, it (and its prequel) are among the very, very few games I’ve held on to long after selling the rest of my DS and 3DS collection.
9. Dark Souls (2011)
I am unabashedly a Soulsborne fanboy. I would go so far as to say that Miyazaki’s series (and I am including Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, obviously and maybe even Sekiro, though it feels a bit disingenuous counting it as a Soulsborne) is my all time favorite game franchise bar none. Now I hold the controversial opinion that the original Dark Souls is actually the weakest of its own trilogy and if we do count the other three titles in the pseudo-franchise, it’s actually my “least favorite” of all 6. Does that mean it’s bad? No, not even close, I actually think that only goes to say how great I think the other games are. While not without its flaws, and we’ll get to them more in depth another time) Dark Souls is an absolutely phenomenal game and one that would go on to help define the decade. It was a breath of fresh air to everyone that hadn’t already played through Demon’s Souls back in 2009 and while I actually would say it is a bit overrated (seriously, the second half of the game does not hold up to the magnificence of the first, but again I am getting ahead of myself) I would also fully agree with anyone that wants to name this as their game of the decade because it damn well deserves it.
8. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (2012)
Another visual novel and another sequel at that. Dunno why that felt necessary, but let’s just run with it. So 999: Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors was a pretty fun little horror themed visual novel that, much like Hotel Dusk, really made use of the hardware it was designed for. Honestly I would go on to say that the design of 999 single handedly justifies the design of the DS, but that’s neither here nor there. The followup, Virtue’s Last Reward, amped everything up to 11. It pushed its story telling and use of alternate endings and timelines to the absolute extreme and to say much more would absolutely spoil the experience so I’m gonna leave it at that. I will say though that I stand by my long standing belief that one of the twists in this game is absolutely stupid and asks the player to just accept too many conveniences and assume that a character wouldn’t do very very simple and basic things and..just gonna leave it there. Game is phenomenal though, the whole series is (even if some people are less enthusiastic about the end of the trilogy) so I highly recommend checking them out, do try and play 999 on a DS or 3DS if you can though..just trust me.
7. Tearaway (2013)
So this one I will have much more to say about at another time so gonna keep this a bit brief. A fun little platformer from the same guys that brought you LittleBigPlanet, along with all of the charm and whimsy of that series, Tearaway was originally released in 2013 for the Vita (it would later go on to receive a sorta remake on the PS4 in 2015) and it made heavy use of the Vita’s various functions including the camera, touch pad, microphone, etc. It’s not especially long, it isn’t especially challenging, there’s nothing all that deep or complex about it, but this game’s story, the way it is delivered and most importantly the message behind it touched me to my fucking soul and forever cemented it among my favorite games of all time and it damn well deserves a spot on this list.
6. Dark Souls II (2014)
It’s Dark Souls but better. I know this isn’t a popular opinion but it is one that I have defended ever since Dark Souls II released and the fanboys dogpiled on it. There really wasn’t anything that was going to please the fanbase that wasn’t literally rereleasing the first game with a “2” slapped on the box. It did things different, and yes I do think it did do some of those things worse, but it did so much of them better. Yeah, the world wasn’t as (honestly a bit too conveniently) interconnected and it asked you to accept that what in-game feels like a short walk is actually much much larger in-universe (namely the transition to the elevator going from Earthen Peak to the Iron Keep, it really isn’t supposed to be just right there, they just saved you the trouble of a much longer run to get to it). Soul memory also was probably the wrong way to go about handling PvP matchmaking and the like. That said, it definitely had the best PvP in the entire series until they patched the hell out of it and ruined it. It has some great bosses and I always found the “too many humanoid knights” complaint a bit of a farce given how most of the bosses people consider the best in the franchise are humanoid knights and most of the worst are not, but I digress. The covenants were at their best and most varied here. The armor sets and bonuses from them were awesome and it just did so much better that I think it is a damn shame it became the black sheep of the franchise. I mean, at least this game doesn’t have Lost Izalith and Bed of Chaos. Plus the DLC was fantastic, mostly.
5. SOMA (2015)
Likely surprising no one, that is if you took the time to read my In Retrospect on the game, Frictional Games’s magnum opus had quite the pedigree to live up to given both Penumbra and Amnesia are among the strongest games in the horror genre. Opting for a different approach, the horror in SOMA comes predominantly from the psychological side of things and the sort of questions it poses to the player about what it means to exist and what actually makes you, well, you. There’s certainly no shortage of horrifying baddies stalking you down, but that Frictional was able to release an update to remove that element from the game entirely and that it was still able to work so effectively as a horror title speaks volumes. You don’t want to sleep on this one, even if you may have trouble sleeping after it.
4. The Last Guardian (2016)
This is far from the last time that we’ll be talking about The Last Guardian, the spiritual successor to the legendary Shadow of the Colossus, so I will be keeping this somewhat brief. A game that had been in development hell since its days as a Playstation 3 title, it was a long and agonizing wait for the third project from visionary director Fumito Ueda. Was it worth it, did it live up to the hype? It did, in spades. The simple story of a boy and his dog…bird…rat…thing as they navigate the ruins of a lost civilization, this one certainly goes for the feels and ends on a bittersweet note sure to bring a tear to the eye of even the manliest of manly men.
3. The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth + (2017)
I actually had a bit of trouble on deciding this one. Back at the end of 2017 I had actually declared Super Mario Odyssey my game of the year because, while it wasn’t my personal favorite game of 2017 I did feel that it was probably the best game to come out in a year that was absolutely stacked with incredible titles (seriously guys, 2017 would be a very strong contender for one of the best years in gaming ever…hmm hello list idea). I thought more about it when putting this list together though and it just felt kinda wrong to me considering that two of the other games released in 2017 had ended up on my top 10 games of all time list (don’t worry, that one’s coming too) but don’t get a mention here. Since, spoilers, The Surge 2 is already making an appearance here I opted to not include The Surge and instead am giving this year’s rep to The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, which is still by far my most played game on my Switch and among my most played games of all time. It’s simple, challenging and given the rogue-lite nature of the game it is infinitely replayable. My 500 (pushing 600) hours in the game can attest to that and easily, easily earn it a spot here.
2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
This was another tough one, but for the opposite reason. I honestly just don’t remember 2018 all that well. Like, I know there were games released that I enjoyed and I seem to recall even defending the year at some point from people saying how bad a year it was for games. 2017 really was just a tough year to follow because what year really could stand up to that absolute onslaught of game of the year worthy titles? So kinda by default this pick is going to my most played and certainly most notable title from the year. I’m a lifelong Smash fans and some of my fondest memories are the hours I sunk into Brawl back with my friends in high school. While Ultimate wasn’t quite able to recreate that for me it is easily the best the franchise has ever been (even if the DLC choices ended somewhat questionably, at least for the time being) and it is still an absolute blast to pick up and play.
1. The Surge 2 (2019)
Look, I think I’ve said about all I have to say about The Surge 2 (at least until I get The Post-Mortem out for the recently released The Kraken DLC, so look for that soon!). To me it is the epitome of what a sequel should be. It was my game of the year for 2019 and replaying it earlier this week (as of the time of this writing) in order to play through the expansion pack reminded me of just why that was. Incredibly tight and enjoyable combat, great level design with well implemented shortcuts, and just generally improving on all of the things the first game got right.
Thank you all for joining me, hope you enjoyed the list. Had a lot of fun walking down memory lane and looking back over such an amazing decade in gaming. I’m sure my list differs from most (if not all) of yours minus maybe one or two items here or there so please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what your favorite games were over these last ten years. Again, check out my Patreon and look forward to the first In Retrospect of 2020 and the aforementioned review of The Kraken DLC for The Surge 2 in the coming weeks. Much love to you all and I will see you in February.