The decade is winding down, and all over the internet, writers, YouTubers and podcasters are compiling lists with which to bombard you in return for some sweet, sweet clicks. Want to know a middle-class white guy’s thoughts on the best The Great British Bake Off contestants of the last ten years? Curious as to what a very different middle-class white guy thinks of the decade’s most bodacious comic book movies? Good news, dear reader: this totally unique middle-class white guy is writing about video games, specifically, video games from the 2010s that will hopefully get you into video games in the 2020s.
A lot has happened in the world of video games over the last ten years. Industry behemoths Microsoft and Sony ended one hardware generation and ushered in a new one. Beloved Japanese company Nintendo failed spectacularly, and then rebounded even more spectacularly. And of course, there was a little thing called Fortnite.
Before we crack on with the list, it’s important to emphasize that this is not a “Best Games of the Decade” list. Seriously, I can’t stress that enough. That’s a list that would take an eternity to compile, and frankly, it’s not something I’d enjoy writing. This list is different. These games have been chosen because they’re games that I — a person who has been playing video games for almost 30 years — think are good entry points into the world of gaming.
I’d also like to highlight a few caveats. Because the goal of this list is to get people into games, I’ve decided to omit games that possess a “grimdark” quality, no matter how good they are. This means that The Last Of Us is not on the list, despite it being one of the best video games ever made. I adore that game, but if I’m trying to get someone to like video games, I’m not going to make them play one that features the death of a child in the opening 20 minutes.
So yeah, no sad games. I’m also excluding ports, remakes, and insanely difficult games like Dark Souls, Sekiro, Cuphead, etc.
Alright, preamble over. Here’s the list.
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Easiest Way to Play: Stream via Sony’s PlayStation Now service
Yes, it’s that cowboy game your college roommate played for 18 hours straight. While there’s a plot and missions that you have to complete in order to see that pot unfold, Red Dead Redemption gives players a lot of freedom. Tonally, this game is all over the place, but at the end of the day, it’s a Rockstar game, and if you don’t feel like completing tasks, you can just ride around and fuck shit up (problematically satisfying). Or, if violence isn’t your cup of tea, you can herd sheep and stuff (regularly satisfying).
Portal 2 (2011)
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Easiest Way to Play: Download via Steam
Portal 2 definitely shows its age a little more than some of its 2011 rivals, but it’s still a ton of fun. The game encourages players to traverse levels using teleportation. Basically you choose somewhere to open two ends of a portal and then go through that portal to get to where you need to go. It’s cleverer than I’m making it sound. It has a decent co-op mode, so you can play with someone who knows what they’re doing. Also, J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant are in it … I should’ve lead with that.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, iOS
Easiest Way to Play: $4.99 on the Apple App Store
Journey is a strange little indie game that shocked everyone by being really good. The premise is insanely simple: you’re in the desert, there’s a mountain in the distance. All you have to do is get to the mountain. This basic premise mixed with the game’s gorgeous aesthetic and wonderful score created an emotional and memorable experience for gamers back in 2012, and it’s still holds up. There’s also a fascinating multiplayer element that many games have attempted to emulate in the intervening years. Nobody’s really been able to replicate that same sense of wonder.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2013)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Easiest Way to Play: Buy a 3DS, buy a copy of the game, and kiss your life goodbye.
This was a no-brainer. It’s an extremely Japanese “life simulation” game in which you create an adorable little avatar who assumes control of an adorable little town populated with adorable little animals who will literally shame you for ignoring them. My wife has pumped an incalculable number of hours into this game, and she hadn’t played anything on a 3DS until a few months ago. It’s kind of like The Sims but soothing. You can pick up a copy of this game for pretty cheap nowadays. Its long-awaited sequel, New Horizons, will be released on the Switch next year.
Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Platforms: Wii U
Easiest Way to Play: Just buy the Switch port ffs
No video-game list is complete without at least one appearance from everyone’s favorite Italian plumber (uness it’s like, Top 10 Non-Mario Games or something). However this will definitely be the only Wii U game on the list, since that console flopped big time and barely anybody owns one. I said up top that I wasn’t going to include ports and/or remakes on this list, but an enhanced version of this game was ported to Switch, so you really should just play that version. Anyway, you know the deal: Mario and a bunch of other Nintendo characters get together and race go-karts around a variety of crazy courses while shooting each other with shells. Hours of fun, especially if you play with a group of friends.
Life is Strange (2015)
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Easiest Way to Play: Probably on iOS but I can’t imagine that version is any good. Get it on console or PC.
Life is Strange is a story-driven graphic adventure game with no combat and no platforming, which makes it very easy to just pick up and play. It’s ostensibly a point and click game in which you control a teenage girl named Max who has the ability to rewind time. This power gives you the opportunity to go back and choose different dialogue options which affect the story in different ways. The script is clunky at times, and the character models spend way too much time in the uncanny valley, but you’d have to be a soulless ghoul not to be hooked by the game’s enticing narrative and themes of self-exploration.
Uncharted 4 (2016)
Easiest Way to Play: PS4
Uncharted 4 is a swashbuckling romp that sees you assume the role of tortured treasure hunter Nathan Drake. He’s like a cross between Indiana Jones and Han Solo only he kills way more people than either of them. The Uncharted games are renowned for their movie-like story-telling and action set-pieces, but this game took all of that to another level thanks to the power of the PS4 (the first three games were released on the PS3). Okay, so you might want to play the first three games before you get stuck into this one (and you should, because they’re all excellent), but once you’ve done so, prepare to be blown away by the thrilling “conclusion” of Nathan Drake’s story.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)
Platforms: Switch, Wii U
Easiest Way to Play: Switch
Expectations were high for this Nintendo Switch launch title, and it still exceeded them. The addictively familiar gameplay loops and gorgeous anime aesthetic set it apart from the rest of 2017’s Game of the Year contenders. The novelty of playing an open-world 3D Zelda game on a handheld console still hasn’t worn off. I’ve played about 200 hours of Breath of the Wild, and 199 of them were in handheld mode. For gaming n00bz, BOTW may seem a little overwhelming at first, but don’t be intimidated. It has plenty of challenging moments, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get frustrated with it. Link is just too darn cute to stay mad at.
Platforms: Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Easiest Way to Play: Just download it on whatever system you use to play games on
Oh, Celeste. Where to begin. First of all, this game is aesthetically stunning, despite being a pixelated 2D platformer. It has a delightful chiptune soundtrack that really makes you feel like you’re on a thrilling adventure. This game is also insanely difficult. You’ll fail a lot, but you respawn so quick that you’ll never feel like giving up. There’s also a bunch of settings that enable you to make the game way easier so you can just enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is. You assume control of a young woman named Madeline who decides to climb a mountain called Celeste. With its deeply relatable story that addresses themes of mental health, Celeste makes you care about the protagonist in a way that very few video games are able to do.
Untitled Goose Game (2019)
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Nintendo Switch
Easiest Way to Play: Download on Switch, Mac or PC.
Untitled Goose Game was probably the most memed game of 2019, and for good reason. It takes a ridiculously simple premise and turns it into one of the most gaming experiences of the year. You play as an asshole goose who has to terrorize the residents of an idyllic English village. It’s not a particularly long or challenging game, and the novelty may wear off after a few hours. But c’mon, why wouldn’t you want to be an asshole goose for a few hours?
Honorable Mentions: Gone Home (2013), Monument Valley (2014), Valiant Hearts: The Great War (2014), Tetris Effect (2018), Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)