Tomorrow, we begin our official list with #25 and #24. But before that, here’s a ranking of video game series that didn’t quite make the cut, but still got a decent amount of support from the panel (and in some cases, a lot of support).
Our list starts with Okami, which tests the limits of what defines a “series” from the word go. The parameters essentially said that three games were required unless you could make a strong case for a franchise with two. In the case of Okami, the art is gorgeous, Amaterasu is great and there’s legitimately a character named Chibiterasu, so we’re going to let it slide.
Considering Kirby’s humble beginnings and basic concept, it’s kind of a surprise that he made it this far. Eat enemies, receive power. Nowadays, Kirby has learned new tricks with yarn and canvas and miniature versions of himself, but for me, I spent the bulk of my time on Kirby’s Block Ball (who knew a Breakout ripoff could be so fun). Oh, and Kirby’s Dream Land.
XCOM is all about choice. How do you want to spend your time and resources to prepare your military organization? What soldiers do you create and how much risk are you willing to put them in? With crisp tactical gameplay and a don’t-put-the-controller-down addictiveness, this series has reinvented itself a decade after its earlier titles, to great success.
How the mighty have fallen. Remember when there was a legitimate debate between Sonic and Mario? Me neither. Instead, all I remember are 397 terrible knockoff characters and forbidden love between humans and hedgehogs. Still, the first three games are bona fide classics, the Adventure games were mostly good, and the last few offerings haven’t been terrible?
The Fable series had a lot of interesting ideas and some of them worked really well. Others…well, I’m not saying they’re the reason Lionhead Studios is dead now, but still. Let’s be honest: outside of the three main games, Fable was a bit of a disaster. Fable III deserves a bit of credit for being ahead of the curve in some ways, like the options it had for same-sex relationships and adopting kids.
I think it’s fair to wonder what might’ve happened to this franchise if Rare and Nintendo hadn’t split in the 2000s. Sure, Nuts and Bolts eventually made it to the 360, but by then eight years had past since Banjo-Tooie and the momentum was gone. Still, the first two games were pretty influential in the development of adventure games and they were a lot of fun as well.
44) Knights of the Old Republic
KOTOR was a precocious son of a gun. A phenomenal story with one of the best twists in gaming, followed by a sequel that introduced some really interesting characters, followed by one of the best MMORPGs on the market? That’s good stuff. I wish The Old Republic’s gameplay and fetch quests had been more interesting, because they did a lot of things right with the story and the choices your character could make.
43) Dance Dance Revolution
I looooooved these games in high school. Even now I still occasionally recreate the magic with the help of Stepmania and a foam pad. Personally, I think Extreme II is the best. The DDR games still have some staying power today, and it’s a surprisingly good source of exercise to boot. Now if we could just figure out a way to have 50 or 60 fewer version of Candy on the setlist…
I feel like Spyro was always something of an overachiever. Cute purple dragon in a world where Mario and Sonic and others are already dominating? Didn’t seem to have much of a chance, but Spyro churned out well regarded games for over a decade. It’s surprising to see that there hasn’t been a new entry since 2008 (Skylanders notwithstanding).
41) Dragon Age
This is a series I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet taken the plunge. Having enjoyed Mass Effect so thoroughly, BioWare’s take on fantasy should also be up my alley. At some point I’ll finally get my hands on the Inquisitor and put Dragon Age through its paces.
40) Mega Man
I feel like Mega Man might’ve finished higher if Capcom hadn’t decided that the series was dead. Sure, they make occasional appearances fighting Marvel characters or teaming up in Project X Zero, but those aren’t the same as the original entries or the X series. And neither was Mighty No. 9.
39) Elder Scrolls
The difficulty with the Elder Scrolls franchise is balancing the phenomenal highs with the occasional lows. Look, everyone loved the massive worlds of Oblivion and Skyrim, but even the biggest fans (like myself) have to admit that both were bug-ridden messes at times. The earlier games were solid but didn’t quite reach those heights. Add it up and unfortunately, it didn’t make the top 25.
I missed out on Rayman for quite some time, because I didn’t own a Sony system until I went to college and I never picked up any of the titles for the handheld systems I had. It wasn’t until later that I got a piece of that tight platforming action. But the less said about Rabbids, the better — they’re on Minion status with me. Get them away. Now.
Look, the Uncharted games are well-written experiences with a solid cast of characters and Naughty Dog’s usual professional touch. They’re really good! I’m just not sure they’re as great as some folks say. The gameplay is occasionally a bit clunky and Nathan Drake, for all his strengths as a protagonist, is a little ridiculous at times. So personally, I’m not upset to see Uncharted outside of the top 25. Your mileage may vary.
I spent four hours playing Yoshi’s Cookie one day. That’s not a joke — it was a slow day for an 8-year-old when the grown-ups went to visit friends I barely knew. I also loved Yoshi’s Island despite Baby Mario’s crying. Some solid entries, but not enough to crack the top 25.
35) Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat’s resurgence in the last half-decade has been surprising. There was a bit of a lull in the 2000s before the reboot where a lot of those titles sucked, frankly. But the reboot in 2011 did wonders for the franchise and now we’re back to bone-crushing, bloody fatalities just like in the ‘90s, when Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat was a legitimate debate.
34) Legend of Heroes
Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel both deserve your attention. The Crossbell games are even more highly regarded, and what I’ve heard of the soundtrack is phenomenal. In short, this is a slept-on RPG series that you should give a look. Outstanding writing and character development, wonderful music and a battle system that blends Final Fantasy X with Disgaea and Fire Emblem.
33) Golden Sun
I don’t think the Game Boy Advance gets enough credit as a system. It was more than just a portable Super Nintendo (although that would have been enough, damn it), and one of the main reasons why was the success of Golden Sun. Full of vibrant, action-packed battles and one of the best RPG soundtracks of all-time, the series was phenomenal for portable gaming. Oh, and I guess Dark Dawn was okay too? Yeah. Okay.
This is a weird one when you break it down if only because of the multitude of other franchises that are in here. Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones…the list goes on and on. Still, for a fun couch co-op experience that is great for parents playing with their kids and a surprisingly high number of jokes and references, the LEGO series has almost always delivered.
I mean, any time you can put Caesar, Napoleon, Churchill, JFK, Nobunaga, Stalin and three Roosevelts into a series, you have to, right? Civ has always been near the pinnacle of turn-based strategy games, but the last two titles have been especially good, presenting its players with hours upon hours of intelligent, well-designed play.
30) You Don’t Know Jack
I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story on the podcast, but I was the president of the You Don’t Know Jack club in high school. Dave was in it too. I think we had 10 members and lord knows it was never going to get me laid, but damn if these games weren’t great. A perfect combination of sharp wit and demanding trivia, and now the creators are bringing us the Jackbox Party Pack as well.
29) Resident Evil
What a strange journey the RE series has been on. From its early third-person roots to co-op experiences to bad action to first-person, the ups have always managed to outweigh the downs. By all accounts, 7 fixes a number of the mistakes that 6 made and puts Resident Evil back in its place as the king of survival horror.
28) Tomb Raider
Such a difficult series to judge. Do you go by the two most recent titles since the reboot, which have been very well regarded? What about the early games in mid-90s? What about all the crap in the 2000s? This was one of the biggest examples of a series being weighed down by its lesser entries. You know, besides Sonic.
27) Rock Band
I was already hooked the moment the tour bus came through Flagstaff, but I honestly can’t remember being more excited for a video game release. We spent that Tuesday ducking into a friend’s dorm room in between classes just to get in a set or two. Everything that was good about Guitar Hero plus better (and more) songs, drums and vocals (and keyboard??).
The little shooter that could. I’m actually a bit surprised this just missed the cut, as different members of our panel have liked certain games in the series quite a bit (Borderlands 2 and Tales from the Borderlands in particular). But still, it’s remarkable to see how far the franchise has come from its loot-hoarding, reference-dropping roots.