Top 5 Video Games

John Byers and Denon Strope, June 2, 2018

This is a comparison list of Denon's and my favorite games. We have different writing styles and vastly different opinions on video games so we thought it might be fun to do it this way. It was really hard to narrow it down to five picks, and I think we may extend it to a top 10 or top 20 in the future.


John's Pick

Pokemon Blue Version

I was totally obsessed with Pokemon in 3rd grade, the TV show was great, the cards were fun to collect, but the GameBoy games were my favorite part. It made it really seem like you were there exploring the Pokemon world, finding the cool Pokemon, and battling others. It made the show and card game even better, because it wasn't just a show, it was another window into the world you played on the GameBoy. Ash might run across a place you had been to in the game which was so cool! Pokemon Blue is my favorite Pokemon game. It's the only RPG on the list, and stands out because it is not a fast paced game. You get to explore or battle at your own speed, there are never any real "enemies" to avoid or quick reflexes needed. But it is really fun.

I was also really into dinosaurs when Pokemon got popular, and seeing "saur" at the end of Bulbasaur was pretty exciting, as if the pokemon was some sort of dinosaur, so I almost always chose Bulbasaur as my starter Pokemon. I also always caught a Pikachu in Viridian Forest, and would battle my way through the huge and interesting world. Despite the old 8-bit graphics, each area in the game was interesting and had a unique vibe, thanks to the music and the different pokemon you could find. I wrote to Nintendo as a kid asking if they would make a version with good graphics for the N64, they replied "Thanks for the idea, but we have other plans". It was fun battling friends with the GameBoy link cable, and trading rumors on how to get Mew or other urban legend pokemon. There were so many false rumors floating around, it was really hard to know which ones were true. Eventually I did get a Mew in a trade with a friend. The sequels, Pokemon Gold and Silver are also great, especially because after beating the main game, you get to go to the land of Pokemon Red and Blue, and see how things have changed.

Denon Comment: I’ve always preferred Pokemon FireRed myself, as Charizard is clearly the coolest starter Pokemon, but yeah. First Generation Pokemon in particular is awesome and serves as a great introduction to RPGs.

Denon's Pick

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

I’m not going to lie, it feels a bit dirty putting this game here. As amazing as this game is, I don’t know that it truly earns a place as one of the greatest games of all time. Honestly, it isn’t even my favorite entry in the franchise, that honor belongs to its sequel, Sly 2: Band of Thieves. However, I do feel obligated to put it on this list of personal favorite games for the massive impact it had on my life. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is the game that turned me into a gamer. The game that sparked my lifelong passion for videogames and fundamentally changed my life as a result.

Everything about the game just works so damn well. Its Saturday morning cartoon feel, loveable trio of heroes, simplistic but engaging story, stealth gameplay that isn’t too challenging for its target audience, and simplistic but enjoyable platforming. This combination of easy to learn gameplay and engaging Saturday morning cartoon feel and story made it the first game to keep me engaged all the way through to the end. It was the first game I can remember beating as a kid, and defeating the final boss was immensely rewarding.

I was constantly checking this out from my local Blockbuster until I managed to convince my parents to get me a copy. I returned to this game constantly, slowly finding all the secrets. To this day I occasionally return to this franchise, beating the first game and finding all the secrets in a single day because it is so ingrained in my memory at this point. It molded who I am as a gamer, establishing a love of the stealth genre and storytelling in videogames that remains true to this day. I don’t know if Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus quite manages to be one of the best games of all time, but it is certainly among my favorites because of the massive impact it had on me.

John Comment: My only experience with Sly is one of the original games (on the Vita). I had high hopes for it, as I love a 3D platformer, but it started off way too slow. The cutscenes were way too long, and playing as the non-raccoon characters just wasn’t that fun. I believe that the Sly games are good, but I want to jump into the action quickly on a handheld, and Sly was just too slow for that.


John's Pick

Age of Empires 2

I was introduced to Age of Empires 2 at an older friend's house-I thought anything he liked was automatically cool. But Age of Empires 2 really was cool! I had played Jurassic Park: Chaos Island and Small Soldiers RTS games before, so I kind of understood RTS basics, but Age of Empires 2 was in another league. There was so much going on. You had to find food, gold, and other resources while also building a town, an army, and defending or attacking the other players. It was really cool having so many options. And having different tribes with unique units was awesome too, my favorite as a kid were the Japanese with their Samurai.

There were tons of maps to play in the game, Black Forest was a maze of trees, easy to defend in. Islands required war ships and transporting your guys to and from islands. Fortress gave everyone a pre-built fort. They were all really cool. Our friends down the road had the expansion pack with even more maps and civilizations. I liked playing a game on a giant sized map against a bunch of bots-it would take hours slowly moving through beating each bot's town. And each battle was unique and memorable! And the mapmaker in the game was super cool too.

After a few years, I stopped playing. Age of Empires 3 came out but wasn't quite as fun. Then in college, I found out other people were into Age of Empires 2 also, and that you could play it from a flash drive! I had some great battles against other people in my dorm, and sometimes between classes we would play a quick game in the library. It was awesome! Then, the game got re-released on Steam in HD, with even more civilizations added. The game is 20 years old now, and seems as popular as ever! It is still one of my favorites to play at a game night. My favorite mode is to team up with all the humans and play against some extra-hard bots. It is a fun team game and a classic RTS.

Denon Comment: I’m sure this game is great and all given how much love it still gets to this day, but there is way too much to manage at any given moment for my brain to possibly comprehend this game. When I discover I have cancer, I will blame all the time spent playing this game at game nights as the cause.

Denon's Pick

God of War (2018)

God of War was an interesting game for me. It is one of the only times I have played a game and absolutely fell in love with it while still being aware of its flaws to the point of it still detracting from the experience slightly. Whereas my next three games on this list I would give a perfect score, as they were unparalleled gaming experiences for me, God of War falls just short. None of this is to detract from what an amazing game God of War is.

God of War contains some of the best melee combat I have ever experienced in a game, with every single hit having a brutal impact that add a viciousness to every aspect of the combat. It’s slightly slower, more tactical approach also means that fights with higher level enemies can be as tough and rewarding as a traditional boss fight. The game’s RPG elements manages to be immensely rewarding and engaging, with moves unlocking over time to keep combat fresh and various gear to tailor to your playstyle. Exploration and side content is also engaging, with side missions and conversation between Kratos and his son Atreus while exploring serving to deepen the lore and characters.

Finally, there is the story. God of War manages to take a straightforward tale and turn it into a mature story with complex characters and themes. However, as fantastic as it is when it is firing on all cylinders, God of War’s story unfortunately feels very stop and go at times. As such, the story doesn’t flow quite as nicely as it could have. There is also a dramatic shift in a character’s behavior around the halfway point. While it makes sense within the context of the story and feels necessary, it is unfortunately all too jarring and feels rushed. Other than that, God of War is a phenomenal game, about as close as I’ve ever seen a game get to being about as perfect as a game can be without quite reaching its lofty goals. It is absolutely worth your attention.

John Comment:I am psyched to play this. I’ve never been a hack and slash kind of guy, but after seeing a little gameplay for the new God of War makes me want to try it.


John's Pick

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

In second grade, I wanted a Nintendo 64 so bad. It was all I thought about--after all, it had so many great characters: Mario, Banjo, Yoshi, Kirby, and more. For Christmas that year, we finally got our Nintendo 64! It was awesome, but ours came with a game I had never heard of...Zelda. What was Zelda? We had seen the previews for the game (at the movie theater weirdly enough) but I didn't know anything about it. We put it into the system and played it...and didn't like it. We thought it was kind of stupid, we were stuck in Kokiri Forest and had no idea what to do. The graphics seemed good, but that was it. We decided it was not very fun.

As time went on, reading text in video games didn't seem quite as boring, so we played it again. It turned out to be a pretty cool game! Taking the time to read what the characters say lets you progress through the game. We suddenly got a sword, slingshot, and other great items and realized how cool and huge the game was. But we were still stuck, this time, as child-link. Some of my friends with older brothers had advanced far into the game, as adult-link and it looked really cool. Eventually, we got a strategy guide, and around 5th grade, we finally started progressing through the game again. It was amazing. Hyrule was huge! The dungeons were huge too, and fun to explore. There were a ton of cool side quests and places to explore. I couldn't believe a game could be so big. The controls were great too, especially with the locking camera z-button. The characters were great, the music is still some of my all-time favorite in video games, and the towns and places to explore in the game were awesome. I especially liked the non-dungeon areas of the game, it was fun exploring and seeing how everything changed in the seven years between child-link and adult link. Zelda: Ocarina of Time went from being one of my least-favorite games to an all-time favorite.

Denon Comment:Ocarina of Time was super innovative at the time of its release. Personally, I think the game is a little overrated and doesn’t rank in my personal favorites videogames, but it is still great. Basically, screw the Water Temple. And now that I have ruined my credibility to everyone reading this list...

Denon's Pick

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

The most incredible achievement of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is how immaculate its design is. Whereas other games use a similar control method of controlling two characters at the same time with each joystick as a cheap gimmick to help sell their game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons designed its entire game around this concept and has an excellent understanding of how to make this control scheme intuitive instead of frustrating. Levels are designed so it’s easy to control both brothers at once when necessary, and to let you focus on each individually where needed. This constant interplay between the two brothers and how you control them serves to strengthen your connection to them. Very rarely can you achieve something without having both brothers involved in the task, making each of them feel like an important and vital addition to the game. It even uses its control scheme for certain story beats, making the event that much more poignant.

Also impressive is the fact that Brothers manages to craft a highly emotional and heartfelt narrative without a single line of comprehensible dialogue. The characters in the game speak a fictional language, and yet through visual clues and context, you’re always able to understand what is being said. It tells such a beautiful story that by the end the game had left me in tears. It’s decidedly difficult for any form of media to get me so emotional, and it is a testament to how incredible Brothers storytelling is that it was able to elicit such a strong emotional response from me. Given that the entire game only takes about two hours to complete, I would highly recommend everyone give this game a chance, and if you can, completing it in one playthrough is definitely the optimum way to play through this game. I cannot possibly give higher praise for this game. It is basically perfect in both concept and execution.

John Comment: I have never seen anything about this game, but the idea of controlling a character with each joystick reminds me of the weird Animal Crossing mini-game on Nintendoland, which is awesome, so I like the idea.


John's Pick

Banjo Kazooie

I've already done a full review on Banjo Kazooie available here. It is easily one of the best platformer games of all time. Everything about the game is great. The music is perfectly suited for each level and changes dynamically as you move through the worlds. The levels are huge, interesting, with great platforming and interesting characters. Banjo's controls are tight, and similar enough to Super Mario 64 that it just feels natural. The gameplay is perfect. It is so fun running around the levels, trying to find puzzle pieces and notes so you can get to the next level. The level design in particular is great. The snow level feels cold, but approachable, and you really want to climb to the top of the snowman! The haunted house level is spooky but fun to explore. Click click wood is a masterpiece as you climb to the top of a tree in all four seasons, with stuff changing in each season.

Banjo Kazooie is a perfect game. It is no-nonsense, you just get to explore the great levels, interact with a few great characters, listen to great music as you play, and have a lot of fun. I highly recommend Rare Replay on the Xbox One, just to play it in beautiful HD on a modern widescreen.

Denon Comment:Banjo Kazooie is fantastic. Rare nailed the music and visual design of that game, plus it managed to make collecting everything engaging and rewarding. Definitely among the best 3D platformers out there, especially collectathons.

Denon's Pick

Persona 5

The first thing you are bound to notice about Persona 5 is how stunning its visual design is. Everything from its cutscenes and character designs to its menus are absolutely gorgeous. Everything sticks to a distinct punk rock visual theme, which in turn ties into its narrative themes of rebellion, morality, and justice. Even more impressive, it manages to connect its story and themes with its gameplay mechanics.

Half traditional JRPG, half time management social sim; it manages to find a way to make the two interact in meaningful ways, making for a truly unique experience. For example, hanging out with friends serves to both deepen the characters and raise their usefulness in combat. However, Persona 5 runs on a time system, with only a certain number of days allotted for you to progress the story before you have to restart at the last save. This sounds daunting, but you are always given plenty of time and the sheer number of options available at any moment makes deciding what to do feel meaningful and deliberate. Even choosing dialogue options feels important, striking the perfect balance between role playing and meaningful gameplay rewards, from determining how quickly your friend levels up to whether a monster will join your party.

Combat is a mix of Final Fantasy and Pokemon like combat, taking the basic party combat from Final Fantasy and throwing in the monsters and elemental attributes from Pokemon, and the mixture is remarkably enjoyable. Every single mechanic in Persona 5 ties into and connects back to the story and narrative elements in a way few games manage to achieve. The entirety of Persona 5 is a cohesive and masterfully designed package. By the end of its 80+ hour adventure, I felt as though I had actually come to know these characters. Finishing the game felt like having to leave a group of friends, with the ending perfectly managing this sensation of saying goodbye. It is an experience that I have only ever had topped by one other videogame.

John Comment: I’ve heard great things about Persona 5. My only experience with Persona is Persona 4 on the Vita, which is a cool game, but too much of a grind. I think I would prefer a version with no leveling characters, basically no fighting, just living life in that weird town. Maybe Persona 6 will be like that...


John's Pick

Super Mario 64

The only other game that is even close to as fun as Banjo Kazooie is Super Mario 64. Like Banjo, it has big, interesting worlds to explore. You get to run, jump, and platform in 3D collecting stars. The worlds are all huge too, and have great platforming. Mario 64 has a ton of worlds too, with all sorts of themes. Lava, snow, desert with a pyramid, underwater, haunted house, and more. The controls are tight, and perfect. The music is great, with a lot of references to old 2D Mario songs. The gameplay is great too, simple 3D platforming, collecting stars. At first, it seems like the coins are just there as a homage to the older 2D Mario games, which are full of coins. But then you realize that collecting them heals Mario, and if you collect 100 in a level, you get an extra star. This can be really fun, and very challenging! Some of the levels are really difficult, especially inside the clock and in the clouds with the magic carpet. But they are still a lot of fun.

Super Mario 64's huge worlds and great controls set the bar high for other 3D platformers. I couldn't believe how cool it was seeing the game for the first time, and I immediately wanted a Nintendo 64 of my own after that. I recently got all 120 stars on the Wii U version, and it was just as good as I remember on the Nintendo 64.

Denon Comment: I love everything Super Mario 64 did for the industry, and I have fond memories of playing this game as a kid. That said, I think the game’s controls have aged horribly, making it extremely difficult to go back to. My favorite Mario game would have to go to Super Mario Odyssey. I think the added utility of cappy and the possessions really opens that game up and gives you a lot of options to accomplish the same goal.

Denon's Pick

The Last of Us

I had impossibly high expectations for The Last of Us and it managed to meet or surpass every single one of them. Right from the game’s riveting opening, I knew that I was in for something special. The atmosphere is drenched in dread and tension. Collectibles littered throughout the environment tell stories of other people trying to survive in an unforgiving landscape, and its environmental storytelling is masterful, telling its own little stories of things that happened there. Every violent kill, every vile act, every moment where survival feels uncertain helps sell this brutal and unforgiving world that has brought out the worst in humanity.

The fact that this game is so grim and unforgiving makes its moments of hope and levity that much more poignant. It makes your quest to get Ellie across the country feel that much more important and worthwhile. Joel and Ellie’s relationship develops into a fierce bond over the course of the game, and as this relationship is developing, so too is your relationship with these characters.

Gameplay nails a survival feel as resources are limited, forcing the player to scavenge for supplies and employ stealth where possible. Since the player has to try so hard to stay alive, combined with the world’s brilliant atmosphere, the player not only feels vulnerable, but also develops a desire to protect Ellie from danger. This creates a bond between the player and these characters unlike any other videogame I have played. This is only deepened by the numerous optional interactions you can have with Ellie, developing her character masterfully.

The Last of Us is the single greatest gaming experience of my life. It isn’t quite perfect of course, nothing is. But the absolutely astonishing highs this game achieves all but drown out any slight annoyances the game might be hiding. It’s mature and complex tale of survival and morality is truly something to behold. It is absolutely deserving of all of the praise it received upon its release and more.

John Comment: I haven’t beat The Last of Us, but when I was playing it, it really was great, I can totally see why it would be in a Top 5 list. The world was cool, the zombies were scary, and the action was good. I’m excited to try it again, and get to the Salt Lake City part of the game.