These are the top games per console generation. This is a personal ranking, and just because a great game is not on here doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s also easier to look back now on many of these games and realize how much time and attention I gave them, and how willing I would go back and play it again. These are those games.
Note: I intentionally left off sports franchises such as FIFA and NBA 2K as they are released every year. To be fair, I probably play these more than any others.
The Sega Genesis was the first console I ever owned and so it’s natural that it is the most nostalgic. It was a pick up and play friendly time and all the games below mirror that. It was much easier to play for 30 minutes and be satisfied than it is with today’s games.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
“Sonic 2” was one of two of the first games I ever played and was the game I wanted more than any other. It didn’t disappoint. I still get cravings for this game. Every level just gets progressively better, and more epic until you’re finally in space taking down Robotnik.
X-Men 2: Clone Wars
I still believe this is the best X-Men game that has been made, and there have been some good ones with the X-Men Legends series and X-Men arcade, but this one is the finest. The animation is great, the storyline is surprisingly good despite the simple story telling, and using the super powers makes you feel superior to most of the bad guys you come up against. There is surprisingly good strategy as certain characters fit better with certain levels. Climbing walls with Wolverine and Nightcrawler; I mean come on, that’s awesome.
Gunstar Heroes is a game that is probably more popular now than it was when it came out. I remember renting this (at an actual store) on a whim and absolutely loving it. Great weapon system, great co-op, and the dice rolling game, good god, I tried the hardest to avoid “Curry & Rice.” (This guy makes it look easy). It was also great for multiplayer, much more of a rarity for shooters/side-scrollers at that time. The chaos on screen was met with gameplay that wasn't frustrating because it controlled so well.
I remember thinking how realistic the graphics were in this game (they are still alright) but that was a big selling point. Of course Jurassic Park was also the biggest movie to come out in recent memory so this was a big deal. It was a fairly difficult game, but with the ability to play as Dr. Grant in addition to a Velociraptor, there were two distinct gameplay styles. In fact, even as a human (with guns) you felt a lot more vulnerable than your time as the 'raptor.
I only know a couple of people that know anything about this game when I reference it now. It was a strategy-action hybrid, and it was tremendous fun. This game was relatively short, but there were so many ways to play it, and every battle went differently so it wasn’t repetitive. It was always hard not to pick the commandos; “Outnumbered, out gunned and loving every minute of it!”
Aladdin was the other game I got in addition to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The graphics and animation were superb and the gameplay was fun. Once I found the ABBABBABBA code and could zoom through the levels until I got to the magic carpet level, I was set.
I started to become obsessed with graphics and the 32x seemed like a cheap alternative to the Sega Saturn. In retrospect I am glad I never got the Saturn, but like most people, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the 32x, I only had two games but I played the hell out of them.
Star Wars Arcade
I remember this game being really hard, but I loved the dogfighting and Star Wars music. Like the next entry on this list, it was one of those games I popped in as soon as I got home from school.
I used Doom to do my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions: get the heavy-duty guns and never let my finger off the trigger. I loved the ability to jump to whichever level you wanted, and took it as a challenge to only have a pistol on the later stages. It looks like crap by today’s standards or even the PC back then, but it was amazing to me.
Once I got a PlayStation, I really started to think, “wow, I guess I am a nerd now.” Nintendo 64 was for the cool kids, but there was one game that I just had to play after seeing in action; Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII changed my perspective on videogames. I had never played an RPG before and the gameplay didn’t really turn me on, but the graphics, the FMVs, they had me. As I continued to play, I appreciated the gameplay and the story and I was hooked. I’ve played every Final Fantasy since (in the main series).
Metal Gear Solid
If I had to choose, I would say that Metal Gear Solid is my favorite game. I love movies and this was the most cinematic game of the time. I play this game about once a year and unlike other heavily storied games, I’ll still watch all the cinematics in this one.
Crash Team Racing
I had played a lot Mario Kart 64 with friends. I was always jealous there wasn’t an equivalent kart game on PlayStation, but with CTR I finally got my wish. I didn’t even like Crash Bandicoot, but unlike Mario Kart, there is almost a progression system, opening up the new tracks and racing against a boss just one on one in this game.
Great core gameplay mechanics kept me playing this one which I was expecting to be a MGS Clone and instead opened me up to action shooters.
I picked up a Dreamcast for $25 from a friend in High school after the system was already dead in the water. I wanted to love it so much because of my affection for the Genesis, but outside of four or five games, it didn’t get much action.
Shenmue was a more focused open world game that just happened to have battles play out like Virtua Fighter. Much of the action was done by quick time events, which is now a pretty standard practice. The graphics in this game were some of the best of the generation, even though it was on the least powerful console of said generation.
Easily the best of the Jak games, it’s a little darker, and more than simply a fetch quest. While Jak and Daxter was a Super Mario 64 clone, Jak 3 completely stood on its own.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater/Subsistence
The story and the boss battles are some of the best in the series. Not quite as convoluted as its predecessor in terms of story, the cinematics are beautiful and boast great action.
Final Fantasy XII
My favorite “traditional RPG” of all time. It can be played in so many ways. Great Star-Wars inspired story, the best graphics on the system and my favorite final fantasy battle system.
The system I see myself playing long into the future. There are so many quality games that I am not sure why I have a PS4. This was the first console I had in my “adult” life.
Uncharted 2: Among Theives
From a technical standpoint it might not be as good as Uncharted 3, but there was such a big wow factor, that I remember it more.
The Last of Us
It’s been talked about being so good by so many people that it is bound to become overrated at some point, but it IS just so good in so many ways.
Mass Effect 2
I loved the recruitment and relationships between characters, but honestly the combat is very good and not frustrating like in some action RPGs.
I bought the PSP for one game:
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Arguably the best MGS game in the series, the only thing that holds it back were the PSP controls, but they are easy to get over and the rest of the game is just a masterpiece.
Unlike the other consoles, I didn't have a game in mind when purchasing the Vita...and I still haven't found one that stands out. It's one of the common complaints about the platform. I've still played several wonderful games, but none that will be remembered when the Vita generation is over...yet.
Only a couple years in, but 2015 brought some sure-to-be classics to the fold.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
It takes the best parts of the two most recent entries, Peace Walker's infrastructure and Guns of the Patriots control scheme, and adds to them significantly. The first game that felt next generation in terms of all design aspects.