As with the movies, these may not be my absolute favorite games of all time. But they're 10 excellent games that I could pick up again and play at any moment, and I consider that to be just as important.
- Sonic 3 and Knuckles
Alright, so this one is closer to 2 games. After all, they were released as 2 separate games...because of the holiday rush to get Sonic 3 out. Put them together, though, and you get one of the most epic platformers put on a 16-bit console. Three playable characters, with a different story between playing as Sonic or Knuckles. Innovative and fun levels that push the 10 minute time limit. And easily the last agreeably great Sonic game. Nothing since has quite compared to it.
- Team Fortress 2
Very rarely am I even barely interested in a multiplayer only game. Maybe it was the inclusion in The Orange Box, maybe it was the cartoony graphics, but Team Fortress 2 hooked me so much that it's easily the game on this list I've put the most time into. The basic hyperactive, often hilarious, gameplay hasn't changed since launch, but its many additions with new game modes and weapons have only made the game more complex and a good reason to pick it up again when it falls off my radar.
- Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
To my knowledge, the only game on this list that I've also written a review for. Take the intriguing and twisting writing of the Phoenix Wright series, mix it with adventure gameplay that's simultaneously challenging and fun, and give the game a style all to its own. Ghost Trick might very well be one of the best adventure games of recent years, and its unique gameplay style may be imitated in the future, but it can never truly be matched.
- Super Mario Galaxy 2
Flip a coin between the first and second Galaxy games and you've still got perfection. 2's additions (Yoshi being the biggest one) make it the choice for this list, but either way, there's an incredible galaxy of worlds awaiting, where you never quite know where you're going to end up next or what the challenges are going to be, but they're always exciting and vibrant. Nintendo showed off exactly what the Wii could do with this series.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
When Kojima doesn't want to make a sequel, he makes a story that's incredibly confusing (MGS2) or overloaded with exposition (MGS4). When he does want to make a sequel, hell freezes over and we get Metal Gear Solid 3. The story is straightforward but emotionally complex, dealing with themes of betrayal and patriotism. Meanwhile, the gameplay is tight, with the camoflage, stamina, and healing systems all adding great new elements, and the boss battles being some of the series' best—especially when you learn their secret tricks. The Subsistence and HD re-releases fixed the camera and made things even better.
LittleBigPlanet positioned itself as the 2.5D platformer to end all platformers. Maybe not, but it was close. The fun and simple gameplay has its faults, to be sure, especially in the story mode. But when you went into the user-made content, suddenly the sky's the limit. From a recreation of the Titanic to tropical resorts, from tales of espionage to a trek through a pyramid, my favorite moments of LittleBigPlanet are the ones that people came up with. The second game gave more to do—sadly, the platforming potential ended up pushed to the sidelines.
- Rock Band 3
The only rhythm game you ever need. Adding the keyboards did wonders for its gameplay, with the pro keyboard mode being some of the most difficult fun I've had in a rhythm game. That may be the only thing putting it here over the first two Rock Bands, but with the full store at your disposal (sadly diminished now thanks to expiring licenses), there's plenty of songs to find for your next get-together, and the no-fail mode means that you can all play the hardest songs and not have to stare down the person who fails out within 15 seconds. The most fun you can have with your favorite songs outside of drunk karaoke.
- Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations
The visual novel genre has never really taken off in America like it has in Japan, likely due to the lack of any gameplay besides making decisions. Ace Attorney is one of the few series to have any real gameplay, which let it gain a foothold, and as much as Capcom wants to keep it down, it has continually provided some of the best stories in video games. Trials and Tribulations is the high point with memorable characters and plots that twist so much that you never know what's going to come next. This also marks the end of the original trilogy in a huge way, wrapping up many of its plotlines and providing some truly great scenes. The Phoenix Wright games don't leave much to replayability, but the excellent story can be experienced over and over again.
- Sly 2: Band of Thieves
The first Sly game entertained me with its Saturday morning cartoon aesthetics and mix of platforming and stealth. The second Sly game blew me away. The straightforward levels became miniature open worlds, free to explore and find their secrets as you set up for incredible heists. Each mission you completed starting putting the pieces together, but the heists themselves provided the real excitement, as every skill you've learned comes together until you hit the great boss battles. Adding Murray and Bentley as playable characters gave the game more variety, and the story, while simplistic, touched on some real emotions towards its climax (although closure would not come until the also-great Sly 3). The closest to Ocean's Eleven you're going to get in video game form.
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The first time I played Sands of Time...I didn't get it. The combat was awful. The platforming was difficult. The time mechanic seemed pointless. Something drew me back to it, and then something clicked. The parkour-based platforming is smooth and fun, with the time mechanic reducing some of the harshness while making it no less satisfying when you wall-run and jump across a room. Navigating around the palace's traps is exciting and difficult. The story is developed and stunning, based not around the sand monsters that roam the palace, but among the subtle changes in the relationship between The Prince and Farrah. The combat...is still not that great, but hey, even perfect games are a little less than perfect.