My how games have evolved. I was set to draft a top ten list of my favorite genres in gaming as a way to introduce myself and give a little glimpse of my gaming palate, but then I discovered how hard it is to categorize games. That isn’t to say that game genres aren’t obvious, its more that games have evolved into forms that borrowed mechanics from other genres and even sub-genres have enough influence to stand on their own. Case in point, Mass Effect plays like a third person shooter, but it is firmly embraced as the finest of western styled role playing games. This holds doubly true for the second and third titles, as the RPG elements get a little lighter and the cover-based shooter combat takes center stage. Even further complicating categorizing Mass Effect is the fact that it is considered a western RPG (WRPG), a divide in the RPG genre (the other being the Japanese RPG).
Head spinning yet?
Even after I limited myself to just talking about major genres I felt guilty about not specifying sub-genres, niche genres and even classic genres. In fact, it actually makes me proud to be able to have such a variety to choose from.
So as much as it pains me to leave off the shoot-em-up, the beat-em-up, the sandbox game, the space combat simulator, and the grown men wailing on plastic instruments to a rhythm game, here is my list of my favorite genres, in its purest form.
Be it Real Time or Turn Based, strategy games are a cornerstone of the PC gaming world. While it is Blizzard’s StarCraft that readily comes to mind when waging intergalactic war, one has to remember the legions of samurai at your command in Shogun: Total War, fighting two decades of aliens in XCOM and how it is impossible to merely play one more turn in a Civilization game, especially with Ghandi on the verge of nuclear technology.
What started with calling next match at the local bowling alley, fighting games are one genre that has truly seen every evolution of modern gaming. Be it the pixelated 8 bit fighters of the 80s, the trash talking between Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat fans in the 90s, or the leap into 3D with Virtua Fighter, Tekken and Dead or Alive, fighting games have always found a way to stay relevant, fun to play and most of all, competitive. Fighting games have proven to be timeless as many tournaments still feature titles from the 90s.
Sports games get a bit of a bad reputation in the gaming world, maybe because of a bit of resentment from the geek culture in general, stick jockeys are never taken too seriously. With an annual release cycle that has the perception of mere roster updates, some of the criticism is warranted, but sports games have come so very far and have always been a part of the gaming world. Today’s sports games are photorealistic, with a ton of depth in the way rules and strategy are handled and sports games have some of the fiercest online communities in all of gaming. Just pay attention to what NBA 2K, FIFA and Tiger Woods PGA Tour are doing with their technology and mechanics and you will see why a new iteration is needed every year.
To be honest, puzzle games have been lacking on consoles and PCs lately, but not on the mobile platform. For the casual gamer who plays on their phone, puzzle games are king. Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, these are games that are fun, lively and addictive. And while I may catch some flak for ranking puzzlers on this list based in part of the genres success on mobile devices, I have to point to titles like Lumines, Professor Layton and Might & Magic Clash of Heroes as titles that are gorgeous, deep and incredibly challenging. Even the incredible Portal is a hybrid puzzler. Oh, and I consider a little game known as Tetris to be the single most influential game of all time.
I include platformers mostly out of respect. They are games that I can easily identify the care and creativity involved in crafting such a title, as is evident by the stellar Super Mario series, but they are also so incredibly long that I haven’t completed a platformer in a very long time. But I will point out the fantastic Little Big Planet as a title that takes the platformer and gives creative control to the user, because the user created levels are so varied, it is a title that always has something to offer.
I use the genre action/adventure to describe games that are heavy in exploration and basic puzzles and less about downing dozens of enemies in a shootout. Games like The Legend of Zelda, Okami and Prince of Persia fit into this category. In fact, I think that many of the titles that fall under this umbrella are stellar and the genre itself could be one of my favorites. But then again, I’m probably only thinking about Zelda and Okami games, timeless classics that are holding up the genre by themselves.
I play a lot of racing games. I always have, I always will. So long as there have been game boxes with cars on them, they’ve been in my library. I’ve even gone as far as to break the racing genre into three sub-genres. Simulation racers are heavy on realism and real world tactics and include titles like Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo. Arcade racers like Need for Speed and Burnout are a little lighter in the realism department but still have the breakneck speeds and real world (ish) cars. Party racers are barely realistic and have mechanics like powerups, boost strips, and crazy courses. Party racers include Sonic All-Stars Racing, Blur and of course, Mario Kart.
3. Action/Shooter (First Person)
The First Person Shooter is the elephant in the building these days, with Call of Duty being the biggest of them all. While the multiplayer arena has a penchant for immature name calling and fast twitch matches, I find the genre to have some of the most compelling setpieces in gaming. Bioshock Infinite, Half-Life 2, Halo Reach are all fantastic examples of solid FPS mechanics grounded in a worthwhile narrative.
2. Action/Shooter (Third Person)
Uncharted. Grand Theft Auto. Assassin’s Creed. Gears of War. Tomb Raider. Metal Gear. There are so many incredible games that fall into the gamut of this genre. And I can praise each one for a different strength. Uncharted delivers an incredible cinematic experience. No game does the sandbox quite as well as Grand Theft Auto. Assassin’s Creed has a perfect meld of fiction and history. Gears of War set the bar for cover based shooters. Lara’s reimagined character is so defining, so human in the new Tomb Raider. Nobody puts quite as much care into his games as Kojima does for his Metal Gear.
It always boils down to RPGs for me. I can lose myself for days in the worlds and characters of the best RPGs, and even sink weeks into the most mediocre of RPGs. I just have a soft spot for them. Grinding levels in Final Fantasy, exploring the Capitol Wasteland in Fallout, looking for dalmatian tracks in Kingdom Hearts, RPGs always find a way to connect with me. I love the intricate character creation process of the WRPG, the battle systems and submenus of the JRPG. Whenever I recommend games, regardless of system, I always find a way to recommend an RPG.