In no particular order.
Super Mario 64.
Nintendo 64/Remake on DS.
For me it's as simple as this; Super Mario 64 is the greatest achievement in gaming, ever. It defined a standard that barely any game has come close to perfecting since, including its own sequels.
I don't know what I admire more about this game- the fact that it is Nintendos first attempt to bring Mario to 3d or that it's the first of its kind. Period. Three dimensonal space was a new horizon to explore in the 90's. Mario 64, with its HUB based structure and large expansive worlds set an industry standard, copied and mimicked countless times over.
What I find key to the success of Mario 64 and will try to emulate to the best of my ability should I ever be given the chance to create games myself is the fun found in simply controlling Mario. Hours can be spent in Princess Peaches garden simply backflipping, sliding, swimming, running, punching, kicking and crawling- without even 'starting' the game. There is an attention to momentum and generous control given that creates a great sense of achievement when perfecting the many moves Mario has to master.
There is adventure crammed between 120 odd stars and a mammoth collection of worlds to explore. Sparking my imagination in ways never thought possible- I find to this day, with generations of gaming having come in its wake, that Super Mario 64 still floors me as a near-flawless piece of game design and the best possible debut for a Nintendo console that I'll probably ever see.
Mass Effect Series.
Mass Effect is just simply my kind of game. I'm a 23 year old now. My tastes have altered as I've grown older and I don't find myself drawn to games in the same ways I used to be. So I find it quite a feat for a game(any game!)to hold my attention quite so tightly as Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2.
I want to tell stories and these games are the best examples of how video games are a tremendous tool for doing exactly that. BioWare are masterful storytellers with some of the best in the business working on their games- with ME1 and ME2 you're getting more than your moneys worth. You're treated as a smart, logical, brilliant individual and you're rewarded for thinking through situations, talking your way out- there's guns yeah but it's rare for any game to not simply assume you're only here to shoot things.
Mass Effect is a rich, deep, gloriously rewarding experience- the kind of game that makes me proud to own it. I bought an N7 hoodie from the BioWare store and wear it with that very same pride. This is a special trilogy of games- I say that confident in the knowledge that the yet-to-be-released finale will only blow the other two out of the water. I respect BioWare immensely and can't measure the quality of their games- it's just above and beyond.
Pokemon Series (SoulSilver)
Gameboy/Gameboy Color/ Gameboy Advance/ DS.
Pokemon has a special place in my heart. Catching monsters that are essentially super powered pets, going all around the place battling gym leaders to earn your right to face up to the best of the best-collecting all your favourite little gits along the way. It's a magical formula, one that agreed a thousand times over with my 10 year old brain.
I don't list it here for the memories however- Pokemon is still going! And I'm still agreeing with that formula a thousand times over. You can pick countless reasons out to explain why I love Pokemon- it really doesn't matter which. These games are simply exceptionally well made. The quality has only risen with each new generation adding new features, gizmos, gadgets and pokes along the way. I think I can say that playing Pokemon 'takes me back' and reminds me of a simplertime, that nostalgic kick is evident yeah but I also think the part of me that simply appreciates craftsmanship, good artwork and brilliant game design admires Pokemon and always will.
Phantasy Star Online. (Episodes I & II)
Dreamcast/ PC/ Xbox/ Gamecube.
Something just clicks with me on this one. Boy does it click. Phantasy Star Online or PSO as it's referred to was the first ever massively multiplayer online console title and it debuted on the Sega Dreamcast. It involves making a custom character and 'beaming' down to several areas of a hostile planet to clear out room after room of hideous creatures to level up and hope to find rare weapons.
The beauty of PSO is in that simplicity. Games can be complicated affairs but like Pokemon- PSO was simple. If you wanted to get way into it and learn the secrets, you'd find a surprisingly deep well of complexity, if you didn't- you could still enjoy it. Levelling up with friends, finding red boxes and learning all the tricks to defeat each monster was a compelling joy.
The Legend Of Zelda : The Wind Waker / The Ocarina Of Time.
Nintendo 64/Gamecube/Remake coming to 3DS.
Zelda = Adventure games at their best. From Link to the Past through to Spirit Tracks I've walked miles and miles in Links boots and battled countless evil to protect the kingdom of Hyrule and beyond. Zelda is fantasy adventure but not in any way similar to what the words fantasy adventure might conjure up in your mind. It's unique- both in its play style and world of fiction and it's a fascinating piece of game design, regardless of which installment.
I chose to highlight two games from the series in particular. Both of which I've talked about before. The Ocarina Of Time was the Mario 64 of Zelda titles, pioneering the 'template' for Zeldas to come and transitioning a wildly popular top-down 2D game into full three dimensions. And what more can I really say about Ocarina? It's hailed by many a critic as the finest game ever made and among many Zelda fans- a favorite. The Wind Waker however causes quite a divide among fans and critics, with many turned off by its 'childish cartoony looks' and 'lack of dungeons'. These two reasons however are exactly why I love Wind Waker. It is the black sheep of the Zelda series and it stands higher than any of them in my eyes, I find new things to admire with each play through and have to question Nintendos decision to listen to fan demand when they created something so utterly magnificent in Wind Waker.
Special mention to-
Halo : Combat Evolved/Halo 3 : ODST.
Xbox/PC/Xbox 360/Remake coming to Xbox 360.
What draws me to Halo is that Stormtrooper affection I have. I'm a sucker for a good set of futuristic armour and a cool looking helmet. I love that Sci-Fi Army stuff because realism bores me- I love a fictional twist to things. Halo is a tremendous example of not only finely crafted gaming but flawless marriage of art and game design. What do I mean?
Well look at the Covenant weaponry, they're iconic yet functional. Believable, recognisable as a weapons yet so incredibly alien. Not only that but they each follow the same rough 'template' or shape giving the impression they were all made by the same race. That's not easy to pull off! Or the enemies, each unique, each providing set roles, each weak in certain areas by certain weapons, some invulnerable to methods- these are choices ruled by game design, highlighted and made obvious by strong art direction and excellent because they layer the fiction to a depth that is rich and rewarding.
I list ODST because it brings a very different experience to the Halo table, one that tests that marriage I talk about to a harsher extreme and I can't let mention of it go by without highlighting that music. Man.
Imagine a Sonic game that was made by Nintendo. That is to say imagine a Sonic game that somehow had all the slick stylish flair of a current generation platformer but contained within it; classic, retro elements. Elements that perfectly blend with those golden memories of being sat infront of the Sega Megadrive after school. Sonic Colours is that game and I whole heartedly stand by it as proof that there's a place for the blue hedgehog, it is perhaps the Mario 64 of Sonic games.