Editor's Note: The generation was classed as PC, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. If we included handhelds, these lists would never have been finished…
Before discussing my top three games of the generation, I want to share the rationale behind my selection, in particular the emphasis on the word 'game'. There have been many instances where I have been utterly engrossed over this console generation, but the reason for my adoration has been the story and characters, not the gameplay itself.. The mechanics acted as a means to an end, a bridge to connect the plot points and discover what happens to the characters for whom I’ve become so emotionally invested.
My games of the generation are those which offered me the absolute best experience of gameplay. The flawless design of every inch meant that you were never detracted from the game, not once putting the pad down to watch a cut-scene or endure any loss of control.
My honourable mentions list is filled with great story-driven games, but my top three is reserved for the finest gameplay experiences of this generation.
Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed games that do nothing but bring me incredible frustration. I have never quite understood why. 'Punch-Out!!' and the Mega Man series brought many a tear to my eye due to their near-insurmountable difficulty, especially during my formative years. To this day I still can't beat Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream. Thanks to my masochistic ways, it was only natural for me to be drawn to Demon's/Dark Souls.
To be honest, the first time round I didn't 'get it'. I picked up Demon's Souls without reading anything about it and after dying a dozen times at the entrance of Boletarian Palace, I gave up. I assumed death, as in most games, was a sign of inherent failure and incompetence on my part.
It wasn't until much later that I realised dying was a key part of the learning process of the series. For the first time in quite some time, I felt challenged. Not through cheap deaths or poor mechanics, but through great design that required a period of acclimatisation. I had to learn and overcome what Souls threw at me. It didn't bend when I asked for forgiveness, refused to offer easier alternatives when I failed, and asked me to rise to the challenge.
I have never felt such a greater sense of accomplishment from any video game than when I completed Dark Souls. The sheer sense of relief that washed over me when I finally beat Gwyn was only dampened by the contradictory feeling of worry that the From Software might pull a douchebag move and give me another foe to face. But no, after dozens of hours, and one PS3 controller lost to a bedroom wall, I had done it - I had survived.
If you are yet to play Dark Souls, maybe through fear of its insane difficulty, just sit down and give it a try. Open up the wiki and play. Yes it's brutal; yes it will punish you to the point of submission, but persevere, because there's no other game as rewarding.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The Galaxy team perfected the 3D platformer with Super Mario Galaxy and Galaxy 2. You will not find a more fun or immaculate experience anywhere else. Every level is pure joy. I didn't think a video game would come close to matching Super Mario 64, but I found myself having as much fun as I did all those years ago.
Yes there were some slightly bizarre additions (Bee Suit Mario, anyone?), but as an overall package, I dare say Galaxy surpassed its N64 predecessor. It finally gave me a reason to dust off my Wii, and didn't ask me to perform any over-the-top waggles or even get out of my seat.
The game was surprisingly challenging, too, particularly when it came to the specialist comet levels, which brought the nostalgic speed-run urge to prominence. The sense of challenge is something that has been missing from the Super Mario series in recent years, with only the post-completion content offering anything in terms of difficulty (except for the New Super Luigi U expansion, which offered a somewhat “classic” experience).
Having scoured galaxies, it's hard to imagine where Mario's next genre-defining adventure could take place, but wherever it may be, the team has an almighty task to match the Wii's entries.
The DJ Hero series has the best soundtrack of any music game. Bar none. Rock Band can keep the Beatles, Guitar Hero can keep Aerosmith, I'll take a mash-up of Rick James and Gwen Stefani every time.
Not only was the soundtrack amazing, but the peripheral was also a great piece of kit. Mastering the art of spinning the deck for a rewind and stopping it so that the buttons land perfectly under your fingers became an art, as any DJ Hero aficionado will attest to. DJ Hero achieved what Guitar Hero had done previously in making every player feel completely lost in the moment - for the tiniest moment, they became a musician.
I put way more hours into DJ Hero than I care to admit, even reaching the top 100 rank for most songs. I still pop back and try and beat my scores from time to time, even just to hear some of my favourite tracks. It was such a shame when Activision cancelled the series and I'd love to see it brought back to life on next-gen consoles. If Duke Nukem can get a reboot, DJ Hero certainly deserves a shot.
Telltale's The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Mass Effect 2, Trials HD, Bioshock Infinite, Metal Gear Solid 4, Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Gears of War, Super Meat Boy, Super Hexagon (iOS), Pulse (iOS)