My favorite AAA games by year, 1985 through 2014
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I'm turning 30 later this year. To commemorate the milestone, and to participate in AAA games week, I've made a list of 30 AAA games, my favorite from each year, from the year of my birth to 2014. 2015 isn't over yet, so it doesn't make the list.

All games on this list are games I've beaten. There are plenty of AAA games I've never beaten or never played at all, so if your favorite AAA game didn't make the list, it might be because I'm just not familiar with it. Games are dated based on their initial release date, not necessarily the year I played them.
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1. Video Game: Super Mario Bros. [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:250] [Average Rating:7.53 Unranked]
Video Game: Super Mario Bros.
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1985 - Super Mario Bros.

This game is a true classic that spawned a massive franchise. It's not the best game in the series, but it's a fun, colorful, original game with great music and memorable characters and settings.
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2. Video Game: Metroid [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:671]
Video Game: Metroid
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1986 - Metroid

Another franchise-spawner, this game does a superb job of creating a creepy alien atmosphere with a great sense of exploration and discovery.

Honorable mention:
The Legend of Zelda

It's tough for me to choose between the original Metroid and the original Zelda, since both are superb games and clear classics. For me, Metroid just barely wins.
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3. Video Game: Super Mario Bros. 2 [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:755]
Video Game: Super Mario Bros. 2
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1987 - Super Mario Bros. 2

Sort of an odd pick for a AAA game, since this game wasn't even originally designed to be a Mario game, but the game is excellent and it's good enough to be associated with the franchise. It has wonderfully music, very fun and original gameplay, and a memorable fantasy world.

Honorable mentions:
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Contra
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4. Video Game: Super Mario Bros. 3 [Average Rating:8.32 Overall Rank:29] [Average Rating:8.32 Unranked]
Video Game: Super Mario Bros. 3
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1988 - Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 is my favorite game of all time, so it's easily the best AAA game released in 1988.

Honorable mention:
Super Contra
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5. Video Game: Super Mario Land [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1213]
Video Game: Super Mario Land
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1989 - Super Mario Land

1989 was sort of a dry year for AAA games. I don't even really think this game is that great, honestly. It's not a bad game, but I don't consider it to be "classic". It makes the list by default.
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6. Video Game: Super Mario World [Average Rating:8.44 Overall Rank:18] [Average Rating:8.44 Unranked]
Video Game: Super Mario World
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1990 - Super Mario World

This game is fantastic. It takes everything that was great about the NES Mario games and beefs it up to 16 bits, adding secret stage exits and a complex, branching overworld map.

Is it even possible to spoil this game? Has anyone not played it yet?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Special, the hardest and funnest world in the game that's accessed from finding a secret stage exit inside the Star World (the world that was already a secret world) is still one of the coolest things I remember from my childhood video games.
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7. Video Game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past [Average Rating:8.79 Overall Rank:2]
Video Game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
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1991 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

A close contender for my favorite game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a masterpiece. It perfected the Zelda format, and in my opinion it hasn't been beat in the franchise since.

Honorable mention:
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991 / 16-bit)
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8. Video Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit) [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:362]
Video Game: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (16-bit)
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1992 - Sonic the Hedgehog 2

This is arguably the best game in the Sonic franchise and the best game on the Sega Genesis. It's fast, it's fun, and it has great music.

Honorable mentions:
Kirby's Dream Land
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
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9. Video Game: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993) [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:85]
Video Game: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)
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1993 - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

This game is the wonderful formula from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on a portable system. I actually didn't play through this game until just last year, and though the graphics are extremely dated, the gameplay still holds up very well.

Honorable mention:
Kirby's Adventure
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10. Video Game: Super Metroid [Average Rating:8.72 Overall Rank:8]
Video Game: Super Metroid
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1994 - Super Metroid

What The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past did in updating the Zelda franchise to 16-bit, Super Metroid did to the Metroid franchise. This game is a masterpiece and a classic.

Honorable mention:
Donkey Kong Country
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11. Video Game: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:217]
Video Game: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
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1995 - Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest

This is one of my favorite games of all time. It's a masterwork of 16-bit platforming fun.

Honorable mentions:
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Kirby's Dream Land 2
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12. Video Game: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars [Average Rating:8.05 Overall Rank:106]
Video Game: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
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1996 - Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

This is my favorite JRPG ever. It's got a crazy plot with weird, memorable situations and a wacky sense of humor. It has varied and satisfying gameplay and a great music score.

Honorable mentions:
Super Mario 64
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble
Diablo

Overall 1996 was a great year for AAA games. Any of these honorable mentions could have easily won in other years.
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13. Video Game: The Curse of Monkey Island [Average Rating:8.21 Overall Rank:67]
Video Game: The Curse of Monkey Island
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1997 - The Curse of Monkey Island

This is my favorite game in the Monkey Island series and the game that made me love the character Guybrush Threepwood. I wish the later games in the series could have been this good.

Honorable mention:
Star Fox 64
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14. Video Game: StarCraft [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:62] [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked]
Video Game: StarCraft
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1998 - Starcraft

This is my favorite RTS game ever. The way it balances three different playable races with radically different units and tech trees is brilliant.

Honorable mentions:
Banjo-Kazooie
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
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15. Video Game: Donkey Kong 64 [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:1001]
Video Game: Donkey Kong 64
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1999 - Donkey Kong 64

This game was sort of the last hurrah for the Nintendo 64. It's a massive 3D platform game with fun gameplay and goofy characters.
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16. Video Game: Diablo II [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:73]
Video Game: Diablo II
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2000 - Diablo II

This action RPG is a fun exercise in variable rewards psychology. You can easily spend hours in this game just collecting loot, identifying it, selling it, and repeating - it's completely mindless, yet somehow incredibly addictive.

Honorable mention:
Paper Mario
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17. Video Game: Super Smash Bros. Melee [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:75]
Video Game: Super Smash Bros. Melee
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2001 - Super Smash Bros. Melee

This crazy brawler filled with Nintendo's biggest mascots is both a perfect party game and a serious skill-based competitive game for hardcore fighting game enthusiasts.

Honorable mentions:
Sonic Adventure 2
Advance Wars
Golden Sun
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Overall 2001 was a great year for AAA games.
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18. Video Game: Metroid Prime [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:76]
Video Game: Metroid Prime
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2002 - Metroid Prime

This is my favorite game in the Metroid franchise. It does an incredible job of making you feel alone on an alien world. The Metroid gameplay formula of exploration and skill unlocking is executed flawlessly.

Honorable mentions:
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
SoulCalibur II
Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Metroid Fusion
Super Mario Sunshine

2002 was another great year for AAA games.
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19. Video Game: F-Zero GX [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:603]
Video Game: F-Zero GX
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2003 - F-Zero GX

This is my favorite high-speed racer. It's got superb gameplay and a huge variety of tracks, racers, missions, and unlockables.

Honorable mentions:
Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
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20. Video Game: The Sims 2 [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:787]
Video Game: The Sims 2
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2004 - The Sims 2

It's crazy to think that what's basically a suburban life simulator can be this immersive, this addictive, and this fun. There's a huge amount of stuff to do in this game.

Honorable mentions:
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
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21. Video Game: Civilization IV [Average Rating:8.36 Overall Rank:25]
Video Game: Civilization IV
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2005 - Civilization IV

This turn-based strategy civilization building game is incredibly addictive and extremely well polished. R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

Honorable mention:
Resident Evil 4
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22. Video Game: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:115]
Video Game: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
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2006 - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

This action RPG from Bethesda is incredibly open-ended and immersive. The main storyline is fun enough, but the real brilliance of this series is the ability to go off the plot line and explore the world freely and do anything. There are tons of crazy and fun side quests to find too.

Honorable mentions:
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
New Super Mario Bros.
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23. Video Game: Super Mario Galaxy [Average Rating:8.16 Overall Rank:56]
Video Game: Super Mario Galaxy
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2007 - Super Mario Galaxy

This is the first real expansion of the Mario franchise into new gameplay territory since Super Mario 64. It's as fun and polished as the best games in the series.
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24. Video Game: Fallout 3 [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:51] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
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2008 - Fallout 3

This is another massively open-ended sandbox RPG from the same team that made The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, this time in a fun post-apocalyptic setting.

Honorable mention:
Grand Theft Auto IV
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25. Video Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:108]
Video Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
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2009 - New Super Mario Bros. Wii

This is the first really great 2D Mario platform game since Super Mario World, and they make great use of the more powerful hardware available to do some crazy and new things with the levels.

Honorable mention:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
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