9 Super Mario Sunshine - Mario sure knows how to vacation. I find that most people either love this game or hate it. Having grown up with Sunshine, it has a special place in my heart. While the story doesn't make much sense, that doesn't really matter because this is a Mario game after all. Platforming is what the series is known for and Sunshine delivers it's own unique spin on the formula. The new abilities F.L.U.D.D. gives you really open up the game into a virtual sandbox for you to play around in. Mario has never been this much fun to control or as maneuverable as he is in Sunshine. The atmosphere of the game is also perfect, and Isle Delfino looks like just the type of sunny, tropical island I would love to visit myself. The levels all feel organic and fit perfectly into the world, making the island very cohesive. While they are all based on the areas of Isle Delfino, there is still a great amount of variety on offer. Lastly, the soundtrack does an excellent job of setting the mood and makes you want to explore the sunny paradise.
8 Donkey Kong Country Returns - After years of being relegated to spinn-off games and experimental titles, Donkey Kong made his grand return to the limelight in this Retro Studios reboot, and what a return it was. After transforming the Metroid into a first person adventure with the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Retro decided to take DK back to his roots for an old school platformer. Not only did they succeed in reviving Donkey Kong, but they also crafted one of the best 2D platformers ever made. What sets Donkey Kong Country Returns apart from every other platformer on the market, even Nintendo's other series, is the level design. Plain and simple, the level design is head and shoulders above most other games on the market. Each level feels unique, holding its own identity, challenges, and features that set it apart from every other level in the game. While I love the older DKC games, often the levels felt too similar, like they were just tilesets thrown together. That's not the case here, and each level stands out as something memorable. The atmosphere is also perfect, making DK Island feel alive and natural. You actually feel like you're progressing across the island as you play through the levels. These aren't just 8 random worlds with stages, they're each a part of the island itself. Naturally, the visuals and music are also top-notch, but the gameplay takes the cake here. Donkey Kong may have been away for a while, but he sure knows how to make a comeback.
7 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Best game of all time? Maybe not, but it's still darn good. I didn't play Ocarina until the remake on the 3DS, and by that time I had heard quite a lot about it. I can safely say that the game lives up to it's reputation. There's not much to say here except that the game is extremely well designed and has aged almost flawlessly. All of the areas and dungeons are great, except for maybe the Water Temple, but even then it's not as bad as people make it out to be. The soundtrack is perhaps the most well rounded of the series, containing many recognizable songs. All in all, I would say that this is the quintessential Zelda experience. There's nothing bad I can really say about it, and enough people have already proclaimed its greatness, so let's move on.
6 Fire Emblem: Awakening - Fire Emblem is a series I was mildly interested in before Awakening. I played a little bit of Sacred Stones on the 3DS, and had just beaten Fire Emblem on the GBA. After trying the demo for Awakening, I liked it and nothing else was coming out at the time, so I decided to get the game. Nothing could have prepared me for the grand journey I was about to embark on. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a very special game for me. For starters, I played the game for almost 70 hours in a single playthrough. The game normally only takes 30 or so hours to beat, but I was so engaged with the world and characters that I didn't want the game to end. Many people have complained about the weak story of the game, and I'll concede that it's not the best ever, but that's not the important part of Fire Emblem; that would be the characters. I fell in love with the cast of characters in Awakening. Each one provides their own unique personality and learning more about each of them through the excellent support system is a joy. The ability to create your own avatar immersed me even more in the world; and I felt like I was actually a part of the adventure. All of the other aspects of the game are outstanding, and it truly feels like a celebration of the series, taking elements from many previous entries. I think one of the most telling parts about a game is when you feel a sense of sadness when it ends. Fire Emblem: Awakening is that game for me, and I didn't want to let it go, but I was grateful for the memories it had left me with.