My all-time favorite genre is the Metroidvania genre. I love the purity of sidescrolling, but I also like to explore and don't prefer being timed or on a lives system. Thus, having a non-linear, interconnected map is perfect. I also like feeling like my character is improved over the course of the game, a need which is most certainly validated when I return to a previous locale and find that the enemies fall like bowling pins! I love clever level design, and setting up a map that must be traversed in certain patterns definitely requires this. I really dig an immersing story that seems integrated with the gameplay, and most Metroidvanias are seamless in this way. Hubs with non-player characters are fun as well, since I'm perfectly content screwing around and interacting with other characters.
My first Metroidvania:
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance 2001) - When I first played this game, I got to the save point and thought that once the orb disappeared it was gone forever and I could never save there again! Fortunately my brother played a little of it and showed me that the orb regenerates upon revisiting the save room. Metroidvanias would be at a serious disadvantage if this weren't the case!
Two dimensional platformers are the first games I experienced when my brothers used to play releases like Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and The Lion King on our old PAL Sega Genesis. I like the straight-forward, no-nonsense gameplay as it doesn't demand you waste hours on insignificant stuff but compels you to give it your best and leave out all the rest. Sidescrolling is at the center of gaming history as many of the greatest innovations were made within its boundaries, and it will probably never become irrelevant as its core elements leave as much room for different interpretations as possible. While I do prefer Metroidvanias, the very concept wouldn't exist if it didn't result from experimentation with elements of 2D platformers.
My first 2D Platformers/Sidescrollers
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis 1991), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega Genesis 1992), and The Lion King (Sega Genesis 1994) - I played a little bit of the time and sloppily at that, though mostly I just watched my brothers playing these games and occasionally turned off the system on impulse. When I started gaming myself it was usually either Mario or Sonic-related, so I thought it was an especial treat when the character you played as could do more to fight off enemies than jump! The Castlevania series definitely grabbed me partly because of this.
I love a good 3D adventure, especially one from the innocent pixel-heavy days. The unique worlds created in series like Spyro the Dragon and the 3D Mario games have a definite magic and wonder to them, like the creators were forwarding their marvel at exploring the realm of 3D gaming straight to the gamer. As graphical capabilities became greater, the colorfulness and imagination seemed to have less emphasis. The 3D craze would pass eventually and sidescrolling would make a huge comeback, the three dimensional games becoming criticized for not being at the core of what makes gaming of a particular series fun. These kinds of games are still alive and kickin', however, and in full space at that. And unlike Metroidvanias and 2D Platformers, 3D Platformers tend to take some real time to beat.
My first 3D Platformers
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64 1996) or Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PlayStation 1997) - Crash 2 was the first game my brother got with his PlayStation, but I also have early memories of Super Mario 64. So, on one end you have Mario wandering a cartoony castle with classy music playing in the background, and on the other you have Cortex's big bulbous head, and I don't know which one came first. Shucks.
I like RPGs and all, but one must admit card battles are more interesting than that turn-based thing role-playing games do. And don't get me wrong, quick turn-based battles work for the frequency of battles and experience-gaining involved, but unless the RPG system has something that sets it apart I find playing cards more involving. Deck building involves careful thought and games require some improvisation on the player's part, an ability to make do with what one draws from the deck at that particular moment. On the other hand, I much prefer playing as a character who walks around in top-down fashion and meets people for battles, which stopped being a staple of the genre once the Yu-Gi-Oh! series kicked into high gear. I really like controlling a person and wandering a world, even a relatively small one, inbetween card clashes.
My first Card Battler
Pokemon Trading Card Game (Game Boy Color 1998) - I kind of found the Imakuni? bits frustrating because all he gives you that you can't get anywhere else is his self-titled card, and it sucks. I guess I still remember it, so perhaps the game did its job on that end.
Smash Bros.-esque Fighters
In a Super Smash Bros.-style brawl, anything can happen. An item can drop from the sky and change the course of the fight. Interaction with the stage can make someone fall or save them from a fall. One player, in a moment of carelessness, can jump off the edge of the stage, leaving him or her with one life less than the other players. Smash Bros. fighters are more complex than regular fighters for all the extra stuff that goes on in them, and yet they're much simpler in that the fighting system is easy for someone who's not a veteran to pick up. There's definitely merit in old-fashioned fighters, but the Super Smash Bros. series should be acknowledged for innovating like it did.
My first Smash Bros.-esque Fighter
Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64 1999) - Whenever I could, I'd attempt to do a 99 lives free-for-all match against CPUs. I got pretty far one morning, until my brother and his friend (who'd brought over the N64) woke up and made me stop playing. Yes, I had quite a traumatic childhood...
Combat Flight Simulators
I'm a cockpit-body, if that's even a thing. I love being where all the machinery is, in the front seat, and not behind or in front of the jet. Unfortunately, there was only one company developing first-person flight simulators for Nintendo handhelds from the Game Boy Advance on, though that company, Majesco, did a fantastic job. I love completing one mission after another, checking my radar to keep track of bogeys, viewing a little video of the jets I've just splashed blowing to bits, and all things involved with the experience. I've even developed a strategy for these games, which makes dog-fighting easier without keeping it from being fun. That being said, I haven't tried any non-combat flight simulators and I'm not sure if I'd like them.
My first Combat Flight Simulator
F-14 Tomcat (Game Boy Advance 2001) - Admittedly, the thing that drew me when I first saw magazine advertisements for the game was its graphics. This initial attraction was the gateway to a long, happy relationship.
Straight 2D Fighters
The thing I gotta say about regular two dimensional fighters is that they offer quite a lot on a simple premise. You always have a very basic horizontal stage and two fighters duking it out. That's why having a complex set of moves and combos is important. Sometimes it's just over my head, as titles with more than three or four attack buttons leave me in the dust when up against an experienced player or cleverly-programmed computer. And, honestly, the fighting game genre is one of those that would appear hard to innovate, evidenced by the fact that most of them have the same basic set-up along with a slightly different moveset. Not to mention most series have several different iterations of basically the same game when just one complete edition would have been preferable. In order to innovate on a large scale some of the conventions would need to be turned on their head, as done with the Super Smash Bros. series. But then some developers have pioneered in the past in ways we take for granted today, giving us things like the special bar and team battles. One aspect I really enjoy about old-fashioned fighting games is that, in a single instant, the tides of a fight can be turned: special attacks can take out a huge chunk of health all at once, no one has to be cornered in defeat, and a single moment of carelessness causes the edge to be lost.
My first Straight 2D Fighter
Mortal Kombat II (Game Gear 1994) - I don't think I could appreciate how solid of a fighter this was for a handheld system at the time. Before the Neo Geo Pocket Color, the standards for handheld fighting games were much lower. I could never get past Goro, but at least I can relax all my arms at either side, so six-limbs can suck it.
I usually prefer being able to control my main character's movement and exist vicariously through him, her, or it, but sometimes I just want to sit back, relax, and enjoy a story in laid-back (gameplay-wise, at least) fashion. I get tired of grinding after a while, but if you have patience it's an easy-going means of gaining dominance over opponents. My favorite things to do are explore the world and the towns and talk to people in the latter. To me, you're building a whole world when you make an RPG, so give the characters personality and don't stop at placing NPCs who simply drop hints about the gameplay. The two basic things that make an RPG work for me are innovative gameplay and an original, engaging story. Usually the quality of the story isn't nearly as important as gameplay for me, but the balance needs to be a little different in this kind of game.
My first RPGs
Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation 1997) or Pokemon Blue (Game Boy 1996) - My brothers thought FFVII looked dumb based on the commercials. Too bad I still remember this and won't soon let them forget about it. Pokemon Blue was one of my first total immersions into a video game, and I refuse to overwrite my original file in which I nicknamed my Squirtle (now a Blastoise) after my little black guinea pig gal pal from my childhood who has long since passed.
Single Screen Platformers
Like with fighting games, platformers made before the scrolling fad kicked into high gear do a lot with a little. There's a little more room for creativity with this type of game, but then these were on more primitive hardware. The variety that exist in these releases make for a full experience despite the set position of the screen. I don't really like games that never end, though if you can throw multiplayer in there then there's something to keep interest strong. Besides Galaga, each of these are the earliest games I call my favorites.
My first Single Screen Platformer
Mario Bros. (NES 1983) - I played this one on the Super Mario All-Stars version of Super Mario Bros. 3. I would go on to play it on the Game Boy Advance Mario ports and via the e-Reader. Somehow I like this more than all the later 2D Mario games. Maybe it has something to do with Mario actually plumbing at some moment in time. Hey, they made it work!
Due to popular demand (that of the thousand screaming voices in my head...) I'll be listing some of my favorite games, breaking them up into genre sections, and describing why I like each category so much. This list is different from my two-dozen other opinion-based game lists, I promise.