The Greatest Video Games of All-Time (IMO)
100| Red Earth
Released: November 21st, 1996
Available on: Arcade
In the mid-nineties traditional 2D gaming was quickly being replaced by polygons. The amount of immersion and possibilities 3D gave players at the time made 2D seem very antiquated. This was especially true in the arcades as near limitless high-end hardware resulted in games looking, at the time, photorealistic with graphics that wouldn’t be matched on consoles until a full generation later. However, there was one developer who stayed committed to 2D, and that was Capcom. While competitors Namco and Sega strived to push with 3D, Capcom decided to continue to push 2D as much as possible. In 1996 they released the CPS3 board which was the last piece of hardware of its kind, one that solely focused on pushing 2D graphics and capabilities to their limit. The board is best known for Street Fighter III. However, the unit launched with a different game.
Red Earth can best be described as a single player focused fighting game. While it does have a two player versus mode, the meat of the game is in the single player mode which involves fighting eight unique boss battles. This ranges from creatures similar to a griffin, octopus, and tyrannosaurs rex. Now while the game may not be too much to write home about, it (barely) makes this list primarily due to two reasons. The first is that the game’s unique single player focus is appealing. If you ever found yourself bored one night and want to play a fighting game but have no one to play with Red Earth is pretty much made for you. The bosses are diverse and difficult as they require the player to plan out strategies to overcome them. The second reason, as shallow as it sounds, are the graphics. I mean holy hell just look at these:
How could you see these sprites and not want to play the game? Capcom took a hell of a gamble with Red Earth. It was arguably the last 2D game that really pushed gaming hardware to its limit. It was unfortunate that the gamble didn’t pay off.
Released: July 3rd, 2009
Available on: PC
Counter-Strike is one of the most popular online first person shooters of all-time. It is a game played by millions from nations all around the world. Therefore, it comes with much surprise of just how few first person shooters there are that emulate its formula. One such game is NeoTokyo. A Half-Life 2 mod that marries CounterStrike’s tactical gameplay with the aesthtic of late ’90s cyberpunk anime, the end result is more or less as good as it sounds. Now while it is true the gameplay takes heavy influence from CounterStrike, the game is easily different enough to be its own thing. Sure it revolves around two small groups of opposing teams starting at the other end of each map as opponents pick rival teammates one by one until a team runs out of players, but the similarities end there. The game adds many concepts that make it stand out from its juggernaut idol such as the option to choose different classes, offering players special abilities like invisibility, and matches based more on a capture the flag type concept.
The game certainly isn’t without its flaws though. The movement and feel of the game is a little dated compared to modern FPSs, especially when controlling your gun. Some of the maps are far too large for their own good, resulting in some awkward sessions where the last two opponents on a map spend a full two minutes trying to find each other. Worst of all the game’s heyday is long past as the community is hardly active with it being difficult to find a single person playing online. However, the gameplay is still solid, the soundtrack is fantastic, the atmopshere is immersive, and if you log in on the right time of day you will find an active game session. All of this lends to a game that is a reasonable alternative to CounterStrike. And best of all? It is completely free.
98| Rodea the Sky Soldier
Released: November 10th, 2015
Avaliable on: Wii
There was a lot of skepticism at the time the Wii ruled the marketplace. On one side you had those who embraced the console’s control scheme and were excited about all of the potential possibilities it had to offer in seemingly stagnant console marketplace. On the other side you had those who saw the control scheme as nothing but a gimmick and were very uncomfrotable by the huge influx of casual gamers into the market solely thanks to the little console that could. Unforunately/fortunately (depending on the side you were on) the Wii and its control scheme began to fade away from market favorability at the turn of the decade. By 2011 the “revolution” was clearly over, and by 2012 it was dead. However, one thing any reasonable person can agree on was that due to the system’s “blue ocean strategy” and the unique control scheme, it had a variety of unique games that took advantage of these factors. There is one game in particular that sparks some interest.
Rodea the Sky Soldier was a game lost in time. It was stuck in development hell and didn’t release until three full years after the successor to the Wii was launched. Playing the game in 2015 was a trip, it was a game solely designed around the Wii’s unique control scheme and let off that classic “Wii” feel. It was as if the game was taken out of a time machine. The title takes advantage of the motion controls and pointer to create a modern version of a Sega Genesis action-platformer that could best be described as 3D entry of Rocket Knight Adventures. Players will find themselves using the intuitive controls to effortlessly fly through the skies and scale buildings. All the while racking up collectables and fighting baddies. It is a stereotype that the Wii’s motion controls were inaccurate, and regrettably at times it was true. However, Rodea is the exception to the rule. The player has a lot of control over Rodea as they flick their wrist to guide the direction and arc the character flies in. The pointer controls are very accurate as well as Rodea goes exactly where the player tells him where to go. Another major reason for controls being so good is due to the fact that the game is designed around them. Levels are very open and sprase so the player knows exactly where they are aiming to take Rodea to. The game also is very forgiving just where Rodea is allowed to fly toward, as well as has his fall speed is incredibly slow so there is little penalty in trying to find where Rodea is close enough to fly to next.
The game is cultivation of everything the Wii should have been to gamers to begin with. The developers should have never focused on shoehorning motion controls in games that weren’t designed for them, but rather should have re-imagined the games we know and love around motion controls. Rodea is the perfect example of this. It takes relatively known and stale genre and breathes life back into it. The game looks and plays just like the old arcadey action platformers of the ’90s while still feeling fresh and new. This is what the Wii should have been all about to hardcore gamers. Unfortunately it arguably took until the system was long dead and buried before such a game was released.
97| Hotline Miami
Released: October 23rd, 2012
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS3, PS4, PSVita, Android.
The previous generation saw the rise of independent developers. This was the largely the result of two factors. The first was the growing popularity of a digital distribution through platforms such as Steam. The second is that due to the enormous cost and difficulty of developing games for modern consoles, it pushed many developers to leave the traditional console market go their own way. Fuel met fire when these two factors met which led to a massive explosion of independent titles. One of the most notable titles of this era was Hotline Miami. Developed by a single person on a game engine that was widely seen as a joke at that time, Hotline Miami brought the beat-em-up genre back as it hypnotized its players through addictive gameplay, non-apologtic violence, trendy style, and party music.
Playing through the game is like an acid trip of a hyperviolent 1980’s Miami dominated by violence, drugs, crime, club music, animal masks. The player barges through doors as they use their hands, firearm, or any object lying in the ground to turn their enemies into pools of blood. The player has the choice in the beginning of each level to select an animal mask to which each one grants the player a unique ability such as superspeed or stronger firearm damage. The game is hardly forgiving as the player will find themselves dying A LOT. However, this is the appeal of the game. To deduct what went wrong and what strategy could lead to eliminating all of the enemies as clean as possible. It is actually what makes the game so addictive. Just how perfect can an area be cleared.
Going from dying at the first open of the door to achieving this
is highly rewarding.
That said the game isn’t without faults. While the game is guaranteed to have you play through it a second time around, it isn’t something you are likely to keep going back to after that. The story and “lore” are also a little too nonsensical to truly appreciate. Yet these faults don’t override Hotline Miami’s strengths. It’s a game that is fun, additicitve, hypnotic, and definitely worth your time.
Released: September 15th, 2015
Avaliable on: PC (Windows & OSX)
Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Big name companies can spend tens of millions in advertising, yet their products can still flop. On the other hand you can have a product that is released with virtually no advertising and can become a smash hit. The latter is what perfectly describes Undertale. Created by one person with absolutely no marketing budget, the game had a quiet release. Seven months later it is pushing a million and a half copies sold. What made such an obscure title a powerhouse seller? The answer lies in the game’s charm. Heavily inspired by the Mother series, developer tobyfox created a whimsical world of bizzare and likable characters, serene environments, and a relaxing atmosphere. Undertale is a great game to just pick up and enjoy your time with.
This isn’t to say that the game solely rests its laurels on with the character merely taking in their surroundings. The actual gameplay has some unique aspects of it as well. Rather than focusing on battles consisting of navigating a menu of attacks, skills and spells (though you can play the game like that if you want to) Undertale takes a radically different approach. The player controls a heart icon confined in a box as they try to avoid enemy attacks. When the enemy’s attack is finished the player will attempt to talk the enemy down so they will quit fighting them. Other times, usually during boss battles, the player can manipulate the enemies tricks against them in an attempt to hurt them. The process looks like so:
It’s a very fresh and innovative concept in the RPG genre, and it deserves to be expanded upon. To add to this the game also contains top notch writing and a glorious soundtrack that you will be listening to for months after playing the game. The game also has multiple endings making it perfect for multiple playthroughs. This is specifically true for the “Pacifist Ending” which adds a significant amount of content to the game which is arguably the best part of it. Underale isn’t “The Greatest Game of All-Time”, but it is a very fun ride.
95| The Last of Us
Released: June 14th, 2013
Definitive Version: PS4; Also on: PS3
No, The Last of Us isn’t “the greatest video game of all-time”. Far from it. However, it would be asinine to suggest that the game isn’t high quality. Continuing Sony’s philosophy of merging games and film, The Last of Us set new bars for games focused on a cinematic experience. The game is so cinematic infact that people often refer to the game as a “cinematic action game” due to how cinematic the game’s highly cinematic cinematic moments are… The game plays like a typical linear stealth-action game. The objective often boils down to getting from point A to point B while sneaking past and taking out enemies. The enemies can be divided into two types. Smart enemies, typically humans, and dumb enemies, which are typically the undead. The player will spend much of their time navigating through various buildings and underground passage ways as they avoid being seen by enemies and strike them at just the right moment.
However, where the game really excels at is its pacing and narrative. These two things mix so well with one another that often you feel less like you are playing a game and more that you are playing a movie. This is acheived by just when and how the cutscenes are implemented, as well as the game’s top notch writing giving life and depth to the characters. This has the game really always holds the player’s interest, at least when it comes to wondering what will happen to the protagonists next.
So why does this game take such low priority on the list? Much like other cinematic focused games, most notably the Bioshock franchise, the game’s cinematics are taken priority to the point that the actual gameplay feels secondary. Now this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but the problem with The Last of Us is that the gameplay just isn’t particularly good. For starters it is highly generic. How many games use the stealth based combat approach in which the player hides by crouching a distance away from the enemy, and then when the enemy isn’t looking, slowly crouch walk toward them in order to stab or snap their neck? To add to that, the actual stealth based gameplay is fairly shallow. It relies on the bare basics of crouch walking, the ability to throw objects to distract your enemies, and sneak attacks. Now this wouldn’t be as big of a problem if it wasn’t for my second complaint of the game. It is pretty repetitive. These stealth sections feel that they make up at least 50% of the game. The majority of the other 50% are the shooting segments which feel just as shallow.
That said, The Last of Us is not a bad game. It’s a great one in fact. The game is highly engaging and will make anyone who plays it be very connected to the characters and the world around them. Unfortunately due to the lacking depth in gameplay, I didn’t appreciate this one as much as others.
94| Dance Dance Revolution Extreme
Released: December 25th, 2002
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: PS2
Dance Dance Revolution was truly the last hurrah for the arcades. Not only was it the last major series to be a big hit in the arcades, but it also started the last arcade scene. What I mean by this is that it was the last time people would gather in the arcades to play the game, make friends, and hold little tournaments rather than doing so at home. This is primarily due to the fact that to truly experience the game one must have the arcade quality step controller. They were very sturdy, could take a beating, and weren’t cheap. In an age where paying an extra $100 for a music game due to a peripheral wouldn’t be in style for another few years, it gave Dance Dance Revolution the perfect reason to find its home on the arcade floor rather than the living room. I actually witnessed it first hand due to my first job being in the arcades. It was the first, and likely the last, time I would ever experience a “scene” at the arcades. While King of Fighters ’98, Tekken 5, and Capcom vs SNK 2 laid barren, Dance Dance Revolution Extreme almost always got play. It was very common for a group of people to meet up and just chill playing the game for a few hours at a time. They would often compete with one another, cheer each other on, and help newcomers. It was the type of environment that you just couldn’t find anywhere else in games at the time.
So what makes this game stand out so much? Well no other reason than that it is just simply fun to play. The game revolves around the player “dancing” to music as arrows scroll up on the screen and the player has to step on the correct area of the floor mat in the correct order when the arrow lines up to its designated place on screen perfectly. It may seem simple at first but the game has a gradual learning curve that ranges from the screen scrolling so slow that your six year old could do it, to what seems like hundreds of arrows scrolling by per minute. Highest play levels look something like this
This skill curve as well as other people witnessing it is large reason to what makes the game so popular. Individually the player wants to get a better and better as they want to be able to competently complete their preferred songs, socially you always want to be on the same level as your friend that got you into the game who is an expert player. I feel that this is what made arcades so successful to begin with. They offered games that anyone could pick up and have fun with, however were very difficult and appealing to master. Not to mention that the games were just as much of a social activity as a recreational one. Dance Dance Revolution was the last major series to find its home at malls and movie theaters rather than the living room and bed room. Sure it may not tickle the fancy of more tradtional gamers who are more attuned with beat-em-ups and fighting games, but it is damn fun to play.
93| Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
Released: September 18th, 1991
Definitive Version: SNES; Also on: Arcade
Licensed video games have come a very long way. Today we plently of prominent examples of licensed games getting it right when it comes to handling their properties. The Batman Arkham games look and feel like Batman both in gameplay, atmosphere, and design. The same goes with other games such as South Park: The Stick of Truth and The Walking Dead. However, it wasn’t too long ago that licensed games were almost universally terribly. Luckily back in the ’90s Konami managed to often break the mold with some of the hottest licenses possible. The most standout of these licenses was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade game to Tournament Fighters, Konami released many quality turtle titles. However, their magnum opus was definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. Often hailed as the best beat-em-up ever, the game, like any beat-em-up, has players walking to the right end of the screen beating up baddies as they punch, strike, and smash them into oblivion.
So what makes this game stand out so much compared to the other countless amount of beat-em-ups avaliable during the time period? The fact that it nailed the world of turtles to a tee. From the game looking like the cartoon, to the SFX chip putting in work to sound like the show, to the mauling down enemies in the same way the turtles do every Saturday morning, the game was arguably the first example of feeling like you are truly playing the license the game is based off of. However, the game didn’t rest solely on its license, as the actual gameplay and design matched the effort of the presentation.The game played very smooth and felt great as you run around the screen bashing in enemies with the weapon of your choice. Possibly an even bigger feat was the Super Nintendo port. Not only did it have an alternative level that used its Mode 7 capabilities, but it also managed to look graphically close to the arcade version while having zero slowdown. This proves that the Super Nintendo was capable of providing arcade-like experiences, just if it was in the hands of the right developer.
Now to be fair, while this game was the shit twenty five years ago, today it shows a bit of its age. For starters while it is still fun tearing up the foot clan, the combat in the game is no Bayonetta. The game also doesn’t save your progress or even have a password system (at least in non-Japanese versions) which can make completing the game a pain. Nevertheless it is still a very entertaining game to play today, and if you want to be hit with waves of ’80s Ninja Turtles nostalgia you can’t go wrong with this still deifnitive gaming experience of it.
92| Yu Yu Hakusho Makyou Toitsusen
Released: September 30th, 1994 (JPN)
Available on: Sega Megadrive
We are very lucky to currently be in a time where quality games not getting localized is practically unheard of. Even games such as Project X Zone and Tokyo Mirage Sessions which would never have been localized say ten years ago are receiving releases. To add to that publishers such as XSeed, Aksys, and Playism do their best to make sure no quality game doesn’t get localized. Of course there are still games missed here and there, including ones that hurt such as Phantasy Star Online 2 and The Great Ace Attorney. But in today’s gaming market if there is a quality game from another country, especially Japan, chances are it’s coming to the West.
Unfortunately this was not the reality in the gaming world during the ’90s, much less during the 16-bit era. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for quality games not to be brought over to the West. And if the game was based off of an unfamiliar licensed property and was too “foreign” for American or European tastes then you were out of luck to be able to play the game in English. Sure there were some studios like Working Designs willing to bring things over, but they were few and far in between.This resulted in many quality games tragically not being released in the West which significantly hampered a console’s potential library.
A perfect example of this was Yu Yu Hakusho Makyou Toitsusen. Developedby Treasure the game plays sort of like the evolutionn of a traditional fighting game. First off rather than being 1 on 1 on fighter the game is a 4 player thow down. Like Super Smash Bros., multiple players go head to head with each other beating one another up until only one character is left standing. Unlike Super Smash Bros.though the game plays and feels just like a traditonal fighting game. The characters have combos, specific inputs for special moves, and even a super meter. The game’s uniqueness doesn’t end there. There are also two planes work with as the player can hop between the foreground and background to fight their opponents. All of this leads to a very interesting and innovative game that still stands out today.
As a huge fan of fighting games, I have to admit it is a bit of a double edge sword that the genre stays so conservative. On one hand the genre doesn’t seem to be plagued by the bullshit found in other genres. Things such as lowering the skill ceiling for the sake accessibility or implementing pay to win mechanics so that frustrated players can find an easy route to victory as well as companies utilizing a new cash cow. That isn’t to say that there aren’t already fighting games that do these things, just that it isn’t common to find games in the fighting genre that do these things as it is say in the competitive shooter genre. On the flip side, it does seem a bit depressing that so many fighting games are similar. Almost all of them are one vs one fighters, or at most liberal one vs one with assists, have a super meter, and rely on specific inputs for doing specials. The genre hasn’t changed significantly since this game’s release. It was clear that Treasure was trying to do something new and exciting to evolve the genre, but alas it didn’t catch on. To be fair, Treasure did continue making spritual sequels to this game which did get a Western release with Bleach: Blade of Fate and Bleach: Dark Souls for the Nintendo DS. These games play almost exactly like Makyou Toitsusen as they have two planes players can hop back and forth between as well as being able to accomodate four players at once. But at the end of the day there is just something about the original that makes it stand out. Not sure what it is, but it is just so enjoyable booting the game up, even if it is just me playing by myself to knock out my computer opponent. The game is just feels so fun to play.
91| Life is Strange
Released: January 30th, 2015 (first episode) — October 20th, 2015 (final episode)
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360
In many ways Life is Strange is sort of a counterpoint to the typical mainstream video game. There is a reason why Dudebro is a meme. Most mainstream games tend to put focus on the 18 to 35 year old male demographic which results in games being fueled with testosterone involving men with big biceps, scantily clad women, constant action going on screen, blood and gore, and a gritty art style. Now of course there are exceptions to this rule, but Life Strange manages to break every single bullet point. For starters rather than focusing on a thirty something year old man roaming around as he constantly kills enemies to save the world, it instead focuses on a young woman who attempts to reconnect with her home and friendship. Rather than being a first person shooter with enemies lined up on the screen to be used as blood bags, Life is Strange involves the character calmly walking around each area solving mini-puzzles as they interact with the environment around them. This may sound boring to this A.D.D. generation of gamers, but if one is patient and gives the game a chance it is a very enjoyable experience.
As explained before, the player controls a character who returns back to a previous hometown where she goes to a private art school for her photography. Much of her dilemma focuses on her previous best friend who has been getting into all sorts of trouble ever since the main character left. It also turns out that there is a dark mystery hidden in the town that needs to be unearthed, so the protagonist and her long lost companion team up to solve it. The game is often criticized as being a “walking simulator”, but there is a bit more to it than that. In order to progress the player has to figure out various objectives, such as how to break open a lock or distract a bystander so you can sneak through an area. What’s also interesting is that your choices actually have a significant effect on the game’s story as something as simple as answering a phone call could significantly alter the game’s plotline. The good thing about this is that if you immediately regret your choice, your character can go back in time to change that choice. Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention that this game heavily involves the use of time travel.
I wouldn’t really call Life is Strange a masterpiece as it is not without its flaws. The most glaring one is how stupidly off tone the game gets during the final chapter. Nevertheless this is a game that had me glued to my seat as I played it for hours on end for a few days until I completed it. The story is very compelling and addictive, and the minimalistic gameplay complements it very well. It’s a game that stands out in a market that while diverse, can feel very homogeneous at times.
90| Star Fox 64
Released: June 30th, 1997
Definitive Version: 3DS; Also on: N64, Wii & Wii U eShop
The original Star Fox was ground breaking. At the time, a console being able to put out polygonal graphics, let alone without one having to shell out a few hundreds of dollars for an attachment, was unheard of at the time. For a comparison, it would be like if someone released a full VR game for consoles that came packaged in with a VR helmet for the average price of a video game. Now most people are well aware just how Argonaut Games achieved this with the lowly Super Nintendo hardware. They used something called the Super FX chip, which was a chip they developed themselves that was inserted into the game cartridge to give the Super Nintendo an extra oomph of power. This undoubtedly gave Star Fox a significant amount of attention.
However, by the time Star Fox 64 rolled around, 3D was hardly a novelty. The console it released on was based solely around the concept of playing three dimensional games, so merely being polygonal was no longer enough for a game stand out. What’s more is that 3D was being pushed further both design wise with games like Super Mario 64 and presentation wise with games such as Resident Evil. This meant that the formula left by Star Fox wasn’t just no longer cutting edge, but also outdated. As usual however, Nintendo EAD worked their magic and created a game that stood apart from others both due to ground breaking innovations and tried and true gameplay. One immediate notable thing was that Star Fox 64 was the first game to ever use rumble. Sure today this seems standard, but at the time rumble was a unique feature that really helped the immersion of a game. Another thing to note is how well the game’s presentation was done. The short but sweet debriefings and hearing your copilots interact with you and each other really added to the experience of the game. But what really made the game stand out was the gameplay. While it did add new features such as l ground vehicles and “free range mode” segments, by and large the main game remains unchanged. It stays true to the classic on-rail shooting gameplay that we all know and love. To sum it up this game is fun, accessible, and highly replayable.
It is a bit of a shame that since Star Fox 64, the series has never gone back to its roots. It keeps trying to be something it is not in order to “keep up with the times” as adventure elements and on foot segments keep creeping into each iteration. Here’s hoping that one day the series will return to the design that made it so popular and beloved in the first place.
89| Portal 2
Released: April 19th, 2011
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS3 and Xbox 360
In 2007 Valve released The Orange Box. Widely considered the best deal in gaming history at the time, users were treated with a bundle of five titles (or three depending on how you look at it) that were high quality and mostly new. However, the game that really stood out in the package was a little game called Portal. As the the title suggests the game involves the use of portals. The player is equipped with a portal gun as they set out to do various puzzles and trials put forth to them as they jump into and then through walls, manipulate the environment, and break the laws of physics as we know them. The game was short as it only took a few hours to complete, but it was brilliantly paced and had tons of charm which results in it being criminal to not go through at least another playthrough. The game managed to gain a huge following due to the love of its innovative mechanics, humor, and general appeal. Due to the game’s success Valve released a sequel in 2011.
Launching on nearly everything it could at the time, Portal 2 delivered the same strengths found in the first game and dialed them up to eleven. No longer was the game a short and sweet experience that the player completed in one sitting, it was now a full fledged game that required multiple sittings to beat. Despite the increase length Valve managed to have the game every bit as well paced and polish as the first. The game even introduces as many new concepts as the first game. The portal gun could now be used to create walkways, wall barriers, speed rails, and trampolines. This alone would have made the game live up to its predecessor, yet this doesn’t even take into account of how the presentation got turned up the ante as well. The game now has a focused “story” as, in Valve fashion, the environment and background gives the player many clues to what it going on. The game contains many more lines of dialogue as well as far more musical pieces, which both complement the game perfectly. It is rare for me to actually legitimately laugh at a video game or get chills down my spine due to a soundtrack, but Portal 2 manages to do both. On top of all of this the game also has online multiplayer which involves two players cooperating with one another as they complete the puzzles and trials the game puts forth for them.
The game really only has two faults. The first is that it isn’t quite as replayable as the first one. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t find myself wanting to play the game more than twice. The second is that the multiplayer just isn’t as good as it should be. On paper it sounds great but playing online just makes me wish I could play some new maps in the main game as those felt like much more care was put into them compared to the online maps. Still these flaws are merely scuffs on a well crafted title.
88| Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Released: November 21st, 2014
Definitive Version: Wii U; Also on:3DS (sort of)
I have a very…complicated relationship with Super Smash Bros. The thing is that, for the most part, I find the games pretty boring. I don’t care playing the latest game on-line. There are at least a dozen other fighting games I would rather play. However, due to the fact that everyone and their mother asking me if they could play the game when my Wii U is around, that has led to a lot of great memories. Now I’ll just say it right off the bat. Playing Super Smash Bros. local multiplayer is obviously where the fun is at. I actually legitimately enjoy playing the game in this mode as it can become very frantic with more than two players and there is a lot of satisfaction seeing your friends face after you have pummeled them. The key to the series success is its accessibility. There are no inputs, combos, or six buttons to memorize. The entire game is primarily played by an analog stick and one button, with a trigger as a block and occasionally one other button for strong attacks. What’s more is that for the longest time there were up to four players in the game so due to the lack of focus on every player and the chaos going on in the screen everyone can get their lick in on an opponent compared to other fighting games where a new comer wouldn’t even be able to get a hit in. And with this iteration of the series, there are now up to eight players.
To point out the elephant in the room, the series is mostly known for the ability of having all of the most popular Nintendo franchise character duke it out in a fighting arena. And due to the game’s popularity many third party characters have been added in the latest releases including Sonic, Megaman, Pacman, Ryu, Cloud, and Solid Snake (RIP). Slowly the game is going from a Nintendo Battle Royal title to a Video Games in General Battle Royal title. This alone would make the game absurdly popular, but add in the fact that the game is so accessible and presented a unique take on fighting games and the series became a mega hit.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the game very much. I love the fact that it is different than other fighting games. I really like being able to play with more than one player at a time. It is very cool being able to play a game as some of my favorite video game characters. Bashing my opponents sky high and out of the ring gives me a lot of satisfaction. The problems I have with this game are essentially what makes them so appealing to most in the first place. For starters is the accessibility. It is great and all that there are hardly any inputs to memorize. That said this seriously limits the amount of attack each characters have. On top of that there is very little execution in actually performing these moves. Games like Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Skullgirls are extremely fun to play to see just how much you can exploit the character’s movement and moveset to do over the top combos and attacks. With Smash everything is done with a simple push of a button, so there isn’t much to play around with. The other problem is the fact that everyone who plays can get a lick in on an opponent. Sure getting constantly overkilled in fighting games is not fun. However, that is what makes the genre so magical. You have to actually work to get good at the genre. There is a huge satisfaction training and practicing for dozens of hours until you go up against a player who would previously spank you but due to all of your hard work you actually managed to get out a win out of them. Smash is not like that at all and is in fact designed not to be like that. Hence why for competitive play the community has to alter the game significantly to even make it such as only playing on two stages or omega stages, only playing as a handful of characters, as well as turning items off. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a great game that I enjoy playing. It just frustrates me that I feel like a lot of my positive experiences came by being practically forced to play the game as nobody wants to take the time to learn how to play more traditional fighters.
87| Metro 2033
Released: March 16th, 2010
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
It is very common in the industry to make clones of highly influential and successful games. After the release of the highly successful World of Warcraft there were a huge slew of “WoW clones” trying to cash in on the game’s popularity. Due to the success of Goldeneye there were plenty of split screen multiplayer shooters for years. However, there are some successful and influential games which don’t get enough imitators. One of the most infamous examples is The Legend of Zelda series. Despite being a staple of the gaming industry for decades games using its formula come few and far in between (Beyond Oasis, Alundra, DarkSiders). Resident Evil 4 is another good example. Besides the Dead Space franchise and the budget title Cold Fear you’d be hard pressed to find a game that focuses on the game’s formula. But one type formula that stands out to me is Half-Life 2’s. The way the game mixes interactive story telling with first person shooter and puzzle based gameplay is ingenious. Unfortunately few developers have dared to try and copy its formula. Fortunately A4 Games took the risk in adapting the popular online novel Metro series into a game that uses Half-Life 2’s formula. And the result is a game that, while not as good as Half-Life 2, is still great and easily manages to stand on its own.
Before I say anything, I cannot recommend playing this game on “Ranger Mode” enough. Seriously, I played the game for two hours and hated it as enemies took far too long to kill and things became really boring. But playing the game in “Ranger Mode” reduces the hit points for both the enemies and the player leading to more quick and risky enemy interactions. So, play the game in “Ranger Mode”. Also make sure the voice acting language is changed to “Russian”. It makes the game feel a lot more authentic and brings the world to life.
With that out of the way, now to describe the actual game. Metro 2033 is based of the popular Russian online books series about a dystopian future where humanity is forced to live underground in the subway system due to nuclear winter. What is even more unfortunate is that due to the radiation of the nuclear material, strange creatures called “The Dark Ones” have popped up that target humans. Thus a “war” between humans and The Dark Ones is underway. The only way humans can survive under such conditions is to live inside heavily guarded camps. The way the game presents this world is top notch. There are extremely few games that I have played that have such an engrossing atmosphere. Playing the games makes the player truly feel that they are living in a post apocalyptic Russian underground world. The environments are extremely well detailed as everything looks dirty and worn. The characters all look gloom and demonstrate that they are struggling to survive as they beg for food or partake in risky activities. And just like Half-Life 2, the game’s standout scenes are presented in a first person view point as the character can interact with much of the cinematics. But where the game really shines is when there is nothing to see at all. Much of the game takes place where the player is outside the comforts of the camps and into the dangerous wilderness of the tunnels filled with dark ones, paramilitary groups, ghosts, and anything else imaginable. Like Metroid, the game does a wonderful job in making you feel that you are cut off from civilization. For hours you will be exploring dark tunnels, caverns, and ruins only often only greeted by the sound of ambiance. When something does pop up, it is usually unfriendly and a threat.
Truth be told a lot of the reason why the game succeeds is due to the fact of the feeling of vulnerability. While most first person shooters are obsessed with stocking the player with as much ammunition as humanely possible, Metro 2033 gives the player the bare minimum to be able to survive. Every shot counts and there is a lot of stress knowingly walking into an area filled with a group of enemies or a nest of monsters with less than half a dozen bullets to your name. Because of this Metro 2033 feels more like a first person survival horror game than a first person shooter. Truth be told the player will be sneaking more than shooting in order to conserve their resources.
While the game has many strengths, it has many weaknesses as well. For starters while the graphics are incredible, the animation is definitely not. Characters move stiff and at times lifeless. There are games on the original Playstation with better animation. Another problem is the difficulty. The game seems to use the save anywhere system it incorporates as a crutch as instead of properly tuning the difficulty, it relies on the player reloading their previous save multiple times until they are able to take out enemies without taking too much damage. Admittedly it works well enough sometimes, but other times it is nearly impossible to get passed a certain area and it just makes things frustrating. There is also a cool alternate ending for the game that has requirements that are so obtuse for the player to meet, that it makes one wonder why they even put it in the game. Nevertheless, the positives easily over-ride the negatives and Metro 2033 is one of the previous generations best single player experiences. If you are looking for a highly immersive single player experience then the choice of whether or not to pick this one up is a no brainer.
86| Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Released: August 22nd, 1993
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii Virtual Console, PS2, 3DS eShop, PSP, iOS
During the 1980s and the early 1990s, Nintendo had a death grip on the video game market in North America. Competitors came and went as they continuingly got stomped by the Godzilla sized monster known as Nintendo. It wasn’t until juggernaut arcade manufacturer Sega took them on with the Sega Genesis (known as Mega Drive everywhere else) that Nintendo’s grip began to loosen. One of the main reasons why Sega was successful while noone else was revolved around the fact that the company perfectly predicted the market. The toddlers and tykes who began playing games with the NES due to a jumpy plumber with magical abilities were now tweens and teens, thus demanded something more edgy and mature. Sega recognized this and brillantly decided to release a more mature looking console that stood for realistic sports games and flashy action games rather than cutesy platformers. This worked so well to the point that the Sega Genesis actually old sold the successor of the NES, the Super Nintendo, in North America. This is something nobody would have predicted a few years earlier.
If one were to give a game as an example that would define this whole strategy, at least in terms of gearing up Sega’s existing Japanese products to market toward Westerners, I would say Shinobi III would be the best example. Despite being Japanese up the ass with a Japanese style soundtrack, mechs, and even Godzilla, the game was very successful in the United States. This is because rather than being marketed like some ’90s anime, it was marketed as a “cool violent ninja game”. While the game technically fulfills those requirements as it is certainly cool, is violent enough to have blood (at times), and stars a ninja, it is much more than that. The game is arguably the greatest action sidescrolling game of its era. The reason for this is really nothing special as the game isn’t particularly innovative or even unique for its time. It often holds this title due to its quality. For starters, the game feels great. Controlling the main character feels like actually controlling a ninja as they are equipped with shurikens, a long sword, and dive kicks. It may sounds simple, and it is, but it perfectly gets the job done. The beauty of this game is in its level design. From the enemy placements to the location of platforms, everything feels like it was meticulously placed to enhance your enjoyment. Add in multiple stages that add diversity such as a horse riding stage and a surf/hoverboard stage, and you have yourself a game that is paced well and is infinitely replayable. Shinobi III is pretty much the quietessential “Sega action game that you replay every week or so for the hell of it”, and that’s a title it deserves.
It’s a little sad that the series went to the way side after this game’s release. A Sega Saturn entry was made but had shitty digitized graphics and poor gameplay thus was panned. A Playstation 2 reboot of the series was released and actually managed to sell reasonably well and have a large following. Unforunately a direct sequel was released that didn’t even have “Shinobi” in the title and bombed. The franchise was dormant for years until a 3DS entry was released which was met with slightly positive reviews. It’s unfortuante that Sega hasn’t been able to capitalize on the Shinobi franchise since the early ’90s, but that is understandable as the series success was a product of its time. The Sega “cool” factor of the early ’90s was a transition period for the gaming market rather than the end result.
85| Blade Symphony
Released: May 7th, 2014
Avaliable on: PC
It’s always interesting to see a genre develop on two different platforms and see how they compare with one another. A prominent example of this is the role playing genre as console role playing games were quite different from the computer counterparts in both tone, design, and player interaction. This at times makes one wonder how other genres would have been different if they found their way on different platforms. For example, the fighting game genre was born and bred in the arcades. It focused on one on one, face to face interactions with players as they duke it out with one another on the tried and true arcade setup. So what would happen if you move the fighting game genre from the local arcade scene and into the interconnected global PC scene and traded in the arcade stick for a mouse and keyboard? The end result is Blade Symphony.
Having its roots from a Jed Knights II mod, Blade Symphony is a fighting game that pins players together with nothing but a sword and an endless supply of shuriken. Rather than character movement being controlled by rigged inputs and having attacks register during certain button presses, the game has fluid movement and an interesting implementation of performing different attacks. To elaborate, the left mouse button has the player perform a sword attack, while the right mouse button has the player block. To change the character’s type of attacks, the player can press the “1”, “2”, or “3” keys for different stances. “1” has the player perform a weak attack, “2” has the player perform an average attack, and “3” results in a heavy attack. As one could guess the weaker the attack the less damage while the stronger attacks perform higher damage. There is also the fact that if one player uses a stronger attack than the other and both players blades meet, the player with the stronger attack will push the other player back leaving them open. However, weaker attacks have the advantage of being fast and thus more likely to hit their opponent on time compared to one using stronger attacks. There is much more to the game’s combat system, but that is a quick rundown of it.
Now this unique system alone would make this game standout from other fighting games. However, there is something else that makes the game not only very unique, but also has it get in touch with its PC gaming roots. There are three game modes to play online. 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, and Free for All. 1 vs. 1 is the typical one on one fighting game mode. 2 vs. 2 is team based fighting where two players on each side go up against each other. But where the game really shines is in Free for All mode. This mode revolves around up to dozens of players entering a lobby as they run around a map filled with potentially dozens of other players. Here they can talk, spectate and fight other players. There are around a handful maps not counting the usual user created ones that often scream “internet culture”. It is very fun just running around the area watching other people fight, talking with others, and forming bonds and rivalries. It’s also interesting as the community has managed to make certain rules and customs when in cyberspace. A quick example is that, like almost any online game, the game features a gesture system. It is considered disrespectful to some users if each player doesn’t bow before the start of each match. Sure it’s something small, but it really adds to the experience.
Unfortunately, while the game is certainly unique and innovative, Street Fighter this is not. For starters you can only pick between four characters to fight as. Sure each one of these four have completely different play styles, but that doesn’t save the game from having such a limited roster. Even worse is that the game just isn’t designed for high level play. The game is hardly balanced as some characters are significantly more at an advantage than others. On top of that, it is far too easy to win by spamming certain attacks. Thus this isn’t the type of game you will find at EVO. Finally, as of this entry, the online for the game isn’t that active. Games can be found but only in a lobby or two. It’s clear that the game is likely on its last legs. Regardless, the concept of the game is as cool as it sounds, and that is more than enough to take the $10 plunge to try it out.
84| Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Released: August 21st, 2001
Avaliable on: PC
If Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was person I wouldn’t know whether I should punch them or have sex with them. On one hand it is a buggy, broken, nonsensical, terribly paced, unbalanced, terribly designed, and above all else frustrating game. On the other it contains arguably the most deepest and most complex role playing ever to grace the industry. “Fluid” and “open-ended” don’t even begin to describe the amount of possibilities the game offers. Not only can the player choose to be good, bad, or neutral during main story plotlines, but they can managed to talk their way out of anything no matter how relevant or irrelevant the situation. In fact the entire game can be completed just by talking, the player doesn’t even need to click on the attack button. Depending on the character’s traits such as looks, intelligence, race, gender, and what not different options, quests, and playstyles will be open to the player. You can manage to get yourself out of a sticky situation by being a smooth talker, or by being a mentally handicapped being and having people feel sympathy for you and thus do your bidding. There also other options as well such as being able to pick pocket them, finish an alternative quest to earn their respect, or performing a good old fashion beat down on those giving you a hard time. The choices are numerous and the player has these opportunities at nearly every crossroad no matter how small.
Now that I got the good out of the way, I’ll get on to the bad. Everything else about this game is bad. Everything. For starters the theme of the game is suppose to be something akin to the Industrial Revolution but with humans living alongside of orcs, elves, gnomes, mages and what have you. This is awesome for the most part as the music and character designs are great, the problem is with inconsistency. While there are many times in the game the player feels like they are walking through a Victorian City, other times the scenery looks just like any other Medieval themed RPG. It’s as if the developers were making a traditionally Medieval themed game from the get-go and changed course half-way through and were too lazy to redo the backgrounds, characters, and other assets.
The combat is atrocious. The game offers the option to use real time or turn based combat. The real time combat does not function at all what so ever. When an enemy gets clothes enough the NPCs and enemies will all just flock around and perform all of their attacks randomly and the “battle” is over within seconds. There is also no strategy at all to this. After an enemy encounter you will either be left standing or die, simple as that. In turn based it’s much more manageable, but is very basic and has little strategy to none at all. The balance is also broken. If you play as a warrior class you will find yourself consistently out matched. However, if you play as a mage you basically cannot lose to enemies as your attacks are laughably overpowered. It’s as if you entered a cheat code for God mode.
The dungeon “design” is the worst I have played in any game. I put “design” in quotes because there is practically no design at all. Dungeons are seemingly endless corridors with practically endless amount of enemies. They are more of a patience test than anything and are horrendous if you don’t play as a mage.The game is also a bit cryptic as well. I love games that don’t hold your hand, but there were a few too many times that I had to use a walkthrough in order to figure things out. But the cherry on top of all of this is how buggy the game is. I came across at least two progression breaking bugs that I had to work around, and that is after I installed the fan patch that really cleaned up the game. All of these caused me many hours of great frustration.
So after those paragraphs of problems, why does this game make the list? Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is essentially a video game version of the classic cliche of an underdog hero who underperforms in every aspect. However, it turns out that in a twist this is solely due to the fact that the hero has focused all of their training on one specific super-ability that when used is insurmountable. With Arcanum that super-ability is role playing, and that is where it excels above all.
83| Metro: Last Light
Released: May 14th, 2013
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360
Metro: Last Light is a sequel that is superior to its predecessor in every way. While I admit that the game isn’t superior to a significant degree, it is at least to a notable degree. The story is more interesting, the in-game cinematics have more care put into them, the animations are slightly better, and the game has more ambitious set pieces. What’s more is that everything from the previous game has been expanded. The player sees more sides of the Metro as towns are much more lively, the different political factions are much more fleshed out, and the encompassing plot is explained in greater detail. It’s the classic “more of what you love” sequel.
Truth be told, there isn’t much to say about this entry that I haven’t said with its predecessor. The game is essentially Half-Life 2 but with more of a survivor horror touch. Once again players will be traveling the Metro as they scavenger bullets, medical packs, and anything else they can find as they sneak past enemies as in order to get to the next destination. Much of the game has the player isolated from civilization which results in a very creepy and oppressive atmosphere. Often the player will be greeted with in-game cinematics which are very well done and do a fantastic job in immersing the player into Metro’s tragic world, specifically during the rare parts of the game where the player is actually in habited town. The graphics are beautiful and could be argued to be the first game released with current generation graphical standards. Unlike the stereotype with most of these technically impressive European PC games, the art style complements these graphics wonderfully, as the game can look like a painting at times.
Unfortunately due to being a sequel that plays it so close to the chest, the game also has the same flaws as the previous title. The difficulty relying on the save anywhere system to fix its faults is still present. The character animations, while improved, are still terrible.There is a way to get a “true ending of the game that is much more satisfactory than the common ending, but it is very cryptic and near impossible to get.
All in all, Metro: Last Light is a great game. It isn’t perfect, but it provides more than enough enjoyment for a satisfactory play through. If you enjoyed the first game be sure to pick up this marginally superior sequel.
82| The King of Fighters 2002
Released: October 10th, 2002
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also On: Neo Geo, PC, PSN for PS3, XBLA for Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, DC
The King of Fighters series is arguably the gold standard in fighting games. Developed and published by legendary arcade manufacturer SNK, the series was, for the longest time, a yearly release of all of SNKs most infamous fighting game characters duking it out with one another. Part of the reason why this worked so well was because SNK released a lot of fighting games. So many in fact that I’ve been looking online for a comprehensive list and I still can’t find one that lists all, or even most, of the fighting games they’ve published. To explain to the layman, SNK was to fighting games as Squaresoft was to RPGs. It was more or less all that they worked on besides a few outliers such as Metal Slug. SNK was THE fighting game company.
The series being designed by the man who created Street Fighter, the original Street Fighter, they are traditional 2D fighting games that rely on a four button layout that give the player a few moves choose from, but still manages to offer numerous options. While things vary entry to entry, on average players will have the ability to perform grabs, rolls, counters, special attacks, ex specials, desperation moves, super attacks, parries, cancels, hops, hyper hops, etc.It’s really surprising just how much the developers managed to cram into a four button layout. This isn’t surprising however, as just like King of Fighters incorporates characters from SNKs various fighting game series, it also incorporates various aspects of their fighting systems. The result is an extremely versatile and well rounded fighting system.
There is a reason why this write-up seems to be less about The King of Fighters 2002 and more about The King of Fighters in general. The reality is that it is difficult to pick just which games in the series that I enjoyed the most. One of the reasons is because the best games in the series are of similar quality to one another. XIII is the most modern version and has jaw dropping gorgeous graphics. XI feels the most unique as it is a cross between The King of Fighters and Street Fighter. 2002 “feels” the best out of all of them. 98 is…well 98. Unfortunately, another reason to why it is so hard to choose is because I just haven’t spent as much time with this series as I have with other fighting games. While I can appreciate the series and definitely see the quality of the games, they just aren’t that very fun to play compared to other mainstays in the genre. The characters feel too stiff and the game plays a too slow for my taste. There was also an awkward period in the 2000s when the series felt like it was in limbo as the production values were just very low. Possibly it is due to me growing up with A.D.D like fighting games such as Guilty Gear, but while I have tried to get into the series multiple times it just isn’t for me.
That said, if I had to choose one game in the series, it would be 2002. Yes, I realize it falls into the “awkward period” I just described, but to me this game was the best “feeling” King of Fighters game and was the most fun to play. It clearly isn’t a bad choice as the game is still regularly played today and even got an update called “Unlimited Match” for the Playstation 2 and Xbox Live Arcade in 2009, and for the PC last year. There are still couple dozen people playing online on the PC version everyday, and that doesn’t take into account the other versions of the game.The fact that the game had had fourteen years of staying power is nothing to overlook, and speaks volumes of its quality.
81| Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished — The Final Chapter
Released: December 21st, 1989
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PCECD, DS, PSP, iOS, Android
There is a very good reason why I am listing Ys II and not Ys I, despite the games always being packed together. Ys I isn’t a good game. To be fair most of the faults in the game lie in the ridiculously long incomprehensible “end” dungeon that takes up literally half the game. I could go into more detail, but this entry is about it’s far superior continuation, Ys II. The best way to describe the game is that it is like Zelda but more focus on combat, story, and RPG elements. The game uses the same bump combat as Ys I, which involves the player just merely running at an enemy to damage them. This may sound too simplistic at first but depending on the timing and what angle the player hits the enemy, the amount of damage the player inflicts on the enemy and vice versa changes. It’s actually really cool once one gets the hang of things.
Being honest, there isn’t much to say about this game other than it really illuminates the classic “16-bit” adventure feel from games of that era. The game will give you “nostalgia chills” that you received from playing more well known 16-bit games from back in the day such as A Link to the Past and Beyond Oasis. The world is varied with a lot of charm and attention to detail put into it. While the story isn’t the most lore heavy, it’s engaging just enough to have your mind fill in the blanks. The game is also well paced as it seems whenever the player completes an objective, there is something else that interests them to keep them going.
Another shoutout that is well deserved is the quality of the remaster. Ys Chronicles I and II + for the Playstation Portable, Nintendo DS, and PC is wonderful. Falcom did a perfect job in updating the game for the modern era with redone sprite work, a choice of music between versions, and a retranslation. The game could seriously pass as being developed from the ground up rather than a reworking of an existing product. Truly the definitive version of the game.
Falcom is one of the best developers in the industry, and Ys II standing the test of time so well proves why. Since its inception, the company has always focused on charming characters and tight game design first and foremost. The company doesn’t always follow the flavor of the month trends many other companies do and it truly shows. If you want to play a game that is a testament to Falcom’s game design, Ys II isn’t a bad choice.
80| Wii Sports
Released: November 19th, 2006
Available On: Wii
Likely the most hated game in all of gaming history, Wii Sports to many represented a scary turn the industry made during mid-2000s. Due to Nintendo getting trounced with the Gamecube, they knew they had to try something different with their next platform. It was obvious that the core gaming audience was no longer interested in most of Nintendo’s offerings. While Nintendo tried to win them back with the Gamecube with games like Eternal Darkness as well as exclusive titles in the Resident Evil and Metal Gear franchises, at the end of the day it wasn’t enough. As a result Nintendo decided to go after a very different market, adults, specifically adult women. Initially people thought Nintendo was crazy for trying to capture such a demographic. Then the sales numbers for December came in and the Wii was the best selling console. This initially was met with a warm response due to the fact that it didn’t trounce the other consoles as well as people being ecstatic that Sony’s death grip on the console market was no longer a reality. However, something began to happen. The Wii was very successful…too successful. It was successful to the extent that it began to outsell the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 combined. On top of that many traditionally core publishers such as EA and Ubisoft began to put their laurels behind more casual game development. Frightened by this, gamers began panicking as they feared a future where Halo and Grand Theft Auto would lose priority to Carnival Games and Just Dance.
This fear proved to be unwarranted. Eventually the Wii’s casual audience moved on to far cheaper mobile games. Ironically the fear of the Wii hasn’t died out, the animosity has just moved toward the mobile platform. Looking at the era today is like looking at a snapshot in time. It bring back a lot of memories both good and bad. It also leads us to be a lot more objective of certain games of that era as we are no longer in the thick of it. So how good is Wii Sports exactly? It is after all the game that started off this whole thing, or at least in the console space. Truth be told, Wii Sports is actually a very good game. It was just very misunderstood at the time. Sure it isn’t the deepest game out there, but it is definitely very fun to play. And that’s what made the game so successful, it is fun to play. There is a certain tingly feeling you get when you barely manage a squeeze of a win after playing your friend in Wii tennis. What also made the game so successful is accessibility. Anyone can pick up and play the game, even your parents. The controller is just a remote control where you have to make the same motions you do as in actually playing the sport. It’s so simple and intuitive that I have yet to run into anyone who doesn’t know how to use the controls within the first minute or so. This results in a lot of potential players as well as potential consumers for the Wii console.
The game offers a variety of different games to choose from. This includes golf, bowling, boxing, tennis, and baseball. All of these games are implemented reasonably enough, except perhaps for boxing, but I found bowling and tennis to be the best. One can also not mention Wii Sports without Miis. Miis were cute little cartoony avatars players created on their Wii console in which certain games would incorporate them as playable characters. Wii Sports was the most well known game to do this. Players would control their Mii as they played one of the five sports available in the game. So not only could you trounce your friend in your favorite sport on the Wii, but you can also physically see it as well.
As I said before, I feel that Wii Sports, as well as that entire era of games, was very misunderstood. Miyamoto said it best in what Nintendo was trying to achieve. He talked about how games use to be enjoyed by all demographics with titles such as Space Invaders and Pong. However, after the Atari era, and much to Nintendo’s credit, games began to become a little more complicated with more buttons, multiple character actions, input memorization, map screens, attributes, etc. While this certainly isn’t a bad thing and satisfied the teenage boy in the family, but it left the mother and father alienated toward games. They didn’t want to memorize combos or engage in resource management, they just simply wanted to play. And that’s what Wii Sports is, it isn’t a sports simulation or an adrenaline based arcade titles, it is simply a game that you play. Nintendo didn’t want to cannibalize core games, they wanted to expand the market by opening the gates to more casual players. And they succeeded.
79| Quake III Arena / Quake Live
Released: December 2nd, 1999
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: XBLA for Xbox 360, DC, PS2
Let’s get this out of the way. I was originally an Unreal Tournament guy. I was introduced to that series through my cousins who, at the time, recently purchased a new PC. I was confused about the game at first because it seemed very strange as they installed some mods in the game that allowed them to play as strange characters, such as The Mask from the movie “The Mask”, the Jim Carrey film. However, when they actually started playing the game it looked very cool. It was a lightening fast paced multiplayer first person shooter. When I tried the game I was hooked. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be for another seven years or so before I would play the series again. When I got Unreal Tournament 2004 with my newly built PC, I fell in love. The speed, the adrenaline, and the chaos. At the time I heard about Quake III, but never really gave it a shot. I finally did after a period where I no longer had a high-end computer, and I was very surprised. Sure the game didn’t have the variety of Unreal Tournament, but it made up for it with it by dialing up the speed and chaos a few more notches. And overall felt like a more competitive game as most maps were small to moderately sized with occasional open areas designed for deathmatch. This is in contrast to many of Unreal Tournament’s maps which were often huge landscapes and felt more akin to something like Halo. These two things combined made me prefer Quake over Unreal.
The gist of this game is that it is an arena shooter through and through. If you want to give someone of an example of a platformer, you give Super Mario Bros. If you want to give someone an example of an arena shooter, you give Quake III Arena. The game starts off with the player choosing which mode they want to play. The most popular mode, deathmatch, involves multiple players online moving across the map shooting one another, as they gather weapons and health until who ever racks up the most kills wins. It’s a very simple concept, but it works flawlessly. Another thing that makes the game stand out from typical first person shooters, isn’t just the speed, but the mobility. Players will be able to jump and hop all throughout the arena as they can go up platforms and different levels of the map in order to get to the perfect spot to raise hell on your opponents. However, the maps are designed in such a way that makes camping dangerous. There isn’t a spot you can stay in too long before you won’t be spotted as no place is too well hidden. All these things add up into a very frantic and fun game.
The game was updated and released as a free to play browser game on August 6th, 2010, however it was later changed to be priced at a whooping $10. What was once the most technically demanding game on the market can now be played on a Chromebook. The game is fantastic, but like all updated iterations has old fans complaining about the changes. No matter where you stand though, both games have active communities and both games are a blast to play. Almost twenty years later Quake III is still one of the most active first person shooters around. Its staying power really displays how timeless it is. With an entry price of $10, there is no reason not to at least try the game.
78| Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Released: October 29th, 1993
Definitive Version: PC Engine CD; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii, PSP
When one brings up Castlevania the first thing that comes to mind are the recent “Metroidvania” games. Essentially side-scrolling action-adventure games with RPG elements. While these games are certainly great, they aren’t what the series was originally known for. Castlevania built its name by being a side-scrolling action series that was focused on airtight level mechanics and design. Armed with a whip and a choice of a special sub-weapon, the player guided their vampire hunter as they scaled platforms and fought enemies along the way until they reached the boss at the end of the level. A criticism could be given that this was all very simplistic, but that was the beauty of the games. There were no distractions or gimmicks, just tried and true gameplay.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is seen as many as the not only the magnum opus of these style of games, but also the swan song. Released on the PC Engine CD n Japan in 1993, it brought Castlevania to the disc age as it took advantage of the CD medium by having animated cutscenes, voices, and a killer soundtrack. Castlevania was widely acknowledged as having some of the most catchiest and memorable music in gaming and the developers capitalized that on the CD medium by composing what is arguably the best soundtrack in the series. However, the game didn’t stand out due to its presentation. The gameplay is why it gets so much love. Rather than continuing down the path set out by Super Castlevania IV which made the game easier and more accessible, Rondo of Blood lines up closer to its NES counterparts as it offers more limited mobility and tougher difficulty. It takes the “less is more” approach and manages to pull it off strikingly.
Of course mechanics can only take a game so far, design is a crucial part of games too, and here Rondo of Blood also excels. The levels are carefully crafted as it seems that ever inch of them seem to be tailored around the player’s experience. No platform is close enough to be too easy of a jump, no enemy is placed where they will be a sure kill, no sub-weapon is designed to be abused for too long. The game makes you work to progress and it makes completing each level that much sweeter. To be honest though, the same is true in inverse. No platform is too far away to be nearly impossible to get to, no enemy is placed in an area where they’d surely kill the player, and every sub-weapon that the player receives will find some use in its area for some time. The game may be tough, but it is also fair.
Yet another category where this game impresses is with the bosses. They aren’t the greatest bosses in gaming, but they are all unique, memorable, and challenging. From a golem, to a dragon, to a werewolf, these bosses may seem cliche but they all behave differently and require the player to retool their strategy. The game might not be Dark Souls, but nevertheless fighting the bosses is still one of the most enjoyable parts of it.
It’s really easy to see why this game is so loved. It is not only arguably the last high quality entry in the same vein as the classic series, but also for the longest time the lost entry. Up until the PSP remake in 2007, which also included the original game, there was no English release of the game available. Sure one doesn’t exactly require the knowledge of Japanese to play it, but unless you imported the game from Japan you were shit out of luck. On top of that it was only available on the Turbograffx CD, which in the West was seen was one of those “other” platforms. These two things combined resulted in the game gaining a mystical status among the gaming community. Does the game live up to the hype? It certainly does.
77| Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Released: November 20th, 1995
Definitive Version: Super Nintendo; Also on: eShop for New 3DS, Virtual Console for Wii U and Wii, GBA
Everyone during the ’90s was familiar with Donkey Kong Country. Whether they owned it, rented it, or played it at a friend’s house, they were familiar with it. What made the game stand out so much were its graphics. Never before had pre-rendered graphics been implemented so well on a console. Sure there were games like Mortal Kombat that used pre-rendered sprites and what not, but they looked nowhere near as good as Donkey Kong Country. With the help of the Super FX chip, as well as a peculiar art style, Donkey Kong Country looked as if you were playing Toy Story, before Toy Story even existed. Unfortunately, a side effect of popularity is a group of vocal haters. Many claimed that the game had lukewarm gameplay at best and its graphics were the only thing carrying its success. Even Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto said as much, which added more fuel to the fire. Truth be told these comments are unwarranted. Like all of Rare’s platformers, Donkey Kong Country is a game a with very tight mechanics and polished game design, even though they went a little overboard at times with mini-games and collectibles (this would just be a mere taste of things to come). While it is true that much of its success was built on its revolutionary graphics technology, it doesn’t mean that the game didn’t have quality gameplay to match its success.
Donkey Kong Country is one of the best platformers out there, but the sequel managed to outdo it in every single aspect. Diddy’s Kong Quest built upon everything Rare learned from the first entry and expanded it even more. The game now featured more ambitious levels with even more variety, more interesting animals to control, bigger and better bosses, and even better graphics. It was essentially Donkey Kong Country with added hot sauce. The only real significant difference between the two games is the lack of Donkey Kong. This is due to the fact that the plot revolves around Donkey Kong being kidnapped and thus his brother Diddy and his girlfriend Dixie have to save him. Diddy plays exactly like he did in the previous entry. In fact they use he exact same sprite. Dixie however is a bit a different. Her main feature is the abilities to twirl her body so her hair acts like a helicopter, thus she glides in the air. This is a lot like the tanooki suit in Super Mario Bros series but covers a much shorter distance. Dixie is a very welcome change in the series. Donkey Kong in the first game was big, bulky, and slow. Thus using two small, nimble, and quick characters is a welcome change that noticeably speeds up the game.
There is also the matter of the music in the game. The music in the Donkey Country game’s are all great, and the second game in the series is no exception. It is so good in fact that it deserves its own paragraph.Throughout the game, you will find many high quality tracks, that are often a cross between being ambient and melodic.It is the absolute perfect match for the game.
The Donkey Kong Country series was a turning point for Rare. It was when the studio stopped being just another developer and began being the well renowned developer we know today…or at least used to know. During the ’90s Rare made groundbreaking games that transformed their respected genres and the Donkey Kong Country series was certainly part of that. Rare gave it there all when working on the series to make a name for themselves, and it shows. Being that the second entry is the best by a good margin makes it a must play.
76| 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Released: November 16th, 2010
Avaliable On: Nintendo DS
For most of the Nintendo DS’s lifespan, if you were to ask someone what the best adventure game was on the system you would almost unanimously get the Phoenix Wright series as an answer, with possibly Hotel Dusk as the sole exception. Being the best in the genre for the portable was quite a title as due to its touch screen and portability it became the go to system for adventure games, specifically point and click and visual novels. Four months before the release of the system’s three dimensional successor, a new game for the aging handheld arrived. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (often called 999 by sane people) was yet another adventure game for the platform that began making rounds. It quickly became a cult hit due to its unique storyline, relatable characters, and mysterious setting.
The gist of the game is that the player has been abducted and put on a ship. They wake up bewildered in a small room when it begins to fill up with water. The only exit is locked and needs a specific combination to open. The player then has to solve a series of puzzles in order to figure out the correct combination to open the door. When they exit the room eight other strangers emerge. It turns out all of them have been kidnapped as well. Suddenly the intercom for the ship comes on and apparently all nine passengers are being tested as they have a set amount of time to figure out all of the puzzles and leave the ship or else the ship will sink. As one could imagine, there is some initial sense of discord as strangers don’t always seem to want to work together. To capitalize on this, according to the intercom, the broadcast is just a recording as the one who put all the passengers on the ship and is the brains behind the operation is one of the nine passengers among them.
The introduction perfectly sets the tone for the game. Story and atmosphere wise, the entire game is built on the lack of trust. Passengers are often divided into teams in order to go into specific rooms to solve puzzles. Obviously not everyone trusts one another so being forced to work with others they aren’t comfortable with makes for some great dialogue and story telling. Suspicion seems to take constant priority as each character and even the player constantly guess who is the one really behind this twisted experiment and why. To further peak the player’s interest, each character is unique and has an intriguing background. In a way the player bonds with the characters, but knows that they shouldn’t get too attached as they all seem to have some type of skeletons in their closet.
The introduction also does a good job laying out the actual gameplay. The entire game progresses as such: engaging puzzle in room -> lengthy story segment -> rinse and repeat until the end. This is the game’s biggest flaw by far. It is just far too repetitive as the same basic formula is repeated over and over again. To the game’s credit many of the puzzles are very well done and memorable. However, some are also a huge headache. At times the puzzles are just a bit too cryptic and the fact that the room’s can be confusing to navigate through doesn’t help. Still if the player puts their mind to it they will be able to clear the room, and there is a certain satisfaction one gets from the “aha!” moment one gets after being stuck on one step for fifteen minutes and finally figuring things out.
Last but not least, the game has a fantastic soundtrack that everyone should listen to. Its electronic beats mixed with suspenseful chords really give the game its own identity. The soundtrack also ventures into music that sounds a bit unsettling, as the game really capitalizing on the question of “who is this person and why are they doing these things to us?”
999 is one of the last games in the DS’s long list of adventure titles. Over the years it has gained a strong cult following and the Zero Escape series is one of the most recognizable in the genre. If one is curious to see just how the series got its start or is merely interested in a game that will keep them guessing both with quality puzzles and opaque story, you can’t go wrong with 999.
75| Chrono Trigger
Released: August 22nd, 1995
Definitive Version: Nintendo DS; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii, SNES, Playstation, iOS, Android
Frequently said to be the greatest RPG of all-time, Chrono Trigger is as timeless as its premise. Released in 1995, the game broke many barriers and conventions in the JRPG subgenre. The game didn’t have random battles, it didn’t really have a Medieval setting, it allowed the player to make choices to effect the overarching story, and finally the game was made to be replayed as it even offered a new game plus option. While many of these things are standard in the genre today, back in 1995 these things were practically never seen before, and to have them all in one single game was revolutionary.
Chrono Trigger’s plot revolves around a boy who goes to an annual festival. Not long after arriving he physically runs into a girl. Due to his generosity, or more accurately the girl’s persistence, he ends up showing her around the event. Eventually the boy bumps into a friend of his who wants him to test our her latest invention, the telepod. It is more or less a teleporter. The boy volunteers and goes through unscathed, unfortunately this can’t be said for his female companion when she tries it. It turns out due to her having on a mysterious pendant she ends up going back in time. Thus the boy grabs the pendant and goes through the same telepod to retrieve the girl. This is just the very tip of the story which extends far further. Throughout the game the player will go as far back in the past as the Jurassic Age to so far in the future they reach the end of time itself. The only thing that matches the variety of time periods you will explore is the set of cast and characters you will encounter. Each major character has their own unique traits and personality that is melded within the era they reside. This results in a very engaging story that manages to even stand out in the modern age of CGI-like graphics and cinematic story telling. To add on to this, the story itself seems to hit the perfect medium as it is not so thin that it is practically non-existent like most 16-bit JRPGs, but not so text heavy that it is basically a visual novel like most JRPGs in the 32-bit era. It achieves the perfect balance of telling the story and having the player’s mind fill in the gaps.
The presentation of the game was second to none at the time. For starters the graphics are incredible. They look great even today, and there are some scenes in the game that makes one wonder just how this was all achieved without the Super FX chip. That said, the game just doesn’t look pretty, but it also moves pretty. The animation is very smooth for a Super Nintendo game as it seems that almost every animation has at least three frames to it. The soundtrack is one of the best of the era. There is a reason why so much of the games music is still to this day recycled in so many Youtube videos. Not only are the songs catchy and memorable, but Squaresoft somehow got one of Rareware’s technical wizards on board to have the sound come out clear and modern. But what really steals the show is the script. Translator Ted Woosley managed to bring modern localization standards to a Super Nintendo game. The writing is virtually free from spelling errors, the plot in the game makes perfect sense, and the characters all have weight and emotion when they speak. Keep in mind this was an era where dialog boxes would often be limited to four or five words with countless spelling errors. Ted Woosley didn’t just raise the bar, he kicked it sky high.
Unfortunately, while the story and presentation of the game is timeless, the actual game design is less so. While the battle system is far ahead of most RPGs of its era, in the modern day it is a bit dated. Battles are won by often performing the same attacks over and over again. Occasionally the game throws a curve ball by having bosses with multiple limbs and different attributes, but they are few and far in between. While the areas in the game look pretty, it is at times difficult to tell where a path and exit is. There is one particular map in the Jurassic time period that made me want to pull my hair out. Save points also can be placed in questionable parts in the game leading to some significant pacing issues as it isn’t that fun replaying the same area again and again. The difficulty of the game can also fluctuate. Most of the time the difficulty is perfect, however there are a few parts of the game that I felt were a bit too difficult, specifically some of the bosses two thirds through the game. Where the game really stands out in gameplay are its choices and side quests. As said before, the choices in the game have a lot of weight to them as they can shift the story and even change the entire ending of the game. There are also multiple sides quests in the game that will force the player to explore different time periods to complete. Reading this on paper one may be worried that this may make things too confusing, but it works seamlessly while rarely holding the player’s hand.
Chrono Trigger is one of gaming’s most infamously legendary titles. After playing the game it is easy to see why. The plot, characters, writing, music, and graphics are all so timeless. While I concur that the game has aged well, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been surpassed. The story and characters in the game are great, however being that there are twenty years worth of games that have been released in the genre since the game’s initial release, a few are bound to surpass it in that category. While the story and presentation are as ripe as ever, the game design has become a little stale. The combat system is archaic by today’s standards and the maps could use a little work. Overall, Chrono Trigger could indeed be called a masterpiece as its faults are few and its strengths are many. Even when comparing it to most JRPGs today it still does many things games in the genre could learn from, and that’s saying something from a game that is over twenty years old that was released when its respected genre was only ten.
74| Ghost Trick
Released: January 11th, 2011
Definitive Version: iOS; Also on: DS
New IPs are a very tough thing to do. Gamers and publishers alike enjoy the familiar. There is far less risk of being burned when investing one’s money in a known product rather than an unknown one. During the late 2000s the Ace Attorney series was red hot. Being given a second breath of life in Japan due to the Nintendo DS re-releases and the localization being a sleeper hit in Western markets resulted in the series being amongst the most recognized in the gaming community. However, when series creator Shu Taukumi was asked if he wanted to be involved in the fourth entry, the first new entry in the series since it became so renowned, he declined. Instead he wanted to work on a new game, a different game. Ghost Trick is that game.
The biggest difference between Ghost Trick and Ace Attorney is that the former is a lot more “”puzzly”” than the other. Rather than undergoing detective work as you explore rooms, find items, and use gizmos and gadgets, Ghost Trick has the player interact with their surrounding environment. The plot revolves around a man who recently died and is now a disembodied ghost. The first thing he sees is a young woman about to be assassinated. She unfortunately meets an unfortunate end. However, it is then discovered that the ghost has the power to not only briefly rewind time, but also the ability to possess and manipulate objects. With this power the player saves the young woman’s life and proceeds to venture toward the mystery of how the young woman, the assassin, and himself are all connected.
The game uses a sideview angle, like a play stage, as the player can scroll through the entire map as they can possess and manipulate objects to do their bidding. Often these manipulations are just simple things such as opening the cabinet door, ringing a phone, or opening an umbrella. When all of these minor actions add up one could solve quite a dilemma such as letting a young woman escape a killer, cluing the police to a suspect’s whereabouts, or leading a character away from a car crash. The game essentially has the player in control of the butterfly effect.This may seem mundane, but it is surprisingly fun. It is always very enjoyable going through trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t, what object you can and can’t reach, etc. The puzzles are difficult enough that they will require multiple playthroughs, but fair enough that you won’t be spending hours on end trying to solve one.
The Ace Attorney series is known for having charming characters and light-hearted murder mysteries. Ghost Trick continues on with this tradition with a diverse cast of likable characters who you just want to see more of. This particularly lends itself to the gameplay as one not only wants to complete a stage to progress, but also to protect the characters.The writing is very humorous and it isn’t uncommon for many of the lines to give the player a chuckle. Each cast member has their own personality and backstory that is told with great detail which really gives the game a much deeper lore than it is required to. Or if you want a short summary of the quality of the characters, story, and writing, it is from the creator of the Ace Attorney series. Yeah that sums up things pretty nicely.
The graphics in the game are mesmerizing. Despite having 2D gameplay and being developed for the Nintendo DS, the game uses 3D models and then transfers them into pre-rendered sprites. Normally this would be looked down upon, but the developers managed to use the advantages of 3D while mimicking the parts of 2D that matter. For starters the game uses simple polygonal models, shaders, and textures. Sure this means that the game wouldn’t win any awards in the tech department, but it does mean that the game has very clean look to it that stands the test of time. But where the game really stands out is in the animation. It’s really better to show than to tell:
The developers continued to use 3D models to their advantage as they incorporated tons of keyframes for each animation to make them look seamless. Keep in mind this was for the Nintendo DS which didn’t exactly have a lot of RAM to work with. The clean 3D models coupled with the smooth animation results in the game pioneering its own unique style.
Being honest, the game doesn’t really have any faults. I mean sure the soundtrack isn’t the best out there but it’s still great. The story isn’t going to make any top ten lists but it is still a very fun ride. The puzzles aren’t the most engrossing out there but they still give your brain a workout. Unfortunately this is exactly what keeps the game from ranking higher on the list. It’s a game where the whole is better than the sums of its parts. However, even considered that, when the parts combine it may make for a high quality product, but not something that would get too far on a list of the greatest games ever produced. Regardless the game is more than worth being played and anyone who enjoys Ace Attorney should pick it up. It is unfortunate that the game performed so poorly. Being released at the tail end of the Nintendo DS’s lifespan did the game no favors. Luckily the game isn’t rare at all and can be found for a dozen dollars or two for the DS. I don’t say this often, but I would recommend the iPad version of the game instead. Sure it runs at half the frame-rate than the DS version, which is a huge disadvantage. But the disadvantages end there as the graphics are much clearer, the sound is much better, and the controls are sharp with the ability to tween and drag the camera with ease and accurately select objects on a huge screen rather than a 3 inch one. Like its protagonist and sister series, it is a game that deserves to be resurrected and given a second chance.
73| Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
Released: July 20th, 1990
Definitive Version: Any; Available On: MSX2, PSV, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2
It isn’t uncommon when a traditionally 2D game series makes the jump to 3D that it takes a lot of influences from its previous two dimensional entry. Ocarina of Time took a lot of influence from A Link to the Past as it included many areas and situations from the previous game. The same goes for Metroid Prime as it took a lot of influence from Super Metroid. However, there is a certain other series that took a lot of influence from its pixelated predecessor. Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation broke a lot of ground with its cinematic tone, blockbuster story, unique gameplay, and several quirks in game design. The stealth gameplay, the theme of a mixture of Japanese anime robots and Western spy thriller, finding specific codec numbers by looking at the game’s disc case, etc. What most people don’t know, is that it turns out that many of these things really weren’t that unique. In fact almost all of this was taken directly from the first two games in the series. Specifically from Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
The game plays exactly like Metal Gear Solid. You play as Solid Snake an elite spy for the U.S. government who’s objective is to infiltrate the enemy base. In a top down perspective, Snake will be walking and crawling throughout the entire facility as he tries to avoid enemies. The top right of the screen has a map system that shows exactly where each enemy is. It’s good to pay attention to this as much as possible because if an enemy catches sight of Snake an alarm will go off and every enemy on the map will attack him, as well as back up being called. If Snake manages to escape and remain undetected for a few minutes then the alarm will stop and the enemies will let down their guard again. Snake can equip himself with a variety of weapons ranging from pistols, to machine guns, to rocket launchers, to his bare fists. On top of that he can also use items such as key cards to open up doors, cigarettes to slowly kill himself, or a box to hide himself in.
As demonstrated by the previous paragraph, all of Metal Gear’s core designs are perfectly present in this game. However, the similarities don’t just end there. Many of Metal Gear Solid’s unique “think outside the box” design decisions are present in this entry as well. For example there is a point in the game where you have to look through the game’s manual to see a picture of a codec call that you have to enter to contact an important individual. Another part of the game revolves around the player trying to find a hollow part of a wall, so the player has to knock on all of the walls in a room to find it and use some C4 to blow a hole in it. Being honest I was halfway expecting to come across a boss fight where I’d have to plug my controller into the number 2 port.
If there is one thing that Metal Gear Solid has that Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake lacks, it is a quality presentation and story. Now don’t get me wrong, for its time Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was on the bleeding edge when it came to story and cinematic presentation in games…for its time. Things changed a lot in regards to presentation and story from 1990 to 1998, and even more so from 1990 until today. For starters the characters are all very generic and one dimensional. They virtually have no personality what so ever. This shouldn’t come to much surprise as the characters are completely ripped off from popular American movies, as thier portraits from the codec calls of the original MSX2 version demonstrate.
The story is also very straight forward. “Stop the infamous underground terrorist group from creating a super-secret high end weapon so they can’t take over the world.” To be fair, Metal Gear Solid uses the same premise, but manages to make things a bit more complex and interesting due to various side-stories and secrets told throughout the game. Really, what salvages the story is seeing various tidbits you hear about from subsequent Metal Gear games such as Big Boss’s demise and Frank Jaeger’s betrayal. You keep hearing about these things in even the most modern Metal Gear games, and it’s satisfying to finally play through it.
Overall, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was a game way ahead of its time. It may not have all the flash and pizazz of its more contemporary entries; however that is also its charm. While modern entries of the series tend to be loaded with cutscenes and intense action segments, these things can also result in bloat and too much of a deviation from the core gameplay. One could view Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as lacking substance compared to the other games in the series, while one could also see it as trimming the fat.
72| Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Released: September 8th, 2009
Definitive Version: Playstation Vita; Also on: Wii
“Like a painting” is a saying that is thrown around a little too loosely in gaming. The term has been used to describe games from God of War III to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. While those games do in fact look pretty, we have to remember just what a painting actually looks like. Japanese developer Vanillaware is one of the extremely rare development studios that actually manages to actually achieve the statement. Rather than using 3D cel-shaded models, pixel art sprites, or even tradigital animation, Vanillaware paints characters and backgrounds on a computer and break them up into multiple parts in layers so they can animate them. The game looks like a painting because the game is a painting.
Throughout the game the player will be hypnotized by the attention to detail on the backgrounds and characters. The game’s unique traditional Japanese art style elevates the eye candy by a significant degree and also really sets the tone and atmosphere for the game. While the animation isn’t the best, it is still reasonable enough. When these things all come together the result is visual wizardry where you will often find yourself standing in multiple locations just to embrace the scenery.
Or some times running around, whatever works best.
Now while a game can look pretty, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it plays well. Luckily for Muramasa, it seems that the attention to the art didn’t shift much attention away from the gameplay. The game is best described as an evolution of the classic 16-bit action side-scroller. You can choose between two characters a young man and a teenage girl. Both wield samurai blades and have fairly simple action and combo sequences. The world is explored by moving left or right. Eventually you will reach a “door” to which you can enter and open up a new route with additional “doors” to multiple pathways. While exploring the world the player will come across a variety of enemies including ninjas, samurai, eagles, ghosts, and what have you. Fighting these enemies is simplistic, but also fun. Again, it feels like a modern day take of a 16-bit game with simple inputs and most of the skill in avoiding and countering enemy attacks.
Where the gameplay really shines though is the boss battles. The bosses tend to be very ambitious and intimidating. They include heavenly giants that tower over the player, snake-like dragons that fly through the sky as the player dodges their flames, a giant Octopus in a stormy sea, etc. It is during these encounters where the combat shines the most as the player’s skill and patience will be put to the test. These segments also look beautiful with huge characters with a massive amount of detail put into them.
The story of the game is very run of the mill. It features two characters, six on Vita, a young swordsman and a teenage girl who is possessed by a ruthless tyrant. The former involves the swordsman fighting for his country and commander, who is also his lover. The later involves a girl being controlled by the sprit of an outlaw who is out to get revenge. Personally I enjoyed the latter story significantly more as I felt that that those two protagonists were more developed character wise than the two protagonists in the other story.
While the gameplay is very good, I will admit that it is not enough alone to prop up the game to be ranked so high. In reality the reason why this game is remembered so much is due to the art. Beholding the game is indeed a spectacle. However, being pretty will only push a game so far. And while the game is still high in quality if one takes the gorgeous art off the table it is nothing groundbreaking. This doesn’t mean that the game isn’t an experience you will remember for quite some time, and like many 16-bit games it is highly replayable. There isn’t that much better of a pitch for a game than it being a painting that you can also play.
71| X-Men 2: Clone Wars
Released: 1995 (Exact date unknown)
Avaliable on: Sega Genesis
You press the power button on your console, the game starts. No menu screen, no select screen, not even a console boot up. The second your press the power button the game starts with a random X-Men character. You run through the screen taking out enemies and avoiding obstacles. Things are difficult but with enough retries you pull through. Then the boot screen starts up, the license logo appears, and then a debriefing cutscene. You can now select what character to use for the next level. This is the first impression X Men 2: Clone Wars gives. The game delivers the coldest open possible. It sets the tone of the game from the start. Less fluff, more action.
X Men 2: Clone Wars is 16-bit side-scrolling action at its finest.You know the drill, keep running right, and occasionally left, while defeating a bunch of enemies until you get to the end boss. Defeat the boss and repeat. It may sound mundane, but with this game it really is not. The controls are tight, the jumping feels accurate, and attacking enemies leave the player with a feeling of satisfaction. The platforms in the levels are well spaced out, the enemies are placed in all of the correct spots, and the objective of each part of the level varies so the player doesn’t get bored. The game certainly isn’t innovative, it just does everything so right.
Having “X Men” in the title obviously means that it is a comic book game. The game uses the license very well as there are a good share of playable characters and they all play just like they do in the comics. Wolverine is great for close up and personal attacks, Cyclops beam attack is very useful for getting rid of enemies from afar, Gambit is designed to take advantage of his poles long reach, Nightcrawler is very sneaky and quick, etc. Not only does this offer the player to try out what playstyle they prefer (as long as the character survives), but it also results in the game being very replayable. In a way it makes the cold open make sense as it forces the player to play as a character they may not like, but could enjoy the way they play.
Graphically the game looks great. Developer Headgames manages to make the game look close to the comic as possible due to a wide variety of colors on the characters and the backgrounds. The game also spots a lot of nifty effects. Such as in the cold open level it is snowing and you can see tons of individual snow particles on the screen.
Sure you can see the effect is similar to putting static on the screen, but it is nevertheless a cool effect to see on the Genesis.
Unfortunately while the game looks good, it doesn’t sound good. While the sound effects and music go well with the game, the quality is of the classic muted and muffled early ’90s Genesis games. I mean just listen to this shit. At a time when Treasure, Game Freak, and Bluesky Software were putting out high quality music this just doesn’t meet the standards.
There isn’t much else to say about the game. It is your typical action oriented 16-bit sidescroller. What makes it stand out are the X Men property and that the game is extremely well polished. It is a bit unfortunate that the game seems to be ignored. The game came out just when the 16-bit era was wrapping up and likely was overshadowed by the Sega Saturn, Playstation, and the big Super Nintendo blockbusters. It also got overshadowed by its very successful and shitty predecessor X Men which is a very boring and terrible game. If you want the definitive superhero game of the 16-bit era then look no further.
70| Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Dual Destinies
Released: October 24th, 2013
Definitive Version: Nintendo 3DS; Also on: iOS
The Phoenix Wright series effectively came out of nowhere. With no advertising, on a relatively new platform, and having a very strange premise the games have managed to gain a significant cult following while achieving moderately successful sales in the West. The series left quite a legacy for the fifth entry to fill that was also the first on the next generation portable after the series made it big. Capcom took advantage of the series popularity and the more powerful hardware by incorporating high quality 3D graphics, stunning animation, and anime cutscenes. The series was back and was sure to let the fans know.
Anyone who is familiar with Phoenix Wright knows the gist of the series. You play as a young lawyer who has to defend a practically undefendable defendant. They face overwhelming odds against them and it is up to you to solve the mystery to get them off the hook. Players will be searching for clues as they interview, and outright interrogate, townsfolk and go to the scene of the crime to search for evidence. Once finished the second half of the game begins as the player attends a court room trial as they cross examine testimonials from witnesses. This process repeats around three times and by the end the player manages to turn the whole case on its head and the defendant is free.
This may appeal to some people, but to others not so much. In one’s head someone probably thinks the game is akin to a playable version of “Law & Order”. In actuality the game is a light-hearted and comical game filled with charming characters, intriguing mysteries, and a lot of humorous writing. Dual Destinies continues to fulfill these expectations. The game brings back a lot of old characters but introduces a lot of new ones as well. Phoenix, Apollo, Trucy, and Pearl make their way back to series with their same lovable personalities…well for the most part. A bit of time has passed since the last game so the characters have matured. While Phoenix is still a goofball at times he has also gained confidence and more experience as a lawyer. Apollo is no longer the rookie lawyer from the previous entry and now has a bit more experience under his belt, as well as seems to be more determined in finding the truth. Trucy is her same loveable and upbeat self. Pearl is still cute and innocent, but also has grown up and is now getting hit on by boys. I really pat Capcom on back for bothering to further mature and develop their characters rather than have them be stuck in arrested development like many other franchises.
The game also introduces a new cast of characters. Athena, who is arguably the protagonist, is likely the best female co-lead the series has had. She is very upbeat, determined, and uses the power of “analytical psychology” during the trial. Blackquill is Dual Destinies main “antagonist” as he is a defense attorney who is also in handcuffs. He’s locked up in jail but due to his immense talent as a prosecutor the court system still lets him work his magic. He has the persona of a Samurai which results in him getting hotblooded and competitive, but also has him focused more so on revealing the truth than winning the case. There are many more characters in this entry, both returning and new, but I don’t want to spoil too much.
The game adds a lot of new gameplay elements. The first obvious one is that due to the jump toward 3D, the camera has a lot more free movement. Rooms can be viewed in a lot more angles and it seems that every item can be turned 360 degrees every which way to be inspected. Every Phoenix Wright game since the second one always has some gimmick they introduce in the courtroom. For Dual Destinies this gimmick is the reading of emotions. Due to Athena’s power of “analytical psychology” she can pick up when a witness feels strong emotions, much like a lie detector. It is up to the player to select what phrase is triggering that emotion, as well as just what emotion the witness is feeling. Another new feature is the “closer” in which at the end of each case the player has to choose from a selection bit by bit to piece together what really occured during the events of each case. Besides these things the game is more or less the usual Ace Attorney affair wth interrogations, cross examines, searching for clues, etc.
Perhaps what seperates this entry the most from previous games is the graphics. Rather than using 2D illustrations the game opts for cel-shaded 3D models. This may be a turn off at first but the game look great and the animation is even better. It also lends to some pretty cool effects such as the camera rotating and taking the Nintendo 3DS’s 3D effect by the horns as the characters really pop-out.
Dual Destinies is a great entry in a great series. Capcom could have easily botched the series move to a new platform but instead they managed to keep everything fans loved and added some more. The first episode of the game is actually avaliable for free on iOS, and while it isn’t the best version it wouldn’t hurt to just try it out. It’s free after all.
69| Genji Tsuushin Agedama
Released: December 13th, 1991
Available on: PC Engine
People tend to forget that gaming has always been a global marketplace. Never was this more apparent than during the 16-bit era. As most know, the Super Nintendo ended up coming on top in sales over the Sega Megadrive. However, what most don’t know is that Sega’s console actually outside Nintendo’s in America. The primary reason why Nintendo sold so many more consoles than Sega is due to the fact that the Sega Megadrive was a dud in Japan. Much of this was due to the fact that prior to the Megadrive’s release there was already a competing console with Nintendo. The NEC PC Engine was a small and sleek system specializing in glorified 8-bit games, the real Super Nintendo so to speak. It had volumes of shoot-em-ups, platformers, and quirky games that highly appealed to the Japanese market. Unfortunately the system pulled a reverse Sega, while it was successful in Japan, it bombed in every other territory. Not only did this result in the system’s life getting cut short in the West, but also resulted in the lack of quality titles being localized. The meat of the PC Engine’s library actually never left Japanese shores, however due to the age of Youtube, Ebay, and emulation many games have gotten much more exposure.
One of these games is Genji Tsuushin Agedama. Based on the short lived anime series, the game…well it’s hard to tell exactly what the game is about being that it is all in Japanese. But it has something to do with a boy with powers in defeating evil monster forces. What makes the game such a gem is its unique gameplay. It combines the shoot-em-up genre and the platformer genre in perfect harmony. Like a shoot-em-up, the screen automatically scrolls to right while enemies pop up on the side of the screen. The player can control the character sprite as they can move them left or right The objective of the game is to shoot projectiles at enemies in order to defeat them. The game has a unique feature where the player can collect different colored gems in order to charge their attacks to do a special move. The longer they hold their attack for, the more powerful of a special move they get to use. These moves often revolve around huge projectiles taking up most of the screen as enemies are mowed down by flames, whirlwinds, genies, and what have you. The other major part of the game is the platforming. The game isn’t Mario exactly, but throughout the levels players will be required to jump from platform to platform as they will be forced to time their jumps for a precise landing.
The game features a variety of levels that often have the player doing different things. Some are very straight forward, others will require the player to jump like a madman, some will actually control like a typical platform game even. It’s surprising that a game that seems so simple on the surface actually has such a diverse set of stages. At the end of each area is a boss battle. These are actually pretty good. They won’t make your head sweat like many acclaimed shoot-em-ups, but they are unique and charming enough to be enjoyable, even if they are a bit easy.
Graphically the game looks pretty good. The PC Engine really struggled to have sprites as detailed as its 16-bit rivals. It had a fraction of the color palette that the Megadrive had, which in turn had a fraction of the color palette that the Super Nintendo had. The silver lining of this is that it resulted in games having a simplistic style that ironically had them age better due to the fact that the graphics don’t look as pixealated. Genji Tsuushin Agedama is no exception to this. While it isn’t the most detailed game out there, the sprites look clean and inoffensive to the eye. This is especially true for the larger sprites, particularly the boss battles.
Genji Tsuushin Agedama is a game lost in the time. It had three things going against it. It was an anime game, released on a console that was only successful in Japan, and was released in a niche genre that only had a significant following in Japan. There was no way on Earth that the game would be released on Western shores. However due to technology and our connected lifestyles, it is easier than ever before for people to try these games, both through legal and not so legal means. Hopefully this game gets a second look by many Western gamers.
68| Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition
Released: March 1st, 2005
Definitive Version: Playstation 2; Also on: PC, PS3, and Xbox 360
In 2001 Capcom released a game titled Devil May Cry and thus invented a new genre. The “hard action genre” as I like to call it (no not “character action” that is the stupidest name ever and anyone who calls it that is an idiot). This genre separates itself from the likes of beat-em-ups and typical hack-n-slash games as it is a single player game with the franticness and combat complexity of a fighting game, but with the progression of a typical narrative focused single player game. The last point isn’t a requirement, but the former two certainly are. Since the launch of Devil May Cry multiple other games in the genre have been released such as Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, and Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance. But like Street Fighter, Devil May Cry is always recognized as the mother franchise of the genre.
There was nothing like the original Devil May Cry when it was released. It was so fast paced and intense there was literally nothing to compare it to. It was as if someone who enjoyed playing the end credits scene of Street Fighter EX 3 decided to make a game modeled after it. Finally people who wanted the complexity, pace, and tension of a multiplayer fighting game can get something similar in a single player package. Obviously everybody who enjoyed Devil May Cry was stoked when the sequel was announced. Unfortunately the game turned out to be infamously bad. Capcom realized this and did the right thing by having the series return to its roots with its next entry. The result is that Devil May Cry 3 is widely seen as not only the best game in the series, but arguably the entire genre as well.
Gameplay wise the game is based of the first game, but improved in everyway. For starters the combat has been refined significantly. As usual the player controls a sword-wielding/gunslinging badass named Dante where they can implement a string of sword and gun attacks however way they please. Dante has multiple abilities such as the ability to double jump, slide on the ground, do back flips, run up walls, and juggle enemies. Combining Dante’s fluid movement with the flexible combat system results in pulling off combos that are more than impressive and satisfying. Added to this entry is the ability to choose which class, or “style”, Dante will be in. Each class results in Dante controlling a little differently and having different moves more inline with the specific class. For example swordsman results in Dante’s combat abilities focused on sword wielding, while gunslinger obviously focuses on using his guns. There a six classes to choose from and they are all unique in their own way.
A game’s combat system is only as good as the playable area designed around it, and Devil May Cry 3 makes note of this. For starters, the boss battles are incredible. Each boss pushes the player to their limit as every strategy and tactic will be exhausted to beat them. The sadisticness is a fair trade for the intense tension and challenge these fights present to the player and the pure satisfaction once a boss is defeated. Coming from that aspect, in a way the game’s boss fights were Dark Souls before Dark Souls. You couldn’t even save before the boss, you had to beat the entire area before you could even save. The bosses were also varied as some specialized in projectile attacks, others used their immense size as an advantage, while others fought up close and personal sword to sword.
It just wasn’t the bosses that added to the game’s tension. The enemy design was top notch as well with levels adding a lot of creativity of just how to approach them. This includes fighting in narrow spaces to do wall runs or in a strip club to twirl on a pole to launch yourself at enemies. There are also some unique segments such as a chessboard battle where the player’s objective is to kill the oversized king and queen chess pieces as a horde of pawn pieces, along with a knight and bishop piece, block their way. It really showed the game had a lot of creativity behind it.
The only a few things bad about the game which mostly boils down to the story. Now I know that Capcom wanted the game to be over the top and self-parody itself, but all things considered it is just too much. The game attempts to mock the action hero trope but instead just makes it self look foolish in the process. The main reason is that it never tones it down. It seems that in every single scene Dante is in he is always showing off somehow and saying something cheesy. Outside of this the story is a bit typical for these types of games. A humongous ancient caste appears in the middle of a city. The rebel protagonist is all but forced to explore it. On his way he meets a young woman who is there for alternate reasons. And at the end the protagonist defeats the person who summoned the city. It is a little more complicated than that but that’s the gist of it.
Devil May Cry 3 is a masterpiece of an action game. Gameplay wise it hits all the right notes with a deep combat system, challenging bosses, and experimental levels. The game isn’t perfect as the story the stupid and the game’s difficulty curve is a little to sharp. The music is also atrocious, I mean just listen to this song that plays throughout most of the game’s encounters. But being over a decade old, it is pretty impressive that it could still be claimed to be “the best action game ever made” and few would disagree harshly.
67| Super Turrican
Released: May 1993 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Super Nintendo; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii
People tend to forget that during the 1980s and the early 1990s PC gaming dominated Europe. Consoles like the NES were virtually absent in the country. This resulted in a handful of European developers creating a lot of clones of popular NES games. The most infamous of these is The Great Giana Sisters. Essentially a Super Mario Bros. reskin, the game was one of the most popular titles on the Commodore 64. Obviously it led to a lawsuit from Nintendo which they later lost but the series left somewhat of a legacy. It was directed by Manfred Trenz who was part of the development team Rainbow Arts. They later developed Katakis, a R-Type clone, that was so good that they were approached by Konami to do a port of R-Type for the Commodore 64 and Amiga.Wanting to do something more original, Rainbow Arts created Turrican, a game that is best described as a little bit of Contra and a little bit of Metroid.
The games are part of the run and gun genre as the player controls a humanoid robot character as they shoot down enemy aliens and machines with various lasers, bullets, and bomb which can all be upgraded by collecting powerups. Throughout the game the player find themselves gunning much more so than running, due to the fact that the levels aren’t designed to go one simple direction. They are a bit maze-like as they need to be fully explored. The character will travel left, right, up, and down through the map until they get to the end destination. It was pretty ambitious project for its time.
Seeing the rise of consoles the series eventually moved from the desktop to the floortop. With the exception of the NES entry, the console titles weren’t developed by the Rainbow Arts, but by the infamous developer Factor 5; yes the same Factor 5 that was behind Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II and Lair. They worked on the Turrican games for both the Sega MegaDrive and Super Nintendo, appropriately titled Mega Turrican and Super Turrican respectably. The superior version was the Super Nintendo entry. While part of this was due to the usual better graphics and sound found on the system, it was mostly due to the game design just being superior. The gameplay mix of Contra and Metroid had the series feel right at home on the system. As described before the game is a run and gun game which has the player explore the map in a variety of directions while they shoot down enemies as they collect a variety of powerups. These powerups can be separated into traditional bullets, a wave of lasers, a stream of lighting, and bouncing bullets. Each of these powerups are useful in different situations as there is a huge variety to the enemies and level design, thus there is no “one size fits all” approach.
The levels aren’t quite Super Metroid complexity, but they do require a bit of navigation. Throughout each level the player will encounter multiple paths. These typically involve the player jumping on a series of platforms or falling down various pits to reach the next checkpoint. To be fair most of the game still requires the player going to the right side of the screen, but it often throws a few curveballs at the player which results in a first clear run rarely occurring. You will often be required to explore every nook and cranny of the map to find the exit. At the end of stage is typically a boss. These bosses tend to be huge sprites, at times taking up the entire screen. Unfortunately while they may look intimidating they aren’t too difficult to beat. It typically takes only a few tries before you are greeted with the sound of multiple explosions that are more present in MegaDrive games.
Factor 5 became so well known due them being so well attuned to presentation. Super Turrican is no exception. The graphics are detailed, the sprites are large, and there are multiple enemies and projectiles on screen all without slowdown. The sound quality of the game is also very impressive and is amongst the Super Nintendo’s best. The problem is that while these things are technically impressive they aren’t impressive by merit. The graphics may be detailed but the art style merely gets the job done. While there are often a lot of things going on the screen at once the game isn’t intense as more well known 16-bit run and gun games. Super Turrican sounds great but it isn’t particularly that great to listen to. Just like the art, the music is merely serviceable. It’s all still very fun to play, but I can’t help but feel to wonder what a developer like say Treasure would be able to do if they had such talent.
Regardless, even though it isn’t the most intense game or the most easy on the eyes, Super Turrican is still one of the best run and gun games of its generation. Its not so linear maps coupled with quality level design and shooting mechanics make for a solid game. It is unfortunate that the series was eclipsed by other well known franchises as Rainbow Arts and Factor 5 seemed to have stumbled upon something special.
66| Left 4 Dead 2
Released: November 17th, 2009
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: Xbox 360
During the latter half of the 2000s there was a huge revival with zombies in the entertainment world. This has continued on to the modern day, most notably with the hit franchise The Walking Dead. I don’t recall what exactly started this revival, but I think most will agree that it can be traced back to the film 28 Days Later. The movie was a modestly budgeted British horror film that involved zombies taking over the United Kingdom. Now what differentiated it from the more mainstream zombies found in the acclaimed Living Dead films were primarily two things. The first is that the “zombies” weren’t really zombies, but regularly people who were infected with a specific type of “rage virus”.The second, and the most major reason, is that rather than the zombies being slow and dumb, they were just as fast as any other human and had some sort of intelligence. So not only did zombies have the advantage in numbers, but they no longer had a disadvantage in speed and not as much of a disadvantage in smarts. It was formula that gelled very well with modern audiences and soon all types of mediums from film to books began adapting this formula such as Shaun of the Dead and World War Z. This obviously included video games as well such as Resident Evil 4 and Killing Floor. But if there is one franchise that stands as the definitive example of this formula, it is clearly the Left 4 Dead series.
Released in 2008, Left 4 Dead revolved around four players meeting online as they choose to plays as four different characters and select a map. Once the game started there was one simple objective, get to the end of the map without dying. This was a lot harder than it sounds as traveling from point A to point B the players came across a literally endless supply of zombies, with dozens and at times even hundreds coming at the players at once. Luckily each player is equipped with a weapon of their choice that they get in their starting safe house, as well as various items such as healing packs. Throughout the map there are also a share of abandoned houses and buildings each containing the same weapons and items, or at least something similar. The game may have been simple, but it was enough for it to become a massive hit.
Unfortunately the developers weren’t satisfied with the end product and decided to make a sequel Left 4 Dead 2. The best way to describe the game is that it is more or less “Super Left 4 Dead: Turbo Edition”. It feels less like a sequel and more like an updated version of the original game. The gameplay was the exact the same but with new maps, characters, enemies, and the addition of melee weapons. As par to the first one, the game starts off with four people logging onto in a server and selecting which character and map they want. Once all votes are casted the game starts. The players begin in a safe house where they select their gear and leave to reach the next checkpoint. Once again, in between the safe house and the next checkpoint the players will have to deal with an onslaught of zombies. The vast majority are the regularly zombies who run really fast and are out for blood. Occasionally there are others such as the fat boomers who explode which results in killing everything in the surrounding area, the witches who cry in the corner not to be disturbed…or else, the spitters who spit acid at the players, etc. But the most notable of these is the tank. A huge enemy that can do immense damage by pounding on the player or even picking up large objects such as cars and throwing it at them. They often act as a boss in each level due to the immense damage they dish out and the huge amount of hit points they have.
And that’s about it. Left 4 Dead 2 is a game with a very basic formula that is very fun. It may sound repetitive but it takes a while to become so as each enemy encounter can be handled in a variety of different ways. And even if the main mode becomes stale, there are multiple other modes to try, even a versus mode where one side are the protagonists while the other are the zombies. There are some faults with the game though. One is that there are some people in the community who believe the original Left 4 Dead is superior, however due to the entire first game being ported into Left 4 Dead 2, it is no longer an issue. However, another is that the game isn’t all that deep. It is very basic as there is little strategy to survive. Just simply avoid zombies and use the most powerful weapon possible. While this doesn’t stop the game from being fun, it does leave players who want a little more meat to the game with a lack of something to sink their teeth into. However, if you want a fun and mindless zombie game, you can’t go wrong with Left 4 Dead 2.
65| Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Released: August 23rd, 2011
Definitive Version: PC (Windows & OSX); Also on: Wii U, PS3, and Xbox 360
It was understandable to be worried about Deus Ex: Human Revolution when it was first announced. For starters the Deus Ex series didn’t really have the best track record for sequels. The second entry was praised by critics, but panned by fans. There was then the first person shooter Project Snowblind which was in a way a spiritual sequel to the game that was merely an average game and hardly had any RPG elements. Another factor is that since Western role playing games made it big on consoles with The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, they began to cater to the mass market. The result were games that gutted the role playing elements for things that appealed more to the casual consumer such as large open worlds and action oriented combat. However, once the game was released all fears subsided as the result was one of the best role playing games of the generation.
The game takes place in the not so distant future Human augmentation is the hot new industry as it involves turning average joes into the Six Million Dollar Man. Clearly this power is too much for one person to have as it seems that multiple organizations want a piece of the pie. The proceeding story plays out in a very complex and messy manner you would expect form these types of science fiction video games. In all honesty, the plot is probably the worst part of the game as it is a bit difficult to follow. However, strangely enough it still manages to keep the player engaged in the story due to the game having well directed interactive cutscenes ala Metro 2033 and Half-Life 2, though it is not quite as good as those games.
The game plays exactly like Deus Ex. It controls like a first person shooter, but the player has the ability to augment their body for super speed, super strength, high intelligence, and other features. As one travels through the map they will be able to talk and interact with others. A dialogued box pops up that gives the player choice in what to say. Depending on what choice they pick results in a different response from each individual. Sometimes the difference in responses don’t really make a difference, other times certain responses will result in interesting scenarios or will even result in new objectives being available. It is the bare bones basic of a Western role playing game. But what makes the game quality entry in the genre boils down to two things. The first is that your choices have weight to them. Throughout the game the player will come across multiple choices that have potential to change the story itself quite significantly. These choices also aren’t as obvious as something that pops into a text box, as at times they are also incorporated into real-time gameplay. The other reason is just how well done the game’s non-RPG elements are. Unlike many WRPGs with action backdrops where the action is mediocre at best, such as say Alpha Protocol, the gunplay and stealth in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is very well done. Sure the gunplay isn’t Crysis and the stealth isn’t Metal Gear Solid, but it is all still very enjoyable. The feedback from shooting enemies has a certain “omph” to it and many areas of the game are actually designed with sneaking around in mind.It really raises the bar for the genre.
Again, the story is nothing special. However, one unique aspect of it is that it gives the game an excuse to have the player move to different areas. The game starts off in Montreal, then moves to Detroit, then moves to China, and concludes in Singapore. To be fair almost all of the game takes place in Detroit and China, however the maps in these areas are so well done it doesn’t leave much to complain about. While the maps aren’t huge they are very well designed and encourage the player to explore to find extra side-quests and loot. They are multi-layered as there are things to discover on the ground floor, on the high rises, and even down in the sewers. It seems that half of the game was spent walking around town seeing what interesting things there were to find.
In short, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a proper sequel to the classic original game. It updates the controls and combat, while keeping the role playing elements intact. While many well respected RPG series were bastardized by modern entires, Deus Ex: Human Revolution managed to walk a different path.
64| Super Mario Bros.
Released: 1985 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Nintendo Entertainment System; Also on: Wii, Gamecube, SNES, GBA, GBC, Countless Bootleg Systems, Virtual Console for Wii U, Wii, and 3DS
There is no way anyone can understate the impact the original Super Mario Bros. had on the industry. It single handedly resurrected the North American video game market, it created an alternative gameplay style that was separate from the skill based arcade games and the complex PC games, and finally it resulted in the industry becoming much more Japanese. Many of the things it did seem basic by today’s standards but Super Mario Bros. did a lot of new things for its time.
The game focused on having tight and intuitive controls first and foremost. The levels weren’t design so much as to test the player’s skill, which they were to a degree, but more so to maximize the player’s enjoyment. While there was a score system, the player’s goal wasn’t to receive the highest score, but more so just to simply make it to the end of the level. The high score was more of a personal achievement than something to be used for competitive purposes.The screen scrolled smoothly that allowed the player to explore the area and discover secrets, such as a hidden pathway by entering a specific green pipe. The character killed enemies by using the jumping ability and smashed blocks to collect coins and powerups. And at the end of each stage set the player would encounter a boss. Again, this may sound very barebones, but at in 1985 there was nothing like this. Sure there were games that featured aspects of these things such as Montezuma’s Revenge and Pitfall, but nothing that combined everything all at once.
Being that the game is over thirty years old and is arguably not only the first true platformer game, but also arguably the first modern video game as well, it could come to some as a surprise that it is still one of the best games out there. While there have been platformers that have surpassed Super Mario Bros., the game sticks solely due to its simplicity. It is platforming bliss through and through without any of the fat.There is only one power up, one type of jump move, and one alternate gameplay stage. It is the grandmother of all platformers and its gameplay reflects this. However, another reason that makes it stand out is that it is just still so well designed. The level design is top notch. While it certainly isn’t the flashiest game by today’s standards, it is certainly still fun. Each block, platform, and enemy is carefully inserted in a specific spot to make the game flow as smooth as possible. Quality graphics can get dated, but quality level design and controls do not, and Super Mario Bros. is a testament to that.
I often walk around the mall and see generic counterfeit systems for sale. They are packed in with a dozen or so games in them. These systems tend to have a game that the public can play for demonstration purposes, and that one game is always the original Super Mario Bros. It’s amusing seeing children often stopping to play the game. Despite all the advancements in graphics and sound, and the fact that their parents have a fancy tablet in their hand, the kids gravitate toward this game. It just shows how much pull the title has and how it was the perfect candidate to rise the gaming market from the dead. It is all further proof that there is no game that is more worthy to hold the title of “Industry Savior” than Super Mario Bros.
63| Super Mario 64
Released: September 26th, 1996
Definitive Version: Nintendo DS; Also on: N64, Virtual Console for Wii & Wii U
Before Nintendo began designing the levels, before they even put up a single platform, Miyamoto had his team focus on one single thing, to make Mario control fun in an open area. Mario didn’t just have to function in a 3D space, he had to excel. Just the act of running around and jumping would have to gauger interest of the player, just like it did in the original Super Mario Bros. Nintendo succeeded so much that they actually began the game in a 3D open area outside of Peach’s castle. Before many players even started the game they spent at least five minutes running around hoping, jumping, and climbing outside. Once they were done taking Mario for a test drive the real game began.
Players entered Peach’s castle and came across multiple rooms. In most of these rooms is a huge painting. If Mario jumps into one of these paintings he enters a level. One would expect levels to be much like Crash Bandicoot, that Mario can only progress in one direction, presumably “up”, as he bounces on enemy heads and hits boxes. Nintendo certainly could have gone this route, but they found it to be too lazy and predictable. Instead they had, for the time, huge open 3D worlds for the player to explore. There were obviously paths laid out for the player, but they often didn’t have to take them. On top of that many of these paths branched out. Due to this non-linearity rather than the game focusing on Mario jumping on a single flagpole to mark the end of a level, instead he collects multiple stars. Each level has an average of seven stars. These stars can be earned by collecting coins, getting to one of the end points, or finding and defeating a secret boss. Most modern games reward players with “achievements” as they often due run of the mill things to earn notch on their belts, Super Mario 64 built the entire game around that and had to make players work for their objectives.
The controls really need to be elaborated more on just how great they are. Mario feels absolutely perfect in this game. The player can press the “A” button to jump once, if they press it again once Mario lands on the ground to jump a little higher, and if they press it a third time he will jump even higher and much further. If the trigger button is pressed while jumping Mario will do a butt pound just like Yoshi and Yoshi’s Island, if the trigger is press shortly before “A” while Mario is running he will lunge forward. If “A” is pressed again he will launch a bit further face first as he will land sliding like a baseball player attempting to reach for a base. If trigger is pressed before “A” and the control stick is pushed back then Mario will perform a backwards somersault. The four “C” buttons on the controller control different camera angles so the direction the player is heading will always be visible. The “B” button can punch or kick if it is pressed after Mario jumps. It may all sound complicated, but the way it is done makes it feel so natural and intuitive.
Like most Mario games the levels have tons of variety. Some levels are huge open areas, while others are linear to the point that they seem to more of an updated version of the 2D Super Mario series than something revolutionary. The game has the Ghost mazes from Super Mario World and the underwater levels the series has always had. At the end of each floor the player completes a trial level which leads them to Bowser. The objective is to grab his tail and spin him around to throw him out of the ring, typically three times. Though there are a few other bosses scattered throughout the game, they aren’t too difficult but do require one to use their brain at times.
Like the original Super Mario Bros., it is very difficult to over-exaggerate Super Mario 64’s importance. Prior to the game the only 3D games in existence were either First Person Shooters, Virtua Fighter, racing games, and games with pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D models acting as sprites. The closest game that had the player running around in a 3D space was Tomb Raider. This is saying a lot since the game had tank controls, was stiff, and played very slow. Super Mario 64 was the first game that showed that 3D can be freed from the shackles of linearity and be just as nimble and agile as 2D games. Twenty years after its release modern games still base so much on it. Control wise every game controls the character with the left thumb on the analog stick and uses the right side of the controller to control the camera. Gameplay wise most games feature open 3D worlds where many objectives and secrets are hidden to be able to progress the game. Nintendo set out to make Super Mario 64 just as influential and great as the original Super Mario Bros. I’d say that they more than succeeded.
62| Sonic the Hedgehog
Released: June 23rd, 1991
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii Virtual Console, PS2, 3DS eShop, PSP, iOS, Android, GBA
It is popular opinion that Sonic the Hedgehog entries have lost their touch ever since the series made the pivot to 3D with the Sega Dreamcast. I am not of that opinion. In fact I am even more conservative than that. I believe that the series has yet to reach its heights it achieved with the very first entry released in 1991. Before explaining that it would be best to explain the context of the series. In the very early 1990s Nintendo was synonymous with video games. Just like when someone used to say “iPod” they meant MP3 player, people used to say “Nintendo” and meant video game console. There was a good reason for this. The Nintendo Entertainment System had virtually the entire North American video game console market. In fact it was such a phenomenon that more households had a NES than a personal computer.
However, the times were changing. The tweens who were introduced to the cute little plumber were growing up and Mario just didn’t seem that cool anymore. This was also a period of cultural change. The 1980s died and the 1990s hit. For anyone who can remember back then, it was all about things being “extreme” and “edgy”. People will often see older episodes of The Simpsons and see Bart riding his bright colored skateboard as he says catch phrases like “Cowabunga” and “Eat My Shorts”. Sega saw this and decided to find a game that could fit well with this new “extreme” and “edgy” trend for their new console. They found it in a blue hedgehog. Sonic the Hedgehog was a platformer, just like Super Mario Bros., however it was different in that he could travel very fast through an at times rollercoaster like levels. He also had cool “saw blades” on his back and was bright and colorful. He was the perfect candidate for a modern mascot in the 1990s. This ended up working fantastically and single handedly rose the Sega’s Genesis console to prominence to which they even outsold the Nintendo Entertainment System’s successor in North America. Sonic quickly became one of the biggest series in all of gaming.
But what about the actual game? How does it hold up today? Well despite the game having a reputation of revolving around being the F-Zero of platformers, as it involves the player running around the screen at incredibly high speeds as they smash across enemies and platforms, in reality the game is much smarter than this. While there are moments in the game where Sonic goes go across the screen very fast, they are very brisk and tend to be only a couple of seconds at most. The game really revolves around the player exploring the world, hopping platform to platform, solving minor puzzles, all as they try to find the exit. People always try to point out what made Sonic was the speed of the game, but really it was the ingenious level design. While virtually every platformer up until that time involved the player going from left to right, Sonic mixed it up a bit. While as a whole the character started on one end of the screen and had to get to the other, which was in general to the right side, players would often find themselves at dead ends where they had a few different routes that they could take. They could jump on bolder that will send them down, jump up on a spring where they could go up, or find a secret passage such as behind a waterfall that could take them somewhere else. Not all of these alternate paths were present during every dead end, nor were they only present during a dead end. So contrary to popular belief, the game plays much slower than most remember, and at many times slower than even the typical Mario game. However, the game does occasionally put in moments of the player moving at breakneck speeds to satisfy their inner speed demon. Though at times this could result in them missing significant parts of the level and secrets, or obtaining them if they know certain tricks.
The controls of the game are great. They would be perfect, except the first entry is missing the hallmark spin dash move. Instead in order to spin, Sonic has to run down a platform and the player has to press down. It still gets the job done most of the time, though lacks a certain satisfaction one gets from “charging” up the dash in successor entries. The physics in the game are fantastic as running around has a lot of feel and weight to it. When Sonic begins to speed up, you can feel it, vice versa when he slows down. The same goes for when Sonic is in the air as players have to time and measure their jumps to go from platform to platform.
Presentation wise the game is top notch. The Megadrive may have lacked the color count the Super Nintendo had, but looking at Sonic the Hedgehog’s palette one would never know this. The game is bright, colorful, and very detailed. On top of that the music is fantastic and amongst the most memorable of the 1990s. The levels a very big for the time and are varied. The game seems to cover every type of environment possible from the jungle, to the arctic, to ruins, to even casino. It makes the level have much more life and personality to them.
The reason why I hold firm that this is still the best entry in the series is due to the fact that I feel other games in the series focused more on speed than on design. Even Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a bit of a mess as they sacrificed the intricate level design of the first game for the feel of speed. Sure the levels may be complex on paper, but they aren’t particularly well designed as the player will often get lost as they speed past areas. And even when those areas are reached they aren’t designed particularly well. Sonic 3 alleviated these problems a bit, but it still wasn’t as good as the first one. Sonic CD was very ambitious and tried to push the thinking elements of the original game even further, but it ended up being plagued by confusing and just flatout dumb level design. Specifically with the nonsensical placements of the the time machines. Sonic then became 3D and the rest is history.
Twenty five years later Sega has yet to put out an entry that has surpassed the game that put them on the map. It is a bit sad I feel that while Mario and his previous games are regularly met with love, Sonic is largely ignored outside of those that grew up with him. I wouldn’t mind once in a while seeing it be Sonic the Hedgehog that was on store kiosks of bootleg consoles than Super Mario Bros. It was truly the first title that deserved to dethrone the Super Mario series as being the face of the platformer genre. Luckily it got what it deserved, but it didn’t hold it for as long as it should have.
61| Super Street Fighter II Turbo
Released: February 23rd, 1994
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, PS, Saturn, 3DO, GBA
How does one even begin to describe Street Fighter II’s legacy on the industry. Not only did it extend the lifespan on traditional arcade by a couple of extra years and that it single handedly created the modern fighting game genre, but it also was the spearhead of the competitive video game scene. There is quite a legacy the Street Fighter franchise brings to gaming, and this years EVO record turnout of 4,000+ for its latest entry manages to reinforce that. Due to the game being so influential there have been countless of games inspired by it that have tried to improve its basic formula. How well can a entry that first came out twenty five years ago stand the test of time? Pretty damn well it turns out.
Even today Street Fighter II is being played by about 50 people online right now as I type. During peak hours that number doubles. Despite having dozens more quality modern options available to players, so many still choose the original entries that started it all. Why? Well as someone who occasionally joins them, I feel that I can explain. In short, Street Fighter II takes away all of the fluff found in many fighting games that came after it. Fighting games today are plagued with assists, parries, combobreakers, counters, clashes, bursts, rolls, and what have you. In addition to that there are many moves where the player can maneuver to one end of the screen to the other, as well as attacks that can cover a considerable amount distance very quickly. Street Fighter II takes these things away. In Super Turbo you simply have your normal attacks, combos, a throw, and a super move. That is it, there is nothing else. This leads to the game having significantly stronger mind games than your typical fighting game.
It’s often referred to as a “footsie” game for a reason. The meat of the game isn’t memorizing combos or executing complex moves, it is about reading your opponent as you try to position yourself to have the edge on the ground floor. Due to this every move has to be carefully timed, calculated, and in all honesty guessed to the greatest accuracy. This isn’t to say that modern fighting games don’t do these things, it’s just that Super Turbo puts so much focus toward it. While there has been much gained from all of the extra features and abilities modern fighting games present, there is something lost that is more present in classic fighting games like Street Fighter II.
Other than that, there isn’t much more to say. It’s Street Fighter II. It has Ryu, Chun-Li, M.Bison, Sagat, E. Honda, Dhalism, Zangief, Blanka, Ken, Vega, Balrog, and Guile. What some people don’t remember or know, is that Street Fighter II added more characters after these twelve. This is mostly due to the fact that Super Street Fighter II, the game that introduced four new characters, was the only entry released on the popular home consoles, and was done so relatively late in the systems lives. As a result the game didn’t sell nearly as well as The World Warriors, Champion Edition, or Turbo did. Super Street Fighter II added Dee Jay, T. Hawk, Fei Long, and the beloved Cammy to the roster. Super Turbo added Akuma as a secret character. Being honest, I always felt that Dee Jay and Fei Long were both so generic that they just couldn’t appeal to me. While Akuma just seemed a bit too “dark” for Street Fighter II character. Though I felt that T. Hawk and Cammy fit right in with the rest of the cast however.
One strange thing about Super Turbo in particularly is that it is difficult to select the original colors of each character. For example Ryu’s “default” color scheme in Super Turbo is gray and yellow. You can select each character’s original color however,but only after inputting a specific code tied to each character. I don’t know the purpose of this, possibly it was one more way to “shake things up” as it was the fifth version of Street Fighter II. Or maybe it was a way to get more quarters from players as they likely tried multiple times to figure out the code to unlock their preferred character’s classic color scheme. Though I would be lying if I didn’t believe that some characters looked pretty damn good in their alternative colors.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo is simply the go to version of Street Fighter II. There have been some updates applied to the game series since. The first was Hyper Street Fighter II which came packed in Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. It was suppose to be the main coarse of the pack-in which allowed players to choose not only which character play as, but which version as well. For example one person could play as Ryu with all of his Super Turbo moves and abilities and go against someone who wants to play as M. Bison with his Champion Edition moves and abilities. It seemed to work great in theory, but at the end of the day people felt it made the game more complicated than it should have. It likely didn’t help that in the long run it was overshadowed by a game put on the same disc at the last minute for the Western release. There was also Street Fighter II HD Remix which was hyped up a lot during release as it was 2D HD redrawing of Super Street Fighter II with some minor changes to gameplay. But some months after release people just went back to Super Turbo.
Maybe it’s because it was the last Street Fighter II update for quite some time so it is what people are used to, or that it was the last “official” arcade release so people consider it the definitive version, or maybe that it is quite simply the best version of the game. Whatever it is Super Turbo is the most played version of Street Fighter II out of the many available. Twenty five years after the first game’s release Street Fighter II is still regularly played by old bloods and new ones alike. It is a game with a lot of pull and appeal and could possibly still have a good amount of life left in it still.
60| Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance
Released: November 12th, 2001
Definitive Version: Playstation 3; Also on: Xbox 360, PS Vita, PC, PS2, Xbox
It is rare for a game’s reputation to change over time. When Metal Gear Solid 2 originally released it was criticized heavily by the fanbase to the point where some even retconned the entry the same way some have retconned Devil May Cry 2. The game was widely seen as inferior to the original in every way with complaints being geared toward the strange bosses, the melodramatic codec scenes, and the lifeless industrial setting. However, by far and wide the biggest criticism toward the game was geared toward the big twist that happened an eighth way through the game. The game opens up with Solid Snake infiltrating a ship as his trusty assistant Otacon received a tip that the ship is carrying weapons of mass destruction. About an hour and a half later the game jumps timelines. The player now seems to be playing a flashback where Snake is at the entrance of Shadow Moses as he waits to go up the elevator. Once in the elevator he takes off his mask, it turns out the player doesn’t see the face of an old rugged soldier, but of a blonde haired pretty boy named Raiden. Regularly this change would be enough to have many turn on the game, but the fact that much of the game revolved around Raiden speaking to his girlfriend and being very emotional really dialed things up to an eleven. As a result the game was spat on by the traditional fans.
Fifteen years later however, the game is seen as not only a hallmark of the series, but to gaming in general. Regularly when fans rank the series the game is often ranked toward the top if not at the top of their lists. What was once seen as the black sheep of the franchise is now seen as the black swan. A game that was very misunderstood at release, but over time people began to see it under a different light. Kojima and his crew weren’t trying to just push the Metal Gear franchise, they were trying to push gaming in general.
Throughout the game players will come across a theme that revolves around faith in public opinion in the new information age. People are now exposed to a limitless amount of articles, news clips, and opinion pieces due to the emergence of the world-wide web. How exactly can we continue trusting the public at large to lead the country with all of this information when it has historically been shown to be so fickle. In 2001, the game’s message and core theme seemed to “out there” to most. It seemed like it was trying to be philosophical for the sake of being philosophical. However, in an age of 9/11 truthers, Muslim extremists, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump being a presidential candidate, the game’s message hits very close to home. It was ingenious and just goes to show how Kojima manages to be ahead of the curb in more than just game developing.
All of this doesn’t even speak on the game itself. Metal Gear Solid 2 is quite simply the mastery of the traditional Metal Gear formula. What began as a MSX game where the players can only move in four directions and punch walls, players can now crouch, crawl, hide in lockers and boxes, shoot out lights and cameras, obscure lasers, knock on walls, choke out enemies, hold up enemies, interrogate enemies, distract enemies, etc. The game had managed to do a lot for something that, despite the cinematic nature, is primarily played in an overhead perspective. Players will find themselves constantly experimenting with different strategies and tactics in dealing with enemies.
The game’s level design is also top notch.It is the last game to put a major focus on backtracking and unlocking rooms and areas via keycard. Backtracking isn’t for everyone, but to me there is a huge sense of satisfaction in rewarding the player in remembering the layout of the area and where they have to go to next. The industrial shell complex is perfect for this as it encompasses multiple stories and is all interconnected. This makes the area perfect for the traditional Metal Gear design. Despite the core design of the game being very tight and high quality, this doesn’t stop Kojima and his team from experimenting with the game. While much of the game will have the players sneaking around areas and taking out enemies, much of it also contains unique segments that involve swimming, bomb defusing, and even katana wielding. These segments do a pretty good job in always keeping the game interesting and fresh.
No Metal Gear game would be complete without the boss battles, and Metal Gear Solid 2 has some damn memorable ones. While they were often hated when players first encountered them, overtime they have received a soft spot. This includes a roller skating bomber, a woman who can’t get hit by bullets, and a vampire. This also includes segments that were beloved from the beginning such as the player taking on multiple Metal Gears at once. Admittedly it doesn’t have the best boss battles in the series, but it certainly doesn’t have the worst.
While the game is mostly free from criticism today, that doesn’t mean that some of the original critique wasn’t deserving. The first is that the plot is a bit too nonsensical, even by Metal Gear standards. It is very difficult to follow and often needs a read through a wikia page to even comprehend the basic points of it. Now to be fair it is clear that the game is meant to be confusing by design, but Kojima and crew went a little too far with it. Rather than the game’s plot and world feeling mysterious, at times it instead feels like an incoherent mess. On top of that, while Raiden is no longer a character who whenever mentioned inspires seething hatred from fans, he isn’t exactly the ideal character to have in the game. I agree with the consensus that despite his troubled past he seems too much like a “pretty boy” for the series. It comes to no surprise that Kojima rebuilt the character, literally, and turned him into a cyborg ninja.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was quite simply ahead of its time. Back in the early 2000s it wasn’t as common for series to experiment too much on sequels. Much of this was due to the fact that 3D gameplay was still very new to players so a sequel improving on an imperfect formula was more than enough to hold their attention. However, Kojima’s mind has never worked like that. This is why every mainline entry in Metal Gear Solid has been different from the last. Kojima released Metal Gear Solid 3 three years later and stripped the player of all of their high tech gadgets and dumped them in the jungle as they learned to survive in the wilderness. Metal Gear Solid 4 was a hodgepodge of different locations as Snake had “no place to hide” as he was frequently put into wide open areas with patrolling enemies. Metal Gear Solid 5 took Metal Gear to the open world as players had two huge maps to explore containing multiple bases, secrets, and objectives. It seems that Kojima is never content with doing the same old thing over and over. Personally I feel that this is the real reason why Metal Gear Solid 2 had such an initial cold reception. Back in 2001 players didn’t know how Kojima operated, but by his later releases they did. Now that players know what to expect from a sequel headed by Kojima, they can look at Metal Gear Solid 2 through different eyes and see it as it deserved to be seen since its initial release.
59| World of Warcraft
Released: November 23rd, 2004
Available on: PC (Windows & Mac)
World of Warcraft was a phenomenon during the 2000s. Not only was it everywhere on the internet, but it even broke into the mainstream as it was the basis of episodes of popular TV shows like South Park. The game’s success resulted in a lot of the casual gaming audience getting into these more complex games than one would expect. I even saw a fair amount of couples that played the game. Rather than the stereotype being that a male gamer’s girlfriend was yelling at them for playing the game too long to spend time with them, it was instead male gamers getting yelled at for playing the game too long as they were eating up their girlfriend’s playtime. There was something very immersive and blatantly addicting about World of Warcraft.
I managed to get in the game at the tail end of its hyperpopularity. It was a dark age period from me as I no longer had a gaming PC, but had a MacBook Pro instead. The game selection was smaller, but I decided to try World of Warcraft to see what the hype was all about. My experience with the game could be described in one particular moment. There is one point of the game that involved entering a labyrinth to fight a leader of bandits of some sort. I partnered with a dozen other players or so. We went in and gave it our all. We fought through his henchmen until we got to the big boss at the end of the level. The team fought tirelessly until he was defeated. After doing a celebratory victory pose I walked up with the rest of the group toward the exit to complete the mission. Suddenly, my character fell off the edge of a pathway. I was then warped back to the beginning of the level. I was angry at first, but realized that it would take a bit longer before the enemies would respawn. I began continue going through labyrinth when to my horror I discovered that a few of the enemies had already respawned back to life. Being a low level character I couldn’t possibly fight through all the enemies in the area by myself. I called for help on the party chat but no one responded, I did so again and one person actually answered. I told him my situation and he stated that due to me not walking out of the exit I technically didn’t complete the objective. However, he will be going back to the entrance to help me out. Being coupled with a very high leveled character gave me just the boost I needed to be able to fight my way, or rather run my way, through the area. We eventually passed the boss area, where he luckily had not respawned yet, and toward the area where I fell. I was being extra cautious this time so I managed not to fall, but my partner did. I asked if he was okay and he stated “I’ll be fine, just go on without me!”. I ran to the exit and to my relief out the other side, my objective was complete. This was, to me at least, the true pull of World of Warcraft. You were playing a game that was interconnected with over ten million people. These people can help you, betray you, aid you, rob you, or just socialite with you. The “world” in its title wasn’t put there for nothing.
The game starts off with the player choosing between the Horde or the Alliance. Once players make their choice they begin their quest in a tutorial like area. The missions start out in either being fetch quests or “kill X amount of enemies”. As the game goes on the quests become a bit more varied as they involve the player hunting down assassins, ancient creatures, and exploring dungeons and lairs. This is pretty much what the game revolves around. Explore an area finding people with question marks over their heads, complete their quests to level up, and finding people with exclamation marks over their heads to complete their mandatory quests. Once all of those are complete players move onto the next area. This sounds very simplistic and honestly not too different from your typical WRPG. What makes the game are the people you will encounter during and inbetween these quests. The above was just one of the many examples I had throughout the game of my interactions with other players. There is a certain feeling one gets from actually playing and working with another human being rather than an A.I.
Today the game looks extremely dated technical wise. It is more a less an HD remaster of a Xbox game. What saves the game from being an eyesore is the enchanting art-style. A mix of colorful high fantasy with a dash of cartooniness results in a game that looks timeless. Sure it isn’t say Okami but it still looks pleasing to the eyes twelve years later. The character designs are also unique and appealing. It definitely sets itself apart from its Tolkien aspired roots as the game has its own style and atmosphere.
There was a time when to many gamers Blizzard could do no wrong. Their games were seen as perfect as Nintendo’s top tier offerings. Over the years people have taken off their glasses and have observed some of the flaws. World of Warcraft isn’t an exception to this. My biggest problem with the game, and why I no longer play it, is that the game suffers from something I like to call “Grand Theft Auto syndrome”. This involves having a game that is a sandbox (or sandbox-like) experience and relies in entertaining the player by giving them what seems like an endless amount of choices of what they could do at any given time during the game. This seems amazing at first, but soon the player discovers that out of all the things the game has to offer, there are only a handful of them that the player actually enjoys doing. After some time the player eventually gets bored with the game. This is exactly what happened to World of Warcraft with me. The first two months I was addicted to the game playing it hours on end. However, after the second month I became very bored with the game. The quests seemed all very similar and just finding ways to shoot to shit with players just became boring. These sandboxy type games tend to be the jack of all trades, masters of none, type of ordeals. And that is perfectly fine. However, what’s the point of playing a game for hours on end if there isn’t much to master? Sure I kept hearing from diehard players who kept trying to keep me in the game that it really opens up when raiding is involved. But from my brief experience of it, it just didn’t entertain me that much. Looking at the game’s subscription base, it seems that I am not alone as it now has less than half the amount of subscribers as it did when I initially dropped out.
Despite that, the game was extremely fun and entertaining during my time with it. Two months is about the length of a meaty RPG anyway, which kind of starts the philosophical question of “is there that much of a difference between having an extremely good time by completing an 80 hour game and having an extremely good time by clocking in 80 hours of a game that is hundreds of hours long?” If the answer “no” is in anyway partially true than World of Warcraft definitely deserves to make this list. It is one of the most memorable game experiences I have had. It is true that today the game is no longer at its high mark of 12 million players and is no longer the game publishers flock to emulate, as that title currently belongs to League of Legends. However, it is still a major game pulling in millions of subscribers and even has a blockbuster film behind it. Blizzard even expanded the series further by creating Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a widely successful online collectible card game. World of Warcraft catapulted the “Warcraft” brand to be a multi-media phenomenon that is possibly only rivaled by Poke’mon. It is one of gamings most infamous brands and will likely be around for another 22 years.
58| Space Funeral
Released: September 17th, 2010
Available on: PC
Undertale seems to be all of the rage lately as it takes the classic Mother formula of mixing JRPG with a comical theme that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I do agree that Undertale is a great game, it appeared on this list after all, I wonder why there wasn’t such fanfare for Space Funeral which came out half a decade earlier and was free. Sure the game was even shorter than Undertale and didn’t quite have its production values, but its world was even more intriguing and “weird” than Undertale’s. It’s a hidden gem that definitely deserves a playthrough from anyone.
The game begins with a selection screen giving the player the option to start a new game, load a game, or exit the game. What’s strange is that rather than having these things written out, all of the options simply say “Blood” instead. This is accompanied by a bloody disembodied head on the title screen. To add to that the Final Fantasy theme is being played, though in an off-tempo manner. Once the top “blood” is selected the first screen appears. The player controls the character of a fat sobbing young man. He is in front of a casket which contains him. Standing next to it is a zombified man and next to him a woman who is possibly his mother. When the character talks to the woman she repeats “Eat your greens.” The hysterical fat character exits the building to find himself in a nightmare inducing world filled with blood lakes, giant disembodied heads for houses, and strange creatures including zombies, muscle men, wizards, and ball shaped rabbits. The world is truly unlike anything else you will encounter in a video game.
The plot starts off when the player eventually bumps into a horse with its head and tail chopped off. The horse is very much alive and even talks. According to the horse, who calls himself “Leg Horse”, he was once a king and someone took over his throne. He has since been on a quest to take back his rightful place as heir and demands that the sobbing young man accompanies him. This is the basis of the story, but just like Mother and Undertale, what makes the game stands out isn’t the plot per say, but the characters and locations the player will visit during the journey. Players will find themselves roaming through blood caverns, talking with a Guru Wizards, fighting of Crime bosses, meeting vampires, amongst other things. It is all very “Mothery” but with a twist of course.
The presentation of the game is fantastic. The setting has been described enough as it mostly consists of a living nightmare world with blood and decapitation at every turn. What adds to this is the game’s art style. It is very crude and unprofessional as it all is done in Microsoft Paint with single filled colors. Despite this it works very well and helps it stand out. However, none of this even mentions the game’s psychedelic ’60s and ’70s era soundtrack. It sounds crazy at the first listen but it is absolutely perfect for the game. It adds to its mysterious and unsettling atmosphere as your ears are in the same state as your eyes. It is a state of encountering something strange and possibly even grotesque, but you just can’t find yourself to turn away as you actually enjoy what you are experiencing.
I have yet to mention the game’s actual gameplay. While the setting and theme are anything but typical, the gameplay itself is actually very average. It is your usual linear JRPG experience. You follow a pathway on the map until you get to the next major event. During the travel toward the destination the heroes will come across enemies they will fight in a turn based battle system. The only thing to really note is that the game doesn’t use random battles, but rather the more modern system of having enemies follow the player around on the map to in which if they touch the player then they will be transferred to a battle screen. The game’s battle system is active turn based, so each character will have a meter that fills up until they can attack. The character can’t sit around too long as the enemies have such a delay between attacking as well, and as soon as they can attack they will. During the battles their is a command list where each character can either attack, use a skill, use an item, or use “mystery” which has rare chance of causing something random. It’s essentially the ATB battle system from Final Fantasy. It would be nice if the game did something a little more unique, but being that everything else about the game is so different it isn’t that much of a mark against it.
The game isn’t perfect as it is too short and could use a few more stand out characters. That said it is still a highly enjoyable title that deserves a playthrough from any gamer. The atmosphere is amazing and its style is very baldly and is nothing that a non-independent developer would ever dream of attempting. Once again the game is free. F-R-E-E, free! There is no excuse not to at least try the game. Believe me you will not regret it.
57| Mario Kart 7
Released: December 4th, 2011
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Quick question, what is Nintendo’s consistently best selling game series? You answered Super Mario correct? This would be the obvious choice for how much of an anchor the series has been for the company and gaming as whole, however, that would be incorrect. Over the past thirteen years (and possibly before) the Mario Kart entries have consistently sold more than their Super Mario counterparts, and often chart as the best selling or second selling titles on their respected systems. Thus the “spin-off” series has surpassed the father series.
This isn’t too surprising as Mario Kart has a lot of a appeal. In many ways it is the perfect party game. It takes the “dull” racing genre and spices it up with attacks, charge strips, and wacky level design. The fundamentals are tight enough so that the game still feels competitive, but is also random and zany enough to be welcoming to new players. Anyone who has ever picked up a Nintendo controller knows the deal with Mario Kart. You can select a wide range of a cast of characters from the Super Mario universe. Each of them has their own different kart with its own strengths and weaknesses, though newer entries are starting to get away from this as they offer completely customizable cars. The player rides across a race track complete with speed strips, bottomless pits, lava, ramps, and even wild creatures ready to munch racers up. A few points throughout the course there are boxes with question marks in them. These boxes give the player special abilities such as shells to shoot at other players, banana peels to drop, and even bullet bills that give the player a huge speed boost for a matter of seconds.
This all seems very random and varied, but Mario Kart 7 specifically adds even more things to the formula. The most obvious is that cars now have the ability to fly and go underwater. Throughout the stages there will be segments where cars dive into lakes or have ramps that go off of cliffs. The cars will then spout propellers or gliders depending on the situation. Personally I feel that these parts of the stages add a lot of variety to the tracks and keep the game fresh. There is also the option to drive in a first person viewpoint. It isn’t preferable but it is interesting to try out, specifically due to the Nintendo 3DS’s 3D capabilities.
On top of the expected Grand Prix mode and head to head racing modes, the game also has the return of Battle mode. In this mode players are put into some sort of kart arena where they drive around picking up random items from question blocks as they collect coins. The objective is simple, collect as many coins as possible. As players collect coins they have to avoid being hit, as one hit will result in them losing their coins. While collecting coins, they should also be at least somewhat focus on taking out other players to have them drop their coins. The person with the most coins at the end of the match wins. It’s a bit different than the “balloon” affair of “three strikes you’re out”, but it is much more preferable as it keeps players in the game and thus the challenge factor up.
Mario Kart DS was a huge step for Nintendo. This wasn’t just because it had online gameplay, but that it managed to have good online gameplay in terms of netcode(a memo that the Super Smash Bros. Brawl team didn’t get). Mario Kart 7 continues on this tradition as the netcode is very smooth. Say what you want about Nintendo, but when they want to they can make games with damn good netcode, embarrassing Capcom, From Software, and Activision. I can be playing with someone across the world and still have a reliable connection with them. This goes both for head to head races and face to face battles.
There isn’t much else to say about Mario Kart 7, it is by far the best Mario Kart, at least portable Mario Kart, you can get. Not only does it feature everyones favorite characters from the Super Mario universe, but it has a collection of tracks and customization options that appeal to everyone. On top of that it has a strong netcode and active community that makes online battles available whenever desired. It is likely the best selling SKU for the its respected system and it’s easy to see why.
56| To the Moon
Released: November 1st, 2011
Available on: PC ( All major OSes)
RPG Maker has come quite a long way as a game making tool. For years the software was laughed at and scrutinized. The tool didn’t demand basic coding and didn’t even require users to create their own assets. What resulted was a community that was filled with very broken and unplayable games. In its sea of shit however, there were a few gems. This most notably began to happen in 2008 where three quality titles were released. The first was the infamous Barkley, Shut up and Jam, Gaiden. This was a post-apocalyptic parody JRPG where players played as basketball legend Charles Barkley who many years ago performed a dunk in a basketball game so powerful that it became a bomb killing most in attendance. As a result basketball was outlawed. Unfortunately, recently another unknown person performed another dunk that was so powerful that its resulting shockwave turned into a nuclear bomb which killed millions and turning its pinpoint of New York City into a wasteland, and Barkley is blamed for it. The next game was an episodic series called The Way. This was a standard storybased JRPG with very short but satisfying episodes of the player following the path of a hero. The third game was a French title called Off which the player plays as a character who fights with a baseball bat as they journey through a world that is, in reference to the title, feels very off. However, no title managed to completely shatter the stigma attached to RPG Maker than To the Moon.
Rather than being a JRPG, like most RPG Maker games, To the Moon is instead a narrative based adventure game with some puzzle elements. The player primarily controls two characters as they interact with the environment in order to progress the story. Throughout the game there are also these strange puzzle-like events that have to be completed. This all seems very basic and stale, but this is truly a game that is carried by its story and writing.
The game was released in 2011, putting it into the era where there was a lot of media about people venturing into other’s minds and altering their dreams/memories. The film Inception is obviously the most well known of these. To the Moon takes from this premise as the player controls two employees of a company that is known to grant wishes. Essentially it involves people going into the minds of others and altering their memories so that they achieve their dreams. The player controls either a cool headed and professional employee named Dr. Eva Rosalene or the slight goofball Dr. Neil Watts. They walk into the mansion of aged Johnny Wyles who is on his deathbed. He has one wish he wants to be granted, he wants to go to the moon. The rest of the game primarily revolves around the doctors traveling through Mr. Wyles’ mind as they try to alter history and have him achieve his life long dream of space travel.
As said before, the meat of this game is in the story. It is very engaging and emotional. There will be times where the player’s heart will sink and others when they will jump for joy. This is primarily due to the fact that the characters in the game are written very well.It is actually some of the best writing I’ve seen in a game. Each textbox has depth and weight that carries on to it, thus each event that happens feels very significant. In all honesty, playing this game feels much like watching a movie. The game will have the player travel back and forth through “time” as they engage with the butterfly effect with Mr. Wyles’ childhood, youth, adult, middle aged, and elder years. Each time period revolves around triggering a major event to be changed just so that Mr. Wyles dream is achieved. It’s very interesting seeing everything being played out.
Despite being on the primitive and restrictive RPG Maker tileset, the game actually looks very good. The art style is very appealing with a dreamy looking palette and well done lighting. The only complaint is that the game features a fair amount of screen tearing, especially when the camera goes through long pans. The game also has a soundtrack that is unique to the videogame space. It is mostly composed of piano pieces, and once in a while switching things out with an acoustic guitar. It’s a simplistic soundtrack that does well to complement the game’s classy presentation.
The major fault with the game however, is that it is a bit too short. I clocked in roughly three hours into the game, so it is only a bit longer than your average drama film. Regardless, the game is still cheap and its ten dollar price tag is more than fair. The game has won many awards, including story of the year from a big named publication, proving that it isn’t the tools that make the game, but the one using them.
Released: 1989 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: PC Engine, Wii Virtual Console, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360
Friday the 13th was released in 1980 and was wildly successful.Filmed on a budget of around half a million dollars the film went on to make sixty million in the box office alone. This led to a slew of sequels as the humble indie film quickly turned into a yearly franchise. Campy violent horror films were all the rage in the 1980s. They were particularly popular with male teenagers and young adults who just love blood and gore. Despite violence in video games being heavily scrutinized as gaming was still seen as a “kids” hobby, that couldn’t stop the industry from staying away from the lucrative hunger male teenage and young adult market, a market that will come to define gaming in later eras. Namco decided to make a game solely targeted toward this market, in which stared a Jason Voorhees knockoff as he fights off an onslaught of monsters. The game was appropriately titled Splatterhouse.
The actual game of Splatterhouse couldn’t be more simple. It is a beat-em-up that involves the player walking toward the right side of the screen as they punch, kick, and decapitate enemies. The player uses two buttons. One button controls leg attacks, while the other controls the character’s arms. Enemies in the game tend to be really dumb. They simply just walk up to you and try to hit you. The challenge is when a group of them all come at you at once. On top of that the stages are filled with various traps that will throw the player off and cause harm to the character. This is where most people complain about the game. They claim that the game is far too simple and is only remembered due to its violence. I disagree. While I agree that the game is very simplistic, that is the beauty of it. Just bashing enemies to bits feels fun compared to many other beat-em-ups. And to me that is the most important aspect in a game like this, how it feels playing. The damage collision is very satisfying.
Admittedly, the violence certainly adds to the satisfaction. Yes it feels good bashing your enemy to bits, it’s even better when you see those bits deteriorate as a geyser of blood spews through the enemy. Make no mistake, Splatterhouse is a very violent game, especially for its time. In addition to the enemies being decapitated and exploding with blood spewing out of them, the levels are decorated with decaying bodies, blood and guts in the ground, and just unsettling images. Enemies are designed very grotesque as many have rotting and damaged body parts. It was certainly a very ballsy title of its era.
As said before, the game was carbon copy of campy horror films from the 1980s. It managed to come out at the absolute twilight of the phenomenon as it came to Western shores the year that would mark the end of the annual Friday the 13th releases. The story is about a couple that are running through the woods. The game doesn’t explain why, but later playing the outdoor stages with the undead walking about, I assume they got spooked by the monsters. They go inside this mansion and see and the boyfriend meets an ill fate. While laying their dying he becomes possessed by a mask and transforms into a super strong Jason Voorhees knockoff. The rest of the game involves the player saving his girlfriend. I have to say that it is kind of a weird twist seeing the monster being the “good guy” for a change…well sorta.
As expected the game did cause a bit of an uproar during its initial release. Especially since the console version on the PC Engine (Turbografx 16 to Westerners) wasn’t really toned down much for gore. That said, the game didn’t cause as much controversy as expected due to the fact that the arcade release wasn’t too wide and that it was only ported to an ill fated console. By the time the sequels arrived it was around the time that Mortal Kombat released, so its clear that it stole its controversial thunder.For better or worse, Splatterhouse is remembered as a game that was all style and no substance. Something that I don’t completely agree with, but alas opinions are opinions.
54| New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Released: November 15th, 2009
Available on: Nintendo Wii
After Super Mario World launched on the SNES, it would be years before Nintendo made another proper Super Mario game. As a matter of a fact, after Super Mario Land 2, which was released in the West a year after Super Mario World, there wouldn’t be a new 2D sidescrolling entry staring Mario until 2006. New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS was hailed as the return of Mario to traditional form. And to make sure people understood that this is a unique installment rather than a simple port or remake of a previous game, Nintendo even put the word “new” in the title. While the game met huge critical and commercial success, I didn’t really feel it. In fact I sold it a few days after I got it. Just something about the game felt “off” to me. So when Nintendo announced New Super Mario Bros. Wii, I was a bit skeptical. After playing the game however, my skepticism quickly turned into excitement.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a continuation of the Super Mario Bros. series. Anyone who even knows what a video game is knows the premise of a Mario game. The princess gets kidnapped, so it is up to Mario, and at times Luigi, to save her. The game involves the player often going toward the right side of the screen as they hop on platforms, jump on the heads enemies, and jump under blocks to receive coins and special abilities. It is a classic formula that has stood the test of time very well.
Luckily, Nintendo didn’t just set on their laurels as the Wii entry has some new features. The game has new suits and level styles for the player to take advantage of. There is a penguin suit the protagonist can wear where they throw snowballs to freeze enemies and can slide through ice as if they were sledding. There is a lot of ways to play around with these mechanics as you can freeze enemies to extend your jump range, come to an abrupt stop, amongst other things. There is also the propeller suit which has the character flying and gliding throughout the stage. No Wii game would be complete without Wii remote functionality, the game has platforms that the player has to tilt the Wii remote back and forth to move. The propeller suit also requires the player to waggle the controller to have their suit’s propeller spin.
The biggest addition to the game however, was the inclusion of multiplayer. In this mode up to four players can play the game. Admittedly it makes the game much more fun as you can work with, or against, your friends to complete a level. One complaint that is found often with these multiplayer components is that the game becomes too chaotic and the other players just get in a way. In a genre where space and timing is important, other people jumping around in the screen space is certainly a deterrent. While this isn’t as much of a problem in New Super Mario. Bros Wii as it is in other games, it still is a problem. If one wanted to clear a level the fastest and/or most efficient way possible, it isn’t best to bring a friend. Nevertheless it is still a fun multiplayer mode and is a good alternative if you and your friends become bored of Smash, Mario Kart, and Wii Sports.
The graphics in the game are clean, but a little plain. Unlike taking the route of Vanillaware, Ubisoft, and Nintendo’s own Wario title, New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks very basic. In its defense there is an advantage to this. There isn’t much clutter or confusion on screen thus the player can always tell where their next platform is. Also let’s be honest, with the exception of Super Mario World 2, which technically wasn’t even a Super Mario Bros. game, the series has never really been much of a looker. For what’s it worth the graphics are very colorful and vibrant, and the music is classic Mario through and through.
It was a bit odd that the Super Mario Bros. part of the Mario franchise was virtually dormant for fourteen years. This is a series that carries on a legacy like no other game in the history of the industry. Being that both the DS and Wii versions sold around thirty million copies, Nintendo has definitely realized their error. Possibly a little too much as they released a total of four 2D Mario games just six years after the series made its hallmark return. This isn’t to mention the Super Mario 3D entries, which feel much like a 3D version of the New Super Mario Bros. games, if that makes sense, and Super Mario Maker. Regardless, I think any gamer would prefer a gaming world with traditional Mario than one without.
53| Dungeon Explorer
Released: 1989 (Exact release date unknown)
Definitive Version: PC Engine; Also on: PSN for PS3 and PSP, Virtual Console for Wii
Atlus is one of the most respected role playing developers out there. The company has shown to provide quality products in the genre with games as avant garde as the modern Persona series to as traditional as Etrian Odyssey. But even way back in the 1980s the company still produced high quality RPGs. Dungeon Explorer was a game I downloaded off of the Virtual Console on whim. The game seemed archaic at first, but before I knew it I was hooked. It soon became a game that friends and I would regularly play after school. It was a cult classic in the making.
Dungeon Explorer is extremely similar to Gauntlet. Up to four players can play the game at once. The game starts off with the player(s) picking a character class. Each character class has different speed, health, attack power, and possibly a special ability. The players attack enemies by shooting swords, magic balls, or arrows at them. The game primarily focuses on the players entering dungeons and defeating enemies until they get to the dungeon boss. What makes this game different from Gauntlet is that it actually has a story and is more open ended. Being that the game was released in post Dragon Quest world, Dungeon Explorer had a story about serving King while the player had the ability to walk around various towns and talk with local residents to gather hints of where to go and what to do. It certainly isn’t the most advanced storytelling in the era, but even today it is pretty rare to find local on screen multiplayer games with any sort of story attached to them.
Make no mistake, Dungeon Explorer isn’t a masterpiece. The game has many flaws including an awkward difficulty curve, classes which simply can’t beat certain bosses, a so-so artstyle, and a paper thin plot. However, it has a strange aura about it that pulls people toward it. Despite being in an age of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I still had friends who preferred to play Dungeon Explorer. I feel that this is because despite the game’s flaws, it does some things very well. The first is that it nails the feeling of exploration. Despite it technically being limited, players are forced to actually explore their surroundings. They have to talk to towns people, look for well placed caverns and doors, and keep various hints in mind. Personally I found these parts of the game just as fun as the dungeon segments. This isn’t to say that the dungeon segments are weak. In fact the dungeons are great. The enemies are no pushovers and there is a ton of variety to them. And unlike Gauntlet, enemies are challenging due to their attack patterns and placements rather than due to them being a horde. The classes all feel different as well. Some classes allow the player to move around very quickly, but lack powerful attacks. Others may be moderately fast in speed and have poor attack power, but have longer range. On top of this some classes have special abilities such as the ability to heal or even change the game’s music! There is a lot of variety to choose from which means that there is a bit of play when it comes to the games tactics.
Presentation wise, as said before the game isn’t a looker and the story isn’t that good. But the soundtrack is excellent. It outputs off the synthy and arpeggio sounding PC Engine very well. Showing that its sound style can offer a healthy alternative to both the melodic Super Nintendo and the hard hitting grunge of the Mega Drive. The music was done by Tsukasa Masuko who did the pre-Nocturne Megaten games. His standout works are Shin Megami Tensei II and Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. He fathered the entire Megaten sound style and tone. It comes to no surprise that his talent excels no matter what title he works on.
Dungeon Explorer is admittedly a pretty odd game to have on this list. Most would dismiss this entry as nostalgia, however I didn’t play the game until it released on the Wii’s Virtual Console. The game’s flaws have always been apparent, but it is still wildly fun to play. I am also not alone in this as I had friends who enjoyed the game as well. The best way I can describe this game is that it is a cult classic. While it has flaws, it contains specific strengths that aren’t too commonly found in most other games. Its sense of exploration and cooperative play mix very well to give off a unique experience that stands the test of time. There was a modern entry released for the DS and PSP around ten years ago, but they didn’t leave the narrative based multiplayer components intact. They also weren’t particularly good. Now that Hudson is defunct, I hope that Dungeon Explorer can find its way back into Atlus’s hands for a quality modern update.
52| The Witcher
Released: October 30th, 2007
Available on: PC (Windows & Mac)
It was a dark time to be traditional Western Role Playing Game fan during mid and late 2000s. The genre had found stunning success with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as it had broke sales records for the genre. For those too young, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was the first game of the genre to truly hit the mainstream game player. Sure some would argue that technically Bioware beat Bethesda to the punch with The Knights of the Old Republic. However, as praised as that game is, most of its commercial success was due to the Star Wars license. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was the first IP to popularize and mainstream Western RPGs on consoles with it’s own laurels. Unfortunately there was a price to this. The audience in the console market was much more casual compared to the more technical savvy PC gamer. As a result The Elder Scrolls IV felt less like a RPG and more a exploration game. It wasn’t long until Bethesda managed to try the formula again, this time with the Fallout franchise. Fallout 3 was hailed to be the great return of the series. However, most of the WRPG fanbase were distasteful toward it once they realized it was being made by Bethesda. Their fears turned out to be warranted. During this time however, there was a different ambitious WRPG in development.
A completely unknown studio that’s only experience was translating various role playing games to Polish, was making a big budget, or what was considered big budget at the time, WRPG. Rather than taking after The Elder Scrolls IV, it would instead take after more beloved cult classics such as the Black Isle games where the meat of the game was making morally gray choices. It focused on this so much that the game’s tagline was something akin to “there aren’t any choices, just consequences.” When the game was finally released it lived up to its expectations.
The Witcher focuses on a man named “Geralt”. It turns out he isn’t much of a man at all, but rather a witcher. Witchers are essentially mutated men who wander the world as for hire monster slayers and occasional dispute solvers. In layman terms they are essentially samurai in Polish folklore. Throughout Geralt’s journey he will encounter many quests that will give him the option, or outright force him, to make very tough decisions. Morality isn’t measured in whether one wants to be good or evil, but rather the beliefs of the player. Questions such as who is more fit to be a mother or whether or not the public should know dire information even if they may incite violence when knowing it, are what the game focuses on. There aren’t any easy choices in The Witcher. Best of all, all of these choices can have a substantial effect the game’s story and general world. As the player makes decisions, his relationships and even alliance changes throughout the course of the game. Friends become enemies, terrorists become allies, and entire communities will either hold you up or hunt you down. Thus the game offers a different experience for each player and each different playthrough.
The game is designed just like any other traditional WRPG. The player roams around the world discovering various towns as they talk with townsfolk performing a variety of quests. While on these quests key information is discovered on where to go next to progress the game. They player will follow the trail these quests lead to until they eventually get to the end area and final boss. Like most WRPGs, it isn’t the main quest itself that makes the game interesting, but the journey toward completing the main quest. Discovering new locations is very exciting, and merely talking with others can be a rush itself as the result of the conversation can be creating a new friend or foe.On paper The Witcher doesn’t do anything particularly new with the genre, other than bringing it to the third dimension. However, it is the fact that it does those things so very well.
Rather than being turnbased or even psuedo-turnbased, the game uses a real-time action combat. Players wield Geralt’s swords around as they defeat enemies and monsters. Geralt has two swords. The steel sword is to fight off humans, while the silver sword fights off monsters. This is very important to remember as using the wrong sword severely handicaps the player. Geralt can also perform magic attacks such as lighting enemies on fire or even stopping them in their tracks.These are very useful, especially when fighting multiple enemies at once. In addition to all of this, the player can also craft potions which can result in Geralt delivering more powerful attacks, the ability to see in the dark, amongst other things. Sure the combat isn’t as deep as Devil May Cry, and the magic attacks could be balanced better, but it still works very well considering that even today most open world RPGs shy away from real-time combat.
What really made The Witcher stand out during release was how adult everything was presented. Make no mistake, The Witcher is a game made by adults, for adults. Sure around the time of The Witcher’s release there were plenty of games meant for “adults” but most of them earned those titles by just upping the gore factor and dirtying the language. In contrast, while The Witcher does feature naughty medieval language and violence, it doesn’t let it define the game. What defines the game is the conflict and harsh realities the player comes by. The day to day conflicts of quarrels between neighbors, couples, and different factions. The realities of racism, poverty, and abuse. These are subjects that, especially at time of the game’s release, are rarely touched on. It is those moments that The Witcher series is the most remember by, not its cutting edge 3D world, sense of exploration, violence, or general “coolness”. Not that the game lacks any of those things, but the point is The Witcher stands out where it is suppose to stand out.
The seemingly unknown Polish developer’s gamble paid off big time. The Witcher was a huge success, and probably was the last successful big budget RPG that is exclusive to the PC. Each concurrent release became more popular and successful, with the third entry reaching flagship worldwide success. Even in Japan, the Witcher series is a recognizable brand. The series developer, CDProjekt, is red hot right now due to The Witcher 3’s success, their digital platform is growing, their next AAA WRPG is in development, and they recently formed a new branch. The WRPG genre is also a lot more healthy as quality titles don’t seem to be in shortage. Much of this is due to the success of funding companies like Kickstarter, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Witcher helped by proving that deep WRPG gameplay is still viable for the mass market. No matter how you look at it, The Witcher’s release had quite an effect on gaming
51| Final Fantasy VII
Released: September 7th, 1997
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PSN for PS4, PSVita, PS3, and PSP, PS, iOS
It is impossible to understate just how dominate JRPGs were to the Japanese marketplace during the 1990s. They were a phenomenon in which huge swathes of the population would rush to the stores to purchase the latest entry in their favorite series. It is sort of similar to how first person shooters were all the rage, and arguably still are, in North America during late 2000s and early 2010s, where seemingly every child and adult rushed out to purchase the latest Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo. The appeal of the genre was very clear, they were essentially playable anime. They took the complicated role playing genre, and crafted it for the mast market, while putting in an engaging story and characters. It was the mix of the right amount of depth and simplicity to please audiences. Despite the genre being an seemingly unstoppable force in Japan, in the rest of the world the genre was very niche. JRPGs were very rarely released in the west, and even if they were released there tended to be very few copies available. On top of all that they were terribly translated to the point where Google Translator would do a better job than the “professionals” these companies hired. To sum up how JRPGs were treated in the western marketplace, I recall hearing a story from someone who stated that when they were young they went shopping for Sega Master System games. He saw Phantasy Star for over $120 a price that he was surprised by. When he asked the clerk about the game, the clerk responded “oh that game, it’s priced so high because it is a RPG and these games never sell. I just mark it up until a collector comes by and buys it…eventually.”
In 1997, the genre was the hotter than it ever would be in Japan. Final Fantasy VII was released and used the CD capabilities of the new Playstation console to their fullest extent. Sony saw the immense success of the game in Japan, and was determined to replicate that success in the West. So they devised a ingenious idea. Rather than marketing the game as role playing game or as an “anime comes to life”, they instead decided to market it as a blockbuster film. Pumping in $100 million for the U.S.. marketing budget alone, on top of its original $45 million development costs, Final Fantasy VII was truly the first AAA game that would be AAA by today’s standards. Today this seems like standard fare, but back then it was insane. Well until Final Fantasy VII became one of the best selling games on the system. Final Fantasy VII not only became one of the Playstation’s most prominent system sellers world-wide, but it also brought JRPGs into the main stream. Not only were JRPGs started regularly being released in the west in available quantities, but they were also reasonably translated.
Final Fantasy VII clearly has a strong legacy, but what of the actual game itself? Despite the game receiving a lot criticism over the years, it has actually aged extremely well, outside of its chunky and blocky characters.Despite being copied to hell and back, the game’s world still feel very original and dark, while characters are likable and stand out. Despite being hailed as the first big “3D JRPG” the game is actually two dimensional for the most part. It uses painted backgrounds and puts 3D models over them to give an illusion of a 3D world. At times it works very well, however during close up shots, the characters really stick out like sore thumb. At times it makes one wish that the character’s were pre-rendered in the same style of the backgrounds to keep consistency. What’s impressive is that at times throughout the game the backgrounds will actually animate while the player walks around, some of these animations are actually really complex such as one scene requiring the player hop onto helicopter.
The game’s graphics shine during the battle segments of the game. The Playstation’s sweet processing power goes toward rending three characters and a few monsters. Character’s look much more detailed and alive, and just makes one wish that this is how the game looked throughout the entire playthrough. One thing that has aged quite a bit are the cutscenes. Seen as cutting edge at the time, today they aren’t too impressive. This is particularly with the characters as they are textureless and use basic lighting and shading. It leaves a lot more to be desired, however to be fair Squaresoft really brought their A game when it came to artstyle, graphics, and CG with their next Final Fantasy entry.
The story of the game is pretty complex. The best way I can describe it without going too much into detail is that it focuses on terrorism, environmentalism, clones, and classism. Sure, today it seems like the typical JRPG and anime “deep for the sake of deep” trope, but at the time it was extremely unique when most RPGs had Medieval settings and plot points. To its credit, the plot is still very good today and despite being a bit full of itself, is still very engaging. As said before though, the characters stand out at least as much as the story. There’s Cloud the dickish hero, Barret the stereotypical angry black man, Tifa the badass female fighter, Aeris the kind hearted love interest, Red XIII the experimented creature, and many others. Again this sounds typical, but just like with the story, this was very unique at the time and even today the characters do well to stand out. I mean think about it, a black main character…in a JRPG!? Truly a radical idea if I’ve ever heard of one.
The battle system is your typical Final Fantasy battle system. It’s active turn based where characters can attack, use a skill, an item, or possibly magic. It’s all very standard, and while it isn’t particularly bad, it isn’t particularly good either. It merely gets the job done. There is also the materia system in which players can equip special crystal orbs to gain ability and up stats. It was pretty interesting at its time and has since become staple of The Legend of Heroes series. It brings much needed variety and strategy to the battle system.
What I feel makes Final Fantasy VII standout even more so than its setting and characters, is how smooth and quick plays. It’s truly a game where you can go through a lot and make significant progress in a single sitting. While most RPGs, even today, take a significant amount of time for the player to achieve anything, in just an hour or two of playertime a significant chunk of Final Fantasy VII’s world and characterization will be finished. The game is very well paced and does its best not to drag on. Part of this is due to the game often changing locations as you are never in one place for too long of a time. Another part of it is that the game always throws in various situations toward the player, whether they be serious or humorous, to keep things interesting. It’s something that I feel that RPGs, both Japanese and Western, tend to lack and what often has me put them down after a few hours of playthrough. Building up a story and world is important, but it doesn’t mean that things have to move along so slowly. This also lends Final Fantasy VII to be a very replayable game, especially since the game has a lot of hidden treasures and secrets, there are even party characters integral to the plot that the player may not have gotten during their first playthrough.
Final Fantasy VII is underrated. That’s right underrated.While I do agree that back in the day the game was overblown in its quality of being “the undisputed greatest RPG of all-time”, today things are a bit different. It seems that people just criticize this game solely because it is the most popular Final Fantasy game. While I can see others liking Final Fantasy VI, IX, and XII more, I think that VII gets too much hate. The game has aged extremely well over the years, and is still very fun to play. The characters are interesting, the world is engaging, its fun exploring the towns, and the game is paced very well. This may be controversial to say today, but in my opinion Final Fantasy VII is the best Final Fantasy game. Despite the game easily making this spot on its own merits, it also had a huge ripple effect on the industry. If it wasn’t for Final Fantasy VII, we would have gotten so many Japanese developers to put their games out in the West. No Shin Megami Tensei, no Tales games, no Legend of Heroes, no Xenoseries, etc. Any fan of the genre should know the game’s legacy and its effects on the industry.
50| Gunstar Heroes
Released: September 9th, 1993
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: PC, Virtual Console for Wii U, eShop for 3DS, PSN for PS3, XBLA for Xbox 360, iOS
We have officially reached the latter half of this list. And due to the occasion I’m going to celebrate with a bang. Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Mega Drive is one of the best, if not the best, run and gun shooter of all-time. The origins of the game began when when a group of developers decided to pack up and leave Konami to start their own studio. This was the birth of the well renowned game developer Treasure. Their first game was going to also be a run and gun game, but this time for the Super Nintendo’s rival platform the Sega Mega Drive. However, they wanted the game to differentiate itself from Contra. For starters the game was going to be a lot more bright and cartoony as it would take more influence from Japanese anime more so than dark and serious American cinema. Most of all, the game would be much faster paced and chaotic than Contra to take advantage of the Mega Drive’s extra processing power. The result is one of the system’s finest titles.
The game begins as one, but preferably two, player(s) start the game and select their weapon type. Initially the player(s) have the choice of a rapid fire weapon, a beam weapon that is slightly slower than the rapid fire weapon, a lock-on weapon that automatically hits any enemies but is very slow, and an extremely rapid fire, but limited range flamethrower. Being honest, only the rapid fire and beam weapons are useful in these initial forms. The player(s) can then select from four different stages. Each stage is different, so I’m going to start off by focusing on the first one. The first stage plays much like any other run and gun game at first. The player(s) run to the right side of the screen as enemies and the occasional platforms appear. Suddenly, something about the game becomes quickly obvious. There are a lot of enemies on screen, and when I mean a lot of them I mean A LOT. The game throws as many enemies on the screen as the player(s) can handle, the fact that they explode when “defeated” leaves the screen to be constantly covered in a shade of yellow, orange, and red. As the player(s) walk through the area they will see flying robots dropping orbs that look just like those in the weapon select menu, or with hearts on them that heal your health. When player(s) pick up these familiar orbs they power up their weapon. If they grab a rapid fire orb, their weapon will now fire even more rapidly, if they grab the beam orb than their current weapon will become “beamier”, if they pick up the lock-on orb than their weapon will automatically lock onto enemies, and if they use the flame orb than their weapon will become a charged up flamethrower. If for whatever reason the player doesn’t like this new addition, they can then cancel out one of the two orbs and use the default weapon. It may seem basic today, but it is pretty impressive that the game managed to incorporate all of these actions.
One thing that makes Gunstar Heroes stand out from other run and gun games is the sheer mobility the player(s) have. Not only do the characters run at a reasonable speed, but they are also very nimble, and can jump a considerable distance while being able to damage the enemy by body slamming them. On top of that the player(s) can also throw the enemy to damage them. In a way this gives the game pseudo-combos as the player(s) can technically shoot at the enemy, then body slam them, and finish them off with a throw.
Even as an introduction level, it is very varied. It doesn’t take long before the player(s) come across the first boss of the game, which involves avoiding projectile cocoons from the sky, not long after starting to fight another wave of enemies, there is a large pyramid that need to be climbed. After reaching the peak, another boss fight is under way. When that boss is defeated the player(s) then slide down the pyramid as they dodge enemies and obstacles. After that there is another brief wave of enemies and then a large final boss. After such an exhausting level, it may seem that the game put most of its effort upfront to give players the best impression of the game. The reality is that this is by far and wide the most normal level in the entire game.
Gunstar Heroes biggest criticism is its lack of levels. There only the four initial levels to choose from in the stage select screen and a final boss level once all of the initial stages are completed. What Gunstar Heroes lacks in quantity it makes it up in variety. Besides the introductory stage, the one right next to it is a mine cart level in which the player(s) can ride the tracks both on the bottom and top of the screen as they mow down enemies on carts and trains. Very soon however, they quickly encounter a boss named “Seven Force.” A very ambitious boss, especially for its time, Seven Force is a mechanical robot that transforms into seven different bosses while fighting it. It has a lot of health and takes some time to defeat, especially due to the player(s) having to memorize its patterns. But once it’s defeated it gives off a huge sense of satisfaction.
Next in line, is a very vertical based level. Essentially a blimp is taking off and it is up to the player(s) to reach it in time. They are forced to climb up various platforms to hop on the blimp while taking out enemies. Eventually they will board the blimp and then fight a wave of baddies before encountering the boss. It is a pretty good level, but all in all is the least memorable one in the game. I feel that the developers should have played around more with the vertical aspect of it.
The last stage in the select screen’s order, is probably the most unique one. It begins as a normal stage as the player(s) simply walk to the right side of the screen taking out enemies. After a few minutes they come across a room. A single dice is on the floor and the player(s) have miniature versions of themselves on a square of a board game that says “Start”. At the end of the board is another square that reads “Boss”. This section of the game requires the player(s) to roll the dice as they play a virtual board game to either progress through the board to get closer to the boss, fight a mid-boss, or possibly go all the way back to the beginning. This is, in my opinion, the most difficult level of the game as player(s) may be required to fight multiple bosses before the final boss. Just like Seven Force though, it is very satisfying once completed.
Once all four levels are completed, the player(s) are transported to the final stage. It starts off as a shoot-em-up, this becomes a very common thing for Treasure to do during the ’90s, as the game literally changes genres to play just like horizontal shooter. Once the wave of enemies are defeated, the stage becomes boss rush stage. After beating Seven Force once again, the player(s) enter the enemy’s base. Once there, the place is essentially a boss rush as it is literally half a dozen or so boss battles back to back. Eventually all the bosses are defeated giving the player a well deserved finish to an enjoyable but also tough game.
There is a reason why rather than saying “player” throughout this review I keep saying “player(s)”. It’s because this is game that really requires two players. Sure it is doable with one player, but not only is it much more difficult, but it is nowhere near as fun. It’s not quite as chaotic with a single person, and not having anyone to share your success with or compete against is very detrimental to the overall experience. I’d personally go as far as to say if Gunstar Heroes was a single player only game, it probably wouldn’t have made this list.
Before wrapping up this writeup, one can’t talk about Gunstar Heroes without talking about its technical achievements. The game looks beautiful in motion as it is very bright and colorful. It is easily one of the Mega Drive’s best looking games, and could compete against the Super Nintendo’s higher end graphical games. The game also doesn’t have any sort of slowdown, even amongst its most chaotic moments in two player mode. It is as much as a showcase to the Mega Drive’s graphical capabilities as it is to its processing capabilities. This isn’t to mention the game’s clear and fitting soundtrack. Treasure has always had a knack for pushing their platforms to their limits, and the Gunstar Heroes shows that they hit the ground running.
It’s crazy to think this game was so close to not even being released in West. The only reason it came out of Japan was because a single producer at Sega of America demanded it to after a dozen others stated that they weren’t interested in the game, primarily due to its small sprites. Lucky for him that the game he fought for turned out to be a gaming classic. Gunstar Heroes let Treasure flex their muscles early on, and quickly became one of the defining titles for the Mega Drive. Despite all of the modern technology to produce bullet hell shooters, hundreds of enemies on screen, giant bosses, and what not, there are still very few games that can match the fun and sheer chaos of 1993’s Gunstar Heroes.
49| Fallout: New Vegas
Released: October 19th, 2010
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: Xbox 360, PS3
Fallout 3 sucked. It was a disappointment. Rather than being a deep and compelling WRPG, it was essentially an open world quasi-FPS with RPG elements. It was essentially STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, only not as well designed. Fallout: New Vegas was announced and many were immediately skeptical. Some of that skepticism was lifted when it was revealed that Bethesda wouldn’t be at the helm, but rather Obsidian.Obsidian had a history of developing deep and compelling WRPGs including Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, and the then hot on the shelves Alpha Protocol. People hoped that Fallout: New Vegas would follow the same path those other games did, in terms of having a game that focused on having a quality role playing experience first and foremost. It did.
Fallout: New Vegas is everything Fallout 3 was supposed to be. For starters it had a 3D open world where the the map was designed less to be a frontier for the player to explore, and more so to have the player encounter various hub towns and areas. In these towns and areas were locals in which many had a handful of quests for the player to complete. These quests weren’t your typical “collect X amount of radioactive goat spleens and I’ll give you a reward”, but often intertwined the player with what was going on in the particular community. These objectives often had players choose sides under specific conflicts and were rarely morally black and white. They would often affect what the player would be able to do later and how the game would be played. Allies and enemies are frequently made due to how the player chooses to align during the various situations that are presented. Fallout: New Vegas truly made the player’s choices matter.
Of course, role playing would only matter so much if one didn’t care about the characters. I will admit, while the characters aren’t the deepest, or even that appealing, they definitely are memorable.Throughout the game one will encounter: a genocidal Roman barbarian group, Elvis, servant robots, cowboys, a supreme being A.I., and many others. The player’s allies are just as unique. I played the game with a cyborg dog and a grandma Supermutant as my companions. Say what you want about Fallout, but it truly branches out of the traditional Tolkien and SciFi trope characters, especially in this entry.
Presentation wise, the game looks just like Fallout 3. Looks can be a bit deceiving though. Despite having the same texture and similar artstyle to the first game, the theme has been altered a bit. Rather than being a 1950s version of the post-apocalyptic future, it instead is an 1850s version of it. Fallout: New Vegas takes the post-apocalyptic vision of the Fallout series, and adds some cowboy flavor. In the first five minutes of the game, it even presents the trope of shooting beer bottles on top of the wooden fence for target practice. This proceeds to set the tone for the rest of the game. The area that is the one exception that doesn’t feel like the 1850s is the city of New Vegas. It is, as one might expect, a 1950s version of Las Vegas. This is complete with the bright lights, casinos, and the tacky decorate. In fact, it is one of the few places in the game that actually looks habitable…somewhat…not really, but still.
Combat in Fallout: New Vegas works just like Fallout 3. This is actually pretty good, as Fallout 3’s combat was enjoyable. The VATS system is back and is more satisfying than ever. The game gives the player a variety of weapons from pistols, to energy guns, to rocket launchers. My only complaints is that while the combat looks flashy, it is fairly shallow. There is a long list of games that just did the quasi-real time battle system far better. To be fair though, the Fallout series always had mediocre combat.
In terms of the story, well I don’t want to give much away, but it does manage to hold the player’s interest. Like many WRPGs, the story begins with the player being near death as they recall being in some heavy shit. They miraculously survive their ordeal, and have inconveniently developed amnesia. They now roam the world as they try to pick up the pieces. Despite being cliche as all hell, the plot gets the job done as it gives the player an excuse to transverse the world and conversate with others. It isn’t the best story out there, but like with most RPGs, the meat is in the journey not the destination.
Fallout: New Vegas is a game that seems to be part of a some sort of parallel universe where Fallout 3 actually did justice to the franchise. It took the Fallout series and expanded and refined it. It was part of a small wave of games in the dawn of the 2010s that were both ambitious and had deep role playing mechanics. With Fallout 4 being released and falling prey to the same potholes Fallout 3 tripped over, fans of the series are hoping for a repeat of when Obsidian would proceed to take the developer’s chair to create their own entry. Only time will tell if this will occur, but at least the studio left fans with a quality game in the series that they could continue to replay.
48| The Legends of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Released: November 23rd, 1998
Definitive Version: Nintendo 3DS; Also on: GC, N64, Virtual Console for Wii and Wii U
Out of all the games I have on this list, this one is likely to be by far the one to get the most complaints in terms of its ranking. In virtually every single “top X games of all-time” lists, one game consistently takes the number one spot. That is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. To be fair, there is a big reason for that. During its release Ocarina of Time was revolutionary. Prior to it full 3D movement games were mostly limited to 3D platformers, in no small part due to Ocarina of Time’s director Shigeru Miyamoto pioneering that genre. “3D games” in general still moved around in a 2D space. Sure games like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII seemed impressive, but they relied moving around in two dimensional painted backgrounds. Even when games ditched 2D backgrounds and went full 3D, they were still technically 2D. Metal Gear Solid made a huge buzz when it was released two months before Ocarina of Time, and was essentially Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake with polygonal graphics and a zoomed in camera. Unless it was a racing game, first person shooter, or a platformer, the game wasn’t going to have full 3D movement. Nintendo could have taken the easy way out by essentially having Ocarina of Time follow in these game’s footsteps, but that isn’t the “Nintendo Way.”
Nintendo actually had Ocarina of Time be a full 3D game. The game had full 3D combat, full 3D interactive dungeons and puzzles, and even a full 3D overworld. In fact the only place in the game that wasn’t fully 3D was the main town, as that used painted backgrounds. Usually a developer juggling too much at once leads to an over ambitious project that ends up falling flat on its face. Instead, Ocarina of Time soared to being the most critically acclaimed game of all-time, a title that it still holds to this day. There are primarily two reasons for that. The first is that it solved so many problems with working in 3D that developers just couldn’t figure out. For a modern comparison, think of virtual reality. Try imagining making a game like Zelda with the HTC Vive. The concept of just sword fighting with the enemy is confusing enough. One would having to figure out just how to sync the animation and hitbox correctly with the player’s swinging motions. They would also have to figure out what would happen when the sword clashes with the enemy’s sword or shield. This doesn’t even bring up the matter of depth perception. Keep in mind we haven’t even begun to talk about how the A.I. will even react toward the player. And all this just for a sliver of the Zelda experience! It comes to no surprised that virtually every VR game designed from ground up so far is very simple and essentially a walking simulator. This was where 3D was more or less at during most of the 1990’s, as developers then had the same problems working with 3D as modern developers do with VR today. Ocarina of Time figured all of these problems out, that is one of the reasons why it is so renowned.
Of course, the other reason why the game was so critically acclaimed is because it is so good. To this day, Ocarina of Time is amongst the best games.one can play. Despite laying the ground work for interactive 3D gameplay, it still manages to not feel outdated. This is a very rare thing to see with 3D games of that era that dared to experiment. So it wasn’t just the fact that Ocarina of Time solved the many problems of making an action/adventure title in 3D, but that it did it very well from the get go.
Ocarina of Time is more or less The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but in full 3D. The game is presented in a behind the back perspective as the player transverses across the world through various towns, forests, plains, and other locations. The game starts the player off in a village where an infamous fairy greets them. It continues the basic formula of a Zelda entry’s opening scene to the first dungeon essentially being a tutorial. The game begins by moving very slowly, as Link explores the town, moves throw mysterious woods, and explores the first dungeon. Once that is complete, the world opens up for our legendary hero. Well, at least somewhat. After leaving the village one goes to the main town. There they will briefly meet the princess and later see her kidnapped. After that, the game opens up where the player explores the overworld to tackle whatever dungeon they want to first. There is plenty of variety as there is a water dungeon, fire dungeon, ghost dungeon, and what have you. Like all Zelda game, the objective is to complete each dungeon to receive a special item and eventually collect the pieces of the tri-force and defeat Ganon.
From the get go, you can tell Nintendo knew what they were doing. Controlling Link is a breeze as he smoothly runs across the screen as he can jump, roll, back flip, and side step. He can also slash and stab his sword and put up his shield with ease. There is also a targeting system in which a reticule stays on to the enemy and black bars cover the top and bottom of the screen like watching a widescreen film. Link locks on to the enemy, as does the camera, making battles easy to focus on and relatively painless to engage in. Combat is admittedly a bit slow, but like Dark Souls, it gives the advantage of the player being able to see what they are doing. The combat is surprisingly refined for the time that it was made, and still to this day holds up well enough. Being honest, I actually find the combat more engaging than almost every Zelda game that came after it. The enemy A.I. reacts very well to what the player is doing, and there is one sub-boss battle that is really impressive to how the A.I. engages in sword fighting, especially for its time.
The heart of a Zelda game is of course its dungeons. Ocarina of Time’s dungeons are very well made. They may not be the best in the series, but they managed to get A Link to the Past’s polished level design perfectly translated to a 3D space. The puzzles are simple enough to understand, but complex enough to have the player really have to think about what they are doing. Puzzles often take multiple stages to complete, and much of the time require transversing through the dungeon and interacting with the general environment. Sometimes, I feel that they were too advanced for their time. The Water Temple is a good example of this. Personally, I found this to be the easiest temple in the game, but at the time of release it was infamous of being so confusing. This was primarily due to the fact that in order to progress in the dungeon, one would have to raise and lower the water levels. This would require exploring and memorizing where all of the main doors are, and having great spacial awareness. These were things that most game player lacked in the early days of 3D gaming. Sure games like Duke Nukem 3D and Doom required exploration, but that was in mostly on a flat map contained to a single floor with limited interaction with the environment. Ocarina of Time took its exploration to multiple floors throughout its dungeons, with the player regularly picking up and stacking items, observing to shoot down objects and enemies, and so on. The level design was very complex for its time, and in some ways shows how many games have gone backwards since its release, as doing such things highlighting a key to pick and up and open a door across the room to solve a “puzzle” is so commonplace now a days.
In terms of presentation, Ocarina of Time certainly gets the job done. In either version you play, the graphics have a nice and clean cartoony style, and the world has a very washed out colored look to it. Admittedly it seem a bit weird at first, but one quickly gets used to it. There is no voice acting, but personally the game doesn’t need it as characters don’t have much to say. The music is also very catchy as people are still humming the tunes almost twenty years after the game was released. The game does have cutscenes but they rare. It isn’t the most cinematic game, and wasn’t even considered as such during its original release, but the game isn’t suppose to be cinematic so it makes sense.
It isn’t difficult to see why The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time ranks so high on so many lists. It is a very well made game that has few weaknesses. Its mechanics and design are timeless, which ensures that the game will enjoyable for generations to come. That said, much like Super Mario Bros., the game has been picked and influenced by almost every game released after it. It is inevitable that games will improve upon aspects of its design almost twenty years after its release. Regardless, the game still holds up very well today and still deserves to be listed among the greats. The fact that it’s on the top half of this list speaks volumes of its quality
47| Banjo Kazooie
Released: June 29th, 1998
Definitive Version: XBLA for Xbox 360; Also on: N64, XBO
Just like its 2D predecessor, after Super Mario 64 there were a lot of games that emulated its design. Games like Gex: Enter the Gecko and Glover clearly took notes from Super Mario 64’s playbook as they featured a hub world, multiple collectibles, and large semi open-ended levels. While these games were good, none of them came close to being as good as Super Mario 64. It turned out that Rareware was creating a 3D platformer of their own. According to trailers and interviews, the game would be much like Super Mario 64. This seems very familiar, as the game that put the studio on the map was heavily influenced by the previous Mario platformer. The difference is however, is that the new game couldn’t rest on unique technology to stand out from the crowd. It would instead be on the same playing field as Miyamoto’s and everyone elses’ efforts. Would Rareware be able to make a hit platformer game on its own merits? This question was answered with the release of Banjo Kazooie. And the answer was a resounding “yes!”
Banjo Kazooie is essentially a Super Mario 64 reskin. It has a hub world the player travels through to enter levels, stages are completed be earning golden items from various objectives, and it offers collectibles to… well collect. The key difference between Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64, is that Banjo Kazooie takes Super Mario 64’s formula and adds a shit ton of hot sauce. The game does everything Super Mario 64 does but more of it. Yeah, Banjo Kazooie has a hubworld, but the hubworld is massive. Rather than being a series of interconnected rooms it is more spacious and larger than any level. Yeah, Banjo Kazooie has objectives to complete in each level like Super Mario 64, but rather than having five or six of them, each level has around ten different objectives. Yeah, Banjo Kazooie has collectibles like Super Mario 64, but instead of having just two or three types coins, Banjo Kazooie has even more collectibles…a lot more collectibles…A LOT MORE. The point is Banjo Kazooie took everything good about Super Mario 64 and expanded on it.
The game’s story is fairly simple. Banjo and Kazooie are having a nice day and relaxing, when Banjo’s sister, Tooty, gets kidnapped by the evil witch Gruntilda. Gruntilda, often called “Grunty”, kidnaps Tooty in order to extract her “cuteness” to become beautiful. Seeing that his sister is kidnapped, Banjo teams up with Kazooie to save Tooty. There isn’t really much else to the game’s plot. It certainly isn’t the deepest out there. However, the story does stand out a bit, as it is pretty humorous. The entire game has a tongue and cheek Saturday morning cartoon tone to it. Admittedly the game won’t have you laugh out loud, but it will make you chuckle or at least smile.
Presentation wise, like most Nintendo 64 games, Banjo Kazooie isn’t too cinematic. However, the game has a colorful art style that is very easy on the eyes. I guess it helps that there are no humans featured in the game, so the blocky character models and muddy textures are more forgivable. The title also features a great soundtrack that is amongst Rare’s best. The music goes perfect with the game’s wilderness setting and cartoony vibe.
Gameplay wise, as said before, Banjo Kazooie is essentially a souped up version of Super Mario 64. One thing to note however, is that exploration plays a much bigger part in this game than any other 3D platformer out there. Levels are huge and sprawling with content. Finding out where to go and how to get to it isn’t always obvious. This game was released in a period where either 3D level design either really relied on players to use their heads or where everything was spoonfed to them. Luckily this title falls into the former. It can take quite some exploring in certain levels just to find the next puzzle piece (Banjo Kazooie’s version of gold stars). The maps in the game aren’t flat with occasional platforms about, they are designed with the third dimension in mind as the player will frequently travel vertically and horizontally as they hop across ledges, fly in the sky, or swim underwater. Like most games of its era, it shows in many ways how 3D game design has gone backwards over the years.
Controlling the characters feel great. Banjo moves around well as he clearly has some weight to him. If the player ever wants to speed things up at the sacrifice of brawn, they can immediately switch to his partner Kazooie who is much faster and lighter, but can’t do much if any damage to the enemies. Players can use the two characters to perform a variety of moves. This includes the butt stomp and the punch that were shamelessly taken from a certain other platforming game. However, there are also unique abilities such as Kazooie’s multi-peck for up close baddies and egg coughing for range attacks. They aren’t the most accurate attacks, but they get the job done. Banjo can also perform a double jump as after Banjo’s first jump Kazooie will flap her wings to give Banjo an extra oomph. There are also parts of the game where Kazooie can fly Banjo throughout the air and that Banjo can dive underwater. Like in Donkey Kong Country, the characters can turn into various enemies to get into tight spaces, but it is rarely used.
The game isn’t perfect however. For starters there are way too many things to collect. There is such a thing as too much content, as at times I was wondering just what I should focus on collecting. The levels require the player to explore and use their heads to figure out where to go and what to do next, which is something I commend Rare for doing. Unfortunately, it does get very annoying walking around for thirty minutes as one explores every nook and cranny just to find the last puzzle piece. But by far and wide the game’s biggest offense is the last part of the game. To actually end the game requires getting almost every single puzzle piece. With how large and complex each level is (not to mention all of he collectibles) this is just too daunting of a task. Personally they should have just ended the game after completing all of the levels. The last part really wasn’t needed.
Even if one doesn’t complete the game, Banjo Kazooie is still one of the best, if not the best, 3D platformers ever made. As saturated as the genre was during the late 1990’s, it is unfortunate that adventure 3D platformers went the way of the dinosaur. Or at least so it seemed. In 2014, a group of ex-Rare staff formed a development studio called Playtonic Games. They went to set up a Kickstarter for their first project called Yooka-Laylee, a “not Banjo Kazooie, but it’s Banjo Kazooie” platformer. They reached their project’s goal in just thirty eight minutes and ended up raising over €2,000,000, shattering their expectations by over tenfold. It just goes to show how much of an impact Banjo Kazooie made on the gaming community.
46| Super Castlevania IV
Released: December 4th, 1991
Definitive Version: Super Nintendo; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii and Wii U
Yes, it’s the “casual” Castlevania of the 16-bit era. Yes, it is the “boring” answer of what the best classic Castlevania game is. Yes, the game is “easy”. Yes, it isn’t as “dark” as the other games. But god damn it, if it isn’t the best classic Castlevania out there. The reason? Because it is fun to play that’s why. Releasing just a few months after the Super Nintendo crossed American shores, Super Castlevania IV gave gamers no excuse to not want a Super Nintendo. It took everything that made the original games good and refined it to create a highly enjoyable experience.
Anyone who is even familiar with the Castlevania games knows the deal. The player controls a vampire hunter out to kill Dracula. They venture off on a journey across the country to reach the castle. The perilous journey is conveyed in game in a sidescrolling fashion, as the player hops from platform to platform as they dodge projectiles and defeat enemies. The primary weapon in these games is the whip. It is truly the trademark to the series because, well whips are fun to use. In addition to that the player can pick up secondary weapons for range battle such as a knife, ax, and holy water. There is also a secondary weapon that can be used once to stop time, as enemies all turn into stone for a couple of seconds. The enemies the game offers are usually skeletons, bats, mermen, zombies, and pretty much any classic movie monsters you can imagine.
Admittedly, Super Castlevania IV doesn’t deviate much from this. There are a few new features such as the useless, but addicting, spinning your whip around like a baton, and manually swinging off of hooks to hop on ledges. Again, these aren’t the most groundbreaking features, but they are fun. What makes Super Castlevania IV head and shoulders above the rest is that it is so expertly designed. Levels are crafted as each platform and enemy are placed to give the player a sense of enjoyment. While there is a lot of trial and error in the game, it is always fair, because enemies never just pop out of nowhere, and as long as the player is paying attention to their patterns they can be easily defeated. This goes from the smallest baddies to the biggest bosses.
Presentation wise the game is great. The pixel art is very colorful, for a Castlevania game, and the sprites are large and detailed. This does come at a cost however, as the game features significant slowdown. This is especially true when fighting the “mud men” in which they break apart and create smaller versions of themselves until there are around half a dozen on the screen. The good thing is that the slowdown doesn’t really effect the gameplay much as it only occurs during the flashy effects the game offers. This may sound like I contradicted myself as I just brought up the mud men, but they are so slow and have such a simple pattern that the game could be sped up by three hundred percent and they would still be easy to kill.
But let’s be honest. Where Super Castlevania IV really stands out is the soundtrack. It’s just baffling that such quality music is coming out of the Super Nintendo less than a year after its launch. The game could arguably be the pinnacle of midi music. Yes, later Castlevania games featured CD quality sound, but I always felt that the music was better with the “chip tune” aesthetic.
Saying all of this, the game isn’t perfect. For one, it is a little on the easy side. The game isn’t easy per say, but for a Castlevania game it is. There is a certain expectation one has when playing an entry to the series, sort of like when one picks up a Dark Souls title. Sure Castlevania isn’t that unforgiving, but they are still a bit difficult to get through all the way. On top of that, the game doesn’t have a save feature. There is a password system, but come on! This is the Super Nintendo and battery saving should be standard.
It is rare for a title to launch so early on its consoles life and sit on top of its throne as the best game in its genre. But Super Castlevania IV did just that. It released less than a year after the Super Nintendo hit store shelves anywhere in the world, and despite that it managed to push the system to its limits in many ways. It is unfortunate that Castlevania never returned to its popularity that it had with this entry. Rondo of Blood was only released on the PC Engine in Japan and received a less than favorable port to the Super Nintendo. Bloodlines was a good entry for the Mega Drive, but that’s it. Symphony of the Night certainly is held in high regards in the hardcore gamer crowd, but it hardly lit up the charts. The series proceeded to be adored by handheld gamers, but only sold in the hundred thousands. Today the series is about alive for Konami as Mega Man is for Capcom. At least the last time the series was in the spotlight it was for its most exceptional title.
45| Persona 4: Golden
Released: December 9th, 2008
Definitive Version: Playstation Vita; Also on: PS2, PSN for PS3
In December of 2008 the then new current generation systems were red hot. Nintendo’s Wii was selling extremely well to the annoyance of a lot of gamers who were displaying self-parody levels of hysteria, their DS system was selling even more, the Playstation Portable was at its high point, and the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were in their stride. Persona 3 was released in the summer 2007, when all the new systems were out and gaining traction. Despite the media and the market being laser focused on the new generation consoles, Persona 3 gained a huge amount of buzz being released on the Playstation 2, the senior citizen of the console market. The game sold well and gained a big cult following. When Persona 4 was announced shortly after, fans were ecstatic. However, people were shocked to hear when the game was announced for the Playstation 2, when every other developer seemingly moved on to one of the major new consoles, or even handhelds, to develop games. Despite the initial bemoaning, in hindsight it was a great move as it gave so many more people the opportunity to play one of the greatest games in the genre.Persona 4 quickly became one of the best regarded JRPGs of all-time, and threw a wrench in the common notion that the subgenre has stagnated.
Persona 4 starts off as you play a teenage boy who is going to live with his father and his cousin for a year. The transition is going to seemingly be rough as the main character, I’ll call him “Senpai” as that is what most people call him (yes I know this is a formality in Japanese), is a city boy who is moving into a small town. The transition occurs smoother than expected as he picks up new friends fast. Before he knows it, he has his own little clique going on. Suddenly a grisly murder occurred as a former TV announcer’s deceased body is publicly displayed for all to see. Murders and disappearances start becoming a common occurrence. Senpai begins to notice that prior to a murder occurring, silhouettes of human figures begin to appear on TV at midnight when it is raining. What is strange is that this happens when the TV is turned off. As the days pass by, eventually the silhouette will turn into a visible person who rambles on and on about strange things. It turns out that these figures are of those who have disappeared. In sheer curiosity, one night Senpai touches the screen on his TV and discovers that his hand goes through it. He tells his friends, but they obviously don’t believe him. When they go into a department store, he and one of his friends are in the TV section. They joke about Senpai putting his hand inside the TV. It’s all fun and games…until he actually does. In a panic Senpai and his friend fall into the TV world. They are greeted by a stuffed bear who claims that strange occurrences have been happening lately. They form a pack with the the bear to solve the mystery for him. The rest of the game follows the Senpai as he makes new friends to save innocent people from being murdered as he tries to find who the real mastermind behind these murders are.
Gameplay wise Persona 4 is very unique. It’s part dungeon crawler and part dating simulator. It seemed to hop on the date sim bandwagon well before the likes of (waifu) Fire Emblem and other titles. This really help set the series apart from other RPGs during its initial release. Basically during the day the player goes to school. Once school is finished, they have the option of either going to a school club, talking to their friends, or going inside the TV. The former two choices can result in building social links. Essentially, the stronger the link, the stronger the friendship. This results in specific perks, mostly that whenever the player fuses as persona of the same arcana, alliance type for the layman, as their friend, the persona gains experience points to level up depending on their strength of their friendship. If the player strengthens their friendship with one of their party members, then that party memebr gains special battle abilities. Some of these are useful such as characters learning new magic skills, but others are extremely important such as the ability to resurrect the player automatically from death. If one chooses to go through the dungeon instead, then the game plays just like any other dungeon crawler. The party walks around an, often randomly generated, dungeon trying to find the next stair case until they get to the dungeon’s boss and save the kidnapped victim. As hinted at before, the party fights enemies with creatures called “persona”, they are literally the demons from the Shin Megami Tensei games, as you can collect up to a certain amount at a time. Players can fuse demons into specific types as they can customize some of their moves to create the perfect persona for any given situation. Boss battles will often require the player to craft the right persona for the job. Some times bosses may change into different forms and what not, and lucky for that the player can switch persona at any given turn.
The battle system is press turn. Essentially this means that one can exploit an enemy’s weakness as if they use an attack they are weak against, one can attack again. For example imagine fighting a fire monster and then proceed to use an ice attack. After the fire monster is hit, it collapses and gives way for another attack. If all enemies are collapsed it gives the option for a gang beat up as all party members rush across the screen to the enemy(ies) to give them an ass whooping.This results in the foe(s) taking significant amount of damage. The press turn system is powerful, but is also a double edged sword. The game’s rules goes for the player’s party as well, as if someone is hit with an attack they are weak against, they fall down and receive another attack from the enemy. Fortunately enemies don’t have a rush down attack like the party does, but that only comforts one so much when an enemy gets three attacks in a row by exploiting your characters weaknesses.
While the game’s general story is pretty good, Persona 4 truly shines in its individual vignettes. Building social links with friends and acquaintances has the player get to know them much more personally and even intimately. The player feels a connection to others, as their stories are often well written and very human. There is story that everyone can relate to, as the stories often touch upon families, dreams, and expectations. Building social links isn’t best just to gain advantages in battle, but to also experience to core point of the modern Persona games. If one doesn’t feel like doing social links for some reason, but still wants to fulfill more traditional, and boring, RPG duties, the game has many sidequests for the player to complete. Admittedly most of these are fetch quests or “find person X”, but they can be a nice distraction at times.
As said before the game’s main story is very good. What really makes it so good is the cast of characters. Even if one doesn’t bother to build up their social links, they really stand out. They are actually arguably some of the best cast of characters in RPGs in general. Each of them has a very unique personality and back story. In a way, it makes the game’s ending very sad as one knows that they will end up wrapping up the story and no longer seeing the characters. It isn’t surprising at all that Atlus managed to milk the cast for four completely unique games.
Presentation wise the game is probably has the most memorable style since Jet Set Radio. The entire game has a very “hip” feeling to it, thanks to its art style, fashion sense, and menus. But what really makes the game stand out is its incredible soundtrack. It’s “groovy” and stylish soundtrack really give tons of character to the game. I say this with no hesitation that it is probably the best soundtrack in any video game ever. Eight years later I still find myself listening to the music on an almost regular basis. It is kind of ironic thinking of how trendy and “cool” the game is being that it doesn’t take place in Shibuya or Akihabara, but a small town.
The game received an enhanced port on the Playstation Vita called Persona 4: Golden. It is the exact same game but with updated graphics, new music tracks, new social links, a new character and dungeon, and a much more fleshed out epilogue. It is comfortably the best version of the game. Being on the Playstation Vita also makes it a portable experience, which despite being developed with a console in mind, fits the game much better.
Persona 4 isn’t perfect however. For starters the game is a bit too grindy and the bosses take far too long to beat. To be fair this may be because I suck, am too good, or both. This may sound weird, but when ever I made these complaints people always said grinding literally isn’t an issue with the game if one hunts down the golden hands. This is something I often didn’t do because I found the golden hands way too difficult to defeat, especially since they would often run away. People were also shocked when I told them what level I was at, and were amazed that I managed to beat the bosses at such a low level. So I’m not sure if grinding and repetitive fights became a problem with me because I was too bad at the game or too good at it.
However, one extremely obnoxious aspect of the game that is universal to all players is the difficulty to actually get a satisfying ending. First is that around two thrids through the game there are a series of actions one can choose, unless they choose the exact correct order, the player will immediately receive the bad ending. What’s worse is that if somehow the player doesn’t realize this, the game gives the option of saving over the previous file. This could result in hours of loss play time, or even having to replaying the game from scratch as the player goes through dozens of hours just to get back to that specific scene once they realized that they made a mistake. On top of that, the true ending of the game is very obtuse to get. The game tricks the player at literally the last minute thinking everything is finished and wrapped up. It turns out that if the player goes to the major department store at literally the last second before heading home, they will meet up with their friends and end up fighting the true final boss. This is something I would have never figured out by myself if it wasn’t for someone telling me, especially since you can go to the department store beforehand and nothing happens. The plot, while interesting, is kind of ruined by how stupid the concept of the Midnight Channel is. How the fuck do such few people notice that their TV will turn on mysteriously at midnight showing crazy people on screen. Midnight isn’t even that late! I refuse to believe if something like this really happened that it wouldn’t be all over world news the next morning. The game is also a dozen hours or so too long for its own good, but again this could be because I had under leveled characters while playing through it.
With the fifth entry finally in sights of being released, I feel that there is no better time to reflect on Persona 4. In development for less than two years, Atlus managed to create one of the most classic RPGs ever made. The game is almost ten years old and despite that still has a fanbase that is hungry for more as they purchased games in the dungeon crawling, fighting, and music genres due to the characters starring in them. It isn’t surprising as the world of Persona 4 is one of the most engaging around. Here’s hoping that Persona 5 will capture the same magic that this title did.
44| Rolling Thunder 2
Released: 1991 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: MD, Virtual Console for Wii
Before Street Fighter II stepped on the scene, arcades were dominated by two genres: beat-em-ups and run-and-guns. Games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sunset Riders dominated arcades. Whether it be at Chuck E Cheese or a Mom n’ Pop establishment, any arcade would have rows and rows of cabinets of games in these genres. Due to the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive still being relatively new or not even released during the heyday of these genres, the only option most had to play a reasonable version of these games was at an arcade. In today’s world, these games are either widely available to play or are lost in time, depending on your stance on emulation for abandonware. While there are a lot of quality series in the run-and-gun genre such as Gunstar Heroes, Contra, and Metal Slug, none of them are quite as enjoyable to me as Rolling Thunder.
In this write-up I will be talking about Rolling Thunder 2. The easiest way to explain the Rolling Thunder games is that they are typical run-and-gun games, but with dash of Time Crisis. These may seem like polar opposites, but the game achieves this blend very well. Essentially the player can choose between two characters, with the ability of a second player to tag along if they want to. The player walks around the screen, but can only progress by walking to the right. Soon enemies and multiple platforms appear. Enemies obviously need to be shot at, otherwise they shoot at the player. The player can have the character hop up or down on different platforms. No matter which floor the protagonist is located on there will be boxes and similar items about. The player can move their character in front of these objects, where they can duck and cover to dodge enemy bullets. When the wave of bullets come to a brief halt, the protagonist can stand up and fire bullets at the enemy killing them. It takes the duck and cover aspect of Time Crisis and uses it very well. The difference is that this game is 2D and came along years earlier. The game also has a set amount of bullets the player can use per gun. When a weapon is out of bullets, the gun fires seldomly and bullets move across the screen very slowly. Fortunately there are doors to enter that either give the characters more bullets, more powerful ammunition, or even a different weapon. There is also a timer that counts down at each level. If the level isn’t cleared by the end of the timer then the stage is automatically failed.
What makes the game interesting besides its duck and cover mechanics, is that it is very vertically orientated. As said before, there are multiple platforms to hop on to. Namco took note of this, and had the level design take advantage of this. Not only do levels often require the player to switch platforms more often, but there are levels that are designed entirely to be scaled vertically top to bottom as some type of maze. This is something very rarely seen in these types of games, even today.
The presentation of the game is a bit disappointing. It comes of in trying to be hip and smooth ’70s spy thriller film, but falls short of it. The beginning of the game features some pretty cool music and character art that really sets the tone of the game. Unfortunately, this seems to get lost at many points of the game with music awkwardly switching to more traditional synthy game music of that era. You can still technically hear the hip and smooth ’70s soundtrack in the music somewhere, but it’s been considerably buried. The title still does a reasonable job in establishing a tone, but I feel that if the developers put in a little more effort into into the aesthetics of the game, it could have been something really special.
Another flaw with the game is its difficulty. I will admit I don’t play this game with a partner, but in single player mode the game is just far too difficult. It isn’t Metal Slug per say, but it is still a bit tough at times, especially in certain stages. To be more specific, it isn’t really the stages themselves that are difficult, but more so certain parts of their stages. The game for example relies on a duck and cover system, but sometimes the player find themselves juggling to take out enemies on more than one front. This makes things very difficult as the game gives each character two hits before they die. To be fair, each character has two or three lives, but that only goes so far when you are stuck at a certain group of enemies.
The game also has a story…and there isn’t much to say about it. Basically, satellites from countries around the world are being destroyed. The lack of information puts the planet into chaos. It turns out that the once defeated terrorist group Gelda has regrouped itself and is off to try and take over the world. It is decided that two agents, Albatross and Leila, will be sent to save the day. It is pretty forgettable, which is to par with games of this era.
Rolling Thunder 2 may not be perfect, but it is an arcade classic that is one of the go to games to play when bored and looking for a bite sized playthrough. The mechanics are fun, unique, and challenging. While run-and-guns started to become focused on being as chaotic and frantic as possible, Rolling Thunder always took the more calm and strategic approach. That alone makes it stand out from the pack. Unfortunately, these games never really got their due. While the series was moderately successful in North America, it never gained the popularity that Contra and Metal Slug had, nor the cult status that Gunstar Heroes did. This has led Namco to be very apathetic toward this series, proven that the only title in it available for modern home use is the second entry on the Wii’s Virtual Console. And it isn’t even the arcade version, but the Sega Mega Drive one. Though to be fair, it is a pretty good port and an okay substitute. But being that re-releasing old titles is so common these days and cost very little, there is no excuse not to be able to play the definitive version of any of these games on a modern platform.
43| The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (First Chapter & Second Chapter)
Released: March 29th, 2011
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PSP, PSN for PSP and Vita
As stated a few entries ago, the success of Final Fantasy VII opened up the floodgates of JRPGs to be released in western territories. In just a couple years virtually every noteworthy JRPG series received a Western release for their main entries. Even extremely niche and Japanese titles such as the Shin Megami Tensei series began to see frequent releases. There was just one hold out series…well really company in general. Unfortunately, that company was Falcom. One of the oldest, if not the oldest, Japanese game studios that primarily produces role playing games, their RPG origins date back all the way to the early ’80s, and had their first breakout hit with 1984’s “Dragon Slayer.” That’s how old this development studio is, that when they started the name for a game called “Dragon Slayer” wasn’t even trademarked yet. Anyway, the studio began to make a name for itself, with successful titles such as Xanadu and Popful Mail. But their most well known series by far was the Ys series. Despite it releasing on the ill-fated Turbo-Grafx CD, the game gained a lot of buzz for its cutting edge CD features such as cutscenes and an arranged soundtrack.
Unfortunately for Falcom, being limited by their platform of choice was always huge hurdle. While Final Fantasy VII opened up the floodgates for Japanese developers to release their games in the west, that was particularly only for consoles and handhelds. Falcom was first and foremost a PC developer. While Squaresoft, Enix, Atlus, and Namco focused on the Playstation consoles and Nintendo handhelds, Falcom stuck with Windows PCs. This made many diehard JRPG fans frustrated, as they saw Falcom as the “white whale” of Japanese role playing game developers. They made many quality games, but they weren’t released. There were occasional tidbits such as the terrible Ys VI port, which is also one of the worst games in the series, for the Playstation 2, but it wasn’t enough. What’s more is that during that time Falcom apparently really ramped up their ambition with their other well known franchise, The Legend of Heroes series, as the latest entry, Trails in the Sky, was highly praised. Unfortunately, PC gaming was declining in the west, and Japanese games in general on the PC was unheard of. Due to this, games like Trails in the Sky, Xanadu Next, and Ys: Origin never were released in the west despite being some of the best games in their genre. Well Xanadu Next did receive an NGage port…but that was for the NGage…
Luckily, during the 2000s many small western publishers like XSeed, Ignition Entertainment, and Aksys began releasing lesser known Japanese titles. Seeing that Falcom began to focus on PSP releases for their games, XSeed took initiative and contracted Falcom to release some of their games, specifically all three Trails in the Sky games. JRPG fans everywhere rejoiced. Things looked optimistic at first, as the first game was coming along nicely. Then something rather unfortunate happened. It turned out that the first chapter in the series didn’t sell well. On top of that, the sequel required the first game to be completed, as it literally continues the story the following morning after the events of the first game. So XSeed was put in a situation where they promised to release the next game in the series, which requires people to play the first game, which sold badly. What could be worse than that? That the games had a crazy amount of text to translate, with the second chapter in the series being by far the most text heavy and ambitious.
XSeed didn’t just choose to localize any game, they chose to localize the most ambitious game a publisher could choose. Seeing that the PSP was declining, like any reasonable company, XSeed decided to abandon the project. Fortunately, the company decided to release the PC version on a whim. Trails in the Sky: First Chapter was very successful on the PC, even selling significantly more than its PSP counterpart. Due to this, Falcom decided to begin localization on the second chapter of the game series. This resulted in a nightmare of a development process that was so bad that it led to a near suicide. The workload was unbearable for almost everyone involved. Despite this, the fanbase would not stop bitching about XSeed being lazy as shit for not releasing the rest of the following games. In a miracle, the game actually released on both PC and PSN for Playstation Vita and even PSP owners. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best selling game out there, but XSeed never said the sales were bad per say.
While the story of the localization of these games is fascinating, what of the actual games themselves? After all, Magic Knight Rayearth for the Sega Saturn had a very infamous localization story as well, but most say that the story behind the game was more interesting than the game itself, which many said was fairly dull in comparison. Trails in the Sky doesn’t fit this bill, as it is a very quality title that was well worth the time and effort XSeed put into it. It is easily one of the best JRPGs western shores have received in quite some time.
To spare confusion, Trails in the Sky is really one game split up in two. There is the first game titled “The Legend of Heroes — Trails in the Sky: First Chapter” and the second game titled “The Legend of Heroes — Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter.” While the games were technically released separately, the first game’s story doesn’t conclude at the end and continues on in the second game. On top of that the character’s choices and experience transfers over to the second game. In fact, going from the first chapter to the second chapter is no different than switching from disc one to disc two in a large console RPG. Due to this, I will be reviewing the game as a whole, as a combination of playing the first chapter and the second chapter.
Trails in the Sky is the quintessential JRPG. It features a group of teenagers who venture out and explore the world as they meet a cast of colorful characters. Eventually they stumble on an evil plot and decide to save the world. Throughout the game, the player picks up a variety of party members that can be used in battle. In addition to the main quest, there are a variety of side quests one can pick up at the local guild. The game uses a turn based battle system, but it also uses a grid on the battle map that the characters can move around in. It also has various minigames, particularly fishing. In other words, it is the definition of a typical JRPG. It doesn’t even try to do anything unique or noteworthy.
What makes the game so praised, is not due to its innovation, but more so how well it executes its story, design, and mechanics. Sure, the game is filled with tropes, however they are done very well. Part of this is due to the setting. The world Trails in the Sky takes place in is unique enough to differentiate itself from the medieval settings these types of games typically have, but is tame enough to be relatable to the player. It isn’t world that is as imaginative as say Final Fantasy VII or as immersive as say Persona 4, but it gets the job done. The world is an interesting mix of knights and dragons, steampunk industrialization, and magic and the supernatural. It manages to throw a bone to appease most types of fantasy nerds and ends up succeeding.
But the real formula to the game’s success is the writing. I say this with no hesitation that The Legend of Heroes — Trails in the Sky has the best writing I’ve encountered in a game. Each character from as important as the main protagonists to as small as a maid NPC cleaning a house is filled with personality. Playing the game, one can see part of the reason the English release took so long. XSeed didn’t half ass the localization process, that went all out. It seems that each line of text tells a character’s story and reveals their personality. This does wonders for the main cast as each character feels wildly unique and memorable. The game features an assemble of playable characters and each of them have as much depth and personality to them as the most memorable character in your average renowned RPG. Meanwhile, the brightest stars of the bunch lead to some very hilarious lines to which I found myself literally laughing out a loud toward their quirks. Again, this just isn’t limited to the main characters, every line in the game has a significant amount of thought put into it. Even when talking with two or three line NPCs, they almost always say something important that reveals something about themselves and the general community.Things such as “their parents are out paying respects to those that fell during the war” or “my brother is in a gang and is causing trouble”, or something similar.
Presentation wise the game does great. The graphics initially may seem a bit dated, but seeing them in 1080p on a PC really makes them shine. The pre-rendered 2D sprites add a lot of character to the game, and mesh very well with the fully 3D backgrounds. Personally I wouldn’t have the graphics any other way. On top of that the game features some of the best music gaming has to offer. Falcom is one of the very few gaming studios that still has an in-house music team, and it really shows. There is no voice acting in the game, but personally I prefer it this way. Playing the title is much like reading a book in many ways, and I feel that the characters are much more alive when I imagine their voice and tone in my head than actually hearing it myself.
The battle system is a bit dated by today’s standards, but still gets the job done. The system features the usual attack, skill, magic, and item choices. Though, unlike most of the game, it does have some unique features. Most notably is that it has a system that displays the order of which character will attack next, this includes both the party and the enemies. Occasionally some stat bonuses will be given out during specific turns, such as critical attacks and healing. This adds a layer of strategy to the game, as some party members will be better doing weaker and longer attacks in order to bump the stat advantage off of the enemies turn and into one of the party members. It is actually very innovative and can make for some real tense moments. On top of that, each character has a super move they can unlock if they achieve a certain amount of “CP” (craft point). When a certain amount of CP is achieved the player can select the party member’s super move and perform it at any time. Ideally these moves are best saved for when a critical attack bonus appears to be able to dish out the maximum amount of damage possible.
Trails in the Sky is a great game, unfortunately it has one severe flaw that prevents it from being amongst the top of the top. That flaw is the pacing. The purpose of the game’s pacing is for it to be very slow and gradual so that the player feels that they are in an adventure. This makes the settings and locations stand out more, as well as clearing areas all the more rewarding. When you journey from being a simple student in training to saving the world from ancient evil, you actually feel that getting to that point is justified due to all the shit you had to go through. When combining the two chapters the game is very long. By the time the credits roll comfortably over one hundred hours would have passed. Now during many of these hours are some of the best moments in gaming I’ve ever had. Some incredible plot twists, engaging battles, and whimsical characters. On the other hand, there are certain parts in the game, especially in the second chapter, that just drag on and on. In fact, I’d say that they were very tedious. By the time you have undergone the story for sixty hours, the formula of walking in a town, discovering a problem, doing various side quests to level up, and then tackling on the main quest, gets pretty damn old. Luckily the latter third of the game abandons this formula, which results in gaming bliss, but that doesn’t stop some points of the game, particularly the midpoint, from being very boring.
It just isn’t the progression, even exciting moments such as the boss battles can be a chore. Some bosses take way longer to beat than they should. One boss battle I clocked at close to twenty five minutes before my party stood victorious. Then again, this may be Persona 4: Golden syndrome, as when I commented on my party’s level during these boss fights people were impressed that I managed to get so far being so underleveled. That said, this gives no excuse for the general pacing as most of the time is eaten up by walking around and exploring rather than fighting enemies. The game certainly has its highs and lows, but luckily it isn’t quite as extreme as something like say Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.
XSeed managed to strike a tomb of treasures when they struck the deal with Falcom, as they now have many titles under their belt that have achieved five figure sales. Unfortunately, the tomb turned out to be haunted as well as the effort to release some of the titles were plagued with difficulties. With the latest Trails games released/being released in the west, and XSeed even localizing the third and final game in the Trails in the Sky story, though its more of an additional chapter than a continuation of the story, all seems well with the series. I do find it a bit ironic though, as the company couldn’t release its games in the west due to being so focused on the PC market in Japan while JRPGs dominated handhelds in the west, and now that Falcom has transitioned to handhelds, the western market is beginning to favor their JRPGs more on PC than on handhelds. This largely due to a huge resurgence of PC gaming in North America and Western Europe. It’s quite amusing and sad, but hopefully Falcom takes cue from other developers and start releasing their games on as many platforms as possible. Trails in the Sky was the white whale series for localizers, and one was crazy enough to go after it. The journey to catch the series was perilous, but in the end was well worth it.
42| Lords of Thunder
Released: 1993 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: PC Engine; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii, Mega CD
Despite the PC Engine’s strength in its native country of Japan, it was struggling everywhere else. It turns out that a Japanese competing console did manage to shake up Nintendo’s iron grip on the North American market, but it wasn’t NEC, but SEGA. In a last ditch effort, Hudson heavily pushed the game “Lords of Thunder” to the North America market in an effort to revitalize their Turbo Grafx CD platform. The game wasn’t anything special at a glance, it was your standard horizontal shoot-em-up. What made it stand out was the godly CD quality soundtrack and tight game design. While the game garnered a lot of buzz amongst the hardcore market, it was relatively unknown to the mass market. As the Turbografx faded in to obscurity, Lords of Thunder is forever known as not only one of its finest and defining titles for the platform, but also of the entire generation.
Let’s get this out of the way. The music in the game is fucking incredible. Despite being made in the ’90s, the game has an ’80s hair metal (power metal more specifically) soundtrack. As a metal head myself, I often cringe when games use metal soundtracks, as it almost always leads to disastrous results. I’m sure many hip-hop fans can relate. But with Lords of Thunder the music is actually legitimately good. If one of my friends were to play this music to me, I would have praised it and never would have imagined that it would belong to a video game.Stereotypically, this type of music often involves vocalists singing about high fantasy themed heroes, gods, and battlefields. It turns out that this is the entire theme of Lords of Thunder, hence the music fits in perfectly.
Luckily, Lords of Thunder is not a Sunsoft game, so it has the gameplay to match its quality music. The game begins with some light RPG elements. The player can choose between four different types of “armor”. This includes earth, wind, fire, and water. Each piece of armor has different types of attacks and advantages. All you need to know is that the water armor is by far the best one, as it focuses on shooting projectile beams and waves in both in front and behind the player. After that there is a shop screen where one can purchase health, bomb attacks, and various upgrades. When that is finished there is a stage selection screen that the player can chose to go to each stage in any order.
The objective of the game is simple, defeat all stages on the screen selection. The game involves controlling a “lord” that wears powerful armor that fire projectiles at enemies. The enemies obviously fire back in great quantities. Occasionally power up items will appear which, as one could guess, powerup the character’s weapon. Each weapon has three different levels to powerup to which usually results in the protagonist’s projectiles becoming bigger, faster, and stronger. The player scrolls across to the right side of the screen defeating as many enemies as possible to rack up the highest score. There is more benefit to this than the usual dick measuring contest at the high score screen. The more enemies one kills, the more money one gets, which can be used to buy valuable items from the shop. At the end of each stage is a “Dark General”, who is basically also a lord who acts as the final boss of each level. Defeat the Dark General and complete the level.
As one can see, the game isn’t that unique. Again, what makes the game stand out is that it is so good. The protagonist feels very good to control, the enemy placement is seemingly perfect, and the speed of the game is fast enough to be intense, but not reasonable enough to be draining. The bosses earn their title and are very intense to play and are very ambitious in general. In short, the game is just an all around great package.
Of course, Lords of Thunder isn’t perfect. The main gripe I have about the game is that it is far too difficult for its own good. I have no problem beating a stage or two, but I find it very difficult to tackle three or more stages in one sitting. Essentially, if one dies enough times, they then have to restart all the way back to the beginning. Unlike most shoot-em-ups there is not even a password system in place. If you fail at the game, you don’t get another chance, you go all the way back. While there is some admiration to the “git gud” philosophy of this, it is a bit overwhelming. While diehard shoot-em-up fans won’t be bothered by this, it will certainly affect the less hardcore players. That said, the difficulty isn’t to the point of being game breaking like say in the infamous Mortal Kombat Advance.
Lords of Thunder was the PC Engine’s last big push. It was the last major exclusive game on the platform to be heavily featured on major magazines and storefronts. Unfortunately, despite the game’s quality, it was in the wrong genre and the wrong lifespan of the generation. 1993 was the year of Star Fox, Mortal Kombat II, Street Fighter II Turbo, NBA Jam, and Shinobi III. Not only did the game have a tough hill to climb by being in a niche genre on a niche console, but it was also fighting off the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis when they were at their very strongest. Due to the growing popularity of emulation (both legal and illegal), the game has gotten a second look. Even major websites have revisited the game and given it a huge amount of praise. It is said to be one of the best shoot-em-ups ever made by the genre enthusiasts, and they may be right.
41| Team Fortress 2
Released: October 10th, 2007
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: 360, PS3
It is kind of surreal that after all of these years, Team Fortress 2 is still one of the most popular multi-player first person shooters. Releasing almost ten years ago, the game was extremely unique at the time for more ways than one. Immediately what stood out was its cartoony art style. When the seventh gaming generation was just getting started, games were often dark and grimy shooters with brown and beige pallets. In contrast, Team Fortress 2 was very colorful and cartoony, which made it a beautiful sight for weary eyes. What’s more is that the game had specific character classes, this was uncommon at a time when most games simply had the player choose any weapon they want at the beginning of the game, and even pick up dropped weapons while running around maps. Finally, Team Fortress 2 was a team based game, it revolved around each player doing their part in order to complete objectives such as capturing control points or capturing flags intelligence. The game has garner a huge following and is one of the most popular first person shooters of all-time.
As said before, Team Fortress 2 revolves around players selecting what specific character class they want as they work with their team in order to complete objectives. Originally, these objectives were limited to capturing control points and intelligence, but over the years Team Fortress 2 has added more modes to play. The most notable and innovative was payload mode in which players have to move an armed cart by walking up to it as they “push” it to the enemy’s base before the timer runs out. Admittedly it seemed dumb when first introduced but over-time it has become the staple mode of the game. The maps in the game are all specifically designed for their modes. Intelligence base maps tend to be very small, but maze-like. Control Point maps are moderately sized, but are filled with busy areas where players fight to claim each control point. Payload maps tend to not be too wide, but compensate for this by being very long, with various hidden paths to go through. Most of the maps are very memorable and well designed as as Valve definitely went for the quality over quantity approach. There are very few official maps in the game that I wouldn’t describe as “great.”
The classes are arguably the most defining part of Team Fortress 2. There are nine classes total in the game. These include: Scout, Spy, Heavy, Demoman, Soldier, Engineer, Pyro, Sniper, and Medic. Each class has defining traits and are crucial to complete any objective. The Scout scouts ahead the area and is able to cover a lot of ground fast. The Spy sneaks around as they can even dress like the enemy and kill critical opponents. The Heavy is a slow but powerful juggernaut who can annihilate enemies with his gatling gun. The Demoman can plant bombs and shoots grenades that bounce around the area, as he is great for taking out groups of enemies quickly. The Soldier is an all around balanced character who can handle multiple situations. The Engineer builds teleporting stations, health centers, and turrets. The Pyro is great for taking out enemies in close range as well as having them take damage over time. The Sniper kills enemies from afar. While the Medic heals other players. Each character has a specific job that they do and if a team is missing even one of them then the entire game leans toward the opposite teams favor.
In terms of presentation, Team Fortress 2 is a bit on simple side, but is still solid. All the characters have a unique personality to them that draws the player in. In fact there was time period of the game where Valve created short Team Fortress 2 films that were highly entertaining. The world of Team Fortress 2 is a bit of a mystery as Valve often leaves fans in the dark, however tidbits and winks often come across from time to time.The entire game is essentially that of a Saturday morning cartoon that takes place in the 1940s. However, it is clearly made for adults due to the violence, but despite heads rolling around and bodies exploding it never feels too unnatural or off putting. The game also has a nice 1960s esque spy film soundtrack that fits everything perfectly.
I feel that I can’t talk about Team Fortress 2 without talking about its move toward micro transactions and free to play. The game has changed so much since launch, that the only other game that comes to mind that has undergone so many radical changes without an expansion pack is possibly Splatoon. Not only has there been the addition of new maps and modes, but the game has added tons of weapons and costumes for players to wear. The most infamous of these are the hats. It may seem stupid at first glance to have a game economy revolve around costume changes for characters in a first person shooter, and it is, but nevertheless the community for the game can’t get enough of them. And to me this is the biggest negative aspect of the game. Prior to Team Fortress 2 moving free to play and having all of the cosmetics the game was highly balanced and very crafted. All the characters looked distinct so you would know exactly who is who and how to measure the threat effectively. Now that the game is filled with tons of weapons and obscure costume choices the entire game has changed for the worst. It is still a highly enjoyable title, it is just that Valve compromised competitive play for the booming in-game market.
Nearly a decade after release, Team Fortress 2 is still one of the hottest game titles around. The only team based shooter in the same vein that is getting more attention than it currently is, is one that is essentially a clone of the game and advertises itself as a “Team Fortress 2 alternative”. The game may not be as popular as its heydays, but it still one of Valve’s cash cows. I may not prefer what the game has become exactly, but either way it is still a fantastic title.
Released: November 30th, 1994
Available On: Mega CD
You never know what obscure game could be worth big bucks in the future. Currently, if you want to play Snatcher in any form of the English language, you will have drop at minimum $250, just for essentially the disc. It is one of the most expensive video games to buy, and is only surpassed by an extremely small list of games. The reason why the game is such a collector’s item isn’t just because it is rare or that it is good, but because it was developed by none other than Hideo Kojima.Before he became the rockstar game developer he is today, he primarily made Japanese style adventure games. It was a genre that perfectly fit Kojima’s cinematic style. Despite his adventure game titles being big hits in Japan, in the West they were not even released. This was primarily due to the fact that they were developed for hardware that wasn’t common in the West. However, once his sleeper hit Snatcher was released on the Mega CD in Japan, Konami took the opportunity to release the game the game in North America.
The plot of Snatcher is Blade Runner meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Basically in a dystopian future intelligence cyborgs begin snatching human bodies and posing as them. This clearly being a problem detective Gillian Seed, who is an amnesiac, is brought on the case. The premise of the game is so similar Blade Runner, that I would expect Warner Brothers to sue Konami if the game had been more successful.
Snatcher is just like any other Japanese style adventure game. Rather than being point and click like Western style adventure games, the navigation in the game’s all take place in an ever present menu. While the player can technically “move” around the screen, it is not done by having a character move bit by bit as one drags clicks a cursor around, but rather that the screen changes angles or entire scenes. There aren’t many puzzles in the game, as most of the game progresses by talking to the correct individuals. These things are done to keep the game as cinematic as possible. The screen always has the cinematography of a feature film, while the dialogue almost always relates to the plot. People often state that Metal Gear Solid games feel more like watching a movie than playing a game at times, but Snatcher take things to a whole different level. In fact, almost all the interaction the player has is pressing the confirm button to continue the dialogue.
Snatcher does differ gameplay wise from other Japanese adventure games in some key areas though. The first is that the game contains light gun segments. The game can be used with a light gun in which parts of the game turn into a Lethal Enforces type shooting gallery. There are puzzles too, but while there aren’t too many puzzles in the game, the ones that do exist often break the fourth wall. For example, there is a part of the game that requires the player to physically go to their local library (now use a device with internet) and look at a periodic table to solve a hidden code.These are brilliant moments in the game, but unfortunately they do not happen nearly enough.
Being honest, the gameplay isn’t much to write home about. It isn’t so much that the game play is bad, but more so that it is very thin. One could say that there is hardly any gameplay at all. Sure games like 999 aren’t the most “gamey” games out there, but at least they regularly have intricate puzzles, as one could argue that they are half visual novels and half puzzle games. To be fair, it seemed that Snatcher was going for trying to be half visual novel and half shooting gallery, but it didn’t bother as much with the latter as it should have.
What really sells Snatcher is its story and world. Its story is the usual twist and turn Hollywood affair one could expect from Kojima. The world is also fantastic. It is bright,blue, and neon. It feels like anime version of Blade Runner. Sure it is technically a rip off, but it is welcome as it presents the premise in a totally new way. This is a game that came out in the golden age of sci-fi anime and it really shows. Despite the world clearly being run down, it still looks vibrant and beautiful. Players taking screencaps of the game aren’t uncommon.
It just isn’t the visuals that are great though, the music also does a great job in setting up the atmosphere. It is the perfect blend of chip tunes and grunge synths that are tailored toward a Sci-Fi Spy Thriller Hollywood experience.It’s a soundtrack that sounds by far the best on the Mega Drive. There are other versions of the game that do exist, even for higher end consoles, but they don’t match the drummy bass feel of Sega’s sound chip. The game comfortably sits on the top of the premiere Mega Drive soundtracks.
I feel that I can’t leave out that the game had voice acting. Now that wasn’t that uncommon at the time as CD based add-ons had been available for years. What made Snatcher stand out is that the voice acting was actually not that bad. Keep in mind that this was at a time that if Working Designs wasn’t localizing the game, more often than not it would sound like this. While it may be average at best today, upon release Snatcher’s voice acting was akin to hearing harp music.
Overall, Snatcher is a game where its whole is better than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t have the most engaging story, doesn’t have the deepest gameplay, the world isn’t the most memorable, and the music, while great, isn’t the best gaming has to offer. What makes the game is how all these things connect to create a highly enjoyable experience. There is a certain feeling one gets from playing a Hideo Kojima game, the same way one feels a certain way when watching a Quentin Tarantino film. They both have a specific style and tone that noone else can replicate. If you’re a Kojima fan then you owe it to yourself to play this game. Just simply empty $250 from your piggy bank!
39| Fire Emblem Awakening
Released: February 04th, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
For the longest time, Fire Emblem joined the ranks of Advanced Wars and Mother as one of Nintendo’s most underappreciated franchises. The series were solid strategy RPGs that never seemed to have found much love outside of Japan. And even there the series didn’t perform too stellar. Seeing the writing on the wall, Nintendo decided to give Intelligent Systems one more chance with the franchise. They gave them an ultimatum, either the next entry sells well and the franchise continues or it doesn’t meet expectations and dies. Originally planned to be a new take in the series with a science fiction tone and the focus of a Mars colony, Intelligent Systems later decided to go the other way with it. Instead of breaking new grounds, the next Fire Emblem would be just like the previous ones with only one real big difference. That difference is that it would be extremely well polished. The game was released and not only did it meet expectations, it soared passed them and single handedly made Fire Emblem a noteworthy franchise for the western marketplace.
Fire Emblem Awakening is your typical Japanese strategy RPG. You move units in a grid, each with their own specific moves, weapons, and classes. Each time a unit beats an enemy they get experience points to level up and possibly learn new skills or equip better weapons. The objective of the game usually boils down to either wiping out all enemies on screen or taking out the commander. In truth it is very simple, but nevertheless is still very addicting.What makes Fire Emblem standout from other games is the fact that when a unit dies in battle…they die. You will never be able to use a comrade again if they fall in combat. That was at least the case for the longest time in the series. Fire Emblem Awakening however adds two modes to the game “Classic” and “Casual”. Classic mode upholds this tradition, while casual mode discards it. I can see why Intelligent Systems would do this. Losing your characters in battle adds a lot more challenge in the game and makes some stages take an absurdly long time if you don’t want to lose anyone. However, it is that challenge that truly defines the series, and without that penalty it makes the game a bit too easy.
Being completely honest, I stretched the truth a bit when saying that Fire Emblem Awakening only had one big difference from the previous games. Over the years, dating simulators have become quite popular in Japan. The genre really began to seep into the RPG genre with the hit title Persona 3. Fire Emblem Awakening takes cues from this and takes things even further relationship wise. During the game the two protagonists can marry characters of the opposite sex and thus procreate children. These children then become soldiers that can be used on unit. It is very exciting and entertaining mixing and matching characters to see just what kind of child will come out of the gene pool. This also contributes a lot to replayablity as the player can “fuse” together a different character each game.
Presentation wise the game is great. It is a very high budget given the genre it is in. The game features 3D cel-shaded cutscenes that look fantastic and tell the story exceptionally well. In-game, the game jumps between 2D sprites on top of 3D backgrounds for the field view, and fully 3D models for the combat view. This all works very well, especially with the Nintendo 3DS’s 3D effect. The only thing that is really bothersome is that the characters don’t have feet. It is something that is really distracting during the first few initial playthroughs.
The game also has quite the bombastic soundtrack. It fits the medieval tone of the game very well, yet strangely gives the game its own unique flavor. It isn’t the most memorable soundtrack, and it isn’t something you will be listening to on YouTube while engaging your hobbies, but it is very good. Thinking of it, this is surprisingly a bit Un-Nintendo, as the company tends to be very conservative in certain aspects of their games. One aspect is that games often have midi (or at least midi-like) soundtracks. While this works well in some games, it doesn’t so much in others. So it is good that Nintendo made the right call with this title.
Obviously, there still is the story to talk about, but really there isn’t much to say about it. The plot of the game revolves around a royal group discovering a young man with amnesia. Seeing that he is in a bit of delirious state, they transport him to safety. The group discovers that the young man is an exceptional fighter, so much so that they ask him to join their army. The young man agrees. I don’t want to go too much into spoiler territory, but let’s just say the game involves an empire trying to take over the world and use an ancient evil to do so. Being honest, it is all very clichè, which is by far the biggest problem with the plot. That said the story is still enjoyable, and it really is more about the characters you meet than the overall arching plot.
With Fire Emblem Awakening, Nintendo’s goal was to have the series stay alive. Instead the series began thrive with six figure sales. What was once a franchise so niche people were concerned that the latest entries wouldn’t even come Stateside, is now one that charts on the NPD list. Fire Emblem Awakening was a game that came out at the right place on the right time. It came out right as the Nintendo 3DS’s steam was slowing down after the holidays and was in a genre that people were hungry for. Nintendo’s gamble with the franchise paid off, and hopefully that paves the way for the company to take more risks with their other franchises.
38| Momotarou Katsugeki
Released: September 21st, 1990
Available On: PC Engine
Throughout this list, there have been a fair share of Japan only games. Most of these games have been on the NEC’s PC Engine. As explained before this is primarily due to the fact that the PC Engine was very successful in its homeland of Japan, but struggled to find success elsewhere. Due to this, most of its games didn’t leave Japanese shores. Out of all the games on the PC Engine, I feel that the one that sticks out to me the most is Momotarou Katsugeki. This is more than likely because it perfectly embodies what the PC Engine was.
Released in 1990, the game is an action/platformer hybrid. In many ways it works like most games of its era as the player walks around the screen as they hop over platforms and take out enemies. The main character is a ninja who damages enemies by using his projectile flame attacks from his trusty sword. It sounds simplistic, and to be honest it is, but that is sort of its charm. There are primarily two reasons to as of why the game manages to stand out from similar games of its era.
The first reason is the game’s presentation. It has a Saturday morning cartoon feel to it, however there is a bit of twist. It is very Japanese complete with cute oni, a feudal era theme, and various cultural gags such as tiny angels with equally tiny penises. The game’s art style does very well to complement this. The PC Engine struggled in making detailed sprites with precise pixels, however, it did well in making base colored sprites. As a result of Momotarou Katsugeki taking in the classic cartoony PC Engine art style, it looks very much like a cartoon. This is artstyle does well to complement the various bosses and enemies that take up a significant amount of screen space. Not much room for pixelation when most of the pixels are a solid color. This results in some pretty looking moving pictures across the screen. That said, it isn’t just the graphics, as even the music is very Japanese . You can just imagine the 1980s style Japanese child anime tropes coming to life just by listening to the soundtrack. Unfortunately that is about as standout as the music gets, as it is average at best. Though there are a few standout tracks.
The second reason why the game differs from its peers, is the game design. Most games of the era revolved around the player walking to the right side of the screen until they get to the end of the level. While this is true much of the time with Momotarou Katsugeki, it isn’t always the case. There are many parts in the game that has the player moving up, down, left, right and which ever way the level takes you. It seems that as soon as the player becomes bored traveling primarily one direction, the game switches things up. Luckily it does more than just merely changing the direction the player is traveling in. Some levels mix things up by having ice stages that add friction to the ground floor, others will have new enemies throw objects from above while the player tries to scale a mountain, etc. Considering that the game came out at a time when Super Mario Bros. 3 was the gold standard in its general genre, it was way ahead of its time.
In reality Momotarou Katsugeki wasn’t really a revolutionary game. It merely expanded and refined what 8-bit games had been doing for years. To me, that is what the PC Engine symbolizes. While Nintendo’s and Sega’s consoles of the era had titles that were focused on pushing gaming from a presentation based perspective or an arcade purity one, the PC Engine took a different route. Sure it didn’t specialize in beat-em-ups, fighting games, role playing games, or action-adventure titles. But what it did specialize in was titles that people enjoyed playing during the 8-bit era. The platform primarily focused on shoot-em-ups, action platformers, and action games. Due to this, I always saw the PC Engine as the “true” Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Because looking at its library, that is what it was. Simply the classic style NES games, just with better graphics, bigger sprites, and tighter gameplay.
37| Super Mario 3D Land
Released: November 13th, 2011
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Super Mario 3D Land is the best Mario game I have ever played. I realize that this isn’t a popular opinion, as most prefer Super Mario 3D World. To many that was a game that took the good things about Super Mario 3D Land, but expanded upon it. While I agree with that to an extent, I still feel that Super Mario 3D Land is the better game. Solely due to the fact that I feel that the level design is much tighter as, as well as the stages being much more inviting to come back to.
The best way to explain Super Mario 3D Land is that it is the most accurate interpretation of the traditional 2D Mario games in a three dimensional space. While Super Mario 64 was a great game, it wasn’t really that “Marioy”. For starters, rather than following a set path with a clear end, for the most part Super Mario 64 was open ended with multiple ways to complete each stage. While the level design was great, going through them focused a little too much on the running aspect of platformers than the jumping aspect. Being that Nintendo likes to reinvent the wheel with many of their franchises, they made sure that Mario is no exception. Every debut 3D console Mario changes the formula significantly. Super Mario 64 practically invented the genre. Super Mario Sunshine added a unique water gimmick. Super Mario Galaxy rewrote 3D level design and heavily incorporated gravity in the mix. People were obviously speculating of what Nintendo would do for their next console based Mario game. It turns out that Nintendo would surprise fans twice over. The first thing is that the next big Mario game wouldn’t be on the big screen, but on the small one. It would be exclusive to Nintendo’s, then new, handheld the Nintendo 3DS. The second is that it is a game that reinvented the wheel by taking the game back to its roots.
While the game is certainly three dimensional both in gameplay and in visual effects, it heavily emulates the traditional 2D Mario gameplay. Each level clearly has a set path the player has to follow. While the levels certainly aren’t as linear as say Crash Bandicoot, they certainly aren’t open ended. The player follows a set path as they hop on platforms, jump on enemies, and collect coins and power ups. To accompany the throwback even more, the powerups are done in a “suit system” just like the 2D games. Mario physically grows when he collects a powerup as he practically doubles in size. Even the classic draining sounds accompanies him whenever he gains or loses a power up. Mario keeps running along the area until he gets to the end goal, which is a flagpole. Mario jumps as high as he can trying to reach the top of the flagpole to finish the level. The game is exactly what people have theorized for years of what an alternative 3D Mario could be like.
To blur the lines between 2D and 3D style gameplay even more, the game is played in an pseudo overhead/isometric perspective, much like many Game Boy Advanced games. This gives a lot of advantage to the player as the perspective is clearly defined, which is enhanced even more by the 3D effect put out by the system. It also conveniently shrinks the models and textures, having the game’s graphics looks notably cleaner. The game is colorful and is easy on the eyes, but doesn’t take a daring art style so that everything is easy to spot out.
What makes this game stand on top of the other games in the series are the levels. They are very well designed and varied. While the game has the token haunted mansion levels, lava levels, underwater levels, and what not, it also has added many new types of stages to the mix. Most notably, to me, are the “beam stages” where Mario hops on various beams like a trampoline to scale the territory. Each of these levels are finely crafted and tuned with the trademark Nintendo polish. To add on to that, they are also fairly short as they can each be completed in only a few minutes. This leads to a lot of replayability. What’s more is that the game is on a handheld which complements the short burst playstyle very well.
That said, there are a few things that Nintendo has kept from the Super Mario 64 formula. First is that while each level can only be completed by reaching the end goal, there are still stars hidden around the each level that the player can collect. The more stars the player has, the more levels they can open up. To add on to that Mario still has most of his trademark moves from Super Mario 64, including the back flip, the skip, and the butt pound. In a way, this makes the game feel like a “best of both worlds” situation.
Two years later Nintendo released a direct sequel called Super Mario 3D World. It was pretty much the same exact game with prettier graphics, multiple characters, online features, and a multiplayer component. While the game is also very good and the new features are welcomed, I feel that the level design is lacking compared to the original. The levels are either too difficult for their own good or are too easy. Checkpoints are either too close together or are too far apart. And the pacing in just isn’t as tight as it was in 3D Land. So while I feel that 3D World is a great game, it is notably less in quality compared to 3D Land.
No matter how you look at it, the Super Mario series is the most important franchise in gaming. It has been dominate for over thirty years as one of the top selling gaming brands in the world. This is large due to the appealing and quality gameplay, as well as a bit of a nostalgia. I realize that many will harshly disagree with my choice and state that 3D World is the superior title. I realize that many more currently have their heads spinning that none of the Galaxy games will be on my list. But to me, I feel that 3D Land is the best Mario game out there to date.
36| Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
Released: October 23rd, 2014
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PS4, XBO, Wii U, 3DS, AFTV
2D Action-Adventure games are a genre that have come a long way. Ever since Adventure for the Atari 2600 developers struggled on how to balance exploration based level designed and classic action focused gameplay. During the 1980s two notable franchises took a stab at the genre. The Legend of Zelda series and Wonder Boy titles. The former was played in a top down perspective and put heavy focus on the exploration and puzzles, while the latter was played from a side-scrolling perspective and was more focused on the combat and story. Over the years the genre continued to evolve, most notably during the mid-90s with Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Due to 2D falling out of style in the 2000s, the genre began to fade away. However, due to the independent gaming boom, these types of games are currently more plentiful than ever, with seemingly every day there being a new title that is a “spiritual successor” to Symphony of the Night, Metroid, or Wonder Boy.
It’s obvious that there is demand for these types of games. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. In 2002, an unknown developer who worked on nothing but crappy licensed titles named Wayforward released a game called Shantae. It was modern version of the Wonder Boy games for the Game Boy Color. Despite being well received, the game performed very poorly commercial wise. The developer continued making mediocre licensed games until they got a chance to work on a mainline Contra game. After that game’s success they proceeded to roll back focus on licensed titles and put their eyes on utilizing their own IPs. This is when Shantae came back into the equation.
In 2010, Wayforward released Shantae: Risky’s Revenge. It was a sequel to the first Shantae game and featured far better graphics, tighter controls, and just overall more ambition. It played much like the Wonder Boy games, specifically Wonder Boy 3. The game had the player control a half genie named Shantae as she traversed the overworld to hop on platforms, beat up baddies, and explore dungeons. It’s a pretty good game, but that’ s it, it’s just “pretty good”. It just didn’t have that “wow” factor that other games in the genre had. Luckily a few years later Wayforward released a sequel which remedied that.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse takes everything from the previous game, and polishes it up. It doesn’t really add anything new per say. As a matter of fact, it even takes some things away. Most notably is that the game no longer has a transversable Z-axis for the player to hop to and fro platforms in the background and foreground. The game also takes away Shantae’s ability to transform into different animals. Rather it takes cues from Super Metroid by having her use special abilities by entering specific inputs. In a way, one can argue that the game takes the “less is more” approach to a degree and it works.
Before continuing on, it would be best to actually explain how these games play if one isn’t familiar with the Wonder Boy or even Metroid series. The Shantae titles involve being stationed primarily at a bustling town where you can shop for weapons, items, and upgrades. You can also talk to several NPCs who give hints of where to go and what to do next. You explore the world in a two dimensional side scrolling map as the player hops on platforms and beat up enemies with physical attacks or items. As one explores the map they will eventually come across a dungeon. The protagonist will uncover the depths and solve the puzzles until the dungeon boss is encountered. After that it is a matter of rinse and repeat.
Unlike most modern games in the genre, Pirate’s Curse doesn’t have most of its areas tied to one large map. Most locations are reached by sailing to them on a ship via a level select screen as Shantae travels to different islands. Each of these islands have a different theme such as zombies, arctic climate, the desert, and what not. There is even a location that seems awfully like Hell. Wayforward didn’t take the easy route though. These locations each have a different playstyle. The arctic area heavily relies upon friction when running, the desert location has the option exploring additional parts of the map through sinking sand, and the other areas have their quirks as well. This keeps the game fun and interesting throughout the playthrough.
The world Shantae is also very appealing. I don’t want to give too much of the story and lore away, but it’s essentially a Saturday morning cartoon, but with lots of girls in skimpy outfits. It stars Shantae who was born from a mortal scientist and a genie. She constantly struggles trying to balance her mixed heritage identity. Her arch nemesis, Risky Boots, is always trying to stir up trouble, so it is up to Shantae to defeat her. The plot is very basic, but it is really the characters and tone that sell it. Everything about the game is so upbeat and everyone is so likeable, so much so it is hard to hate the world the game reveals to you.
The graphics in this title are great. They are admittedly a bit low on resolution side, but there is so much love and charm put into them it is impossible not appreciate them. The sprites look wonderful and animate very well. They just ooze with personality. The surroundings are also detailed giving the game a 32-bit era 2D game vibe. But where the game really stands out is the music. It is comfortably one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in gaming. Not only is the music incredibly catchy, but it is also very appropriate with the cartoony and upbeat vibe. Composer Jake Kaufman really outdid himself.
I find that overtime as core gaming continues to grow and take the route of blockbuster entertainment that I am gradually gravitating toward the smaller more independent type of games. Call me old fashion, but I am more of a traditional gamer that longs for the snappy and “fun” gameplay from the ’90s heydays. It’s great that in todays gaming climate there is room for a variety types of games to shine.
35| Bayonetta 2
Released: October 24th, 2014
Available On: Wii U
In 2001, the world was greeted with an entire new genre. A game titled “Devil May Cry” gave birth to the “hard action” genre which took the speed and combo focus of a fighting game, and transfer that to the 3D space and a single player focused experience. The title became an instant hit. Over the years there have been a fair amount of games in the genre that have been released. The Devil May Cry series had a string of four sequels, Team Ninja revived the Ninja Gaiden IP with three entries, Metal Gear Solid received a bizarre, but highly enjoyable, spin-off title starring one of its costars. Out of all these games however, the one series most people will agree that stands on top is the Bayonetta series. Created by the father of the genre himself, Hideki Kamiya, the series focuses on the same combo heavy and twitch based combat. Released in the dawn of 2010 the game instantly connected with fans of the genre. Unfortunately while it was well received it didn’t meet sales expectations.
The franchise was shelved until Nintendo out of all companies took a chance to resurrect it as an exclusive for their new Wii U console. This obviously caused a lot of uproar to some fans as the original entry was only available on the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, and a Nintendo platform was foreign to the audience. Regardless, most fans were just happy to get a sequel at all. Bayonetta 2 was released in 2014 and not only instantly became a must have title for Wii U owners, but for any gamer in general.
The game plays like any other title in the genre. The player controls the protagonist as they venture upon mostly linear levels. As they explore the map groups of enemies attack the player at a time, forcing the main character to defeat the enemies in order to progress to the next area. The player keeps pressing on forward until they get to the end of a level which is typically accompanied by a boss battle or at least some type of final trial. The game centers around the player defeating enemies in the most complex, efficient, and timely manner in order to get a higher score. The higher the score the player gets, the more goodies they can unlock. When protagonist defeats an enemies as they collect halos, which look a bit like Sonic’s rings, that can be used to purchase new moves and items. This is seen as advantaged to some because can gradually master the game’s playstyle as they add on new moves bit by bit. There are also golden records to collect to unlock new weapons amongst other things.
It isn’t innovation that makes the game stand out, in fact it really isn’t all that innovative. It does have a unique multiplayer component which is surprisingly active and is entertaining enough, but it isn’t something you will constantly go back to. What makes Bayonetta 2 stand head and shoulders above the crowd is that it is so well polished. There are very few video games, especially modern games, where one can just sit down and play it and be constantly entertained every minute of it. Bayonetta 2 starts of strong and doesn’t cool its steam until the end credits roll. No matter what point the player puts down the game, when they pick it back up they will be instantly entertained. This also lends the game to being highly replayable. When these factors add up, it isn’t hard to see why the game is so beloved.
Unfortunately the game isn’t all peaches and roses. There are two ways one can look at a title like this, from a casual perspective and a hardcore perspective. From a casual perspective the game is a very tight and well paced action games that highly entertains. From a hardcore perspective however, things become a little more complicated. It boils down to primarily two reasons. In the original Bayonetta there was an effect called “witch time”, in which slowed down time astronomically after the protagonist briefly dogged an enemy’s attack, as the player then executes a slew of combos. While this is entertaining, it isn’t the most “pure” way to play as it makes the game a little too easy and too focused on activating the effect. This is why in the hard difficulty mode witch time is absent. In Bayonetta 2, witch time is present throughout the entire game, no matter what difficulty level one plays on. The other reason is due to the new move called “umbran climax” which revolves around the player filling up their meter in order to do a special onslaught of powerful moves. This is criticized because it has players focusing too much on charging up their meter to unleash umbran climax, rather than experimenting with different strategies. To be fair, one can play the game but not using umbran climax and using items that turn off witch time. The problem is that the game is designed around witch time. While disabling witch time results in some areas in the game being far improved and some of the best in the entire genre, it makes other previous high points in the game all but unplayable. For example, the best boss battle in the game is limited to just dodging moves and shooting bullets at them. Actually hitting the enemy hardly does anything at all because the boss battle focuses on dodging their attacks to activate witch time.
That said, if one can ignore these faulty instances, then Bayonetta 2 is probably the best action game ever made. If you play the genre casually than Bayonetta 2 is absolutely the best action game ever made, if you play the genre seriously than it is up in the air, but is still more than a worthy contender depending on how comfortable one is in altering “how the game is meant to be played.” The hard action genre has been in bit of a slump lately as Devil May Cry took a strange turn and Ninja Gaiden 3 was hot garbage. Sequels are unknown for these games, while Metal Gear Rising 2 was likely canceled due to Konami gaining more control over the property. There have been winks and nudges to a new entry in the Bayonetta series, but things are still unknown as of now. If the genre continues its long slumber, at least we can take comfort knowing that it entered it with a bang.
34| Dynamite Headdy
Released: August 04th, 1994
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: PC, PS3, 360, Wii, GG
The game opens up with the player controlling a puppet who is running away from giant towers crashing onto the ground causing multiple big explosions. Soon a giant robot begins attacking the player as they have to retaliate against its attacks. Once defeated the giant robot stops in its tracks with a myriad of explosions. A couple seconds later an airplane appears and starts firing at the main character. Once the player dodges all of the attacks they encounter the game’s first boss battle. If it isn’t incredibly apparent already, this is a Treasure game.
Dynamite Headdy involves controlling a puppet with a detachable head named “Headdy.” There isn’t much explained in the story, after all it is a 16-bit platformer, but it seems to involve Headdy beating up a gang baddies while he impresses his love interest. The entire world he is in seems to be filled with puppets, while the entire game takes place on a stage similar to Super Mario Bros. 3.
Gameplay wise the game is a mix of different genres. For the most part it is a typical platformer game with a unique gimmick. It involves using the title character’s detachable head ability as he can latch on to things and scale buildings, attack distant objects, and what not. The platforming isn’t the deepest out there or the most polished, but it is very fun. It wouldn’t be a Treasure game with a lot of ambitious boss battles. Just the first few levels involve fighting screen filling robots and giant dancing mannequins. They aren’t as difficult as their intimidating stature implies, but they are still very fun to do battle with.
As said before, the game mixes things up a lot, but the most notable change in the game occurs halfway through when it turns into a shoot-em-up for a few stages. Unfortunately this is where the game’s quality takes a nosedive. First is that the game makes for a pretty average shoot-em-up. It isn’t particularly bad, but it isn’t particularly good. On top of that the game is way too difficult for its own good. It is so hard to progress it makes one wonder what Treasure was thinking when play testing the title. After playing this title dozens of times, I still can’t beat the shoot-em-up sections. What’s worse is that the difficulty isn’t something that gradually happens, it appears out of nowhere. Being honest, these shoot-em-up sections are what really holds the game back.The platforming sections are some of the most enjoyable I’ve had in a video game. Unfortunately the shooting sections are so mediocre and frustrating they severely damage the game’s overall enjoyment.
Presentation wise, the game is great. The graphics are very colorful and just pop out of the screen. To add to that the game also has a lot of neat effects including scaling and rotation. This isn’t just limited to boss battles, but is even present in the levels themselves. Something I feel that few people mention is the amount of detail put into the game’s animation. There are a lot of little touches the developers put focus on that few developers did at the time, including several animations applied to the game’s backdrop. As per par with Treasure games, the title has a wonderful soundtrack. It isn’t the best out there, but it has a few standout tracks and it fits the game very well.
Overall, Dynamite Headdy is a great game that could be fantastic if it wasn’t for overly arduous shoot-em-up sections. There is such a thing as a game being too difficult for its own good and unfortunately this is what happened here. Treasure managed to create a highly unique, high quality title. Unfortunately just a few sections of the game managed to really bump this game down some ranks. Regardless, it manages to speak volumes for the first couple of stages of the game which are some of the best offerings of the 16-bit era.
33| Dark Souls
Released: October 04th, 2011
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PS3, Xbox 360
Once upon a time video games were difficult to complete. You see back in the day gaming was based in the arcades. And the premise of the arcade was simple, you insert coins into the machine to play the game. As such games were designed around this concept, in which the more the player died, the more quarters they put into the machine. Games were made very difficult because once you beat them you no longer had a reason to insert more cash to play. Even console based games subscribed to this model to a degree. Due to games being constrained on cartridges and other small sized media, it was difficult to create a lengthy game without an insane price tag. As such, developers created games that were very difficult to beat as it would take players dozens of hours just to complete half a dozen levels.
Eventually times changed, arcades went the way of the dodo and games moved on to disc based media. As a result the pressure to create difficult games faded away. While this had many advantages, it wasn’t without its downsides. By far the biggest downside is that games became very easy. By the time the first decade of the 2000s rolled around what was seen as “difficult” in a video game was quaint compared to the hardcore shooters and action games of the past. It wasn’t until a sleeper hit titled “Demon’s Souls” was released on the Playstation 3 in 2009 set a counterculture against the industry norm. Known for its unforgiving difficulty, execution based mechanics, and near non-existent handholding, it was an anti-thesis for everything games were doing at the time. In 2011 the game received a spiritual sequel called “Dark Souls” which was an improvement in everyway.
The concept of Dark Souls isn’t unique at all. It’s a simple dungeon crawler with action-based combat. The goal of the games are for the player to explore the map and defeat all the enemies and bosses in their way. It is a very simple premise. What makes the game stand out is how ingenious its design is. For starters the level design is second to none. The layout of the area is simple enough that one is able to guide oneself to where they should go next, but is open enough for them to actually have to explore the area. On top of that, the entire map is interconnected and practically non-linear, allowing the player to encounter whatever area or boss they wish.
The combat is equally if not even more impressive. Rather than focus on being a twitch action game, such as Bayonetta, the combat is slow and methodical. This may be a turnoff at first, but it quickly becomes addictive as it makes every hit count. A single mistake can cost the player an entire battle. That said, the combat system is also very flexible as it involves a lot of strategy and tactics. The game is designed in a “class” based system, though the player can control where their stats go to when they level up. One can chose to become a master swordsman, axeman, lancer or be a pyro or mage. There is a lot of versatility at play.
The intricate dungeons combined with the unforgiving but strategic combat pave a mighty road toward the boss of each area. The developers of the game, From Software, were sure that the bosses lived up to the journey. Dark Souls has some of the most intimidating and “epic” boss encounters in any video game ever. What’s more is that From Software didn’t rest on their laurels. Each boss is unique as they mix things up a bit, some tower over the player with huge crushing attacks, other’s are the of a similar size of the player but with swift and cunning attacks, while other bosses will call for aid as the player has to focus on two, three, four, or even five opponents at once.
Presentation wise the game is fantastic. Usually RPGs follow two trend lines: either be colorful and cartoony like most JRPGs or be monotone and serious like most WRPGs. Dark Souls seems to take in aspects of both of these types. While the game is serious to the point of being down right depressing, the world is beautiful and very rich in color. This is aided by the area selection as throughout the title the player will be traveling through lush forests, icy caverns, the darkest of dungeons, and even something reminiscent of hell itself. The game has a nice high fantasy feel to it and it is so easy getting lost in its world. The game’s soundtrack is also something to beholden. It’s dark orchestral score meshes with the game perfectly and really brings the world to life. The bombastic nature of the music in the boss battles manages to push them even more over the top.
It wouldn’t be right mentioning Dark Souls without talking about it’s unique multiplayer component. Throughout the game players are able to leave messages to give hints, tips, and even tricks to others in how to progress the game. To add on to that one can summon other players in helping them defeat specific bosses and enemies. Though the real stand out feature is the ability for a player to invade another’s game. This either results in both players battling one another or a sneak kill from the intruder.
The Souls series is one that started from being viewed as so niche that Sony refused to publish it and Atlus, a company infamous for publishing niche titles, had to pick up the ball, to becoming a multi-million selling franchise. From Software took a massive gamble in creating a title that was at odds against industry trends. It turned out to be a risk well worth taking as it catapulted the developer from being the red-headed stepchild of the industry to becoming a superstar. They eventually developed the, inferior, sequel Dark Souls 2 and the, worthy, third entry Dark Souls 3. However, no game in the franchise has yet managed to capture the “magic” of the original Dark Souls.
32| Street Fighter III: Third Strike
Released: May 12th, 1999
Definitive Version: PS3; Also on: Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, DC
It is incredibly rare for competitive games to get a second chance. In genres where there are lot of choices to pick and only so much time to invest, first impressions mean the world. During the 1990s if there was one game that was synonymous with competitive gaming it was Street Fighter II. Initially released at the dawn of the decade, the game turned many heads due to its strategic and skill based gameplay. Not only did it single handedly revive the arcade market, but it also became a cultural phenomenon. It was regularly mentioned in popular culture and even received a summer blockbuster film around it. Throughout the ’90s, one question was constantly burning in gamers’ minds, “When’s Street Fighter III?” Technically Capcom did make a successor series, the Street Fighter Alpha titles. But to many there is a built in psychological factor that “true sequels” need to be numbered. Eventually Capcom did release Street Fighter III, six years after the legendary second entry launched.
Unfortunately the game didn’t do well at all. It was coldly received by most players. Many complained about the lack of familiar characters as the game was a virtual roster reset with a much more darker and “weird” cast. On top of that the game introduced a controversial parry mechanic in which players can stop their opponent’s attacks without receiving any damage. Diehard players felt that this was a cheap move that erased much of the risk in strategic play, while casual fans were annoyed that their attacks were often canceled out by more experienced players. On top of that the game was released on the new CPS3 hardware which wasn’t only expensive but prone to failure. This was at a time when arcades were entering their twilight years and were doing their best to penny pitch to save the small profits they had. Street Fighter III alienated its hardcore fanbase, the casual players, and arcade owners. To top it all of, due to it being a high end 2D game, no console at the time could run it, thus a console release was out of the question. As a result, Street Fighter III far under performed Capcom’s expectations. To recoup the cost Capcom released two revisions of the game, Second Impact in 1998 and Third Strike 1999.
Street Fighter III faded from memory for most gamers, but did have a cult following. Fighting games in general experienced a severe decline in popularity, however the diehard group continued to grow. Major competitions such as Final Round and Evo became popular annual events. Then in 2004, two major events happened that would propel Street Fighter III from being the black sheep of the franchise to the black swan. One event was that the game finally released on a platform that people actually owned, the Playstation 2. The other reason is due to this moment at Evo 2004. Possibly the most legendary moment in FGC history, Daigo Umehara managed to execute a legendary comeback against his opponent. It caught the attention of not just the diehards in the fighting game community, but gamers as a whole. The reason it turned so many heads is because it managed to show all of the strengths of Street Fighter III’s unique fighting system in less than a minute. The parrying mechanic was instantly seen less like something that was added for complexities sake, and more like a very useful tool that can turn the tides of any match. Due to these two events, Street Fighter III quickly became the most played game in the fighting game community.
It’s been well over a decade since that moment and the fighting game scene has never been healthier. Street Fighter III’s time in the spotlight has come and gone, and now the days of it lighting up huge screens for tournaments are a distant memory. Ignoring its obvious history, how does the game actually stack up? Replaying the game after all these years I can comfortably say that Street Fighter III: Third Strike just isn’t an excellent fighting game, but also the best in its respected series.
For starters, Street Fighter III is by far the most unique entry in the series. This isn’t just because of the game’s newly added parry mechanic, but because the game just “feels” different. Unlike Street Fighter II which was fast paced and had player bouncing off of invisible walls, Street Fighter III is much slower. It’s almost as if the game is telling the player to “calm down and make sure you calculate your actions.” Besides Ken, Ryu, Akuma, and Chun-Li, the Street Fighter III series features an entirely new cast. What’s more is that much of this cast doesn’t play like characters in Street Fighter II or the Alpha series. There are characters like Urien who revolves around trapping opponents in electric reflecting mirrors, Q who controls essentially like a tank but doesn’t rely on grappling abilities, and Elena who seems to be dancing more than fighting.
As expected these changes were very controversial. Even during the height of Third Strike’s popularity it seemed that the fighting game community was split into two fronts, those who liked this unique take on Street Fighter and those that didn’t. However, something everyone agreed on was the game’s phenomenal presentation. For starters the game had a very nice comic-book-like artstyle. The characters looked just like a grounded anime while the backgrounds were painted like a high color print comic book. But where the game really stole the show was in the animation department. Until Skullgirls came around, Street Fighter III comfortably held the title for the best animated 2D game in gaming.
has a very high frame count and detailed animation. To be fair it isn’t that strong in the squash and stretch department, but it does have its moments.
There is also the matter of the game’s soundtrack. Unlike previous games in the series, and pretty much any game since, Street Fighter III: Third Strike uses a hip-hop soundtrack. Unlike almost every other game that has incorporated such a soundtrack, it is actually pretty good. I even find myself listening to the music while I am working on various projects, an extreme rarity when it comes to hip-hop music not made by actual hip-hop artists.
Despite its heyday being years in the past, Third Strike still gets a lot of play as it isn’t uncommon to find well over a hundred people playing online at any given time. In many ways Street Fighter III was part of a lost era in gaming. It was made to be a high-end 2D game for the arcades that was meant to evolve fighting games in general. It was meant to not just shake up fighting games, but gaming as a whole. Unfortunately the game was released in the wrong time. In 1997 arcades were taking their last breath as they only had half a decade or so before becoming truly extinct. 2D games were yesterdays news as 3D was all the rage. While fighting games were declining in popularity as the newest Street Fighter on consoles went from being the biggest hits on their platforms to barely squeaking out a million copies sold.
Some would say that the game was simply ahead of its time, others would say it was a happy accident more than anything. Whatever it was, Street Fighters III: Third Strike is one of the most fun, unique, and addicting fighting games out there, that will be continued to be played for years. Welcome to the world of Street Fighter III.
31| The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Released: November 19th, 2006
Definitive Version: Wii U; Also on: Wii, GC
The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most respected in all of gaming. It is franchise that has set the standard of the action-adventure genre time and time again. The original NES game practically gave birth to exploration based game design. A Link to the Past refined the formula into tried and true 2D gameplay. Ocarina of Time brought the series into the 3D space and fixed many issues with 3D gaming as a whole. While Skyward Sword nailed motion control combat. Over the years the series has declined a bit in popularity. The series has put focus on the handheld space which is generally smaller than the console market. On top of that the last major console entry in the series, Skyward Sword, was released after its console lifespan had all but run out.
Looking at things through retrospect it is a bit odd, as just a few years before Skyward Sword the franchise was at peak popularity. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the best selling Zelda game of all-time. Reaching almost 9 million copies sold the game was a mega hit title that complemented its mega hit console. While it was very well received by critics, like all Zelda games it was either loved or hated by its fans. Over the years the game has gotten a warmer reception from the fanbase. It was also recently released on Nintendo’s Wii U with high acclaim.
So what exactly does the best selling Zelda title ever play like? Truth be told, it is very much like most other 3D Zeldas. The game revolves around exploring the general area as the player completes various tasks until they come across a dungeon. The dungeon is filled with various baddies and complex puzzles for the player to complete. The objective while in the dungeon is to unlock various rooms until one comes across the large key. Once obtained the player then goes into the final room to fight the boss of the dungeon. This process rinses and repeats until the final battle of the game.
This may sound very repetitive and while it is true that the game is very formulaic, it is so well done that most don’t mind it. There is also the fact that the game does mixes things up a bit. In between dungeons the main character can turn into a wolf and enter the “twilight realm” to explore various clues and where to go next. While in the twilight realm creatures called shadow beasts appear to which the protagonist has to defeat them with their companion. It’s pretty interesting as combat as a wolf is obviously going to be different than combat with a sword and shield.
The game also features and overworld which is pretty significant in size compared to previous Zelda titles. There are a lot of places to explore and treasures and secrets to find. One can spend hours on horseback looking through every nook and cranny in the game’s map in order to collect all of the hearts and goodies. It may pale in comparison to something like Xenoblade, but the title still manages to scratch that exploration itch.
What’s very significant about the title is the controls. Well at least on the Wii and Wii U. While the Gamecube version has traditional gamepad controls, the Wii and Wii U versions have added gyro functionality. This results in aiming being far more accurate, and it is particularly useful when shooting arrows or operating the clawshot. One temple in particular is greatly improved due to the gyro function as it focuses so heavily on using the clawshot . That said the Wii version also uses motion controls. This is mostly limited to swinging the sword. Unfortunately one can tell that the controls were changed at the last minute, as it doesn’t matter what direction one swings the Wii remote as it will register any type of swing as a press of the action button. In short, instead of pressing “A” to perform the common combo you just swing the remote around instead. It seems cool at first but becomes very old quickly. As a result the Wii U version is the definitive version of the game as it has best of both worlds.
Story wise the game seems to shake things up, at least initially. It revolves around a dark and evil force taking over the city of Hyrule and it is up to a young hero named Link to save the day. What becomes immediately apparent is that the evil force isn’t Ganon and his henchmen, but rather a creature named Zant and his shadow beasts. This is a very welcomed change from the typical Zelda lore. While on his journey Link comes across a peculiar being who calls herself Midna. I’m not sure exactly what she is suppose to be, but her character is designed very well and she is incredibly likable. She helps Link travel into the twilight realm and even aids him during combat. In my opinion, she is one of the best characters Nintendo has ever created. She is far superior to having a ball of light with wings as a companion. I know I usually avoid spoilers, so if you have not played the game yet avoid the rest of this paragraph. A big disappointment with the game is that it turns out that Zant is nothing but a pawn of Ganon who is the real big bad boss at the end. So instead of taking chances Nintendo once again uses Ganon as the final boss. Personally I find this incredibly disappointing. Nintendo already went through all of the hard work in making a new bad guy for the series, why chicken out in the last minute?
Speaking of disappointments, the game isn’t without its faults. For starters the game is very linear. In fact, it is the most linear Zelda game there is. Unlike pretty much every other Zelda game, dungeons have to be completed in a set order. On top of that, one can’t help but feel that Nintendo played it a little too safe with this game. Gameplay wise, it is essentially a more linear Ocarina of Time. Yes Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker received some backlash for being too different, but at least Nintendo was willing to experiment with the formula. There is also the introduction part of the game, which is bar far and wide the longest in any game in the series. I can’t find the image online, but someone made a comprehensive list of the average playtime it takes before the first dungeon is encountered in each Zelda game, and Twilight Princess takes the longest by far. To be fair, Twilight Princess is also the longest Zelda game so one could say it is warranted. Though to also be fair, Skyward Sword is just a hair shorter and doesn’t have as an extensive tutorial chapter. There is also the matter of the game’s difficulty, or more so lack there of. The game is far too easy to the point where it is almost impossible to die in many stages. Most of the deaths are due to falling off a ledge too often or something similar.
Saying all of that, Twilight Princess does excel in many key areas. For starters, the game has the best dungeons in the series bar none. At least when it comes to the 3D titles. The dungeons are vast with intimidating enemies and complex puzzles. Each dungeon is very unique as it is designed ground up for whatever specific item it carries. Nintendo really out did themselves. There is also the fact that the game had fantastic bosses. It easily had the best bosses in the series when the game was initially released, however it has since been surpassed by Skyward Sword.
When it comes to presentation Twilight Princess hits a lot of the right notes. The art style of the game is great as it is filled with beautiful fall colors and a lot of strategic bloom effects. The music may be midi, but it is well done with a lot of catchy tunes. The title also lacks voice acting, but personally I see this as a plus as it adds a lot of character to the game. There are also a lot of cutscenes for a Zelda title with many of them being very well done.
Love it or hate it, Twilight Princess is one of the most well recognized Zelda entries. It is the best selling game in the entire series and has garnered a huge following since its release. The game certainly isn’t perfect and has many faults. That all said, it is still a highly enjoyable title and personally my favorite Zelda adventure.
30| No More Heroes
Released: January 22nd, 2008
Definitive Version: Wii; Also on: PS3, Xbox 360
Music and film are filled with art that strives to be avant-garde. Songs and motion pictures that are born and bread to be rebellious and strive to be different. In gaming this isn’t as common. Even in the age of independent developers, there are few studios that really try and break the mold. Even those that do break it tend to fall into the same indie clichè traps. Most “out there” indie games often feel different for the sake of being different rather than actually having a coherent vision in mind. Back in 2008, the game industry was even more homogenous. It seems that games fell into two camps, the devoid of color military steroid shooter side and the happy Walt Disney party game side. Sure there were tons of games that weren’t in either extreme, but most games at that time did feel as if they were in general range of those two groups. It was at this time that studio Grasshopper Manufacture, headed by the strange Suda 51, released a game titled “No More Heroes” on the Nintendo Wii. The system was the hottest thing around at the time, and while most consumers were satisfied with their purchase, many hardcore gamers were becoming disappointed in Nintendo’s new console due to the lack of titles focused on their demographic. Unlike most games on the system, No More Heroes promised to be a hardcore gaming experience through and through. When players got their hands on it, they found it to be a very unique, extreme, weird, and highly enjoyable experience.
The gameplay of No More Heroes is nothing special. It is a typical action game where the player travels a world map as they do random missions and enter levels to defeat bosses. The action isn’t all that deep either, it isn’t exactly Devil May Cry. However, the combat is very fun and enjoyable. On top of that it puts very good use to the Wii’s motion controls. The combat works by the player wielding a lightsaber. They press the “A” button to perform a slashing attack. Hitting the button repeatedly results in a string of slashes. Pointing the Wii remote up results in the protagonists executing high attacks, while pointing the Wii remote down results in low attacks. This is important as enemies will block either high or low. When the lightsaber is out of juice the player waggles the Wii remote in anyway direction as the main character chargers their lightsaber by…
yeah…After a combo is completed the player can then finish an enemy off by doing wrestling moves as they use both the Wii remote and nunchuck to suplex enemies and slam them onto the ground. It seems like a gimmick at first but it is very satisfying. Alternatively, the player can continue doing a string of slashes where they can then either decapitate an enemy or slice them in half. Again it isn’t the deepest combat system out there, but it is very fun and enjoyable. This is probably just me, but personally I referred to the game as the Wii’s “Zone of the Enders” due to its satisfying, though a bit simplistic, combat.
Combat isn’t the only thing the game has to offer though. Throughout the world there are random mini-games to discover such as playing with cats, washing cars, and catching scorpions. Yes this is typical for a Wii game, however, these mini-games aren’t half bad. I even found myself replaying them several times throughout my multiple playthroughs.
Now while the gameplay in No More Heroes is solid, what really makes the game standout is its style. It would be best to explain the premise of the game first. Travis Touchdown, a Johnny Knoxville look-a-like, is hired to be an assassin. Each assassin is ranked by how deadly they are. To make things simple, an assassin attains their rank by killing the previous title holder. So if one wanted to be the 7th best assassin in the world, they would have to defeat, or in more accurate terms kill, the assassin who is 7th in rank. Travis Touchdown is on a mission to become the number 1 ranked assassin. The reason? Because the female recruiter who got him the job stated that if he became the best ranked assassin, she would have sex with him.
The game takes the player on a wild ride as they encounter tons of memorable characters and events. Being honest though, where the game really stands out is the bosses. Each boss has a very specific personality and design that just makes them very appealing. The closest game series I can relate this to is Metal Gear Solid. The bosses do not feel throw away, but rather intricately designed and crafted to mesh with the world as well as possible. From superheroes with laser beams to a sexy woman in pink with a baseball bat and a S&M fetish, No More Heroes’s bosses deliver.
One piece of constructive criticism is that the game becomes a little too non-sensical sometimes, specifically with the plot. I realize that this is very much part of the game’s appeal, but toward the end of the game the plot gets way too ridiculous and dare I say, stupid. It clearly isn’t enough to damper the overall experience, but how things wrap up leave a lot to be desired.
Presentation wise No More Heroes is second to none in what its trying to achieve. The game has a very interesting and appealing art-style as much of the world is cel-shaded. On top of that many cool and unique graphics pop-up throughout the game, especially during loading screens. The UI is all over the place with an 8-bit styled map and health and even has a fucking tiger as a rage meter. There are also other ingenious additions such as saving being done by going to the nearest toilet and taking a shit. These little touches are present in almost every corner of the title, and personally I can’t get enough of them. There is also the unique “so bad it’s good” aspect of the game. The over-world looks terrible with ’90s esque graphics and stiff animations and a chuggy framerate to accompany them. The game can look like absolute shit sometimes, but in strange way that’s the appeal of it. It sounds weird, but I even prefer it this way.
The music of the game is pretty memorable. There are some really well done and standout tracks in the title. The music does very well to complement the game’s strange and rebellious style, and also really show off the bosses characteristics.
Suda 51 prided himself in making “punk games”, meaning games that deviated from the norm to the point of making a statement. I feel that No More Heroes comfortably accomplished that. Unfortunately Suda 51 hasn’t directed a game since, and really it shows. The sequel, No More Heroes 2, was pretty poor overall outside of some highlight levels and bosses. The story was ridiculously terrible and the final boss was almost impossible to stomach. Killer is Dead and Lollipop Chainsaw followed, and they seemed to have No More Heroes “crazy” touch, but they felt too “safe”. In a way Grasshopper’s “punk” style has now become the norm for them, to the point where if they made a normal game than it would be seen as deviating more from the norm than their usual affair. No matter how one looks at it, No More Heroes is arguably the high mark in Grasshopper’s and Suda 51’s career. After years of waiting, Suda finally announced that the third game is in development for Nintendo’s new console, the Nintendo Switch. Here’s hoping it lives up to expectations.
29| M.U.S.H.A. Aleste
Released: 1990 (Exact release date unknown)
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: Virtual Console for Wii
You boot the game up, start the first level, then this music immediately begins playing. It is at this time that you realize the title you are playing is very special. Coming out at the time when the shoot-em-up genre was red hot, Compile’s M.U.S.H.A. Aleste came out swinging. Most would say the pinnacle of the genre occurred later with titles such as Dodonpachi, Radiant Silvergun, and Ikaruga. While I agree that those are all solid games, personally I think that the genre peaked twenty-six years ago with the Mega Drive entry of the Aleste games.
In all honesty, there isn’t much that makes M.U.S.H.A. Aleste unique. It plays like any other shoot-em-up on the planet, and even the graphics aren’t much to speak of. Sure it uses giant robots rather than space jets, but that was the trend during the early nineties. In reality, what made M.U.S.H.A. stand out from the dozens of other shooters being released every year was its killer soundtrack and its very refined gameplay.
The game starts off with a unit of mechs being deployed to wipe out an onslaught of enemies. In just a few seconds all of them are wiped out…but one. The lone surviving mech is the convieniantly the one the player controls over. The screen scrolls over vertically as tons of enemies popup that need to be eradicated. The player has two attack buttons. The main attack button simply shoots bullets straight ahead, while there is also a special attack button where the mech uses its more power and specific secondary attack. These secondary attacks include a green charge laser and multi-directional satellite shots. At the end of each stage is a boss battle, most of these tend to be quite large as they take up the entire screen. Once the boss is defeated the mech exits the screen and a new stage appears. The process continues to rinse and repeat.
I realize that this is a very short write-up, but that is because there isn’t much to say about M.U.S.H.A. Aleste. It’s simply a shoot-em-up that is completely run-of-the-mill on paper, but is near flawlessly executed. The biggest flaw in the game is its availability. The cartridge is a bit pricey. Luckily it is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, however with even the successor system soon to be replaced, one wonders just how much longer the title will be up for sale. Either way if you have even such as a faint interest in the game, it is best to purchase it now as it will likely be far more difficult to do so in the future.
28| Sin & Punishment
Released: November 21st, 2000
Definitive Version: Virtual Console on Wii; Also on: N64, Virtual Console on Wii U
As one would realize from reading this list, it once wasn’t uncommon for Japanese games not to be released in the West. Quality localization wasn’t cheap, and at times the game sales wouldn’t cover the cost. With “Sin & Punishment” however, things seem complicated. It isn’t too shocking that a Japanese styled arcade game for the Nintendo 64 wasn’t released outside of Asia. But what is shocking is that it wasn’t released in the West, despite the game having a full English localization. Not only was most of the text already translated into English, but the game even had English voice acting. If the developers merely translated the menu screen, then the game would have had a 100% completed localization. However, the title never left the Pacific. The game was released in Japan and, oddly enough, in China, but it was never released elsewhere.
Being that it was a Treasure title, and the game having phenomenal import impressions, it quickly became one of the most desired games of its time. The urge was elevated due to the fact that the title was released at the twilight of the Nintendo 64, when games were very sparse. A glimmer of a hope occurred with Nintendo’s Wii console as it supported emulation of previous consoles, including the Nintendo 64. Nintendo soon gave the okay for previously unreleased titles to appear on their service. Sin & Punishment was an obvious candidate due to the localization process already being completed. Many fans had hope that it would be among the titles Nintendo selected as all they would have to do is simply upload the game’s ROM to their database and be done with it. It turns out that is exactly what Nintendo did. On October 1st, 2007, almost seven years after its initial release, Sin & Punishment made it stateside. The game was met with critical and commercial success.
So what exactly made this game so great? For starters, the game is pretty unique. It is an on-rails third person shooter, but it is in no way a shooting gallery. While the camera and the stage moves to the developer’s will, the main character can walk around in a 360 degree space as they can move left, right, forward, or backward. They can even hop over on-coming objects. Their is a reticule on the screen as the protagonist is armed with a gun, so much of the game plays like a third person shooter similar to Jet Force Gemini. Waves of enemies appear on screen as the player launches bullets toward them. There is also a secondary sword attack to take out enemies at close range. This attack can also be used to destroy debris or even send fired missiles back to enemies or toward specific objects. All of this may seem very simple, but it works out very well.
Like most Treasure games, the true beauty is in its design. The game is played at a very fast pace as wave after wave of enemies come across the screen. The environment changes as does the situation the player finds themselves in. One minute they will be jogging down the highway taking out stationary enemies and the next they will be flying over the ocean going head to head with fighter jets. This is a Treasure game, so you can expect lots of explosions, ambitious bosses, and chaos. Taking into account that this was Treasure’s first 3D game, it makes things all the more impressive.
Besides the gameplay, Sin & Punishment is also a beautiful game. It has arguably the best graphics of any game on its respected platform with detailed models and textures, as well as impressive lighting effects. The game’s cutscenes coupled with the voice acting really achieves the signature “Playstation cinematic feel” that other games such as Metal Gear Solid were known for. The Wii version is upscaled to 480p, so the game looks much more detailed and smooth. Unfortunately the Wii U version suffers from poor emulation as it has darkened colors.
There is really only one “complaint” one can make about the game. It is very short, as it takes only two hours or so to complete. The thing is, that could arguably be said to be a positive. It is clearly an arcade game made for a console, so it is made to be beaten in one sitting, as well as having strong replayability. It really is one of those “depends on how you look at it” things, hence why complaint was in quotations.
Treasure is known for releasing quality games late in a system’s life. Ikaruga was one of the last game’s released for the Dreamcast, while Gunstar Super Heroes came out well after the Nintendo DS craze had started. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Treasure gave the Nintendo 64 the same treatment as Sin & Punishment was released at the end of its timeline. A worthy end for a quality system.
Released: July 22nd,1994
Definitive Version: Sega Mega Drive; Also on: Virtual Console on Wii
Game Freak is a rockstar developer. The creator of the widely successful Poke’mon series that dominates all forms of mobile gaming, are only rivaled in their mainstream cultural success by Blizzard. For the longest time Game Freak was stuck in the “Kojima Dilemma”, as they would exclusively make games for only one specific franchise. It wasn’t until over the past few years that they began branching off to create other titles such as Harmoknight and Tembo the Badass Elephant. While these games were praised for being “good” they weren’t exactly “great”. This led to even some gamers claiming that Game Freak is a one trick pony, as they can only dish out quality Poke’mon type games. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as arguably their best game was released prior to Poke’mon in 1994.
The game titled “Pulseman” played very much like most games of its era. It was an action/platformer side-scroller with a unique gimmick. That gimmick was the ability to turn into an electric ball as the title character can fly in the air and bounce off walls. It’s actually a bit shocking just how accurate Game Freak got the feel and speed of this “electric mode”. The game is designed like a typical 2D action/platformer. The player runs to the right side of the screen as they hop over obstacles, jump on platforms, and defeat various enemies. Like most games toward the end of this list, what makes Pulseman stand out isn’t due to its innovation, but how well it executes already existing mechanics.
To be fair however, the game clearly does do a lot of unique things. For starters levels are extremely varied. The first level is very horizontal and doesn’t have much vertical scaling, other levels really take advantage of Pulseman’s electric ball as he bounces around the screen like a pinball, and some have disappearing floors and hidden rooms scattered about. Sure the game may not have a high level count, but it makes the few levels it does have count. On top of that, the levels can be selected in any order, which is very friendly from a replayability perspective.
While Game Freak isn’t exactly Treasure when it comes to boss battles, the bosses Pulseman does have to offer are very enjoyable. From a giant hand that punches through platforms and attempts to squash the player, to a doppelganger who challenges Pulseman’s abilities, many of the bosses are very well throughout and enjoyable to fight. There are eight bosses in total, though to be fair three of them or so are toward the end of the game.
Besides the gameplay, where the game really stands out are the graphics and art. Graphically the game is arguably the best looking Mega Drive game. It’s a technical marvel with large sprites, smooth animation, colorful pallet, and little to no pixelation. The technical wizardry isn’t just limited to the visuals though, as the game also has brief instances of English voice acting. The sprites are primarily made with Game Freak’s clean and simplistic style, in which they continued on with the Poke’mon series. In fact many characters in the game are said to have inspired later Poke’mon characters. While the sprites are very “safe” in this regard, the environments are anything but. The background is often a mishmash of abstract art and objects. I believe this is due to much of the game taking place “in the internet” or something similar. There are a lot of odd shapes and transparent colors about and it all looks fantastic. The soundtrack complements these areas very well with a unique techno-like beat.
Unfortunately, this game didn’t get its due. While it was technically available in America, it was only through Sega’s “Sega Channel” which was a very obscure direct download game service. It allowed Genesis owners to rent and download games over the internet. In a way it was like a pre-historic version of Steam. As a result, for the longest time the only way to own the game was through importing the Japanese version which was extremely rare and expensive. Luckily in 2009, Pulseman was released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii. Like all the other Mega Drive games, it was great port and was well suited with the Classic Controller.
In a way Pulseman is sort of like a Treasure game. Sure it doesn’t have the same chaos and fast paced gameplay. However, it is a solid title that incorporates a unique gimmick. On top of that it is technical showcase that was released toward the end of its respected console’s life. Pulseman showed that Game Freak was capable of developing creative high quality games, and the studio only managed to prove so as it moved into the future.
26| The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Released: May 17th, 2011
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: Xbox 360
The original “The Witcher” was a breath of fresh air for many RPG gamers. After the genre had been plagued by “casualization” from Bethesda and Bioware’s works, rookie developer CD Projekt unleashed a beast that was unthinkable at the time. A big production traditional WRPG aimed at hardcore PC gamers. Despite the title being so niche it was met with both critical and commercial success. Like any new developer whose first title was a run away hit, CD Projekt decided to start work on a sequel immediately. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a sequel that manages to improve on its predecessor on all fronts.
Some improvements of the game are seen outright. For starters the combat has been much more refined. It still isn’t quite Devil May Cry, however one does feel like a badass slashing and dicing through enemies. The game also has impressive boss battles and higher quality writing. However, what is most notable is that the actual role playing of the game has been improved as well. The choices the game gives the player drastically change the game. One even enough to result in two completely different experiences for the player.
Saying that, The Witcher 2 doesn’t rest on its laurels. It does enough to truly differ from its predecessor. For starters, the game feels much more personal. Rather than having most of the tough choices through various small encounters, many of the choices the game presents the player are directly part of the main storyline. As a result, Geralt feels much more as a central figure in the politics and chaos he encounters, rather than just being someone from the outside looking in as he was in the first title.
Storywise, the game is good, but it isn’t the best. It isn’t exactly “insert obligatory highly acclaimed narrative based RPG game” caliber. While some characters do stand out and are relatable, they aren’t exactly the type that will stay with you after the credits roll. Even Geralt isn’t that memorable. That said, he and most of the other characters in the game do get the job done. And to also be fair, Western role playing games aren’t really known for their bombastic plots or appealing characters. A plus in the game’s story however, is that its plot does include many relevant themes. This includes radicalism, racism, and sexism. These topics are handled surprisingly well in the game, and the multiple choices in the game results in multiple perspectives being put forth.
Presentation wise, the game is stunning. Graphically it still holds up today. At the time it was comfortably the best graphical game at the time, which is impressive considering the game has wide open spaces rather than small corridors. It just isn’t the textures that make the game look great, the game also has gorgeous art style with a unique pallet and well placed lighting effects. This is very welcomed being that most RPGs in general are either in shades of brown and gray or filled with porcelain characters and objects. The soundtrack is also great. My only complaint is that many of the songs sound very similar to each other. But that isn’t such a bad thing when they all sound good.
Overall, The Witcher 2 is a fantastic title. While it certainly got its due praised during its heyday, it has since seemed to be forgotten in a way. The problem is that due to being the second in the trilogy, it finds itself sandwiched between the latest installment and title that started it all. As such it is mostly remembered as merely being part of the excellent The Witcher series, rather than the entry itself. Nevertheless it is a incredible game that deserves a playthrough for any RPG fan.
25| Rolling Thunder 3
Released: May 19th, 1993
Available On: Sega Genesis
The third installment of the Rolling Thunder series is often seen as the black sheep of the franchise for multiple reasons. The first is that it is a console game first and foremost. Unlike the first two games, Rolling Thunder 3 was made exclusively for the Sega Genesis. The second is that the game has never been re-released. You can’t even find the game on any modern digital distribution service, including the Wii Virtual Console. The third and most bizarre reason is that the game didn’t have a world-wide release. In an opposite world type fashion, the game was never released in Japan, as it never left American shores. However, the deal breaker for most was that the game is only single player, as it doesn’t allow the classic cooperative gameplay that Rolling Thunder is known for. Due to these reasons the game has widely been shunned by fans of the series. This is displayed even today as despite it having so many marks for it to be a collector’s item, the game sells for modest prices on second hand sites.
Personally, I felt that the criticism the game gets is undeserved. Sure if you enjoy coop mode then I can see how the title would be a disappointment. But if you are like me and play most of these types of games alone, the entry is a huge improvement over the previous titles in the series. For starters, the player doesn’t die after getting hit only once, they now have three life marks to deplete. There is also a checkpoint system, so when the player does die, they don’t have to start from the beginning of the level. These are both welcomed changes as the previous games were a little too punishing all things considered.
However, the core gameplay has also been altered. The famed timer is completely absent, and instead the game has a sniper that pops up and starts shooting at the player if they take too long. There is also an additional button that switches between the character’s primary weapon and secondary weapon. The primary weapon obviously being the trusty pistol while the secondary weapon being something with a bit more firepower with a bit less ammo. At the beginning of each level the player is able to select any weapon they want, ranging from automatic rifles to shotguns to rocket launchers. This leads for some nice experimentation during combat. Finally, the protagonist is not only able to jump and shoot, but also is able to shoot diagonally. In short, the combat has received a complete overhaul.
All of these changes aren’t without some drawbacks. The most obvious one is that the game is significantly easier than its predecessors. While the game isn’t exactly a walk in the park, it is still easier than it should be. It seems that Namco had a difficult time trying to balance the difficulty in these games, with the predecessors being too arduous, while this title being too manageable. That said, I would say that the third entry gets closer to the “sweet spot” when it comes to difficulty, even if it still manages to land quite off the mark.
It is very apparent that this game was crafted to be a single player experience from the get go. Not only due to the obvious gameplay changes, but the presentation as well. The story plays a much bigger part in this game, meaning that instead of being a single shot still prior each level there are cutscenes. The cutscenes are very well done with big characters covering the entire screen, zoomed in objects, neat lighting effects, and even actual animation. It’s clear that Namco didn’t skimp on the presentation. Even in-game this technical wizardry is apparent. Most notably are the brief instances of voice acting, such as the sniper announcement, amongst other things. Unfortunately, all of this effort does feel a bit wasted as the story is pretty generic and dull, but to be fair it is an early ’90s style arcade game.
Design wise, the game is traditional Rolling Thunder for the most part. It does take a lot more liberties in level design. Rather than most levels being vertical, they are instead mostly horizontal so the landscape is a bit more Mario-like rather than being reminiscent of Elevator Action. There are also more vehicle stages that involve the player dodging obstacles and taking out enemies. The most iconic of these is the motorcycle stage in the desert. It’s even the art for the front cover.
One thing to add is that unlike the previous titles, the game actually manages to pull of the techno-noir soundtrack. The music fits the game’s style and tone perfectly as it rarely diverts from it. It took Namco three tries, but they finally accomplished their futuristic noir atmosphere. It helps that the music is also pretty catchy as well.
There are two types of black sheep. The first are those that are ostracized because they legitimately lack quality and due to this turn off on lookers. The second type are those that are merely misunderstood. They have just as much, if not more, quality than their sisters, but are just too unique or different to attract on lookers who were expecting something else. The latter type is the situation I feel Rolling Thunder 3 is in. Fans of the series were expecting another arcade style coop game. What they got was a crafted single player experience merged with arcade gameplay. And while the end result may be similar, it was just different enough for some players to be disappointed by their expectations. That said, when looking at Rolling Thunder 3 in a different light, it arguably the best game in the series, and a must have for the Sega Genesis.
24| CounterStrike: Global Offensive
Released: August 21st, 2012
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: Xbox 360, PS3
There are very few game franchises that have the legacy of CounterStrike. While most gamers today will think of Call of Duty being the undisputed king of first person shooters, the reality is that not only is CounterStrike tethering with that mantle, but has been so for years. It may seem like an odd comparison to make, but I have always seen CounterStrike as the “King of Fighters of First Person Shooters.” I realize this statement will make a few people raise their eyebrows, but bare with me here. What I mean by that comparison is that while CounterStrike is reasonably popular in the major mass market countries, much (if not most) of its popularity comes from players in “non-traditional” countries. While Call of Duty lights up the charts in the United States and the United Kingdom, CounterStrike is on fire in Russia, Poland, Brazil, and various other nations. The global player base really helps put the “Global” in “CounterStrike: Global Offensive.”
Now there have been multiple CounterStrike titles since its debut. But for the longest time the players were divided into two camps. CounterStrike v1.6 or “Classic CounterStrike” and CounterStrike: Source. CounterStrike v1.6 was the final version of the original CounterStrike game while CounterStrike: Source was the newest entry made for Valve’s then hot and sexy Source engine. That said, few 1.6 players jumped the boat to Source. Most complained about the game’s funky hitboxes, lack of recoil on the weapons, and the butchering classic of maps. In contrast, Source players stayed away from 1.6 due to the game’s primitive physics (“watermelon grenades”), ’90s era graphics, and relative lacking mod support. For almost a decade these two groups were in some sort of Super Smash Bros. esque rivalry with one another. With the players of the older game decrying the newer version as a “casualized” and “watered-down” version of their favorite classic game. While the players of the newer game kept telling the older players to “get with the times” as they believed that there wasn’t much difference between the older version and the newer one. Technically there was also a third game titled CounterStrike: Condition Zero, but few people played it as most agreed that it was the “worst of both worlds” in terms of comparing it to the other games in the series.
Valve recognized the rivalry and split player base between the two games. As a result they attempted to create a new version of the game that would appeal to the Source players with modern physics, graphics, and mod community, as well as appeal to players of the old game with tight hitboxes, strong recoil, and competitively designed maps. This usually seems to be a common story for developers and almost always ends in two ways. It either ends with the players of the new game jumping onto the newer game, while players of the old game stick with their tried and true. Or at even worse, players of both the new game and the old game stick with their respected games while the newer game just dies off after a year or two. Either way, Valve decided to release CounterStrike: Global Offensive on August 21st, 2012. Miraculously, Valve did the impossible. They managed to get both the new and old CounterStrike players on board with the game, connecting the two communities together, as well as bringing in a bunch of blood. The game was and is wildly successful.
As someone who used to play all the games in the series frequently, except Condition Zero, there are a few reasons that explain Global Offensive’s success. But before explaining that, I think it would be best to describe the kind of game CounterStrike is. CounterStrike is a relatively simple game. Players are divided into two teams as they are split across the map. One team plays as the terrorists while the other plays as the counter-terrorists. The game has a few modes, but really only two are played. The most popular mode is the bomb defusal in which terrorists plant the bomb in either of two specific places in the map. It is counter-terrorists team’s job to kill off all the terrorists before they plant the bomb and it detonates. The other mode is the hostage rescue in which terrorists guard hostages while the counter-terrorists have to break through their formation and lead the hostages to safety. Again, these modes are simple but very addicting.
What leads to CounterStrike’s addiction is how it successfully marries its punishing deaths, corridor map design, and tactical team work all in one perfect formula. Unlike in other first person shooters, when you die in a round of CounterStrike, you die. No respawns, no continues, no nothing. You sit and watch the remaining players until the end of the match. This may seem morbid at first, but it makes the players time on the maps that much more intense. To add to the intensity is that maps are designed with a lot of corners and side rooms. Meaning that players rarely know what is going to be ahead of them beyond a few yards. This leads to a lot of tension approaching rooms and corners and often leads to standoffs. The final piece of the formula is team work. Obviously in a game with few opaque spots and punishing deaths no one is going to charge in alone. You need team work not just to win, but to even take down the opponents in the first place. As a result players will constantly find themselves on chat and coordinating with their team. All of this adds up to a very addicting formula and lots of “one more game” nights that turn into play sessions until the sun is up.
Obviously all of these things make CounterStrike into a very peculiar game, which makes few people acceptant toward change. This makes Valve’s success in creating a game that branched the two camps together all the more impressive. The reason why both groups jumped in on Global Offensive is simply because it is the best game in the series. It took everything good about the previous games and discarded everything bad. Global Offensive improved on 1.6’s hitboxes, recoil, and maps, while also updating Source’s physics engine, graphics, as well as lowering the barrier of entry for modding. It truly is a best of both worlds type game. Sure there were some changes, but most were for the better. Classic maps got updated in a big way and are much more enjoyable. This is very apparent as servers are no longer only populated by just two maps (de_dust 2 and cs_office). There are also a few new modes for players to sink their teeth into such as arsenal and demolition (though admittedly many of these new modes are based on existing mods).
That said, Global Offensive isn’t without its faults. The biggest is that it contains a microtransaction economy that has poisoned so many similar titles in the genre. Admittedly it doesn’t seem to affect Global Offensive’s quality much, but there are occasional snipits of it here and there. There is also the game’s artstyle which while works in its favor a lot, there are times where the color tones of certain maps are way off. Particularly in any map located in the desert. Everything has a washed out, bluish grayish tone to it, much like Metal Gear Solid 4. It is very distracting at times, especially when certain characters wear clothing that matches the tint. I am sure there are mods out there that fixes this problem, but still.
All in all, CounterStrike: Global Offensive had huge shoes to fill. Not only was Valve dealing with a legacy franchise, but they were dealing with a legacy franchise that was divided. Not only did Valve manage to fill in the shoes and bring the player base together, but they also managed to recruit tons of new players along the way. It has been close to twenty years since the original CounterStrike debuted and the series has never been more popular. There are always around at least half a million players playing the game at any given time and it constantly fights its way in being the most popular game on Twitch. It is arguably the most successful first person shooter of all-time in terms of player base size and consistency, as well as global popularity. And being completely honest, it deserves all of it.
23| Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
Released: December 22nd, 2005
Definitive Version: Playstation 3; Also on: Xbox 360, PSV, 3DS, PS2
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence is undisputedly the best Metal Gear game. In my mind no other Metal Gear game comes close to it. The reason for this is because it perfectly encases everything a Metal Gear game is supposed to be. It has very well designed levels that are made exclusively for sneaking around enemies and leaves a lot in the way for experimentation. It contains a string of unique and exhilarating boss fights. And it has an engaging story that just reeks of 1980s B-Movie action. It is the definitive Metal Gear experience.
Unfortunately, I did not feel this way the first time I played it. This was solely due to the fact that the initial version of the game, Snake Eater, had one humongous problem with it. You couldn’t see anything. The entire game was played via overhead. Now this doesn’t sound too bad as this was how Metal Gear had been traditionally played since the series inception. However, being that Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in the outdoors, it meant that the player had too transverse through a lot of open spaces and few corridors. This meant that it was very difficult to pinpoint or even see enemies. To add insult to injury the traditional radar screen was gone in favor of more obscure methods. This certainly makes sense in the context of the setting, as of course the 1960s would lack the technology that would be available in the 1990s and 2000s. However, it didn’t change the fact that the gameplay didn’t accommodate the new changes in level design.
In 2005, the game was re-released as Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence which added multiplayer, the two original Metal Gear games, and a slew of other modes. However, the most exciting addition to most was the fact that the game now had a third person perspective for the camera. Now I was hesitant toward this at first, as the game wasn’t designed with that perspective in mind. Things rarely work out when things are shoed in after the game is complete. After playing the game a second time with the new camera, I simply fell in love. One simple change managed to completely fix virtually everything wrong with the title. Enemies can now be seen, as well as the layout of the area. What’s interesting about this change is that it didn’t make the game too easy. This is due to the ways the maps are designed led to few times where the player can get a clear shot of where everything is. Luckily this is when Metal Gear becomes Metal Gear as the player can then just huddle along a wall and use the tools they have to scan the area. It just wasn’t the gameplay though, the graphics of the game seemed much better as they could now be appreciated as the textures became much more visible. In short, I went from disliking the game to loving it.
Metal Gear Solid 3 was an abrupt change from what fans were used to in the series. For starters the game took place during the 1960s. Keep in mind that up until that point the series had always taken place in the not so distant future. So technology was always a bit ahead of the curve from what we were used to. From remote controlled missiles to nanomachines, Metal Gear’s futuristic setting was part of its appeal, and it was part of the gameplay. However, this game took players forty years into the past. Not only did this change the setting astronomically, but it also changed the gameplay as well. All the high tech gadgets the series used since the first entry were gone. All that was given to the player are simply guns, bullets, and not much more. To make up for this, Kojima Productions managed to really fine tune gunplay in the game and give the player a wide variety of guns to choose from. Not only that, but they also created the close quarters combat system, abbreviated as “CQC” in the game. Basically the CQC system relies on the player doing brief takedown attacks on their enemies, knocking them down and dizzying them in just a few moves. The game also gives the player a knife to wield which often results in a lot of slit throats.
It just wasn’t the time period that led the game to be unique, but the location as well. The game takes place in the exotic jungles of the Soviet Union! As a result, there be tons of trees, swamps, and wildlife scattered about. Survival in the wild is a big part of the game, the protagonist often becomes hungry and needs to eat. As a result, the player needs to hunt for food. This includes animals like crabs, snakes, alligators, and pretty much anything you can see walking around. However, the player needs to be careful as some creatures are poisonous. Camouflage also plays a huge part in the game. Being that the jungle has so many different textures, it leads to a lot of different camo outfits to use depending on the situation. Wearing the right outfit is the difference between being able to walk right past enemies, and not even being able to crawl toward them dozens of feet away.
Despite all of these changes, the game is still Metal Gear through and through. As stated before, the maps are wonderfully designed and lead themselves to a lot of experimentation. Whether your playstyle consists of sneaking past enemies, or taking them head on, Metal Gear Solid 3 satisfies. The jungle is a perfect setting that leads to experimentation with all of the different cover options, camos to choose from, and wildlife to exploit. The facilities in the game are just as well designed with tons of rooms and floors to play with. This is the type of game where you will be screwing around with the map for hours before you even want to progress to the next cutscene.
At the end of the day however, a Metal Gear game isn’t a Metal Gear game without the batshit story. And boy does Metal Gear Solid 3 have one. It starts off with the player playing as a spy who is codenamed “Snake”, or “Naked Snake” to be more precise. His job is to retrieve a scientist who has been kidnapped by the Soviets. Soon everything goes haywire as one of the Soviet agents does a false flag attack triggering a Cuban Missile Crisis style situation with the United States. What’s worse is that apparently the Soviet’s are constructing a super high tech weapon capable of mass destruction. As a result, Naked Snake is sent out to do a secret covert mission. Admittedly it isn’t the best story in the series, but it is still very entertaining and has the perfect balance of batshit and grounded storytelling. The story also introduces a lot of unique characters who often translate to fascinating boss fights such as a rocket man with a flame thrower, a centenarian sniper, and an electrified body builder to name a few. But the character that I feel really steals the show is a young Ocelot. It was a bit strange seeing him so young in the game as in the previous two games he was an old man. Yet in this game is nothing but a kid with a huge ego. Nevertheless, he is very entertaining to watch.
I can’t close this entry without mentioning the game’s online multiplayer mode. Perhaps it could be because it was one of my first multiplayer online games ever, but the original Metal Gear Online was fantastic. Sure it was riddled with bugs and cheaters, but when it was played correctly it was a blast. It was very interesting in playing an online shooter that wasn’t quite in first or third person perspective. There were a multitude of modes but most people stuck with team deathmatch with occasionally spy vs soldiers on the side. Yes, spy vs soldiers was pretty much one player playing as Snake whose goal was to sneak around while it was everyone else’s job to find him. It was pretty enjoyable, but I mostly stuck with team deathmatch. Apparently it has been revitalized for online private server play, but it is only for the emulated version.
No matter how you slice it, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence is a fantastic game. It certainly isn’t perfect as constantly changing the camo can get annoying and the frequently changing maps breaks immersion. However, all in all it is still a high quality game and represents the peak of the series. I feel that after this game the franchise began to fall off. Metal Gear Solid 4 was a huge disappointment as it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. The PSP games were just awful. And Metal Gear Solid V was literally unfinished and took the approach of playing a TV show rather than a movie (if that makes sense). Metal Gear Solid 3 was the last “traditional” Metal Gear in my eyes, and it really shows. I just wish Kojima the best on his recent endeavor.
22| Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Released: September 21st, 2010
Available On: PC (All major OSes)
Out of any video game I have ever played, the game that I have clocked the most hours in, is Civilization V. 360 hours on the dot I have put into this game. Just by the fact alone, no matter how you slice it, this game has made a significant impact on me. There have been countless playthroughs where I ended up clocking well over four, five, or even six hours at a time. At best, Civilization could be described as gaming bliss, at worst it could be described as an addiction. Looking at the hour logs of my peers, it definitely seems that I am not alone.
To explain just what makes Civilization such an addicting game, one has to explain just what Civilization is. Civilization is the father of the “4X” genre. The “4X” is an abbreviation for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. The basis of Civilization is that the player chooses a legendary leader from history to play as. This includes anyone as respected as Gandhi to as infamous as Genghis Khan. When the game begins the player has nothing but one pack of settlers and a single military unit to command. The entire location around them, but the immediate area is invisible. As time passes by the player will have settled cities, explored the area around them, and met other civilizations as they bond as friends or brawl as enemies. Playing Civilization is basically playing through an alternate history. You get to see just how the world will unfold as you and multiple A.I. controlled players fight to become the most powerful civilization. This is what makes the game so addicting, to live out a pseudo-history fantasy where it was the Native Americans who colonized Europe and not vice versa. To have Africa rise as the most wealthy and powerful continent in the world. To have Communism tower over Capitalism. To turn the world into a blatant theocracy. For the average person this may not sound very exciting, but for history buffs it is captivating.
It’s also interesting to see just what the A.I. will do in the game. Seeing skirmishes between Otto van Bismark and Attila the Hun is always fascinating to see play out. Both to see which nation will conquer over the other, but also to determine which one will be the bigger threat. To shake things up even more, the game allows player gather multiple “points” in different attributes. These attributes include faith, culture, and science. Faith allows players to create religious prophets and spread their faith across the territory for influence. Culture is used to influence other populations and have one’s nation stand out from the rest. Science allows the country to research technology and become more powerful. All these things start off small, but gradually snowball to matter much more later on in the game. The power of religion can make or break allies, and even be the final straw that has cities rebel against their government. Culture can not only boost tourism, but have a nation’s populace feel much warmer toward one’s country, lowering the chances of war and more accepting of one’s ideology. Science quickens the time to discover new technologies, which can give the player a significant edge in population growth, logistics, exploration, and war. While it is recommended to focus on one attribute more than others, rarely is it wise to ignore one outright.
Focusing on these attributes also contributes to which types of victory a player can achieve. The game features four types of victories: culture, technology, domination, and diplomacy. Culture is won by adopting the most social tenants. Technology won by winning the space race. Domination is achieved by having the most capitals in one’s possession. While diplomacy is won by having the most allies in the UN. It’s common for players to say that one or two of these are relatively easy to achieve, while the others are almost impossible. I myself fall into this group as to me, technology and diplomacy are very easy to achieve, but culture and domination are victories I can’t grasp.
The game also features a very popular online multiplayer mode where players compete against one another on a map. It plays just like the single player game, only instead of A.I.s controlling the rival civilizations, it is other actual players. This sounds cool at first, and it is, unfortunately games take way too long to complete. It is common for matches to go on for several hours. I always eventually quit early.
Beside that, there isn’t much to say about Civilization V. It is very awesome and addicting game. Sure it has its faults like questionable and predictable A.I., uneven difficulty modes, and turns taking far too long at times. However, it is still a fantastic game. Even after putting in almost as many hours into at as days in a year, I still occasionally have an itch to jump back in.
Released: 1993 (Exact date unknown)
Available On: Sega Mega Drive
There is no denying that the Sega Mega Drive was a fantastic game system. It may be a popular theme today that despite the console war at the time being red hot, it was really the Super Nintendo that had the obvious edge of the two platforms, but personally I don’t believe that. Many of the Super Nintendo’s games were much rougher around the edges than most seem to remember. Super Mario World may look like a classic, but it is a very boring Mario game with some of the least exciting level design in the 2D series. Secret of Mana’s concept sounds incredible in theory, but it suffers from terrible pacing issues. A lot of the “big classic” arcade ports are very poorly done with tons of missing frames, slowdown, and key missing features. And even the games that were pretty good at the time, have aged pretty badly. JRPGs and platformers have had 20 years of continuous work built on their respected genres since the system bid its farewell. So many of Squaresoft’s and Nintendo’s “legendary” offerings just fall flat in the present day. Sure, there are still many awesome games for the system that hold up such as Donkey Kong Country 2, Chrono Trigger, Super Castlevania IV, Shin Megami Tensei II, and Yoshi’s Island. However, at the end of the day a lot of the games just don’t hold up as well as they once did.
In contrast to this, the Sega Mega Drive focused on arcade type experiences. These genres the games fell into were already very developed and since haven’t really “evolved” all that much. So a title like, M.U.S.H.A. Aleste won’t seem too dated compared to say Crimzon Clover. But despite that, I feel that the games on the Mega Drive have also aged better due to two more reasons. The first is that the system was actually up to the task to play these games. Sure the hardware may have lacked the flashy graphics of the Super Nintendo, but its speedy CPU meant that it could run these titles with minimal to no slowdown. There is also the fact that the Sega Mega Drive had a lot of titles that really experimented with their set genres. While most fighting games at the time were copying Street Fighter II, Yuyu Hashinko attempted to be its own thing by being a four player brawler. At a time when most platformers were Mario clones, Sonic the Hedgehog focused on vertical level designed and had the layout less like a traditional “hilly” platformer and more like a rollercoaster. There are plenty of examples of this, but one of my favorite ones is Ranger-X.
Ranger-X can be described as another side-scrolling shooter for a 16-bit system. In it the player controls a giant robot that is protecting residents from an enemy invasion. This sounds very typical right? Well it does, until one realizes that Ranger-X does a few things that changes up the system a bit. First off, there are a few different “formations” the mech can transform into. The default mode is a flying humanoid robot that is most typically seen from most Japanese anime. It is accompanied by a unicycle which in a way acts like the humanoid’s “dog”. In this mode the player can control both mechs as they fire upon waves of enemies. There are also however two more modes. The simpler one is that the player can have the humanoid mech jump onto the unicycle and attach to it. This results in creating a wall that blasts away enemies and can travel quick distances while remaining on the ground. The third mode is having the humanoid mech fully integrate with the unicycle, and turn into a full fledged motorcycle with increase speed, firepower, and jumping abilities. What’s interesting about this is that the humanoid mode and motorcycle mode both have their own health bars, giving the player two chances in a way. These multiple modes result in the player having multiple ways to approach each stage.
Admittedly, the first level of the game is as typical as one can get. The player simply has to move to the right side of the screen and shoot down all the enemies. Very simple. However, as the game progresses, it appears that each level is a different. Once the first area is cleared, the next takes a complete alternative approach. Rather than start off in an open desert, the mech transverses through a maze like cave. It revolves around the player traveling around finding various locks to destroy in order to find their way out of underground labyrinth. Other levels involve vertically scaling a massive tower or balancing combating enemies both high up in the sky and on the ground. The game never really has a point where it rests on its laurels.
It just isn’t the gameplay that is impressive about the game. The title is also technical masterpiece for the system. Not only does it have a high color count, detailed pixel art, and impressive scaling, but it also features some nice parallax scrolling, pseudo 3D effects, and various other visual wonders.
This is the type of wizardry one would expect from Treasure or a major developer like Konami or Sega themselves. Not some fresh of the presses rookie developer.
GAU Entertainment, the developer of this game, performed a slam dunk right at the start. But unfortunately seemed to lose their footing not long after. They were eventually brought by Sega and were merged into Nex Entertainment, a studio most known for the Time Crisis games…the later bad Time Crisis games. It is always unfortunate to see these talented developers either go to waste or the wayside.
Ranger-X isn’t the perfect game. For starters the game is far too short, even considering the genre it is in. It is also way too easy as well. There is also the music which leaves a lot to be desired as it is pretty much your standard Mega Drive fare. But at the end of the day, I really enjoyed this game and in my opinion it is the best game made exclusively for Sega’s 16-bit system.
As I say farewell to Sega’s little machine that could, I can’t get over the fact of how overlooked I feel the console is. It featured dozens of high quality games that support the statement of “they don’t make them like they used to”. Despite that, it constantly gets over shadowed by its rival. Maybe its because the genres the Mega Drive specialized in have fallen out of popularity since the 1990s, or possibly it is because Nintendo is still around to promote their franchise, play style, and philosophy, while Sega has kicked the bucket as a console maker and is a shadow of their former selves. It is hard to tell for certain, but either way the Mega Drive was a fantastic system and I feel that there is no better game to bow down as the curtain’s close on it for this list than Ranger-X.
20| Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
Released: November 16th, 2004
Available On: PC
Most RPGs only focus on two settings. Either they are from a medieval era or they are science fiction. Whether they are of the Western or Japanese variety, it’s almost always either going to involve dragons or space cruisers. It is very uncommon to have a role playing game take place in the modern era. For this alone, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines turns heads. But add on the fact that it was made by Black Isle veterans and it used the, then uncommon, theme of vampires, and on top of all that using the then hot Steam engine, it made role playing gamers stop in their tracks. Those who dared to test the jungles of digital distribution found a role playing title rich with core role playing elements. A true three dimensional successor to Black Isle’s role playing behemoths of yesteryears. Unfortunately, the game didn’t sell too hot. In the long run the studio went bankrupt after a string of underperforming titles. However, it was not without all of their games becoming cult classics. The most well known one being Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.
Even today the game seems just as popular as ever. With the title being talked about on a regular basis whenever WRPGs, or even just RPGs in general are brought up. But what exactly makes Troika’s outing stand out so much even today? In an age of Witchers and Deus Exes, titles that are far more modern it doesn’t really make sense that this title is still so yearned on. However, once one plays the game it becomes pretty obvious. The simplest way to explain it is that the game is arguably the best representation of a core WRPG in the three dimensional sphere. Sure games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim are certainly ambitious when it comes to map size and the number of quests they offer. However, when it comes to making choices or altering world around the player in a personal manner the games truly lack. In contrast, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines is a very personal game. The choices the player makes throughout the title not only has rippling effects to change the overall arc and story, but also alliances they can form and even the lives of acquaintances and strangers.
The game begins as the player selects which race of vampire they want to be. Depending on which they chose, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and can partake in only specific quests or even storylines. Once the player is finished setting things up, they are left to embark in the stunning metropolis of Santa Monica, California. The game is set up in a free roaming map that the main character explores to discover unique locations, events, and characters. The characters players come across results in interwoven quests with connected storylines. It is up to the choice of the player of how the story will play out depending on their decisions.
Now in text, there really much that sets this game apart from most other well done RPGs. But when playing the game everything just fits so well. Most RPGs can’t seem to figure out in having a open world that truly feels alive and full of discovery. Quests that truly feel that the player is making an impact in real events around them. However, this game nails these things perfectly. On top of that, the game has very unique gothic type theme to it. Today, the vampire craze that begin in the late 2000s has recently ended. But before vampires turned into a guilty sex pleasure for girls in their teens and twenties, they were seen as very clliche horror monsters. Troika’s title mixed things up by bringing the vampires into a much more modern, urban, and hip atmosphere. To simplify things, most JRPGs clearly focus too much on targeting teenagers. In contrast, most WRPGs focus too much on targeting adults well into their thirties and beyond. This leaves many people who are in their twenties and early thirties without anything that focuses on them. JRPGs seem too child-like and angst, while WRPGs are too dry and pretentious. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines finds itself targeting those in young adulthood very well with its focus on stumbling upon social themes, but divorcing itself from child-like drama or life long regrets. It isn’t the fact that the actual gameplay allows a lot of freedom, but the setting the player finds themselves in. You are twenty-something year old without parents to answer to or children to take care of. The world is your playground with the city as your playpen. I feel that is an accurate deduction of why the game is so beloved.
Of course this isn’t to say the game doesn’t have a dark and creepy atmosphere. The game has a wonderful gloomy artstyle with dark tones and saturated colors. The environment is dirty and depraved. And the soundtrack is top notch. However, at the end of the day I feel that the two things that make this game so beloved is the focus on appealing to the lifestyle of twenty-something year olds (as well as a good share of those in their thirties), but the fact that it showed an alternate route of where 3D WRPGs could have gone. It seems that most 3D WRPGs today focus on having a large environment with lots of quests at the expense of consequential choice based gameplay. Sure there are some titles like The Witcher that show developers that they can have their cake and eat it too, but they are incredibly rare. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines went against the tide in many aspects, and as a result it stands out today in many many ways, and will continue to do so in the future.
19| Mother 3
Released: April 04th, 2006
Available On: Game Boy Advance
I’m going to be very blunt about this. I didn’t like Earthbound at all. Personally, I feel that it is one of the most over-rated games ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very unique and charming at times. However, much of the game mechanics, as well as the over-arching story are a mess. The cult status the game enjoys is a big mystery to me. That said, when I gave the game’s sequel a try “Mother 3” all I could think of to myself was this “I am very glad that this wasn’t localized”. This wasn’t because the game was bad, rather to the contrary. It was because the game was so unique and avantgarde that there would be no way that Nintendo’s conservative localization team would be able to do it justice.
Due to Earthbound having a large cult fanbase, when the game wasn’t getting localized the Earthbound community decided to localize the game themselves. The result was one of the best localization of any game ever. I can’t praise the fan translation enough. It’s probably the best localization I have ever played. It’s up there with Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter. It’s even more mind blowing considering that it was done for free. It isn’t just because of how they handled the characters and plot, but how they handled the game’s lighthearted as well as off-beat tones. This includes some touchy subjects such as death, slavery, and sexuality. Yes you heard that right, despite this game looking like a Nick Jr. cartoon, it takes on some serious subjects. But to add further to the confusion is how when these subjects are present the game, for the most part, still takes a lighthearted tone.
To explain exactly what Mother 3 is, it is essentially a parody of common Japanese Role Playing Games. Technically it plays just like any other JRPG out there. It’s party based, has a main character, has a turn based battle system, is linear, and has a strong over-arching story. Even if you want to get more technical about it, the game even revolves around kids saving the world. The thing is, outside of that, the game is anything but ordinary. For starters the world of the title is far removed from anything typically seen in other video games. Supposedly it takes place in the modern day, but despite that there are dinosaurs, advanced spaceships, and cowboys running amok. If I had to compare the world of Mother 3 to something, I would say that it’s sort of like the world of Dragonball. A mix of the past, the future, and the modern day. This kooky crazy world lends much to the look and feel the game shoots for. Playing the title kind of feels like you are in a living comic strip. There are plenty of times when you crack a smile or even laugh. That said, things can get pretty morbid at times, however going into detail, I will likely be spoiling it.
Gameplay wise, despite the game doing it’s best to hide it, it follows a mostly typical JRPG design. There are some stand out features though. The biggest is the battle system. Like it’s predecessor, damage is done by rolling health, as health gradually depletes instead of being taken instantaneously. For example, say that my character has 200 HP left, and an enemy hits me with 300 damage. Obviously my character is on their way to die, however I don’t get the 300 damage all at once. The health will see a quick drop initially and then gradually deplete over the course of a some seconds. During that time I can heal my health back up or attack the enemy, hoping to kill them first, before my health counts down to zero. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword, as the opposite can happen with an enemy that could do quite some damage to my party before they collapse. There is also the fact that the game takes some pages from Dragon Quest IV as throughout the title the player plays as multiple characters, each with their own story arcs. Personally, I don’t usually like this, but the it is done perfectly as each character is very charming and memorable.
Despite being such a niche series, it is crazy how much influence the Mother franchise has had on gaming. I’ve already covered it in an early entry, but Undertale was so influenced by the Mother series that the creator got his start with an Earthbound game hack. Again, I don’t see what people saw in Earthbound, but I certainly see what people see in Mother 3. It is a highly unique and entertaining game that I wouldn’t want to have come out any different. Mother 4 may never, and likely will never, be released. However, the spirit and tone of the series will live on for a long long time.
Released: May 28th, 2015
Available On: Wii U
Splatoon is the game that Nintendo fans, and gamers in general, had been waiting almost fifteen years for. The biggest criticism given to Nintendo is how they rarely create new IPs. Now before Nintendo diehards pull out the guillotine, let me explain what most people mean by this criticism. Sure, technically Nintendo makes new IPs, even frequently. Recently we saw Codename S.T.E.A.M. and there is the upcoming 3DS game Ever Oasis. However, what people mean are big budget new IPs that are clearly part of Nintendo’s entrenched catalog of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and what not. For an equivalent, take Ubisoft’s Watchdogs. It was a huge big budget game developed internally by Ubisoft to be slatted as one of their biggest franchises. It was also highly praised at the time not only due to its seemingly unique concept, but that it was a big budget new IP for Ubisoft, as the company had been resting on its laurels every since Assassin’s Creed. Sure, Ubisoft had made some new IPs around that time such as Child of Light and Grow Home, but they weren’t that highly budgeted and clearly don’t serve those who want something more meaty and part of Ubisoft’s main catalog. This is similar to Nintendo’s dilemma, they make new IPs, but they aren’t planned to be as entrenched in Nintendo’s main lineup as their other well known titles. The last game Nintendo released as a new IP that fit this criteria, was Pikmin all the way at the turn of the millennium. When Splatoon was announced, it was met with a lot of excitement just for being a new title that was part of Nintendo’s main course.
At the time of Splatoon’s release, it was initially met by skepticism to some. First off, it was a third person shooter where the goal wasn’t to shoot the enemy, but rather to shoot literally everything else. “Paint the town red” isn’t just an expression in the game, in fact it is the game. Each player controls a humanoid squid equipped with squirt gun-like paint weapons. The goal is to cover the map in as much of your team’s paint as possible before the timer runs out. It sounds simple, but it is surprisingly fun and competitive. What’s more, is that due to competitors being squids, the characters can actually jump inside and swim in their team’s paint, being undetected by the enemy. However, if they manage to walk on the enemy’s paint, their feet get stuck on it and thus they begin to walk very slowly, basically being the perfect targets. What’s more, is that the game is developed around the Wii U’s unique controller. The touch screen is used to have players instantly travel to other players across the map at any time with no interruption of the game. There is also the fact that the game uses gyro controls for superior aiming, proving that gyro controls are far more accurate and responsive than analog controls. If you took any one of these aspects of the game, you would have an innovative title, but when you add them all up together, you get ground breaking one.
As time has gone on, Splatoon has changed in many ways. Unlike virtually every other game with updates, Splatoon not only hit the ground running, but began offering tons of new weapons and modes on a regular basis for free. It seemed Nintendo has taken a chapter out of Valve’s Team Fortress 2 book in rather than creating a game with a bunch of paywall DLC, expansions, or yearly outings, focuses on keeping the title alive with free updates. And it seems to be working well as the game is one of the best selling titles on the Wii U and has a strong following. This isn’t too surprising as many of these updates keep pulling people back into the game. Many of the new modes such as Splatoon’s version capture the flag and payload are so popular that it is difficult to imagine the game without them. This goes ditto for a lot of the new weapon classes such as the paintbrush.
One thing that is to be said about the game is how cool and hip it is. Never since Jet Set Radio has there such a “cool” and “with it” title. From the Akihabaran inspired location, to the killer soundtrack, to the fashion focused design choices, the world of Splatoon feels very young and energetic.
Splatoon is a welcome in not just Nintendo’s offerings, but gaming in general. In the modern age, it feels all of the best and most interesting games are happening in the independent scene. Boxed games are becoming less and less relevant to the gaming community as the titles feel more homogenous than ever. Splatoon is different, it breathes new life in the long stagnant shooter genre as it puts a focus on expanding territory and teamwork, all with a happy and energetic vibe. Splatoon is the game Nintendo needs if they want to stay relevant in the modern era of gaming. And if the title is a hint at things to come, the future looks very promising for the house that Mario built.
17| Guilty Gear XX ^ Core
Released: September 11th, 2007
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also On: PS2, Wii
In today’s gaming world, the fighting game genre is as healthy as it has been in years. Just this year alone there has been a new Street Fighter, as well as a new King of Fighters. Both titles are seen as solid according to the fighting game community at large. The future also looks bright with many ongoing series continuing to receive revisions, as well as a slew of interesting indie titles, and rumors of a fourth Marvel vs Capcom game. However, things weren’t always so peachy when it came to the fighting genre, specifically the 2D type.
After 2001, Capcom all but abadoned the genre. SNK was a shell of its former self constantly working with the same rehashed sprites from the Neo Geo, and the only developers focusing on making traditional style 2D games were doujin developers from Japan. Which were never properly released in the West (most notably Melty Blood). However, in this dark period of the 2D fighting genre there was one developer keeping things alive. Arc System Works was releasing the “Guilty Gear” series which boasted unique and fast one on one gameplay, an enticing combo system, and the highest resolution sprites ever seen. Both playing the game and looking at the game had it an arm and a leg above of what other developers were churning out.
It’s difficult for me to try and explain what made Guilty Gear so different from other fighting games at the time, but I’ll try my best. The most obvious reason is that it focuses a lot on dashing, specifically in the air. Hence why it’s often referred to as an “air dasher”. If you ever watch Guilty Gear being played, especially by experienced people, you will notice the characters dashing back and forth in the air after the player does a jump. This is a very good way to close and gain distance on your opponents. It also makes certain moves, such as overhead attacks, much more of a threat. Technically there were games that had airdashing long before Guilty Gear, Vampire Savior for example had air dashing. However, it wasn’t as intuitive nor as useful as it is in Guilty Gear.
There is also the fact that the game has many different features crammed into it. There is the burst meter which results in the character immediately “pushing” their opponent far away while they are being attacked, which is a good way to stop long drawn out, and even possibly infinite, combos. There is also the tension meter which can be used as a shield to stop damage when blocking, performing supers. And of course, there is also the option to disable the tension meter to perform an “instant kill” attack which results in the opponent being killed outright, no matter the state of their health.
All these things combined to make Guilty Gear’s “airdasher” genre the “third pillar” subgenre of the 2D fighting game…err…subgenre. You had traditional one on one fighters like Street Fighter, combo focused tag team games like Marvel, and now airdashers like Guilty Gear. Yes, this is a hilarious oversimplification, but it does ring true to a degree and displays just how unique Guilty Gear was for its time.
Before I close out, I HAVE to mention the game’s incredible soundtrack. The Guilty Gear series has the best soundtrack of any video game out there. I feel that only the Ys series can be compared. Even today after almost a decade of discovering the series, I still listen to some of the tried and true tunes in my car while driving to work.
Despite the series starting from humble beginnings, the once cult franchise has become one of the most popular game series in the fighting game community. The newest iteration was in the top five most registered games at EVO last year, and the second most registered traditional fighting game at nearly one thousand people. This is pretty impressive for a series that was once dropped for a year, as some suspected due to the lack of entrants. The series love is more than deserved as there is nothing else like it both from a gameplay and presentation standpoint. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.
16| Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Trials and Tribulations
Released: October 23rd, 2007
Definitive Version: Nintendo DS; Also On: 3DS, iOS, Wii
The Ace Attorney franchise has gone from obscure to cult classic to a household name in portable gaming. Much like Etrian Odyssey and at one time Castlevania, if you are a “portable gamer” it is mandatory that you play the Ace Attorney games. And for good reason, they provide a whimsical and fun storyline and atmosphere that few other games can offer. The gameplay and plots are designed around small bites of playthrough, but are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention if they are looking to play for hours on end in a single sitting. The title is very text heavy that it feels more like an interactive book than a video game, and the charming characters make even the most anti-bookworm in us want to dabble through the game’s text even more. There are currently six mainline games in the series, and nine if you count the spin-offs.
With so many entries in the series, it obviously has newcomers constantly asking what is the best game in the franchise? Typically when there are so many high quality games a series, fans are divided over which entry reigns supreme. The Souls fanbase constantly seems split between which of the four entries is the best one. Street Fighter fans have no consensus over what is the best the Street Fighter game. The list goes on. However, this isn’t really the case for the Ace Attorney series. A vast majority of fans agree that the best game in the series, is the third entry.
It is very common in gaming for the third entry in a “trilogy” to be the best one. This is mostly due to the fact that they are often planned as the last games in the series. It definitely seems that’s the way it was for the third entry in the Ace Attorney series. In terms of story and characters, the developers went all out. Trials and Tribulations is bar none the most intense and “epic” title in the franchise. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of plot, I’ll just say that it heavily involves the past of protagonists and addresses some glaring loose ends in the game’s series.
There isn’t really much to say about Trials and Tribulations other than that it is an Ace Attorney game. It uses the same visual novel, detective, and contradiction finding gameplay as all the other titles in the series. What makes it stand out is just how well written and paced it is. I realize this may not be the most satisfying answer, but it is the truth. The characters shine in this game like they don’t in any other title, the plot is gripping, and the writing is top notch. If you are going to play only one game in the series, don’t make it this one, as it can’t fully be appreciated unless the first two entries are played. Being honest, all titles are in the series are great and are deserving of being on this list. But being forced to choose the creme de le creme, I’ll have to put Trials and Tribulations at the top of the list.
I realize that this is a very short entry, especially for such a high quality game. It certainly deserves a much longer write-up. But in reality all there is to say about it is that it is the best Ace Attorney game. Simple as that.
15| Virtue’s Last Reward
Released: October 23rd, 2012
Definitive Version: Playstation Vita; Also On: 3DS
It seems that what’s all the rage these days are escape rooms. I’ve noticed that many of my coworkers often talk about how they often look forward to going to local escape rooms around the area with their friends, or playing various iPhone escape room themed apps. For those unfamiliar what an escape room is, it essentially puts people in an unfamiliar room with various puzzles and tricks. It is up to the individuals to solve these puzzles and trickery in order to unlock an exit to the room. It’s a simple concept, but it results in a lot of fun. As such, these businesses have been popping up everywhere lately.
However, those who are familiar with gaming, especially that in the handheld sphere, are no strangers to escape rooms. Over half a decade ago, Western players were introduced to a title called “999” which gave gamers a familiarity with the concept. The game was essentially part visual novel and part escape room. The game was progressed with heavy text cutscenes, in visual novel fashion, followed by an escape room puzzle. It was pretty much rinse and repeat after that, however, the puzzles and story were both so engaging that this was welcomed. But what really made it stand out was it’s branch pathing gameplay. Throughout the game players make choices of what to do in various events. This mostly included who to partner with, usually to unlock various doors within the game. To summarize, each character was assigned a number, as were the doors throughout the facility. In order to open up the doors, the player must team up with enough corresponding characters to add up to the number on the corresponding door. It may seem silly, but it is interesting and adds a lot of replay value as different puzzles are encountered and different events occur.
999 was very well received and quickly gained a cult status within the gaming community. It also had a soft rivalry with the Ace Attorney series, as it arguably still does, since it was a contender for the best visual novel/adventure game on its respected platform. However, the game was released at the tail end of the Nintendo DS’s life cycle and new platforms were approaching. A sequel to 999 was soon announced and that it would be released on both the upcoming Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita. The title was released a bit over a year later.
Virtue’s Last Reward takes place a few years after the first title. I don’t want to give much away, so I won’t explain much, if any, of the story. The basic format is still all there. The game is essentially half visual novel and half escape room/puzzles. Though there are a few key differences. The biggest difference is that while the game still extensively features branch pathing, the player must explore every possible path throughout their playthrough. While one has to restart their playthrough with 999 after each, often gruesome, ending, during Virtue’s Last Reward the player has the ability to navigate through a web of various events throughout the storyline and jump back and forth in between them, exploring every possible option. In 999, you are at the whims of the timeline you choose, while in Virtue’s Last Reward you wield it. It is very interesting seeing just how things can progress so radically different just by altering one single event. There is also the fact that rather than using the cumbersome number system, the game has each player and door assigned a “color” instead. It takes out the complication of math and makes things more straight forward.
But arguably the most interesting change to the game is the “ally” and “betray” system. Basically, the way it works is that before each escape room each “contestant” is paired with a partner. In order to exit a room, each pair must cooperate with another pair to solve the puzzles. After the escape room is completed, both pairs go into a private room where they vote either “ally” or “betray”. If they vote “ally” then each player gains 2 points, if you choose “betray” then you gain 3 points, while the corresponding person gains no points. The purpose of these points is that those who receive more than 9 points are released from the facility, those who do not stay until they reach 9 points. The solution may seem simple enough. Just have everyone vote ally so everyone gets out. Unfortunately, knowing human nature, things aren’t that simple.
The result of these changes is a very engaging title that is overall bigger and better than the first game. Virtue’s Last Reward takes everything that was great about 999 and builds upon it. This isn’t just from a gameplay standpoint, but also a story standpoint. A lot of dots left over from the previous game are connected, while in contrast a lot of new single dots are created. There are also a few recurring characters from the previous title as well as plenty of new ones. Virtually all of them stand out and are arguably the best characters in the series. This however, could be argued as a “weakness” as the title really is best when playing the first game in the series to fully understand the situation.
I also have to touch upon the game’s music. The soundtrack is great and fits the game perfectly. It is no wonder that the next game in the series uses so many, if not the majority, of it’s musical pieces from Virtue’s Last Reward. The trance like state and disillusion feeling the music brings is perfect for the game’s atmosphere.
The series has supposedly come to a close with the recently released Zero Time Dilemma. The game was released for the PS Vita, 3DS, and to a pleasant surprise Steam. It’s a great game and all, and is in-line with the other games in the franchise. Unfortunately, I find the game to be the weakest in the series, though that isn’t saying much being how well made these titles are. With the series supposedly at a close, I can comfortably say that Virtue’s Last Reward is the best game among the three. It has the best story, the best gameplay, the best music, and really the best everything. It represents the pinnacle of the series and is at a peak that very few games reach. With the popularity escape rooms are getting it is difficult for me to imagine that this is the last we will see of the nonary game. I hope that I am right.
14| Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Released: September 13th, 2011
Available On: PC
From the late 2000s to the mid-2010s there was an utter domination of the shooter genre. Never since platformers during the late 80s and early 90s had a genre had such a strangle hold on the console market. With Halo maintaining its status as a popular franchise, and Call of Duty becoming a monstrous success with it’s fourth entry, it seemed that every publisher was flocking to find the next big title in the genre. Sureeven today shooters are still one of the most popular genre in the market today, but during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era, it seemed that virtually every hyped game involved shooting guns in the first person perspective, or at least over the shoulder. Many people at the time were calling the generation “the golden age of first person shooters”.
While that is arguable for many reasons, personally I don’t really feel that way. While the quantity was there, like WRPGs at the time, many shooters were watered down to appeal to the mass market. Rainbow Six used to be a tactical FPS series, but starting with Rainbow Six Vegas, it became yet another corridor FPS. Bioshock was the spiritual successor of System Shock II. Yet, despite upping the ante with the presentation, the level design was pathetic and the RPG elements were much more basic than its predecessor. And while the likes of Call of Duty and Killzone dominated the charts, they were a far cry, of what other first person shooters were doing for years in multiple categories.
That said, the era did have a lot of quality first person shooters. Team Fortress 2, Crysis, and Metro 2033 come to mind. But out of all of them, the one I felt stood head and shoulders above the rest, especially in terms of online mutliplayer, was Red Orchestra 2. With such a funny sounding name, most assume it is part of a Konami’s “music game” series where the player is a maestro who wields a baton to conduct a symphony. While that does seem like something that is so strange that it could be a reality, the title is actually a Soviet themed WWII multiplayer first person shooter. The premise of the game is very basic, you join a large map with a large amount of players. Players are divided into two teams, Soviets and Nazis. There are two modes of the game, which is either to capture all of the territory or defeat all of the enemy teams players. In short, it’s much like any other multiplayer shooter.
What separates Red Orchestra 2 from other titles are quite a few things. First off is that the gun handling isn’t like most other titles. Modern machine guns and assault rifles do not exist in the game. The vast majority of players wield a simple rifle. This means that after each shot a player takes, they need to reload their gun. There is also the fact that the game is very unforgiving with its hitboxes. One needs be lined up just right in order to hit their opponent, while headshots are an extreme rarity, even moderate distances. That said when one does get hit, they lose a lot of health as it is often dire. This leads to two things about the game that few other shooters deliver, tension and reward. Due to not being able to kill enemies instantly in a spray of bullets players have to wait and sneak up on enemies in order to get a perfect shot in. Players often camp in dense foliage or obscure parts in buildings in order to surprise players. In most games, this would lead to plenty of cheap kills, but due to Red Orchestra 2’s brilliant level design there and multiple routes to take in a map as well as plenty of ways to scout for enemies. Waiting for a player to come by like a fish grabbing bait, or sneaking up and outsmarting a tricky opponent is so rewarding. Red Orchestra 2 doesn’t rely simply on skills of wielding the gun, but more so on tactics and strategy.
The game also has pristine presentation. The Soviet inspired world both terrifies and invigorates the player. Moving through the maps and hearing characters talk, one can see just how dominate Stalinism was during the era. Stalinism wasn’t just a political ideology, it was life for these soldiers and the world of the game really captures that. But one has to talk about the game’s excellent soundtrack. It’s so good, that the music actually players during gameplay. Regularly this would be ridiculed, but being that it fits the game so well, it not only gets a pass, but it is actively embraced with open arms. Being the Soviets were so heavily involved in World War II and did more to defeat the Germans than any other nation, it’s nice to see a title focus so much on their perspective of the war.
In 2013 a stand alone expansion pack called “Rising Storm” was released. It was essentially Red Orchestra 2, but only with Americans and Japanese rather than Russians and Germans. It too was a great game, but at the end of the day, I felt that the maps were a bit lacking. And while I would like to see more games about the Pacific Theater, there is just no beating hyper masculine Soviet theme of classic Red Orchestra. That said, Rising Storm does have the ability for the player to wield swords and flamethrowers. Another stand alone expansion called “Rising Storm: Vietnam” is also currently in beta and scheduled for release in the not so distant future.
Red Orchestra 2 was a military focused multiplayer first person shooter in a sea of military focused multiplayer first person shooter. Despite this it managed to stand out thanks to tactical, tense, and rewarding gameplay. Tripwire Interactive has proven itself to be a very competent developer, and hope the future of the series remains bright, and red, as ever.
13| Duke Nukem 3D
Released: January 29th, 1996
Available On: PC (all major OSes), PS4, Xbox One, PS3, XBox 360, PS Vita, N64, iOS, Android, PS, Saturn, MD
With the release of Doom in December 1993, there were soon seemingly countless titles emulating the game’s formula. After existing in the country’s mainstream culture for around 20 years, there was finally a video game that mastered a tight formula around America’s love affair with guns. As such, Doom was a major success, and every company wanted to cash in. So much so that there were “doom clones” found in cereal boxes (the game was supposedly pretty good by the way, which is shocking). Released at the absolute height of FPS domination was “Duke Nukem 3D”. A sequel to what was essentially a 2D platformer, Duke Nukem 3D was a dramatic shift from the original game to say the last. It was welcomed change because what resulted was arguably the greatest FPS of all-time, and in my opinion the best in the “run-and-gun” FPS subgenre.
For those unfamiliar with Duke Nukem 3D, it essentially Doom, but better. It has the same labyrinth style level design and fast paced run and gun gameplay. The key difference between the two titles is that Duke Nukem 3D is just…well a far superior game. Duke Nukem 3D has bigger and more complex levels, more challenging and original enemies, and is just far more ambitious overall. It may sound like I’m generalizing a bit too much, but there really isn’t any other way to describe the game. Duke Nukem 3D simply replaces Doom’s demons and the possessed with aliens and the mutated, and just ups the ante in every aspect. If you like Doom, you will LOVE Duke Nukem 3D.
Playing the game for the first time ever in 2013 was a real experience. I literally played the game for hours upon hours for days until I beat it. One thing that really stood out to me about the game, was how much more advanced it was compared to modern FPSes. This especially was ringing true since I then recently finished Bioshock: Infinite and tried my hands with Crysis 2 a couple of months earlier.
This image often get ridiculed, but the reality is that it is pretty accurate. Playing Crysis 2 or Bioshock: Infinite, the games were pretty much “run forward, kill things, repeat”. In contrast, Duke Nukem 3D was much MUCH more complex. The maps are multi-layered with tons of doorways and rooms to explore. Backtracking is very common and finding secrets and hidden areas are often a must in order to progress the game. Sure, much of the areas are a little ridiculous and at times seem to be designed by H.H. Holmes. But at the end of the day they made you want to explore and most importantly think of how to progress to the next area. That said, it just isn’t the map design that is more advanced. Duke Nukem 3D boasts an impressive arsenal of deadly and varied weapons. The player can carry 9 weapons at a time. Some of these weapons include the freezethrower to turn enemies into blocks of ice or the Shrinker that shrinks enemies so that the player can stop on them. This also of course includes the bread and butter weapons such as the pistol, shotgun, and RPG. In contrast to this, most modern FPSes rarely let the player carry more than two weapons at a time. This is likely due to the fact that most FPSes today are designed with consoles in mind, meaning that offering a lot of weapons at a time to the player is a big no-no, as switching between weapons is a pain on a traditional controller. This also ignores the fact of how boring the weapons are. When a shotgun is seen as the “oh shit!” weapon in your game, you know the weapon choices are pretty shitty. There are many other things as well, but bottom line is that playing Duke Nukem 3D really displays just how watered down the genre has gotten over the years.
Arguably the biggest thing that people claim that makes Duke Nukem 3D stand out is the presentation. The title character is portrayed as a “no fucks given” crew cut 80’s action hero badass. He constantly uses one liners and has no problem going into strip clubs or hitting on the ladies. The game also has a lot of humor such as having the LAPD all turning into mutated pigs and various pop culture references throughout the maps. I emphasized that this is what people claim, because through my playthrough I didn’t really notice this that much. I mean sure Duke Nukem is portrayed as a self-parody badass, but outside of a few one liners throughout a stage and a ten seconds cutscene after the seldom boss battles, it isn’t really that noticeable. The pop culture references are a nice touch, but even these aren’t that common. The game certainly isn’t a Working Designs title.
As I said before, what makes the game great isn’t the wacky humor and atmosphere, but that it is such a well designed title. Unfortunately, 3D Realms never got this message. It seems that ever addition to the series that followed Duke Nukem 3D was a disappointment. The first expansion pack “The Birth” had piss poor level design. The maps weren’t that simple, but they weren’t really fun to explore. However, pop culture references in the game were literally everywhere. I admittedly haven’t played the other expansions, but they look much more similar to The Birth than the main game. Duke Nukem 3D’s sequel, appropriately titled “Duke Nukem Forever”, was pretty much a running joke for the longest time. To make modern gamers under the age of 25 understand the whole hubbub about the title’s history, the game essentially out “The Last Guardian”…”The Last Guardian”. It was in continuous development for 14 years. It was plagued by delays and rebuilds all the way up until it’s final release in 2011. The thing is that 3D Realms technically never finished the game. In 2009, 12 years after the game was being developed, 3D Realms announced that they were severely downsizing the company, and that Duke Nukem 3D’s team would be let go. However, Gearbox software, mostly known for the Borderlands titles, agreed to finish the game and released it. The result is one of the most disappointing, broken, and shitty games of all-time. You can say what you want about “The Last Guardian” but at least the game was functioning and playable, however Duke Nukem Forever was just flatout unfinished. And is likely one of the most disappointing moments in gaming history, but being honest…it was kind of expected.
As far as I am considered, I view the Duke Nukem franchise much like I do with the Secret of Mana series. You have one or two really fantastic titles in the series, but with a bunch of other tiles that range from being mediocre to just piss poor. It’s very unfortunate, but it seems that with the release of Duke Nukem Forever the title character will finally be put out of his misery. I one day just hope that the genre goes back to its roots.
12| The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt
Released: May 19th, 2015
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: PS4, Xbox One
If you have been reading through this list, you can tell that I am a big fan of CD Projekt’s “The Witcher” series. It was the first “pure” Western role playing game series that I enjoyed. And it really aided in pulling me toward the genre. The first game was classic and testament to dark role playing rich games at a time when open world games with little substance were all the rage. The sequel continued that trend. To say that the third game realized the series potential is a mass understatement. The Witcher III just didn’t realize the original vision of the The Witcher series, but pretty much the entire role playing genre and arguably gaming itself. Now yes, this sounds like pure hyperbole but it really isn’t.The Witcher III does what gamers have been dreaming about since forever. A true role playing experience with a huge explorable interactive 3D world with a strong main storyline, deep intertwined quests, and a living breathing world. Typically with RPGs there is always a sacrifice. You either have a huge explorable world with a lot of pointless side quests and a weak storyline (such as Xenoblade X or The Elder Scrolls titles) or you have a small linear experience with a highly engaging story and/or very meaty side quests (such as in Final Fantasy or Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines). For the longest time, these things were divided because developers had to pick and choose. One simply doesn’t have the time or the resources to focus on all of these things at once. Apparently, CD Projekt managed to accomplish this impossibility. The Witcher III managed to check every box, and checks it damn well.
How did they accomplish this? Being honest, I’m not so sure. I believe it was just simply that they set out to create the best game possible and just exhausted the amount resources to make three games into just one game. And being honest that’s what playing The Witcher III feels like. To start off, just walking around or riding on horse back, exploring town to town feels like it’s own game. There plenty of hidden caves, dungeons, and random things going on. While just merely exploring you will come across plenty of side quests. A vast majority of these will be very meaty and have as much backstory to them as the average “big sidequest” in other WRPGs. The world is massive and everything you see in the distance you can actually go to, no matter how far. If you manage to reach the shore, no big deal. You can just take a raft and sail further to the next continent and continue your expedition.
The thing is though, is that the main game’s storyline is so intriguing that you find yourself torn between exploring or continue doing the “must do objectives.” Let’s be honest, storyline isn’t usually one of WRPGs strong points. People like to pretend that titles like Deus Ex or even Fallout have storylines to match the top end JRPGs, but they really don’t come close. The Witcher III technically doesn’t either, but it tries a different approach. Similar to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines it tries to sell the world. Upon the quest you go through tons of towns meeting a variety of interesting characters with haunting backstories. It’s so easy to get lost in the game’s lore. However, the main plot is also pretty interesting. Again it’s not the most engaging plot out there, but it certainly keeps your attention. It revolves around the main character Geralt searching for who is essentially his psuedo daughter Ciri. It sounds basic and cliche, but it works very well. It’s interesting to see how each main quest, and even a good amount of side quests, are intertwined with Ciri’s actions. It’s really neat seeing everything come together at the end.
But what’s perhaps the most impressive thing to me is how despite the game having so many quests, both mandatory and optional, is just how interconnected everything is. Make no mistake, the size of The Wticher III makes zero compromise on the actual role playing. Every choice the character makes has an effect on the game, sometimes immediate, sometimes at the end. The games quests are intertangled in a massively huge web that results in other quests being unlocked or taken away. It results in many alliances or enemies. And it results in the entire world of the game changing right before one’s eyes. The title flatout embarrasses every other modern game when it comes to the role playing department. It isn’t just simply being “good” or “evil” it’s about making tough choices both personally and for the greater good.
I could literally write almost a book about The Witcher III. Hell, I haven’t even talked about it’s technical achievements as the game is fucking gorgeous and runs stunningly well even on average gaming PC. I haven’t written about the game’s perfect OST, or how everything in the game, down to the most minimal side quest is voice acted. The best way I can explain the game is that it is a unicorn. The Witcher III is a game that has massive overworld with tons of side quests, but with a deep story, deep quests, and and all that are interconnected with one another in choice based gameplay. It has tons of text that is all voice acted. Crazy huge draw distances and a big environment with some of the most best looking graphics in gaming, that runs very well in 60fps with modest rig. The game is just full of contradictions. I would usually end this by saying that the title added a new standard for the genre, but the reality is that the standard set by it is so high that it just flatout unrealistic. The Witcher III is like if CD Projekt got all the fans together like this clip from The Simpsons. The fans listed their highly unrealistic and contradictory wants and expectations. But instead of yelling at them, CDProjekt delivered.
11| System Shock II
Released: August 11th, 1999
Available On: PC (All major OSes)
Bioshock is a very mediocre game. After being hyped to Atlantis I actually purchased the game for my PC during its launch day on August 21st 2007. The thing is, is that at the time I was also at the point of wrapping up the original Deus Ex. I found Deus Ex to be a memorizing and highly enjoyable experience. With well designed maps, an immersive world, a well done mixture of the FPS and RPG genres, the game quickly became one of my favorites at the time. My only complaint with it was the brain dead enemy A.I.. However, despite enjoying the game so much, I was under pressure to finish it as soon as possible. The reason? Bioshock was releasing that day. The game was receiving praise to no end with many saying was the natural evolution of the first person shooter/RPG hybrid genre with revolutionary storytelling. I finished Deus Ex just a few hours after Bioshock was unlocked for downloading. The ending of the game was fantastic and it made me pump to play the evolution of the genre.
After some time with Bioshock I was extremely disappointed. Sure, the presentation was top notch. The graphics were insane at the time and the art style was beautiful. There was ton of cinematics throughout the game making me feel like I was playing a movie, and the character design was great with the Big Daddy’s in particular scaring the shit out of me. The issue with the game was anything relating to the actual gameplay. The map design was pathetic. So simplistic to the point where there were fucking arrows telling you where to go. Yes, you could turn them off, but the entire game is designed around this handholding and even with the arrows off the map design is still ridiculously simplistic. The RPG elements seemed a monumental step back from what I was expecting coming out of Deus Ex. They were very simplistic and as basic as you can make them. There was virtually zero penalty for dying as you immediately respawned at a nearby “checkpoint” in a regeneration chamber. The list goes on and on. Suffice to say, I found the game disappointing.
From what I understood at the time, is that Bioshock was a spiritual successor to a title named System Shock II that came out eight years early. I wouldn’t sink my teeth into this game until half a decade later. If playing Deus Ex prior to Bioshock made me disappointed in Bioshock, then if I would have played System Shock II before playing Bioshock then my disappointment would have instead morphed into venomously hatred. Playing System Shock II well over a decade after its initial release resulted in my being glued to my computer. The game was phenomenal in so many ways. And literally addresses every issue I had with Bioshock.
To start off, the level design is light years ahead of Bioshock. Despite taking place on a spaceship rather than an actual city, System Shock II’s maps are far more complex and layered than anything in Bioshock. Every area has multiple floors all interconnected with one another that are filled with different secrets, items, and other interesting things to discover. In order to actually progress in the game you need to actively explore the area. Rather than relying on arrows on the ground to prevent the player from getting lost the game instead just uses ingenious visual cues and constructed areas to give the player hints on where to go, but not enough to the point where it is handholding. The game’s maps manage to properly find the balance to not be cryptic enough so the area doesn’t feel like a maze, but not streamlined enough so that it doesn’t feel like a tunnel.
There are also the game’s RPG elements. There are so many different stats, weapons, and gadgets to play around with that the title arguably feels more like a RPG than FPS. It’s fascinating to see how changing different stats and settling on different weapons change the play style of the game. Particularly when they are all well suited in different situations. Especially when you can either choose to be good and using weapons or psychic abilities.
The final improvement I enjoyed was the game’s approach to immersion. To me, I sometimes feel that at times less is more when it comes to being immersed in a game. Sure, interactive cutscenes are nice and all, but they only maintain their effect in small doses. System Shock II understands this. While it does have its share of interactive cutscenes, must of the immersion comes from the gameplay itself. Huddling in a dark corner of a room, being in the opposite side of the exit, as two large dangerous creatures are walking in the room randomly looking for prey. Coming across a torn up body with blood all over the room and finding a recording of the person detailing their situation as they accept their inevitable fate. These are things to me that sell a game, while Bioshock didn’t have these moments absent in it, it did feel like it took interactive cutscenes as a primary focus.
In terms of the type of game System Shock II is, it is pretty much Bioshock, but on a spaceship. A character embarks on a flight in a spaceship only to wake up and find out that everyone is either dead or has turned into some type of horrific creature. It turns out that the ship has been hijacked by an extremely evil super A.I. with goals of taking over the world. It is up to the player to destroy the A.I. before it is too late. Things are obviously a bit more complicated than this, but it’s a general summary. The title revolves around an atmosphere of emptiness and loneliness as it plays the whole “in space no one can hear you scream” card. Here however it works very well being that throughout the player’s journey they will come across countless dead bodies and recorded journal entries of the victims detailing their situation in a haunting manner. Just like Bioshock these leave cues of the bigger picture of what’s going on. It’s a very innovative way of storytelling and it comes to no surprise that this is used so much today as demonstrated not only by Bioshock Infinite but also by titles like The Last of Us and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
System Shock II was way ahead of its time in virtually every aspect. It’s unfortunate that the game didn’t get the commercial success it deserved. Despite that it has not only become a cult classic but an absolute mandatory classic PC game playthrough. It is easy to see why. The game has aged phenomenally, partly due to it’s tried and true game design and partly due to modem FPS game design going backwards over the past decade. If you’re someone who tried their hand on the Bioshock series and felt that the series needed a little bit more meat during it’s course, I can’t recommend System Shock II enough.
Released: January 1989 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: MD, Virtual Console (Wii), PS, PCE
Well, you’ve finally reached this point. The top ten of my Greatest Video Games of All-Time (IMO) list. There were literally dozens of games that fought their way to get on this placement, however only a couple made it through. It took me a while to think which titles left as big of an impact and are enjoyable enough to actually rank in this area. I feel it is pretty fitting that Strider would make it to this level. For those unfamiliar with the game it is a side-scrolling action game set in the future that stars a highly acrobatic ninja named “Strider Hiyru”. The game was released at that start of when these side scrolling hack-n-slash games began to become the standard in the market. Ninja Gaiden for the NES was released just a few weeks prior, while Sega was set to release Revenge of the Shinobi in a couple months. What made Strider standout from these games, as well as almost every other game that followed, was that platform it was developed on. Strider was developed for the arcades, therefore it didn’t have to work around the limitations of consoles. The game featured huge sprites, many enemies on screen, and even an in-game physics system that calculated gravity. This alone made Strider head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.
That said, despite the game’s technical prowess, few people care or even notice it. There are two things that make Strider such a beloved game. How well the constant breakneck pacing mixes with the games acrobatic and fast paced gameplay, and the game’s marvelous setting. To make things simple, there is always something going on in Strider. The heroic ninja constantly walks around the area (usually to the right) and uses his long range sword to slash at every enemy he sees. His ninja flexibility and agility allow him to scale and climb nearly any platform or building in the area. Every time the X or Y axis of the screen moves, there is usually something prepared as enemies and platforms are placed very well in the game. Not only that, but the game features array of unique levels and segments. From scaling to the top of the sky-scrapers of Neo-Moscow to assaulting the inners of a zero gravity airship base, Strider offers plenty of variety and excitement. It’s non-stop action from beginning to end.
There is also the title’s awesome setting. It takes place in the distant (while I guess today not so distant) future where cyborgs, robots, and magic dominate. The game is like every ten year old kids fantasy come true. There is even a level where you travel to the amazon rainforest and interact and fight with dinosaurs (both organic and robotic)! The game’s art style is very comic booky and bright and the music manages to be both dark and cartoony at the same time. If you were going to point to someone what would be the quintessential example of a video game setting and atmosphere, Strider would be a top candidate.
The game isn’t without its faults however. For starters the game does decline in a quality after its third level as the final two stages aren’t as enjoyable to player as the first three. This goes double with the final stage which is far too punishing and dare I say confusing for its own good. While the cutscenes are a great touch, and it’s even cooler that they are voiced with each character speaking their native language, they are far too short which leaves the story to be practically nonexistent in a game world that has so much potential.
Like Duke Nukem 3D, Strider was an excellent title in the series in which the developer could never come close in matching again. Strider 2 for the Playstation was widely regarded as a disappointment. The recent reboot by Double Helix was regarded as good…but that’s just it, it was “good”. Strider isn’t suppose to be a “good” game, it’s suppose to be an incredible one. Hence why the original Strider is still talked about while the few year old reboot is all but forgotten.
Despite staring in only three official games, Strider Hiryu has been featured in many more. Despite hardly being Capcom’s most popular franchise, it seems that whenever there is a Capcom ensemble involved in a title, Strider WILL appear. This is probably due to the fact that the character is just so bad ass. He’s a futuristic ninja who is a master in acrobats and wields long reaching plasma sword. Why wouldn’t you want to play as him? He is a regular in Monolithsoft’s “X” SRPG series which gathers Namco, Capcom, SEGA, and Nintendo characters all together as playable characters. But where Strider is really well known is in the Marvel vs Capcom series. Most of this is due to the highly praised Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. The game boasted an insane roster of 56 playable character in a 3 vs 3 team fighter. However, the game contains insane speed and complexity at high level play that very few other fighting titles feature. Due to this the roster of viable characters for competitive play shrunk to around 16. Of these 16 only just 3 or 4 of them were from the Capcom side. Strider was one of those characters, and it really propelled him to being more recognized in the gaming community, especially since his character was so fun and unique to play as. Strider also returned in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 where he was once again viable in a game that boasts a huge roster that significantly shrinks when accounting characters that are tournament viable.
In age of where Capcom has all but become a shadow of its former self, it’s worth looking at games like Strider to remember just why they were held in such high regard in the first place. Sure Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Mega Man, and Devil May Cry all have great games in their series, but Capcom has produced tons of exciting and entertaining games over the years. And that’s worth to remember.
09| Kid Icarus: Uprising
Released: March 23rd, 2012
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
It has been a running gag for sometime that during one Sony’s major press conferences, a reboot of the Crash Bandicoot series will be announced. Sure technically there have been plenty of games featuring Crash Bandicoot in recent years, but they weren’t really Crash Bandicoot games as they were developed by a different developer, published by a different publisher, and were…well kind of shitty. Similar to the situation the Terminator film series finds itself in, Crash Bandicoot was a well received video game series when it was controlled from the ground up by it’s creator, in this case Naughty Dog. Once Naughty Dog moved on to bigger and better things, the license was sold and the franchise went to…well shit. Since then fans have been clamoring Sony to buy the license back and return the character to their former glory. Over the years Sony has given some teases to bringing the series back to the spotlight. Recent examples are things such as the glorified entrance during E3 2016 of Activision releasing a HD remaster of the first three games and a presenter wearing a Crash Bandicoot shirt during another Sony conference.
Why am I bringing up Crash Bandicoot? Because it is the closest current example I can think of when comparing to what Kid Icarus went through for years. Kid Icarus was originally one of the classic NES games. In case you live under a rock, pretty much every one of Nintendo’s biggest standing franchises started on the NES. Zelda got its start in the on the NES and became a flagship franchise. Mario got its start on the NES and became a flagship franchise. Metroid got started on the NES and became a flagship franchise. All of these titles were very different from one another, complemented each other very well, and had multiple appearances on pretty much every Nintendo console. Zelda was an epic action-adventure game with a medieval setting. Mario was a pick up and play platformer with a cartoony setting. Metroid was atmospheric action-adventure platformer with a sci-fi setting. However, there was another game in the NES library that was pretty popular and complemented these games perfectly. Kid Icarus was an epic action platformer with a Norse fantasy setting. It completed the “main franchise” circle perfectly. Despite the game selling well, achieving critical acclaim, being “Nintendo unique”, and having a cult fanbase, it only received a single sequel for decades. After the 1991 Game Boy game the series was never heard from again.
Over the years, fans begged for a sequel, but it never happened. Then during the 2000s, some teasing occurred. First was 2006’s Tetris DS, which had an entire level dedicated to the Kid Icarus game. Then most notably was Pit’s inclusion to the roster in 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Then in E3 2010, the impossible happened, a new Kid Icarus entry, was actually announced. Even more so, it was going to be developed for Nintendo’s upcoming Nintendo 3DS. As one would imagine, fans were floored.
Two years later the title was released. The first Kid Icarus game in almost twenty years. So how did it turn out? Very good, actually no, it turned out fantastic! Kid Icarus: Uprising not only met expectations, but it set a new standard in not just resurrecting franchises, but handheld gaming in general. Before I go into detail about the game, one has to understand just what kind of game the original Kid Icarus was. A vast majority of people think it’s simple a vertical platformer, in which instead of going from left to right, one goes from down to up. This is absolutely correct…for the first two levels or so. From there on out the game changes. It becomes side-scrolling dungeon crawler, then a traditional left-to-right 2D platformer, then a shoot-em-up, then back to a vertical platformer, then back to a side-scrolling dungeon crawler, then back to a shoot-em-up, then the game ends. My point is that the game had A LOT of variety. While it was technically mainly an action platformer, it didn’t really stick to one single genre. This is something that a modern entry of Kid Icarus had to get right. Kid Icarus: Uprising does just this. Half the game is pretty much one clearly defined genre. Though instead of this being the platforming genre, it is in fact the shooter genre. These segments are similar to titles such as Sin & Punishment in which the camera is behind the player as they move the reticule to shoot at enemies. It’s your typical affair, but what makes it stand out is how fast and frantic it can be. The game as a matter of fact let’s one control the “intensity” of each stage, so the higher intensity the player sets, the more enemies and chaos there will be on screen. This alone gives the game plenty of replay value.
Once the shooter portions are over, Pit (aka “Kid Icarus”) takes to the ground. The game then becomes a common action game. With Pit running on the ground, exploring the area, while taking out baddies with his trusty swords and arrows. However, these parts don’t just rest on their laurels, there is plenty of variety during these segments including controlling large robots, driving fast vehicles, and plenty of other things as well. The levels also change things up as some places are designed as labyrinth mazes or just straight forward action-platforming. Each stage has a boss battle at the end which is well worth your time. I’d dare to say that the game has some of the best boss battles I have ever played.
Now let me address the white elephant in the room. The controls. The 3DS, at least at the time, lacked a second analog stick. This meant that if you wanted to move character and aim at the same time, or move the camera freely around, you had to use the touch screen. So during the shooting stages the player had to move Pit with the analog stick while aim with the stylus on the touch screen, while shooting with the shoulder buttons. It takes time to adjust to it, but after a while one gets used it to it. Most of the biggest complaints are during the on ground segments. On the ground the player runs around with the analog stick, attacks with the shoulder buttons, uses items with the face buttons, and moves the camera or aims the arrows with the stylus on the touch screen. As one can imagine, this is pretty difficult to initially do and takes some practice. Especially due to how fast paced the game is. After a while however, most players get the hang of it. Keyword is “most”. Like Skyward Sword before it, Kid Icarus used a very unique control scheme which divided players into two groups: those who think it just takes getting used to and it enhances the game, and those who think it is broken, unneeded, and ruins the game. Personally, I am in the former category. Sure it takes time to learn and get used to the controls, but once one does it is very rewarding. That being said, I can understand the complaints. After playing the game for a while, it does get uncomfortable. I imagine those with more sensitive wrists will find it to be unpleasant. Nintendo realized this and sold the physical version of the game with a stand to aid players, especially those who happen to be left handed.
Despite the amazing gameplay the game goes all out on presentation. Make no mistake, this isn’t a “handheld” title. The game’s production matches that of a big budget console game. There is top notch voice acting, top notch cutscenes, a deep story, gorgeous graphics and effects, “epic” music, and tons of modes that I can’t even talk about. One could legitimately argue that it was Nintendo most ambitious game to date when it was released. I mean to me the only game that went so far at the time was Skyward Sword, besides that I have trouble thinking of anything else that compares. And it just isn’t all flash. The story is very engaging and characters are absolutely lovable. The world of Kid Icarus: Uprising is one you want to see again and again.
The title also sports an online mutliplayer mode. This mode involves a deathmatch or team deathmatch mode on one of many choices of maps, as each player controls their own Pit as they try to defeat their competitors by shooting arrows, attacking them with melee weapons, and using various items. It sounds like something that was very rushed and quickly put together, but it is actually surprisingly well throughout and pretty deep. Sure, it’s no Splatoon, but it’s not quite as far from that mark as one would assume. What’s really shocking is how active it was last time I played the game. I recall entering the online servers three years and a half years after the game was released and I never had a problem finding a match. Apparently the multiplayer had or has some serious legs. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still players on the servers.
What really makes this game stick out is the replayability. From controlling the difficulty of every level, to the online multiplayer, to countless unlockable, to animated mini-episodes, and a many other things I forgot, this game is packed with content with a lot to love. It’s funny because it technically doesn’t need any of that stuff. The game in by itself is replayable enough as it is because it’s a very enjoyable experience that one wants to go back to. But despite that, Nintendo didn’t leave it at that, they went all out on this title. There is so much I have yet to talk about the game, but I feel like it’s best to end here or else I’ll just ramble on and on. The best summarization I can give about this game is this: buy it, play it, love it.
08| Jet Set Radio
Released: October 30th, 2000
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, DC
If there was a single game I’d show someone to summarize Sega during their twilight days of a powerhouse, it would be Jet Set Radio. I would feel wrong to begin detailing the game before I started to explain Sega at the time first. As virtually every gamer knows, during the 1980s Nintendo was the undisputed king of the console market. The NES had a virtual monopoly in North America. Then comes along Sega, a company mostly known for its cutting edge and fun arcade games. Sega released a series of consoles worldwide and none of them gained too much traction until their 16-bit Mega Drive, which was moderately successful in Japan and Europe, but wildly successful in North America. The system garnered a huge following due to it’s more “adult” and “big kid” centric marketing and library filled with pro-athletes, ninjas, and ‘tude characters. Shockingly, Sega’s follow up system was a dud in everywhere in the world but Japan where it saw some success. Despite having THE flagship 3D game series with Virtua Fighter, the company wasn’t really sure just how to approach 3D gaming. And with their follow-up system, the Sega Saturn, bombing almost everywhere and the arcades declining as a business the company was in a sink or swim situation. As a result, it threw out a lot of Hail Mary’s in order to save the company. Most of these faciliated in their next, and unfortunately last, gaming console, the Sega Dreamcast. Featuring funky controls, memory cards with a screen and minigames on them, and online gameplay it truly was a system way ahead of its time. But what most people remember about the Dreamcast was it’s unique titles.
Sega went out with a bang by creating games that nobody else really ventured in before. Shenmue is an obvious example as Sega combined free roaming map gameplay with a cinematic story, deep combat system, and pretty much something from every genre one can think of. Skies of Arcade was the first JRPG to really go all out in 3D as the maps were fully 3D models with no pre-rendered backgrounds in sight. Rez was a unique looking and playing arcade shooter similar to Panzer Dragoon. Phantasy Star Online brought MMOs to the console space. Sometimes they’d just throw shit at the wall, like they did with Typing of the Dead, which is a House of the Dead game…but where you type to kill the zombies with a keyboard.
Out of all the games though, perhaps the most beloved and well known one is Jet Set Radio. This hyper stylistic game focuses on players traversing the streets of Tokyo with inline skates as they have a mission in tagging everything and at times everyone with graffiti before the time runs out. It’s a very arcadey and Sega-like approach to the then popular skateboarding genre. It was both cool, daring, addicting, and most of all fun. It encompassed everything Sega was at the time.
Now one could think that the game is essentially a Tony Hawk clone, but only with a inline skates and the ability to use graffiti. This is a bit wrong. For starters, Jet Set Radio’s challenge doesn’t come from doing tricks in the manner of how many buttons one can press before they hit the ground, but more so how the characters play with the environment. To rack up the score it’s best for one to do a wall jump, then land on the rail, land on a car, do another wall jump, and land. As opposite to Tony Hawk which one just has to find a ramp and just constantly spam the two trick buttons. Jet Set Radio also requires a lot of skill to play. Grinding in the game is pretty difficult as one has to get the right angle and speed to do so. Setting up the tricks and just as, if not more difficult than doing the tricks themselves. The game is made to want you to go through the streets very fast and elegantly in order to tag your markers as quick as possible. In fact, it is a bit dishonest to call the game an “extreme sports” title. It’s more akin to a platformer. The goal is to reach areas by hopping around and playing with the environment before the timer runs out. The title is arguable more similar to Super Mario 64 than it is to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. And like Super Mario 64, one can play the game for quite some time just moving around through the area and playing with the environment. The game feels so good to just play.
Despite the title’s top notch gameplay, what most people remember the game for is how stylish it is. The game was one of the first, if not the first, to use cel-shaded graphics. This graphical style isn’t too uncommon today, as almost anything that’s supposed to emulate traditional cartoon uses this style. But back at the turn of the millennium, this style was never seen before. Playing the game was like being inside a living breathing cartoon world. And the atmosphere and setting of the game complemented that perfectly. The entire game is like a very upbeat comic book. Sort of like a “cool kids “ version of Scott Pilgrim. The setting of the game is about various “gangs”, more misfits than anything, having beef due to one thing or another. These differences are often resolved by graffiting their turf or something similar. So if you are expecting something more dark and, let’s face it, realistic like Grand Theft Auto, you’re playing the wrong type of game.
The title also has an incredible soundtrack. Using some of the “hippest” and “funkiest” music at the time, Jet Set Radio likely has the best use of licensed music in gaming to this day. It truly brings the world to life and makes you feel like you are a teenager again, but this time you are part of the “cool clique”. The atmosphere the music creates when combined with the rest of the game is most similar to The World Ends With You. It just nails the feeling of being a cool rebellious teenager.
Unfortunately this game never really got it’s due. It was initially released on the ill fated Dreamcast. It then received a pseudo-sequel called Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox. The problem was, like most Sega titles on the system, is that it didn’t really gel well with the userbase that was focused on the dark, gritty, and realistic type of games. There was third title that was pitched for the Wii, but it never came to fruition. The original title did get a Steam re-release which sold very well…but apparently Sega still isn’t interested in making another title or even porting over the second game.
Today with gaming being so stale, it seems that late era Sega is needed more than ever. True, Nintendo is filling that gap to a degree, but they mostly take the weirdness too far at times. Usually relying on strange, or even appalling, control schemes as a way to keep a series fresh. Sega managed to create fresh games that used entirely new concepts consistently, all while having the titles focused on the devoted gamer. Unfortunately this arguable led to the companies downfall. The Dreamcast’s biggest problem was that outside few titles like Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Sonic, it didn’t really have any games that really appealed to the mainstream gamer. Even when Sega went third party, they still had this issue as nearly every game they released that wasn’t a Sonic title underperformed. So one can look at Jet Set Radio as a title that represents a period. A period of gaming where developers were much more willing to take risks, experiment, and just create fun games.
07| Freedom Planet
Released: July 21st, 2014
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSs); Also on: Wii U, PS4
In just such a short amount of time, it seems indie games have taken over the hardcore gamer market. To think that just a little over a decade ago, Xbox Live didn’t allow digital downloads of new content and that Steam didn’t even exist. Yet here we are today with many, if not most, of the year’s most anticipated titles belonging to independent developers. Now to me, there have generally always been two types of independent games. Those that are modern and try to experiment/push the trends of today, and those that are meant to emulate titles from a certain era. Time and time again we have seen many games, especially those from smaller and more ambitious developers, try their hand at recreating the glory of the old school titles from the NES, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. And time and time again we have seen many of those games fail…miserably. Even the so called “good ones” I feel miss the mark.
The problem with these titles is that as enjoyable as they are, they focus too much on emulating the classics of the early and mid ’90s without realizing a core ingredient of what allowed those classic to be so great in the first place. There are a few titles that get this right however. But I think the one that absolutely nails it, is Galaxy Trail’s “Freedom Planet”.
The best way to describe the game is that it is two thirds Sonic the Hedgehog and one third Rocket Knight. The game is a 2D platformer where the player can choose between two three characters. Lilac, a dragon who can charge up and “fly”. Carol, a wildcat who attacks enemies with her claws and can ride a motorcycle with anti-gravity transportation. And Milia, a dog with energy attack powers. All these characters play very differently and can access different parts of each stages. This obviously leads to a lot of replayability. The game’s level design is very similar to Sonic the Hedgehog with it’s focus on speed, brief puzzles, and multiple routes. The stages are filled with ramps and even rollercoaster loops. It gets to the point that if someone managed to mod Sonic into the game, that an onlooker would never question whether or not one was playing a Sonic title. The game even has the player collect multiple rings crystals which tend to lead the player of where to go. Unlike Sonic though, the collectables have no relation to the characters health, as that is a separate life bar all together.
Describing the game like “Sonic with hot sauce and a unique flavor” is pretty accurate. That said, this isn’t a bad thing, because Freedom Planet doesn’t just match the quality of the previous Sonic titles, it surpasses them. Freedom Planet has better level design, has better boss fights, has better movement and character control, in pretty much every aspect Freedom Planet surpasses any Sonic the Hedgehog title. And this is a key ingredient of why I feel it succeeds more than any other title in terms of being an “old school throwback” indie game. What made games like Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Sonic, and Castlevania so great wasn’t the fact that they were shooting to be as “16-bit as possible”. They were great because they were focused on pushing their genres to the absolute limit. When looking at these games formulas and the hardware they were on, one can see that there wasn’t much more the developers could do. Today with modern knowledge and improved technology we can push these genres further. Freedom Planet does just that. It focused on pushing the core gameplay of the 2D action platformer genre. It mixed the beloved charge attacks from Rocket Knight with Sonic’s fast running speed. It took Treasures giant and frantic boss fights and added it into the game. And it upped the presentation with quality voice acting, a detailed MIDI soundtrack, and a story that is well put together. Due to this, Freedom Planet just didn’t reach the levels of the Genesis greats like Sonic, Sonic III, Rocket Knight Adventures, and Dynamite Headdy, it surpassed them.
A game that it reminded me of was Wayforward’s return to form title Contra 4. Contra is a game series has had mediocre title after mediocre title since the third game. Only one, well technically two, have managed to be a legitimately good game. And that’s Contra 4. The reason for this is that Wayforward just didn’t try to emulate Contra 3, they instead decided to expand on the game. Specifically with the grappling hook, by adding some Bionic Commando flavor, and much more ambitious level design and bosses. It was a winning formula that the company hasn’t replicated since with the series (well besides that one, but that WAS outsourced to Arc System Works.
I feel that developers can learn a lot from Freedom Planet. It isn’t enough just to simply emulate the games when titles attempt to recreate an experience. The best case scenario with that is that you get a quality title like Resident Evil: Revelations, which is seen by many as a solid entry in the series but is light years away from Resident Evil 4. The worst case scenario is you get a game like New Super Mario Bros. Yoshi’s New Island which is pretty much just like the title it is trying to be, but just with the most boring and uninspired design imaginable. One has to focus on making the best title possible and pushing those boundaries that already existed. That’s what made these titles so special in the first place. Now I’m not saying to innovate for innovation’s sake, but there is always something you can add to a title to spicin’ it up and make it more interesting, and developers should take note.
06| Ys Origin
Released: May 31st, 2012
Available On: PC
It could be argued that Falcom was the last developer to come stateside after the Japanese RPG floodgates opened. After Final Fantasy VII became one of the best selling games on the Playstation, it seemed that every Japanese role playing developer moved their titles stateside. Enix quickly hopped onboard, as did Namco. Atlus took a few years but was soon solidified, as did Nippon Ichi. However, there was one developer who’s presence was glaringly absent. And that’s the developer who arguably started the entire genre in Japan. Falcom was developer mostly known for their action RPG titles in Japan. Mostly known for the Ys and Xanadu series, Falcom published tons of quality action RPGs in Japan. They even ventured successful with traditional turnbased JRPGs with the Legend of Heroes series. To be fair, these titles were released in the West, and to very high praise. The NES release of Faxanadu was said to be one of the best games on the system for the few who played it. Ys for the PC Engine was ground breaking at the time, thanks to its cutscenes, voice acting, and CD quality soundtrack. However, despite these two titles being well respected, neither series received another Western release for decades. And for a quality port, it would be even longer.
A big reason for this is because unlike every other Japanese role playing developer (or really any other Japanese developer), Falcom did not focus their products on consoles but rather the niche Japanese PC market. And while there was a clear market for Japanese role playing games for consoles, it wouldn’t be for nearly a decade and a half later until PC market was proven to be a friendly place for Japanese role playing games. But for the longest time Japanese role playing games, and really Japanese games in general, were seen as a nonexistent market for the Western PC market. As a result Japanese developers rarely localized the PC versions of their games, and this included Falcom. In fact, Falcom’s games didn’t begin being localized on the PC market, but for the console. The studio moved production to consoles/handhelds due to the fact that PC niche market eventually shrank too small even for Falcom. Thus a lot of their previous titles began to be ported to the PSP. They were pretty successful, and thus Falcom kept porting.
In an odd twist of events, thanks to Square-Enix taking the chance with the port of The Last Remnant and Carpe Fulgar localizing the extremely niche but addicting Recettear: An Item’s Shop Tale, the PC market was proven not just to be viable for Japanese role playing games, but showing that the genre was actually in high demand. As such, Falcom began porting all of their old classic PC titles, which almost all of them selling very well. So well in fact that they are now starting to port their recent titles to the PC exclusively for the Western market. Quite the contrast to Falcom’s previous viewpoints of the Western PC market.
Now since Falcom began their PC and Sony portable localization binge there have been plenty of quality games they’ve brought over the Western shores. As a matter of a fact, I’d argue that all of these games are of high quality, accept maybe Ys VI. If I had to pick one game though to take the top spot, I would easily pick Ys Origin. The reason is very simple, it is the best action RPG ever made, and I do not bestow that claim lightly.
To explain the game, it would be best to explain its context. Falcon would truly make the jump from PCs to handhelds in late 2007 in Japan. Ys Origin was the last full, ground up, mainline major title they were developing for the PC. It was, in many ways, a signal to the end of an era. As such, Falcom truly gave it their all with title. In truth, there is nothing unique or innovative about Ys Origin in a core gameplay sense. The player can select between two (eventually three) characters each with their own unique play style. They then explore a, pretty linear, dungeon as take out enemies, solve puzzles, and fight tough bosses. What makes the game stand out is just how well everything packaged.
The combat is wonderful. It may not be Bayonetta, but is extremely satisfying as it is so fast and frantic that it keeps the adrenaline rushing. Each character plays completing different from a traditional hack-n-slash character, to a long range “bullet” attack character, to a rush down down in your face character. There is something for everyone to choose from. To add to that, each character has their own unique story in the game. The truly get the entire experience and understand what is going on, one must play each character to see the story through “their eyes” so to speak. It is very enjoyable and adds a lot of replay value.
The level design is top notch. Darm Tower isn’t most challenging dungeon in gaming, but it is very fun to transverse. The way enemies are placed and distance doors and different levels are from each other just make for such a smooth and seamless experience. The boss battles are “epic” and just so intense. And the story more than holds one’s attention and truly fleshes out the characters, their unique personality, and their struggles. And the music. The music! Holy shit! THE MUSIC! THE FUCKING MUSIC! Ys Origin comfortably has the best soundtrack I have heard in all of gaming. I realize that I often complement an entry’s soundtrack on this list, but believe me Ys Origin is the absolute pinnacle of this category.
Add in a ton of replay value, great tie ins with the other entries in the series, and various hidden tidbits, and you have a must have title for anyone’s RPG collection. There really isn’t anything else to say about Ys Origin, it is simply the best of the best. The ultimate action RPG.
05| Shin Megami Tensei IV
Released: July 16th, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
To say that Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was a breath of fresh air when it was released on Western shores in 2004 is an understatement. Long after the twilight of JRPGs heydays, the subgenre began to grow stale, with quality release not seen for quite some time. It took the traditional blue sky adventure shonen formula and switched it into a dark occult modern horror fantasy setting. The usual brain dead turnbased battle system with a boring linear overworld, became a highly tactical and strategic turnbased battle system with the entire game being designed as one big dungeon. The title single handedly spawned the series to become a mainstay in the West and aided Atlus in becoming a dominant publisher for niche Japanese games.
Over the years there have been plenty of entries to the series. Such as the Digital Devil Saga titles, the Devil Summoners, Strange Journey, the Personas, etc. However, it was quite some time before an actual full numbered sequel was released. To gamers who don’t know much about the series, it was kind of like the wait for Street Fighter III. The studio kept churnning out all of these spinoffs, side-series, and technical sequels. However, they never really made a game that was actually a full numbered sequel. Eventually that changed in 2013 with the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV.
First, I have to address the giant elephant in the room. The game was made for the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld. This initially disappointed a lot of the fanbase as the series was traditionally associated with home consoles. Now while the series was never known for its crazy production values through most of its life, the third entry of the main franchise had a bit of a production going for it at its time, being that it was fully 3D with tons of character models and ambitious dungeons. Now to be fair this is a valid complaint, as Atlus probably could have upped the presentation department significantly if the game was on a PS3 instead. However, thinking of it, the game more then lived up in pushing boundaries in more ways than one.
To begin, I’m going to describe just the type of game Shin Megami Tensei is. The mainline series is basically a traditional dungeon crawler meets a traditional JRPG meets Pokemon. There is a main overarching story that the player has to go through with character development, world building, etc. This combines with the usual crafting of party members and the like. Though, it’s the type of party members one gets that’s interesting. As the player fights enemies they can choose to either kill them or “negotiate” with them. Basically instead of throwing balls in their face to get the enemies on your side, you have to talk with them and convince them to join you. If successful, then the enemy will be part of your team, if not they’ll either attack you, run away, or run away and steal something. Instead of being “pocket monsters” the enemies in the game are straight up demons from an alternate universe. They look dark and satanic which makes them appealing in a weird way. One can level up these demons with experience or by fusing them together with one or more demons to create an even more powerful demon. Though it just isn’t the power of a demon one has to keep in mind, but also the skills they have in order to help one’s party. Finally, one also transverses the world and visits different lands, but unlike other JRPGs, the entire world is basically one giant dungeon as all the maps have a maze like quality to them.
In short, Shin Megami Tensei combines three main types of RPG genres and creates its own thing that appeals to a specific type of gamers. So how does the fourth entry in the series fair? Pretty damn well actually. Sure there were some changes that some may have mixed feelings about, but overall it is an extremely solid entry in the series. The first thing one notices is that the title is very clearly designed for a handheld. Unlike the console versions of the game, dungeons and areas are much more bite sized. This isn’t to say that they are easy, but transversing the average map/area in the game can probably be done in twenty minutes or so, compared to the console titles which are usually around three times that. The main story also takes a bit of a back seat to the sidequests which truly make up the meat of the game, as players will find themselves exploring the world and random areas to take out hordes of enemies, hunt for items, or challenge hidden bosses.
This may all seem very eyerolling, and in most titles it usual is. However, Shin Megami Tensei IV makes the exception in that this format gives more than it takes. The bite sized dungeons are admittedly a bit disappointing, however there are so many areas to explore and venture through it eases the pain. The side quests don’t detract from the single player campaign and do well to flesh out the world. They also work in synergy with bite sized dungeons in having the player go through an act with boss fight and all in a reasonable amount of time. And as cliche as this sounds, these two things also makes the game very easy to pick up and play, as well as results in it being very replayable.
The presentation of the game is great. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that the game manages to serve fans who both are accustomed to traditional medieval style settings, as well those who enjoy modern settings, and those who enjoy the “not so distant future” settings. The lore is very well done and one can easily get lost in the world. There is also a bit of interesting philosophy thrown in the story, even with moral choices that truly effect the gameplay, even to the point of one half of the game being entirely different due to it. The only downside is that this is no Witcher, as the choices are pretty literally either black, white, or gray.
As usual by Atlus, the soundtrack is superb. Atlus really went all out to give the game its own style and unique feeling. Plus soundtrack art is some of the best I’ve seen. I mean…look at this!
THAT is an album cover. It really reflects the quality of the game.
In short, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a fantastic game. Despite being on a handheld, it managed to push the boundaries of the series and the JRPG genre. Also, much like Kid Icarus: Uprising, it significantly upped the standards of what developers should be doing for their handheld entries. Shin Megami Tensei IV may have been on a handheld, but it truly earns that number at the end of its title. It is a full fledged sequel and continuation of the previous titles in the well regarded series. Atlus knocked it out of the park with this title, and it deserves all the recognition.
04| Xenoblade Chronicles
Released: April 6th, 2012
Definitive Version: Wii; Also On: Wii U eShop, 3DS
If you were to ask any JRPG fan, they would largely agree that the ’90s was the “Golden Age” for the genre. Not only was it when the genre came to its own, but so many ground-breaking titles that have aged like fine wine were released then. Titles like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and VII, Xenogears, Dragon Quest III and V, Secret of Mana 2, Earthbound, the list goes on and on. Not to mention if one were to include the dawn of the new millennium, then titles like Skies of Arcadia, Pokémon Silver, and Final Fantasy X would be included as well. After the early 2000s however, the genre began to slow down a bit.
After another brief boost in quality of, mostly forgettable, JRPGs during the end of the PS2s lifetime, people were waiting for the next wave of quality JRPG titles. The thing was, was that people were expecting games to push the genre more than ever before. Due to the power of the PS3 and Xbox 360, developers were now capable of making much more vibrant and elaborate game worlds than ever. This obviously had many fans of the genre very excited. Unfortunately, there weren’t any real quality titles that grabbed the bull by the horns when it came to pushing the envelope. The Last Remnant, while a quality game, didn’t really do anything from an ambition standpoint to push the genre that previous games did not. The Mistwalker Xbox 360 games developed a cult fan base, but were criticized by playing it too safe. Most notorious however was Final Fantasy XIII in which failed to push the envelope to the point that having towns in the game was ditched due to them being too “difficult” to do in HD.
The generation was about to come to a close, when finally, a title comes along that truly pushes the genre in all the right ways. After around a two year wait, Xenoblade Chronicles finally reached American shores. It was title that focused huge on exploration with gigantic maps to explore, contained tons of side quests that tie into the main plot, a battle system that was an evolution of the semi-real-time type, and over course a huge epic story that spans dozens upon dozens of hours. If there was juggernaut of the genre that one could point for that generation of consoles, it was Xenoblade Chronicles. But the irony of all of this, is what the game was released on. The title was developed ground up for the Nintendo Wii, a system that was basically inline in terms of power with the then previous generation consoles. It turned out that the most “next generation” JRPG experience was on last generation technology.
So, what made Xenoblade Chronicles so good? To put it simply, it’s a game where the developers put every ounce of their effort to make it as great as possible. Xenoblade Chronicles is your typical epic adventure JRPG. It focuses on a group of party members focused on vanquishing evil as they travel along a series of maps and encounter tons of enemies and bosses that the player needs to defeat until they reach the end. Again, it’s typical, but it is all so well done. In terms of gameplay the battle system, while having its kinks, is very unique and pretty solid. The enemies, and especially bosses, do a great job in testing one’s skills and abilities. The level design is sublime. Not only are the maps gigantic, but they are very interactive, layered, and most importantly, fun to explore. Throughout the maps are multiple secrets in the form of items, monsters, quests, and tons of easter eggs. This is the type of game where you definitely do not want to simply go from point A to point B.
The presentation however is also superb. The game’s world just feels so alive with so much going on in terms of lore and politics. The characters are very appealing and likable. And story in general is pretty fucking cool and will definitely suck you in. It’s a good thing too because the game is very long. It lasts around eighty hours or so and gives you tons of stuff to do throughout your journey. The graphics are spectacular and when playing upscale on HD, the game could easily pass an Xbox 360 title. The soundtrack is splendid, with music the complements the atmosphere very well.
Of course, the game isn’t exactly perfect. While the story has great pacing, the difficulty doesn’t. It’s very difficult to have a game that has good difficulty pacing that also puts a lot of focus on side quests. What often happens is that those who do a lot of the side quests will find themselves too overpowered and will be able to blow through the game, while others who just want to focus mostly on the main story will find themselves fighting enemies and bosses that are next to impossible. While the same games that get it more right than others such as Shin Megami Tensei IV or The Witcher III, Xenoblade isn’t one of those games. Far too often I found myself getting stuck on a very difficult boss battle in which I had to level up my party two or three levels. This usual took an hour or two to accomplish, and while it wasn’t so bad because I mostly did it via side quests, it was very annoying. I feel that much of it is because of how misleading things are. One could have party that is able to trounce all of the surrounding enemies, but then receive a beat down from the map’s boss. Being honest in any other game it would be enough to really sink my impression of it, but the highs of Xenoblade Chronicles are so strong that they easily tower over the lows.
Besides that, there isn’t much else. As far as I am concerned, Xenoblade Chronicles should be the defacto standard for any “epic” adventure JRPG to follow. Despite premiering at the beginning of this decade it still comfortably holds that title. The developer, Monolithsoft, did make a sort of sequel to the game called Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U. It was similar to Xenoblade Chronicles only that it focused way more on the side quests and way less on the main plot. As a result, the game suffered tremendously. And while the title has its followers, most agree that the originally game was superior. Thus, during the Nintendo’s new console reveal, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was announced, the “2” emphasizes that this entry will be more in-line with the first game. Personally, I am cautiously optimistic, but either way, the game has some huge shoes to fill.
03| Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Released: June 27th, 2010
Definitive Version: Wii; Also On: Wii U eShop
The Wii’s success really caught everybody off guard. It caught Nintendo off guard, it caught retailers off guard, it caught the press off guard, etc. However, those who were the most surprised by the system’s success were the game developers. They couldn’t have imagined that the system would be such a runaway hit. However, while the console was flying off store shelves and racking up a huge install base, developers didn’t know what exactly to do with it. Outside the obvious unique control scheme being a problem, there was also the fact that gamers associated with the Wii were primarily seen as casual gamers. Basically women in their 30s and 40s, middle aged men, and really people in general who aren’t that into games. Most publishers figured the best way to go about this was to release their casual oriented titles on the Wii while releasing their more hardcore title son the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Despite this, there were some developers who attempted a third option. A way to bridge the gap between casual gamers and hardcore ones. During the late 2000s and early 2010s a lot of arcade type games appeared on Nintendo’s console. The thinking was, “well casual gamers and hardcore gamers used to play in the arcades back in the day, why don’t we just make arcade games?”. Thus a lot of arcade games began appearing on the system. Games like NBA Jam, Jumbo Safari, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom were released for the system. It also arguably became the “go to” system for music games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, The Michael Jackson Experience, and Just Dance. But the most obvious example of this arcade phenomenon was with light gun games. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Deadspace Extraction, and most famously House of the Dead: Overkill.
But of all the arcade games released on the system, by the best one by far was Sin & Punishment: Star Successor. An unlikely sequel to the cult hit that bombed, the game is a rail shooter in which the player controls the cursor and the X/Y axis of the character as they run along shooting at enemies. It is a very simple premise, but like most games by its developer, Treasure, it is very well done with a ton of chaos. This is a game that starts at a 7 for the prologue level, then rapidly switches to a 10 for the first level, but somehow breaks the dial so the rest of the game is stuck at a 10. The entire pace of the game is so fast and frantic that it gives one little time to breathe. It’s either a constant stream of enemies and bullets in your face, or a huge boss battle…often with a constant stream of bullets in your face. The game is relentless and just does not stop.
This alone would be enough to put it on the list, but the game doesn’t stop there. Unlike most titles in this genre, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is not a shooting gallery. The environments are very interactive, the camera constantly changes angles, and often the game will switch to different genres such as becoming a side-scrolling shooter or even beat-em-up. The entire thing is a rollercoaster ride.
I can’t really talk about the gameplay without mentioning the control scheme. This is a game that was made for the Wii controls. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck are simply perfect for the game. One just simply points the Wii Remote at the screen to where they want to shoot and presses the trigger. The nunchuck feels nice and his light weight, so one can constantly move the stick and not get tired. There really isn’t a better control scheme for the game. It’s as if one is playing with arcade control hardware.
Presentation wise the game is good. The graphics are detailed, the voice acting is kinda bad (but in a good way), it has a nice artstyle, and the music fits. My only complaint is that the protagonists look very generic. It is a huge step down from the first game which had cool, though very ’90s, looking protagonists. Outside of that I have no complaints about the game, even when I often replay it.
Treasure is a developer that has been on this list multiple times. There is a good reason for that, they are very talented and have quite a cult following. Unfortunately, they also haven’t released a game in any form since 2014. What’s worse is that it was rumored that the studio was done making games. Today, there isn’t a single game that the studio announced. It is very possible that Sin & Punishment: Star Successor was the last retail notable budget game from the well regarded studio. If that is the case, I can’t think of a better release to go out on.
02| Skullgirls: 2nd Encore
Released: April 10th, 2012
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita.
I still remember when I first ever found out about Skullgirls. I was enamored by the fact that the developers were making a game with cartoon quality “sprites”. However, I was very distasteful about the game’s art style as well as some of the character’s more…comfortable outfits. I didn’t think much of the game after it released on consoles. It seemed to have waned in popularity. Eventually the game launched a Kickstarter that was funded by fans in order to give the game an updated release on the PC. Wanting to try out another fighting game and being bored of Street Fighter IV I decided to buy Skullgirls on a whim. Little did I know at the time that I would eventually enjoy the game so much and take it so seriously that I would end up actually going to a major fighting game tournament for it.
Why did I end up taking the game so seriously? The answer is because it was worth it. Skullgirls represents everything an ideal fighting game should be. It’s very easy to get into thanks to having one of the most comprehensive tutorials and training modes in a fighting game ever. The characters are all diverse and very balanced so you have a wide array of fighting styles to choose from. Getting skilled at the game is very enjoyable partly due to how smooth the progression is and also partly due to the fact that the more you learn the more you things you can figure out that you can do.
Last but not least, the game contains a small yet very active and friendly community. This is the type of community where players will outright volunteer to help you get better at the game at their own expense for no other reason to want to see you get better at the game. There has been more than one time where players of the game have actively invited me to the game’s training room to show me how to play each character and the game’s fundamentals. Ironically I have done the same with many casual players, I guess it is contagious. This is a huge welcome compared to my previous experience in fighting games where I’d simply get yelled at or made fun of, I’m looking at you Street Fighter.
Skullgirls is a game I went from playing random online matches in my dorm room, to attending online events, to actually attending a tournament because the game is worth it. It is very enjoyable to play, the community is passionate, and the game always offers options to experiment and improve on. Add the fact that the game is balanced to the point where even the highest skill players don’t even look at tiers, and you have the greatest fighting game in existence.
Update: It’s been a while since I started this. The tournament was a blast and was so fun that I no regularly go to locals. I’ve met a lot of people through this game and have had hundreds of hours in playthrough with it. In many ways Skullgirls is a game that has truly affected my life not just in an entertainment aspect, but also a social one as well. This also ignores that this game keeps getting better and better the more I play it and the better I get. I stand by my initial claim that this is the best fighting game of all-time.
01| Half-Life² (includes Episode 1 & Episode 2)
Released: November 16th, 2004
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox.
Every gamer has that one game in their lives that leaves a humongous impression. That game that feels less like you are playing a game and more like you are engaging in an experience that will last with you for a lifetime. The “Star Wars experience” I like to refer to it as. This often comes from releases in the medium that were so polished and so far ahead of their time that there was literally nothing like them. It was as if you were playing a masterpiece from the future. This perfectly describes what it was like playing Half-Life 2 around its mid-2000s release. At the time there was literally nothing like it. No game had such a cinematic experience where “you controlled the player”. No game had such spit polished pacing. No game did such a perfect blend of graphics, art style, writing, and atmosphere. No game incorporated so many game design innovations that relied so much on technical power. And no game certainly did all of the above. That is what made Half-Life 2 such a special game.
Reading the list above, it would seem this game would be classic case of “ good for its time but has aged badly”. However, replaying the game last year I was shocked how well it held up. It wasn’t just the fact that the game’s actual gameplay is still as sharp as ever or that the pacing is still the best the industry has to offer. But the fact that what made the game so incredible over a decade ago still hold up today at nearly the same caliber. The textures may not be the best but the graphics are amazing thanks to the art style and incredibly detailed animation. The cinematic feel of the game is still virtually unrivaled, which can be thanked due to the fact that the game is so excellently directed. The character’s animate well and act natural, the acting is top notch, and there is always something going on so you aren’t bored. But most of all the game has an unparalleled level of detail. Just walking around City 17 is enough to explain the entire situation of the world. Martial Law is intact as you see combine patrol the area and harass citizens. The city is an empty wasteland with the only human life seen are either the oppressive troops or citizens squatting in building fearing for their lives.
That said, the game isn’t completely flawless. There are minor scuffs of the game showing its age. The set pieces, while amazing, aren’t as detailed as they should be and can take me out of the experience as a result. While the gunplay gets the job done and certainly “feels” good, it is definitely a bit on the simplistic side. And the variety of enemies could certainly be improved. However, nothing is flawless. Playing Half-Life 2 today is the video game equivalent of watching on of the movie greats such as Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Sure it has aged in some ways, but for the most part it hasn’t, especially in some things where conventional wisdom says it should have. It’s a testament to the game’s staying powering and showing the game will likely hold its title as one of the industry greats.
Yet despite the game achieving such high standards, Valve managed to strike lightening in a bottle continuously. Releasing the subsequent game as bite sized episodes may have had many fans worried, and while it should have resulted in the game’s decline in quality in retrospect, in reality Episode 1 and 2 are every bit as good as the groundbreaking game they are built upon. While they weren’t technical marvels at their time they still retained the razor sharp pacing and design the previous game maintained. Playing through the games never feel like a chore and there is always something going on that will hold your interest.
However, I feel that Half-Life 2 deserves the number one spot on this list due to two simple facts. The first is what made Half-Life 2 stick out so much was that it was a true “next generation” experience at the time. Prior to Half-Life 2 no game had ever had such tight pacing, immersion, and a quality cinematic experience. Since the game’s release the entire industry has been headed in that direction. It seems that nearly AAA game puts a strong focus on a cinematic experience. Trying to blur the lines between game and film. Yet even in that context nothing has come even within spitting distance of Half-Life 2. Part of the reason is because Half-Life 2 wasn’t supposed to push the medium in a way to blend game and film into one, it was meant to push the medium to see just how far gaming can go in the strengths it excels at such as immersion, interactivity, and of course fun. This is something modern developers should take note of. The second reason is because the game is simply that good. And what better way to end this write up by just stating that as it compresses everything I’ve said into just five words. Half-Life 2 is just that good.
It’s been close to a year since I started making this list. I never knew that I would ever put so much time or effort into it. Personally, I am just very relieved that it is finally finished. The reason why I made this list was that I saw it as a “good bye” to being a “gaming buff” so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, I still play video games a lot, but the manner of which I play them is different. I feel that this is something a lot of hardcore gamers will understand that few others will. There are many who get into the hobby always wanting to try the “must play” releases. Whether it be the latest and greatest titles or classic games. For example, if you are in gaming today you have to play Ni-Oh and be pumped to play Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda; Breath of the Wild. Similar to films, there are always these “groundbreaking” releases that one has to play in order to keep “up to date”. This also goes for the classics. If you are into gaming you have to play Super Metroid as well as Final Fantasy VII, like many classic films, they are pretty much mandatory in anyones list.
However, despite playing game on a regular basis, I treat it more and more as leisure time and a competitive hobby. Today I mostly play fighting games, primarily Skullgirls, to have fun and compete with others. I occasionally still play single player games but it’s seldom. As a matter of fact since starting this list I have only actively played four single player video games. That averages out to around a game a season. Personally, I enjoy this way of gaming much more than previously. However, I am still glad I did this list as some sort of end to that aspect of the hobby.
Games that Would Have Made the List if I Started it Today:
Dark Souls III — While not as memorable as the original, it is a much leaner experience with some of the best boss battles in the series. A fine end to the trilogy.
Guilty Gear Xrd [Revelator] — A huge step up from the vanilla release. I prefer this version far more to any other entry in the series.
Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes — I managed to give this game a second chance and it blew me away. “A happy accident” that resulted in lighting being struck in a bottle multiple times. I can’t think of another game where so many glitches and unexpected consequences managed to craft such a great competitive game. Fast and frantic, Marvel 2 is arguably the best fighting game Capcom has ever made.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir — The original PS2 release was a game I fell in love with and was my first “hardcore” niche JRPG. But being that the game got so much bad mouth about it being all flash no substance and me not playing it in a decade, I decided to not include it. Revisiting the title for the PS4 made me realize that the game is just as good as I remembered it. Those who also complain about the title lacking in gameplay couldn’t be more wrong. It could due to the updates for the PS4 version, but playing the game in Hard mode one sees that it has some of the deepiest combat in any action RPG. At times it even nears the territory of being a 2D hard action game like Devil May Cry.
Games that were “Missing” from the List and Why:
Half-Life — I replayed the game, and it has not aged well. Very boring.
Bioshock series — All style and no substance. And being honest the style isn't even as good as everyone says.
Grand Theft Auto series — While I used to love these games, they kind of come off as a jack of all trades ordeal. You are able to do a lot of things, but any of them is surpassed by many other titles.
Uncharted series — Never really played any of these games. Don’t seem to appeal to me.
Street Fighter IV — Very milquetoast entry.
Blizzard games — Outside of World of Warcraft, I couldn't’ get into any of them. Even Overwatch doesn't interest me much.
Resident Evil 4 — While I remember enjoying this game a lot upon release, I haven’t played it in over a decade. So I can’t really judge its quality.
Pokémon titles — While I adored these games as a kid, I eventually fell out of love with them and I never was able to rekindle it. Even with the new Gen X and Y releases.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — While this game is enjoyable, it simply has been surpassed by other action-adventure titles.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne — This game was great when I played it as a teenager, but I haven’t played the game in almost a decade. So I’m not sure how well it has held up.
Super Metroid — After playing the newer DS Castlevania games, it didn't seem to “wow” me as much as it should have.
Metroid Prime — Like many other games, I loved it when I played it, but that was back in high school. I’m not sure how well it held up.
Shenmue — I brought this game for my Dreamcast not long before starting on this list. I popped in the CD and after the first cutscene it stopped loading. My Dreamcast died. Decided to just wait for the inevitable HD re-release