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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 6 (50-41)

50 – Beyond Good and Evil
I wasn't a huge fan of Rayman.  It was a successful platformer and spawned several sequels.  I wish I could say the same for its developers' masterpiece Beyond Good and Evil, an absolutely spectacular action-adventure title.  The game follows a reporter named Jade working with a resistance against vile aliens bent on domination and control of the world's citizens.  You travel a vast landscape (waterscape?), dingy interiors and cleverly designed cities, controlling multiple characters, incorporating a number of gameplay styles.  Why is it that all of the utterly fantastic games are commercial failures?  Really?

49 - Call of Duty 2
This epic shooter was not a commercial failure, however.  Call of Duty 2 is one of the most successful sequels of all time, spawning a massively popular franchise that would evolve and expand over time.   Infinity Ward built a great game here, filled with interesting and likable characters, amazing set pieces and just the right balance of fun and difficulty.  The multiplayer didn't hurt either.  It was a big online hit due to its teamwork-oriented modes, tactical features and greatly polished gameplay.

48 - Final Fantasy XII
The Final Fantasy series is a big one.  It's been around for more than two decades and has evolved steadily over time.  SquareEnix shocked fans when they announced a real-time battle system for Final Fantasy XII, reminiscent of popular MMORPG's its time.  Still, the gameplay turned out to be excellent; different but excellent.    The story was only okay, a sort of political thriller focusing on a soldier framed as a traitor by his brother; an exiled princess, who was thought to have killed herself, who became a resistance-fighter after her newlywed husband is killed in combat; two street kids; and a couple of successful and cocky sky pirates in it, at least in the beginning, for the loot.  What I like about FFXII's storytelling are the characters and the stunning script.  While Vaan and Penelo speak as you or I would, Baltheir, Ashe, Basch, Fran and other supporting characters talk in a far less colloquial style, as if it were penned by a classical author.  It's just so perfect, adding a touch of culture clash.

47 - Dr. Mario
Block puzzle games are great.  They are addictive, they exercise your spatial skills and give you a sense of satisfaction when you master them.  Dr. Mario was Nintendo's foray into the world of the block puzzle after the ├╝ber-success of Tetris.  You threw multicolored pills down a vertical screen stacking them and attempting to match colors to eliminate viral baddies in each level.  It had some fun multiplayer and got pretty tough on higher difficulties.  I just adore this game.


46 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
I probably have spent the equivalent of the GDP of a small Caribbean nation in quarters on this game.  I love this old-school beat-'em-up starring the Heroes In A Half Shell.  The music, the simple but clever level design, the bosses and the humor just made this one a winner for me.  It was at its best with three other friends, all with a fistful of 25¢ pieces.  The devoted fans have beaten this one multiple if not hundreds of times and it still feels fresh with each play-through.  I GOT DIBS ON LEONARDO!!!


45 - Mega Man 7 – 
Mega Man 7 was an exciting entry into the long-running series as it was the first time that we got to see the original style of Mega Man titles in new 16-bit graphics.  It also had a great soundtrack, fun levels and a renewed level of difficulty.  The graphical improvement gave us a new look at the classic heroes that we saw only as an 8-bit sprite for 6 games before it.  Mega Man 7 is a marker in the franchise's history, along side Mega Man X from the same era.

44 - Grandia 2
Religious struggle is part of the history of our world, and is the foundation of several wars.  Grandia 2's references to Catholicism, war, and a powerful church's influence over the powers of state are abundant.  The fantasy world which places a pious young acolyte at the very center of the battle between good and evil, perpetuated by a corrupted church who seeks to bring about their prophesied end of the world, is captivating.  The twist of the story is devastating, effecting all of the characters in different ways.  I love this game so much.  If you missed this title, do yourself a favor and check it out, if anything for the extremely addictive, pseudo-real-time combat system and awesome magic attacks.  I'm willing to forgive how horrible the names of some of the spells are (“BA-BOOM!” and “Shhhhh” for example).

43 - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Guns.  War.  A nuke.  Some Soviet dude in Chernobyl who gets his arm blown off.  Amazing multiplayer that adds role-playing elements that allow your fighter to grow and level up, obtaining new abilities.  All of these are elements in Infinity Ward's greatest game thus far.  CoD 4 was so perfect that it became the staple for most shooters released since that have stolen at least one thing from it.  It was revolutionary and intelligent with a terrifyingly believable story and great characters.  It also has some of the most amazing and fun levels of any first-person-shooter in history.

42 – Ms. Pac Man
A classic.  Some may be shocked that it's so far back on my favorites list.  Still, I love this game.  It's so simple in its design yet it remains a challenge.  As the game progresses things get pretty insane, and it even had cutscenes... sort of.  As I am typing this, that chomping sound is playing in my head.  Over and over it plays.

41 – Diablo
Let's go kill Satan!  Blizzard's staple of the dungeon-crawler had numerous classes, each playing differently, some pretty intimidating bosses and a great loot system that kept you playing, seeking more powerful gear.  Diablo is a classic, reshaping multiple genres forever after its release, and it is one of my favorite PC games of all time.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 5 (60-51)

60 – Galaga
Midway made some very famous arcade classics. One of their best was a little game attempting to ride the coattails of the shooter superpower of its day, Atari's Space Invaders. Galaga came out, and Atari died a little on the inside. Midway's classic shooter had challenge, pacing and graphics on its side, and after this game blew up, poor little Space Invaders (still a classic) was more or less left in its dust.

59 - Deus Ex
Warren Spektor, in part responsible for popular entries in the Ultima and Theif franchises, developed Deus Ex under the developers Ion Storm. Deus Ex is a dense, fun action-RPG that added a great deal of depth to the popular world of first-person-shooters. The interactivity of the world and the engaging story puts this one near the top of its genre.

58 - Super Punch Out!!
Mike Tyson's Punch Out was a classic. After a licensing contract with the speech-impeded boxer ended, its production was discontinued and replace simply by Punch Out!!, which had the ultra-lame final boss Mr. Dream instead of Iron Mike. Thus, Punch Out!! became the series title and its sequel on the Super Nintendo, Super Punch Out!! was a superb upgrade. It had all new characters, great graphics for its time and newly polished controls that were tighter and more responsive. Super Punch Out!!, in my opinion, is actually superior to its predecessor solely because the new characters just seemed more inspired and less recycled (recurring characters notwithstanding).

57 - Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest
Simon Belmont goes RPG!!! Castlevania 2 was an amazing follow-up to the start of the franchise. Guiding the series into its free-roaming future, Castlevania 2 charged you with the gruesome task of collecting Dracula's body parts, reassembling him and then slaying him to extinguish a curse that is plaguing the land. I just dread it when it is a “horrible night to have a curse!!!”, and what kicks more ass than a Flame Whip? I mean, come on!

56 - Secret of Mana
Seiken Dentetsu 2 is a classic. The game moved away from the traditional turn-based gameplay that was popular at the time, instead offering a real-time combat system that encouraged patience and finding that right time to attack. Throw in some unique characters, a great story, and some of the weirdest bosses ever and you have a winner. I would like to add that if you see a random sword stuck in a stone, it may be a good idea not to take it out... Just a thought.

55 - Donkey Kong Country
Have you ever wondered what Donkey Kong did when he wasn't scaling poorly assembled scaffolding with a damsel in distress in tow? Well... He fights to save his bananas. Yep! That's it. Donkey Kong Country was a very fun, very pretty game developed by the UK team Rare that pushed the Super Nintendo hardware to its limits and offered some truly memorable gaming moments. The game boasted fun bosses, clever level design and an interesting gameplay mechanic of controlling two characters at once who also act as your health. Oh, and I looooove the underwater music from this game!

54 – Flower
This is one of the greatest games of the last ten years. The idea is so simple. You control the wind as you guide flower petals along a sweeping landscape to bloom more flowers and grow your lengthy chain of color. The game is also a music game in a sense, timing the actions you take with sounds that match the key and sound of the background music. Some of the music from this game is so good, it actually may be one of my top 20 game soundtracks of all time. It is certainly getting very careful consideration.

53 - Half Life 2
Nerds wielding crowbars. Half Life 2 is the stunning continuation of the story of Gordon Freeman set in a decrepit cityscape. Half Life 2 takes you all over the place story wise, introducing a number of new characters (including one of my all time favorite supporting characters in video games: Alyx Vance), and reuniting you with other familiar faces. This game is just gorgeous to boot, with some really fun set pieces that feel cinematic, despite being actual real-time action scenes. When Half Life 2 launched along side Halo 2, it was an all out war for superiority, fanboy flames flew and those in between were caught amidst the cinders. I got into this title a little later, mainly because I didn't have a PC that could actually run the freaking game, but it resonated with me. It's just so good.

52 – Ico
SCE Japan Studio. One faction of this development crew could be the best game designers in the history of video games. NO! I'm not exaggerating. Ico is an absolutely stunning adventure title that basically amounts to an extended escort quest, with puzzles in between. It is not torture though. I love playing through this one as it brings be back to a period in gaming only a few years ago where I was still amazed by some of the things that came out. Ico's developers would team up a few years later to make another really good game. I wonder if it is going to pop up on this list somewhere..?

51 - Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
AAAAAAHHHHHHHHhhhhh!!!!! Broken controllers. Violent screams laden with profanity. Me punching myself in the face. All for that final cheer when I finally figure out how to beat that FREAKING BOSS! At the time of this game's release it was notorious for its brutal difficulty, lush graphics and tight gameplay. Still, where this game was really enjoyable was when you felt the undeniable satisfaction that you had actually accomplished something, as Ninja Gaiden wasn't hard because it was broken; it was hard because it was actually a challenging game.

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 4 (70-61)

70 – Gradius
Gradius is a delightfully simple but addictive and challenging scrolling shooter from Konami. When it was released on the NES there were still very few really good games in this genre and it was a huge breath of fresh air. This is the title that got me addicted to the S.H.U.M.P. / Bullet Hell genre of shooters that would grow to be hugely popular in Japan as it gave skilled players a platform to show off their gaming chops.

69 - Final Fantasy IX
I had a weird experience with Final Fantasy IX. When it was first released I actually did not like it. I thought it was slower than Final Fantasy VIII and story and design-wise, a step backwards. After I swallowed my pride and played through the game from start to finish, I realized it is a beautiful, well written, funny and fun-to-play RPG with great characters, a wonderful soundtrack and a unique story with some great twists.

68 - Gran Turismo 4
Gran Turismo was already a favorite series of mine when this one came out, but nothing could prepare me for how perfect, how beautiful, and how polished this game was. Everything was just right. The uber-realistic graphics, even on the PS2, were inconceivably good (I looked at the press releases before the game came out and was calling “B.S.” on the so-called screenshots; boy was I wrong), and I had no idea that eventually games would look better. Still, at the time this game came out, nothing looked better. Nothing.

67 - Rock Band - Series
I love music. I play guitar, bass, keyboard and am currently teaching myself violin. I find that anything that makes people interested in possibly playing an instrument is a great thing, and Guitar Hero was a great start. It would be a few years until Harmonix would release Rock Band. It was in a huge box for a video game, which was filled with a cumbersome array of bits and pieces. After you assemble (YES. ASSEMBLE) the game you were ready to experience a layered, challenging, fun game that brought people of all ages and skill levels together. I think Rock Band is responsible for more than just the expansion of the popular music genre. I believe Rock Band is one of the first modern titles that would bridge the gap for gamers and non-gamers. Since anybody can pick up a mic and sing, you didn't have to have magic fingers to be a pro, and that made less experienced players a match for the gaming hotshots. This made Rock Band and it's even superior sequel Rock Band 2 a great game for families.

66 - Super Mario Bros.
This classic game was a huge step forward in gaming in 1985. It taught us that games could be more than vague blips and blocks on the screen, and video game sound could be more that scratches, bumps and beeps. It was an addictive, exciting, fast-paced game placed in a strange world with characters that were captivating and are now staples in the industry. Honestly, if it wasn't for this game, the video game industry, which was fledgling before the NES and this game was released, would probably be dead. Period.

65 - Street Fighter 2
The arcade fighter classic from Capcom was so huge in its day that you literally could not get into arcades; the crowds and lines for this game were that long. However, the early 1990's were not good to arcades. The dreaded drought and closing of arcades from the early 1980's returned, this time not due to disinterest more so than the massive popularity of home gaming and the onset of the 16-bit generation of consoles. Street Fighter 2 began appearing in American arcades in 1994 and all of the sudden, the barren, empty arcades (who were resorting to selling their cabinets to stay in business) were booming. Street Fighter 2 was just one of those games that felt like it would be the start of something fresh; something new. It had a roster that was, at its time, huge; each of the characters were different (for the most part); and it boasts the onset of a new control scheme that would remain the staple for fighters to this very day. Street Fighter 2 would go on to become one of the most successful and famous franchises in video game history and would pave the way for literally hundreds of fighters to come.

64 - Streets of Rage 2
Face it, beat 'em ups are fun. I love them. I think they just feel different than other games. Arguably the best beat 'em up released on consoles during the 16-bit generation was Streets of Rage 2. Also known as Bare Knuckle, Streets of Rage was a hit on consoles so naturally it would spawn a sequel, thus came Streets of Rage 2. With four characters to choose from, this title would be the Double Dragon killer fans of the genre were waiting for. It was fun, pretty to look at and filled with unique bosses and challenges. Plus, who didn't love Skate. I love me some Skate.

P.S. Rollerblades are for dorks now.

63 - Star Ocean 2
A ton of endings, a cast of great characters, an engaging story and fun combat all make up this delightful RPG on the Playstation. Released by Enix in 1998, this title holds a special place in my heart. It just brings back so many memories. The pseudo-real-time combat was just part of it. There's a tone to this game that was just different. It reminded me of my favorite RPG of all time, which will show up later in this list (I won't reveal it yet though). The storytelling was just so good.

62 - Earthworm Jim
Doug Tennaple's over-the-top, funny, and challenging platformer just hits all the right notes for me. The set pieces are very amusing, filled with imagery that was reminiscent of franchises like Ren and Stimpy, and huge, multi-tiered levels that were cluttered with enemies and dangers. Plus, don't tell me you didn't laugh during the battle with Evil the Cat. He literally has 9 lives. Even though he wasn't exactly hard, his battle was truly memorable.

61 - Final Fantasy
Squaresoft fell under some hard times in the late 1980's. After a few titles launched but did not do well they were at risk of going out of business. They released Final Fantasy as a last ditch effort to stay afloat. The tile came from the thought that “this was it”. If Final Fantasy did not work, it would actually be our “final” release. Well... This simple, understated title would spawn a huge list of sequels and spin-offs, tons of famous characters and a famously good series of soundtracks that would get the orchestral treatment and become a touring live concert. The turn-based combat was perfect, giving the player the option to build their own balanced team and put them to task against a list of varying enemies with an actual back story. After “proving your worth” you embark on a quest where things go from awesome to even... more... awesome. I still think Chaos is one of the coolest looking baddies ever too. He just looks like he will eat your eyeballs.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 3 (80-71)

80 – Infamous
The action genre is filled with mediocre third-person titles. They are often riddled with bugs, camera and control issues and an all around bad story. Sucker Punch, the guys behind Sly Cooper, said “Screw YOU!” to those notions and released what is one of the greatest video games of the last ten years. Infamous is an epic action/adventure with a wonderful hero/antihero that is filled with amazing action, totally awesome powers, and all around fun gameplay. You never feel bogged down by the combat because you are constantly trying to see how far you can push Cole's powers.

79 - Air Fortress
Air Fortress is an exceptionally simple title. Each level is divided into two sections: a Defender-style side scrolling space shooter and a side-scrolling platformer with some nice anti-gravity elements added in. The game does the same thing over and over in every level yet it never gets boring due to its perfect difficulty curve, and solid gameplay.

78 - Quake 2
By the late 1990's the first-person shooter genre was already well established. There were several popular franchises that were consistently churning out new titles. The first Quake, from Doom developers Id Software, was a success, and it was no surprise that they released a sequel. There was something different about Quake 2 however. It may have been the first time I picked up a sequel to an FPS and was just completely blown away, immediately considering it to be superior to its predecessor.

77 - Little Big Planet
I love to create stuff. I create blog posts, I paint, I play instruments; it's just me. Little Big Planet is the first major title that allows you to customize almost everything in the game right out of the box, and share your creations on an easy-to-use, always accessible network. Online you have access to a seemingly limitless series of creations from other players. Some of them were so clever that you just get that feeling that the fun will never end. The levels that make up the main portion of the game are equally exciting, filled with hidden unlockables that keep you returning again and again.

76 - Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
When Crimson Skies came out, I was sort of indifferent about playing it. The box art was cool though! It was after reading a review that I decided it may be worth checking out. I played Crimson Skies and was immediately drawn in by the tight, easy-to-handle controls, fun missions, interesting characters and exciting multiplayer. Crimson Skies was somewhat of a sleeper, but those who played it know how fantastic this game really is.

75 – Alundra
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (a game that has about a 50/50 chance of showing up later... he he he) is such a good game. The franchise was immensely popular so naturally there were wannabes. Alundra was a very tight Zelda clone that is one of the few attempts at imitation that actually did it right. It looked great, had a good story, boasted fun gameplay elements and a ratcheted-up challenge level, especially later in the game.

74 – Rampage
This one is an arcade staple. This Godzilla-inspired punch fest was chaotic, clever and just plain fun. Some games are so simple they are perfect, and this game does everything just right, without any excess. The humor and design of the game made it more accessible and the arcade graphics looked really good for its time. Plus who wouldn't love to play a giant who knocks down buildings? Really?

73 - Devil May Cry 3
Two sequels in this franchise picks up the pace even more. Devil May Cry 3 is a very solid action game that has a great deal of variety in the combat. Encouraging the player to find creative uses of each style in the game (the game forced you to play your best so that you can achieve that SSS rating). Dante is also a very fun character. He ranks among my favorite characters of the last ten years. After the disappointing Devil May Cry 2, Capcom succeeded in bringing the franchise back with bombast.

72 - SSX 3
Snowboarding games never resonated with me. I didn't get into 1080 on the N64, I didn't like Playstation's Cool Boarders; hell, I didn't even really care much for the first two SSX titles. It was the way the controls felt to me, and the lack of freedom I felt in those games. SSX 3 came out and changed all of that. The open-world (err... mountain?) design, great characters (many of which were returning from the existing franchise), and fun, newly-designed missions, put this one up on top for me. I still love this game to this day.

71 - Blaster Master
Ha, ha! Sunsoft. You guys are sooooo funny! Blaster Master is an awesome mix of platforming and third person action-shooting from the NES era. As you played through the game you unlocked new abilities, steadily increasing your powers as the levels went along. The bosses were intimidating as well, and some of them were legitimately difficult. It's funny that the game was so good that funny ol' Sunsoft recycled the shooter portion's engine for several other games including Fester's Quest and the video game adaptation of Gremlins 2; because we wouldn't notice. AH-HA!

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 2 (90-81)

90 - Capcom Vs. SNK 2
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 did not make my list. GASP! This game, however, (obviously) did. Why did I pick this one over MvC2? Capcom Vs. SNK 2 is a solid, tight fighter that was just more well balanced and less luck-based than MvC2. Also, unlike its competition, CvSNK2 required you to actually execute the special moves, instead of simply pressing a single button on the controller to pull of a screen-filling death-dealer. Also, I liked the lineup on this one a little better because it featured some of my favorite characters from King of Fighters like Iori Yagami and King.

89 - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was a fun skateboarding title that came out of left field and became a massive success. Its first sequel took everything the first title did right and ratcheted up the pace, level size, trick list, skater selection, goals and even the already fun licensed soundtrack. The series has had a long life, going on for over a decade, and while it has fizzled in recent years, struggling to keep up with an evolving industry, this particular title still holds up. I still pop it in my Playstation on occasion. Just as a pick-up-and-play title, it is a classic.

88 - Kid Icarus
As a kid, I wasn't able to buy my own video games, and there was one video store, called Video Oasis, about five minutes from my house that I would get an opportunity to visit regularly. The video game selection was small, filling about one shelf, and they did not have this title. I actually first heard about the character Kid Icarus (which wasn't even his name) on the amazingly silly extended Nintendo commercial, Captain N the Game Master. It would be more than ten years later before I would play this title and boy was I blown away. The vertical level design, epic level of challenge and perky theme song still resonate with me to this day.

87 - Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando
By 2003, the Sony action-platformer trifecta of Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch and Insomniac, were already becoming a household name. The first Ratchet and Clank was a very fun platforming title with some amazing level design. As soon as I landed in that massive futuristic city, with buildings that just kept going into the distance and hundreds of flying cars in every direction, I was spending more time taking in the scenery than I was actually playing the game. Add some very funny story sequences, great writing and some of the coolest weapons ever and you have a true classic.

86 - Burnout Paradise
This game. I was already a Burnout fanboy when this game came out. When I got my hands on the extreme speed, open-world gameplay, and exciting soundtrack I was confident in calling Burnout Paradise my favorite title of the series. I haven't completed this title yet, mainly because I'm just letting it stretch out. When I'm bored I'll turn on my PS3 and do one or two events then set it down. This title is pick-up-and-play at its best.

85 - World of Warcraft
Time suck. Life suck. Soul suck. I'm not sure why I like this game. I just know I'm an addict; a very, very sad addict. I see the commercial for that lame rehab reality show with celebrities crying like little girls in front of Dr. Drew and consider them lucky they aren't addicted to WoW (or ARE they?!). I'm still playing this one today, thank you Cataclysm for giving me more reasons to lose hours of my life on this useless time-waster. I just can't help myself...

84 - Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus
Yay! Another one of Sony's platformers, this one from the very talented folks at Sucker Punch, Sly Cooper was a different game for its time. The episodic storyline was done like a Saturday morning cartoon, the cell-shaded graphics made it look like one, and there were even little episode titles for each level. The level design was also top-notch, focusing on a combination of acrobatics, stealth and speed. This is one of my favorite PS2 games of all time!

83 - Halo 2
I loved Halo, though I didn't play it until 1 year after its release (that's when I finally picked up my X-Box). Halo 2 was Halo on steroids. Dropping the rest of the title (“Combat Evolved”, how many people actually remember that anyway?) in lieu of a numbered series, this Bungie title brings dual-wielding, more vehicles, and online multiplayer to the mix. This is one amazing game. Also being able to play as a Covenant character was also pretty darn cool.

82 - Fallout 3
Bethesda apparently likes to make games that overwhelm because this one has so much depth, so many quests, and so many characters that it feels like it could have been broken down into an extended four-title shooter series. Instead, they made a massive, visceral RPG experience and did it in a nuked-out Washington D.C. Way to raise the bar guys! It is probably going to be a while before an RPG is released that can compete with this one, but we'll see...

81 - Mortal Kombat 3
Mortal Kombat was a ground-breaking and controversial fighter that was like Street Fighter filled with dead bodies. The sequel added more characters which resulted in a list that was, at the time, just overwhelming. The third in the franchise added even more new characters, a complex and fun combo system and even more new types of Fatalities, and it all culminated in a perfect combination to qualify it as one of the best fighting games of all time.