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Monday, February 28, 2011

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 8 (30-21)

30 – Mega Man 2
The Blue Bomber returned for his first sequel in 1988. The game was bigger, expanding the boss roster from 6 to 8, louder with a memorable soundtrack that ranks amongst the greatest ever, more challenging with some clever level design and brutal bosses in later levels and was just all around more fun. Mega Man 2 is one of the greatest game sequels of all time, surpassing its predecessor in every way. The series will continue to stay strong through the 90's and will become one of the mainstays in gaming and Capcom's flagship franchise.

29 – Psychonauts
Tim Schafer is one of the most talented game designers of all time and Psychonauts is his Sistine Chapel. This utterly bizarre gaming experience is just so clever, so inventive, so funny and ever so fun to play that it will remain ingrained in your psyche for years after you play it. Psychonauts takes on cliches from video games, movies, television and does it with wit and with charm. Add some truly fun characters, especially the hero Rasputin (“Raz”) and you have an exercise in perfection in platforming. There are few 3D platforming titles that have resonated with me as much as Psychonauts has.

28 – Gunstar Heroes
Gunstar Heroes is a fast-paced run-and-gun shooter in the vain of Contra. GH's advantage over most other scrolling shooters of its era, however, was its energetic action and kinetic level design. High-speed dashes through mines, speedy slides down the faces of pyramids and frantic scaling of buildings all ratchet up the action here. Gunstar Heroes is a relentless shooter that boasts intelligent action set pieces and unforgiving difficulty.

27 - Final Fantasy X
Always a Final Fantasy fan, I was truly excited about the series' first foray into the next generation on the Playstation 2. Final Fantasy X is a delightful story with captivating characters and solid turn-based combat. While more linear than traditional Final Fantasy titles, it did away with the world map, seamlessly linking the areas together by geography, so the pilgrimage you take actually felt like a, well, pilgrimage. The story undertones of theocracy vs. freedom, prejudice vs. understanding, and love vs. tradition all give the game a depth that was rare in a video game story, and the relationships between the characters in the story were very convincing, never feeling forced. While Final Fantasy X is not the best game in the series overall, in the storytelling front, it is an exceptionally executed example of how games can be used to tell a great tale, not merely using the story to carry the action.

26 – Portal
First-person shooters have been an ultra-popular genre for years, especially with PC gamers. Portal took the action of the series and used it to force you to put on your thinking cap. Emphasizing puzzle solving over action, Portal employs brilliant level design and flawless physics to force you to think your way through each level instead of just trigger-happily gunning down faceless baddies.  Oh, and I should also mention that I could not stop laughing while playing through this one.  Truly brilliant.

25 - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania returned to RPG form with Symphony of the Night and did so with such excellence that it remains one of the greatest action titles ever made. The mix of exploration and growth in SotN is solid and steady. The castle was large enough to be engrossing, but not so large that it is impossible to navigate. The soundtrack was stunning and the game had just the right amount of challenge. It was blended just right to be a classic.

24 – Shadow of the Colossus
Where do I begin? When the folks at Sony were pitched a game that was nothing but 16 boss battles with lots of galloping through vacant fields in between, I wonder how it went over. I'm so glad this game exists. It is my all time, favorite PS2 game, it is my favorite game from the last 10 years, and it is a perfect example of how, when you just take a chance, a truly wonderful idea can become a truly epic game. With sixteen of the most ingenious, intimidating, and glorious boss battles in the history of video games, Shadow of the Colossus will remain one of the most beautiful and enrapturing gaming experiences ever.

23 – Super Mario 64
The greatest 3D platformer of all time was made with love, and it shows. While the series did veer slightly from many of the traditions of the original games, it managed to veer from one great series of ideas to another. The brilliant level design will be the gauge by with other platformers will be judged to this day and it will spark the new ideas that other games released since could only attempt to replicate. There are few games that remain as fun to play after dozens of play-throughs as Super Mario 64 does.

22 – Starcraft
If you asked Blizzard in the 90's if they thought this single RTS would become a spectator's sport in a foreign nation, I wonder if they had any idea? Starcraft is the most polished and celebrated strategy game of all time. It was built upon an already solid framework with Warcraft as its foundation. Blizzard struck gold with this title and has managed to milk its success for more than a decade. Starcraft easily has had the strongest and longest run of any singular release in the entire gaming industry's history and its easy to understand why with a single playthrough.

21 - The Sims
The Sims is a smart, fun and endearing title where you embody the life of one person, or the lives of a whole family, and lead them through their careers and their relationships with each other and with the other Sims in their town. The game boasted a great deal of customization and the growth of the Sims and their home gave a tactile model of your progress through the game. The Sims is a classic example of how to do something very different, very, very well.

My 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time: Part 7 (40-31)

40 - Duck Hunt
When I first played this game I was amazed by the fact that I could shoot a gun at my TV and it would work! I couldn't believe it! It was so much fun too. It still is to this day. I especially enjoy the web-based mod that lets you kill the dog. I hate that freaking dog.

39 - The Legend of Zelda
This adventure classic created a genre. Inspired by his own forest adventures as a child, Miyamoto created a franchise that set the tone for all adventure games to come. The top-down view was not exactly new, but it felt like a new take on an old idea, one that was expanded to a massive extent. The dungeons were intimidating, the bosses seemed so epic, the items and upgrades gave the sense of a real growth in power and the world of Hyrule was, at the time, just so huge. It was filled with hidden passages and secrets and emphasized exploration over a linear hand-held approach. Then, after you've done it all, the second quest comes along to turn up the difficulty, and the fun!

38 - Super Mario Kart
The ultimate racing game that wasn't a simulation. We were used to games like Rad Racer, where we drove cars across roads, dodging traffic all the while, trying to beat the clock. With the onset of the fantasy racer with Mario Kart and, to a lesser extent, F-Zero (which was still a good game but inferior to Mario's foray) gave players a chance to race in a relaxed and fun environment against friends and challenging opponents. Mario Kart succeeded in creating a whimsical and exciting racing experience that is lasting and engaging.

37 - Sonic the Hedgehog
In 1991, Mario was king. Since the release of the NES in 1985, Mario had appeared in over 40 titles in around the world. When Sega announced their foray into the 16-bit era, they were met with some skepticism in the U.S. as they did not share the success here that they did in Japan. Then came Sonic the Hedgehog. I should be able to stop there. The levels were huge, multi-tiered and challenging; the music sounded like music and not like a bunch of beeps, the speed was literally insane, the bosses were fun and there was just so much to do. Sega struck gold in 1991 and the franchise continues to this day, though they haven't been able to recreate the amazing title that was released almost two decades ago.

36 - Simpsons (Arcade)
Like the aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade title I mentioned previously on my list, the Simpsons was a major quarter-suck for me. I think back on all of the nameless impoverished villages that could have been fed with the capital I wasted on this game and think: “What was the third boss again? I can't remember.” I love this one a lot; an old school beat-'em-up with four playable characters: Bart, Marge, Homer and Lisa, trying to save Maggie. It was actually a spoof of the Ninja Turtles Game to an extent, also made by Konami, it shared many of its characteristics and, though I'm not sure, I think it shared its game engine. I actually have forgotten most of this game because it's so hard to find and I haven't played it in probably about 15 years, but I think back and remember how much I loved this title. So good. So, so good.

35 - Mike Tyson's Punch Out
Back when sports games usually involved indiscernible humanoid blips shuffling across the screen accompanied by a sound effect similar to the raking of leaves, Mike Tyson's Punch Out gave us a fun boxing title with distinct characters, a good challenge and some truly memorable moments. Nintendo re-released the game at a later date replacing Iron Mike with the much lamer Mr. Dream, but the game was still great. Still, I can't figure out why they gave Mac a pink jogging suit. That just doesn't make sense to me.

34 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
This game could very well be the greatest 3D action-shooter ever released. GASPS ABOUND!!! I know, I know. That is is certainly a shocking statement and with competition like Gears of War and Call of Duty out there, it has some competition. However, Uncharted 2 is the most cinematic, well presented, most excellently designed action title I have played in more than ten years, and the characters are the most well-written and naturalistic I have seen in a game. The action set pieces are breathtaking and feel less like a game and more like an interactive movie. Never before have I been as in awe of a game as I was the first time I picked this masterpiece up. Well, there was one other time. We'll touch on that one later...

33 – Columns
I love casual games. Puzzlers and strategy games were all the rage back in the 90s due to the massive success of Tetris and Columns was Sega's foray into this world. What resulted was a fantastic puzzle game that was easy to learn and very fun to master. Any game that forced you to use so much of your brain is good, any game that trains you in reaction, response and reason is even better. Columns is one such game, and boy is it addictive.

32 - Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
I love Castlevania, I always have, and the third installment introduced us to some new heroes that we can meet and ally with. Each has their own unique abilities, pros and cons. Throw in some terrific boss fights, some wonderfully polished level design and a breathtaking soundtrack and you have the formula for one of the greatest video games of all time. While Dracula's Curse is not my favorite in the series, it's definitely up there, and I will say that this game got its fair share of my attention as a kid.

31 - Life Force
Space ships, dragons, volcanoes, giant sphinxes. How is this not number one? I love Konami's days on the NES. They made some great games then and Life Force was one of their best. This title, which was actually Gradius II, is a stunning space shooter with plenty of challenge and some memorable boss fights. On a side note, the soundtrack, which I love, was developed by the same guy that did the music for Suikoden 1 & 2, and one of my favorite game soundtracks, Contra III: the Alien Wars.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A little aside...

I will be continuing my list of my favorite video games next week. I apologize for my lengthy absence as I have been very sick over this past month.  If you have been checking back, I assure you I will be posting regularly again after next week.  Thanks for your support.