So I’ve decided that I want to actually list out my favorite games again. So this is how I’m envisioning this: the top 50 games will get a couple paragraphs detailing the best and worst parts of a game and how the better components overshadow the poorer bits (with the top 15 going into more detail). These are ranked in terms of importance to me. 51 – 111 will just be a bullet list of those same talking points, and are listed alphabetically. I’ve done a little bit of statistical analysis on these picks, determining my favorite franchise, publisher and developer.
And now, number 1. If you know me from earlier incarnations of this site (or could surmise from the banners of my current gaming sites), I feel incredibly warm, amazing, sensational love for Beyond Good & Evil. It stars my favorite character in any game (Jade), features a powerful, evocative storyline that has dangerous parallels to our current political mess, a stunning soundtrack, great voicework, solid controls, a stunning set of NPCs, clever mechanics, fantastic writing, incredible art design, a fascinating world, and holy cow can I go on and on. In summary, BG&E checks every tick mark in my brain for how wonderful a game can be.
That’s not to say the game is flawless. Oh no. It has some. For one, it’s very short. I would say it could be wrapped up in fifteen hours or less if you know what you’re doing. Which is okay — I’d rather it be a nice, tight and well-composed short game than one that doesn’t know when to quit. But still, another major destination or two wouldn’t have hurt (if as well designed as the rest of the game). Second, the hovercraft can be a tad touchy. And with a lot of the minigames tied to the hovercraft, it can cause a little frustration. Third, the final boss can be REALLY hard to deal with until you figure out how to counter its second phase. And unless you know it, it gets annoying. Fourth, instadeaths are never fun in a game in this genre, and there’s a lot of opportunities to be cut down by laser sentries all over. If you can play with the stealth, you’ll be totally fine, but it requires patience to do stealth and sometimes you just wanna get to the next story beat! And of course the cliffhanger that has kept me on edge for thirteen years now, and I await every E3 with a combination of fatigue and hype because I just never know when UBI Soft will just confirm the damn thing. *ahem*
I go a little more into my issues because my favorite game has more of them than the last two entries. But it’s made up for in spades by Jade and her narrative. She is such a stupendous example of character writing, development and growth. And the story she serves is just so well executed. Full of intrigue, surprises and revelations, BG&E makes every moment spent in it captivating. And because of its strength in these areas — not to mention all of the other positive notes I discussed earlier — it is impossible for me to select any other game as the one that has impacted me the most. So kudos, Michel Ancel and team, for a phenomenal game.
It’s been over twenty years since the release of Super Metroid, and it remains the greatest 2D game of all time, and unarguably Nintendo’s finest moment in terms of execution, atmosphere and gameplay. Samus Aran’s third adventure brings the intrepid bounty hunter back to Zebes, home of the original Metroid, to recover the stolen baby Metroid from the Space Pirates. Simple plot, but it tells one hell of a story from beginning to end with only the briefest exposition from Samus provided — this is how to show a narrative.
Along with some of the finest SNES spritework ever made, an amazing set of environments to clamber around in, Kenji Yamamoto and Mahito Yakota’s combined talents rendering one of the greatest mood-setting soundtracks in any video game, and some legendary boss encounters, the glue that keeps it all working together so beautifully is Samus. She controls nearly impeccably. Her skills increase at a perfect rate, and digging through Zebes to get all of the items is a daunting but doable challenge (unlike Fusion and Zero Mission, who went a little too deep into the mechanical well for my liking). And thanks to the brilliant pacing and subtle graphical storytelling, the entire quest has heft — a significant impact. Samus’ mission bleeds from the virtual to the real; it becomes yours, too.
Despite nearly being the ultimate video game, there are a few sour notes in the overall SM formula. First off, fuck the fanservice at the end as a reward. Samus in-game is such a different persona than the unarmored titillation Nintendo decided to throw in there in homage to the original that I can’t unite these two visions. It’s a narrative dissonance that frustrates me to no end. So I will simply say that my Samus is the bad ass pirate killing bounty hunter fully donned in her Power Suit, and leave it at that. And while Samus is sublime to move around, wall jumping is a tad too touchy. I wish they implemented something like Sunsoft’s Batman, where it’s very clear to delineate the animation and springing point for the Caped Crusader’s next leap. Here, it can be incredibly finicky to manipulate. But hey! That’s all I’ve got on negatives. Otherwise, unquestionably Nintendo’s shining moment.
Here we are, in the top 3 at last. We’re down to the three games that have left the greatest imprint on my psyche; ones I have devoted multiple playthroughs to, absolutely embrace as the definitive examples of their respective genres, and games I can barely fault at all. Like Chrono Trigger, the best RPG ever made. And it really shouldn’t be a surprise, as it is the culmination of two powerhouses of the genre: Yuji Horii and Hironobu Sakaguchi, the founders of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, respectively, titan franchises even in the 16-bit era, and their combined talent made for one hell of a ride.
Uniting stellar sprite work, a top-notch soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda (with a few tracks from FF alum Nobuo Uematsu), and building a spectacular cast (designed by Akira Toriyama), CT just overflows with quality from a visual/aural perspective. Plus it has a rich blend of exploration, one of the better map transitions from overworlds to specific locations in any game, and the best battle engine in a RPG in my opinion. Bar none, just everything clicks. And no random battles. Bosses are epic, enemies are clever, and combat just feels GOOD. And there’s a plethora of sidequests to do that aren’t tedious or wasteful, AND a bevy of endings for the dedicated player to New Game Plus for. And yes, this game pioneered that wonderful game mode so you can replay it breezily. Just about every checkmark was achieved with this game.
There is SO little to gripe about. Primarily, I can focus on the DS port, which is an excellent and expansive rerelease that revises the translation and adds in some interesting features, like an ending viewer and soundtrack player. Unfortunately, it also tried to shoehorn in some new content in-game as well, but Tose couldn’t recapture the magic in their attempts of bringing in new areas cut from the original game. Mainly, they just flubbed the most dynamic part of CT‘s overworlds — the specific combat zones. In most cases, these can be bypassed if you know the trigger (ha). This allows players to quickly zoom through familiar ground if they forgot a treasure chest or for a sidequest. However, in these bonus areas THEY ALWAYS TRIGGER. No matter what. And they reset when you leave an particular subarea. So as you head out, you get to battle all of those baddies you fought on the way in. STUPID. It stands out like a sore thumb! Thankfully, these are not essential to beating the main game at all, so they can be skipped, but it’s a waste because the areas are kind of neat and there’s some good rewards there. And the monster mini game I never dabbled with. But that’s enough of the DS port. As for the actual game? Well, there’s a couple parts where an encounter will just happen in the core game as well, but that’s only exasperated by the extra content. The tech combos can also be overpowered, which makes the game turn into a breeze. And rarely there’s a lack of direction from the game, so it can be a little confusing where to go next. But man. All of those are really, really inconsequential in the grand scheme of Chrono Trigger, one of the finest games ever made.
Persona 4 is a game that captivated me so freaking much that I cried when it was over. And then I cried again when the anime based on it was over. It’s arguably the closest I’ve ever felt to a group of characters in any video game. Each is so well designed and so well acted that I connected so strongly to all of them, something that typically doesn’t occur with a major cast of this size. Skies of Arcadia had a cast of three primaries that I love and three supports that I like; Persona 4 has eight that all have strong qualities that endeared them to me (even Yosuke, who is typically the low point on many people’s scales). Chie stands among my absolute favorite characters in any game. Man. What a great game.
Apart from the stellar cast, the game merges randomized dungeon dives and a solid battle engine with a school simulator reliant on building friendships and surviving your classes. It’s a brilliant blend of mechanics that help keep the whole game running and feeling fresh. The stupendous soundtrack adds so much flavor and personality to the proceedings, and the narrative is compelling and fairly original (I mean, a band of teenagers solving murders isn’t a novel concept, but the execution of that trope is pretty amazing to behold). And considering the game is a good eighty hour adventure, it’s great that it manages to not outstay its welcome at all during that entire span. The crazy monster and boss design greatly helps in this. All and all, it’s a splendid ride.
There’s a few snags, mind. The whole camp sequence is, for lack of a better set of words, an awkward bit of storytelling that is cringe worthy at best and unnecessarily perverted at worst. Naoto and Kanji — as awesome as they are — have some jilted narrative threads about their gender/sexuality that needed more delicacy to properly convey (and Naoto certainly did not need a romantic angle that “straightens out” her gender). Teddie (and to a lesser extent Yosuke) are overly lecherous. In short, there’s some character development that really needed some more refinement and care for its messaging — a lesson not learned with Persona 5 from what I’ve read. I applaud the localization team for trying to tidy these issues up (as I imagine the original Japanese script was less tactful), but I believe a little more polish may have ironed these out. Beyond that, I have few other major concerns. Getting to the best ending requires a little insider knowledge to set it up correctly, which can force a bit of an extended replay of dialogue to get back to it if you fail. And the success of this game led to a mini empire of spin-offs that I feel cheapens the payoff of the ending of this game — it’s not like I expected the protagonist to never meet up with the crew again, but I feel that Arena, Q and Dancing All Night take the story into undesired outcomes (ESPECIALLY the latter). But honestly, truly people, I adore Persona 4. I may not be 100% onboard with all of it, but I am so committed to the superb parts (and there’s a TON of superb parts) that it deserves to be up this high on my list.
Breath of the Wild caused the biggest shakeup to the formation of this list, as it’s both the newest entry on it and I had to rethink all of the other Legend of Zelda games in comparison to it. The original Zelda suffered the worst, as I had it in the Top 10 and now it’s quite a bit lower. But that’s because Breath of the Wild finally evolved the concept I had so desperately wanted from the series — a unflinching sense of letting the player actually be on their own to explore and discover what may lie in wait. So many open-world games have teased this potential over the years but failed to deliver it so precisely and elegantly as Breath of the Wild.
Zelda had gotten itself into a rut over the years — an increasing reliance on dictating what the player had to do to make any progress, stripping out the independence of the search; the hunt; the thrill. Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Link Between Worlds: all of these games are great, but all of them walked away from the vastness of dropping a player into a world and letting them just go. Breath of the Wild gives players all of the tools in the first couple hours in a self-contained tutorial that explains the narrative and motives to progress, and then pulls the creator’s hands back to let the player uncover the massive environment on their own terms. What a damn good decision this is. And the game is captivating to be in thanks to impeccable graphical and aural design cribbed from Studio Ghibli, a cast of major and minor characters that stand as some of the best in the franchise, and a bevy of goodies to go track down perfectly teased out and carefully placed. The overall design is nearly flawless.
It saddens me that it’s not flawless, but there are some problems. The bestiary is great (Lynels OMG SO GOOD) but is lacking in depth. It gets fatiguing to keep fighting Lizalfos in areas it doesn’t make sense to be fighting giant lizards (like snow fucking covered mountains!). The rain has no real relief in terms of climbing, which intensely restricts the joys of wandering. And a few other tiny quibbles that I can’t really remember at the moment (thankfully, I’ve written a lot of articles on the game!). But Zelda: Breath of the Wild is excellent. It is the best game of the decade thus far, and very much one of the greatest examples of the medium I can point to. Worth your time.
CiNG (rest in peace) may not have lasted very long, barely crossing the 11 year mark before shutting its doors in 2011. Over that time they released eight games — mostly visual novel-style games with a heavy puzzle component — and their masterpiece is Hotel Dusk: Room 215. The game’s unique artistic style caught my attention in the first place, but sitting down and playing through it was a revelation. It provided some of the best characters and writing in any video game, culminating in an amazing narrative that pays off beautifully at the end. And then there’s an alternate mode that changes some of the dialogue around and provides an expanded ending. Suffice it to say, I fell in love.
The game’s magnificent spritework is the high point of the game. The animation is breathtaking, calling to mind the 80s music video for a-Ha’s “Take on Me”, but manages to blend that motif with a noir flourish and an anime undercurrent that is so effective. It’s a joy to watch the game in motion when engaged in dialogue (which is good, because it happens a lot). CiNG also made the constant wandering about the small hotel fairly interesting with a nice range of mysteries to solve, puzzles to decipher and rewarding character interaction (as much as protagonist Kyle Hyde is aloof for most of the game). It’s a sensational medley of gameplay I relish, and it’s capped with a remarkable score and impeccable localization.
The game’s flaws are few. The bowling minigame is a little finicky. Sometimes the game isn’t super apparent on where to go or what to do (a consistent issue in games in this genre), leading to moments of aimless wandering. The 3D elements do not pop like the 2D ones do, and stand out a lot more because of it. And — no fault of this game, mind — the sequel never got a US localization, so the plot threads left here are left untied for fans who don’t emulate, import or read up on the game (like me). Still, Hotel Dusk is one of the finest games ever made in my book due to its strengths that heavily outweigh its flubs.
XCOM is probably the biggest shock for me when I consider my favorite games of all time, as it’s probably not one I would have ever suspected to be as high as 7th place. That’s not to say it’s undeserving or anything — I just didn’t expect my innocuous purchase of Enemy Unknown to enamor me so hard, and then for Enemy Within to then take that launching point and send it even further into my heart. Let me put it this way: I have done two full campaigns for EU and essentially two for EW (the first glitched out close to the end) in the past five years. EW was 2015 AND 2016. And the genesis of this essay prompted thoughts of replaying it AGAIN. But why has it taken such a foothold in my brain?
I think XCOM manages to find the right blend of tactical consideration alongside compelling mechanics, making each skirmish an absolute delight. As your soldiers muscle through maps and gain experience, better gear and more knowledge of the alien menace, you increasingly grow fonder and fonder of your squad. You wince when they take severe damage and panic as they fall, and you hope that they aren’t dead because of the time (and emotional) investment. But as the troops rise in power, and you gain the instincts of how to best proceed with each wrinkle of gameplay, storming maps and utilizing the environment to your advantage becomes second nature. Setting up overwatch salvos, ambushing enemies by flanking them, just taking out the most dangerous foe before they ravage your squad — these are amazing moments that build and build the more you play. And EW adds in a bevy of new modes for combat maps and additional opportunities for your team to grow (MEC suits and bio-engineering), as well as all of the DLC and extra content from the last game, making it the definitive way to enjoy this marvelous package. And I haven’t even discussed the base aspects hardly at all, which is compelling enough to serve as a nice distraction from the shooting in between missions.
That all being said, the game has its shortfalls, and they are mostly technical. This is a glitch-ridden title, and the only PS3 patch for it actually makes it worse (by locking you out of a crucial mission late in the game!). The camera can spiral off into nowhere, units can fall through the ground, weird physics issues, occasional collision problems, and weird artifacting to the cutscenes are a small handful of the issues that can arise. It’s also not super attractive to look at, and the color scheme is a little too monotone. And dear god, sometimes this game is merciless even on easier difficulties. Plus the aircraft element of the base is undercooked and feels tacked on to the rest. But despite all of those concerns, the core of the game is SO GOOD I can’t be mad at it. I mean, I’ve replayed the whole game nearly FOUR times in five years. And it’s not something that is a quick little breeze — it’s a 20 – 40 hour investment, at least. So XCOM, you’ve done something. You’ve become my pick for the best US developed game ever made.
Hoo boy. This is an emotional entry to start to write. Resident Evil 4 is a marvelous game, no question. It is a bold reinvention of the series, and essentially redirected the 3D action game trajectory within its wake. No, the game is not the issue here. It’s me. And where I now sit in contrast to this game’s release back in 2005. You see, this game was one of the key ways I bonded with my then-girlfriend and now ex-wife. So, I have to now separate RE4 from those memories. And while this is a list of my favorite games and how they came to be that way, I won’t belabor this essay any further about this tangent — I think I’ve made my point. Let’s instead discuss how revolutionary this game was.
First off, the camera placement behind Leon’s back. This subtle shift changed the entire dynamic of how the franchise feels; Leon can now see around him and be much more aware of his surroundings. It also allowed the “tank” controls of earlier games remain and feel much more fluid and centralized to the action. No longer were you prey to the cinematic camera angles of games past — Leon is now the focal point. And the enemies are smarter now as well, and unlike the zombies of the previous titles, they can coordinate their attacks and even dodge and block their heads from your gun shots. Plus, you know, they have giant parasitic hosts inside them that often burst out to antagonize you even worse than their standard bodies. And that’s just the Ganado; there’s a host of other classic foes thrown in there, like the blinded yet frightening Garradors, or the nerve-wracking Regenerators and their even more metal counterparts the Iron Maidens, or the swarms of invisible Novistadors. PLUS bosses of a caliber nearly unrivaled in any other game. Smooth controls and a wide swath of excellent level design — plus the impeccable sound/music design and stunning (for the time) graphics all collide for some sensational gaming.
Beyond my own emotional problem (which will even out in time, I’m positive!), RE4 has very little to gripe about. Ashley, serving as your escort mission, can become a hassle, and her short skirt causes several upskirt shots that I’m not into (at least she comments about it and rightfully so, but still…the designers made the choice to be pervy). Ada is freaking awesome but her outfit is horribly impractical, while I’m on costuming faux pas. The game threads the needle on Quick Time Events, and there’s a couple moments where they can cross the line into insufferable (Leon and Krauser’s knife fight, for instance). And I don’t fully accept why Leon can’t suplex enemies in the first third of the game — sure, it would have broken the illusion of the Las Plagas if it was done too soon, but once we know the villagers are weird and shit couldn’t have been enabled then? He’s blasting their faces off with guns! But man, this game does so little wrong and so much right…I can’t harp on it for any longer. Splendid, and easily Capcom’s best work to date.
This is the most convicted I feel about any single game’s placement. Splatoon is, for all intents and purposes, the best multiplayer game I’ve ever played. Everything above it on my list is there for its single player content. And that’s not a knock against the solo campaign here, which is quite clever and certainly worth the playtime (especially for the climatic showdown at the end!). But that mode alone is not what made this game so special. It’s the mechanics coupled with the camaraderie the multiplayer so expertly blends together.
Splatoon takes the third person shooter into novel directions. Your Inkling can shoot ink (which damages opponents of a rival color), toss specialized bombs, launch Specials once the meter is maxed, jump, and transform into an alternate squid form that can swim faster in your team’s ink and potentially lurk in ambush for your foes. While blasting your rival Inklings is still a crucial part of the gameplay, there isn’t a single mode where that is the ultimate goal of a match. Instead, there’s the unranked Turf War, where covering the ground with your team’s ink is the way to win, while Ranked spin common multiplayer modes like Capture the Flag (Rainmaker) and King of the Hill (Splat Zones) into this ink-drenched world of combat. And it’s bloody brilliant. And teaming up with friends IS THE BEST. There have been so many legendary moments I’ve shared with some friends (shout outs to my forum buddies!) in this game to even try to document. Yesterday I was playing Tower on my own and managed to sweep the entire rival team by myself in two seconds. Four splats. It was amazing. And this game lets you relive moments like that again and again and again. Add in an incredibly appealing visual and aural aesthetic, responsive controls and great map design and you’ve managed to picture the nigh-perfect world of Splatoon.
And now we get to why I am having some quibbles placing it on my list. You see, I think I should consider it even higher than 9th place. But despite a few small problems (occasionally the camera gets locked into bad spots that hamper you; Splat Zones is a bit dull and too easy to dominate at higher level play; your squid form sometimes doesn’t latch onto your ink like you want) and a desire for even more customization options, the real rub is the impending sequel that will effectively mark this as obsolete in a few months. All of the good memories will become that; recollections of a past time. Nintendo will shut the servers down some day. And while solo is, as I said earlier, more than serviceable…it is not the meat of this game. So at some point Splatoon will shrink away from my list (hopefully to make room for the sequel?), and I can’t justify it being better than the games currently ranked above it right now. But that’s okay. I still adore it.
Once upon a time, I viewed Skies of Arcadia as the greatest game ever made. And I still consider it pretty highly in terms of its importance to me, obviously, resting right at the start of my top 10. A big reason why I value it so highly is that it has a substantial heft to its characters and to its narrative that many other games in its genre (and even outside of the JRPG realm) lack, and that’s the infectious optimism Vyse, Aika and Fina all convey. Their pluck to do the right thing and to take down oppression in all its forms is a goddamn masterwork on how tone can greatly raise up an experience. But there is more to my love for Skies than just the personalities and the story.
Truth be told, Skies captures the essence of discovery better than most any other game could even dream of. The ones that exceed it…well, I’ve ranked them mostly above Skies! But the power of the cast makes that exploration element even more amazing. Because you feel a bond to the world of Arcadia thanks to the careful attention to the lore and the sense of place it establishes. The strong graphical hook of the Dreamcast era is perhaps at its finest sheen here, with a graphical style that makes Itsuki Hoshi’s incredible designs leap from sketchbook to screen; Yutaka Minobe and Takayuki Maeda deliver a nearly impeccable score that digs deep into cultural instrumentation and utilizes subtle beat changes to emphasize the flow of battle; the two battle engines — on-foot and on your airship — that throw enough wrinkles and engagement into each that it’s generally a pleasure to combat enemies; the crew recruitment and base building elements that give the player a sense of growth and camaraderie unrivaled by most other JRPGs. Skies soars above most of its competition thanks to these elements.
That all being said, it’s not a perfect game (like any single one is), and there are reasons why it doesn’t sit as high on my favorites nowadays. A high random encounter rate can sap the crucial thrill of sailing and wandering about to crippling degrees (especially in the Dreamcast original, where it was a touch higher). Climbing ladders is a common chore that demands for a cutscene where one will never come. The game’s Looper enemies are worse than Dragon Quest’s Metal Slimes in terms of fleeing, and offer a far less impressive reward for actually slaying one…and they are super common. Sometimes the game arbitrarily decides to force a character to shuffle over to an enemy over using the character’s distance attack (which makes no logical sense!). In short, there’s a fair amount of gameplay design choices that stifle the game’s flow, which can make it more prolonged and hampered than it has any right to be. And with a few snips and tweaks here and there (plus a quick save option), the game would be much improved. Regardless of the issues with mechanical pacing, however, Skies of Arcadia is a marvelous journey of a game that has an astounding cast, fun gameplay systems and a sense of positivism, awe and wonder that makes it truly legendary in my mind.
Mega Man 3 cemented video games as something I could call a “passion”. Sure, Super Mario Bros. 1/2/3 and Legend of Zelda left a very strong impression on me, but my imagination imploded with MM3. I devoted hours upon hours into learning the various Robot Masters, their weaponry, and the password system. I made my own strategy guide, detailing all of my findings into a physical format with art and extensive commentary. I wish I still had it. But this was my first Mega Man and it stands as the second best 2D action game ever made (and in terms of pure action, this is #1).
Here I think Capcom managed to create 8 Robot Master levels that are perfectly balanced. There isn’t a moment like in MM2 (Quick Man, Heat Man, hi) in these early stages that feels unfair or mean-spirited. So the player has plenty of time to work through those levels, and there isn’t a single part that the level design feels questionable (I’m not arguing for the Doc Robot or Wily levels, where the dev team clearly made up for lost time…but those are mostly set up in a way where the player’s skills will have been honed over the earlier stages to be better prepared…save the mandatory Rush Jet segments). The bosses themselves are pretty solid all the way around, with a decent pattern at worst and super crazy hard at best (although Shadow Man may be a bit much). And the music! It does so much to make every stage stand out. No failing tracks here. And Mega Man moves so good! And the powers are mostly great (Top Spin’s tendency to trade hits or drain rapidly notwithstanding). OMG game much grand!
Mostly. Mostly grand. As I mentioned, the Doc Robot levels and Wily’s Castle have some bullshit moments revolving around the mandatory use of the Rush Jet, which punishes players unfamiliar or unlucky midway through. And you can tell the game was hastily put out, as there’s some elements that feel less polished than others (perhaps the reasoning we have the aforementioned Rush Jet segments as they stand). Keiji Inafune looks back poorly on this game’s development, stating the new director wasn’t in tune with the franchise and that the timeframe was condensed…so that’s a shame the game isn’t as good as it could be, but it still is amazingly damn good regardless of that. It is a testament to the team at Capcom that a rushed game under a unfamiliar lead turned out so spectacularly.
Symphony of the Night brought a new wrinkle to the franchise’s storied legacy: the addition of RPG elements, backtracking via skill progression, and a dynamic protagonist with a bevy of gameplay options unlike the Belmonts that came before (well, and Morris/Lecarde). For a first spin at an entirely new melding of mechanics, SotN is a brilliant game (as I note in its own article). However, I find Aria of Sorrow to be the definitive Castlevania experience in terms of control, level layout and secondary talents. It may not look or sound as nice, nor does it have the grand attention to the minute details of its older sibling, but Aria FEELS so much better to me.
Namely, Soma Cruz reacts perfectly to your prompts. He turns when you want him to, attacks on command, jumps when pressed and performs everything the game throws at him with fluidity and grace. Alucard made a valiant effort, but in contrast to Cruz he feels a touch stiff and technical. The need to equip healing items to use them is clunky; Soma uses them instantly via the menu. Having to tap down and then up and then jump to super jump as Alucard has been streamlined to the backdash button in midair for Soma. There’s no inverted castle here, thus no tedium switching between Alucard’s forms all of the time to wander around the upside-down architecture. It’s manageable and the perfect size. And Soma’s soul system is a vast improvement over Alucard’s swiping of Castlevania subweapons, borrowing a few of those concepts but throwing in so many others that allows a ton of experimentation. There is never a moment where an accidental candle whip emits a curse as your subweapon of choice plummets down some room divide to never be seen again; Soma is how you wish him to be at all times. He is the epitome of smoothness.
A solid narrative, adequate music and good visuals for the platform all build around this core, making the entire game memorable and a blast to play. Its downsides are almost entirely negligible, and mostly spin around its native GBA format. The game recycles enemies from older games like Rondo of Blood and Symphony, although not as much as the DS entries. It lacks the attention to detail Symphony featured, which saps it of some charm. There’s a lot of mimicry of regions from Symphony as well, despite the new layouts. And the last nitpick is unrelated to its hardware, but could be construed as the biggest issue: Soma can become overpowered very easily, which makes the game a bit of a cakewalk midway through. But on the whole, this is by far the finest effort by Koji Igarashi and Konami in my opinion.
Capcom struck upon an incredible idea with the original Bionic Commando for arcades — why don’t we try removing the one crucial mechanic in a platforming game (the ability to jump) and try to circumvent that with some other means of traversal? And it was an interesting experience, to be sure; stripping out vertical movement via a button press and replacing it with a grappling arm that allowed you to climb and swing instead was a bold choice back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the arcade dev team couldn’t create a compelling world or strong enough gameplay to assist its audaciousness. However, Capcom would not let the concept die; instead, a new team would revisit it on the Famicom and NES and absolutely nail it this time.
With the second go, Capcom came up with one of the most unique and crazy ways to go through an action game. Not being able to jump causes your reactions to completely go haywire — how can Radd Spenser avoid damage if he can’t leap out of the way of bullets or soldiers? He has a gun, and the bionic arm, but…how? And figuring out the best way to approach each section of the stage and then pull off some amazing grapple, blast some “BADD” (i.e. Nazi) and then storm the base? It’s astoundingly satisfying. Capcom made nearly every stage present some new challenge to Radd and the player, to push the grappling mechanic further and make it more and more incredible with each lesson learned. And Area 6 is the ultimate showdown — beating that stage opens up so much euphoria. Add in sharp NES pixel art and a solid soundtrack and you have a masterwork of a cult hit.
However…getting the mastery down pat is the most punishing part of the game, and it can easily push away players unsure of what to do. It took me some time to actually have the game click, but once it did it was among my most memorable moments in any game. But there are a few other problems — minor, but still downers — uninspiring bosses, a localization that isn’t super clear and rife with Engrish and other typos, and some cheap enemy placement mar the overall joy the game otherwise brings. But in all honesty, these issues aren’t enough to make me not love it wholeheartedly. Even more than Portal.
Gameplay mechanics are something I paid little attention to in my youth. I think I just noticed if a game “felt” appropriate — not really seeking out any major element in particular. As I got older, however, I became more observant to these sort of things, and one of the standouts that awakened this search was Valve’s Portal. Because it blew my fucking mind.
The gameplay in Portal is straightforward in discussion: you control a silent protagonist named Chell who is given a teleportation (aka “portal”) device in the form of a gun, and you make your way through puzzling scenarios egged on by a malicious AI named GLaDOS in first person. Once put into practice, the entire concept explodes. Portal is deviously constructed and meticulously crafted in every sense of the phrases. Once you start utilizing the Portal gun and see what it allows Chell to do, each puzzle room expands the notions of that capability impeccably. In my case, I felt my brain react in ways most games can’t approach. I couldn’t solve the game quickly enough; each new playground brought new ways for my mind to be amazed, new taunts from GLaDOS (who is one of my favorite villains in any game), and clever 3D level design that is difficult to top.
Alas, it had to end. And thus my negative mark…I wish the game was able to keep this up longer than it does. Sure, we got a sequel down the road that is really good, but its biggest flaw is that it isn’t Portal. It’s Portal 2. And the uniqueness — the bold audacity of Valve’s original take on this concept — was lost. And I’m afraid that is the biggest knock against Portal as well; once it’s completed the sheer wonder it birthed fades. It’s not a experience that can be replicated. Despite that, however, it is a marvelously designed 3D puzzle platformer that left a huge impression on me (obviously, given it’s in the top 15!), and who knows, maybe when I get around to replaying it again I’ll be stunned once again.
Taito’s original Elevator Action was a decent arcade hit, but sat dormant for over a decade before they would return to the concept in Elevator Action Returns. The original starred a solo agent trying to infiltrate enemy HQs to swipe their top secret docs, and his primary method of exploration was the titular elevators. The combat was basic — he only had a standard handgun that shoots slowly, and the enemies were armed in a similar fashion. Clever players could use the elevators as weapons, or shoot out the light bulbs onto enemy heads, but generally speaking those scenarios are limited. Patience was a major virtue to the mechanics; the elevators would move on their own, so there was a fair amount of standing around fending off rival agents. The sequel retains all of the framework of the first game, but reinvents the gameplay mechanics into something brilliant.
First off, instead of the somewhat glacial pace of EA, Returns fully commits to an action template. The three heroes (two of which can play together in co-op, a wonderful addition!) are doing essentially the same tasks as the spy in the original; descend into levels filled with bad dudes, retrieve info/defuse bombs lurking in red doors, shoot stuff, and get to the end with all of the objectives completed. It’s the execution that has changed. The gameplay is much more fluid, with responsive controls, additional combat options (including tossing grenades, background elements you can shoot, jumping into foes, and upgradable firearms), spectacular level design, a more diverse roster of enemies, and incredible animation that makes everything flow together seamlessly. It hits so many right buttons for me that every trip through the game just gives me massively good feels.
It’s not a perfect game, of course. The version I have via Taito Legends 2 has emulation issues, which removes the machine gun weapon entirely from the game. There’s also some sequences where the game slows down pretty heavily, but I’m not sure if that was in the original or in the emulation. There’s still some waiting around for elevators to catch up to you. A few setpieces run a little long. And there’s instances where the arcade format shows itself with relentless situations that scream “put more quarters in me!” But ultimately Returns stands tall as one of the best arcade games of all time, a marvelous action game, and one of the finest sequels ever made.
16 – 50
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
Good: Charming character designs and excellent voice overs unite to create some of my favorite protagonists in video game history. Amazing cel-shaded graphics and gorgeous orchestrated soundtrack. Battle system has plenty of nuance and growth to allow battles from becoming too stale. Definitely generates the feel of exploring a huge world.
Poor: Random battles can make the game drag on (the 3DS version remedies this, but I haven’t gotten into it yet). Some dungeons get monotonous.
Dead Space 2
Good: One of the best 3D action games of all time. It’s also the finest psychological horror game since Silent Hill 2. Isaac gaining personality allows him to actively be a part of the game’s world, and the new characters are fantastic. Combat is visceral and intense.
Poor: The game strips out most of the boss fights from the first game, which is disappointing. The god damn eye sequence.
Good: An incredible amount of content with three full campaigns with different characters (with a fourth on the way). Retro homage in the best possible way: gorgeous visuals, impeccable music and stunning backgrounds that echo the 8-bit era. All three game modes are beautifully designed, with amazing controls and level design. Handles gender most elegantly — Shield Knight is quite capable, women aren’t sexualized, and there’s a Body Swap option for all of the Knights and the Enchantress.
Poor: Some cheap enemies (the green propeller guys are a shining example). And this is mild, but Plague Knight and Specter Knight take some adjustment to get used to, as they control so radically different than most other 2D characters.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Good: Gorgeous spritework; some of the best ever put in a game. Alucard has a huge moveset and inventory, giving him multiple approaches to combat and exploration. Splendid music and backgrounds merge to create spectacular atmosphere. Great bestiary.
Poor: Inverted Castle is neat at first, but wears itself thin after a while. Potions that need to be equipped is a bad idea.
Good: One of the most interesting and trippy games I’ve ever played through. Strong localization that is leagues above many other games of its era. One of the best final bosses in all of gaming. Solid exploration and battle system.
Poor: Paula is damseled a little too much, and her importance at the very end is not telegraphed well. Despite all of its innovations and uniqueness, it still feels a lot like Dragon Quest.
Super Mario 64
Good: The definition of innovation, pioneering the 3D realm for the future generations that followed. Engaging level design that allows a lot of experimentation. One of the best soundtracks for the system, the franchise and possibly all time. Despite being over 20 years old at this point, it still controls pretty damn well.
Poor: Some Stars are in some weird places that the game doesn’t really clue you in on. Rainbow Road is a bastard of a level.
Legend of Zelda
Good: A landmark in action-adventure game design, birthing an entire genre in its wake. Wide array of tools makes combat and exploration a delight. Link responds well to player’s commands despite its vintage. A wide array of monsters and bosses to tackle, each with its own quirks.
Poor: Often obtuse and can be unfriendly to new players. Second Quest borderlines on masochistic.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Good: Among the finest 2D platformers ever made. Excellent level design and oodles of secrets make for grand gameplay. Mario (and Luigi) have tons of powerups at their disposal to take on each stage. Impeccable controls.
Poor: Once you’ve gone through the game a few times it loses a lot of its spark. Some of the later worlds get mean spirited.
Good: Absolutely stunning graphics and animation. Compelling narrative and characters that quickly grew on me. Puzzle gameplay that is unique and engaging. Surprising ending makes the journey worth it.
Poor: Music is probably the weakest link here. Replay is almost non-existent beyond waiting years to try it again.
Good: This game is decades ahead of its time, and remains one of the finest strategy games out there. Three difficulty modes add in extra modes and features, making learning its many mechanics easy. Multiplayer! Super catchy main theme.
Poor: Actually doing multiplayer is a bit tricky in ye olde times of Commodore 64 keyboards, joysticks and such. Can accidentally let go of M.U.L.E.s in higher difficulties with a mistaken button press.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Good: Evolves the Deus Ex formula beautifully. Adam Jensen has a wide array of skills and augments that allows extensive customization on how to proceed through each level. Tight and responsive gameplay is blended with top-notch level design. The Director’s Cut adds in additional content and much needed attention to the boss fights.
Poor: Questionable casting decisions (especially Letitia). Final level goes against a lot of the other design principles powering DE:HR, making it stand out. Before the Director’s Cut, the bosses were easily the weakest link, feeling dissociated from the rest of the game.
The Last Story
Good: Excellent characterization that destroys the cliches typically attached to JRPGs midway through for one of the most amazing narratives I’ve come across in a game. Intriguing combat engine that focuses on real time combat is a lot of fun once it clicks. Lazulis is one of the best hubs I’ve come across in a game. Stirring soundtrack and solid voicework.
Poor: This game pushes the Wii well past its limits, leading to stuttering and freezes. You will want to yell at Zael until that aforementioned moment where he finally breaks through the narrative chains (ha) holding him. Could have used a bit more color in the environments.
International Superstar Soccer 98
Good: Splendid controls that make every game an absolute delight to play. Complexity done elegantly, with lots of options for player involvement including formations, marking and substitutions. Respectable graphics for the N64 made the game look better than most of its competition at the time, and doesn’t look horrible now. In my opinion, the best sports game ever made.
Poor: Commentary, while well done for the time and platform, is very limited. Need a Controller Pak to fully enjoy the game. Lack of licensing.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Good: The three “isms” opens up the gameplay options of each character exponentially. Large roster makes for plenty of different matchups. Gameplay engine is the most polished of the Street Fighter lineage, and Dramatic Battle is a brilliant mode. Unlike some other Capcom fighters of this era, the graphics look pretty solid thanks to consistent design.
Poor: Not a huge fan of the soundtrack. Some drab environments lack the variety and spice of earlier entries. The best version of the game is only on PSP.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
Good: Expansive quest with branching story paths makes for lots of replay. Engaging gameplay that mixes careful soldier management, map exploration and automated combat beautifully. One of the best looking and sounding games on the N64. Compelling story.
Poor: Translation isn’t perfect, and there’s some rough patches (including a couple points that didn’t actually get translated). Can be pretty tough at times, and abruptly so. In-game help system needed better explanations given how deep the gameplay of this game is.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Good: Fantastic cast with a fresh new art direction and solid VA work. Support system is substantially improved, leading to children that can join the game later on. Casual mode makes the loss of units much less of an ordeal, but fans of the original format can play it that way as well. Gameplay is made much more dynamic with the Pair Up option, making combat richer than earlier titles.
Poor: Some characters cross into skeevy town (Novi, anyone?). Pair Up is overpowered (Fates fixes this). Some maps are extremely simple in nature.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Good: The finest example of “classic” Castlevania, refining the NES formula to a pristine sheen. Excellent remixes and new compositions. Branching level design provides variety in replays. Maria is a great secondary character to play through the game.
Poor: Cutscenes have not aged well at all. Retains a bit of the awkward Belmont movement from the NES games, which counteracts the otherwise fluidity of gameplay (Maria highlights this issue, as she doesn’t feature it like Richter).
Good: Surprisingly excellent reconfiguring of the Metroid franchise into 3D. Engaging world design coupled with solid combat and exploration. Samus is, for the sole Metroid title in the whole series, not sexualized in the slightest. Fantastic music and sound design.
Poor: Jumping can be a little tough to gauge. The Scan Visor is a cool addition, but the game relies on it a ton for world and lore building. Occasionally the backtracking gets grating.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Good: Awesome class system allows a ton of flexibility and freedom in creating heroes and heroines. Refined battle engine takes the best parts of the series’ past and distills it perfectly. Lots to explore, and the drop of random battles helps focus. Solid soundtrack.
Poor: Storywise this isn’t as dynamic or interesting as V or VIII, likely due to the protagonist’s malleable nature. Postgame content is mostly grindy randomized dungeon diving. An adequate chunk of content (and co-op) is locked behind online access that is no longer available.
Good: One of the most beautiful games ever released in terms of art and sound design. A rollickingly good Zelda clone that evolves the formula in clever ways. Great boss fights. A ton of fun to wander around and soak in the environments (especially in HD).
Poor: Issun is sexist and usually confrontational, and unfortunately serves as your means of interacting with the people of the world. Orochi’s boss fight is repeated three times, and dear god this game did not need a boss rush. Standard combat can get a bit old.
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Good: One of the first open-world games that truly handled the breadth of such a concept adequately. Unique environment packed with weird mythology, creatures and environments. Flexibility to create your own story within the game. Stellar soundtrack.
Poor: Character models aren’t very attractive to look at. Early goings are rough due to inaccurate attacks (unless you cheat). Combat is pretty dull.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO
Good: Expanded groove system and added mode options eliminate the gameplay issues from the previous game. Hefty lineup full of Street Fighter, Rival Schools, Darkstalkers, Final Fight, King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, The Last Blade, Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury legends and obscurities. Unlockable custom groove option is stupid fun. Smooth, responsive and engaging combat.
Poor: Some weird choices for the roster over some other popular options (Todo over Andy, Blue Mary, Leona or K’?). Extreme focus on Street Fighter on Capcom’s side in contrast to the more diversified SNK roster. Mismatched graphics (especially on Capcom’s side) stood out awkwardly even then.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
Good: Some of the best characters I’ve come across in any game (especially Trucy Wright and Ema Skye). Overhauled graphics are leagues above the GBA-based entries that preceded it. Apollo’s method of reading faces and body positions in court cases is more intuitive and interesting than Phoenix’s psyche locks. I found the story to be the most compelling of the five games I’ve played (the DS entries).
Poor: Still suffers from some unclear evidence/trial situations where guesswork takes over actual deduction. One less case than the preceding games.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Good: Excellent characters all the way around — from good to bad — that make the overall plot spectacular. Three different playable characters that all manage to be fun to some degree, meaning no dread when you switch out. Fantastically appropriate music and charming cel-shaded graphics add to the atmosphere. Some of the best voicework camaraderie in any game.
Poor: Some of the missions feature some obnoxious gameplay, particularly the DDR-inspired ones. Also some missions have shitty or no checkpoints, leading to frustration on failures.
Good: Introduces Kirby’s power swiping ability, changing the face of the franchise forever. Breezy levels filled with secrets, interesting setpieces and colorful environments push the NES well past its initial limits. Great soundtrack. Controls impeccably.
Poor: Not a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination. Can’t save progress in the Extra Game. Some secrets are almost inscrutable to figure out without help.
Good: Delivers some of the most intense horror and dread in any game due to its splendid atmosphere. Evolves the gameplay formula set by Resident Evil 4 beautifully. Enemy design is off the charts. Intriguing weapon design focused around engineering and construction tools stands out from the crowd.
Poor: Isaac has no personality due to his silence, making it hard to relate to him (the sequel remedies this). Plot is essentially a series of tasks only Isaac can complete, making it feel like a constant string of chores at times. Guardian Necromorphs are more aggravating here than in the sequel.
A Boy and his Blob
Good: Beautiful visuals and stellar soundtrack. Excellent puzzle platforming gameplay that reinvents the NES original into something much more compelling and straightforward. One of the most charming duos in any game.
Poor: Boss fights are a little rough. One hit deaths can lead to a lot of trial and error. Checkpoints on later levels are a little too few and far between.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Good: Huge map with a plethora of things to explore, do and battle. A world dynamic enough to enjoy wandering around in as much as actively moving forward in the main game. Manages to thread the needle in terms of enemy/loot scaling better than Oblivion. Allows amazing opportunities to role play!
Poor: Bethesda jank progressively worsens as the save file grows (at least on the PS3 version), making high level player a risky proposition (and subsequently hurting that role play I was just praising). Lacks the imagination of Morrowind in terms of the bestiary and world design (which the expansion Dragonborn remedies somewhat by allowing the player to visit Morrowind‘s Solstheim). The expansions have more interesting NPCs to join you than the main game (Serana and Freya, respectively).
Good: Amazing 8-bit run n’ gun combat. Stunning soundtrack that stands as one of the best on the system. Co-op! A tight, cohesive package of action gameplay with very few flaws.
Poor: The two “base” levels are definitely the weak point, although they aren’t horrible. It’s a shame that we didn’t get all of the graphical and storyline flourishes the Japanese version received (as I discuss here).
Super Mario 3D World
Good: Incredible level design that works for one or multiple players. Colorful, rich and dynamic world and character designs that embody the Super Mario ideal perfectly. Arguably the best soundtrack in the franchise. Peach is finally liberated! And it controls beautifully.
Poor: The camera perspective can make precision platforming difficult at times. Despite Peach (and eventually Rosalina) being playable, Bowser still kidnaps other women. The last few bonus worlds are relentless.
Good: One of the finest, streamlined combat engines I’ve played, and the six-member party allows a lot of flexibility, creativity and strategy. Another nice perk about battle is the auto option, which allows quick takedowns if you’re just trying to get somewhere, or the Let Go feature is awesome against weaker opponents for the same reason (it stops the battle instantly). Excellent music and spritework make the world come alive, and its very compelling character recruitment and storyline motivated me to 100% the game.
Poor: The War Battles are a poor man’s Fire Emblem, and are easily the weakest part of the game for me. Duels are a neat mechanic but it’s ultimately a guessing game (unless you look at a FAQ, which I did after getting burned once). The base is great and really makes you feel at home but at times it’s a little cumbersome to navigate. Some sexist undertones.
The Last Blade 2
Good: In my opinion the best looking 2D fighting game of the 1990s. Gorgeous and apropos character design and animation. The overall presentation is so on point and excellent. Engaging gameplay.
Poor: As usual, the SNK AI scripts get batshit hard the deeper you go. And it’s probably me, but sometimes I can’t get the moves I want to actually happen in the game, but I imagine that’s my Capcom upbringing more than any fault of the game’s. It just makes things occasionally irritating for me.
Silent Hill 3
Good: Heather is one of the best women protagonists in any game thanks to her believable character and her proper reactions to the evil swirling around her. Akira Yamaoka is a musical genius and his prowess is on full display here. Unnerving monsters and stunning visuals combine to really establish the Silent Hill mood.
Poor: Combat remains clunky. Story is a step down from Silent Hill 2 as a whole (despite Heather’s excellence). Camera occasionally complicates the situation.
Good: In my book, this is the most refined, exploratory and creative Sonic game out there. The level designs are fantastic, with three different time zones to run through to save the future. Add in the best overall soundtrack in the franchise, great boss fights and fun animated scenes and you have my favorite game in the series.
Poor: One thing Sonic did not need was damseling (a la my screencap). And while the worlds are spectacular, the time travel system can clash against the clock, making uncovering the Macguffins to save the future occasionally frustrating. Lastly, to travel through time requires Sonic to get speed, but sometimes the game really wrecks that with some random element placement and then you lost the capability altogether, which sucks.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2
Good: A very large roster (56) that still stands as one of the largest in any major fighting release. Along with that, the gameplay engine has been loosened to the point that nearly anything can be linked to a super, and then you can add on supers from your teammates to extend the combo into crazy numbers. Together, these create a controlled chaos unlike most other fighting games.
Poor: The soundtrack is probably the most oft-kilter off the wall bonkers bullshit ever paired to a game. It’s fine, but really is a improper fit. And while the roster is indeed huge, a lot of it is wasted on clones (Ryu/Ken/Akuma/Dan or the duo of Wolverines). And competitively speaking the roster is reduced to about 10 or so characters that are viable, but this isn’t so much a concern if you’re playing with friends. I don’t really like the assist system, either.
51 – 111
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
+ Ship battles are excellent and gripping, even minor battles
+ It’s a lot of fun running around rooftops and exploring the world
+ Sea shanties and a stirring soundtrack coupled with great voice overs
+ Mary Read and Anne Bonney are spectacular
– The Abstergo sections absolutely kill the pacing: they’re boring, uninteresting and tedious
– Standard combat can get a little dull and repetitive
– Eavesdroppings are too touchy
Batman: Arkham Asylum
+ Amazing Metroid-style gameplay that feels like a proper Batman experience
+ Combat is richly rewarding and expands the player’s options nicely over the game
+ Stealth is superbly done
+ Top-notch voice work
– Pretty boilerplate storyline is not the strong point
– Final boss fight is god freaking awful and is not how I would have set up the ultimate battle with Joker
– To be honest, all of the boss fights are definitely the weak link
Batman: Arkham City
+ Takes the fantastic combat and stealth from Arkham Asylum and remolds it into a believable open-world environment
+ Gliding is a great addition to the mechanics, making traversal a joy
+ Catwoman is a nice change of pace from Batman
+ Boss fights are overall much improved in contrast to the last game
– Loses the Metroid-esque vibe of Asylum
– Game has a misogynistic streak that really shows itself with Catwoman, but Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy get their fair share of catcalls, gender-based insults and other uncomfortable moments
– Riddler trophies may have gone a little overboard this time
Bionic Commando (GB)
+ Manages to capture a lot of the best parts of the NES game all the while doing its own thing
+ Solid GB soundtrack
+ Better localization than the NES game
– Game Boy format forces the action to be zoomed in more, making the grappling a little more difficult to plan out
– Level design is also more constrained
– The sci-fi futuristic aesthetic is not as interesting to me as the NES game
+ Visual design is dressed to the nines — Rapture is one of the most amazing setpieces in all of gaming
+ Great blend of horror and FPS elements makes for intense gameplay
+ Andrew Ryan is just splendid and his revelation still leaves me impressed in its execution
– The final boss is massively disappointing…like “brought the whole good vibes down” disappointing
– Pipe Dream-imspired minigame for hacking gets old real quick
Blades of Steel
+ Manages to capture the visceral essence of hockey in 8-bits
+ Eludes pure Konami gameplay magic at the height of their programming powers
+ Super-catchy music and crisp visuals
– Fighting engine isn’t super deep, thus can wear a little thin after a bit
– While this is a masterpiece of a 8-bit sports game, there isn’t much to it beyond hockey for one or two people
– I would have liked more Gradius style cameos over pure blatant marketing in the halftime show
+ If this wasn’t a prototype for a GTA I would be shocked. And it controls better!
+ Exceptional music and sound design
+ Tons and tons of vehicles to tinker around with
+ Combat is intensified with destructible environments and humans to protect…and the aliens are quite diverse
– Boss encounters aren’t much fun
– The maps are way too huge…imagine a modern open-world title done on the Nintendo 64 but without a bunch of side quests to fill it with, and you’ve got a decent idea of the scale
– Despite feeling better than GTA, it’s still controls a bit janky
+ Clever update to the Burgertime formula
+ The level designs are much more open, allowing more potential for escape and combos
+ Simple but charming graphics
– The refinement of the mechanics of Burgertime are all you get here; there’s no real expansion of the concept beyond bigger arenas
– Not much musical diversity
+ Soundtrack for the ages
+ Excellent and atmospheric level design that pays close attention to architecture and layout
+ Set the precedents that would establish the framework of what may be my favorite franchise of all time
– Simon Belmont is not the most fluid character in gaming, although the game does work around his limitations to minimize frustrations
– Some bosses are super brutal; Death in particular is almost impossible without holy water spamming
– Medusa Heads and Fleamen are nightmares that sometimes exceed my bullshit quota
+ A masterwork of indie development; the fact it was originally developed entirely by one person is astounding
+ An interesting storyline, solid villains and supporting cast (especially Curly), and intriguing world design
+ Combat rewards skillful play by powering up weaponry that must be kept charged up by avoiding damage
+ Music and spritework that is a perfect homage to the 80s
– Obtuse goals and occasionally long checkpoint breaks can make properly 100%ing the game way more difficult than it needs to be
– For the Wii version at least, I wish the secret “Curly’s Panties” item wasn’t how you had to unlock her mode; that way I could have ignored picking up a child-like robot’s undergarments
– Can get a little too chaotic at places
Contra III: The Alien Wars
+ A fine run-n-gun that feels like a proper evolution from the original Contra
+ Area 4 onward is the kind of batshit crazy good times I love in action games
+ Probably the best boss rush in a 2D action game ever
+ Very responsive controls
– Don’t really like the overhead levels
– Music isn’t as memorable as the original game
– The “two weapon” option is nice I guess, but I only really used it to store a second Spread shot. The gun is still too good.
+ Incredible atmosphere and stunning visuals
+ Firebrand’s control options remain pretty unique to this day, making playing as the Red Arremer a delight
+ A plethora of amazing boss fights, hidden areas and items to collect makes exploration a lot of fun
– Mode 7 map feels like an afterthought to connect the world
– Wish Firebrand had some faster way of switching his forms than pausing the game
– The way to the “true” ending is a little masochistic
+ Incredibly open-ended game design allows for a startling amount of player freedom
+ Statistics that matter, making how you build your avatar consequential
+ A captivating story combined with solid world building and level design
+ Gripping soundtrack
– Inventory management is a god damn trainwreck
– Too easy to pick up unwanted crap
– Ending is a little disappointing
+ OMG the music
+ Engaging and infectious gameplay utilizing Scrooge’s cane
+ Colorful and enticing graphics
– Really bloody short
– Revisiting Transylvania three times is the very definition of padding
– Has rather little to do with the Ducktales license…but I’m okay with it
+ Simple yet compelling gameplay that still holds up
+ Nintendo nailed personality with their three characters here — all express a lot of charm in those pixels
+ Each map is designed quite well and allows a little wiggle room for experimentation
– Fuck the damseling cause I feel many future devs got the notion this was an okay idea from Donkey Kong
– Shame it’s never really gotten a proper, easily accessible and complete port since its launch
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
+ A surprisingly rich, captivating and expansive world filled with epic monster encounters and plenty of loot to hunt down
+ The pawn system is an intriguing way to add party members to a third person action RPG, and they’re amazingly unobtrusive (beyond the chatter, which can be adjusted or turned off)
+ Combat is a lot of fun once the battle system clicks — climbing up cyclops and griffins is just amazeballs
+ Leveling up feels meaty here, as beasts that once gave you trouble go down really quickly and satisfactorily as you progress
– A lot of sidequests boil down to escort missions (ugh), fetch quests (ick) or monster checklists (sigh)
– Those offline pawns sure do love the silk underwear or other sexy costume bits, don’t they?
– I wish fast travel was a little less cumbersome, and that there was more than two settlements
Fallout: New Vegas
+ The locale is perfect for a Fallout game, and I am familiar with the area, making it resonate in ways Fallout 3 failed to for me
+ The VATS system spices up the typical Bethesda combat engine just enough to make it really fulfilling, especially when you punch people in the face and they just fall apart
+ An intriguing storyline, fascinating characters (including good recruits) and a solid bestiary make wandering around a lot of fun
+ It feels like your choices actually matter here
– That “delightful” Bethesda jank
– PS3 rev adds to the aforementoned jank; I haven’t bothered to do the DLC because I don’t know how well the game will hold up with its current file size
– Eventually I just got burned out, but I had a good time up to that point
+ Excellent, brutal combat that forces the player to really think out their tactics
+ Solid cast with actual weight (courtesy of the death mechanic)
+ Lyn is one of the best heroines I’ve ever come across
+ Some impressive GBA music (and I’m not too big on the system’s audio most of the time)
– Holy crap when a map goes wrong it goes WRONG; expect some grueling replays or difficult loses
– Eliwood is not as compelling as Lyn or Hector, but he gets much more of the plot to revolve around him than I think it should
– Marcus easily confuses new players into abusing his might early on, which is a damning mistake
+ Reinvented the FPS genre to include objectives and stealth components, along with limb-specific damage to enemies
+ Manages to circumvent the usual licensed drivel by featuring dynamic gameplay and solid level design
+ Multiplayer was a big deal back in the N64 days
+ Sensational soundtrack
– Natalya has braindead AI and escort missions suck
– One can argue that the gameplay has not aged well; there is no debate the graphics haven’t
– A few of the levels are absolute garbage (Control, I’m looking at you)
+ Colorful crazy action like only Treasure can deliver
+ Epic stages that culminate in some stunning boss showdowns
+ Fairly smooth controls and engaging combat flow
– Holy shit there’s SO MUCH GOING ON (i.e. can crossover into the insane for me)
– The grapple mechanic feels a little tacked on to me, but maybe I didn’t play enough with it
+ This is the best kind of crossover excess, with many major Zelda characters popping up in playable form here
+ Breezy battle engine makes you feel like a pure bad ass
+ If you can dig this, you’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of content, and I’m not even counting the DLC
+ Goober buttrock of classic Zelda songs somehow works
+ Zelda isn’t kidnapped a single fucking time!
– Cia is SO STUPID OH MY GOD JUST SHOOT ME and Lana isn’t much better; OC fanfic characters can stay out of my Zelda
– Hoo boy this gets repetitive; thank the Goddess it’s actually a lot of fun
– To get the most out of this game, be prepared to pony up more money for all the DLC (which is totes worth it but it is a good $40 or so on top of the original game)
Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
+ Running up skyscrapers, leaping large spans, and smashing up shit is nearly unrivaled
+ A superhero game that really captures the very essence of the character
+ Lots of combat options that keep each encounter fresh
+ A decent open-world that is fun to wander around in
– Can get a little repetitive
– Some side missions aren’t all that fun
– Towards the end of the game, the delightful exploration aspect becomes very cramped due to enemy swarming
+ Lots of different maps with a wide range of hazards
+ Jumpman is fairly responsive and can have his speed adjusted, allowing more grace versus agility
+ Simple but clever gameplay
– While it runs a lot of mileage out of its gameplay concept, Jumpman doesn’t have a lot of depth to his abilities and it can get repetitive
– It’s also pretty derivative to be honest — fun for sure, but its inspirations are clear
King of Fighters XI
+ The finest of the long-running King of Fighters franchise (in my opinion), with a giant roster full of fan favorites and strong newcomers
+ Tag team format makes determining your choices a little more dynamic and meaningful, as you can swap on the fly
+ A lot of extra content to unlock, including the KoF and Fatal Fury characters from Neo Geo Battle Coliseum
– The Neo Geo spritework is getting pretty ragged at this point; it’s little wonder KoF XII went with new HD sprites
– Some of those unlockable fighters are behind some insane challenges
– A few notable omissions from the roster (no Leona? Andy? Joe? Even Mai was initially dropped before the PS2 release [granted, I don’t like Mai, but she’s a staple])
– Magaki is a bastard
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
+ One of the best looking platformers ever made; its art style is spectacular
+ Game takes its “yarn” motif to the races — a ton of inventive uses of the arts and craft backdrop
+ Co-op is a nice addition that doesn’t detract at all
+ One of the best soundtracks on the system and the entire Kirby franchise
– The game is pretty cake, which is okay, but the game doesn’t really gain any teeth as it goes along
– The “vehicle” segments are usually good, but there’s a few that aren’t
The Last of Us
+ Joel and Ellie are splendid, complex characters and their quest to survive is compelling
+ The Infected are great enemies that ratchet up the tension, and the human combatants are nearly as viscous
+ A believable world makes wandering the desolate environments a pleasure
+ Endgame is incredible
– Whenever a third party joins up, they really shatter the immersion, typically by stomping around or doing insane shit that the enemies don’t react properly to
– A few moments are not as tightly scripted as others, and it shows
– Left Behind is a decent glimpse to Ellie’s past, but I wish there was a lot more to it
The Legend of Valkyrie
+ Catchy music and charming visuals
+ Valkyrie has a decent array of weaponry and upgrades to find, which adds a slight exploratory element to the action
+ Just about the perfect length
– Jumping is aggravating at times due to the perspective
– Some bosses are really cheap
Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
+ Arguably one of the best examples of 2D action-adventure ever made, and one that would define the franchise
+ Adds many creative and crucial elements to the Zelda formula, including such pivotal tools like the Hookshot, Fishing Rod and the Master Sword
+ The light/dark world mechanic doubles the map size, leading to a ton of exploration
+ A plethora of excellent dungeons and bosses
– Although, truth be told, there’s a few dungeons I’m not a huge fan of due to length or tediousness
– Game doubles down on the captured damsel trope, not only taking Zelda but seven other women for Link to rescue
– Not my favorite Zelda soundtrack
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
+ Beautifully modernizes one of the more intriguing games in the franchise
+ The masks grant Link tons of new talents that makes tracking them all down a pleasure
+ One of the best stories and supporting cast in any Zelda
+ Majora is a splendidly twisted and unorthodox villain
– Some of the modernizing was unnecessary, primarily the tweaks to the Zora swimming mechanics
– Hunting down Great Fairy fragments remain tedious
– While a unique and compelling mechanic, the time cycle can work against itself to frustrate
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
+ Brought the Zelda franchise into 3D — a landmark for its time
+ Fantastic music
+ Excellent dungeon and boss design for the most part
+ This game mesmerized me as a teen, and I will always remember it fondly for that
– The switch to 3D made some elements of the Zelda formula more cumbersome than before; switches or block pushing, for instance
– For all of its pioneering, it’s a little clunky nowadays
– Set in motion the Zelda template, which led the franchise into a stymied state of development for a while
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
+ Midna is spectacular; if you’re going to have a secondary helper as a character, this is how you do it
+ Sensational music and world design; I quite like this version of Hyrule
+ Some of the best dungeons in the series
+ Stallord is arguably the best boss in the franchise
– Twilight areas early on are tedious, even in the HD remaster
– The map is a little too huge for its own good, and the game locks down ways to make it easier to traverse in bizarrely stupid ways (horse whistle practically at the end, fast travel pops up a little late and after some goofy reasoning)
– One of the weaker overall narratives in the series, with the game abandoning in-between storylines about midway through for straight dungeon to dungeon progression
– The dungeon “weapon/tool inside is key to solve me” mentality is so laser focused here that most of the secondary gear Link acquires is limited in use to that very dungeon, which greatly limits his versatility
Mega Man 2
+ Is such a substantial improvement over its predecessor that it stands as one of the best sequels ever made
+ Excellent level design (mostly) combine with amazing music to create a ton of joy
+ Tones the difficulty from the original down to near perfection
+ Some stunning boss encounters
– Some bullshit parts (Heat Man’s block brigade and Quick Man’s lasers)
– Metal Blades are overpowered
Mega Man X
+ FINALLY gets the charge mechanic right by designing the game around it, not just adding it on like the Classic titles
+ Stellar boss fights
+ X’s new skills redefine the gameplay of the series in all the right ways
+ Solid level design that takes other defeated stages into consideration
– I still don’t like the tutorial level; I realize what it is there to do, but it for years kept me from pursuing the full game
– A three-part fight with Sigma that forces the player through each phase one one life bar to win the game is a bit much
Metal Slug X
+ I love the artistic design on this series — some of the slickest 2D animation done in the 90s
+ Terrific run’n’gun action that throws tons of new material at the player
+ Epic showdowns with huge and diverse bosses
– Can get a little too hectic, to the point that the game itself can’t even handle it
– Definitely a quarter muncher
Metal Slug 3
+ I’m going to repeat myself because X and 3 essentially hit the same check points so…I love the artistic design on this series — some of the slickest 2D animation done in the 90s
+ Terrific run’n’gun action that throws tons of new material at the player
+ Epic showdowns with huge and diverse bosses
– Can get a little too hectic at times, but this game has less slowdown issues than X
– Definitely a quarter muncher
– A little less impressive overall than its predecessor but still a great game
Metroid Zero Mission
+ A smart remake of the original Metroid that combines the best elements of that game with Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion
+ Surpasses the source material in nearly every way it can
+ Controls like a dream (mostly)
+ New “stealth” segment at the end is a clever twist to the usual Metroid mechanics
– Fuck the Zero Suit!
– I think making Kraid “Super” in this game sucks a lot of the surprise out of its return in Super Metroid
– Gripping ledges is a bit better here than in Fusion, but still can disrupt other movement more often than I’d like
+ Ellie and Chomp are a great duo and both are very charmingly animated
+ A very good Metroidvania layout that makes initial exploration wonderful
+ Great boss fights
+ The Pokemon-esque minigame with Chomp is simple enough to tease around with and develop new forms
– …but the game isn’t long enough to allow Chomp to reach all of its potential in a normal playthrough
– Some stage elements reset when you leave, forcing clunky backtracking
Ms. Pac Man
+ Improves on the original Pac Man immensely
+ Super slick arcade action with a nearly perfect level of suspense
+ More map diversity livens up the gameplay
– While a great game, it can get a little old after a bit for me
+ Arguably the most anthropological game I’ve played, which is awesome!
+ Excellent use and expression of the cultural traditions of the Iñupiat people, including interviews and artifacts
+ A nice blend of platforming, puzzles and story
– Occasionally the game’s controls don’t do what you ask them to do
– I wish there was just a little more expansion of Nuna’s capabilities over the duration of the game
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
+ A massive improvement over the DS NSMB
+ The Koopalings are back! And that Bowser fight!
+ 4 players!…but solo is just fine too!
+ Overall the stage design is excellent here, making it one of the best 2D Super Mario games
– Music takes its own path away from the iconic themes of olde, and 90% are not memorable at all
– Peach really ought to have been playable over a yellow Toad
– Not the most innovative Mario game
+ For its time, an incredibly robust and engaging multiplayer mode
+ Joanna Dark is a great protagonist
+ The first 2/3 of the solo campaign is excellent, evolving on the map and objective designs from Goldeneye
+ A ton of great weapons, gadgets and tools that makes working through the levels and multi a pleasure
– The last 1/3 of the game devolves into long winded maps and less focused territory that I don’t like anywhere as much as the rest
– Elvis is this game’s Natalya, except he’s capable of obnoxious speech on top of faulty AI
– Disappointing final boss thanks to unclear directive towards attacking objects in the arena, not the actual Skedar King
Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations
+ Of the DS trilogy of Wright’s courtroom exploits, this is by far the most polished and gripping
+ Excellent characters thanks to solid dialogue and top-notch costume design
+ Surprisingly emotional and compelling narrative makes each case a wondrous experience
+ Godot is freaking great
– Some localization issues sap some of the punch out of the game’s otherwise exquisite writing
– Occasional gaps in evidence clues or bizarre jumps in logic can grind progress to a halt
– Punishment system for making an incorrect guess feels unnecessary due to the freedom to save anywhere — just let me enjoy solving crimes, Capcom!
+ My god the story and characters in this game are nigh perfect
+ Co-op! That’s unique from solo!
+ Continues the excellence its predecessor began in terms of first-person puzzling
+ Solving some of these puzzles is pure euphoria
– Lacks the mind-breaking spark of the original (like any game could ever recapture that lightning twice)
+ Manages to build beautifully from Rayman Origins to be one of the best 2D platformers in years
+ Gorgeous visuals and amazing music
+ Includes much of Origins as extra content
+ Clever, amazing boss fights that are so satisfying to conquer
– Sometimes the timing is too tight in a couple areas, making clearing something a pain
– Barbara is a great addition, but did she and her Viking cousins all need to be kidnapped?
Resident Evil 2
+ Moves the zombie invasion from a deserted mansion out in the boonies to a dynamic city, making the chaos of an outbreak much more realistic and impactful
+ G and Mr. X are two excellent antagonistic forces
+ Leon and Claire are the best heroes this franchise has produced
+ Lots of replay due to the swap system
– Tank controls, while designed to up the tension, can cause unneeded frustration
– As can the forced camera transitions depending on your placement in a particular space
Saint’s Row IV
+ Fucking crazy in almost entirely the best ways possible
+ Gameplay bliss that is almost unrivaled in the open-world sphere
+ A fairly likable supporting cast and a great creation engine for your Boss
+ Worth seeing to the end just to witness some of the best gaming parodies within a game ever
– Sometimes crosses the “being crass just to get a rise out of you” border
– The super powers render the guns and cars nearly pointless..but hey, they’re there if you want them I guess
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
+ Wayforward’s beautiful sprite work is on full mastery here
+ Jake Kaufman delivers a splendid soundtrack
+ Adopts a Metroidvania format to great effect
+ Controls like a dream
– The final stage may be a little much…high in precision and low in joy
– Rottytops’ runner bit is too fucking long and demanding
– The costuming designs and forced sexy princess segment pushes fanservice way too goddamn much
Shinobi III: The Ninja Master
+ Dynamic action sequences that mix up various gameplay superbly
+ Looks fantastic
+ The 3DS version gives Joe better control options for his attacks, drastically improving the combat
– The Genesis version, however, makes all attacks one button, and it’s a definite downer
– Some bosses are a little cheap
Sid Meier’s Pirates!
+ A delightful simulation of seafaring and piracy
+ Building an armada of ships and fighting off rivals in sea battles are awesome
+ Goofy sense of humor
+ Excellent music helps the atmosphere
– Raids suck oh my god do they suck
– Sword fights are okay, but I feel that they could have been implemented much better
– A bit glitchy
Silent Hill 2
+ Amazing narrative that tackles psychological depths most games can’t even fathom
+ A “mature” game that actually means it — issues of sex and violence are explored in a smart and philosophical manner
+ Akira Yamaoka is a god and this soundtrack proves it
+ Atmosphere for days
– Not the smoothest game to control
– Some voicework is rough to put it nicely
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
+ Behind-the-back shooting action at its finest
+ Incredible combat engine geared around combos and precision makes it amazing to slide into a groove
+ Crazy stages full of stunning setpieces, especially Stage 4
– Some elements aren’t well executed (the crane, for instance)
– Can get really bullet-hellish
+ Probably the best “close range combat” Metroidvania I’ve played
+ Hiryu feels good to control and has a solid buildup of abilities
+ Stellar soundtrack with fantastic remixes of classic tunes
– Wandering around can get tedious due to a general lack of warp points
– Camera is panned out a bit too much at times
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
+ Arguably the finest entry in the long-running series thanks to its huge roster
+ Customization is a nice way to help individualize the fighters for everyone
+ Some excellent new arenas to battle in, including Mario Circuit, Pilotwings, Wrecking Crew, Orbital Gate Assault and Gamer
+ In terms of track list depth, this may very well be the best gaming soundtrack ever
– Splitting this game between the Wii U and 3DS versions was a very bad idea, as there’s weaknesses in both that would have been reduced considerably if they were kept together in the first place
– Smash Tour is a snore and I’m still not sure why Masterpieces are here
– A few absolute dud stages: Woolly World, Town and City, Miiverse
Super Street Fighter II Turbo
+ The definitive entry in the original Street Fighter II pantheon
+ Supers add a new strategic layer to the proceedings, and would redefine Capcom’s fighters from here on out
+ The 16 fighters here are some of the legends in the industry, especially Ryu, Chun-Li, M. Bison, Cammy and Guile
+ Still an incredible feeling fighter
– Can feel a little too constricted in contrast to later titles
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
+ Colorful, bright and vibrant graphics that make map exploration a real delight
+ Sonic’s need for speed is better balanced here than in its predecessor, and rarely punishes the player for running around
+ Multiplayer is one of my favorite 16 bit memories
+ A really good soundtrack
– Getting the Chaos Emeralds isn’t much fun for me… the special stages are better than the last game but not by much
– Despite being better designed, some levels still have some nasty spots that will doom a unwary player
– I kinda wish water wasn’t an element in Sonic games
+ After all these years, this is still my favorite 3D arena fighter
+ An amazing mission mode that unlocks a lot of great content, including an extensive art museum
+ A good-sized roster for a late 90s 3D fighter, which doesn’t rely too heavily on clones (and for those that are clones, they do have a few key differences in most cases)
+ As silly as it sounds, this still is one of my favorite intros in any game
– Sexist character design (nipples for Taki, anachronistic panties for Sophitia and Seung Mina, and pretty much the entirety of Ivy’s outfit) that only worsens from here
– Inferno is a terrible and boring boss
+ A strong new entry in the contested realm of JRPGs, Suikoden manages to stand out thanks to its engaging 108 character recruitment and base building mechanics
+ A large six-member party makes battles much more dynamic and diverse
+ Some great boss and enemy designs
+ An excellent soundtrack
– Not quite as refined as its sequel
– Gremio is like my least favorite forced tag along in any RPG ever
– Really easy to abuse the gambling system to break open the game’s shops
Tales of Symphonia
+ At the time, I thought I was playing an interactive anime; gorgeous graphics and strong character designs
+ While a cliched plot, I do like how the game explores racism and religion
+ Real-time battle engine is quite a bit of fun to tear around in, and you can play as every major character (and with friends too, if they can stomach the constant idle periods in between battles)
– Dungeons are pretty drab to look at, and their puzzles rarely challenge but often drag things out longer
– Boss fights are not as gripping as standard combat because it’s just a prolonged affair that wears the engine out
– I don’t like Zelos
Tomb Raider (2013)
+ Lara Croft is amazing in this game — oh my god she is so well acted and is clothed sensibly and is relatable
+ Manages to take the Uncharted template and make it infinitely better in every way
+ Setpieces that mostly play off so well that you can excuse some of the bonkers bullshit that happens
+ Combat feels really visceral
– Lara’s progression from green college student to merciless killer/assassin is WAY TOO FUCKING FAST
– The final showdown is anticlimatic
– Does cross the line on violence porn on a few occasions
Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
+ 50 characters make for lots of excellent fighter combinations
+ Takes the Vs. formula into some new territory mechanically, and I like most of what it adds to the engine
+ Brings Strider back, along with some awesome new additions like Vergil, Firebrand and Phoenix Wright
+ Heroes and Heralds mode is a nice distraction from the main game
– This should have been the game we got in the first place! Still pissed about the $60 I threw down on the original, Capcom!
– Not a fan of the entire roster, as this post shows
– Music isn’t my favorite, and dear god, why did you resurrect Dante’s Devil May Cry 3 screamo theme?!?
+ Kooky strategy combat that is surprisingly deep and hilarious
+ The weapon set in Worms stands as some of the most iconic in all of gaming as far as I’m concerned — banana bombs, Holy Hand Grenades and explosive homing pigeons are just scratching the iceberg
+ Multiplayer is a hoot and a half
– I wish the Dreamcast version had a better user interface to set up matches