Top 111 Games

Welcome to my Top 111 games! Here you’ll find what games make me sing, in some manner of slight order! There is a little bit of explanation as to how I organize this thing and its breadth of content, so let’s dig into that:

FORMAT: The top 15 games will get a couple paragraphs detailing the best and worst parts of a game and how the better components overshadow the poorer bits. The games ranked 16 – 50 will have a similar structure but a little more paired back. These 50 titles 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. Spoilers may appear in some of these discussions, so be warned!

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If you know me from earlier incarnations of this site (or poked around on here enough), 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 sensational 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 with the sequel FINALLY announced…it’s actually a prequel. *table flip*

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.

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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.

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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.

Breath of the Wild caused the biggest shakeup to the initial 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. I even bumped it up a tad.


It took an additional year, but I finally feel comfortable giving Splatoon 2 full dibs on my Top 111, and I’ve moved it up a few pegs. It 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 campaigns, which are quite clever and certainly worth the playtime. But that mode alone is not what made these games so special. It’s the mechanics coupled with the camaraderie the multiplayer so expertly blends together.

Splatoon 2 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 spins 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. Once 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. Plus I can’t ignore the chaos that is Salmon Run’s horde mode, nor the Octo Expansion, brimming with spectacular writing and world-building, great single-player level design, and adding in the ability to play as Octolings, who have unique animations and styles to play around with. 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 2.

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/octo form sometimes doesn’t latch onto your ink like you want; Clam Blitz has some weird input problems that irritate me to no end) and a desire for even more customization options, I can’t complain. I LOVE SPLATOON!

xcom

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 6th 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, some 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 six 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.

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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.

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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. 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.

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Symphony of the Night brought a new wrinkle to Castlevania‘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 Bloodlines’ 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 below). 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. I felt it deserved a spot in the Top 10, so I’ve worked it in!

re4

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 I feel that this anchor sunk it a bit when I was reconsidering the Top 10, and it fell off. 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 are annoyingly perverted (at least she comments about it and rightfully so, but still…the designers made that choice). 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 Capcom 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.

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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 third 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). 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.

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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.

ear

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.

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 (it’s on this list too!), 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!). I did replay it the past year, and it remains an amazing game, but again, as I harp on quite a bit above, it didn’t stun me on the second run, so I slid EAR ahead of it, as I continue to love each run in that as much as the last. This is still great! It’ll just never bottle up that magic again, alas.

dqviii

The Dragon Quest series peaked with its eighth entry — nearly everything came together perfectly to create one of the best JRPG experiences I’ve had the pleasure to play through. Twice! I’ve played through this behemoth of a title for well over 100 hours, and absolutely adore its world, its main cast (save Angelo, who is …okay but a bit of a slimeball), its gameplay, and its music.

Let’s tackle what DQVIII does super well: the primary characters are among Akira Toriyama’s best overall designs out of the many he’s concocted over the decades. Each are colorful, with easily identifiable visual cues and personality well above and beyond many other games thanks to exemplary localization and classy voice over work. With the 3DS version, my favorite NPCs Red and Morrie can join in the fun, and they are more than mere cosmetic additions, gaining their own unique weapons and abilities to play around with. Exploring the game and bonding with this band of heroes is always a delight. Especially when the large and looming expanse of VIII gives lots of opportunities to wander around many different types of environments, search out hidden treasure or recruiting monsters for your support teams, and poke round well realized towns and cities and just have a grand time adventuring. The battle engine is also great. with several options for each character to develop and the psyche up system giving a nice risk/reward feel to the proceedings. Charming enemy designs and the ability to choose your fights in the 3DS version make it a delightful game from start to finish.

It’s not a perfect game — as noted, Angelo is a sleezeball with women that never really lets up throughout the game (thank god I can bench him with Red in the 3DS version), and Jessica is perceived as a sexy idol both in her costuming options and her “sex appeal” stat, which is just all kinds of sexist. Her arc overcomes that on its own merits, but even ignoring those two issues the camera has a tendency to male gaze her a lot (which Red does not really receive the same treatment, so it’s noticeable). The 3DS menu strips out the PS2 NA modifications that streamlined some things, and is a little more clunky as a result. And the PS2 game does blow the 3DS port out of the water on a visual and aural front, and no orchestrated soundtrack does make me a little sad. Square-Enix tried really hard to make it as appealing as possible on the system, and they did a good job, but it’s a downgrade. Otherwise, the 3DS version is definitive. All and all, VIII stands tall for a series full of good games, and for the genre as a whole. I’m pleased to finally slide it into my Top 15, and it deserves to be here.

16 – 50

p4Persona 4

I’m breaking the mold slightly with P4 because I feel my original notes explain its continued slipping on my list better than I could condensing it down into the formatting for this set of games.

This 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” his 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). One might notice this slipped a bit during the revamp, once sitting at #4. The noted gender-based issues have made me reconsider the game, and I don’t want it in my Top 15 until I replay it again to evaluate it properly.

Shovel Knight

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.

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 a 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.

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.

Gris

Good: Absolutely stunning art style that might set a new bar for visuals in video games. Smooth controls that are perfectly responsive paired with level design that throws lots of clever puzzles at the player. Exemplary soundtrack. A narrative that directly addresses mental illness beautifully.

Poor: Could have played with gameplay mechanics a tad more than it does. A little short.

EarthBound

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.

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.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut

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 (it feels a little more cohesive in the Director’s Cut). The Missing Link DLC was solid, but I disdain the gameplay decision to strip away the skills you’ve earned in the middle of a game.

Super Mario Odyssey

Good: Overwhelming in content, with hundreds of Power Moons, dozens of costumes and multiple easter eggs/secrets/cool shit to discover in each Kingdom. Mario is arguably his most versatile and responsive in any 3D Mario. Imaginative worlds dripping with character are a delight to explore. The enemy-possessing cap redefines the gameplay so elegantly.

Poor: Shame the main plot is yet again Bowser taking Peach (although the ending helps soften that blow considerably). Tying moves to motion controls is bullshit. The Broodals are fine additions to the enemy lineup, but I think they appear a little too often and don’t mix it up enough.

Ghost Trick

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.

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 can get mean spirited.

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.

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.

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 Cruise is a bastard of a level. Odyssey has finally usurped the open-world Super Mario experience away from this, and its breadth of content makes 64 seem much less substantial in hindsight.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Good: Ultimate is what its subtitle implies — this is the most dense, jam-packed, thorough Smash Bros. in terms of characters, stages, music and items. The Spirits add a nice wrinkle for collecting Nintendo and other gaming memorabilia, with interesting fights and the meaty World of Light to unlock them. The game controls wonderfully given how chaotic it feels.

Poor: Character unlocks take an agonizing time to do, especially with a roster this deep. Online needs some refinement to improve frame rate/lag. World of Light is a great solo campaign, but it may be a bit long in the tooth.

M.U.L.E.

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.

International Superstar Soccer 98

Good: Splendid controls that make every game an absolute delight to play. Complexity is handled 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.

Garou: Mark of the Wolves

Good: Amazing animation, stunning spritework and lovely backgrounds; SNK fighters have never looked better save The Last Blade 2. Some of the most responsive and fluid fighting gameplay ever. Sick as fuck character designs. A set of bosses that aren’t super cheap!

Poor: Janky localization makes some of the in-game text a little wonky. While most of the new characters are really cool, there’s a few I’m not super thrilled by (Freeman, Hokutomaru, Kim’s sons) where I’d rather have a couple more retro nods instead.

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 is.

Steamworld Heist

Good: Excellent twist to the turn-based strategy formula, shifting it into a psuedo-platformer focused on ricochets and careful aim to win battles. Stellar atmosphere backed with superb robot designs, animation and an exceptional soundtrack. Difficulty is perfectly tuned for 99% of the game, eliminating grinding altogether.

Poor: Boss fights feature regular minions or minibosses ON TOP OF the boss, which can get overwhelming. The game has 9 playable characters but a 4 member max on its maps, which makes it hard to want to experiment once you settle in on your roster.

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. 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 fluid gameplay (Maria highlights this issue, as she has more movement options than Richter).

celesteCeleste

Good: Beautiful spritework, lush backgrounds and sensational music create a compelling world. Precise controls and simple mechanics interplay wonderfully with increasingly complex level design with incredible synergy. Madeline’s quest tackles the complex topic of mental health elegantly and features a rewarding resolution. Lots of secrets to find.

Bad: Some unlockables require extensive attention to minute details to get, which is a little annoying. Some “rooms” are very long and having to redo large swaths of environment because of one small mistake can get frustrating, despite the generous checkpoints. The wind in Chapter 4 broke my will to play the game without assist mode.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Good: Excellent character design/voicework push a fairly rote storyline into grander places. Sensational soundtrack backing the action. Twists the Fire Emblem mechanics in very unique ways, making it stand out from its peers in many ways (and most of them are great!), including dungeon diving! Combat is still relentless and a delight but not as brutal as some titles in the franchise.

Bad: Faye is a terrible one-note character that bogs down Alm’s half of the story, and Jesse is obnoxiously sexist on Celica’s side. Celica’s mid-game narrative arc is a little frustrating to witness, as she shuts out her friends for some misguided story beats that feel a bit forced. Wandering the overworld can get a bit annoying when monsters/troops keep respawning in your way.

Suikoden II

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.

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.

Metroid Prime

Good: 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.

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.

id2Ittle Dew 2

Good: A delightfully oft-kilter aesthetic powers the visual design of the game, turning typical locales on their head in wonderful ways. Ittle’s moveset is well balanced and offers tons of options, especially when you start mixing and matching her weapons. Great level design throughout, backed by sensational music. Incentive to find all of the secrets is high.

Poor: Can be a bit obtuse at times. Bosses tend to work against the design tenets of the game, becoming a slog to deplete their health before they do it to you. And not enough boss variety; there’s like 6 or so unique bosses in the game where there’s like 15 dungeons.

The Alliance Alive

Good: Delightful characters push a lighthearted but compelling narrative along at a great clip. Intriguing battle engine that lets the player have a remarkable amount of freedom to customize character setups and formations. Great environmental art direction and musical accompaniment. Lots of exploration, discovery and recruitment to maximize your party’s guild support network.

Poor: Vivian and Matilda, while capable and compelling women through their own personality and motivations, have silly “sexy” costume choices that belittle their awesomeness. The button layout could have been simplified; there’s too many different commands for the arc, for instance, and it’s easy to get them mixed up. Some weird localization choices (do we need “pleb” in fantasy RPGs? I think not).

swqSteamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Good: Image and Form’s Steamworld aesthetic is vibrant and well-executed as always, with top-notch character designs, backgrounds and enemy sprites. Gameplay is a compelling blend of card-based RPG battles and simple exploration a la Paper Mario, which works together beautifully. Lots of depth to the combat engine which allows tons of different teams and strategies.

Poor: The main characters are less fleshed out than the recruitable heroes later on, which makes them feel a bit lackluster and uninteresting to play as. Lots of repeated enemy and boss fights with palette swaps.

Okami

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.

Dead Space

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. Stupid turret minigames.

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.

51 – 111

acivAssassin’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

baaBatman: 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

bsBioshock

+ 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

bosBlades 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

bhBody Harvest

+ 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 PS3 era 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

A Boy and his Blob (Wii)abnhb

+ 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.

– 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.

cvCastlevania

+ 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

csCave Story

+ 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

– 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 points

Contra

+ 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

– 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)

c3tawContra 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.

dcDemon’s Crest

+ 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

Deus Ex

+ 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

Donkey Kong

+ 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

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

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen

+ A fascinating “chapter” system allows players to experience several mini narratives before diving into the main storyline, granting plenty of time to bond with the large cast

+ The revamped game engine looks and sounds great for a DS title, taking the NES original to unforeseen heights

+ The game’s combat is fairly gripping, especially when bosses get involved in the picture

– The localization team had a little too much fun with accents on this one

– The aforementioned chapter system is great in developing characters, but the main quest starkly shifts them all to side status and little more is done with them, which is disappointing

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

+ Charming characters (especially Bianca and your kids) drive a powerful, personal plotline that covers generations of the same family

+ Top-notch localization with only a couple missteps along the way creates a gaming universe unlike any other

+ Monsters and a couple human friends can hop in your wagon to swap in for downed or MP empty party members, giving you lots of backup for tough battles

+ Fairly nice spritework and compelling soundtrack

– Some enemies have some obnoxious moves that really grate on the experience, like Hocus Pocus (so long MP!) or Throw Voice (which changes the tactics for everyone)

– Bianca (or the other wives, I imagine) gets fridged for WAY too long, making her a difficult recommendation for the party by the time you rescue her…unless you spend a lot of time grinding to get her up to speed. Oh, and there’s that entire issue of rescuing your wife! Ugh game designers stawp it

– Maybe it’s just me but there be some grindin in your future anyway if you wanna reach the end and have a chance

Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

+ 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 locales

+ Flexibility to create your own story within the game

+ Stellar soundtrack

– Character models aren’t very attractive to look at

– Early goings are rough due to inaccurate attacks (unless you cheat)

– Combat is pretty dull.

Fire Emblem

+ 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

Fire Emblem Warriors

+ Lyn

+ The gameplay is much improved over Hyrule Warriors; the ability to swap between team members, team up, and command units removes so many frustrations

+ The sheer thrill of slashing through hordes of enemies cannot be ignored

+ Voice acting is solid, even if the plotline is pretty rote

– The roster is WAYYYYYYY too zeroed in on Awakening, Fates and Shadow Dragon

– Pretty repetitive, have to say…in a good way, but still…

Gunstar Heroes

+ Colorful crazy action like only Treasure can deliver

+ Epic stages that culminate in some stunning boss showdowns

+ Co-op!

+ 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

Hyrule Warriors

+ 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)

Iconoclastsiconoclasts

+ Really compelling world building and storytelling blend to make exploration and interactions fascinating and emotional

+ Wonderful sprite work that really sells the visual motif

+ Engaging Metroid-like gameplay that rewards careful examination and thoughtful play

+ Mina is an amazing support character, and Black is one of the most sadistic yet sympathetic antagonists I’ve come across

– Erzo is one of the worst support characters ever; dear god, I shouldn’t be rooting for his arm being torn off!

– Gameplay can be a bit unforgiving or sloppy at points

– Can be a little obtuse at points

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

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 Adventureka

+ 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.

– 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.

The Last Blade 2

+ 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

– the SNK AI scripts get batshit hard the deeper you go

– 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

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

Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds

+ Revisits the world of Link to the Past, remixing familiar locales and concepts in novel ways

+ Reconfigures weaponry to now be acquired via a shop versus dungeons, drastically freeing exploration and progression

+ Dual world mechanic works really well here, with a lot of opportunities to easily swap and solve puzzles

+ Creative bosses thrive unshackled from the usual conventions

– Yuga is not a very intimidating antagonist

– Sure would be nice if a mainline Zelda game could somehow find a way to not kidnap Zelda for its plot to unfold…

– The change-up to dungeon design is mostly positive, but their treasures are no longer mandatory, making those rewards a little less satisfying

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: 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

Marvel Vs. Capcom 2

+ A very large roster (56) that still rivals most other fighters

+ Gameplay engine is super loose, nearly anything can be linked to a super, you can add on supers from your teammates…a controlled chaos unlike most other fighting games

+ Single or multiplayer, all is damn good

– Music is probably the most oft-kilter off the wall bonkers bullshit ever paired to a game

– A lot of the roster is wasted on clones (Ryu/Ken/Akuma/Dan or the duo of Wolverines)

– Not huge on the assist system

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 on 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

+ Co-op!

+ 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

+ Co-op!

+ 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: Samus Returns

+ Mostly excellent revisit to the Metroid II storyline, with Samus standing tall in her most badass appearance in the entire series

+ Superb controls and great refinements to the Metroid formula

+ Fighting Metroids and the bosses are grand times indeed

+ Once you reach the endgame, there’s one hell of a payoff before the game ends. Since it’s so new I don’t want to spoil it but you’ll know what I mean

– Early going is a little rough due to the high HP of enemies; the new counter is essentially required to deal with low-level foes and it’s annoying after a while

– Enemy respawn rate is too damn high

– Music borrows a lot more from Super and Prime than M2:RoS and that just seems wrong to me

– Some of the atmosphere of M2 got lost along the way

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

Monster Tale

+ 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

Never Alone

+ 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

+ Co-op!

+ 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

Night Slashers

+ Surprisingly deep combat makes the beat-em-up gameplay dynamic and intriguing throughout

+ Excellent spritework, especially in the enemies

+ Manages to be the perfect length, and avoids the worst excesses of its arcade heritage by not feeling incredibly unfair

– There’s the dreaded “boss rush” and a fair amount of repeated enemy sprites

– The “runner” segments seem awkwardly out of place here

Perfect Dark

+ 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!

Portal 2

+ 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)

Rayman Legends

+ 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

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

Silent Hill 3

+ 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

– Combat remains clunky

– Story is a step down from Silent Hill 2 as a whole (despite Heather’s excellence)

– Camera occasionally complicates the situation

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

+ Co-op!

– Some elements aren’t well executed (the crane, for instance)

– Can get really bullet-hellish

Sonic CD

+ The most refined, exploratory and creative Sonic game out there

+ Fantastic level designs with three different time zones to run through to save the future

+ Best overall soundtrack in the franchise

+ One of my favorite intros to any game ever

– One thing Sonic did not need was damseling (a la my screencap)

– The time travel system can clash against the clock

– To travel through time requires Sonic to get speed, but the game doesn’t always let you do that easily

Soul Calibur

+ 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

Steamworld Dig 2swd2

+ Dorothy is a great protagonist and Fen serves as a nice foil to her as means of moving along a super engaging plot

+ Refined gameplay from the prequel makes mining super fun, with a marked increase of traversal options and fast travel options

+ The game is charming as hell with its adorable spritework and catchy audio

– The final boss is way too difficult due to extra enemies and a morphing arena where even landing hits can be frustrating

– Grinding is mandatory here to keep your gear up with the threats

Strider (2014)

+ 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

Suikoden

+ 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

Super Mario 3D World

+ 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!

– 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

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

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 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?!?

 

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