Saturday, January 19, 2008

#65-54 Bestestestest Games Everevever

65. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX
Game Boy Color, 1999, Nintendo

My first Zelda, a statement I should think probably applies to a lot of people. I’m sure it was very impressive on its first, non-colour, release, with Nintendo taking a series very much intended for home consoles and making it work on a handheld without compromise, but, well, I was too busy playing Land of Illusion to notice. Anyway, this fancified version hit the spot quite nicely when I was looking for a GBC game to compliment Pokémon (which I’d specifically bought the console for). Now that I think about it, Nintendo probably foresaw the combination of Pokéfever and excitement over the new colour version of the good ol’ GB and squeezed this out specifically to attract new customers like me. Well, their cunning marketing worked out for them and for me, because this is a stone cold classic. Filled with typical Zelda-y goodness, one of the series’ best plots (I spent the whole last bit of the game expecting Koholint to somehow survive the Wind Fish’s awakening, and was genuinely shocked when it was wiped from existence) and the opportunity to take a Chain Chomp for a walk, it’s so very great. It’d be a lot higher up this list, in fact, were it not for the Eagle’s Tower. I’ve never been able to get my head round those sorts of dungeons where you’re changing the whole layout, and this is a particularly infuriating example. Sigh.

64. Dynamite Headdy
Mega Drive, 1994, Treasure/Sega

Entering stage right, Game I Love But Suck At #573! I’m clearly never going to finish this (at least the level select’s let me see all the levels). But who cares, the antics of head-throwing, head-changing puppet actor Headdy is filled with such vibrancy, variety and bonkers imagination that it doesn’t even matter. Chuck in one of the best Mega Drive soundtracks ever and some dementedly impressive bosses (Mad Dog! Clothes Encounters! Baby Face! Spinderella! Twin Freaks!) and yus got yerselves a durn mighty purdy platforming hoojamaflip to be playin’ on yer fancy magic box wid the purty lights an’ beepy noises. Yup.

63. X-Men Legends
Gamecube, 2004, Raven Software/Activision

I probably love this game more than it really deserves, but as an X-fan it’s hard to look down on something clearly made by fellow devotees. The game itself is a rudimentary but addictive take on Gauntlet, with extra statty delights. The run-and-thump-and-run-some-more gameplay is hardly revolutionary, and the occasional puzzle actually shows the game up even more by being astonishingly basic, but the powers wielded by your fighters (a group of four, from a choice of fifteen) keep things enjoyable. Special nod to Jean Grey’s telekinesis, which makes picking up a guy twice her size with the power of think and hurling him through a brick wall easy and fun. But the bit that really gets me is the lavish attention paid to the source material, from the design (uniforms straight out of the Ultimate X-Men comics, Xavier’s mansion a dead-on recreation from the films), to the dialogue and quizzes, a hundred and one characters, places and events getting the subtlest of nods. Lovely.

62. X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse
Gamecube, 2005, Raven Software/Activision

Same deal again, but with improvements. More characters (although some from the first game aren’t playable any more – bizarrely, despite the fact the whole of the prequel revolves around new recruit Magma, she only merits a single off-hand mention here), more varied locations, team bonuses (a really nifty idea wherein certain combinations of characters – four women, say, or four of the original X-Men, nabs you extra bonuses such as health recovery or increased attack power), more costumes and more moves. The last is the most important, as each character can now learn up to about twelve special moves but can only be assigned four at once, leading to a whole new level of precision team-tweaking. Otherwise, it’s the same simple-but-addictive gameplay as the first. Not especially pretty, but it does its job and does it well.

61. Half-Life: Blue Shift
PC, 2002, Gearbox Software/Sierra

Very much the lesser of the Half-Life family (well, I haven’t played Decay, but then neither have a lot of people), but a crummier HL is still streets ahead of most things. Yes, it’s short; yes, you don’t get any new weapons; yes, the onus is more on platforming than shooting; but it still oozes class, and any chance to delve further into Black Mesa isn’t one you should turn down easily. Especially the fantastic ending, poking about in long-disused laboratories and twiddling machines before the final mad dash to safety – one of the most breathlessly thrilling sequences in any game I’ve played.

60. Resident Evil 2
Dreamcast, 2000, Capcom/Virgin Interactive

As with RE3, my enjoyment of this was muted by picking it up late on a console that clearly could have done more with the game. But this was a lot closer to its original PS1 release, the Dreamcast didn’t have the Gamecube’s grunt, I was just discovering the series at the time and was thus more forgiving, and this is better than Nemesis anyway. Jacking up the first game’s scenario to the extreme, RE2’s vision of a devastated city is as impressive as any disaster movie’s, and the creatures that stalk it have rightfully gone down in gaming history.

59. Resident Evil Zero
Gamecube, 2003, Capcom

RE0 is the most potent example of the fact that Capcom’s shake-up of the series with 4 was extremely necessary. On my first play, it was a good game that seemed very archaic in places. Going back to it after Leon’s Spanish jaunt, cleansed of fears that the Resi games were going to gradually sink in a mire of outdated gameplay mechanics and too-similar scenarios, Zero revealed itself to be a swiftly-paced, atmospheric, inventive entry into the Resi canon. Plot’s still madder than a sack of anvils, mind.

58. Half-Life: Opposing Force
PC, 1999, Gearbox Software/Sierra

“So, wait, you play as a soldier?” Opposing Force shouldn’t’ve worked. Even with the double-twist of the government sending in black ops to take out the marines after the latter fail to not get eaten by aliens, it still shouldn’t’ve worked. Huge chunks of the original Half-Life’s appeal lay in the fact that you were playing a speccy, unremarkable scientist, outgunned to ludicrous degrees. Surely plopping the player into the battle-hardened boots of an experienced corporal would just sap away any such unease? Well, thanks to some impressive new alien species, cleverly-written team A.I. that makes your squad useful but not indispensable, and the fact that those black ops really are the business, Gearbox make it all work out nicely. They also prove their handiness with a set-piece, as witnessed by the terrifying scene where you have to take out a group of voltigores (those huge bellowing four-legged electricity-spitting things) in pitch-black identical corridors, or opening a door just in time to see Freeman take his leap of faith into Xen, and then having to clean up the mess he’s left behind. The bit where you accidentally warp yourself to the Hazard Course and see a confused vortigaunt try to kill the hologram woman’s priceless, too.

57. Resident Evil
Gamecube, 2002, Capcom

This is gradually slipping down my list because I’m getting tired of it, surprisingly. When I like a game I can normally play it over and over and over without getting tired of it, but four times through this appears to have been my limit. A real shame, because this is both a great game and a textbook example of how to do a remake right.

56. Fur Fighters
Dreamcast, 2000, Bizarre Creations/Acclaim

Now here’s a game that could do with a sequel. Inspired shootery meets platform shenanigans meets rock-hard puzzlement. FF is huge, hard and very, very clever. As a crack squad of wickle fwuffy annymals take up arms to rescue their babies (or siblings, in the case of infant Welsh dragon Tweek), Bizarre go hog wild, throwing out an avian take on New York City, a vast dam in staggeringly huge quarry country, Incan temples, surreal nightmare sequences, and an underground city populated by dinosaurs. The relentless mick-taking of just about every major movie and game from the last forty years doesn’t hurt, either. Maybe too hard and too vast at times, but it’s a heck of a game and deserves a wider audience. The multiplayer was some good times, too.

55. Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament
Mega Drive, 1994, Supersonic/Codemasters

Ah, Micro Machines. The multiplayer king of the mid- to late-‘90s. What a series. Etc., etc. Give it a whirl now and it’s not quite as all-conquering as you probably remember, but its enormous invention and sense of fun both remain, and its chunky graphics are still utterly charming. So there.

54. Micro Machines Turbo Tournament ’96
Mega Drive, 1995, Supersonic/Codemasters

Almost exactly the same as the previous one, but with better tracks (the gym ones with trampoline frolics stick in my mind) and a tip-top track editor. Very nice.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

#75-66 Favourite Games Ever

75. Earthworm Jim 2
Mega Drive, 1995, Shiny Entertainment/Virgin Interactive

I’m actually kind of okay at this one! Well, I only got to the last level once and promptly died, but whatever. This isn’t as purely playable as the first one, but the varying level styles make for a much more imaginative game (and, for me, forever associated the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with blind cave salamanders). As you might expect from the pick-n-mix approach, some of the levels are pretty poor (The Flyin’ King, Inflated Head) while others are brilliant (Lorenzo’s Soil’s shifting sand, Udderly Abducted’s mad race to defuse bomb-cows). Mix ‘em up with a giant marshmallow, a homing missile that actually is shaped like a house, angry grannies, a larva on a unicycle and a parachute made of snot, and what do you get? Indigestion! And a brilliant platform game.

74. Mario Kart DS
DS, 2005, Nintendo

I’ve not long had this one, actually. I think it’s the most recent acquisition on this list. Anyway, you drive this go-kart and throw bananas at people or something, I don’t know. A few of the courses are a bit blah, and several of the novelty vehicles are completely hideous and should be purged with fire, but it’s Mario Kart, for heaven’s sake. I haven’t tried Wi-Fi, but the local-cart link-up works a treat.

73. New Super Mario Bros.
DS, 2006, Nintendo

I grew up playing Sonic, so I suck at Super Mario games and also don’t massively care for them. This one, however, is both clearly brilliant and pretty easy (the retention of the wall-jump from the 3D titles is a massive help), so I like it. It’s the little things that get me – the enemies bopping in time to the music, the glorious liquid-rainbow invincibility effect, the genius homage to the original Mario Bros. in World 8-6. Plus, of course, turning into Mega Mario and smashing everything to tiny little bits. Shell Mario’s good for a laugh, too. “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEdead”

72. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Gamecube, 2002, Silicon Knights/Nintendo

Quite possibly the scariest game I’ve ever played (admittedly I scare really easily, but still), ED is a masterwork of atmosphere. Unashamedly nicking its plot from the Lovecraft staple of giant tentacle monsters lurking just beyond human comprehension, it zips through two thousand years of story with twelve playable characters trying to stop the Darkness from swallowing the world, guided by a book made of human skin. The real kicker is the Sanity meter. The more horrors your fellas witness, the more they start to lose their grip – the camera slants unnervingly, blood pours from the walls, and sobbing and banging is heard coming from nowhere. Then it gets really clever and starts messing with the fact that it’s a game and pretends to delete your save files. Genius.

71. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Game Boy Advance, 2002, Konami

Like I said before, Castlevania games are all much of a muchness. So here’s my favourite, for what it’s worth, and also the first one I played. It covers far more ground than the Sorrow titles by virtue of having two subtly different castles; and rather than Soma Cruz’s soul-harvesting shenanigans, Juste Belmont nabs various spellbooks, and combines them with the series’ traditional sub-weapons for justice and victory. This magic system is far more satisfying, and it’s a strangely addictive thing to visit a room in Castle B that you’ve already passed through in Castle A just to see the difference. And, of course, since this is a Castlevania, it looks and sounds gorgeous.

70. Virtua Tennis
Dreamcast, 2000, Hitmaker/Sega

There’s just something so “Sega-y” about this game. Is it the lovely graphics? The hilariously cheesy geetar wangling? The simple controls masking complex play? The vibrant presentation? The silly-yet-logical training minigames that see you go bowling with your racket and lobbing balls into oil drums? Well, yes. But most importantly, it’s the pick-up-and-play ethos of the game and the fact that I’ve never met a person who didn’t like it. As a multiplayer sports game, it’s about as good as you can get.

69. Sim City 2000
PC, 1995, Maxis

Hands up anyone who could work on a city for more than about a week without getting bored and starting a hurricane for a laugh. But you always start another one, don’t you? Its delightful mix of addictive gameplay, crisp graphics and an inexplicable llama preoccupation has led Sim City 2000 to earn enough money to buy God, conquer the Earth and build an army of Tom Cruise-bots with which to crush the dissenting meatbags. Probably.

68. Dead or Alive 2
Dreamcast, 2000, Team Ninja/Acclaim

DoA may always be sprinting along (whilst bouncing extravagantly) in the dust left behind by your Soul Caliburs and your Virtua Fighters, but if it could get its mind out of the gutter for ten seconds it could certainly be seen as a more viable alternative. This seven-year-old title looks lovely even now, and the mechanics that allow every single move in the game to be reversed mean that matches can be impressively tactical. Or, of course, you can just opt for the old “punch them out of the stained-glass window” option. A tippity-top example of a game that caters to both newcomers and veterans.

67. Golden Sun
Game Boy Advance, 2002, Camelot Software Planning/Nintendo

Much like Shenmue, the Golden Sun games go together so well it can be genuinely hard to tell them apart at times. The first game is great in its own right, but after you’ve played The Lost Age it’s hard to look back on it without seeing it as a scene-setter for the sequel. Still, the gorgeous, atmospheric graphics, lush sound and robust characterisation mean it has plenty to be proud of. The fighting’s good, but not great, but the real clever bit is the Djinn system. It’s superb, although not explained clearly enough – I didn’t really get the hang of it ‘til almost the end of the game. And the Obligatory Stealth Bit That Must Be Included Because This Was A Game Made In The Early 2000s sucks the expected amount of donkey dong. Other than that, it’s tippity-top like it just won’t stop.

66. Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Game Boy Advance, 2003, Camelot Software Planning/Nintendo

And there’s the other one. Not so much taking the template and running with it as continuing on in more or less exactly the same way, Lost Age takes the Golden Sun world and makes it bigger, better, more. Playing as a group of secondary characters from the first game is a great narrative touch (shades of Camelot’s defining Shining Force III?), and it’s a genuinely exciting moment when you finally catch up with the guys you used to be playing as. The revelation that the GS world is ours in the distant future – never directly addressed, but look at the world map and some of the dungeon/continent names – is a well-worn twist I’m always a sucker for, and getting to explore it to its utmost is very satisfying. The battle system remains decent but not great (aside from the Djinns) and the plot gets ever better as you get near the end – only to end really suddenly. Sequel plz?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Films I Like That Everyone Else Hates

...Or At Least Is Fairly Indifferent To.

Godzilla (1998 American movie): it's really stupid, but it knows it's really stupid and it doesn't try to be anything other than really stupid and extremely entertaining. The bit where Jean Reno and his French spy squad successfully pass themselves off as American by chewing some gum always cracks me up.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: a mess, but what a mess - endlessly inventive, spectacular, original and featuring a surprisingly ace performance from Jude Law. And then it finishes and Spielberg starts a whole other film with water-alien-robot things for the last half-hour.

Waterworld: actually, it seems the old adage of this being a failure was a big fat lie, as everyone I've spoken to likes it. Anyway, you name me one other film that starts with the hero peeing in a bottle then recycling his pee back into water and drinking it again.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: Nick Stahl's rubbish, Linda Hamilton's gone and Arnie's old (although at least they acknowledge that) but Claire Danes is brilliant, the bit where that psychiatrist from the first two movies glimpses the T-800 and runs off whimpering is great, there's a couple of top action sequences and (OMG THE SPOILERS) the good guys don't win. Only Hollywood movie ever to end with nuclear apocalypse, as far as I know.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

#84-#76 Favourite Games Ever

84. Spider-Man 2
Gamecube, 2004, Treyarch/Activision

I love this game far more than it deserves. The main quest is pretty dull (although the Black Cat chases are good), it doesn’t look or sound great, and there’s not a huge amount of things to do. But good Christ, it handles like an absolute dream. Pinging around Manhattan just feels right, and is astoundingly addictive. Certainly the best example I’ve ever played of imagining how it feels to be a superhero.

83. Pokémon Blue
Game Boy, 1999, Game Freak/Nintendo

I’m totally going to finish this game one day. I’ve only had it for eight years, I mean, that’s nothing. Anyway, I guess you fight with monsters or something. God, it’s addictive. More importantly, Farfetch’d is one of humanity’s defining achievements.

82. Mass Destruction
Saturn, 1997, NMS Software/ASC Games

I do like a good mindless shooter. And they don’t come much gooder or mindlesslesser than this little beauty. Kind of like Desert Strike in a tank, you’ve got to roam huge levels and take out certain buildings, rescue agents, and the like. But there’s really nothing to stop you blowing up everything else you see at the same time (unless it’s a nuclear reactor, you’d be advised to leave that one alone). It looks great for a Saturn game, and runs ultra-smooth regardless of excessive pyrotechnics onscreen – just about everything you can see can be blown up. There are desert, rural and tundra levels, but the city ones are the best. Teach those traffic lights a lesson!

81. Steep Slope Sliders
Saturn, 1998, Cave/Sega

I played this to death before I even got it – Sega Saturn Magazine put the first course, single-player only, on a demo disc, and I had epic time-trial contests with my sister’s then-boyfriend, passing the pad between us and noting the times on a bit of paper. Pure playability. The full game only improved, with a series of brilliant courses, an extremely nifty real-time time of day option (the courses worked off the Saturn’s clock, so if you played the Russia course at 7.23pm British time, it would take place at 10.23pm, and so on) and a ton of hidden characters including a UFO, a dog on a snowboard and a penguin. Great dance soundtrack, too.

80. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Gamecube, 2005, Nintendo

Who’d’ve thought it? Not only a platformer that uses the plastic bongo drums invented for a rhythm action game, but a platformer that uses the plastic bongo drums better than the game they were designed for. The great genius of this game and its control system (left bongo for left, right for right, both for jump, clap to stun enemies) is that the levels are set up to encourage rhythmic progression. If you get into a thump-thump-clap-thump-clap-thump-thump-thump groove, it’s a heck of a lot easier and more fun than taking it slow and steady. It could have been a lot better (too many of the levels involve insane dexterity that frustrates your mind and hurts your hands, repeating the same four bosses over and over is the height of laziness), but it’s a great, unique experience that wouldn’t really have worked any other way. Looks gorgeous, too.

79. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
DS, 2005, Konami

Castlevania, eh? There aren’t many series that can give you basically the same game over and over and be good enough to get away with it, but ’Vania’s one. And here we have its DS debut. It’s…well, it plays like the others. Jumpy stabby magicy fighty killy victory. The soul collection idea is a good one, but it’s pretty galling that a couple of areas are only accessible with a soul that you can’t be guaranteed to get. The Magic Seals (to finish off a boss you have to trace a pattern on the touch screen) are also cool in theory, but the last two are so fiddly as to create distinct problems. Oh, and the Clock Tower bit, always irritating throughout the series, is astonishingly awful here and someone needs to die for it. Otherwise, though, it’s great. Inventive levels, highly customisable fighting styles, nifty bosses, and the series’ usual addictive “just-a-bit-further” gameplay.

78. Theme Hospital
PC, 1997, Bullfrog/EA

You’ve got to admire Bullfrog. After selling approximately 27 zillion copies of Theme Park on every console in the world (and a few they made up just for kicks), they apparently sat round a table and said “What’s more fun than a theme park? A hospital!” And despite it all, hot dayum does fiddling with central heating, arranging desks and keeping plants watered prove both tricksy and addictive. The jet-black sense of humour (chucking those close to death out of the hospital to avoid a negative reputation) and bonkers diseases (Bloaty Head, Elvis Syndrome) doesn’t hurt either.

77. Shogun: Total War
PC, 2000, The Creative Assembly/EA

I know I keep saying I’m awful at loads of these games but like them anyway, but I’m really awful at this one and really do like it. The Risk-style planning stage is complicated and tricky enough, but when it comes to the battles…well, I don’t win many. Regardless, the game’s exquisite atmosphere, astonishing clashes and brain-massaging strategy keep me playing.

76. Sega Rally Championship
Saturn, 1996, AM3/Sega

I know I keep saying I’m awful…oh, wait. Okay, so I can do the Desert course satisfactorily and just about manage Forest, but as for Mountain and Lakeside I may as well not turn up. But a well-made game is a well-made game, and they don’t come much more finely tweaked than this. So yeah, I’ll have another go. To hear the “Game over YEEEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!” again if nothing else.