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.

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