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?

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