Thursday, February 28, 2008

My 10 Favourite Games Ever

10. Shenmue II
Dreamcast, 2001, AM2/Sega

This game is so much better the second time you play it through it's not even funny. When you know what to expect from the endless QTE bits, and can take the mindless money-grubbing more in your stride because you’re no longer desperate to find out what happens next, exploring and soaking up the atmosphere becomes that much more satisfying. Kowloon especially – the mouldering tower blocks, a mixture of shabby prosperity and decrepit abandonment, are the most eerie and poignant places I’ve ever been in a game. I once spent about an hour wandering the halls of one of the more run-down ones, poking my nose in one empty apartment after another. I know that they were designed that way as a memory-saving approach, but nonetheless they just seemed to wail the long-forgotten, shattered hopes of their departed residents. It made it all the sadder when I actually came across someone living in one of them, often the only person on the floor. This is a computer game, remember. Bunch of funny made-up shapes on a screen, with three lines of dialogue chucked in for a bit of extra believability. And it works. It was a real relief to escape to Guilin’s endless beautiful mountains and valleys in disc 4. Shenmue’s core plot of revenge and discovery may be old and pretty basic, but its little, quiet, unnoticed moments are what make the series.

9. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Gamecube, 2002, HAL Laboratory/Nintendo

It took me quite a while to realise just how much I love this game, but love it I do. The deep fighting system, hidden under a simplistic brawler then hidden again under a nonsensical free-for-all, is hugely satisfying and a lot more fun than more po-faced fighters; the multiple one-player modes are fantastic (even if the last few Event Matches are far too hard); it still looks incredible six years on; there’s enough hidden stuff to power a whole other game. But above all, it’s probably the best multiplayer game I’ve ever come across. Admittedly you need to get four players who are good at the game together, but once you do it’s astonishing. In my second year of university, I and three of my flatmates played this a lot. One of them nearly always chose Dr. Mario, and nearly three years down the line the Doc is still a good few hundred ahead in terms of number of games played, K.O.s scored, losses conceded, etc. That’s how much we played it. (That’s another thing – the insane amount of stats the game somehow stores is fascinating. It tells you how many metres you’ve walked in-game, for heaven’s sake.)

8. Resident Evil 4
Gamecube, 2005, Capcom

The more I play this (seven or eight playthroughs by now? I forget), the more transparent it becomes. It is basically a shooting gallery. And the less I care. I don’t know how Capcom did it, but they made an incredibly repetitive game into one of the Bestest Fingz Evar. Blasting away at the shrieking Ganados is nothing less than completely enthralling. The impeccable presentation doesn’t hurt, either – the uncluttered HUD, the way they completely solved Resi’s storage headaches without making it seem an alien system, the top-notch direction in the cut-scenes, the fact that you can fish and then eat the fish, the whole shebang. Saddler was rubbish, mind, both as a character and a final boss. They should’ve made Salazar or Krauser the big cheese.

7. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Mega Drive, 1992, STI/Sega

Here’s one I’ve played so many times that nowadays when I pick it up I go on auto-pilot and carve the best route through the levels without thinking (at least until I get to Metropolis Zone and a poky spear thing inevitably catches me and sends me tumbling into an area I’ve never seen before). It’s incredible how completely streamlined and focused this is, refining the first game’s formula and adding in Tails, Super Sonic and pretty much all the traditional level themes. Just look at the way Aquatic Ruin permits the skilful player to completely avoid any underwater segments, or Wing Fortress and its luring temptations of what even the most hard-bitten veteran will mistake for a shortcut but will inevitably lead to death. Inspired bosses, too.

6. Shenmue
Dreamcast, 2000, AM2/Sega

Never in the history of gaming has walking to the shops seemed so epic. Even after eight years I view Shenmue’s world as a real one. Even after eight years I’m finding new places to go and things to do.

5. Shining Force III
Saturn, 1998, Camelot Software Planning/Sega

Sad to say, but this is really showing its age now. The graphics, with sprites plonked over polygons, are blurry and somewhat silly; the loading times are more marked than ever; the fighting system is starting to look a little simplistic against your Fire Emblems and your Disgaeas. But the fantastic plot, with political shenanigans of a level rarely seen in games; the wonderful design (there aren’t enough games with tiny goblins in huge steam-powered suits of armour that fire their fists at opponents); and the general epic feel – all of these still shine through. This is a rare case, though, where I’d actually recommend a remake.

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo

The high seas! Arrr, me buckos. Link’s swashbuckling seadog shenanigans make for the best Zelda ever (or the best one I’ve played, anyway) for many reasons. Reason #1: it’s utterly beautiful. Keep your “realistic” Lord of the Rings style, I want big-headed people and glorious swirly explosions. Reason #2: exploring the oceans is intensely satisfying, and I will maintain this in the face of the entire world’s denials. Setting sail for unknown waters captures the sense of adventure and discovery better than any other game. Reason #3: it’s huge. I keep finding previously unknown submarines and platforms and new crannies on old islands, and I don’t think I’ll ever finish the figurine collection. Reason #4: incredible sound. It’s a factor that often gets overlooked in gaming, but WW owes a lot of its impeccable atmosphere to the creaking of ships’ timbers, the cry of gulls, the swell of waves. Reason #5: the bit in Hyrule Castle. Reason #6: you can put a pear on your head and use it to hypnotise a seagull somehow.

3. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Saturn, 1998, Team Andromeda/Sega

In which Team Andromeda go out on arguably the greatest high any developer has achieved by taking their on-rails shooting series – Space Harrier with a lick of paint, basically – and turning it into an RPG. Edge’s phenomenal journey across a scarred world on the back of a laboratory-grown living weapon, taking on and taking sides with a rebel fleet, fighting off hideous mutants and an insidious, invasive Empire and trying to unlock the secret of humanity’s fall from grace would be fantastic if you just made a movie of it. In game form, with dozens of little side bits to discover, characters that are just as memorable if they are key or one-line nobodies, and a genius battle system that mixes up turn-based and real-time action just right, it’s nothing short of phenomenal. And I haven’t mentioned the still-impressive graphics, the incredible soundtrack, the unforgettable twist ending…

2. Christmas NiGHTS
Saturn, 1996, Sonic Team/Sega

Christmas time/Mistletoe and wine/Androgynous jester-things fighting giant dragons to rescue Christmas tree stars. No, that’s not right. Sonic Team’s Chrimble prezzie to the world, taking one level of their masterwork, stuffing new bits and bobs into it and giving it away for free, is very right, though. The changing seasons concept is sufficiently genius to be nabbed by several other games since, the extras range from agreeable (loads of lovely artwork) to fantastic (option to play the whole level as Sonic with Robotnik-Puffy boss at the end), and the spirit of NiGHTS and the spirit of Christmas compliment each other beautifully.

1. NiGHTS into Dreams…
Saturn, 1996, Sonic Team/Sega

It's short. It's fairly basic. It's repetitive. The two-player mode barely even exists. It's also completely wonderful. NiD is like the Matrix – you just have to play it for yourself to really get it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

#28-#11 Games that Are Sort of Okay

28. Streets of Rage II
Mega Drive, 1992, Sega

The game that single-handedly brought about my love of scrolling beat-'em-ups. It seems fairly slow and very repetitive these days, but it’s still packed full of invention and character, and big fat guys that breathe fire. And of course, the legendary soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro. The end sequence tune is the first piece of gaming music I ever truly fell in love with.

27. Marvel Super Heroes
Saturn, 1997, Capcom/Virgin Interactive

Another one that’s not quite as good as you remember it, but MSH is as passionate a love-letter to what you can do with the traditional 2D beat-‘em-up as any you’re likely to find. Still quite stunning.

26. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Gamecube, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

FE’s first steps into 3D, and very nice they are too. The game doesn’t look as lush as it could and should have done (although the occasional CG cutscenes are absolutely lovely), but the aesthetic change allows for some subtle adjustments to the formula – most notably, you can’t fire over walls any more, which always seemed rather cheaty to me. The laguz units – half-humans who are defenceless in human form, but can transform into tigers, eagles, dragons and the like – are a brilliant touch, and the pre-battle prep is more comprehensive than ever, with a new experience-sharing system meaning you can get a much more balanced force without ridiculous amounts of effort. The main fighting is largely identical to previous games, but when it’s this good it doesn’t really matter, and the result is certainly the best Emblem to arrive on these shores yet.

25. Soul Calibur
Dreamcast, 1999, Namco

SC has been completely outdone by its sequel, but taken on its own merits it remains one hell of a fighter. It still looks lovely and plays with a wonderful smoothness, and it does in fact beat its spawn (heh) in one area – you can play an 8-player team battle against the computer, whereas in II you can only fight with three.

24. Sonic the Hedgehog
Mega Drive, 1991, Sonic Team/Sega

Marble Zone gets boring after a while. Labyrinth Zone just isn’t much fun in general. Everything else is absolutely brilliant. For a first try at a new platforming formula, it's astonishing how close Sonic comes to getting everything spot on.

23. Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now
PC, 1998, Stainless Software/SCI

I dug out my old demo of this a couple of months back. And while it now looks pretty abysmal, the gameplay is every bit as brilliant as it ever was. Racing’s still too fiddly to be worthwhile, but the 150mph game of bumper cars you play with your opponents, with metal shearing off, pedestrians running for cover, and the physics flip-flopping between ultra-realistic and bonkers cartoon nonsense for maximum enjoyment, is still utterly enthralling and completely exhilarating. Now if only I could get the full game to run on XP…

22. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
DS, 2006, Capcom

So, yeah, I’ve already outlined what makes the series great. So take Justice for All, bin the bizarre logic-leaps, and add in a fantastic fifth case that makes much better use of the DS (fingerprint-dusting is supremely satisfying) and there you go. Plus, there’s a bit where you have to interrogate a parrot.

21. Worms 2
PC, 1998, Team 17/Microprose

There are enough Worms games to entertain the entire population of the UK, and they’re all pretty similar (except for that puzzle one that was apparently rubbish). 2’s the one I’ve spent the most time with, so here it be, and it’s ace. The ultra-lo-fi graphics of the original had a certain odd charm, but the new cartoony style settled on here is undoubtedly prettier. The increased armoury is pleasing, even if the Homing Air Strike is so cheap and the Homing Cluster Bomb so useless they took them both out again, and the booby-trapped weapon crates and medical drops add extra dashes of strategy. Being able to build your own levels, though, is undoubtedly the most important addition to this classic strategy with added explosive ovine. Hoorah. Hoorah indeed.

20. Burning Rangers
Saturn, 1998, Sonic Team/Sega

Sadly, when I got a new Saturn last year and booted this up, the silky-smooth controls weren’t quite as exquisite as I remembered, and the game subsequently fell a little in my eyes. No matter, it’s still fantastic. Leaping around gigantic environments, extinguishing fires and saving puny humans, remains unique in gaming even nine years down the line (as far as I know). The real kicker, though, is the fantastic voice acting – both in the comprehensive navigation system, that allows you to call up the Rangers’ leader for directions at any time; and in the way that the other Rangers combing the level will occasionally radio in to alert the rest of the team to any discoveries they’ve made. It really does make you feel like part of a team. Sequel with full co-op play plz?

19. Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Dreamcast, 2000, Capcom/Eidos Interactive

Now even Capcom seem to want to forget this one (I haven’t played Umbrella Chronicles, but from what I gather it doesn’t even merit a mention). Which is idiotic, because it’s brilliant. Creepy as hell (the Private Residence is more Silent Hill than Resident Evil, and is that much better for it), stuffed with ideas and featuring two of the freakiest villains ever in the form of the insane and incestuous Ashford twins, it’s absolutely unforgettable. So why are you trying to forget it, Capcom? Whyyyyy?

18. Sonic Adventure
Dreamcast, 1999, Sonic Team/Sega

It’s looking decidedly old these days, but it still plays up a storm. It’s odd that Sonic Team got the move from 2D to 3D, and how best to increase the narrative scope without making the whole thing ridiculous, pretty much perfect the first time and have spent since then flailing madly in confusion. Oh well.

17. Virtua Cop 2
Saturn, 1996, AM2/Sega

The first game I got for my favourite console, so obviously there’s fondness here that’s not much to do with the game itself. But regardless, it’s still flinkin’ ace. Jamming Cop’s scenario up to maximum with car chases, helicopters, a shootout all across a cruise liner and a bloke who chucks vans at you, it is neither subtle nor considered. But what it is is high-octane, breathless, excessively cool fun. The perfect lightgun game, in other words.

16. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo

It’s famous and that. Not playing it until the Gamecube re-release has undoubtedly coloured my opinion of it, as it really does look quite slow and ugly next to the fluid and gorgeous Wind Waker. Still great, though.

15. Half-Life
PC, 1998, Valve Software/Sierra

Half-Life is the game that does not get old. I’ve been playing through this and its expansion packs just lately, and despite the fact it must be about my fifth or sixth time through the game, it still feels fresh and glorious. (Admittedly I got bored of trying to beat the Nihilanth and skipped straight to Opposing Force, but we’ll leave that aside.) Leave out the lacklustre Xen levels and this is pretty much flawless, with its narrative style still distinctive now, and the set-pieces still brilliant. And the Gargantuas continue to scare me rigid.

14. Sonic R
Saturn, 1997, Travellers Tales/Sega

Yes, okay, go back to this after several months of Mario Kart and you are likely to utter a hearty “dubble-yoo-tee-eff mate” at the “interesting” controls. But I maintain this has more to offer than most other racers, purely due to the astonishing complexity of the tracks. I found a whole new route through one section of Radical City a few months back, and I’ve had this since it first came out on Saturn. Oh, and you have to like it or the Tails Doll will consume your soul with its eyeballs, etcetera etcetera.

13. Animal Crossing: Wild World
DS, 2006, Nintendo

There aren’t any real goals that you absolutely have to achieve and it actually tells you off if you don’t play it for a while. It’s the anti-game! But people who complain about it for these reasons have got completely the wrong end of the stick. These aren’t little collections of polygons and A.I., they’re actual animal-headed mutant wrongnesses that live on the card and get miserable when you’re not around. I won’t let Bluebear and Dizzy leave my town (Winsburg – I wanted to call it Victoryville, but the name was too long) because I like them too much. I paid off my final mortgage in mid-December, despite having bought the game in May 2006. I’ve got all the fossils in the museum, but am still working on the paintings (because Redd keeps selling me fakes, like the shyster he is) and the fish and insects (because I’m lazy). Several of Winsburg’s residents proudly sport a t-shirt of my own design, which simply reads “LOL” in large black letters. Sometimes a very confused albatross flies by in a spaceship and I shoot it down, only to offer to help patch it up, receiving gifts in exchange. I’ve completely ignored one of my neighbours for several weeks because I bought her a top and she didn’t like it. Once I wished on a shooting star and got a suit of samurai armour in the post. In the last weeks of university, I used to go over to my friend Tom’s flat specifically so we could visit each other’s towns with the wireless link-up and hit each other with nets. It took me more than a year of trying, but I finally got a palm tree to grow on my beach. I’ve run out of room to make constellations in the night sky. Animal Crossing isn’t for everyone, but if you are the sort of person that it is for, it will keep you very happy for a very long time.

12. Soul Calibur II
Gamecube, 2003, Namco/Nintendo

Now here is a fighter. It plays excellently regardless of whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, something that not many in the genre can boast; the Weapon Master mode is so pleasingly huge and hard it took me the best part of three years to finish, and even now I haven’t bought all the weapons; and it looks and sounds fantastic (top marks for being able to choose between English and Japanese voice-acting). The minus points are two. First, when playing a Team Battle against the computer you can only choose a maximum of three characters, meaning that eight-combatant epics require a second person – something that, as I've mentioned, did not trouble the prequel. Second, a couple of the characters are fucking awful. Yunsung, hang your head. Necrid, cut yours off or something.

11. Jet Set Radio
Dreamcast, 2000, Smilebit/Sega

I swear this game actually gets cooler as time goes on. The glorious graphics, the phenomenal soundtrack, the deeply satisfying gameplay, the sheer swaggering technicolour style of it all. Almost certainly the coolest game ever. A few bits of the levels could’ve done with a little more work to round off the corners, and some of the specialist assassins are annoying enough to drag down the later stages, but that’s about as much criticism as I can muster. Also: best final boss ever.

Monday, February 25, 2008

#39-#29 Games that Fail to Suck

39. Theme Park
Mega Drive, 1994, Bullfrog/EA

At lunchtimes at primary school I used to get great hunks of computer paper and design the perfect park to build in this game. Of course, once I got home and sat down to give it a whirl, I got bored after about twenty minutes and started making it up as I went again, but there’s no denying this game had its claws in me bad. Since outclassed in just about every way by the RollerCoaster Tycoon games, it’s still great to play, even if the music loop drives you slowly insane.

38. Power Stone
Dreamcast, 1999, Capcom/Eidos Interactive

Power Stone will always be special for the way it dropkicked the bar for beat-‘em-ups into the stratosphere. When it came along we’d had 3D, first in looks then in gameplay; we’d had weapons; we’d had outlandish special moves; we were starting to have more variety in stages. PS swaggered in and took these baby steps, twirled them round its head and threw them out the window, before chucking three chairs and a giant bomb after them for good measure. My amazement as everything the genre had threatened to be for years was suddenly reality rings fresh in my mind. Of course, in pure playability terms it didn’t quite match up to those that followed, but it made a heck of a lot more feasible in fighting games, and for that it should be remembered.

37. Fire Emblem
Game Boy Advance, 2004, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

In gameplay terms, the first FE to make it to these shores has been pretty thoroughly thrashed by its younger brothers, both in sophistication and player-friendliness (come on, which idiot thought it would be a good idea to only allow shopping on the actual battlefield?), but even so it remains an exquisite turn-based treat. The ruthless nature of the series, wherein characters killed in combat can’t be revived for the next level, makes every successful battle that much more satisfying, and this one (Blazing Sword, as it’s known in Japan) dreams up some particularly inventive scenarios. The characterisation’s arguably the best of any of the translated games, too.

36. Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Mega Drive, 1994, STI/Sega

The only game in this list where you had to buy two separate games to get it. Deadlines, eh? Still, Sonic’s defining moment is arguably worth all the hassle, throwing out invention and classic gaming moments like they’re going out of fashion or something. You get the distinct feeling the coders were getting pretty knackered by the end (did Hidden Palace really deserve to be a separate level? Couldn’t they have just slapped it on the end of Lava Reef?), but that’s about as far as my criticism of it goes. And it’s interesting that the particular circumstances actually add to the enjoyment, allowing gamers to run through the familiar Sonic 3 scenery and mutter to themselves “Ah, so that’s what that suspicious ledge was there for.”

35. Cyber Troopers Virtual On
Saturn, 1996, AM3/Sega

You control BIG ROBOTS and fight other BIG ROBOTS with BIG GUNS and one robot has a BIG SWORD. Oh, and another has a BIG HAMMER. Come on people, it is not that hard.

34. Beyond Good & Evil
Gamecube, 2003, Ubisoft

Fun fact: my spellchecker wanted me to change “Ubisoft” to “bigot”. Anyway. BG&E is almost ridiculously better the second time you play it – the stealth sections make a lot more sense and flow better, the intricacies of the plot are clearer, and the experience as a whole is much more enjoyable. In an alternative universe, Michel Ancel is best known for making this, which sold by the bucketload and spawned the promised two sequels, rather than more Rayman. I want to live in that universe.

33. RollerCoaster Tycoon
PC, 1999, Chris Sawyer/Hasbro Interactive

I’ve said it already, but RCT really does take the Theme Park template and improve it in every imaginable way (except for the extra-salt-on-the-chips trick). Makes you wonder why Bullfrog bothered with sequels, really. Seminal strategy.

32. Crazy Taxi
Dreamcast, 2000, Hitmaker/Sega

I dug this out for the first time in about four years a couple of months ago, and I am sad to say that in this age of Burnout it is looking decidedly dated (SO MUCH POP-UP), and the handling’s not as smooth as I remembered. But it will always stand in fond memory as an early example of truly vibrant, full-of-life gaming environments, and it still plays well.

31. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All
DS, 2007, Capcom

Phoenix Wright (or Ace Attorney, as I guess we should get used to calling the series before Apollo Justice makes its bow) is a truly delightful, unexpected success story. Taking the nearly dead point-and-click genre, with thoroughly basic (if charming) presentation, they should’ve vanished without trace. The adventuring is satisfying, but we all know the key to their success. Complex plots, one of the best casts in the history of gaming, and an utterly hilarious script makes for the appropriate victory and justice. The courtroom scenes are less impressive as they reveal the very linear nature underlying the mechanics, and this instalment is particularly nasty for forcing you to make utterly arbitrary leaps of logic. But who can deny the spiky-headed crusader who has leapt from obscure Japanese nobody to gaming legend in a little over two years? No-one. And if they try, they’ll be “OBJECTION!”ed to hot, creamy death by the fans.

30. Donkey Konga
Gamecube, 2004, Namco/Nintendo

I’ve already established that Jungle Beat uses the DK Bongos designed for this game better than this game itself, but Konga is more enjoyable to actually play. And this is because – are you listening, Guitar Hero? – it’s an absolute riot even when you don’t know what you’re doing. Whereas other rhythm-actioners are just frustrating when you’re starting out and making hideous noises rather than doing anything well, Konga allows you to have fun straight away through the power of thump. It may be less sophisticated than its peers, but it’s more inclusive and forgiving, and I know which I prefer. Four-player jam with four bongo sets is utterly legendary.

29. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Game Boy Advance, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Almost exactly the same as its immediate predecessor, but leaps ahead by a) making it possible to shop outside of battles, as should be the case in every RPG ever, you idiots Intelligent Systems and b) including infinite strength-building bonus battles, so you actually have a chance to get your weaker characters up to scratch. Oh, and c) giving you the option of choosing what class your characters promote into, so for instance your dark magic-wielding shaman can promote to either a druid (strong, powerful magic, slow) or a summoner (weaker and quicker, but can call up monsters for reinforcements), thus allowing for a more thoroughly customised army. And d) splitting up the party halfway through the game for a few levels, encouraging a second playthrough. The only major downside is that the plot and characters are nowhere near as memorable as the other games, with the honourable exception of the charmingly deluded L’Arachel, and Dozla, who is basically Brian Blessed with a large axe.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

#53-#40 Favourite Games

This list is hilariously out-of-date now, by the way.

53. Zoo Keeper
DS, 2005, Success/Ignition Entertainment

Yes, it’s just Bejeweled/Santa Balls/whatever with a new face. But damn it, it’s still a brilliant game, and the new face is deeply pleasing – I absolutely love the cubist animals and their eye-popping gurning as they’re sorted into oblivion. And the stylus control raises it from excellent to sublime. Quest mode’s complete rubbish, mind. Someone needs a slap for that.

52. killer7
Gamecube, 2005, Grasshopper Manufacture/Capcom

Style over substance? Most assuredly. But the substance is actually pretty good (imagine an ultra-stripped-down Resident Evil with Virtua Cop-style combat) and the style is phenomenal. Oozing class, gorgeous design and more originality in five minutes than most games/books/films cram into their entire length, and bolstered by stellar voice-acting, it’s one of the few games I’ve played that’s worth sticking with for the story alone. And what an ending!

51. Virtua Cop
Saturn, 1995, AM2/Sega

Lightgun games used to be known for being crap, y’know. Apparently no-one told Sega, and they came steaming in with this addictive, satisfying, and excessively cool effort. It looks a little lacklustre compared to its sequel, but for convincing the world not to give up on the genre and paving the way for Time Crisis, The House of the Dead and their ilk, it deserves your respect. Or, um, it’ll shoot you?

50. Pikmin 2
Gamecube, 2005, Nintendo

Good ol’ Shigsy, eh? He saw real-time strategies, usually a genre dominated by achingly serious sci-fi war guff, and said “I know, let’s do it in a garden with tiny squeaking plant-men.” And it works beautifully. Inventive, enthralling, atmospheric, intelligent and oh-so-pretty, it exudes that special kind of joy only games can give you. A bit too hard in places, but it gives far more than it takes away. Dazzling.

49. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Game Boy Advance, 2004, Flagship/Nintendo

The Minish Cap seems to have become the forgotten son of the Zelda family, and I have no idea why. It’s brilliant. The shrinky-dink hook is great, and gives the game a wide-eyed, family-movie style charm; it looks lovely; fusing Kinstones for delicious treats is highly addictive; and it has two of Zelda’s best ever gadgets in the ceramic-hoover Gust Jar and the flippy-flippy Cane of Pacci. The opening is a bit seen-it-all-before, and the final boss is far too aggravating, but other than that it’s wonderful, and deserves more appreciation.

48. WarioWare: Touched!
DS, 2005, Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Ah, WarioWare. King of the it’s-about-ten-minutes-until-tea’s-on-the-table-and-I-need-to-do-something-as-my-years-of-gaming-have-caused-me-to-constantly-crave-stimulation-and-entertainment market. Which I may have just invented. A pretty shameless “Wheee-we-have-a-new-console-let’s-show-off-all-its-features-as-quickly-as-possible” release, it’s saved from motion-going by the series’ usual relentless invention, unyielding surrealism and steadfast idolatry of the nose and the picking thereof. WarioWare appeals deeply to the gamer id with its “complete task NOW well done here’s your reward now DO ANOTHER ONE” mechanic, and Touched!, while not quite up to its siblings, is as wonderful and hilarious as ever. And Ashley’s theme song is superb.

(Sam: 1, hyphens: 0)

47. Bust-A-Move 2: Arcade Edition
Saturn, 1996, Taito/Acclaim

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. What day is it again?

46. Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition
Saturn, 1996, AM3/Sega

So the Saturn’s launched, and Daytona is ported right on over. People complain at the naff graphics and general rushed feel of the conversion, so Sega say, “Awright, giz a year or so and we’ll do a nicer version and chuck in some extra cars and tracks while we’re at it.” Then they release CCE and people complain at the altered handling and loss of super-cheesy vocals on the tunes. Tchuh. While it doesn’t handle as nicely as the original, I didn’t play that until years after I got this, so I was free to take it on its own merits. And those merits are many! It runs very nicely for a 3D Saturn racer; it plays well; the new tracks are good (National Park Speedway is actually my favourite Daytona course); the new cars add some variety, even if the differences between them are fairly small; I can’t resist the ultra-naff rock songs on the title screen and replay modes; and it’s a good deal easier than Sega Rally. Not the ultimate Daytona experience, then (I’d be tempted to plump for Daytona 2001 on the Dreamcast despite only having played a demo), but plenty good enough for me.

45. WarioWare: Twisted!
Game Boy Advance, NEVER (2005 in the US), Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

I don’t really import, which I guess is an odd thing for a lifelong gamer. I think I’ve just got it into my head that importing is too much hassle, despite the fact it hasn’t been for a long time. So when I saw this in my local game store sometime in 2005, I just assumed they’d finally got around to releasing it and snapped it up, not noticing it was the US version until I got home. Just as well, eh? The endless fiddling about (something to do with mercury in the cartridge or something) has resulted in Europe missing out on an absolute classic, generally agreed to be the best WarioWare of the lot. And while I haven’t played them all, this is certainly the best I have played. The spinning mechanic is seized on with astonishing vigour and used in every way imaginable – from stitching a seam to balancing a cat to a circular version of Super Mario Bros. oh my God. And it’s a huge game, hiding absolutely tons of unlockables away. A lucky buy indeed.

44. The House of the Dead 2
Dreamcast, 1999, AM1/Sega

Lightgun games exert a strange pull on me. No matter how many times I complete one, I’ll always go back and play it again. The net result is that I am now really, really, really good at this game because I’ve played it about a hojillion times. Which is nice. The main game itself is agreeable enough, with its branching routes, vicious bosses and astonishingly bad voice acting, but the Dreamcast version’s Original Mode is the icing on the cake, giving you new weapons, new characters to play as, and the ability to use lures from Sega Bass Fishing as bullets. Oh, and the fact that one of the zombies is clearly modelled on Kurt Cobain never fails to amuse me.

43. Burnout 2: Point of Impact
Gamecube, 2003, Criterion/Acclaim

I tried to play Burnout 3 once and it confused the hell out of me. Probably with some time I would’ve worked out what was going on, but it seems that Criterion hit their peak with the simplicity of the second game. Drive fast! Boost! Crash! The end. The nods to various classic Sega racers (Scud Race, Daytona) are very welcome too.

42. Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Gamecube, 2003, Nintendo

This was the first Mario Kart I owned, which probably explains why I like it more than other people generally do, although it did seem weird going back to it after a lengthy MKDS period and not being able to hop. Anyway. Great tracks (mostly), nice range of characters, brilliant four-player, gorgeous graphics and a two-characters-in-a-kart gimmick that I will maintain is excellent in the face of all opposition. So there.

41. Unreal Tournament
PC, 1999, Epic Games/GT Interactive

You know how in Penny Arcade they might illustrate Gabe and Tycho playing a game by having them actually inside the game, dressed in appropriate costumes? UT’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like that. Even Half-Life can’t match the sheer absorption that comes over you when you’re playing this, and you’re dodging about in your seat and craning your neck to see round corners without even realising it. The fantastic weapons list, sublime maps (Facing Worlds is one of the best things in gaming) and superb game modes don’t hurt, either.

40. Shining Wisdom
Saturn, 1996, Sonic! Software Planning/Sega

If you were a Sega fan in the early- to mid-‘90s, you’d’ve witnessed a whole bunch of Zelda clones turn up on the Mega Drive and Saturn as they madly scrambled to find a rival for Link to the Past. The Shining series was well-established by this point, so it’s no surprise that they chucked out one under that banner – except that complicated copyright ownerships meant that the English language version had all references to the other Shinings garbled, despite the fact that a couple of the characters actually turned up in Shining Force II. D’oh. Anyway, for all its derivativeness, Wisdom is one heck of a game. The plot’s a fairly standard save-the-princess-defeat-the-evil-fellow-who-plans-to-resurrect-a-giant dealie, but all the originality is poured into the dungeons. Helmets to fly with, an astonishingly hard level that requires you to fiddle with mirror images of it, burrowing shenanigans and a giant tree that has to be traversed by dressing up as a monkey – it’s brilliant. Some of the extra items are inspired, too, including a little car to pootle around in, and a judo suit that allows you to defeat enemies with martial-arts throws. The main gameplay hook of various power orbs that give different effects when combined with your different weapons is pretty great, too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tie-in movie games they maybe shouldn't make

This is basically an idea nicked wholesale from some fellow who wrote in to NGamer a few months ago. Except he did it with TV shows and by changing it to movies I can avoid terrifying lawsuits, or something like that.

Oh, and they're for the Wii. Er, would be. Won't be. Shouldn't be. Please, don't make these games.

Apocalypto - pump your arms up and down really fast to simulate running through the rainforest for ages. Like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, but with more people getting their faces chewed off by jaguars.

Duck Soup - the remote takes the place of Groucho's cigar. Wave it with vigour. The mirror scene is done in the manner of Dance Dance Revolution.

Coffee and Cigarettes - lift the nunchuk to drink some coffee. Lift the remote to smoke a cigarette. Includes an unlockable Singstar-style level where you freestyle with the Wu-Tang Clan.

Clerks - don't touch the remote to make your character sit on his arse. Waggle the nunchuk listlessly to discuss Star Wars.

Shaun of the Dead - lift the nunchuk to drink some tea. The remote acts as your cricket bat.

Juno - lift the nunchuk to drink some Sunny Delight/unidentified blue sugary substance. The remote takes the place of Juno's pipe. Gesture with it to wisecrack.

The Truman Show - exactly like The Sims, except IT'S ALL REAL.