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.

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