Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

Other then the fact that I have over-posted on "top" lists this past week, someone pointed out to me that I have yet to make my own for "favorite video games."

Well the joke is on them! I did make a "favorite game" list in 2011. There was a segment back in 2010 covering my top 10 favorite cartridge games. Since then my list have been topical, comical, and on the rare occasion insightful. Mostly I poke fun at the other lists. But it's been a few years. I think my original list could use a face lift and incorporate some games that have wedged their way onto my shelf.

So here we are. It's a culmination of lists. And more lists. And now, my list!

I'll preface this with my usual notes that this is all one person's opinion: my own. I haven't played every video game out there (no one has). I'm a retro gamer. I'm not as new-school as kids today, but I have a very diverse gaming background. While I may not be a fan of certain genres or development teams, I don't dismiss a good product if the body of work as a whole is questionable (see Call of Duty and Ubisoft). So expect a varied list.

This list is based on my opinions, and only mine. Feel free to agree or disagree as much, or as little, as you like. Everyone is different. Everyone has their preferences. These are my own. Any flaming and your butt is getting banned. Got it?

With that out of the way, onto My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

10. Halo 2. In my initial list, Halo: Combat Evovlved was number 10. But over the years, I realized that I didn't play Halo 1 as much as I did the second game. That's when the combat really jumped up a few levels and provided some of the best co-op, and online FPS action that I have had in years. Story-wise, it's about on par with what 1 brought to the table. The introduction of the Arbiter helped provide more context to what the heck was going on in the universe. The first game always felt like this weird attempt at being Half-Life (remember kids, Half-Life came out in 1998 while Halo was 2001) with the story. The Flood reminded me of those head-crabs, but were infinitely more annoying. The flailing was also universal. To see the other side of the alien life and to get a better grasp on the story really helped the gamers better understand 'the Halo.' It also had a much better Needler (best weapon ever), more thoughtful online maps, and an array of gravity boosting insanity. This is my go-to for FPS games.

9. Myst. One thing I lacked greatly last time were PC games. I love my PC. For a while, I was a big PC gamer. Mostly to get away from my brother's annoying friends who wanted to trash talk me while playing consoles. So PC's became a hub of entertainment. I don't remember how I stumbled upon Myst, but it was one of those games that sold me within the first few minutes of play.

I liked this game for it's complexity. It's a puzzle questing sort of game with really pretty visuals. Almost like an upgrade to the text-based adventures of the 1980's. But with a lot of puzzles. And riddles. I hate riddles. A lot. But I was determined to follow-through with them in Myst because the story compelled me to do so. You start the game as a "stranger" who has traveled to Myst with a book. Using that book, you must solve puzzles to unlock other locations and figure out the mysteries behind the books. It was also one of the first games that provided you with multiple ending scenarios based on your decisions. And unlike other adventure games, you start with very little backstory in the beginning. It reminds me of the movie Memento where you need to uncover the past as you play; and from that you can determine what your goals are. The game unfolds at it's own pace using patience, observation, and logic. Anyone who likes puzzles needs to pick this up. This was one of the top selling PC games of all time until The Sims, and for good reason.

8. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The immersion of GTA Online is fantastic, and one of the best open world-platforms I have seen in years. But Vice City is where it's at. I selected this game out of the GTA series for a few reasons. Not only am I a fan of everything 1980's (in terms of nostalgia - I really don't want any of the fashion trends to come back), but of all of the GTA's, this one had a story that kept me interested. If you haven't figured out, story is important to me. While we applaud GTA for being very sand-boxy, the story can sometimes suffer as a result. You spend more time driving around doing random acts of stuff, then in engaging the character with the plot. I play for story. And that's what Vice City provides me. I enjoy how over-the-top ridiculous it is in it's 'Miami Vice' nature of plot twists. And how down-to-Earth the characters can be the next moment. I love the witty dialogue of the NPC's, and how thrilling the take-downs of the "bad guys" are. Vice City lives for "moments." That's what makes it stand out against it's counterparts.

7. Super Mario Galaxy. We need a Mario game on this list. And while I could spend decades ranting about how great Mario Kart is (I still play the first DS game whenever I'm traveling), to me the quintessential Mario game comes in the form of Galaxy. Like most traditional Mario titles, you are Mario. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once again and it's your task to save her. But this time you're thrown out into the universe and must assist a new-comer, Rosalina, in restoring the Power Stars, which allow you to travel to new worlds and catch up to Bowser. Because his butt stole a bunch of stars and destroyed some of the pathways. So what makes Galaxy different? This is the first game for the Nintendo Wii where we saw Mario evolve with his game dynamics. He went from 8-bit, to 32 in the move from the NES to the SNES. And then three dimensional with the N64. With Galaxy, Mario changed the way we thought about gaming in a 3D realm. Jumping from planet to planet required players to take into account things like gravity (each celestial object had their own gravitational force); walking in some situations was a challenge. You are sometimes restricted to a 2D playing field on a 3D map. The fact that you could run and have the planet rotate with you...it caused some major mind screw the first few times you played. Possibly some motion sickness as well. It also heavily utilized the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, the bane of players existence for every game outside of Wii Sports. But Galaxy used them well. The controls felt fluid and gave some validity to the motion sensors in the new Nintendo products. Plus, you got to jump around in space. I mean, you can't beat that! If there's any one Wii game, one Mario game, to play, it has to be Galaxy.

6. Golden Eye 007. What could possibly beat out a Mario game? Why the original N64 Golden Eye of course! This was the game of all games for Nintendo fans, and the mutliplayer product to beat. Even now I'd say most mutiplayer titles can not match the wonder of Golden Eye. The single player story was equally as entertaining, though sometimes monstrously difficult. This is the first game that I can remember my brother and I playing all day and never being tired of it. The maps, the challenge of finding your enemy, the silly unlocks of big heads and paintball bullets, all of it captured our youth. What I love about this game was that anyone could easily jump in and play. You could make the settings as easy or as difficult as you'd like. And you didn't have to be good at multiplayer to enjoy it. Even if you are the worse Golden Eye player, it was still fun to watch the insanity unfold on the screen. And back then, this was new for us. We didn't have FPS that promoted co-op and multiplayer gaming this way. And the developers did such a great job with the tactical aspects while keeping the game fun, that future products strive to live up to this ideal. The multiplayer really capitalized on split-screens and bringing people together through gaming - something that is lacking in today's content. Even now when my brother is home, we find ourselves bringing down the N64 from it's box and playing a few rounds. We could never get enough of Golden Eye and still don't! The remake for Wii isn't the same. It misses out on a lot of the charm.

5. Mass Effect 2. Until my Let's Play session, I wasn't convinced about the "magic" of Mass Effect. I was still not convinced after finishing the game. ME2 fixed that. And a lot of it has to do with how in-depth BioWare went in developing the characters. Outside of Final Fantasy titles, this was a game that made me give a darn about what happened to these digital beings. For all of the battles, the planet scanning, the non-Mako-antics, the humanity of Mass Effect came alive in the second game. It gave me a better sense of purpose to see the mission through. While the dialogue options seem a bit limited by comparison to the third installment, and future BioWare products, this was a title that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of future gaming. We need more like this.

4. Borderlands 2. I made every effort to get into the first Borderlands and I didn't get it. The story never grabbed me. The controls felt too clunky. The art style too rough. The grinding very grinder-y. At the request of my significant other, I gave Borderlands 2 a shot. That "the story is a lot better" and "you don't need the history of the first game to appreciate the second one." Okay. Let's give this a try. While he wasn't completely on point regarding the history (knowing what happened in the first game really helps with some of the context and jokes, but it's not 100% necessary), the content in 2 allowed me to understand why Borderlands was so popular among adults. For a game with a lot of freekin' guns, it had an entertaining and surreal story. It's one of the few games where I wanted the bad guy to win. The antagonist wasn't "that" bad. Surprising how few video games tackle that topic. I mean, yeah. Handsome Jack is an asshole, but an endearing one. He had good intentions. He went about them the wrong way, but they were good in theory. The characters were much more likeable, relate-able to an extent. The end goals seemed much more admirable then the first game. The jokes felt both adult and childish in one fell swoop. It's a fun game that got better with age. If you're looking to jump into Borderlands skip the first one and the Pre-Sequel. Go to game 2 and you'll get what the big deal is.

3. The Last of Us. This is zombie horror survival mixed with 'The Walking Dead' drama and soul crushing RPG characters. If this decade could be defined by one game, it would be The Last of Us. Not only  does the plot that pulls at the heart strings, it's how damn creepy this game is even when you're out in open spaces. I thought the zombies in Resident Evil were bad (when they like to creep, they can be too quiet for my tastes). Wait until you get smacked down by a Clicker and never hear them coming. Ugh! It annoys me to no end! This is one of those games where no matter how much I try to explain it, I can't do it enough justice. You need to play. That's all I can say. Be prepared for tissues for those tears at the end.

2. Final Fantasy IV. Yes it's still #2. And if you've read my past "favorite games" list, then you already know what's #1. I'll let this Critical Distance article act as a recap on why I heart this game. Everything I knew about gaming before Final Fantasy was in this little circle of Pong and Mario. FF4 showed me the world of gaming in ways I never expected. It allowed me to open up my eyes and see what else is out there. It taught me how much fun life could be. It made me care about fictional people for the first time. It proved to me how powerful storytelling can be in a digital medium. For all of it's highs and lows, frustrations and silly mini-games, it gives me feels that I can't express with most titles. It may not be the perfect game or the best. But FF4 is the Final Fantasy of all Final Fantasy's. Bar none.

1. NiGHTS: Into Dreams. The number one spot will never change on my list. It will always and forever be NiGHTS. If FF4 was my reason to game as a kid, NiGHTS was my reason to pursue it as a hobby for the rest of my life. There's a great amount of simplistic beauty to the game. It's bright, full of color and joy, as well as darkness and strange nightmares. I think what pulls me back to this game every time is that it is just plain ol' fun. You don't have to have the high-tech graphics, or the coolest voice actors. You can have a simple, compelling story, with captivating art, and engaging characters who act through emotion to create a wonderful game. Without NiGHTS we wouldn't have Journey, Katamari, or Shadow of the Colossus. Games that are very basic on the surface, but hold an intrinsic beauty that can not be matched. This is one of the first games that took 3D realms and tried to wrangle them in with a unique perspective. Your character flies around the world as it bends and curves to your movements. It may seem archaic by today's standards. It was pretty cool in the 90's. And having a story that was stripped down of fluff really allowed this game to blossom. I will love this game forever and ever. There's no doubt about it.


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