Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Top 115 Favorite Video Games (20-16)

Click here for the introduction!

20. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

One day back in 199-something, my brother and I were playing a game that we’d rented (a frequent occurrence back then), when suddenly the news came that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 had arrived in the mail. “Forget this crap!” I remember one of us saying as we yanked that poor, forgotten rental out of our Sega Genesis. Sonic 2 was here and it took precedence over everything else. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 followed up the original classic with a bigger, faster, prettier game, and while these things don’t always mean a better game, in this case they did. The Sonic sequel cut each zone down to two acts insuring that no one theme would ever drag, its levels are better designed around Sonic’s speedy momentum-based platforming, its visuals are more vibrant and colorful, its soundtrack is arguably even more amazing, and it introduced Sonic’s signature spin-dash and sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower, and co-op play along with him. In addition, the iconic Super Sonic made his debut here, and while I’ll likely never unlock him the legit way, cheats have allowed me to experience what a fun hidden extra Sonic’s powered-up form is. The memories with Sonic 2 are too many to count. Memories of trying to get through the game on my own as a kid and many more of fumbling around as Tails while my brother played as Sonic. Every zone, every boss, every section of every level has a story: the terror of the polluted water in Chemical Plant Zone Act 2, the secret base at the bottom of Casino Night Zone, getting stuck on those damn nuts and bolts in Metropolis Zone. Sonic 2 is an anthem of my childhood, it’s a part of me, and I always make sure to set aside some time to run through it and its two Genesis counterparts every year or so. Where once upon a time, the harrowing final boss fights were a nightmare rarely glimpsed, now I can get through the game in just over an hour.

19. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)

Dragon Quest VIII is the quintessential traditional JRPG and one of the most finely-crafted and polished games I’ve ever played. There’s a “classic appeal” to this game, an old-school approach to fantasy perfected that I really dig: exploring pastoral countryside, traversing quaint little villages and talking to townsfolk at the local inn, exploring a cave with torch in hand, finding treasure, battling monsters…there’s a true sense of old-fashioned adventure in Journey of the Cursed King. The world in DQVIII is vast, and this was the first RPG I played where I wasn’t some little avatar running around a world map but where every inch of the actual world was explorable, up close and personal. It all looks and sounds so lovely too, with a colorful semi cel-shaded aesthetic and probably my favorite use of live orchestrated music in a game with its astoundingly beautiful score. This is also another refreshingly narratively straightforward JRPG, and this works well combined with the rest of the game’s clean, simplified approach. What makes the story truly come to life though is the lively characters and superb voice acting. The colorful cast of Dragon Quest VIII is brimming with personality and this is definitely one of the funniest and most charming games I’ve ever played. DQVIII also features traditional, yet refined mechanics and its battle system is one of my favorites in the genre for its purity and accessibility. It can be quite a retro challenge at times, but Dragon Quest VIII is simply an RPG masterwork and was the perfect adventure to completely immerse myself in during winter break after receiving it on Christmas morning in 2005, playing until the wee hours of the morning every night.

18. Half-Life 2 (PC)

My favorite games have a way of sticking with me, of taking up residence in my consciousness and every so often signaling their presence. A particular noise, a certain location, even a smell can trigger a memory, an association with a cherished experience. Half-Life 2 is one of these games, and also like many of my favorite games, it is entwined with a very particular time in my life; in this case, my first semester of college and the week leading up to it. Even with so many distractions around me, there are few games that have immersed me as entirely as Half-Life 2. There is a lonely and absorbing atmosphere to this game that I can’t adequately describe, but it left its mark on me. I think of Half-Life 2 when I drive through city tunnels or when I find myself in a grungy stairwell; when I hear certain sounds, I think of headcrabs and Combine sirens and other sound effects from the game; tall towers occasionally make the Combine Citadel pop into my head. Half-Life 2 is also one of those games that just never seemed to end, but this could partly be because of the long period of time I stretched the experience out over. Regardless, I journeyed through the bowels of City 17, rode a hovercraft, escaped a horrible village filled with parasite-infested zombies, explored a vast coastline, crept through dark tunnels and creepy sewers, and still Gordon Freeman’s journey just kept on going. I fondly recall the night I finally reached the end of the game, sitting at my computer in the dark with my giant headphones on in my freshman-year dorm room as my roommate slept. I just couldn’t believe it was over. Darn, Half-Life 2 is so good, wouldn’t it be great if they made anoth-oh…oh yeah.

17. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater/Subsistence (PS2)

Never have I seen a work balance extreme campiness with powerful emotional drama as beautifully as Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The game design in MGS3 is impeccable and much more open-ended than previous Metal Gear games, with the jungle setting offering a variety of ways to sneak around and introducing interesting new survival mechanics as well. The boss fights are, as always, incredible, but Snake Eater truly contains some of the very best in the series, including the brilliant sniper duel with The End, a patient, drawn-out affair that takes place across a gigantic multi-area battlefield. MGS3 also features a relatively grounded narrative that focuses on the fascinating relationship between Snake (aka Big Boss) and his mentor, The Boss, who is one of my favorite characters in all of video games. The finale of Snake Eater is absolutely stunning, but I won’t say any more than that on the subject. Much of what makes Snake Eater so special is in the details, such as the absurd antics of a young Revolver Ocelet and the infamous ladder scene, and just all of the ingenious Easter eggs and secrets that I don’t want to spoil. I enjoyed Snake Eater so much that after first playing through the original version on a borrowed copy, I immediately bought the Subsistence version and replayed the whole game again with the new free-form camera angle that improved version provided and never once did I feel bored or fatigued. And just listen to that glorious theme song.

16. Metroid Prime (GameCube)

Along with Metroid Fusion, Prime was my introduction to Metroid back at Christmas in 2002. Metroid Prime was unlike anything I’d ever played before, and to be honest it kind of stressed me out. It’s hard to really explain why, but I felt somewhat overwhelmed by this game. I struggle with various anxiety-based issues, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder being chief among them, and these issues can often be detrimental to my enjoyment of video games. When it comes to my initial Metroid Prime experience, it was something about the dense, detailed, oppressive nature of the game, my inexperience with first-person shooters (which technically Prime is not, but obviously it shares certain elements with the genre), and the scanning mechanic that brought about this stress. Scanning is an aspect of the Prime series that I have always had a love/hate relationship with because I love the concept but it’s a nightmare for my Obsessive Compulsive self because I need to scan everything. Ultimately, I think it all just came down to how detail-oriented Prime is. Even with my anxiety though, I still immensely enjoyed Metroid Prime, and revisiting it via the Metroid Prime: Trilogy compilation for the Wii in 2009 after having so much experience with the rest of the Metroid series and the other Prime games allowed me to fully appreciate this incredible game without so many hang-ups. Long-winded preamble aside, Metroid Prime is astounding. Every fiber of this experience is crafted with the express purpose of immersing the player in a rich atmosphere that literally steams and dampens their screen. The stunning art direction, the attention to detail in the HUD (aka Samus’s visor), the detailed lore and creature biology accessed by scanning, the mesmerizing musical scorePrime is scarily good. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing I’d fault the game for, not even the late game artifact-collecting mission as I tend to like that kind of thing. Metroid Prime is a sterling example of how to translate an established 2D video game series into a bold new 3D world, and even with its new first-person perspective, I would even say it is probably the most faithful example of such that I can think of, even more so than Mario and Zelda’s initial 3D translations.


Stay tuned for #15-11!

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