30. Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube)
Super Smash Bros. Melee blew my mind when I first played it that Christmas morning on my shiny new GameCube in 2001. Melee is one of those sequels that took the foundation of the first game and simply exploded it in a big bang effect, expanding and elaborating on the original a dozen times over while still retaining a distinctive sense of identity. I simply got lost in the various modes, new characters, trophies, and the ever-deepening series of unlockables within the game. Melee has a lot of stuff in it, but not so much stuff that it feels overwhelming, and every new avenue, from trophies to the new Adventure Mode, has worth. It keeps the original’s unique target-smashing stages and features a similar Classic Mode, but the added Adventure Mode, All-Star Mode, Event Matches, plus more all help to create a satisfying single-player experience. Of course, what cemented this one in my heart was just how long I continued to play it after release because of its multiplayer, a fairly unique situation in my video game history. Many summers in high school were spent hanging around with my friends, which often entailed swimming in my friend’s pool followed by hours upon hours of four-player smashes. Melee is one of the few multiplayer games that I didn’t tire of after a few sessions of play, and it seemed like no matter who I played it with, I had a blast. It was an evolution of the original that set the standard that the rest of the series is still following today, and it’s the Smash that is most special to me.
29. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
It’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite Metroidvania game, and therefore favorite Castlevania game overall, because I love them all for different reasons (except for maybe Portrait of Ruin), but Dawn of Sorrow…Dawn of Sorrow is so frickin’ beautiful. It picks up right where Aria of Sorrow left off, building upon and refining everything about that already refined game, including the return of the Tactical Soul system, and features a massive castle that rivals Symphony of the Night’s in terms of its marvelous design, details, and copious secrets upon secrets. Just when you think you’ve seen or done it all, there’s more, and if you think you’ve finally seen it all, you’re wrong. Being the first Castlevania game on the DS, its visuals are gorgeous, featuring beautiful environments, huge sprites, and colossally gruesome bosses, its musical score is among my favorites in Castlevania history, and it is simply all-around probably the best-designed game in the series. The only things wrong with Dawn of Sorrow are its unfortunately mediocre anime character artwork (the beautifully elegant artwork of Ayami Kojima was sorely missed) and its weak narrative and villains. Aria of Sorrow’s narrative was pretty wacky too, but it’s interesting at least and has an important purpose in the grand scheme of the Castlevania mythos, but Dawn of Sorrow, as much as it pains me to say it, is unfortunately just sort of an unnecessary continuation of that story, and it just feels like they had to come up with something to justify this otherwise beautifully-designed game. The narrative isn’t terrible and it doesn’t greatly detract from the experience, but let’s just say as the final story chronologically in the series, it could have been better. When the rest of the experience is so phenomenal though, I’m willing to turn the other way. Its narrative and official artwork aside, Dawn of Sorrow is the pinnacle of the Metroidvania series.
28. GoldenEye 007 (N64)
GoldenEye is one of those games that I completely dissected as kid. It was more than a game; it was a world. I spent hours playing and replaying every mission and each session brought new discoveries. I would obsess over details like the ventilation shafts in the Facility level and how they all connected, I would create my own meta-games in my head and my own fantasy storylines for each mission. I settled into each level, exploring every room, examining every toilet and desk; these levels were more than just linear corridors, they were fully-designed environments to explore and uncover. I longed to finally unlock the coveted hidden Aztec and Egyptian levels, which I sadly never did. I used to dream about this game. Then there was the multiplayer, where countless hours were spent with friends playing hide and seek in the Complex, laying proximity mine traps in the Caves, and having duels in the Temple. It’s amusing to me that one of my strongest nostalgic attachments, one of my most cherished and memorable video game experiences, is a licensed James Bond game based on a film I wouldn’t first watch until years after finally putting the game down, but so it is.
27. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (N64)
After drooling over screenshots of it in Nintendo Power prior to release, I finally got Kirby 64 in my hands in late June of 2000, and it is another game that is fondly synonymous with summer for me. I still remember the pure joy this game brought me as I began it and how amazing it was to me back then to finally have a Kirby game with 3D visuals. Not only was Kirby 64 one of the first “2.5D” platformers to my knowledge, but its clean, colorful art has aged remarkably well and the game stands as one of the best-looking N64 games in the modern era. When it comes to platformers, Kirby 64 is another game that hits just about all the right notes for me. Though they largely follow familiar video game tropes such as the good ol’ desert and beach, the worlds of The Crystal Shards execute these themes with a lot of imagination and detail, and although there aren’t a whole lot of them, every single level in the game is unique and nothing feels copy and pasted. The ice world is particularly memorable for its pseudo-futuristic and industrial themes, as well as for the fact that it seems to hide a suspicious backstory. What also makes Kirby 64 still stand out among all of its brethren is its fantastic power-combining system. For the first and basically last time so far, Kirby can combine copy abilities. For example, combine Cutter and Burning to make a giant fire sword, Burning and Bomb to turn into fireworks, or Ice and Spark to morph into an adorable Kirby refrigerator that barfs up snacks! It’s a brilliant spin on the familiar Kirby formula and it’s a ton of fun to experiment and play around with each combination. The game gets a ton of mileage out of only a handful of base abilities and you’ll find yourself making surprising discoveries even late in the game. The simple narrative is also excellently implemented throughout, providing both great motivation and a great sense of progression. Rounding out the whole delightful package is my favorite Kirby soundtrack, which is a stand-out even by the series’ very high standards. The music in Kirby 64 contains a wide variety of styles, including some very atmospheric and emotional tracks, including the true final boss theme, which is one of my favorite final boss themes in any game.
26. Kirby’s Dream Land (Game Boy)
Another of my three earliest gaming memories and crucial formative games (along with Sonic the Hedgehog and one more upcoming game) is Kirby’s Dream Land, the very first Kirby game. I’m fairly certain that this was my first Game Boy game and I remember walking around Toys “R” Us with my Mom when the game’s strange boxart caught my eye. There are two elements that I chiefly admire about Kirby’s Dream Land: simplicity and surrealism. I love the simplistic nature of the mechanics and platforming; this was a world where Kirby could not copy the abilities of his enemies yet, he could only inhale and exhale, and there’s something about this pure, uncluttered design that I find appealing. The game can also be finished in about 40 minutes (not counting the special “Extra Game”) and I love this too; it’s a breezy, charming little adventure. I also love how surreal and strange Kirby’s Dream Land is and it raised so many questions for me when I was a little kid: why am I fighting a sentient tree that’s attacking me with apples? Why am I now fighting a sentient blimp with a lemon? What exactly is Kirby anyway? And what is “Dream Land”? Is the whole game a world of dreams or a figment of some child’s imagination?? Why is the main villain a big penguin with a hammer wearing a Santa Claus suit??? This game ignited my imagination as a child, and it and Kirby’s Dream Land 2 feel like they are a part of me.
It's the final countdown! #25-21 is next!