Thursday, September 22, 2016

My Top 115 Favorite Video Games (45-41)

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45. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (Game Boy)

Another Game Boy game from my childhood that’s bursting with creativity and that signature oddness that defined first-party Nintendo games for the system in the 90s, Wario Land is not only a fantastic sequel to the already excellent Super Mario Land 2, but it’s also one of my favorite platformers of all time. This was Wario’s first game all to himself so Nintendo really had complete freedom in what they could do with the adventure, and it really shows. The Wario Land series is appropriately like some bizarro inversion of the Mario series, and what I love so much about it is that it’s not chained down by all of the conventions and tired staples of the latter. With nothing holding him back, Wario journeys to Kitchen Island to steal the treasure of the Brown Sugar Pirates and explores memorable locales such as Mt. Teapot and Parsley Woods, hunting down hidden treasures and finding secret paths. The game features a world map similar to its predecessor, but the world is even more dynamic. For example, the first time you venture through the first world, Rice Beach, it will be low tide. Later on, however, one can revisit the beach when the tide has come in and has flooded previously explored levels, which allows access to new areas. Wario Land also has a very strange and memorable atmosphere and much of its soundtrack is decidedly mysterious, culminating in a presentation that brings to mind The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening in ways.

44. Super Metroid (SNES)

Haunting. If there’s one word to describe Super Metroid, it’s "haunting". Another word might be "brilliant". The opening title screen immediately sets a mood that is completely absorbing and the rest of the game follows suit. Super Metroid is a master of atmosphere, exploration, game design, sound design, music composition, 2D pixel art, and hell the game even succeeds wonderfully at minimalist narrative, with subtle examples of great in-game storytelling and a world littered with details and little moments that tell the story without words or without ever removing interactivity, including one of the most memorable finales in video game history. I waited years to finally play this classic on the Wii Virtual Console and it did not disappoint. Super Metroid is one of those games that represents just about everything I love about the medium and is basically just an experience extremely catered to my own personal tastes.

43. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)

Bloodlines was my first Castlevania game, but Circle of the Moon is the game that made me fall in love with the series. After constantly reading about how great this Symphony of the Night game was and then how great its immediate successor Circle of the Moon was in Electronic Gaming Monthly (which I subscribed to for years and have just about as many fond memories with as I do with the games on this list), I finally decided to give Circle of the Moon a shot. It instantly made me nostalgic for the Castlevania games I played as a child and I soon found myself addicted to exploring Dracula’s dark abode. I played Circle of the Moon for a long time, mainly because it can be a very difficult game with very little hand-holding, but I have fond memories of waking up early to play it during the summer and also of playing it around October. I remember finally finishing the game feeling truly triumphant. Circle of the Moon might have my favorite atmosphere of the Metroidvania games; it perhaps feels closest of them all to the classic Castlevanias in this regard and has a very classically gothic appeal. Its soundtrack is mainly comprised of remixes of old tunes, but besides them all being terrific arrangements, at the time I didn’t know they were recycled works. Also, the protagonist’s name is Nathan and although it may be a bit silly, it just heightens my connection to this game even more.

42. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance)

Aria of Sorrow rounded out the GBA Castlevania trilogy beautifully. By this time, Koji Igarashi and company had just about perfected the Metroidvania formula and Aria built on and refined just about everything in the previous games from a mechanical standpoint. After experimenting with different magic and ability systems with each new release, the developers finally arrived at the Tactical Soul system, which is my favorite ability system in the series by far. Not only was collecting the soul of every creature addicting and a lot of fun, but trying out each unique new ability was exciting and lent so much variety to the game. This was only compounded by the wide variety of weapons that Soma Cruz, the game’s protagonist, could wield, which all featured unique visual designs and mechanical properties. One of the most memorable aspects of Aria of Sorrow though it its colorful cast of characters and bonkers narrative, which took the Castlevania mythos to an interesting new place and an interesting new time period: the future year of 2035! That said, the narrative does some really bold and intriguing things with the well-established Castlevania canon.

41. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance)

One of the more overlooked Zelda titles, The Minish Cap is a true gem. It is easily the most visually gorgeous of the 2D Zeldas, and I long for the series to make a return to something akin to this game’s lovingly-drawn spritework and artistically-painted environments. This lovely art-style only enhances the game’s inventive central theme of shrinking down to explore the nooks and crannies of Hyrule hidden in cracks in the wall, on top of rafters, in patches of tall grass, and beneath stones. I love this premise and I love how much detail was put into the Minish society and the little secretive places that they call home. The Minish Cap also has a wonderful cast of characters including Ezlo the talking hat and the devious villain Vaati, a huge and bustling Hyrule Castle Town that is one of the best communities in the series, and it’s one of my favorite games, so of course the soundtrack is great too. The Minish Cap is a delight and one of the most underappreciated entries in the long-running Zelda series, which is a shame since it is also one of the best.


More to come in #40-36! We're getting close! 

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