65. Metal Gear Solid (PS1)
The original Metal Gear Solid is not only another game that I have fond memories of watching my older brother play, but one that I grew to love playing myself eventually. MGS is a trimmed experience that makes excellent use of a relatively small environment and that has no qualms with moving the story along at a brisk pace as it throws the player into one quirky boss encounter and frantic scenario after the next, intermixed with stealth gameplay that was revolutionary for its time. Its narrative is also fairly straightforward when compared to its sequels and is in many ways better for it. What really makes Metal Gear Solid and the series that surrounds it so great though is its personality, from the lovably awkward Otacon, peeing his pants and talking about his “Japanese animes” as he watches a cyborg ninja bang his head against the ground and tell Snake to hurt him more, to the “back of the CD case” moment, to of course Psycho Mantis, a boss who can read the player’s “mind” (aka memory card) and is invulnerable to their attacks until they discover the infamously ingenious way of besting him.
64. Pokémon Silver Version (Game Boy Color)
Before going further, I will warn you that I’ll be spoiling a significant aspect of Pokémon Silver as it’s impossible for me to talk about why this title is such an exceptional follow-up to the original phenomenon without doing so.
While I’ve fallen out of Poké-mania over the years, there’s no denying how special a time it was to be a kid when the craze first erupted in the US. My first exposure to the Poké-nomenon was actually the anime, the “Squirtle Squad” episode in particular, and later on I started seeing other kids at school playing the game. Having absolutely no experience with turn-based RPGs, I was initially baffled by Pokémon, but I thought it was neat that you could ride a bike. Classmates assured me I would like it though and I soon picked up Pokémon Blue for myself. Even though I was a complete noob, the game’s extremely accessible nature allowed me to still have a blast shooting bubbles at other Pokémon with my Squirtle as we journeyed across the Kanto region together. The rest is history, as they say. I watched the anime religiously, I collected the trading cards, I eagerly anticipated The First Movie (actual title), I even had a Pocket Pikachu; I drew Pokémon, I played Pokémon, I watched Pokémon, I dreamt of Pokémon. Even though I later got Pokémon Red and would go on to play and enjoy Silver and Sapphire, it all started with Blue, and I have a very emotional attachment to that little blue cartridge with Blastoise on it.
For many, Super Mario World is it when it comes to Super Mario games. For me, it was a distant, mysterious dream game as a child that I only glimpsed out of the corner of my eye and have very, very foggy memories of maybe playing once or twice, but mostly just of wishing that I could play it. So when a port was on the way to the Game Boy Advance back in the early 2000s, I was giddy as heck and upon release fell in love with the game as I completely immersed myself in every corner of its rich and detailed world. No, World isn’t it for me but it’s a fine classic that’s just so damn pleasing for some reason. Maybe it’s the rich, yet satisfyingly simple color palette, or the catchy soundtrack that’s in large part just a bunch of different remixes of the same song and that works brilliantly for some reason (and that castle music though), or maybe it’s the buttery smooth and fluid sense of control and game feel…it could be a lot of things. The thing that probably stands out the most to me about Super Mario World though is, well, its world. Its world map, to be exact, which really made the game stand apart from Super Mario Bros. 3 while also feeling like an evolution of that game in a way. The interconnected, secret-filled Dinosaur Land is like a labyrinth of adventure that just keeps giving as more and more of its interlocking terrain reveals itself to savvy players who discover each new hidden path. It’s artfully designed and places a focus on freedom and discovery that newer 2D Super Mario games that try to emulate it simply fail to understand. It was a delight to fully uncover everything this Super Mario world had to offer after so many years of being deprived of this game, and it still always is whenever I take a vacation to Dinosaur Land today.
Next up on “great GameCube games you never played” is Eternal Darkness, which was highly praised yet greatly overlooked at release. The first notable thing about Eternal Darkness is its intriguing premise: you step into the shoes of a variety of people from all over the world and throughout human history as they each uncover in their own way pieces of a dark, festering mystery lurking in ancient temples, musty crypts, and a creepy mansion in Rhode Island of all places. Whenever Eternal Darkness comes up, many people seem to default to discussing the game’s “sanity effects” and while they’re a neat gimmick, they’re just icing on an intricately-written, carefully-plotted Lovecraftian adventure that hooked me with its narrative and its tone. Whether in voiced monologues or in flowery descriptions of dirty fountains, the writing is the star here: it’s detailed, stylish, and has just the right amount of camp. I was so into Eternal Darkness's winding tale that I played through the game three times back to back; doing so isn't required to have a great experience, but it is necessary if one wants to see everything the narrative, one of my favorites in the medium, has to offer. This is a game that at times feels like a Saturday morning cartoon and at others will haunt your darkest dreams; it’s an eccentric combination, but an unforgettable one.
The list hits the halfway point next time with #60-56!