Sunday, September 11, 2016

My Top 115 Favorite Video Games (90-86)

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90. Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

Something I love in many video games, and especially platformers, is a great sense of progression. A good sense of moving from point A to B with purpose is something that most, if not all, of my favorite platformers accomplish well. There’s something so confident about the way Super Castlevania IV is executed that makes it the pinnacle of the classic 2D Castlevanias for me. After the eerie title screen and absorbing introduction cinematic, we see the classic shot of Simon Belmont cracking his whip before Dracula’s castle and then our journey begins. Simon must journey through forests, caves, and riverbeds before reaching the castle proper and I love this build-up as well as the presence of a world map between each stage that charts the player’s progress and lets them know where they are in relation to each level. This is something that previous classic-vanias did as well, but Castlevania IV also refines the mechanics and balances the difficulty, the visuals are dripping with grimy detail, and the soundtrack is one of the series’ most hauntingly atmospheric. The final moments against Dracula and the following credits sequence is simply one of the most satisfying finales to any video game I’ve played and the whole quest is always an extremely fulfilling undertaking.

89. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance)

I have specific memories of playing Harmony of Dissonance at night when the weather was just the perfect degree of sweatshirt cool. I’m pretty sure I got through the bulk of this game in a weekend, but I spent much more time afterwards exploring every nook of the game’s two castles and striving for the true ending. Something that stands out to me about Harmony of Dissonance is its very NES-like soundtrack, which is unique among its Metroidvania brethren. I remember some reviewers criticizing this aspect at the time, but it’s something I’ve always liked about the game and that makes it stand out to me and have a unique atmosphere.

88. Rayman Legends (Wii U)

I considered putting Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends together in one entry on this list since Legends sort of acts like an expansion to Origins in a way (and even contains a bunch of remastered Origins levels), but technically Legends is a sequel and both games has very distinct vibes regardless. There’s a lot I could say that applies to both games: they are both delightfully imaginative and revel in absurdity, have a sense of fluidity to their mechanics that makes them an absolute joy to play, and many of their levels place a focus on running continuously through a thrilling gauntlet of obstacles (this last point applies to Legends especially). Legends is the more razor-focused adventure of the two and is simply pure platforming ecstasy. It’s also even more visually stunning than the already beautiful Origins and its beautiful soundtrack tops the original game’s also already great score. Legends’ main claim to fame is probably its brilliant musical levels, where every leap and slap is choreographed to the tune of zany arrangements of famous songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “Woo-Hoo”. They are seriously some of the most exhilarating and satisfying levels ever conceived in the genre. Its worlds at large are imaginative and memorable as well, with its underwater world “20,000 Lums Under the Sea” being a particular highlight. The cumbersome touch-screen controlled Murfy levels on the Wii U version seriously drag the single-player experience down for me, but even with this unfortunate issue, Legends is still mostly a true platforming treat.

87. Rayman Origins (PS3)

What separates Origins from its successor and ultimately makes it a bit more special to me is the stronger context and cohesion of the adventure. I love the concept of Rayman’s world, a “Glade of Dreams” dreamed into existence by a slumbering frog-like god known as the “Bubble Dreamer”. The worlds of Origins tread more familiar ground than Legends but each one puts a spin on tried and true tropes. For example, there’s a desert world that is music themed and features platforms and obstacles made out of instruments, and the world’s soundtrack ties into this theme as well. Similar to Legends, I also love this game’s underwater world; I’m actually someone who usually likes water levels in platformers and the Rayman games’ aquatic sojourns are particularly strong. I praised the art and music of Legends, but both aspects are incredibly strong in Origins as well. Origins simply feels more like a full adventure to me than Legends; the world is more closely tied together via a map and the narrative is more prevalent. Its final bonus level is also a masterpiece and one of my favorite levels in any platformer ever.

86. Shovel Knight (Wii U)

Shovel Knight combines elements from several old-school games and perhaps does these things better than any of them to create the ultimate retro NES throwback that also has its own charming personality and plenty of its own original ideas. It also has some of the best level design and most well-constructed mechanics in any video game I’ve ever played, contains that satisfying sense of progression that I love, tells a surprisingly touching yet subtle story that is delivered through both text boxes and gameplay beats, and the final stretch of the game is one of the most elegantly and flawlessly constructed finales in anything I’ve ever played. Did I mention the lovingly-drawn pixel art and the chiptune heaven soundtrack (which can be downloaded here and was composed by the lovely Jake Kaufman of Shantae fame with a few tracks by Manami Matsumae, the composer of the original Mega Man)? Yeah, Shovel Knight is good. Really good.


Next up: #85-81!

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