Monday, November 15, 2010

v2, d209: Top 7 Favorite Video Games

First off, I have to say that I'm not what you call a hard-core gamer.  I played a LOT of video games back when the NES was pretty much the only show in town, but once consoles got into 16-bit I really didn't keep pace with the industry.  I played some SNES at my friend's house and eventually I owned a Genesis system, but by that point games had moved on to 32 bits and I was pretty heavily involved in theater most evenings and just didn't play as much.  I completely missed out on 64 and PS1 and didn't actually own another system until I got a PS2 as a wedding present.  By that point, the PS3 and XBox 360 were practically out.  So, I've always been behind.  I've never played much XBox, so I know I've missed out on one of the most popular video game franchises of all time.  This is not going to be a terribly well-informed list.

Nevertheless: I have spent hours upon hours of my life playing video games.  Saved many worlds many times over.  Won several Stanley Cups.  Died many, many deaths and even rescued some princesses.  And there are some games that I would still play at the drop of a hat.  (Providing, of course, after the hat was dropped, the hat-dropper said, "Hey, let's play this video game")

Here, then, are my top 7 faves.  (Some of my favorites come in series; where that's the case, I'll just choose my favorite of the series to speak for the whole slew of 'em.  Gives the countdown some more variety)

#7: Rock Band (Xbox 360)

Rock Band, Rock Band 2, 3, Beatles, whatever.  I love this game.  I don't actually own this game.  I don't really even generally have access to this game.  In fact, I've played it twice.  Ever.  And it rules.  Look, it's been stated on here once or twice how one of my few big regrets at this point in my (admittedly short) life is that, save for one evening on the Craig Dorland stage, I've never been in a rock band.  Playing Bat Boy came close.  And no, obviously, playing this game isn't the same thing.  But it's the closest I'm likely ever going to get.  And playing the drums is actually pretty similar to playing a true electronic drum kit.  Plus, it's playing with three other people, which makes it hecka more fun.  Then again, I've always been more of a team player than a solo artist.  Even if I did own this game, I don't know that it'd be that much fun, because most of my gaming time comes late at night when everybody else is asleep.  And I just don't think it'd be nearly as much fun playing solo.

Anyway, this game is at #7 because, well, I've only played it twice.  So I guess there's always the possibility that it's not fun anymore when the novelty wears off.  But I doubt it.

#6: Punch Out!  (NES)
 Oh, man.  What a simple-yet-addicting game.  Anybody could play this game.  Both your buttons punch.  Left and right move you left and right.  Down blocks.  And up makes you punch up.  Occasionally, start gives you a super punch.  And that is all you need to know, my friends.  Box away to your heart's content.  (Unless you lose three times.  Because apparently, three losses means it's time to retire)

The utter ridiculousness of this game only adds to its mystique.  You've got this seventeen-year-old kid planning to box his way up to fight Mike Tyson (or Mr. Dream, depending on which version you have), boxing through opponents who are literally three times his weight.  (I think Little Mac was something like 97 pounds; the guys he fights get upwards of 300)  His opponents are so big that he has to jump in the air in order to land a blow to their head.  And somehow, he's still got enough momentum behind those blows to send these big guys flying.  The only thing more ridiculous than this concept is the roster of Mac's opponents, an A-list of the most politically incorrect characters you're likely to find in one video game.  You've got the whiny pansy French guy; the cold, heartless German military instructor; the giant Japanese man who spews out foreign automakers as part of his vernacular; the flamboyant Spanish dancer with the great hair; the Indian mystic (complete with turban and tiger skin); the tough-talking black hoodlum from Philly; the 50-something celebrity type from Hollywood; and my personal favorite, the big drunk Russian who shows up to the fight sloshed.  (Sure, that's root beer, Soda Popinski.  I totally believe ya)  (Note: I don't know if King Hippo should be offensive to obese people or not.  Likewise the insane Bald Bull to Turks)

The more you play this game, the more you realize that every fight has its own rhythm, and once you get that down, it's actually pretty easy.  This game was great for teaching pattern memorization and reflex reactions.  However, even after you could beat the entire thing almost by rote, the redundancy somehow became part of the fun.  This game was so fantastic that they recently remade it for the Wii and changed very little.  If it ain't broke, why fix it?

#5: EA Sports NHL 2004 (PS2)
Okay, I've enjoyed the entire EA sports NHL series that I've played, even going back to 1992 when it was NHLPA (instead of NHL) on the Genesis.  EA consistently makes the best hockey simulation out there.  And hockey is really a sport that translates well to video games.  Several gamer friends of mine (not hockey fans) have commented that hockey sim games are usually more fun to play than the other sports.

So why is NHL 2004 the one on the list?  2004 is the point where they really started getting some pretty realistic results.  Unfortunately, it was also the year where they stopped using quirky commentary.  ("That goal was as chunky as the milk in my fridge!"  "What he lacks in compassion, he makes up for in lack of compassion!")  However, my junior year of college, my RA bought this game, and he and I would play it to all hours of the night, playing through an entire season in the elusive quest to go 82-0 and then sweep our way to the Stanley Cup.  Fun times.  One night, while he was working night security, I stayed up until about 3 with him with this game.  He had a pack of Oreos and we decided we'd toast every goal with an Oreo.  Man.  That was a bad choice.  We scored a lot of goals that night.

So 2004 gets the nod here for the memories.  Dang, this makes me want to pick up the latest game and play through the season with some poor guy who I drag along for the ride!  Note: This video, the players had it set on Easy Mode.  That means the commentary occasionally stops to give you "helpful hints" like, "Hey, you should hit the pass button to make a pass!"  or "Good job!  Next time, try hitting the other player!"

#4: Megaman III (NES)

I love the entire Megaman series.  It's like a choose-your-own-adventure video game.  You decide what order you want to do the levels in.  And then, when you beat the boss, you get his weapon!  And you can use it on other robots!  And you can experiment and find out which one works best against which enemies!  (Or you can cheat and use the strategy guide)  Now, a lot of Megaman fans cite #2 as their favorite of the series, and that's a solid choice.  It's actually tough for me to pick between the two.  However, Megaman 3 is where they started getting creative (without getting silly).  It's the first game to use the slide.  It's the first game to use a robotic dog.  It's the only game with Doc Robots (I know a lot of people hated Doc Robot, but come on!  After you beat all the levels, you have to re-play half-destroyed versions of four of them and fight through all of the Megaman 2 bosses!  Oh, snap!)  Plus, there's the first bit of major story intrigue: "I have a brother??"

Plus, there's no alien at the end.  MM3 gets my vote.

#3: Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
Originally, this game was released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy III (because FF 3-5 had not been released in the U.S.).  A lot of FF fans pick between this, FF VII, or (for the Johnny-come-latelies) FF X as their favorite.  I think it probably depends on which one you fell in love with first.  This is the game I would go to my friend's house to play his SNES in order to play.  It's the game that eventually convinced me to download an SNES emulator for my computer at college.  It's the first cartridge to max out the capabilities of the SNES system.  The story was gripping.  The characters are fantastic.  The music was gorgeous.  (In fact, official FOMW Favorite Powerglove's lead guitarist commented that this was the game that made him realize how powerful music could be--specifically, the Opera House Scene)  The game was easy to understand--I even got my sister into it for a weekend once while she was home when I had it on my computer.  The story wasn't hard to follow, which isn't something that can be said for all the FF's.  It was also the first to successfully blend the sci-fi/tech elements with the fantasy/magic element.  It was a very accessible RPG that served as a good jumping-on point for the series, because it avoided the tedium of some of the earlier titles and prepared the amateur gamer for the complexity of some of the later ones.  So, while this probably wasn't even the best RPG Squaresoft put out before the SNES was a thing of the past, it's always going to have a special place in my heart.

Now, when I first played this game, I didn't get past the 10 hour mark.  It was close to ten years before I ever played past that point.  So for about a decade, this was my favorite scene in the game (this player is somewhat over-leveled for this particular fight):

#2: Super Mario Bros 3 (NES)
 Now, as for SMB3...this may just be the most complete 8-bit game Nintendo ever created.  It struck a perfect balance of fun and difficult.  It added all sorts of fantastic new creative elements to the Mario mythos.  It allowed Mario to fly.  It turned Mario into a frog.  It let Mario be a freaking Hammer Brother!!  It introduced the Western World to the tanooki (which, apparently, cannot actually turn into a statue)  It introduced a whole new generation of Koopas!  Mario jumped around in a shoe!  Mario stored items for use at a later date!  Mario took out the sun with a green koopa shell!  Mario battled tanks and submarines and jets! There was even a throwback mini-game to the original Mario arcade game!

Mario was awesome!!!  

This game was so highly anticipated due to some ninety-minute-long product-placement film that we're not going to talk about (It's so bad) and it somehow managed to live up to and destroy those expectations!  This was one of the first games to come along and blow everybody away.  The individual worlds were unique and exciting.  (Ice world!  Water world!  GIANT WORLD!!!)  The new two-player cooperative play was a good addition.  But my favorite innovation of this game was probably the new boss fights, so this video shows the brothers Mario kicking some Koopa tail (and rocking out to the Boss Battle theme)

#1: Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
This probably doesn't surprise anyone.   I've played through both main titles of this series multiple times in the past five years and almost played through the Chain of Memories in-between game.  (I stopped because it made me want to play the main titles again, so I went back to them instead of finishing CoM)  Also (because SquareEnix are kinda weird about this) there have been several recent support games that have been released on other systems--like I can afford to have more than one video game system--so I've been following them through fan sites, youtube, and gamefaqs.  This is really an incredible story.  And it's an idea that should not have worked in the first place.

For those who are unaware: the people who made Final Fantasy RPG games decided to create an original story centered around a 12-year-old hero whose world is consumed by darkness.  He is the wielder of a special weapon that can vanquish this darkness and is eventually accompanied to many other worlds looking for his friends by traveling companions Donald Duck and Goofy, who were also sent to stop the darkness by King Mickey.  So the majority of this story happens in and around these different worlds, most of which are specific Disney movies.

Should.  Not.  Have.  Worked.

But it did.  The Final Fantasy fans loved it. Disney fans loved it (my wife loves it!).  Kids.  "Older" gamers like myself.  And so, when they made KH2, they took everything that made KH1 work and made it even better.

It's hard to do this game justice.  It's a button-masher, but it's not a tedious button-masher.  It's an RPG, but there's not so much thinking/strategizing that you can't enjoy the flow of the battle.  It's difficult, but not so hard that anybody can't enjoy it and eventually beat it.  It's intense, yet safe.  It's corny yet sincere.  Even the spaceship shooter missions (called "Gummi Missions" and a definite low point in KH1) are addicting.  You can play straight through the story and have a perfectly fulfilling gaming experience.  If you want a bit more depth, though, there are dozens of side quests you can complete.  There's enough to keep you busy for a long time without falling into the boring endless-leveling that KH1 eventually fell into. Even the Winnie-the-Pooh bonus games are more interesting this time around.

This is a beautiful, fun game.  It is something for everybody.  It has high replay value, memorable characters and cinematics, fun and creative level designs, and a nostalgia factor that is through the roof.  

In fact, get out and play these seven games.  Right now.  This has been a fun Top 7 to write.