I wrote an intro blog last week and received what I think can be called a warm reception from the Dtoid community. I was truly humbled by everyone’s responses to that post. Unfortunately, I have a lot of pent-up writing I’ve been meaning to get on paper (so to speak) so I hope you will allow me to indulge myself here. I also realized that despite the aforementioned intro blog I didn’t really get into the nitty-gritty of what games I like, what kind of person I am, my most influential gaming experience, etc. So throughout the coming weeks I will try to address those aspects of myself in the hopes of letting you get to know me a little better. I know this sort of thing may seem trite, and perhaps I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself in terms of blogging output, but I’m having too much fun to stop now.
When I think about a “top ten” list for anything, I can’t help but ponder whether the notion is somewhat self-defeating. For one, the list is going to be subjective based on what point of your life you are at. My top ten list at age 10 was different from 16, and now 16 is different from 22. Then there’s the fact that you have different criteria based on what you want your list to reflect about yourself: Do you wan’t to be well-rounded? A refined sommelier? An indie tinkerer? What about an arcade connoisseur? How about someone who realizes that most of this is just pedantic nonsense and the writer of this article needs to get to the point already? Well fine, be that way, maybe I will.
So, without further ado, here are my top ten favorite video games. Or whatever.
10. Kirby: Nightmare In Dreamland
Man, I burned more daylight with this one on my GBA more than any other I can remember. I bought it with my hard-earned allowance on a friend’s recommendation and had no expectations for it. As you can probably imagine, I was ecstatic to discover what a wonderful little gem I had garnered for myself. Kirby was cute, his world’s level design was top-notch and even the mini games were fun to play. All the different powers were an absolute blast, and I absolutely loved the puzzle-solving each of them introduced to the game’s combat.
Each of the bosses were more inventive than the last, and when I grabbed that sword to challenge Meta Knight in single combat I lost it. Just when I thought I had defeated Dedede and secured the Star Rod for all of Dream Land, Nightmare appeared for one last showdown. Today I have no problems completing that last battle, but when I was younger I couldn’t imagine a boss more difficult, let alone more sinister. I haven’t played a portable title I enjoyed quite as much since this one, nothing has evoked the same “pick-up and play” feeling of Nightmare in Dreamland. If it weren’t for number two on this list, it would be my favorite portable title of all time.
9. Half Life
I played this long after it was released, so much of what made it so unique was lost on me. That does not mean it did not leave an indelible footprint on my experiences with gaming. Half Life is, hands down, the best first person shooter I have ever played. The amount of thought that went into every nook and cranny of this game is mind-boggling, I cannot even begin to fathom how Valve made it so incredibly brilliant. The silent protagonist is truly realized in Gordon Freeman, and the sheer depth of the gameplay is astonishing.
Everything in Half Life just works. The entire journey functions as one great puzzle, each piece containing a unique idea unto its own that when put together with its counterparts forms a masterpiece that is beyond words. Then there’s Black Mesa, which I believe to be among the first truly great settings of video games. The facility is a world unto itself, beckoning you to explore its deepest recesses. While this is a list of my favorite games, that does not necessarily mean it is made up of the objectively best games I have ever played. I can say without any reservations that, for me, Half Life belongs on both of these lists.
8. Mass Effect
The original Mass Effect was my first introduction to western RPG’s and I am so glad it was. Everything about Mass Effect was new to me, from the high sci-fi setting to the conversation wheel. It was also the first time I played a strong female lead in video games, and my Shepard was a stronger protagonist than any I had experienced before. She was not the perfect paragon, she had flaws like any human being, but she did her best to bring peace to the galaxy. I found that Mass Effect was the first roleplaying game in which I actually role-played, and I loved every second of it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the game was perfect. The segments in which you roamed planets in the Mako were less than stellar, and collecting minerals was… tedious, to say the least. I still love the squad-based combat/combat configuration of the first Mass Effect, I never really enjoyed the second or third quite as much. I prefer to center my affections on the first iteration of the trilogy, though perhaps someday I will revisit it. For now, Mass Effect has earned its place in this pantheon.
7. Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy made me get platformers. Oh sure, I played Mario games when I was younger, who didn’t? For some reason though, they never really clicked with me until Super Meat Boy. And when it happened, when the moment came in Judgement, when I realized what I had just accomplished after a nonstop marathon play session where I died more times than I care to admit, the lightbulb blinked on. A very different sort of epiphany than the one I experienced with Brothers, to be sure, but an incredible sense of comprehension dawned on me nonetheless. Every single facet of this game was designed to teach the player how to overcome the next challenge that awaited them, each level of each world the building blocks upon which the player would triumph. No hand-holding, no endless tutorial, no BS. This was pure poetry, game design in motion. This was Super Meat Boy.
You know what the crazy part is? It’s all based on two simple mechanics: running and jumping. That’s not exactly reinventing the wheel when it comes to video games. But the way Team Meat pulled it off, the way they designed the game to hit that sweet spot with these two mechanics, is truly remarkable. I have never enjoyed any platformer like I have Super Meat Boy, which is somewhat ironic in that it is a tribute to its forbears. I haven’t even talked about its artistic aesthetic, and oh baby dat soundtrack. Then there’s the fact that it turned me on to a whole world of indie titles and developers I never even knew existed. Super Meat Boy Forever!
6. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
I first discovered the Age of Empires series when I chose to attend my middle school’s computer club. I didn’t linger long there, but I did take home an interest for Age of Empires with me. You see, I’m a bit of a history buff, and when I was younger Age of Empires was my proverbial “fix”. Let me put this in perspective for you: I played so much Age of Empires I literally broke my laptop. I had a problem, which I justified to my father with the following excuse: “But I’m learning so much about history!”. Yeah, even though he was a history teacher he wasn’t buying that. I stand by that quote even to this day, because I still remember more of the history I learned playing Age of Empires than anything I picked up out of a textbook.
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings introduced me to the real time strategy game, and boy did I love it. The best designed entry in the series (from my perspective), gameplay revolved around your standard RTS fare: gather resources, build your civilization, conquer your foes. There were five single-player campaigns, each based in a different historical context, and of course a multiplayer mode. The funny thing is, I rarely played it with other people. I spent most of my time imagining myself as Genghis Khan or Barbarossa, reliving their lives in the Middle Ages. The Age of Kings truly captured my imagination and made me hunger for more, leading me to read books and branch out into different disciplines I never would have thought of doing on my own at the age it was introduced to me. The Age of Kings truly broadened my horizons.
5. Resident Evil 4
When I entered High School my freshman year, I swore off all video games. I had got it into my head that they were a waste of time and I was going to turn over a new leaf and only read books. A year later my parents bought me a Nintendo Wii, and I invited some friends I had been shunning for the same stupid reason I had given up video games over to play it with me. Only all I had to play was Wii Sports. I had seen videos of people flailing their arms around like idiots, so this would simply not do. I went to Gamestop and, on a whim, picked up Resident Evil 4 for $19.99. My only prior knowledge of Resident Evil was that I had once played it at a friend’s house when I was younger and had proceeded to have nightmares for a month. I thought “Meh, why not.” Little did I know that it would rekindle my love for video games and mend two friendships that are, to this day, my very closest.
We didn’t know what to expect, none of us had ever really played a Resident Evil game before. We were in for the best 20 odd hours in video games we had yet to experience together. I still get chills thinking back on it. I love every aspect of this game, from the over-the-shoulder gunplay to the atmosphere evoked by the Ganados and then there's that tiny Napoleon wanna-be prick. I can’t possibly fit everything into two paragraphs, which I’ve set as a personal limit for the purposes of this blog, but I will say this: Resident Evil 4 is the most fun I have had with my friends playing video games. That reason alone is enough for it to make it into my “top ten”.
4. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
This game made me change the way I think about video games as a form of expression. Framed in a manner so that it could have been in good company amongst Aesop’s Fables, you take on the role of two brothers on a quest to find the Tree of Life and bring back its life-saving water to cure their ailing father. The real ingenuity the game offers in terms of mechanics is that each brother is controlled by a separate thumbtstick/trigger on your controller, the thumbstick to move and the trigger to interact with the environment. I won’t deny that the control scheme is foreign at first, but what surprised me was the sheer simplicity it evoked once I got used to it. Honestly though, while this mechanic certainly caught my eye, it wasn’t what eventually catapulted this game into my top-ten pantheon.
Brothers is the best example of interactive storytelling I have ever experienced, period. More than that though is the fact that the mechanics of the game work seamlessly within the space of the story it tells. I fear that should I elaborate further I will spoil the game for those who have yet to play it, so I will finish with this. At the very end of the game, there is a sequence in which every aspect of Brothers I have heretofore described is flawlessly implemented into one astounding finale, an unexpected epiphany that left me speechless. I still contemplate that moment to this day, and wonder If I will ever experience anything remotely like it again. One can only hope I suppose. In the meantime, I need to go play Brothers again. Right now.
3. Final Fantasy VII
I know it has fallen out of favor in some circles, but Final Fantasy VII will always be dear to me. I still remember the birthday that I unwrapped it, a present from one of my two best friends that still sits on my desk to this very day. Though the case is bruised and cracked, it still holds one of the most formative video games of my life. What can be said that hasn’t already been noted about FFVII? Perhaps my own personal experiences with it.
I remember the church and its garden. I remember Shinra Tower and the trail of blood. I remember getting my first taste of an overworld map. I remember Her death. I remember a last-ditch attempt with a rocket ship. I remember battling a One-Winged Angel. I remember completing a video game, in all its entirety, for the first time. I played it so long ago, and yet I remember. That, and so much more, is why Final Fantasy VII is on this list.
2. Pokemon Gold/Silver
The first video game I ever owned was Pokemon Red Version. The first video game to make me stay up late at night with a flash light under the covers was Pokemon Gold Version. Pokemon wasn’t just a video game, it was a phenomenon. The show, the toys, the cards, all of it fed into a vicious cycle that sustained itself on our parents’ money.
The truth is, I have never completed the pokedex. For any generation. I simply didn’t have friends to trade with when I was younger, and when I got older it became more of a chore than anything else. That did not stop me from going on incredible adventures with my pokemon! I must have completed Gold dozens of times with a multitude of different companions. Red was the entryway to video games, but Gold made me stay with them. I have played every entry in the pokemon main franchise, and they all have their merits. The second generation, however, is where my allegiences lie.
1. Kingdom Hearts
I suppose I should just say it: Kingdom Hearts made me realize what video games meant to me. I remember walking down the stairs to my friend’s basement, he had just gotten a PS2 and it came packaged with the game. We had never heard of it before, and the concept related by the box art seemed… silly, to say the least. Then we started playing it. I knew right then, right there, I had to get a Playstation 2. When I finally did, Kingdom Hearts was the first game I bought for it. On the day I put that disk into my playstation and fired up my hand-me-down CRT television, my life changed for the better.
Now, I look back on Kingdom Hearts and see all of its flaws: poor camera, grade-school dialogue, that fact that the words “light” and “darkness” were uttered far more than they should have been. Experience has taught me better, and yet… I still love it, warts and all. The boy destined to wield the keyblade, the best friend lost to his own self-doubt, the Princess of Heart. The shoehorned Disney morals, the spikey hair, the ENORMOUS feet. The unprecedented (for me, at least) 3D combat, the magic system, the secret bosses (Sephiroth!), the Seeker of Darkness. I can find many flaws within Kingdom Hearts, but they just make me love it all the more. At a time in my life when a lot of things were outside the reach of my understanding, Kingdom Hearts made sense to me. For that I owe it more than I can put into words, and perhaps that is why it is my favorite video game of all time.
Well, that’s the end of it. I hope you enjoyed getting to know me a little better, and with any luck I’ll get to know you better as I become more familiar with the community. Take care!