Thursday, May 29, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#4)

4.) Super Smash Brothers Melee

There is not a single game I've spent more time playing than Super Smash Brothers Melee. Having launched early in the life of the Gamecube, it's also one of the few games I've played throughout an entire console generation. It's a game I enjoyed in high school and carried with me to college, but it's not just about the game itself. Smash is about the bonds, friendships, and rivalries that are born from multiplayer matches that fit the definition of "fun" more than any other game I've ever played.

Gamers and even people in general are often drawn to Smash Bros because of the fast-paced action, bright colors, and most importantly, the classic Nintendo characters. On the surface, observers see a fun, party game with wacky items and zany stages. Admittedly, the party-game style and atmosphere is what drew me to the Nintendo 64 original and the subsequent Gamecube sequel.

Over time, I played Melee with many different people. I started with a neighborhood friend and eventually my dad and two sisters even joined-in on the action. Throughout high school, I started playing with friends on a pretty consistent basis. A few of the more dedicated players and myself started playing more frequently and tweaking various options. We would turn certain items on/off, play only on certain stages, shift from timed matches to stock matches, and so on. Eventually, we decided to remove items completely and only play on stages that didn't actively affect players. Basically, we removed the elements of chance to result in a game more based on skill.

Many games would crumble after taking away so many options and stripping the game down to a bare-bones state. But with Melee, the opposite happened. My friends, myself, and gamers around the world discovered there was actually an incredibly deep, intricate fighting game underneath the party-game veil. We started to have more fun - and more competition - by playing in this style.

Turns out, Melee had a whole host of advanced techniques underneath the surface. Many of them were difficult to master, especially against another human player. Crouch-canceling, wave dashing, edge-hogging are just a few of the strategies dedicated players attempted to learn.

Once I went off to college, I made new friends...and new Melee rivals. I quickly discovered there were so many others who also preferred to play Melee as more of a competitive game rather than a party game. We poured countless hours into the game, playing night after night. The crazy thing? It never got old. I can probably count on one hand the number of games I could play repeatedly, for years, and never have them feel old or stale. We were constantly improving and learning new things about the game. It probably helps that many of us were ultra competitive and wanted to be the absolute best we could be.

Whether you prefer party games or competitive games, Melee is great for both and I don't fault anyone for enjoying one over the other. What's incredible is how Nintendo and HAL Laboratory created a game that so effortlessly works in either environment. In fact...I think I'd like to go play right now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#5)

5.) Dark Souls

If you've spent any time at all on the internet, you know how often games develop an intense, passionate following that may not always translate into mass success. But those fans remain ever vigilant, taking every opportunity to encourage others to play the game they feel so strongly about. Dark Souls is one of those games. And should play it.

Believe me, I know how easy it can be to ignore my pleas. After all, I ignored Demon's Souls and Dark Souls for years. The games were described to me as insanely difficult, ruthlessly unforgiving, and incredibly deep. With such a description, the excuses came easy.

In fact, I started Demon's Souls on three different occasions. After playing for just a few moments the first time, I promptly deleted it from my system, shaking my head at all those who felt so strongly about it. Then I tried it again a few months later and liked it slightly better, but still not enough to play it to completion. And finally, on the third time, everything clicked. I beat the game and jumped straight into Dark Souls with a full understanding of what I was getting into. Yes, it's insanely difficult, ruthlessly unforgiving, and incredibly deep; it's also fun, rewarding, and unlike anything you've played before, save for Demon's Souls.

At its core, Dark Souls is a third-person, action-adventure-RPG. You'll upgrade stats, collect weapons, loot, armor, and yes...souls. Souls act as your currency throughout the game. Anything you want to purchase will require souls, which are obtained by defeating enemies. Oh and if you lose all the souls you've collected. You'll have one shot to return and reclaim the lost souls, but if you perish before you reach them, they're lost forever.

The system is indeed unforgiving, but it's also addictive and oh-so-rewarding. One major difference from Demon's is in the level design and layout. Dark Souls is one massive, inter-connecting world, of which you find yourself throw right in the middle. For a while, you'll feel like you're wandering aimlessly until suddenly you'll emerge in a memorable location. This happens time and time again as you play the game and it never gets old. By the end of the game, you'll have a complete picture of the world in your head, and how everything connects together.

I said Dark Souls is unlike anything you've ever played and part of my reasoning stems from its combat, which all happens in real-time. Standard enemies are more akin to bosses in most other games. If you try and tackle even the most basic enemies without proper movement and preparation, you'll be destroyed rather quickly.

What's incredible about Dark Souls is the freedom it offers you in how to fight your enemies. This is largely tied to your character build and the stats you choose to boost. A ranged sorcerer or pyromancer? A strong, shield-carrying warrior or knight? Or maybe a lithe, quick-striking hunter? The amazing result is you can succeed with almost any choice. It's all about perfecting your style of play, exploiting enemy weaknesses, and playing to your strengths with every enemy encounter...including bosses.

You'll fail time and time again as you make your way between bonfires (the only safe havens in Dark Souls), and when you actually do have success, you'll be rewarded with a boss encounter. Dark Souls has a collection of the most challenging, intricate bosses I've ever experienced in gaming. They're varied in a wide-range of aspects such as size, attack pattern, quickness, weapons, and defenses. There will be times when you truly think they're unbeatable and it's easy to throw in the towel, but my personality is the opposite. When presented with an insurmountable challenge, my pursuit only intensifies. In fact, this is one of the core reasons I connect so strongly with the game. The ultimate sense of accomplishment is totally worth the rigorous journey to get there.

One reason the repeated failures are easy to accept is because of Dark Souls' fairness. I'm not sure I ever had a situation where I didn't come to fully understand exactly what I did wrong to result in my death. That's not saying there won't be times of confusion. But once you learn the system and the enemies, you'll understand the why. Every death is a learning experience. Once you're able to grasp that, then Dark Souls becomes a far more enjoyable experience.

For years, I ignored the pleas and cries of so many passionate fans who said: Play. This. Game. If you've ignored Dark Souls for this long and consider yourself a hard-core gamer who loves a challenge, it's time to cut the excuses. Forget the rest of your backlog. Heck, forget Watch_Dogs, Mario Kart, and even Destiny if you' haven't played Dark Souls yet. "Prepare to die" goes without saying...but I think it more apt to say: "Prepare for one the best games of all-time."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#6)

6.) Pokemon Yellow

To those who know me personally, I would guess this selection comes as a surprise. It's true, Pokemon Yellow probably wouldn't have the type of impact today that it had on me nearly 15 years ago. However, it marks the point in my life where I officially became a gamer. In fact, Pokemon Yellow is almost solely responsible for me becoming as passionate about games as I am today.

Sure, I'd owned an original NES, as well as a Genesis, but I'd never stayed up late into the night playing hour after hour. Don't get me wrong, I loved Mario and Sonic, but as a really young child, I lacked the patience to play either game to its full completion. I'd never poured over every single detail and explored every single area of a game...until Pokemon.

I'm not exactly sure how the game managed to completely hook me, other than maybe it's just the Nintendo magic. It manages to be approachable, yet challenging. There's plenty to do in the game, but you'll also be rewarded for your efforts. I picked up on this pretty quickly so I wanted to know everything I could about the game.

I read through the instruction manual. I read about it online. Talked about it with friends. In game, I spoke to every character I came across. I learned about HP, antidotes, the difference between a master ball and an ultra ball, repels, and how to target and exploit enemy weak points. So many features that are RPG staples today, I learned from Pokemon.

I think part of the reason I even had the opportunity to fully experience Pokemon is because it was portable. I took my Gameboy Color everywhere; on car trips, vacations, heck - even the bathroom. I wanted to catch them all, evolve them all, and assemble the best team possible. I can still remember my favorite party, the unstoppable combination of Blastoise, Charizard, Venusaur, Gyarados, Zapdos, and - the prize of my collection - Mewtwo.

I also played through Red and Blue (I told you...I did everything), but I chose Yellow as #6 on my list for two reasons: 1) It's the superior game because you can obtain all three starter Pokemon from Red and Blue without having to trade and 2) It was the first Pokemon game I played.

You can probably sense my passion coming through just talking about the game. The incredibly strong feelings I have toward the other 9 games on this list owe it all to Pokemon Yellow. 

I'm certain I will play better games and enjoy other games more, but no game will ever have the kind of impact on me that Pokemon did. It showed me just how deep, immersive, challenging, and fun a game could be.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#7)

7.) Journey

Games have long toyed with our emotions, constantly seeking to engross players in new, thoughtful, and meaningful ways. Video game creators have traditionally accomplished this through age-old techniques centered on story and character. Journey certainly places the utmost importance on story and character, only... spoken words are never uttered.

In fact, Journey lacks many of the conventional elements we've come to expect from video games. There are no maps or waypoints to tell you where to go. There's no final boss. No cumbersome HUD with a health bar and magic meter. In essence, the character and story are yours, and yours alone.

Journey draws you in with a combination of gorgeous visuals and a perfect musical score that accompanies every key moment throughout the game. Back when I reviewed Journey, I couldn't think of a single change I would make. That remains true today.

The pacing and sense of discovery are fantastic, and should have no problem holding up years into the future. In fact, I can't wait for the day my son is old enough to experience this tale and to have an appreciation for what it's telling him about himself.

I hesitate to mention too much about what you'll see and do because it's best experienced first-hand. What I'm completely comfortable saying is Journey will take you on an emotional adventure. You'll be happy, sad, curious, afraid, proud, joyful...and so much more.

Whereas most games have been content to only impact players emotionally, Journey takes it a step further by impacting you, dare I say, spiritually. Frankly, it's quite difficult to put into words and most certainly depends on your own beliefs about life. It's not a game you can walk away from and easily forget. I would even say it's likely to evoke a questions about your own beliefs. Plenty of games have impacted me emotionally, but I'm not sure any have ever impacted me in a spiritual way, save for Journey. 

Make sure you turn down the lights. Throw on a pair of headphones. And play through the full 2-hour adventure undisturbed, in one sitting. Listen carefully and see what type of story Journey has for you. You won't forget it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#8)

8.) Resident Evil 4

So many of our gaming experiences are defined by where we are in our lives. What we're dealing with personally or even where we're at physically often affect how we experience a game. Resident Evil 4, or RE4 for short, launched while I was in college. For those who didn't live in a student dorm or maybe aren't in college yet, let me explain how a typical guys dorm works. You go to class. You watch movies. You watch sports. And you play video games. If you live in a dorm, the movie watching, sports, and games all turn into communal activities. Needless to say, my room saw a significant increase in visitors with the launch of RE4.

The room was even more packed because so few on my floor owned a Gamecube. In a surprise to seemingly everyone, RE4 debuted and launched as a Gamecube exclusive. The envious PS2 and Xbox owners "ooh'd" and "ahh'd" at the mature, realistic graphics the tiny "purple lunchbox" was capable of pumping out. And while the graphics are what lured them inside, it's gameplay that made them stay.

Like the #9 title (Super Metroid) on my list, RE4 has excellent pacing throughout. Even better, the experience never grows repetitive as you're almost always finding a new item, upgrading a weapon, exploring a new location, or tackling an unfamiliar enemy.

You'll face-off against an enormous underwater creature armed with only a harpoon; you'll learn to dread the roar of the infamous chainsaw and the man covered with a burlap sack; you'll even have to ride across an old ski-lift with knives and axes hurtling toward your head. These small examples only attempt to scratch the surface of the variety across RE4.

The item-management and weapon upgrades help to keep the game fresh. Far too many games allow you to earn and unlock everything by simply playing through the entire game. Not RE4. You'll have to make sacrifices and careful selections about the items you want to keep and the weapons you want to upgrade. The weakest part of the game is likely its story, but frankly, you're having too much fun to care all that much.

The once-Gamecube exclusive is now available on many different platforms so no one has an excuse to miss this title. There hasn't been a better Resident Evil game to come along since RE4. Not even close. Truth-be-told, there aren't many games better than RE4, period.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#9)

9.) Super Metroid

Super Metroid is yet another game I missed the "first time around." It released back in 1994. More than a decade had passed by the time I finally tried it out. The fact that Super Metroid stands the test of time is part of what it makes it so great. Not only was it a great game by 1994's standards, it's a great game by 2014's standards and one I highly recommend to anyone.

The graphics of the 16-bit era have aged better than the 8-bit era before it, and some would even say they aged better than the 32 and 64-bit eras that followed. Unsurprisingly, Super Metroid is downright gorgeous. The art style truly sets it apart; evident as you explore the harsh, diverse landscapes of the planet Zebes.

Aside from the visuals, the pacing and difficulty are nearly perfect. I'm not a developer, but I would wager to guess there is no magic formula to nail the pacing of a game. You just know it when you play it. And Super Metroid has it. You're almost immediately met with a sense of desolation, a Metroid staple, but also the freedom of exploration. What you'll quickly discover - and discovery is oh-so-important in Metroid - is certain paths are blocked off at the beginning. Only by upgrading a certain item or ability will you be able to pass. If it sounds familiar, it's likely because you've played a game in recent years with this mechanic. Chances are the inspiration came from Metroid.

Who could forget battling Kraid?
Finally, one would be remiss to not mention the boss battles. They're a collection of the most memorable bosses in gaming, complete with an unforgettable final boss - and even a story twist - that help solidify Super Metroid's place as one of the greatest. You'll need to utilize all your weapons and abilities to conquer all the game has to offer. Oh and don't skip out on energy tanks. Find as many as you can because you'll need them.

Super Metroid represents one of Nintendo's finest games ever made. Gorgeous art and visuals combine with rock-solid gameplay that makes for a truly memorable experience. Even the story is somewhat intriguing, which isn't often said for Nintendo titles. More than anything, it's a game that still plays well 20 years after its release. And my expectation is gamers will continue to enjoy it 20 years into the future...and beyond.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Top 10 Games of All-Time (#10)

10.) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I had never played an Elder Scrolls game until Skyrim. Needless to say, I was completely awed and floored by the massive scale. An enormous map is open to the player right from the start, featuring a variety of landscapes that would make Tolkien proud. It's the sense of choice, freedom, and character building that make Skyrim one of my favorite games of all-time.

You'll encounter a number of intriguing characters along the way, some of whom will offer you quests to complete. You'll often be rewarded with money, weapons, armor, or even food. The quests rarely get repetitive or boring as you'll find yourself exploring vastly different locales and pursuing different objectives. You may need to steal an item from a villager's home if you want to join the Thief's Guild; assassinate key targets if you're interested in the Dark Brotherhood; or you could just head straight to the College of Winterhold (my choice) where you'll learn all sorts of spells and enchantments.

The downside of Skyrim lies largely with the actual gameplay, which is a turnoff to many. It's not necessarily bad, but it can get repetitive at times as you often repeat tactics to build up your character. The combat is rather basic, particularly if you're a melee character. Being a mage adds a little more variety. There is a main storyline as well, but I found the side-quests to be far more interesting.

Skyrim excels at creating a living, breathing world of which you truly feel like you're a part. If Bethesda could improve the actual combat in future iterations, while maintaining the immersion of Skyrim, it would almost certainly earn a spot on my all-time list.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jonboy's Top 10 Games of All-Time (Honorable Mentions)

I’ve wanted to compile a comprehensive list of my favorite games for years. Unfortunately, there are numerous challenges in attempting such an endeavor, some of which have prevented me from ever completing a list. Until now, that is.  IGN editors’ recent series on their top games of all-time inspired me to finally develop such a list. And oh, how rewarding it has been.

First, I needed to establish a working framework. Are these the best, most well-made games of all time? The most influential? Do I number the list? These list are personal; thus, I’m focusing on my personal favorite games of all-time.  More specifically, what are the 25 games that sold me on gaming in the first place? What are the games that have made this lifetime hobby worth a lifetime of dedication? Those are the questions I set out to answer with this list.

I also decided on a numbered list. I can’t lie; it’s absolutely agonizing to try and nitpick one game over another. To search for minor flaws in my favorite games ever goes against the very nature of a “top 25” list in the first place. But I continued to return to my purpose and the framework I’ve established. In some alternate universe where I’ve never played a single video game, which 25 would I pick for myself to play? Which five would I pick? Which one would I pick?

It wasn’t easy, but I finally managed to complete the list. Rather than making this one enormous blog post, I’ve elected to split it into separate entries. To get started, I’ve elected to list my 15 honorable mention, which round out my top 25. These are games I truly adore, but they just missed the cut of being in my top 10. They are not in any particular order. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Memorable characters, excellent battle system, and an intriguing story. 
Near perfection in gameplay and excellence in level-design
A roller-coaster epic with top-notch storytelling.
Fantastic world to explore with a truly believable western tale.
My favorite rhythm game ever made, hands-down. Deserves a sequel.
So easy to get lost in the world and its characters. 
The best Batman game ever made. You truly feel like the caped-crusader.
Just plain fun. Pure gameplay in every sense of the word. 
One of the greatest plot twists in all of video games. 
Ground breaking and unlike any game I'd ever played. Emotional and impactful.
One of my favorite multiplayer games ever made. Poured countless hours into this one.
Incredible powers and intriguing story. 
The PS2's swan song was a gorgeous, action-packed epic.
Car combat at its finest. My friends and I had a blast with this one.
 Fantastic puzzles and an unexpectedly funny, well-told story.

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