Wednesday, January 2, 2013

11 Games I Feel Don't Get Remembered Enough

Hey, look what I dug out of one of my "proposed posts" archives!  Enjoy!

In a blatant ripoff of the Nostalgia Critic, here's a Not-The-Top 11 list. These are by no means the greatest games I've ever played, or even games I might necessarily play again unless I was consumed by total nostalgia, but they are games that completely shaped my outlook on video games.

#11: SiN: Episode 1: Emergence

Easily the game with the most colons (punctuation-wise, though possibly also organic in the number of people you shoot), this game is a campy, over-the-top FPS that came out back in 2006 that fully embraced the idea of games being played to be fun. The accuracy was just close enough that if you missed you could blame it on the fact you were running away from giant mutants, it had the old-school feel of hiding behind walls, saving ammo, and praying there was a health kit nearby to keep you from dying, but what I loved were the characters.

...besides the obvious reasons. The NPCs in this game had the most personality I had ever seen in an FPS (I was sadly behind in my playing of games by Valve), and managed to play up the relationships so that when something bad happens to a character close to you, the lead, I actually got upset at the person responsible and wanted eagerly a chance to destroy them. The banter, the conversations, and the fact that if you crouch behind your partner and fixate too long on a certain part of their anatomy, they tell you to "take a picture, it lasts longer" all added up to an extremely fun experience.

#10: Disaster Report

Very few people know about this game, which is more the shame. A lot of people describe survival horror as games where monsters stalk you or jump out of closets going "boogie boogie boogie" before you can smack them down with a chair leg or shoot them with enough ammo to wipe out a Roman legion. Disaster Report is different in the sense that there's almost no combat until late in the game, your primary enemy is the artificial island you're on that's just suffered an earthquake so massive the whole thing is starting to crumble and sink. Walks across unstable debris are made worse by sudden aftershocks, and in the distance you can see skyscrapers crumble. Every aftershock is made worse when you realize that you have to make instant decisions: do you stay in once place and hope the structure you're in is secure, or do you run because you're in a place that's either about to have the floor fall out from under you or have a new building land on it?

It does involve a lot of reloading and memorizing where debris falls, but since most of the game play surrounds pathfinding, helping other survivors, and trying to uncover the island's hidden secret before it all gets swallowed up by the ocean, I really didn't mind it that much. It was the first game that really showed me that a game environment can be more than just pretty pictures, it can be an active character (and enemy) in itself.

#9.  Board Game Top Shop

Board Game Top Shop is Monopoly, pure and simple, but taken to such insane levels that it becomes a brand new game in of itself.  You start the game as a giant cat who wants to become one of the richest beings in the land, and to do so you have to compete against other characters in buying up every store in major shopping malls, constantly worrying about the actions of a kid of indeterminate gender in a frog suit, an escapee from a 70s TV series, and Santa Claus.  That's right, you're trying to bankrupt Santa Claus.

But in all seriousness, I used to play this with a group of friends (it supports up to 6 people!) and the fun was nonstop.  Escalators give you options to aim towards or avoid certain stores, you can expand your store into more floor space, bringing up the value of the items you sell, but be careful!  Once your stock is emptied, someone else can buy your store right out from under you!  Quite simply one of the best party games I've ever played, inclusion of random events (random stores close, money gets redistributed, and other insane events) keep the playing field level.  Great fun, highly recommended.

#8. Koudelka

Koudelka is an extremely obscure RPG for the Sony Playstation, and a game that I have a particular soft spot for.  It's the (easily) forgotten prequel to the more-than-stellar Shadow Hearts series for the PS2, featuring a young gypsy woman with mysterious powers who teams up with an adventurer and a priest, three strangers who "happen" to all be at the same mysterious monastery on the same evening. 

The combat is rather clunky, the graphics are now seriously outdated, but the storyline is still one of my favorites, and if anybody out there played Shadow Hearts, you should find a copy of the prequel.

#7.  Final Fantasy Adventure

One of the first "RPGs" I ever played, this game is actually based off of the "Mana" series in Japan. For some reason, they changed the name to tie in to the popular Final Fantasy series, despite the fact that one of the major goals of the game is to get to the "Mana Tree."  It allowed you, the protagonist, to team up with a different NPC during each chapter, from a young woman who healed you any time you were injured (very handy) to a dwarf who fixated on finding silver (not as handy).  Plus, you got to ride a giant bird around a desert in one section, and you can't tell me that isn't fun.

It also had what I believe is still the MOST requested explanation for a clue in the pages of Nintendo Power magazine:

Seriously, game designers.  What the hell.  Even now, looking at that clue, and remembering that this was in the days before the internet when all you had to rely on was people mailing questions to magazines in the hopes it would get answered...well, even now I see red.  God, that was a terrible puzzle.  Still a fun game, though, and the first time I wanted to cry at a game's ending.

#6.  Beach Spikers

This game is a  purely guilty pleasure, but a fun one.  As I said before, I enjoy beach volleyball video games, as it allows me to be good at a sport I have no business playing (beach or otherwise).  The controls were intuitive, the play was smooth, the graphics were great for the time, and the fact I could customize my team to look like Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance from DC Comics (complete with police outfits that looked like they fell out of Gotham) made it all the better.

Plus, no characters were re-aged to "?" to make you feel like you weren't being a pedophile.

#5.  Beyond Good & Evil

There really isn't much I can say to add to all the acclaim this game received when it first came out, except to say that if you've heard of it and haven't thought of playing it, you have no right to call yourself a true video game fan, and that you're probably a terrible person.

The story involves a young woman named Jade (and her uncle, a talking pig who wears clothes, because shut up, that's why) who gets caught up in a mystery involving a continuously-occurring alien invasion, the military police force who protect the people, and mysterious disappearances of citizens.  And the way she solves this mystery is with the most fearsome weapon to be in video games during these days...first person cameras!

...not the game perspective, I mean an actual camera.  One you take pictures with.  From a first person point of view.

Because, after all, what better way to save the world than with the key tool from Pokemon Snap?

Anyway, the game play and combat are very tight, and the open world design means you can go off on side missions rather easily, be it entering your hovercraft in river races, taking pictures of wildlife for a nature magazine publisher, or just exploring every nook and cranny makes the world one I really wish we'd get to see again in the continuously postponed sequel.

#4.  Block Out

This is a game whose time, I feel, has come back around.   Picture, if you will, a grid, anywhere from 3x3 to 5x5.  Now, imagine that grid is actually the bottom of a long chamber that you have to drop complex Tetris-like blocks down...except the blocks are also 3D, so they can go left, right, up, and down.  Fill in a complete layer across the grid, and the blocks vanish and shrink back down a level.  Let the levels fill up, and it's game over.  And remember, you're dropping these from -above-, so it's sometimes hard to determine whether that peg sticking out the bottom is actually going to fit in that one tiny hole you left in the layer below it.

Excellent game, and one I still relish playing sometimes.

#3. Parasite Eve

I showed this game at the beginning, so hopefully nobody's really surprised, but this game scared the hell out of me when I played it.  A survival horror RPG, with a really unique idea (remember those mitochondria you learned about in biology?  The things that aren't really part of humans but we can't live without?  Yeah, what if someone could control them into reshaping and destroying their host bodies, or turning the bodies into monsters?), this game combined dazzling graphics with superb game play to make every moment not playing it time spent wishing I had a controller in my hand.

Plus, you fight a T-Rex in a museum, and the final boss fight is "lure the unstoppable monster deep inside a naval vessel, rig the boilers to blow the whole ship up, and then haul ass."  It's easily one of the best RPGs I've ever played, and is only slightly marred by the "so-so" sequel and don't even get me started on the recent release that turns it into an action game.  Ugh.

#2.  Streets of Rage 3

This game is just a classic, in the style of Final Fight and Double Dragon, that involved you battling Mr. X's gang in an attempt to save the city from crime, bombs, robot duplicates, and other plot points that are poorly explained because seriously, who cares about the plot?  Bonus points, though, when your plan involves a "robot duplicate" of the police chief...that's planning big.

You could play as Axel, the guy with the flaming uppercut, Blaze, the woman in the microskirt who loved to kick really high in 16-bit graphics, Dr. Zan, who was an old asian man with a Go-Go-Gadget extendo arm that delivered electric shocks, or Skate (not shown on the cover cause he was lame), a young urban black teen who wears roller skates and break dances.

Or, if you're like me, you play the game for one reason and one reason only... play as a boxing kangaroo against guys on motorcycles, dominatrix-women with whips, and getting into a punching match against a slowly-advancing bulldozer.  And that's for real.

#1.  Sigma Star Saga

I'll admit it, I still play the hell out of this game just for fun.  Take a traditional RPG, except that instead of random encounters, a starship teleports you into it so that you can scroll to the right and shoot everything that moves, getting XP for every creature killed.

The plot line is wonderfully bizarre, you're an Earth ship pilot who was captured by the "evil" aliens (that freaky purple girl is one of them) and you become a double agent, working for the aliens while still reporting back to Earth what the invasion plans are.  However, the plot gets wonderfully complex, the character interactions are both hilarious and poignant, and the shooting...well, those style of shooting games are one of my true guilty pleasures.  I don't think this game sold well, but it's definitely worth picking up anywhere you can find it, be it emulator or perhaps on the Nintendo Store on a Wii.

There are certainly better games I've forgotten than these, but these are the games I remember having a great time playing and never really hear anybody mention much anymore (the exception being Beyond Good & Evil, but it's special because it really is that good).

And the one game I'm glad it seems people have forgotten?

F-Zero for the Gamecube.  I broke four controllers in fits of rage playing that game.

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