GameCola fans and writers describe their favorite (and sometimes least favorite) games of all time.
David Crislip’s Top 10 Favorite Games
10. Silent Hill 2 (PS2, Xbox): Between Akira Yamaoka’s creepy musical score, the disturbing voyeur scene lifted right out of Blue Velvet and the overall “adult” nature of the narrative, I can’t decide which of these features I feel is the definitive one that lead to the inclusion on this list. Not without its flaws, but worth every minute of play.
9. Phantasy Star (SMS): This was the first RPG I ever played and I fell in love instantly. Having grown up poor, I didn’t get a Master System until it was reaching the end of its lifecycle (the Genesis had already been released by then and SEGA of America had wrested control of their North American distribution from Tonka) and could be obtained for around $50. Phantasy Star was my holy grail back then. A game that cost more than the hardware? This was beyond the financial reach of a 13 year old kid. By the grace of god, Children’s Palace was going out of business back in that summer of ’89 and they had marked all their Master System games down to $19.99. The unthinkable was suddenly within my grasp, and I seized it.
Having grown accustomed to the SMS’s power when compared to the NES, I knew games could look damn good on the little black trapezoid, but I never really appreciated just how good they could look until I fired up this 4 meg monster. Even today, the variety of backgrounds and enemies astound, and Yuji Naka’s 3D dungeons bitch slap even modern RPGs in the headscratching department. My twin brother and I had no idea how to play RPGs and wandered aimlessly, spending several days falling victim to powerful fishmen until we learned to avoid riverbanks like the plague. We kept no maps or notes and we traded play sessions back and forth so that each time one of us started, we had no idea where the other had left off and what was in our inventory. We even saved in the middle of fucking dungeons, hopelessly lost with hit points in the single digits and little to no items to speak of. It’s a miracle we ever finished that game, but I don’t regret a single moment of that summer.
8. Space Harrier (ARC, SMS): I practically grew up in arcades. Seriously. My father is a confessed video game junkie (first in line for the old Atari VCS) and each and every visit to the mall (where else would a divorced dad take his kids on Saturday?) entailed at least one hour in the arcade, where my brother and I were each treated to $5 worth of shiny quarters. The vast majority of those quarters ended up in Altered Beast, but a good portion of them also found their way into the coin basket inside Yu Suzuki’s psychidelic Neverending Story inspired acid trip of a shooter. Needless to say, the superlative home conversion was also one of the first SMS games I got my hands on (along with Rastan). Forget Virtua Fighter, Outrun, and even Shenmue—Space Harrier’s refined pseudo-3D engine and graceful difficulty curve, coupled with the unique design aesthetic incorporated into both the enemies and the background elements (what other game features herds of motionless one-eyed wooly mammoths taking shelter under towering rainbow colored matsutake mushrooms alongside bootleg Gundam and Macross mecha?) make this the crowning achievement in AM2’s venerable portfolio.
If you don’t get goosebumps when Squilla, the first boss, wriggles his segmented dragon body across the screen while laying down a barrage of fireballs, you either hate games or were born after 1990. Either way, you suck. I owe this game my biggest video game related taste quirk—to my eyes, scaling will always look better than polygons.
7. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SG): Much like the Streets of Rage series, this venerable franchise hit it’s peak with number 2 before starting a downward spiral. Sonic 2 took everything special about Sonic 1 and added more length, more background gimmicks to interact with, a two player mode, a new “spin dash” move, and crisper, cleaner animation enhanced by brighter colors. I was thrilled when I picked up the NeoGeo Pocket Color version of Sonic only to find that it was basically a port of this game.
6. Street Fighter Zero 2 (ARC, SAT): I couldn’t possibly get through this list without mentioning a Capcom fighter. But which one? For me, this decision was easier than you may expect. Although 3 packs in tons more characters and boasts a more refined and balanced system, something about the backgrounds (especially Nash’s) and music (Sakura’s in particular) in Street Fighter Zero 2 struck a chord with me. I literally wore out the motor in my Japanese Saturn playing the shit out of this game in college. If I could only play one fighting game for the rest of my life, this would be the one.
5. NiGHTS Into Dreams (SS): Although NiGHTS Into Dreams shares the same unfortunate role as the Panzer Dragoon RPG as “the game no one has actually played but nevertheless appears on numerous poseurs’ lists to make it seem as if they are hardcore gamers who loved the Saturn,” it still deserves a place on my list. By the time this gem was released, the Saturn was on its last legs in the States. Next Generation Gaming magazine had declared that SEGA itself was soon to follow. As killer app after killer app appeared on Sony’s machine, the Saturn (especially in the States) had little to combat the onslaught save for a handfull of competent, but far from perfect, arcade conversions. Just when things looked their bleakest, Yuji Naka pulled a miracle out of his ass and NiGHTS was born.
The unique “racing game but not really a racing game” play system, huge bosses, glorious soundtrack (I’ll admit that I’ve embarrassed myself trying to sing the closing theme at many a karaoke club), cohesive design, and the sort of simplistic story that strikes a chord with nearly everyone (who hasn’t dreamt of flying?), combine to make one of the best games I have ever played or likely ever will.
4. Snatcher (SCD): What do you get when you combine Blade Runner, a young(er) Hideo Kojima, a cool character that looks like the dude Sting played in Dune and goes by the name “Random”, Soviet robots, and a scene featuring a disemboweled dog half impaled on a fence? You get the adventure game to end all adventure games. Konami’s well localized English version sports one hell of a voice track and some killer translation as well.
3) Streets of Rage 2 (SG): The good ol’ side scrolling beat ’em up was my favorite genre for years and still holds a place in my heart (I lost track of the amount of hours logged into BeatDown and SpikeOut after it reached 40…). What this game does right that most others of the era didn’t lies in the inclusion of dozens upon dozens of instinctive and accessible moves for each of the 4 characters. It’s not a question of “can I beat these guys?” but rather one of “what combination of moves from my enormous catalog shall I use to pummel these fucks into the dirt?” Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack and some really cool special effects used in the background certainly don’t hurt either, nor do the sheer number and variety of stages and the bonus VS mode. Although 3 had even more moves, along with branching paths, weapon specific specials, and cool demo scenes, the washed out color pallet, unorthodox storyline, and headache inducing “music” make Streets of Rage 2 the undisputed king of the series by default.
2) Revenge of Shinobi (SG): This game shattered every preconception I harbored about games at the time. I had played enough arcade games to recognize the existence of parallax scrolling. I had weathered attacks from sprites the size of my head. I had witnessed lava levels, snow levels, sewer levels, and castles of all shapes and sizes. I thought I was ready. I wasn’t.
Eschewing the usual pattern of throwing arbitrarily themed levels your way, this game instilled you with a real sense of progress by ushering you through stages that connected with one another in a logical and cohesive way. While other games force you to make your way through the forest only to find yourself inside a volcano five minutes later before traveling to a frozen glacier after that, Revenge of Shinobi took a decidedly different route. In this game, you plow through a Japanese castle, emerge near a waterfall, cross it, and move on to the boss. Other segments see you working your way over piles of wrecked cars before infiltrating the neighboring automotive factory, or scaling a modern skyscraper (with cool parallax scrolling “reflection” effects) and using it as a springboard to the elevated highway system (populated by female ninjas masquerading as nuns!), or fighting off soldiers in a military base before boarding their flying air fortress.
The sheer variety is staggering, and the way everything sort of fits together is almost unmatched. This isn’t the first game to do this (Strider certainly comes to mind), but it’s the first one that I recall really making me feel as if I’d traveled to get where I was instead of suddenly appearing on the scene because the game dictated that I needed to be there. Add to all that a great selection of bosses including a Terminator clone, a Batman clone, an officially licensed Spiderman, and a Godzilla clone 100 times the size of your sprite, and you have one hell of a package. Yuzo Koshiro’s insane soundtrack pushed the envelope so far so early in the life cycle of the Mega Drive that this game’s music has only been matched or surpassed by Koshiro himself.
1) Shenmue (DC): For me, this game epitomizes everything that is good about SEGA and games in general. It is everything a game should be and is, in my eyes, completely without flaws. Created by a SEGA dream team led by Yu Suzuki and including such SMS-era closing credits favorites as the illustrious Bo, Shenmue rocks my world in 8 different directions at once.
An unmatched level of realism, gorgeous graphics, a solid fighting engine, pulse pounding QTE events (it is interesting to note that while this feature was balked at at the time, recent games such as RE4 and God of War have made it the “in” thing to include in modern games), an incredibly deep, personal, and compelling story, a handful of playable classic SEGA arcade games, intricately composed music, and a perfectly paced story arc conspire to give you a sensual video game enema. There will never be another game this good, and, frankly, I’ve given up on even looking.