So, let me get this straight: It’s taken us nearly two months to discuss something on the order of 70 of the most essential/influential games and series, and there are still more out there?? Why, I’m beginning to question our selectivity. It’s time to wrap up this list with the games that are truly essential/influential, provided they start with the letters S-Z. These are the games that won the Miss Korea pageant, discovered gluten-free wheat, invented the time-traveling back-scratcher so you can scratch your back before it itches, rescued two dozen children from their burning zeppelin orphanage, and whoops, I’m copy/pasting from my résumé again. So sorry.
You, there! The person below me! Bring us back on topic!
Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena (DS) – Michael Gray
Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena was a large influence on my gaming life, because it introduced me to casual gaming. The game caused me to take the plunge into casual games, and I have rarely looked back to mainstream gaming since.
Secret of Mana series – Kate Jay
The SNES spawned a golden age of RPGs, many of my personal favorites being made by Squaresoft, and several of which underwent some odd iterations before coming over to the US (if they came over at all). The first Secret of Mana game (actually Seiken Densetsu 2) was unique in that it was one of the few RPGs that allowed you to play through a story either on your own or with a friend or two. It was your typical save-the-world RPG, but with a cutesy style that made it approachable to younger and older gamers alike—sort of like a Zelda, but with a larger soundtrack and more leveling up.
Unfortunately, the Japanese sequel Seiken Densetsu 3 was never legally released in English, which is a shame because I think it’s the crowning jewel of the series. It was the first time I’d encountered such a breadth in character types and class advancements. It was the first time I’d played through such an in-depth storyline with all of the characters’ stories artfully interwoven, creating six separate storylines to follow. It was also the first time I ever played through a ROM and got 75% of the way through my game before my computer up and died on me. Still, I remember it fondly, and keep hoping it will be released legally, ported to some handheld system.
If you’re looking to play something light, fun, cutesy, and easy, definitely give the Mana series a try. The ROMs of today have got to be better than they were 10+ years ago.
Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) – Alex Jedraszczak
Let’s be honest. For most games, the only “good parts” are the boss battles. It’s the reason you run through all those loops, whip all those bats, or fight all of those stupid random battles. Without those silly distractions around, games would be much shorter and the boss battles wouldn’t be quite as exciting. You have to have some boring (or, annoying) drudgery in order for the big fights to seem like so much fun. If you could have a game that was nothing but boss battles, it would be boring? Right?
Shadow of the Colossus dared to break a few rules for major titles. You didn’t need to level, you didn’t need to dispatch hundreds of nameless underlings, you didn’t need to listen to music for most of the game. OK, so some of the changes were stranger than others. Either way, Shadow of the Colossus managed to throw out the game design trope of fighting your way through hordes before reaching a boss, all while still being a fun, exciting, interesting game of reasonable length.
It also was pretty and didn’t have music for most of the game.
Peter Molyneux aside, sometimes it’s good to take a step back from the paradigms of game development and try something a little different.
Shining Force (SG) – Alex Jedraszczak
I never owned a Sega system while Sega was still making systems. My memories of the Sega Genesis generally revolved around playing the same five minutes of Sonic the Hedgehog on the demo display at Toys “R” Us or watching a friend play ToeJam & Earl at their house. The Genesis seemed like a console with synthy music and a lot of sports games and bad movie tie-ins. As a huge fan of RPGs, I never took the console all that seriously.
Having followed the Nintendo path until making a turn at Sony, I didn’t come across a tactical RPG until Final Fantasy Tactics. I actually enjoyed the game, not knowing any better at the time, and moved from there to get into Front Mission and others.
You can imagine my shock when I downloaded a ROM of Shining Force a few years ago.
While its SNES contemporaries were still stuck in the “press A until something dies” gameplay mindset, Shining Force had a tactical battle system with an intuitive menu. There were large, animated battle sprites and character pictures accompanying dialogue—ideas that wouldn’t become popular until the PlayStation era. The game’s music didn’t even have that stupid “jant jant jadant” Sega synth guitar sound to it. This must have been what Sega’s highly touted Blast Processing was all about.
The game has aged very well, considering that I was able to enjoy it without the sweet scent of nostalgia dragging me along. It plays much more like a late-’90s game than an early-’90s game, and it taught me that the Genesis was a fully capable system and not just the synthy button-mashfest I grew up believing it to be.
SimCopter (PC) – Nathaniel Hoover
While all the other kids in middle school wanted to be phlebotomists, investment bankers, and other reasonable things when they grew up, I wanted to be a helicopter.
Pilot. Helicopter pilot.
SimCopter celebrates the glorious life of the helicopter pilot: rescuing people from capsized sailboats, throwing them out of the helicopter at 8,000 feet, and punishing drivers for speeding by landing on their cars. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to fly around my city—which I created in SimCity 2000 and then imported—in my little bug-shaped McDonnell Douglas 500, abusing my megaphone privileges to advise rioting citizens not to disperse and go home, but rather that I would like a room with a shower, please. All the Easter Eggs, all the cheat codes, all the in-game radio stations I could program to play Mega Man music as I flew…SimCopter is the sandbox inside the sandbox of SimCity 2000, and the replayability ramifications of that are staggering.
Simon the Sorcerer (PC) – Christian Porter
I first saw Simon the Sorcerer in the mall at FuncoLand or Electronics Boutique or Planet X or whatever the hell game store it was before it got sucked into the black hole that is GameStop. I had seen some other adventure games in passing, but our computer was still so primitive at the time that I never really played any, instead just trying to make vulgar cartoons in Bugs Bunny’s Cartoon Workshop for DOS.
Thankfully, my parents ended up getting a better computer that was capable of running the game, and I loved it. The humor, the puzzles, and those beautiful (at the time) graphics had me sold on this game and the adventure genre as a whole. It rarely tops lists of the best adventure games ever made, but it’s near the top of mine.
Sly Cooper series – Kate Jay
When I tell people they need to play the Sly Cooper series, I usually get one of three responses: 1) They’ve seen the game but think it’s for kids; 2) They’ve never heard of the series, but are willing to check it out (if it’s cheap); 3) They’ve heard of it, and they think that it’s a furry enthusiast’s dream come true. My response in kind is always: 1) It’s absolutely kid friendly, but everyone can enjoy it, especially since they’ll get some of the jokes meant for older players; 2) For shame, it’s available in bundled form and a fourth installment is coming out so you should really just get it already (if you have a PS3), or you could spend $20 and get all three for the PS2; and 3) …maybe?
Anyway, Sly Cooper is one of those PS2 gems where you’ve got a funky and fun style of gameplay and graphics, mixed with a fabulous cast of quirky characters and an engaging storyline. It’s a puzzle game, but it has qualities of an RPG, too: there are completion levels and special unlockable items. There’s enough variety in the minigames to keep the gameplay fresh, and plenty of witty, pun-filled dialogue to quirk even the most dour player. I really cannot emphasize enough how much gosh-darn fun these games are. They’re funny, they’re fun to play, and the best part is, they only get better.
The first game was a blast; I played it through a couple of times and loved it. Was hesitant to play the second game, due to the fact that second installments are usually crap. Was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was even more fun than the first one. And the third, well, let’s just say that it was fantastic and quite possibly my favorite of the three. The fourth is due out sometime…soonish? (I think the current release date is sometime in February 2013.) All in all, if you’re lookin’ for some fun-lovin’, snark wieldin’, treasure haulin’ good times (or maybe you’re a closet furry enthusiast), definitely check out the Sly series!
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs (PS2) – Christian Porter
Let’s just get this out of the way: SOCOM sucks. It was, however, the first time I had ever played a shooter online. It was such an amazing novelty at the time to know that I was actually playing with other people over the Internet. It felt like the future.
That’s not important, though. What’s important is that SOCOM also served as a medium for me and my cousin to introduce people to the glorious art form of dance.
You see, in SOCOM there was no respawn. If you died right away, that was it—you watched the fight until somebody won or for 20 minutes if it was declared a draw. There was also friendly fire. So my cousin would be on one team and I would be on the other. We’d get everybody on our teams a VIP ticket to our dance show by shooting them in the back and then it would just be me and him for 20 solid minutes. Showtime. We would meet in the middle of the battlefield, with those we killed being forced to watch, and dance together as the dearly departed yelled various homophobic slurs at us. We danced our 20 minutes away and, at 19:55, we would lay down a grenade and blow ourselves up.
Nobody ever appreciated our art. Van Gogh wasn’t appreciated in his time, either.
Sonic Adventure (DC) – Matt Jonas
There are videogames you know perfectly by the back of your very hands. Where to go, when to be there, and why. You’ve got it down so tight that, if you could be bothered, you’d probably be able to speedrun the game. Sonic Adventure is my one of those. I grew up with it, played it to pieces by the time I was ten, and to this day I’ve probably completed the game from Sonic to Super Sonic no less than thorteen (that’s a cross between thirteen and fourteen) times on a variety of different platforms.
For what purpose could this brain space be better used? I could have trained to become a medical scientist, and made major breakthroughs in the field of medicine. The whole world could be a better (and healthier) place as a result of my research, and I could have won a Nobel Prize for my advancements toward a brighter tomorrow. Instead, I can recite every line of dialogue in Sonic Adventure.
“Get a load of this!”
Space Quest series – Nathaniel Hoover
I’ve already written about my take on the Space Quest series, so make clicky on hyperlinky to see what I have to say when no one else is around to keep my word count in check. What’s not covered in that article, however, is that Space Quest is the reason I’m not currently cursing an alternate universe Matt Jonas for stealing my Nobel Prize. Space Quest provided the fodder for my earliest GameFAQs reviews, and GameFAQs is how Paul Franzen found me, and Paul Franzen is why we can’t have nice things.
Star Ocean: The Second Story (PS1) – Jeff Day
The PlayStation era was budding with nifty little RPGs. Menfolk with thick glasses were in their bedrooms, having little final fantasies and crossing their chronos. As for me, I was starring in my own oceanic voyage with Star Ocean: The Second Story. This game had everything a young lad could ever want in a videogame. Need a neat li’l sci-fi setting? POW! There it is! Need a real-time battle system, as opposed to other turn-based RPGs that could put you to sleep? MINT! There it is! Need a really cool story twist in the middle of the game? FNUR! In your face! Need to use chef skills to make sweet items? BOUTON! Voilà. Need some of the worst voice acting in videogame history? WHAMMO! You got it, my friend!
Star Ocean took a look at other RPGs and said, “Why aren’t you more action-packed?”, later adding, “Why don’t you have more creepy hulking ape-like creatures?” And it was good. Star Ocean also gave you two separate quests from the point of view of two main characters (which you select right from the start, though Seiken Densetsu 3 did that earlier) and private events between different party members, thus affecting overall morale, which affected your ending. Plus, you can hone various real-life skills, such as cooking, writing, and, uh, fairyology—all of which can positively affect your character’s skills in battle! Sweet! Fairyology 101, here I come!
Street Fighter IV (X360) – Daniel Castro
Like pretty much every kid from the ’90s, I got hugely invested in fighting games thanks to Street Fighter II—but after so many sequels, prequels, and every other developer releasing their own insipid fighting games for the arcades, my enthusiasm for the genre just vanished.
Street Fighter IV brought that lost glory back to the franchise. It retook the classic gameplay we once loved, included the original twelve characters from Street Fighter II, and added a few other really inspired and interesting characters to the roster (…and Seth).
I was really in love with this game, but then Capcom did a Capcom on the franchise and once again started to release its updated versions of the game like we should’ve always suspected they would. Suffice it to say that I haven’t bought another fighting game from this company ever since.
Super Mario Bros. series – Mark Freedman
The Super Mario Bros. games were always a sign of status. Oh, you didn’t get Super Mario 2 yet? You must be a total rube, man! The first title got everyone started in mainstream gaming, but the series kept pushing the envelope. The games served as a benchmark for the current technology and system.
Of particular note: Super Mario Bros. (NES) – Jillian Dingwall
My God, where to begin? It would not be an exaggeration to say that this game has shaped my entire personality. It is responsible for my love of moustaches, my inexplicable tolerance of Italians and my endless curiosity for all things plumbing. This game is the epitome of pure happiness. It is colourful, cute, fantastical, addictive, rewarding and, in its day, pretty ground-breaking. The characters had individual personalities to which I became quickly attached, and it was the first game I played which had an actual world that I felt part of. I knew my way around the levels better than my own neighbourhood, and to this day, I still have dreams that I am in Mario Land, running over bridges and jumping down pipes only to wake up to the heavy disappointment of my boyfriend’s farts and the unsolvable mystery of how my dog manages to get through a closed door and into our bed every single night. Oh Mario, take me with you.
Also of particular note: Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) – Michael Gray
Ignore what the person below me is saying. Super Mario Bros. 2 is the best NES Mario Bros. game. You get to play as four different characters, and the music is fantastic!
I feel like I should have more to say, but I don’t. I list Super Mario Bros. 2 as an essential game because Mario is on the list of essential videogame series, and this is my favorite Mario game of the entire series. Whenever someone mentions Mario, my mind instantly jumps to this game.
Additionally of particular note: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) – Jeff Day
If you’re reading this and you are actually seeking information about this game, you are a pitiable sort. If you don’t know all there is to know about Super Mario Bros. 3 already, you probably shouldn’t be on this website at all. Get out of here right now, and get back to drooling over every word Perez Hilton types and scribbles on celebrity photos.
You should already know about how it took the already-established Mario platforming formula (or “platformula”, if you prefer) and gave it a swift kick in the behind, adding a variety of staples that the series still follows to this day: a coherent map screen; flying capabilities; the unexplained spawn of Bowser, the Koopa Septuplets; and Mario’s newfound ability to wear special suits. Yes, he already knew how to wear clothes, but now he could strap on a Frog Suit to improve his swimming abilities or a Tanooki Suit to look freakin’ awesome, fly, and turn into a stone statue to confuse passersby. Fans still can’t get enough Tanooki these days…
Mario became far more awesome as he careened through a much wider variety of environments. And he didn’t have to worry about picking up vegetables and fending off things called “Tweeters” anymore…we have enough of those on the Internet nowadays…
Should be OK to lump this one in here, too: Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) – Michael Ridgaway
Super Mario Galaxy is a great game, but where it really shines is in the co-op mode where a second player can assist the player controlling Mario in simple yet helpful ways. This allowed me to suggest the game as something that Vangie and I could “do together”, thus sneakily bringing her into the digital fold. These days she’s a regular gamer and we have even more in common because of it, and it’s totally awesome.
Super Smash Bros. series – Daniel Castro
While I got sick of every single fighting game being released (see above), the Super Smash Bros. series feels so unique and original that it doesn’t feel like another generic fighting game at all.
Of course, the thrill of watching some of the most popular videogame mascots beating the crap out of each other is the immediate hook to try these games, but it’s also the simplicity of its gameplay that makes it insanely fun to play, and difficult to let go of. Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the latest iteration of the series, is possibly the only game many people are still playing on their Wii consoles.
I just love how easy it is to set this game up for friends or family, even for complete gaming illiterates, and watch them have a blast for hours. I usually don’t need to over-explain to people how to play the game; I generally just tell them, “Kill each other,” and they will eventually figure out how to play the game in a couple of minutes. It’s just about fun.
Tenchu: Time of the Assassins (PSP) – Matt Jonas
It sounds like some kind of sneeze, but Tenchu isn’t to be sneezed at. As a series, it so perfectly understands the concept of being a ninja. There’s none of this jumping on missiles or killing dinosaurs stuff that Ninja Gaiden seems to get off over.
But the reason I list this Tenchu in particular is because this is the Tenchu that cost me decent GCSE grades. I played so much of Tenchu: Shinobi Taizen (the Japanese version) and had the level editor completely memorized. Yes, even though it was in total moonspeak, I had it down completely.
I was a member of a small community who shared their Tenchu mission creations with each other, and I made a whole set of custom missions for the game. I got so hooked up in all of that, I never even revised for exams and I ruined all my homework time by playing Tenchu instead.
And look where I am—writing stupid blurbs for some dead-end website at the end of the universe.
If only I’d studied to become a scientist…
Tony Hawk’s Underground (PS2) – Christian Porter
There’s nothing particularly special about Tony Hawk’s Underground as far as gameplay is concerned. There were slight changes, but overall it’s the same game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater always was, and it was getting stale.
The technology behind the game, however, has a cool feature that allows you to upload a picture to a website and have that picture be your character’s face in the game. I would play with this feature constantly. First I made me. Then I made a whole stable of famous people, opting not to make someone who has just a picture of a butthole for a face, for fear of being banned from the game—one of my greatest regrets in life. I learned a valuable lesson with this game: You can make a black-and-white Hitler character and skate with people all day long, but if you make a little skating JonBenét Ramsey, people are going to kick you out of their games like nobody’s business. Jerks.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (PC) – Jillian Dingwall
I appreciate the randomness of this choice; however, the brief was to pick games that were influential to us personally, and this one really was. It is basically responsible for my unwavering obsession with geography. We used to play this game in school and had a kind of tournament in which we would compete against each other to guess the countries and cities where all those master criminals were hiding. I became pretty good at it and won most of these tournaments, but when I hit puberty and this game became a hell of a lot less cool, I couldn’t stop. I mean, I literally could not stop. I had atlases and globes all over my room, I memorised all 50 states for no reason, and began a quest to learn all the capital cities of the world (didn’t finish the quest; too hard). Anyway, although I am pretty handy in a pub quiz, that bitch Carmen is to blame for this disgusting waste of my childhood. I wonder where in the world she is so I can go kick her ass.
Wolfenstein 3D (PC) – Mark Freedman
Being of Jewish heritage, mowing down Nazis with a chain gun is my specialty. I actually learned a lot in this game: the cruelty of the Nazis, their lavishly decorated prison-castles, and the glory of eating dog food. This was the first widely adopted shooter, and it’s still fun to play today.
There’s a conversation I had with my dad as a young lad when this came out. We had a phone conversation where I was telling him something I did bad in Scouts. Something like not getting a requirement or merit badge done on time. He was disappointed, but I saved the silver lining for last: I had learned from a schoolyard chum the “MLI” code to grant full keys and ammo. This was the first big PC game with me, and it had such a glorious cheat! This introduced my dad and me to PC cheats, which continued into a very heartfelt relationship with such classic games with cheats as Warcraft II, StarCraft, and SimCity. Also, Wolfenstein was my first encounter with Shareware. For $5, it was a steal!
WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role (PS1) – Christian Porter
I love character creation and customization in games. This is really the only reason I’ve been into the WWE/WWF games over the years, and this game started it all with a primo create-a-character tool. I’ve gone into how Maya Angelou always finds her way in my wrestling games on a Q&AmeCola recently, but she wasn’t the only character I made. My cousin would make characters on his memory card, bring it to my house, and he’d do battle with my most recent creations. JonBenét Ramsey (a recurring character across many games) and Saddam Hussein vs. Penn and Teller. James Earl Jones vs. Larry King in a no-holds-barred CNN personality deathmatch. It was like Pokémon, but somehow weirder.
Zork I: The Great Underground Empire (PC) – Nathaniel Hoover
What better way to end this list than with the game where it all began?
Zork is, for all intents and purposes, technically not the game where it all began. BUT! Zork is the reason I ate all that toilet paper in Deja Vu, so it’s worth a mention here. Empowering me with a rich text parser that recognized commands ranging from JUMP to EAT KNIFE to HIT ME WITH TABLE, Zork opened my eyes to how utterly masochistic I am, now that I think about it.
Zork granted me the freedom to go adventuring in virtually any way my imagination would allow. I spent hours exploring twisty little passages, throwing piles of leaves at cave trolls, being killed by cave trolls, and falling out of trees. I sought affection from the game’s snide narrator, begging the disembodied voice to LOOK AT ME, HOLD ME, KISS ME, TAKE ME, and DRINK LEAFLET, the last of which was brought on by cumulative brain damage from the way I play adventure games. Simply exploring all the creative responses the designers had programmed was reason enough to play the game—the fact that there were puzzles and plot was just gravy.
I can’t even begin to enumerate the ways in which Zork has influenced my approach to adventure gaming, impacted my style of interactive storytelling, and encouraged my self-destructive eating habits (EAT ME), so I’ll just let rapper MC Frontalot conclude by shedding a little light (hur hur hur) on how Zork has left its gruesome mark on geek culture:
So, there you have it. Every videogame ever made. Thanks to everyone who participated, and congratulations on a job well done!
No way, Metroid: Other M. You missed your chance! This list is over.