Sunday, September 30, 2012

Number 5: Super Mario Bros

This is where it really all began I remember Christmas 1990 (or was it 89?) and unboxing the NES, I was wrapped. I had never played so much as a game, let alone owned a console or a PC.
Of course the console came packaged with the Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt Combo. Admittedly the sway of the light gun was initially too strong to resist and a fair amount of time initially was spent shooting ducks (often at point blank range).
Once the novelty wore off, there was Super Mario Bros in all its glory.

1990. NEVER Forget.
It is the epitome of easy to learn hard to master. The game is simple D-pad to move, one button to jump, one button to use fireballs and sprint. That’s it.  The challenge comes in the level design. All of which is outstanding and does a great job of changing things up.
It also has the knack of being brutally difficult as the levels progress and the opportunities for extra lives are fairly limited, so often you will find yourself having only 3 or 4 chances at completing a single level.
I am slightly ashamed to say that despite my best efforts I am yet to get completely through this game. Like most platformers my patientce defeats me as much as the game. It has always had a knack of defeating me, although of late I have picked it up again and have breezed through the first few levels. So there is hope yet.
Yes it isn’t the only platformer out there, it may not be as pretty as the third iteration but it was the original and without it, I probably may have never got into gaming. Sure many of the Mario Games out there have improved on the formula and advanced the platforming genre more but for its influence on me and the gaming industry alone I really can’t go past the original.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Number 6: Star Control 3

This was the first Windows based game that really stuck in my mind. It was a very hybrid game, you were free to zoom around the galaxy as you saw fit colonizing worlds, exploiting the worlds for resources and fuel to power your ship, not only this but it had an awesome story that was told by fully animated conversations between you and alien races. Add to this there was a space combat component that you could take control of yourself or opt to have the CPU play for you.
These space battles were, in my opinion, quite often some of the weaker sequences of this game. There was often times where the AI would take in a faster ship than yours and absolutely refuse to engage, basically creating a never ending cycle. Some of the dialogue was hilarious and there were some truly wacky alien species. While the FMV does feel a bit dated, it is actually quite well done and still holds up as one of the better examples of the use of FMV. The game does an excellent job of giving you the feel for a galaxy on the edge of war, each race having their distrust of each other and their motivations.
FMV that was passable at least, more than you can say about most of the FMV of the era
The game was really quite open ended, in that often you could spend hours colonizing, harvesting and never actually advance the story.
There were a few flaws though often to advance the story there was not a very clear direction, and even if you do have proper direction, searching for the system among the hundred or so systems could be a major feat.
There was also a possibility that you could run out of fuel and be stranded for literally an hour or two waiting for a colony to build a fuel depot, then provide you with fuel as you could guide colonies to build based on preferences but you had no direct input into the management of each individual colony.
Base building and space ships. what's not to love?
There was also the problem that you could spend several hours colonizing planets with a certain species, only to have them get shitty at you and leave the alliance, making your efforts for naught.
Despite these issues, it hooked me. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for game that have a more open ended nature (if you hadn’t already guessed). At that time this was the first game that I had played that was open to do as you pleased but still incorporated a strong story. I’d highly recommend anyone to grab a copy of this, if you can still find it (*cough* *cough*).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Number 8: Donkey Kong Country

To be fair anyone of the DKC series could have made this list, and in fact this game makes my list without ever actually owning it.
There was something magical about going to my friends place and popping in Donkey Kong Country. There was the platforming, which didn’t play to much differently from anything of the era but…this is a big but too…
Donkey Kong Country looked so damn good…I can’t explain it fully but at the time this sticks out in my mind as being one of the most gorgeous looking games I had played. The 3D backdrops were gorgeous and all the character models were spectacular, the enemies varied, as were the locales and stages you played, hurtling through the mines in cart, dodging obstacles was insanely difficult, yet strangely compelling.
To me this felt like a showcase of what the SNES was capable of, it also was one of the first time platformers acknowledged that they are difficult and as such threw extra lives at you, a real god send, in all honesty.
It was a welcome change, but that didn’t change the difficulty there were most certainly controller crushing moments. The afore mentioned cart level was one…essentially you had to have cat like reflexes to succeed, or a good memory (both in actuality) and then time what points your jumps needed to be made.
There were heaps of secrets and additional helps available to you. The use of various animals that were close to invincible was a great addition. They could make the various levels much more of a breeze, and whenever I saw the crate…my heart skipped with joy a little.
Playing in coop was a bit of a frustrating enterprise, it often came with an admission that they couldn’t do this part so take over, then a bit of a shove when both Donkey and Diddy fell into a crevice. Sure it wasn’t a perfect system but it was a hell of a lot of fun trying to clear the game with friends.
I regret not owning this game at the time, although I have since brought the whole trilogy on the Wii’s virtual console…so much nostalgia value, and a game that holds up so well today.

Number 7: Read Dead Redemption

Another day (or two, or 3) and another Rockstar game, although a much more recent example in Red Dead Redemption.
After the disappointment that was Grand Theft Auto IV and the meh-fest that was Read Dead Revolver (a game I’ve spent a total of around 15 minutes playing, admitedly) I must say that I wasn’t expecting much at all from Red Dead at all. This game could almost make it into my list on its ending alone, so for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet:
a)      What’s taken so long? and;
b)     Stop reading and go do that
John Marston is easily the best protagonist in a Rockstar game by a long shot, his highs are quite literally your highs, and his lows, well you get the picture.
Part of that comes from the fact that you do feel for him, despite the whining protagonists in GTA’s, especially IV and SA, you feel that John really does just want to get out of the situation, and it’s external forces keeping him from settling, whereas the other two seem to be the catalysts for their situation.
As you would expect the game plays quite a bit like a GTA game, although there have been additions of a lasso, which can be used to tame horses and rope adversaries from their mounts and the ‘dead eye’ system which slows down time and allows you to unload whole magazines into multiple enemies.
The fact is this is a stunningly beautiful and despite the bugs the game is prone to, it is a world that just feels alive, and above all authentic.
It may be bleak, but it is beautiful
This was the first game to really show me how good game storytelling could be, not pulpy but a story that could sit up with other mediums, held back (only minimally, mind) by the fact that it is a game. For that achievement alone it deserves to be in this list, it should be on yours, too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Number 9: Sim City

If there was one game that could be attributed in getting me into gaming it would be this one or rather a combination of this and Sim City 2000. The original Sim City was a flawed masterpiece; I don’t deny it wasn’t perfect.
I could and often did build a city that relied on rail alone. The maps tended to be extremely small, not big enough to really make you feel you had built and managed a bustling metropolis. The placing of buildings was horribly rigid, with the blocks of residential, commercial and industrial.
It wasn't the prettiest, but it was a first love so I'll forgive it.
It also occurred to me that the game was not designed for someone who has no knowledge of economics and city budgeting (In my defence I was 10 years old). I would often blow through my starting budget within the first 12 months of my tenure. For this very reason Sim City gave rise to my love of cheats in my earlier gaming days.
There wasn’t much more satisfying than building a big town to have an earthquake destroy it almost completely and then trying to rebuild from scratch.
I probably missed a lot by never making a profitable city, but this type of game that really doesn’t have a goal, the game is what you make of it. My friends and I often just took turns trying to build the biggest and most populous city we could, or destroying their city and watch the exodus.
There is no denying that there have been better Sim Cities released, the pinnacle probably at Sim City 2000, with the introduction of mass transit and border connections. For its impact on my life I really can’t go past the original Sim City.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Number 10: Bully

Ahh yes Bully, the game that’s content was nowhere near as bad as the name suggests. In fact the Classification Board here in Australia were so worried about the name that it was originally sold as Canis Canem Edit here, which was almost bound to make the game fail sales wise, but I digress.
What can I say about Bully? GTA with out the guns? Possibly, but that’s not doing this game justice either. Sure it did leech off of the GTA model but it stood unto itself with charming characters and at times all too recognizable ones. Add to this a hilarious story, terrific voice acting and an interesting location, nothing like this had really been done before.
Essentially this was a crime and punishment game like GTA, but the school and adjacent town was a joy to run around and explore. It would be hard to call this a technically proficient game (most open world games have grander ambitions than than technology allows, and this is no exception), it is hard to call a last-gen GTA game technically proficient, but it is so much fun, whether you are biking around, or running all over town there was so much to see and do.

As Jimmy Bullard you were sent to boarding school out of convenience for your parents, and you quickly become an outcast, from all of the regular cliques. The game has you running from bullies, needing to make classes, which gives you perks and benefits in various areas. You even get to try and woo the female classmates.
I originally brought this game simply based off the developer. I was happy that I wasn’t to be disappointed, it is a rare gem and seemingly not as fondly remembered as many other Rockstar games.
Sure it had its issues, it was more frustrating on missing class than it needed to be, there was little incentive to skip them and as bed time was enforced by prefects and police alike, it often gave a very small window to dash between missions. In the scheme of thing it isn’t that big a deal, but it did make it more restrictive, and therefore more annoying, than the GTA games.
This game will always hold fond memories as I got it just as I was finishing school, so there were a lot of school tropes that could be contrasted between this game and my life at that time (even if the game version was highly exaggerated). It wasn’t a perfect game, especially in comparison to what Rockstar has achieved before and since this game but it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Number 11: Mortal Kombat 3

There is little denying that MK3 was for a time my favourite game. I was young impressionable and this satisfied my lust for gore at that age. Sure, it wasn’t the most complex fighter, but I hadn’t played them and I sure as hell didn’t care either. Many hours were spent with my friends, pulling off fatalities, friendships or just unlocking Shao Khan and laying the beatdown on my friends (if I got to his portrait on the select screen first).

The thing that really got me was that it was really simple to get into, you could win by button mashing but there was some depth to it a button masher was generally no match for a more skilled opponent the combo system was well implemented, even if I was more concerned with the flashy special moves. The character roster was close perfect with many characters to choose (some may argue too many) from and none of them played exactly the same as the other (Sektor and Cyrax came very close).

Of course I also have to mention the controller crushing moments of the Arcade mode. As is the tradition of fighters both Montaro and Shao Khan were exceptionally cheap with (what seemed like) unblockable extremely overpowered attacks. It’s almost a wonder that the SNES controller wasn’t crushed with frustration.

Unsurprisingly this was the game that brought to the fore the classification debate for Australia, prior to this games were a largely unregulated medium. To many people’s dismay the problem with classification has only just been resolved and it remains to be seen if it has arrived at a satisfactory outcome for all, but as always I digress (perhaps a topic for some other time).
Yep, It sure Could be bloody
This was also the last MK before the series tried to move on and become a 3D fighter. Unfortunately MK has started to fall by the wayside, possibly with the decline of the arcade. The newest iterations still have their moments but ultimately it has lost its lustre that made MK3 one of the great fighting games. Make no mistake this was a great and above all fun fighter.

As an aside, I highly recommend seeking out the most recent Mortal Kombat reboot as it returns to MK3 form, going back to its 2D roots.

THE Countdown

I’ve been pretty loath to do countdown blogs, generally, as I think they are essentially a bit of a time waster but I’ve decided that I should lay down my top 11 games  ever so readers can get an idea of where my gaming roots are from and it seems like a topic that comes up on fairly regularly. Why eleven you ask? Well gotta do something to be different.

I don’t claim to have played every game but these are the games I have played and loved, the games that have impacted me and these are my own choices, no correspondence will be entered into.

I have tried to limit myself to one game from each series, as it would be a little bland if my top 4 games were all Grand Theft Auto games (they wouldn’t have been but just an example).

First I apologise to Half-Life fans I can guarantee neither in the series will make the list. The first one gave me motion sickness and I was just never interested enough in the second one (despite owning the Orange Box).

There have been so many games in my time that as much as I want to include them I just can’t. There may even be a follow up with the many apologies that I have to give for omitting games, further than the Half-Life series.

I will attempt to give a short review of each along with a brief history on how it affected me or why I love the game so much but these are not ‘true’ reviews as such.

Unlike a lot of my other blog posts I will try and keep this list bloat free…but best laid plans and all that.
Stay tuned for more soon.