I want to start off with a brief confession: what was supposed to be in this space in this space was an article about Pokémon GO. It was going to be insightful and picking apart all of the little nuances of how we approach video games, and honestly, the finished article I see in my head is something that I feel I would be very proud of. Regrettably, it turns out that starting the cogs whirling on a cold start by getting my hands dirty into deep media and video game theory is a very, very bad idea, and threatened to derail the good state of mind I’ve been in before I had a chance to exploit it. So, in kick-starting this new feel-good state that I am, I am not going to get stuck on things I can’t do. Rather, I am going to start with something a wee bit more personal: my favourite, all-time games. They aren’t ranked in any particular order, and some of them might not even be objectively good games, but they are my favourite games and I want to take the opportunity to share them with you.
Now, I know what you may be thinking: why would I start with something as mundane and droll as a Top 10 list? I’ve never done one and they are, in my honest opinion, at the bottom of the hierarchy of video game journalism, just above prissy click-bait features on hot button controversies. I respond with something very simple: this article is not 100% for you. It is a little bit self-indulgent, a little bit of waxing nostalgic, and it grounds me as the kind of video game consumer I am before I continue into something a bit more heavy duty. I am placing it here because I hope that, in reading this article, you see a little bit more of the video game consumer that I am, the games that define what makes me the voice that you hear in your head as you read these works, and maybe – just maybe – you like some of these games too.
So let’s get down to it, shall we?
“Ours was a sin of pride. Blinded by our ambition, we opened a door better left closed, and loosed hell upon Astara.”
The start of my gaming life started on the PC: up until the late 90s, I had never touched a console, let alone played any of the big games that were coming out at the time. In 1998, the time where I first witnessed what these console things were, my friend was playing The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time for the Nintendo 64. I was absolutely blown away by that little black box, alongside the other titles that he had, including GoldenEye 007 and Super Smash Bros. One of the game that rocked my world the hardest was Super Mario 64. To this day, I still find wonder in that genre-defining masterpiece, and I am proud to say that I can beat the game in under two hours. It’s no speedrunner time, but I will race you and win, and that’s what counts.
You may be surprised, then, that Super Mario 64 is not the game that starts this list. That game goes to Vexx for the PS2: another 3D platforming world-travelling collect-a-thon for the PS2.
Why Vexx over Super Mario 64? Firstly, because it is tough. The last worlds of that game are console-shatteringly difficult, and to get all 81 “stars” was a Herculean effort that made me so proud when I finally accomplished it. Secondly, the game is gorgeous. Sure, the game may not handle as well as the original model, but every world creates a unique space that is visually stunning in its own way, and revels in creating challenges that allow to explore every nook and cranny of it. Most importantly, however, it was the first game I had ever purchased with my own hard-earned money. It might not be perfect, and in some places it may even be broken. But for the first game I ever bought, I could have done a whole lot worse, and I love it anyway.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (PC)
“Seacrest Country has become the ultimate place to speed, a playground for the most exotic cars and drivers in the world…”
Those of you who read my second open letter will be aware that the moment that cemented my love of video games forever was an experience that I had whilst playing Need For Speed 3: Hot Pursuit at an impromptu LAN party for my friend’s birthday. By the logic that dictated the reason I put Vexx on this list, it would stand to reason that this game should be on my list too. Surprise: it isn’t. I tried playing the game again recently and, while I understand why young Doc loved the game, 2016 Doc can’t quite reconcile the blocky graphics to warrant playing it for long periods of time. Fortunately, the premise that birthed the Hot Pursuit concepts (read, fleeing from the po-po in increasing ridiculous circumstances) lead to a renaissance of the franchise in the form of the Need For Speed: Most Wanted of 2005 through to the Need For Speed: Most Wanted of 2012.
My favourite of these was 2011’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, and it is without question my favourite game in a franchise that has many of my favourite games in it already. Everything from the arcade style of individual races to the ludicrous range of vehicles on offer to the stunning vistas of the open world, this game is everything I could ever ask for in a racing game. What it is, above all else, is fun. There are a lot of racing games that take forever to master the controls, or only have a handful of clutch moments in between grinding for the next race or the next vehicle. From bell to bell, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit does not let up on the fun factor, and it is still my go-to game for zoning out into something that is mindless bliss.
Rock Band 2 (PS3)
“…we’ve also secured what I can easily say is the best set-list I’ve ever seen in a music game…it reads like a who’s who list of rock music.”
I love music. I love playing music, performing music, listening to music and everything that music embodies. With this in mind, it seems fairly reasonable that a Guitar Hero/Rock Band game is going to appear on this list somewhere, as it is the quintessential band simulation game where you can pretend to be the bastard love child between Mick Jagger and a literal shit-load of cocaine. But what one is my favourite one? I mean, the first Guitar Hero was where I started, Guitar Hero 3 had one of the best soundtracks of any of them and I actually won a competition for playing that game like the nerd I am, and Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Rock Band 4 is the culmination of as many songs I have into the one interface with no disc changing required. However, my love affair with the rhythm genre remains with Rock Band 2.
I drummed a 100% perfect run on Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs while being drunk off of my tits, winning myself more beer in the process. I smashed a guitar after acing the solo of Panic Attack by Dream Theatre. I rocked out Testify by Rage Against The Machine with my best friends in a small bach in the middle of nowhere. I showed up every member of my family while drumming and singing Dance, Dance by Fall Out Boy at the same time. I have smashed three drum kit snares clean in half, wrecked two guitars, swung one and a half microphones over my head and won more bets than I can count. I have loved every second of it, which is why I still find opportunities to bust out the plinky plunky plastic instruments at every opportunity.
The Legend Of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
“A long, long time ago…when the world was on the verge of being swallowed by shadow…the tiny Picori appeared from the sky, bringing the hero of men a sword…”
I mentioned earlier that the first game I watched anyone play on a console was Ocarina Of Time for the N64. That being said, I have never been the biggest fan of the game. Sure, I can appreciate the quality and design, but it never grabbed me in the same way that a lot of other games have done. So when I was given a Game Boy Advance for my birthday, I went down to the local games store and offered a choice of games. One of them was a grey cartridge with a slightly ruined red label. “I think it’s a Zelda game? I don’t know, but it is only $5”, said the guy behind the counter in response to my query. What followed was The Minish Cap: my most beloved of Zelda experiences in a game that is, in my mind, severely underrated.
The animation is slick, the game looks amazing for appearing on a Game Boy Advance, and while the story was run-of-the-mill, Ezlo is one of my favourite companions to appear in a Zelda game, complete with a snarky attitude towards our boy hero. Above all else, the game never quite took itself as seriously as some of the other Zelda games, putting it on a level similar to The Wind Waker in its childish whimsy. It is a fairy tale story, told in a fairy tale way, and like all good fairy tales, it stands the test of time. It is a game that I was unfortunate enough to lose in my travels, but thank God for emulation so I can continue to relive the experience.
“Welcome all, Grunty’s the name, Banjo’s here to play my game!”
When I said earlier that the Nintendo 64 blew me away as a kid, I am not exaggerating. I spend the better part of the next decade trying to get a hold of a copy of one of those consoles until, one day, for a cool $200, I got my first Nintendo 64 console, four controllers and a stack of games. All of these games were classics, but one of the ones I really wanted was missing. It took another year for me to track it down and finally own it for myself. But one day, I sat down and wondered if the Banjo-Kazooie I had briefly seen in my childhood was as good as I imagined it was. Oh my, it sure was.
Finding a cartridge copy of Banjo-Kazooie was my white whale of video games: the game that I had always wanted but could never quite get my hands on. The moment I booted up that game, I knew that I was in for a treat. Despite me mentioning a whole bunch of collect-a-thon platformers on this list already, Banjo-Kazooie has the most diverse and creative range of backdrops of any game I have ever played. Haunted house? Check. Game show? Check. Oil tanker in a polluted dock? Don’t know why you would, but sure, check. The inside of a bio-mechanical shark? What? I make it an annual tradition to play through this game and whoever watches me play it has to sit through my spiel of why it is not only my favourite platformer of all time, but why it is the best 3D collect-a-thon platformer, period.
But we’re not done yet: tomorrow, I list my top five games of all time. Stay tuned!