Thanks to the work of intrepid WGNO anchor Jacki Jing, I found out that today was National Video Games Day. As one of my favorite hobbies/pasttimes/time-and-brain-cells-killers, I gotta give it up for video games. They’re fun. They can be great ways to waste away sick or rainy days. And given their quality, they can also be quite an unique way to experience a story. I love to read. And I love movies. But the interactivity of video games cannot be replicated. It allows you to play a story as you want to. To take your time or power through it. To savor every nook and cranny. We can all beat a boss but we won’t all beat that boss the same way (QuickTime events notwithstanding).
So with that said, I wanted to honor the 10 games I plowed the most hours into. The ones that had the most impact on me. The ones that still put a grin on my face and fill me with happy memories. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list nor is it listed in any order whatsoever. Just a simple list and some words as to why these are my 10 favorite video games.
Before we start, the Honorable Mentions List: NFL2K5, Soul Calibur, Rogue Squadron, Mario Kart 64, NFL Blitz, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, Dragon Age: Origins, Assassin’s Creed 2, Command & Conquer, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Castlevania, Fable, Batman: Arkham City, Duck Hunt, Diablo.
With that said…
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64). What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said elsewhere and better? I’ll admit that I had never played a Zelda game before this one nor have I played another since. It doesn’t matter. This is a beautiful story that has you playing as Link, the Hero of Time, as he tries to rescue Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf. Travailing through the various temples, riding Epona, the music…I think this is the first game that made me aware of how big music is to a game. I’d suggest this is the greatest high fantasy game ever made.
Goldeneye 64 (N64). This Rare gem didn’t invent the first-person shooter. And it’s graphics are dated as hell now (blocky people?) And none of that matters because it was so much damned fun. The single-player was set-up in such a way that it gave you incentives to try it out in 0 and 00 modes. The “cheats” were a ton of fun. But really, it was the multiplayer that made it amazing. Too many a college night was wasted on multiplayer tournaments — where NO ONE was allowed to take Oddjob cause that was a cheat. Playing 4-on-4 with grenade launchers, proximity mines or missile launchers was a source of endless humor.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade). There aren’t better side-scrollers out there. Period. This was one of the first games to take the idea of a party and having it team up to try and progress. There used to be one inside the old Burger King on Williams Blvd in Kenner and me and my brother Al would walk there, quarters stuffed in our pockets, and just proceed to waste them on trying to beat that thing. I’ve tried the home port and it’s just not the same. It’s not as vibrant or as loud or as funny. Picking turtles, fighting the Foot clan, beating the hell out of that bitch, Baxter Stockman, all while trying to rescue April O’Neil from Shredder. It was a simpler time.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox). Bioware had all the elements here that would blossom into their multi-billion dollar empire. They had a varied cast of characters. They had different settings, each unique and wonderful to explore. They had amazing dialogue trees and hard choices. And they had incredible, drop your jaw to the floor surprises. But more than that, they made the first game that felt like a Star Wars movie. The tale of Darth Revan and Darth Malak, set 4000 years before the movies, was one that felt epic and enjoyable. The sequel was 90% great, but this is the game that made me a fan of them.
Mortal Kombat 2 (Arcade). There were a few fighting games I thought to include. But I ultimately had to return to the one I wasted away the most with. Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero. How many quarters did I lose to them? How many times did I desperately try to punch in a fatality code? Everyone had their favorite fighter and we kept going at one another for bragging rights. We got to a point that, when someone broke the lock on the quarters slot, no one said a thing and we kept playing using 2 quarters for a whole semester! Fighting games have gotten better, more intricate and complex. But I suggest they haven’t gotten more fun than this.
FIFA 2006 (Xbox). I love the FIFA series. It’s the one sports series I’ve religiously purchased every year. Not that it hasn’t fallen into the same stale, incremental improvement slide that has taken Madden down. But the leap that it took from 2005 to 2006 was tremendous and finally brought the soccer series into being the giant it would be. FIFA benefits from the licensing power of EA Sports, but that was the first time the video game flowed like the real game. So playing as Thierry Henry or Ronaldinho and trying to score a brace against Bayern Munich or Manchester United was a blast. This is when this series went from being the stepchild to a key in EA’s plans of domination.
Bioshock (Xbox 360). Bioshock and its sequels have, in so many ways, become standard-bearers for the idea that video games are more than just disposable entertainment. That they’re art. It’s not difficult to see why. The design of this game; the look, the colors, the music behind it is amazing. It also features another of those epic mindfuck twists that everyone knows by now but remains incredible. Gameplay was addictive — a first-person shooter with sweet, sweet powers — and ending in the kind of moral choices that made you have to replay the game again. Rapture remains a vision of both Ayn Rand’s dreams becoming nightmares and of destiny achieved.
Starcraft (PC). I admit that I spent many a wasted hour in the computer lab at CBU plowing through Warcraft 2. But it’s this game that got all my friends to sneak into the business school’s computer lab — which got the new desktops and shiny monitors — to install it so we could spend nights playing it. I’m not surprised the game became ginormous in South Korea. It’s addictive fun — like chess with tiny players which fire lasers and spit venom. The single-player campaigns were good and allowed you to learn about units, but it’s the multiplayer that everyone gorged on. Playing 4 team battles with friends on a Sunday night as the Protoss or the Zerg remains such a fond memory.
Fallout New Vegas (Xbox 360). I debated whether to put this game here or Skyrim. I ultimately went with Fallout for two reasons: one, it was a game full of dark humor and moments of horror and moments of science-fiction all in one package. Two, because it had a more enjoyable and complete conclusion. But really, the Fallout universe is one that’s harrowing and interesting in equal measures. The nightmare of Cold War America’s sleeps turning into a post-nuclear reality creates the kind of opportunity for social commentary, morality tales and for the kind of silly things that make everyone have a good time. It really took everything Fallout 3 did and made it more fun.
Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360). If I was to have a #1, it’d have to be this one. For all the greatness that is KOTOR (and it’s there), I think ME2 is the pinnacle of what Bioware was building towards. It’s complex and adult without being serious. It’s fun without being dumb. It asks you to explore every corner of its universe and you go with it because you want to uncover everything about it. This is a game that starts with your character dying and, depending on your choices, could end with you and your every crew member dying. It’s a game that required multiple playthroughs and whose impact was building towards its trilogy’s end. There’s a reason ME3 got so much flak – cause this game built it.
OK, so that’s my list. What’s yours?