10. Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time (Ubisoft, PlayStation2, 2003)
This was such an eye-opener back when it came out, and its beauty shines undiminished today. What this game offered me was a sense of freedom, freedom to do whatever I want. I’ll never forget the first time I ran along the wall, or somersaulted over an assailants head, only to
With such impeccable game mechanics, the time feature is the icing on the cake. Much like its peer, Viewtiful Joe, the player can slow time as he sees fit, lending the game not just a different feel to others, but another aesthetic entirely.
Speaking of aesthetic, this game offers perceptual satisfaction in spades. The environment is at once familiar and exotic; beautiful, shimmering, and most importantly creates a believable gameworld. A gameworld unhampered by the usual cliché of the genre. There is a deft touch of personality sadly lacking from the sequel.
This is a game about ambition and freedom. It is also a work of art.
09. Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (Nintendo, Nintendo 64, 1998)
A bit lower than it might have been, due to the fact that I never finished it. Nevertheless, this is another game of exquisite beauty, undimmed by the passage of time and new generation of technology. Why? Because, as with all truly great games, this is one which masters its host system without being a slave to it.
The atmosphere of this game is almost unbearably beautiful, creating as it does a climate within the world that is a pleasure to exist in, no matter how vicariously. Almost every environ (certain stomachs notwithstanding) is gorgeous, sumptuous – not only a great sandbox in which to flex ones gaming muscles, but to do anything.
And, like the above game, there is the underlying theme of chronology. I cry at not having explored this fully – I will do, though. However, it’s a smart and well-executed device from what I have seen, and serves the Zelda formula well. Combat was perfected in this incarnation of the game. Z-trigger was used expertly to aid uncluttered 3D battle, and works almost instinctively.
Although I have been guilty of finding the Zelda series a tad formulaic in gameplay, this version offsets that by virtue of sheer beauty.
08. Final Fantasy VII (Square, PlayStation, 1997)
I feel guilty placing this game so high, though I’m not sure why. Maybe because it didn’t do all that much to advance the series, other than the obvious graphic overhaul.
I don’t care though. It’s great; opulent NextGen grandeur at its very best. While it lacks the depth of characterisation that marked out its directly previous iteration, it has a narrative depth to compensate. Or should that be ‘narrative size’?
When thinking of what to write about this game, I wonder where to start. I remember the end of the initial adventure within the city walls. As the tower collapses, it feels like the end of the game. Then the city gates open and I realise it’s just the beginning.
One key moment which springs to mind is the death of Aerith. That one incredible, ghastly moment when time stands still, as I reel – shocked that such a pivotal character can be killed off, and so suddenly, brutally.
I hated Sephiroth, more than I liked Cloud, and it was that hate which propelled me through the world. The world of chocobo breeding, dating, wargaming, cross-dressing and Resident Eviling. And then I realise:
I love this game so much, not for some beautiful artistic statement, but for its maximalism. For when it’s executed as well as this, more is most certainly more.
07. Mario Kart Advance (Intelligent Systems, Gameboy Advance, 2001)
True, this is not the game I spent years with, heaving the game around my group of friends, as we all chose a character to stay with for the sake of knowing who had the best times.
However, it is a game which is a definite improvement over what is otherwise the best version of the game, and that in itself is a remarkable feat. This was the game which had me skipping lectures, hunched over that wide screen, angling desperately for the best light. Thumbs were keenly hovering over the shoulder buttons that were so expertly utilised as hoppers.
Must trim those split seconds. Must get the fastest time on Ghost House 3. Shit. Screw the haters who would deride it for not being ‘a proper racing game’. It is. The tracks are ingenious (and the new certainly complement the old), and the racers are – as ever – perfectly balanced.
It’s just such a good game to play, and one of the best with which to gloat over your defeated 'friends'.
06. Tetris (Alexey Pajitnov/Bulletproof, Gameboy, 1989)
A simple game, but one which is realised perfectly, Tetris is one game that can truly claim to be pure gameplay. The size of the ‘pot’ is perfect, as are the shapes and difficulty curve. What more can I say?
05. Super Mario World (Nintendo, SNES, 1991)
The greatest 2D platform game, bar none. The classic Mario controls were perfected in this game. Everything, from his acceleration, to jumping, and use of his special powers just felt so right. This is 2D gameplay distilled into a 4-megabit cartridge, and there’s not an ounce of fat on these bones.
Underrated, though, is the aesthetic. The graphics are very stark and modest, but they are perfect for the game. The character design is spot on, as are the colour schemes. Something which took years to really sink in for me is the quality of the music. Along with the likes of ‘Good Vibrations’, tunes from this game just randomly pop into my head – years after last playing it.
But playing it is all. The challenges and variety are stunning in their range and execution. The reams of secret areas and bonus stages render this more of an exploration game than kin to the likes of Sonic. It’s a fucking legend of a game, and with all of Miyamoto’s best work, balances satisfaction and frustration on a knife-edge.
04. Streetfighter II: Turbo (Capcom, Coin-op/SNES, 1993)
For me, this is the pinnacle of fighting in video game form. Soul Calibur nearly made top 10 (and Tekken 3 is pretty certainly top 20), but this is a dead cert.
Capcom took the massive improvement that was Streetfighter II, and amped it up. Improved the graphics, balanced the moves and characters, and let you play as the bosses – an underwhelming experience, admittedly.
Most importantly, the game was faster. SF2: Turbo is the fighting gamer’s fighting game. At once accessible and immeasurably deep, this franchise created the combo – and unlike the memory tests that were Tekken and Killer Instinct, the gameplay was so intuitive.
It made so much sense to jump in deep with an attack, and follow up with a one-two – a normal move cancelled or hidden with the controls of your combo-finishing special move. And the attacks were so satisfying – the crunch as you laid in a roundhouse, the little blood-puke a heavy punch occasionally elicited. It was so natural, and so addictive.
Later iterations would ramp up the complexity on a superficial level, and franchises such as King Of Fighters and Virtua Fighter would claim to be the choice of the hardcore. Maybe they were, but this was the perfect balance of simplicity and depth, with no extraneous characters (a great player could beat others with anyone from Ken to Dhalsim), no goofy super-combos or bells and whistles.
This was videogame hand-to-hand combat at its peak, and I don’t think it has ever been bettered – especially not with two players.
03. Secret Of Mana (Squaresoft, SNES, 1993)
To be quite honest, any of the top three could have occupied any of these positions. However, I deem SoM, as much as I love it, to be third favourite ever.
From the moment I first saw it in a magazine in summer 1993, I knew I had to have it. It looked so lush, so beautiful and so alien. I had never played a Japanese-style RPG before. By December, I had a review of it in my hands, from my favourite magazine, Super Play.
I remember, even now, the feelings I had upon seeing this review. The reviewer loved it, and I had a feeling I would as well. Looking at the home village environment filled me with a sense of wonder and awe. Such a perfectly constructed place, with simple – yet exquisitely rendered – graphics. I needed it, and had no idea quite how it would play.
Roll on Xmas day 1993. The dumbfounding intro sequence segued so well into the game, I had no idea gameplay had started. Yet once I picked up the pad, I entered into an experience that would delight me for years to come.
Driven by storyline, I was hooked for the duration. The travails of out three main characters were heightened by the alien and ever-beautiful landscapes in which they occurred. The ideas boggled my mind, as all of the characters and scenarios were brilliant. Neko the cat always managed to be where I was, and first.
Thanatos was a hell of a bastard, well beyond the later Sephiroth. And there were the sub-villains, of varying menace and competence. The puzzles were basic, but took a backseat to the narrative. The battles were extremely well balanced, and the action format lent combat an exhilarating feel.
The way physical attacks and magic intertwined so well (especially, and poignantly at the final battle), and the use of the ‘ring’ menu system worked as both an excellent intro to RPGs, but also had a depth belied by its ease of use.
The game was heart breaking, humorous and incredibly catalysing, and I have no problem calling it a joint favourite game ever. And those gamelan-soundtracked zombie sections were really scary...
02. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, Nintendo 64, 1996)
In 1996, Miyamoto reinvented the wheel.
This game was such a spectacular creative and artistic success that it hindered its host system. It took years for another game to compete with it in the quality stakes (I would venture there was none), and that hindered the system.
Context aside, this is a masterpiece. Everything about it is perfect. Nintendo created a truly 3D, truly believable world, where anything was possible. If you saw a tree in a distance, you could climb it. If you saw a koopa troopa trundling along, you could bounce him out of his shell and surf along the level with it.
We take things like this for granted nowadays, but it was an absolute revolution at the time. And its quality is undiminished today. As with SMW, it makes good use of the technology, never straining with graphical trends that may date it as time goes on. It is simplistic, but gorgeous. And it is varied.
The idea that there can be many objectives within one level was brilliant – it makes the most of whichever environment you were in – and they all had personalities of their own. Each level was almost like a game in itself, with different rules, different toys and mechanics.
There was the simplistic brilliance of the initial level – such a perfect way to acclimatise to the third dimension. The literal different levels of Wet-Dry World. The constant peril of Lethal Lava Land… I could have spent an age just taking in the atmosphere of Cool, Cool Mountain or Tall Tall Mountain.
Would you have to explore the dank caverns, or swim inside a sunken ship? Alter the very size of a level, or dangerously climb a gigantic clock? Or there could be a race down a snowy slope or time trial within a small castle room; get yer hat stolen or simply fly around a level.
Flying is one of the very few issues I have with this game. The controls weren’t very intuitive, and made some tasks more difficult than they otherwise would have been. And – as aforementioned – Miyamoto games can be frustratingly difficult anyway. However, that’s part of the challenge, and the difficulty curve is great.
It’s a game limited only by your ability.
01. Final Fantasy III (Squaresoft, SNES, 1994)
My pick for greatest game ever.
After SoM got me hooked, FFIII was handily at the importers’ by the following Christmas. After initial confusion at the turn-based formula, I was soon swept once again into another world of Squaresoft’s creation.
This was a darker world than the previous year, though. An edgy world, where magic was seen as a threat in the eyes of ongoing technological advances. This game seemed a lot more grown up than what I had been used to.
The story was more complex than that of SoM, as well, with a far larger cast of playable ad non-playable characters. The world was larger, and – due to Armageddon occurring halfway through – larger again. This was serious business, with a serious game to back it up.
Incredibly deep, all of the main characters had history, had stories to tell – usually sad ones, or at the very least, battles against adversity. The battles had such tactical scope in terms of esper use, spells, attacks and characters’ special attacks. Similarly, there were tons of armour, weapons and ‘relics’ to equip, with so many variables of effect, both individually and in combination with others.
The breadth of what the player had ton do was almost overwhelming. Anything, from disguise and subterfuge (well before MGS), to piloting mecha; from witnessing women get beaten, to towns get poisoned; trying to save the world, many times over, seeing characters properly ‘die’, and – umm – painting. And paintings coming to life and attacking.
That’s without even mentioning the auction scenes or the utterly spectacular opera scene, which to this day is flabbergasting in its execution and drama. Speaking of execution, this was a well-crafted game. The graphics were of a standard never seen on the SNES (or, as far as I’m concerned, never bettered).
The use of sprites over hand-painted backgrounds, digitised into the game was both innovative and very artistically successful. The character design, by Yoshitaka Amano, was similarly delicate and flawless. Perhaps the biggest success, though, was the soundtrack. I still find it hard to believe that a Super Nintendo cart could hold that many tunes. Whatever the situation in that 60+ hours of initial gameplay, there was music to suit it in fine fashion. All the emotions, from fear, to sorrow, to humour, and more were all well catered for.
And as the game progressed, it only got more impressive – until the final battle. Not until I visited the galleries and museums of Florence did I spy such grand classical design. The bosses were of a quality to be never forgotten, with suitably epic, Handel-esque synth-organ work. The player had the firm feeling that they had ‘arrived’.
With completion came not just a sense of great satisfaction, but a feeling of loss at the game being over. Everything, from exploring the Veldt, to trying to keep Cid alive, to the alternate existence of Tina as an Esper in another dimension, was but a memory.
Sure, I could – and did – dig it out again for another spin, but alas the game can only happen to you once in a lifetime. And I shall never forget it.