For each and every gamer out there, a game exists that stands head and shoulders above the rest. For some, they merely mention them as their ‘favorite’ game in casual conversation while others have a compendium of games they believe must be played in the same way others have reading lists. Games that have a relatively profound effect on those who play them or those that are so ridiculously fun that they shouldn’t be missed no matter what. Some of these games, however, cannot be secured through normal means anymore in the format they were originally created for – not because they’ve fallen into disuse – but because many don’t wish to part with them. But when they do, odds are it doesn’t come cheap. Others are readily available today and have been so since their inception because they speak to the gaming community in such a way that good taste demands these games be played. Nevertheless, whatever console allegiance you might hold or genre prejudices you might perpetuate, without a doubt, these are the games that have earned a place in just about every gamer’s collection.
15. World of Warcraft
I understand you might hate MMOs and if that’s the case – totally fine by me. But, it bears mentioning that if you haven’t played a single one, this is more than likely the one you want to give a shot. World of Warcraft was created following Blizzard’s longtime success with their lauded Warcraft series – a universe that is full of fantastical lore, grim warfare, uneasy alliances and valiant heroes. Definitely a divergence from the RTS titles that Warcraft, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and Warcraft III were, this was nevertheless a step in the right direction for the intellectual property. Catering to both solo and multiplayer, both cooperative and competitive play; World of Warcraft has over the years harbored a following spiraling into the millions, despite a $15 fee per month to play. But the social dynamic as well as the reward, achievement and economics systems have succeeded in sucking many players in with the power of a black hole and keeping them locked at their keyboards with a nigh addicted hundred-yard stare. Still, for those looking to develop an understanding of a lot of understanding when it comes to both gaming and game design, WoW is still one of the best examples as many of its elements are frequently lifted by other Massively Multiplayer Online games, but they’re still utilized best in Azeroth. For the Horde.
14. God of War: Chains of Olympus
Kratos is probably one of the most characteristically tragic heroes in the world of video games. Very much on par with Hamlet, Macbeth and Titus Andronicus of Shakespeare’s works, Kratos consistently strives to undo the wrongs he’s committed, but is never quite free of his sins regardless of how far he, or the player, believes him to be out of the proverbial woods. God of War: Chains of Olympus was created expressly for the PlayStation Portable and is probably one of the finest testaments to what the technology of Sony’s handheld is exactly capable of doing. Controlling in a surprisingly comfortable manner given the control layout of the PSP, players slaughter their way through hordes of enemies as Kratos unravels a plot to destroy Earth. Really. While the majority of the narrative is typical fair for any who have a rudimentary knowledge of the God of War series, there is one pivotal moment that stands out from the blood drenching combat, which genuinely proves the game to be a heartfelt, if not extremely emotional experience. (Spoiler Warning). After being stripped of all his powers, he arrives in the most paradisiacal locale in Hades to meet his daughter, who he slaughtered along with his wife while under the control of Aries as told in the first GoW titles, and resides with other pure souls who have died. Kratos is powerless – no longer endowed with the strength that made him the warrior he’s known to be – yet jubilantly happy to finally cradle his daughter in his arms. Unfortunately, if he chooses to stay with her, all existence, including his daughter will come to an end. So, the game forces the player to push Kratos’ daughter away, making it a surprisingly profound moment. She continually tries to cling to her father, but after pushing her away, Kratos proceeds to do what he knows he must and begins killing every good person he can lay his hands on, which slowly returns his strength to him so he can complete his objective and save his daughter – despite bringing her safety costs him the ability to be with her. Such a tragedy only serves to make Kratos more compelling as a character and, as is so rare with many handheld titles, Chains of Olympus offers a perfect narrative replete with exceptional gameplay. Thusly earning its place amongst the stacks of video games.
13. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Rarely does a game succeed in completely messing with the mind of a player, but Eternal Darkness does so in a way that is dauntless in it’s perpetuation of controlled madness. Based on the works by H.P. Lovecraft, there is a brilliant amount of demented insanity for a player to absorb, which if played properly can instill momentary existential crisis at certain points throughout the story. Played from the various perspectives of those who have sought throughout history to fight the forces of evil and chaos, which only wish to swallow mankind whole in darkness and feed on their souls, there truly is an amazing amount of gameplay for the story that is offered. While it may seem a bit slow and clunky to some, Eternal Darkness easily supersedes one of my other favorite survival-horror series, Resident Evil, with relatively superior controls, competent inventory screens and significantly more terrifying lore. Best perhaps is the fact that the game sets out to actively screw with the player. When entering a room your character might be on the ceiling instead of the floor, during combat the game might cause your television to ‘turn off’ or when saving a game, ‘deleting game saves’ might appear on-screen – all of which temporary moments of insanity designed to break the fourth wall and give players goose bumps. And it works all too well sometimes.
Better known as the Mother series, Earthbound is one of those quirky RPG games that has taken on a life of it’s own since it arrived to North America on the Super Nintendo in 1995. While many of the role-playing games of the era opted to use wizards and warriors to convey a dramatic, fantastical story – Earthbound puts players into the shoes of seemingly normal children in a very suburban setting that’s easily comparable to a faux United States. Instead of swords, there are baseball bats, yo-yos and even frying pans for players to defend themselves while Psi Power takes the place of Fire and Ice magic as would be traditional to many RPGs. Yet, while the whimsical series took off in Japan, it never seemed to garner more than a cult following in the United States, which despite being sizable, is still considered relatively small in comparison to much of the gaming community. Nevertheless, when the game hit the US as a sequel to Mother, many gamers were completely unaware that Earthbound even had a predecessor. However, as time went on and this became more apparent, the game itself as well as the franchise gained in popularity to the point that a fan translation patch eventually came into being to allow North American players to experience Mother 3, the sequel to Earthbound. Although RPGs like Final Fantasy definitely have a corner on the market – Earthbound is a bit nostalgic if not interesting for the fact that it defies convention while still making recognizable pop culture reference and stands out, even amongst contemporaries, as an exceptionally well made game.
Certainly a sequel has just come out and while everyone feels like it has descended from Heaven complete with a chorus of angels to herald its arrival – some gamers still aren’t so sure. In the meantime, few can disagree that the original Starcraft, a game that is virtually synonymous with real-time strategy doesn’t deserve to be on this list. While there are other RTS titles that have exceptional gameplay contained with in such as Total Annihilation, Star Wars: Empire at War and Command and Conquer, Starcraft easily dominates them all. After all, how many games can you think of are the national sport in certain countries or have a legacy that spans over a decade? Hell, before Starcraft arrived APM wasn’t even something that was measured when it came to playing a strategy game of any kind. Proffering an engrossing, nihilistic story where everyone realistically gets boned in some fashion or another, it warrants mentioning that there are people who have cheated their way through the entire campaign for the sole purpose of witnessing the story and watching the lauded Blizzard cutscenes between missions. Adding in some of the best single and multiplayer gameplay the PC has ever seen and there is little wonder why it still has a following despite the release of a sequel in the past month. Still, if nothing else, the original and its expansion, Brood War, definitely beat out the sequel for the time being if for no other reason than the existence of LAN play – as opposed to the rickety Battle.net, which has, at least for the time being, been forced on PC gamers the world over.
An action-adventure game in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda, I always felt like this game was sincerely underappreciated for what it was – an exquisite gaming experience that was dazzling to the eye. While I usually avoid dropping names of people attached to projects, it bears mentioning that Hideki Kamiya, Masami Ueda and Hiroshi Yamaguchi were all attached to what should have been a best selling game. Instead it was sadly the last amazing game to ever arrive on the Playstation 2, which heralded the closure of Clover Studio upon its release. Taking place in a classical Japanese setting, the beautiful, drawn appearance immediately encapsulates its sumi-e-inspired visual style and is only made better by the cel-shaded artistry. While playing as a wolf god might have appealed to furries more than it necessarily appealed to gamers at the time, it really is truly a shame that despite the critical acclaim Okami received, few people have genuinely sat down and gone through it in its entirety – despite it’s availability on both the Playstation 2 and the Wii. Nevertheless, there are few games that I believe could stand up against the Legend of Zelda franchise as being so fresh and unique in both visual representation and gameplay, but Okami pulls it off in such a way that it desperately deserves a significant amount more attention than it ever received.
9. Halo: Combat Evolved
Admittedly one of my favorite first person shooters, I was one of the few who was lucky enough to attend Bungie’s launch party in Chicago prior to the release of the game’s launch in November of 2001. While there are more than enough people out there who claim the game has little appreciable qualities over titles like Killzone, Doom, Duke Nukem or even Call of Duty, Halo still stands out as a pretty damn awesome title despite receiving multiple incarnations over the last 9 years, each iteration usually better than the last. While Halo 2 included the multiplayer that kept many coming back for years despite being eclipsed by Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST and soon Halo: Reach, the series has always had a certain je no sais quoi that keep players engrossed regardless of a steady stream of competitors ready to step up to the plate. Introducing a large-scale science fiction narrative that has been called everything from genius to contrived, it has nonetheless given way to a massive universe replete with lore that keeps the faithful interested and the hateful steadily supplied with new things to bitch about on an almost daily basis. All the same, if Bungie hadn’t brought something absolutely incredible to the table with Halo, both as a game and series, terms like “Halo killer” and “Halo clone” would have never come into being.
8. Freespace: The Great War
It takes a lot to stand out as a space combat simulation, especially when Lucasarts virtually had the market cornered for so long with X-Wing, TIE Fighter and subsequently, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, but surprising – Freespace pulled out all the stops and is still the last great space combat flight sim there is, even today. Tossing players into the cockpit of fighters in the Galactic Terran Alliance, you start the game at war with the Vasudan Empire. However, upon arrival of the Shivans, a space-faring race bent on cutting a genocidal swath through the known universe, the Terrans and Vasudans ally against the common enemy. While the narrative may seem like standard sci-fi drivel at times, it is surprisingly engaging, which serves the gameplay quite well. Realistically competent wingmen spout believable dialogue and actually follow orders to the letter when assigned to cover a fellow wingman, attack a target or jump out of a system to escape the impending destruction of a gigantic capital ship. The Heads-up Display in the fighters feels authentic and nothing feels more comfortable than sitting down at a keyboard, allowing you to lose several hours playing through the campaign. Visually impressive complete with jaw-dropping cutscenes, even for a game that is over a decade old, makes Freespace memorable if for no other reason than it made players feel like they could be lost in the torrent of space combat while instilling in them the belief of being able to make a difference.
7. Little Big Planet
Little Big Planet was the title that made the Playstation 3 a must own console for me and with good reason. The puzzle-platforming of the adventure was a smashingly brilliant combination of imaginative design, concise gameplay and resplendent music that made the entire experience flow together despite the chaos of multiple sackpeople on-screen vying for dominance a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii. But once you get passed the solidarity of the gameplay that is offered out of the box, there is the content creation tools that allowed the most creative of power users not just the ability to create their own unique levels, but to create almost entirely new types of games in the Little Big Planet engine. While things will most certainly be turned up to 11 when Little Big Planet 2 arrives this November, it bears noting that the LBP community is still vastly active and despite a few initial hiccup when the game released, almost all the greatest content eventually makes it way to the surface for curious onlookers to have a go at. Media Molecule stands out as an amazing developer and should be immensely proud of Little Big Planet. Oh and if you haven’t had a shot at it yet, there’s still time before November for you to doll up your sackperson and have a go too.
6. Twisted Metal 2
For a game that is nothing more than a glorified demolition derby – it’s addictive, fun and even to this day has kept me coming back for more. Why? Because the very essence of fun is boiled down in this game like a deliciously succulent stew combining what I can only imagine must be the best parts of puppies, kitten, rainbows and pure, uncut awesome. You pick a racer, get a bit of a background story and hop to it to kick ass and take names. While the narrative may seem a bit contrived at certain points, especially with Calypso having an almost devilish characteristic to him in how he grants his wishes, it is nonetheless satisfying to slaughter your way through the entirety of the campaign to see how things finish out for your character. And while, very much like Starcraft, the endings are grim and nihilistic, by the time you reach the end you’ve been able to identify and in some cases feel sorry for your character to the point that you feel bad if Calypso decides to twist their wish into something dark and devious, ultimately causing them pain and suffering. Toss in the multiplayer component and it only reinforces the long-lasting staying power that Twisted Metal has had on both the gaming community and the Playstation consoles it has appeared on, which soon enough will be all of them.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
With the announcement of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I, many gamers, myself included, have been extremely concerned over what the hell Sega think they’re doing exactly. In the last decade or so, Sonic has gone from one of the most beloved video game characters to ever grace a console to a disgraced rockstar waiting to be put out of his misery. While I trust the potential return to form as much as I would a reformed serial killer, it has left me hopeful for a game that harkens back to the glory days of the series. Sonic 2, following the original streamlined everything about the first Sonic title that seemed, for lack of a better term, sluggish and wrong. Emphasizing speed and interesting locations to grab messes of rings, Sonic Team really came into its own with Sonic 2. Levels like Chemical Plant still stand out to this day as one of the finest created platforms levels not just because they make you feel capable of breaking the sound barrier, but because introductions of new bonus levels allowed for things to be mixed up, despite the 16-bit technology the game was released on. From start to finish, Sonic 2 is still as interesting as it ever was and while Sonic 4 will hopefully employ many of the underlying design choices that made the original Sonic trilogy as amazing as possible – if it doesn’t, hell, it’s not like my Sega…or emulators are going to stop working anytime soon.
4. Metroid Fusion
Many game critics, when reviewing for a handheld or certain system will say, “For being on x system, its pretty good.” which I have always felt is a cop-out of sorts and avoid committing the same gaff like the plague – such is the case with Metroid Fusion which isn’t good despite being on the Game Boy Advance, but, excusing the hyperbole, would theoretically be amazing no matter what f-king system the game is released on anywhere, ever. Players assume the role of everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Samus Aran, except this time she really is in for the fight of her life. Without going into too many narrative details for the sake of avoiding spoilers, players spend much of the game battling X Parasites, in a damaged Galactic Federation Biology Lab, a space station that can replicate a hosts’ physical appearance. Well, something goes awry and an X Parasite assumes the role of Samus at her maximum power levels, proceeding to hunt the player throughout the course of the game. Seemingly random encounters at times are utterly terrifying when they actually take place because there seems like nothing that can stop the doppelganger. Classic Metroid at it’s finest; it was released roughly around the same time as the first Metroid Prime title and allowed for interaction between the GBA and Gamecube. Be it emulated or on a GBA, which would be much easier control-wise, Metroid Fusion is definitely a game that belongs in any collection – if not played at least once.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
It feels like a nostalgic redundancy to mention this title, but it is probably the one game that sums up the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System better than any other. Releasing in Japan in 1988, North American gamers would have to wait a full 2 years before having a shot at playing the now perennial title. The brain child of Shigeru Miyamoto, the game centers, as always, on Mario and Luigi in their attempt to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser and his wily children. Across eight different worlds, which can easily be overtaken by flutes than transport players to different warp zones, each has a unique niche that makes them memorable in their own given right. Most notably, before SMB3 released in the US, it was featured in The Wizard, a nominally successful movie that has since entered the gaming lexicon as being both a successful marketing vehicle for Nintendo while being absurdly trite. Suffice to say, if you haven’t played Super Mario Bros. 3 at least once, you’re entirely missing out. But more than that, I’m yet to meet a gamer who doesn’t possess this game, be it on the Virtual Console, Cartridge or emulated.
2. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
Elite Beat Agents was all well and good, but sometimes you just have to go back to the source material and that is where Ouendan comes in. Roughly translated to “Cheering Squad”, you can kind of get the immediate idea as to why the game wasn’t released to the United States in it’s original incarnation with a bit of localization along with the Ouendan being changed to secret, musically inclined agents. Basically dealing with the plights of several different characters, the two games are very similar in their basic concepts. What sets them apart however is that the difficulty feels a bit more rewarding and the music feels significantly more culturally enlightening than songs from EBA like “Skater Boy”. The gameplay is divided into songs that challenge players to tap hit, phrase and spin markers while keeping up with the beat. Score is given for rhythmic ability as well as avoiding missing any of the beats throughout the course of the song. How well a player does determines how many points they are awarded, ranging from 50 to 300 points, which constantly keeps the players life bar (or fighting spirit bar) full during the levels played. Messing up results in it draining faster than it does on average and should it empty, players fail the level and must restart. Four difficult levels ranging from Easy to Insane allows anyone to get into it and in my most humble opinion after playing both, Ouendan as well as its sequel both doubtlessly surpass Elite Beat Agents. Since games on the DS are not region locked, if games in Japanese don’t necessarily intimidate you – it will quickly become apparent why this game is a must-have title.
Probably one of the best, must-own titles to come out of Valve in the last few years, Portal virtually spawned a genre in and of itself. While I feel like no introduction will possibly do justice to a game so laudable and memorable as Portal, it nonetheless is warranted for the five or so people on the face of the Earth who haven’t discovered whether or not the Cake is a Lie. Initially released late in 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PC, the game casts players as Chell as female test subject at the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center to test the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. Pitted against a number of puzzles, players are tasked with solving them by “thinking with portals” to overcome the challenges place in their path. While the game has received near universal acclaim, this is for good reason – it’s an amazing damn game that shouldn’t be missed. A sequel is currently in the works by Valve for an early 2011 release and now is a better time than ever to brush up on your portal skills or simply see what the hell everyone is talking about so you too can spout lines about how the Cake is a Lie.
So, did I miss any? What games do you own that would be impossible to live without? What games do you believe everyone must sit down, play through and keep in their collection long after they might have discarded slews of other games in favor of the newest, best titles available?
Go ahead and hit the comments to let everyone know.