I recently turned thirty.
And I’m here to use my old man wisdom and finely-tuned Nintendo platforming chops to instruct you about the best console and computer games of my lifetime. These aren’t necessarily “desert island” games, but they defined genres, set bars, saved SEGA, ushered in console wars, and changed everything that came after them.
Welcome to the continuing adventures of the world’s dorkiest superhero. I’m Daniel Rodrigues-Martin, and this is THIRTY YEARS OF GAMING.
Super Mario World (SNES)
Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC/XBOX)
Telltale’s The Walking Dead (PC, CONSOLES, YOUR STINKING PHONE IF YOU WANT)
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 by BY SONIC TEAM (SEGA GENESIS)
First Released: November 24, 1992
Sonic 2 was a commercial success following its 1992 release, selling six million units and being beaten out in Genesis game sales only by its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), which had previously helped the Genesis top the SNES in units moved—Nintendo’s first console sales defeat since 1985. Sonic cemented the Genesis as a competitor against the SNES in the early and mid 1990s. It spawned a number of clones (Accolade’s ill-executed Bubsy, for example) as well as two television series in which Sonic was voiced by 90’s sitcom icon Jaleel White. (Yes, that Jaleel White.) Sonic ushered in the Nintendo-SEGA 1990s Console War.
The Plot: After being foiled by Sonic the Hedgehog several years prior, Dr. Robotnik is at it again. He imprisons little bunnies and birds in robotic shells in his quest to collect the Chaos Emeralds and conquer Planet Mobius. With the loyal Tails hot on his heels, Sonic blasts through twelve zones to put Robotnik out of business for good.
The Good: Sonic 2 easily has the sharpest graphics of any of the Sonic Genesis games. The diverse locales of the game (everything from Amazonian aquatic ruins, a Las-Vegas-style casino city and rustic “American” mountains, to a not-so-subtle homage to Star Wars) give the player the sense of constant forward motion. What is arguably the best soundtrack of the Genesis Sonics (I’ll admit Sonic 3D Blast is close) sets the tone of each level, and the revamped level design truly set Sonic 2 apart from its immediate predecessor and the Mario games it was competing against. Whereas Mario is a platformer in the truest sense of the term, Sonic needed to play up the notion of whizzing through the world at high speed (Game Theory’s MatPat has proven that he wasn’t actually so quick, though) and the revamped level design believably weaved this illusion for players.
The introduction of Tails in Sonic 2 allowed two players (SEE: me and my younger brother) to dive into the action and work in tandem against Robotnik’s schemes. It also opened up a competitive two-player race mode, which, while plagued with slowdown, was a lot of fun, and was still more than anything the turn-swapping Mario series had done up to that point.
The Bad and Ugly: Good luck trying to collect enough rings in the special stages with frigging Tails running into bombs all the time. UNRELATED: Dr. Robotnik literally runs faster than Sonic? UNACCEPTABLE.
Why Everyone Should Play It: SEGA didn’t re-release it in HD for no good reason. It’s still challenging and still fun, plus, now you can save. That’s more than I had in 1993.
CHRONO TRIGGER by SQUARESOFT (SNES)
First Released: March 11, 1995
Chrono Trigger has been reviewed on GeeksUnderGrace.com here.
Conceived by a “dreamteam” of Japanese game developers (Hironobu Sakaguchi [Final Fantasy], Yuji Horii [Dragon Quest], Akira Toriyma [Dragon Ball] and scored by two legendary game composers (Yasunori Mitsuda [Chrono Cross], Nobuo Uematsu [Final Fantasy]) Squaresoft’s Chrono Trigger cemented, from its inception, its role as a legendary SNES title and JRPG.
The Plot: Silent protagonist Crono of Guardia Kingdom meets Marle at the Millennial Fair. She tags along with him to his friend Lucca’s demonstration of teleportation technology. Marle volunteers to try the tech and mysteriously vanishes into a portal. Crono dives in after her and soon realizes he’s fallen backward through time to the year 600. Thus begins a time-traveling Epic wherein seven (or six depending on the choices you make) friends from across the breadth of time and space unite to battle against a Lovecraftian Death Gigas called Lavos. Love, philosophy, vengeance, quantum physics, adventure, theology, and feels ensue.
The Good: Perfection. Chrono Trigger adapted well-worn facets of JRPGs of the day (Active-time battle), tweaked them, and integrated them into its gameplay engine. What this looks like is enemies who ambush you on the game map instead of randomly warping you into a premade “battle field” (ala Final Fantasy) and battle techniques relying on an MP system that include single-character attacks, double-character attacks, and awesome three-character attacks. Altogether, it amounted to a familiar yet unique gameplay experience on top of one of the most intriguing plots in a video game.
Mitsuda’s and Uematsu’s official soundtrack is still one of the best things in all gaming. It has been remade by fans countless times.
The graphics still look great, and the use of 3D for magical spells created a sense of the “otherworldly” nature of magic.
The Bad and Ugly: Some things are beyond negative criticism.
Why Everyone Should Play It: Because it symbolized the zenith of the technical power of the SNES and represented the very best of what the 2D JRPG could have been in 1995. It is one of the best RPGs of all time, one of the best SNES games of all time, and one of the best games of all time. This is the first game I ever stayed up all night playing.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE by IRRATIONAL GAMES (PC, THE CONSOLES)
First Released: March 26, 2013
Bioschock Infinite is one of those sublime experiences that are becoming rarer and rarer in in our spin-off, sequel, and prequel era. Narratives of such scope are difficult to encapsulate in a few hundred words. The world of Bioshock Infinite is both beautiful and grotesque. The paradisiacal landscape is overshadows by gratuitous violence soon after the game begins. The narrative structure and meticulously-researched context ensure the player that (ironically) neither the violence nor the conflict are arbitrary. There is a message inherent.
The Plot: “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” Ex-Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt literally rockets to the floating city of Columbia to kidnap the young Elizabeth, deliver her to mysterious clients in New York City, and clear himself of a gambling debt he can’t possibly pay. As he navigates the dystopian city of Columbia, DeWitt soon realizes that the floating paradise harbors a mad prophet and a revolution in waiting, and that Elizabeth herself is perhaps the greatest enigma of all.
The Good: Both DeWitt (Troy Baker) and Elizabeth (Courtnee Draper) are masterfully voiced. Music, graphics, animation, gameplay—there is little by way of criticism for anything in Infinite. The action is fun and appropriately-challenging while also offering the player a variety of ways in which to engage foes. Paired with the momentum of the narrative, this prevents the player from ever feeling like they are not progressing.
Bioshock Inifinite is a breathtakingly-cinematic experience. As a wedding photographer, I find myself stepping back from the narrative to properly frame and screenshot Elizabeth as she looks out over the various landscapes of Columbia.
The Bad and Ugly: Christian gamers and parents will be wary of the game’s gratuitous violence and mature themes, including torture, racism, ethnocentrism, and class struggle.
Why Everyone Should Play It: Not only does it have all the chops of a fun FPS game, but it’s a sublimely acted and animated narrative proving once and for all that the late Roger Ebert was wrong when he said video games will never be art. It ties together themes of violence, guilt, and economic disparity, all on top of a 1910s (southern) American cultural milieu. Somehow, they worked in inter-dimensional travel. Bioshock Infinite is a true modern masterpiece.
STARCRAFT by BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT
First Released: March 31, 1998
First marine trained…excellent. Wait, what? How am I under attack already? Stop, train more marines! First marine dead! WHAT DO YOU MEAN I REQUIRE MORE MINERALS? LIFT OFF TH—more zerglings?! IT HAS LITERALLY BEEN FORTY-SEVEN SECONDS, HOW DOES HE HAVE HYDRALISKS ALREADY? THIS IS MY NIGHTMARE! THIS IS MY NIGHTMARE!
Starcraft has moved over eleven million units and consistently ranks as not only one of the top RTS’s, but one of the top PC games of all time. It frequently makes “100 Best Ever” lists. It has been used as a case study in university classrooms and by military training courses. It is South Korea’s national eSport. There’s a thing called Barcraft. Ever heard of DOTA or League of Legends? How about the “tower defense” genre? Those games were invented as Starcraft mods. Now try typing “zerg rush” into Google. Do you…do you see?
The Good: Starcraft hosts one of the deepest, most well-written, most well-acted plots in any game ever. It is amazing science fiction told from the perspectives of the game’s three main races (primary antagonists included, but there’s plenty of moral gray to go around). Let’s add on to this Blizzard’s ability to fashion three distinct (play style, aesthetics, everything) yet equally viable playable races that each host dozens or even hundreds of strategies. Most games have “OP” characters or tactics. And while a zerg rush is more effective in a 64×64 1-on-1 map with a direct line from one opponent to the other, the viability of certain tactics is highly-dependent upon the arena.
If the story and gameplay weren’t enough, we’d still have access to the map and campaign editors that opened up countless hours of fun for would-be developers, such as a younger version of me, and spawned no less than two contemporary gaming genres.
Starcraft pioneered much of what is considered “standard” in today’s RTS/MOBA genres.
The Bad and Ugly: Dwight Schrute from the office as the Queen of Blades.
It’s pretty much South Korea’s national sport, so good luck ever trying to get good. You don’t know what hell is until you you’ve lost a round of Starcraft in under ninety seconds to a prepubescent naysayer whose fingertips are caked in cheese doodle powder. And he’s allegedly had relations with my mother?
Why Everyone Should Play It: It will help you really grasp Paul’s theology of suffering in 2 Corinthians.
Why Everyone Should Actually Play It: Starcraft is the RTS by which all other RTS’s are judged. It completely changed the way RTS games after it were built while setting the bar in the process.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME by NINTENDO
Hey, listen. Are we even talking about this? It’s the highest-rated game on Metacritic, holds a Guinness Book of World Records record, and is considered by many the greatest game of all time.
…I suppose we are talking about this, cause…I’m…the writer and all…
First Released: November 21, 1998
The Good: A sweeping story of heroism across a fantastic and beautiful mystical kingdom, tear-jerking music, mind-bending puzzles, unforgettable characters, gut-wrenching action, heart-pounding adventure, all while rescuing the princess from the Great King of Evil, skirting back-and-forth through time and piping on an ocarina!
*Takes a breath.*
And it’s on 3DS and it’s awesome. PS: Kakariko Village, Kokiri Forest, Hyrule Field, Death Mountain, and Zora’s Domain all look great in that crisp 3-D. If you haven’t played OoT on 3DS yet, borrow it from a friend. Rob a bank. Okay, don’t rob a bank…just…get your cheese doodle-eating claws on it somehow.
After all these years, Ocarina of Time is still a wonderful thing.
The Bad and Ugly: Please.
Why Everyone Should Play It: This guy recreated Kakariko Village in the Unreal 4 Engine. You can buy ocarinas at cons and you and I know you know what A v ^ A v ^ means and you just hummed the Song of Storms.
Something not on the list that should have been? Unbundle your undies; there’s still more to come.
Agree? Disagree? Something nice to say? Leave it below.
Background image source.
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