Editor's Note: This is the third installment in our week-long series which looks back on some of our favorite video games of all time. We at PopTometry decided this would be a neat idea to coincide with G4's unveiling of the 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time.
10: Portal – PC (2007)I've aged beyond my gaming years, apparently, so it's notable that an at least semi-current title has managed to connect with me, as Portal has. It’s phenomenal: a gun that can fire either end of a portal wherever you need the entrance and exit to be; each new space yielding a new challenge just hard enough to be interesting, and just easy and thrilling enough for the game to pass under you like a breeze. If you haven’t played it, for pity sake, do.
9: Brave Fencer Musashi – Playstation (1998)While the rest of the world was going mad over Zelda Ocarina of Time, I developed an inexplicable love of this cartoon-stylized action RPG. I had learned with disarming clarity via Final Fantasy VII, that RPG’s were not for me, but Musashi managed to trim everything I loathed and introduce me so much I liked. While I understand that a game like Zelda must have ultimately been grander, the style and unique flow of Musashi will always feel superior to me.
8: Sonic 2 – Sega Genesis (1992)Ask anyone around the age of 25, what the scariest memory they retain from their childhood gaming is, and a good 90% of them will – after a long, soul searching gaze out the window- finally bring up the second zone of Sonic The Hedgehog 2. After a whole prior game of endless, virtually un-menacing environments torn through at maximum speed, all of the sudden, on zone 2 of Sonic 2, you saw it: … water. There was a water line - beneath you, luckily. For decoration, surely. Surely. And then, No. Sooner or later, into it you fell, and then a hideous countdown began to the drowning of your blue little buddy – a countdown, as you moved at a maddening snail’s pace through the purple depths, fighting to reach the surface. It was a stroke of simple brilliance turned the entire dynamic of the game upside down without forewarning or acknowledgment. And the rest of the game was pretty awesome, too.
NFL Blitz took the blunt satisfactions of football, stripped it off the esoteric complexities, and allowed players to tackle one another after plays. For someone like me, it was magic, and truly one of the most compulsively fun games I’ve ever played.
6: Tomb Raider: Legend – Playstation 2 (2006)A game that took everything satisfying about the PSX era of the classic franchise, amped up the graphics beautifully, achieved euphoric controls and made the minor edit of removing pitfalls so sudden, violent and profound you spent the rest of the night hyperventilating under a blanket. Tomb Raider Legend gets everything it needs to be, pitch perfect, and a lot like Portal, offers a satisfying progression of challenges while refraining from randomly hurtling you down a river’s under current at 55 miles an hour while being devoured by piranhas (“Tomb Raider 3” aka “Dear Customers: We hate you”)
4: Mario Kart - Double Dash!! – GameCube (2003)The absolute purest exhibition of the formula. I think if fatigue, career, or demands of life otherwise didn’t beckon you, you could probably go on playing Super Mario Kart Double Dash for, at least, 16 years straight – provided you’re playing with a group of people. The game is instantly accessible to new comers, and while advanced players are able to hone techniques sure to give them an over all edge, the game is so good at keeping everyone on a level playing field (two words: blue shell) that you never feel like a perfect champion or a hopeless loser. It’s one of the most perfect things I’ve ever played.
3: Tony Hawk 2 Playstation (2000)One of the great talents of my life was playing first generation Tony Hawk. I’m not just boasting here; I – was – ethereal. In grind combos, how like an angel. In 720 Benihannas, how like a god! I spent hard time destroying the first demo ever released for the original game, and then became a veritable force on the full version. But the true glory came with its sequel, specifically in the addition of manuals (the ability to roll along on your front or rear wheels to link tricks). I can clearly remember actually breaking the score game by going over a million points in a single session, one evening (surrounded by friends, enjoyably). The realms of Tony Hawk 2 were like a canvas endlessly yielding to my poetic mastery, a plane on which I was visitor and master of all. It was a sad day when I many years later played my younger brother on a distant sequel, only to have my ass handed to me. … At least I’ll always have 2.
We only get so many “firsts” in our media consuming lives. Some of mine include the first time I saw a Jackie Chan fight; the first time I heard New Order; and of course there was the first time I ever watched someone play Grand Theft Auto III. It was, plainly, like a dream come true – or least come to my TV.
I had absolutely no interest in the objectives of the game; the format was a total revelation. A seemingly endless environment in which I could run an absolute, cataclysmic muck, stealing and stocking cars, unloading treasure troves of weapons (if you think for one second I ever played without codes) and soaring, gloriously, in slow motion, over L trains … just like in the commercial. I had to wait a good six months before I would finally get my hands on, first, a PS2, and with it, the game of my dreams, and when I did, I devoured it as though a feast after wandering hungry.
Following games would, I won’t contest, improve on the formula (jets … to think you would eventually get to fly frigging JETS, and sky dive and ride motorcycles off building tops; I can only imagine what you can do in GTA4. …No I haven’t played it yet) but there was nothing so purely awe in inspiring as that first time I, as a game player, transcended into profound new territory, in a stolen sports car, in slow motion … just like in the commercial.
One of my favorite pieces of dialog, and this includes competition with movies (and for the record, I REALLY like movies) comes from a video game:
Otacon: “Snake. What was Wolf fighting for? What am I fighting for? What are YOU fighting for?”
Snake: “…If we make it out of this… I’ll tell you.”
Otacon: “OK … I’ll be searching too"
Is there anyway for me to convey the way this exchange resonates with me, even just typing it out? If you’re any kind of gamer, then chances are you know: games, sometimes, have a funny way of getting further into who we are than we expect. Honestly, the first time I saw or played MGS, I didn’t like it much. I wound up playing it on a loan from a friend. What I was amazed to find, eventually, was that I’d begun to really care. More than that: I’d really begun to reflect.
Of course, none of the objective elements at hand had anything to do with me, but there was a bleak, snow covered soulfulness to it, a greater subversive allegory going on that I, somehow, began to see myself within. The gameplay and plotline was, in my opinion, fantastic (the mix of stealth and action from cinematic angles; new weapons meaning entirely new forms of gameplay, the varied environments, etc) , but what I really got was an expression about life that made sense to me. That exchange above, between the nerdy, frightened side kick, Otacon, and the shadily heroic Solid Snake, from across a dark, snowy plane, struck a deep chord even before I had any idea what it meant.
What it meant, to me, eventually, was a character (in a damned video game, remember) who wasn’t philosophically rhetorical - who for all his edge and capability, did not know what the fight was for, but was searching on, hoping to survive, to live, and find out. And off he faded into the snowy night. Is it too much to see Otacon, meek and learning as he went, as implying the player? Me? It’s hard to read his response, in any case, without feeling the game was deliberately communicating with us on a wavelength far beyond the usual.