Every gamer has their list of “all time” favorites. Here’s mine…..
As a follow up to my last article, which covered my top favorite video game companies, now I’m going to discuss a much harder list to really pin down: my favorite video games of all time. The top five or six are pretty easy. It’s everything from then on that starts to get a little messy, as different games have been higher on that list at different times, some rising, some falling, and “what really deserves to make it in over what else” of course becomes an issue. Following similar criteria to my favorite developer list, my top favorite games of all time have to be games that I not only enjoyed the most when originally playing them, but also games that are virtually “timeless” to me, games that I can come back to and still enjoy at almost any time. So with that in mind, I’m going to say the first five to maybe seven games are covered. The rest, it still gets messy, but seeing as how I’m going to try to limit myself to no more than ten or so tops, it’s gonna have to work itself out somehow.
Also, given the number of games and the nature of my writing, I’m going to be challenging myself to TRY to keep my comments on each game as short as I can manage. I can and most likely will cover many or perhaps even all of these games more in depth in their own articles someday, so we’ll see how I do. And away we go!
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
Year: 1988 (1990 in NA)
So if you’ve been following Retro Revelations for a decent length of time, you already know that my favorite game of all time is, hands down, Super Mario Bros. 3. It was the first game (after a brief fling with SMB1) that I fell head-over-heels in love with, it was my first true gaming obsession, and it was a game that, no matter how many other games I got as a kid, even after I got my Game Boy later on, I would still come back to it. I would still play it through every once in awhile, and not surprisingly, still have a blast whether it was my 20th playthrough or my 100th. As for why I love it, it’s hard to sum up in just one paragraph. But if I had to try, I would say that it is, simply put, gaming perfection. There is not a single true flaw I could care to point out about this game, it was Nintendo taking their Mario formula, and NES gaming in general, and honing it to it’s absolute peak. The graphics are timeless, the music is still some of the catchiest in history, the gameplay is turn-on-a-dime perfect, the enemies, the worlds, the cool power ups, the imagination and inventiveness. Many of these elements found their way into future Mario games, but in this man’s opinion, never did all of those things coalesce into one beautiful, flawless package of greatness the way SMB3 did.
To me, it is the greatest video game ever made.
2. Mega Man 2
Year: 1988 (1989 in NA)
Only one game, in my mind, comes even remotely close to the perfection of SMB3, and that is Capcom’s classic Mega Man 2. In the long franchise of Mega Man, even though they gave Mega Man more powers and abilities, even though the games got bigger, and the graphics got better, etc., Capcom never QUITE hit it out of the park with any other single entry in the “Blue Bomber’s” games, than with this one. This game lacks the useful slide feature that is introduced in it’s follow-up Mega Man 3, or the charge shot “Mega Buster” ability that debuts in Mega Man 4. It lacks the cool robo-dog pal Rush, instead having generic proto-type platform items. And as mentioned already, it’s not as long as games from MM3 onward would become, only having one final Wily’s Castle area.
But, in spite all of that, this game is as close to perfect as Capcom probably ever got with any game, with maybe one major exception that I’ll get to later. Mega Man 2 just has “it”. Again, it’s somewhat hard to quantify in so few words what makes it so amazing. Again, the graphics are timeless, the music is one of the most rockin’ video game soundtracks of all time, the gameplay is tight and easy to get into, the bosses and stages are awesome, Wily’s Castle has some of the coolest moments in the entire series. And to top it all off, it has one of the single coolest ending/credits sequences of any game ever. I will always remember, one of the first times I ever beat the game, getting up and dancing around the living room to that awesome theme song that plays as the credits roll.
3. Kirby’s Adventure
This game is one of the primary reasons why I was, as a poor kid growing up, so lucky to still have a system in the NES that got a healthy dose of new games for it at least through 1993, and still continued to see releases until late 1994. Only just getting my own NES in late 1990, not getting a Game Boy until Christmas 1993, and not getting a hand-me-down SNES from a cousin of mine until Christmas 1995, you could say as a kid gamer I was a bit behind the curve. But lucky for me, even though the SNES debuted in North America in 1991, old grandpa NES got some of it’s coolest games between the years of 1991 and 1993, which means I still had cool new games to rent (and on the rare occasion when I was really lucky, own). Kirby’s Adventure was one of those games, and while I would not say it reaches the pure, complete level of perfection that Super Mario Bros. 3 does, or that Mega Man 2 just about does, it still comes pretty damn close. Graphically speaking, Kirby’s Adventure was one game that really impressed, and pushed that old NES hardware to it’s utter limits, in an era when arcades, SNES and Genesis were wowing everyone. Taking place in Dreamland, the game is just so chock-full of color, vibrance and imagination, with a sweet soundtrack to boot, that it’s hard not to like it.
But the REAL selling point, the real thing that got me hooked and blew my pre-teen self away, is the power up system. Similar to Mega Man, where he beats a boss and then gains a version of their attack, with Kirby they took that to a whole new level, where now within any given level, or even section of a level, Kirby runs into a plethora of enemies, and if he swallows them instead of spitting them out as stars, he gains their power. And the real kicker is, in this NES classic, Kirby has a grand total of 25 different powers available to him, outside of his own natural sucking, sliding and floating abilities. And especially for an old 8-bit game, that is an absurd amount of power ups. That one feature alone kept Kirby fresh and fun, even if you’ve played it 100 times.
4. Final Fantasy IV (II in NA)
As mentioned in the previous article, the first rpg I ever really played, outside of perhaps Sorcerian on PC, was Final Fantasy 1 on NES. I enjoyed that game immensely, even through it’s archaic spell-buying system and insane level grinding. But when I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy “II” on SNES, it was a whole different experience. I could liken it somewhat, to first seeing and playing Super Mario Bros., and then later getting to experience Super Mario Bros. 3. I originally got exposed to “FFII” when I spent the night at a friend’s house, and one of HIS friends stayed up late playing this awesome rpg. I was mesmerized, and sometime later, once I had my own SNES, I managed to finally borrow the game, and was thoroughly engrossed during my entire playthrough. I honestly love FFI, and IV, V, and VI on SNES. They are some of my favorite rpgs of all time, along with other SNES hits like Chrono Trigger, Mystic Quest, and Breath of Fire.
But why FFIV (“II”) is my favorite of all time, is just…..I don’t know. Again, it’s kind of “perfect”. One of the most amazing soundtracks in gaming history, truly epic that helps tell the game’s story, and a story that is interesting, thrilling and compelling. All a challenge for a video game, especially an old video game, to accomplish. The cast of characters is second to none, some of the coolest and most colorful of any rpg ever crafted, and the game’s sense of pacing and how the story unfolds, it’s just really special. I clearly remember during my first playthrough, there were a few times when I was legitimately like “YEAH”, fist pumping in the air type of stuff, I was that into it. And it’s another game where the ending and closing credits sequences totally feel worthwhile after having strived to beat the game. Many would argue that there are “better” rpgs, even in the Final Fantasy series. But to me, the SNES era was the franchise at it’s peak, and FFIV was the apex of that peak. Final Fantasy V and VI are both great games. But IV is timeless.
5. Super Castlevania IV
As also mentioned in the previous article, while I dearly love the Castlevania series (though not ALL of the later entries, and the new direction it’s taken sucks complete donkey balls), I didn’t actually, for whatever crazy reasons, PLAY a Castlevania game until CV4 on SNES, after I had gotten my SNES at the end of ’95. But once I did play it, I was totally sold, because it had everything I would have loved as a kid, and everything that made me wish I HAD played it before I was 14 years old. Monsters galore, many derived from mythology and classic monster movies. Great, dark, gothic backdrops, fun whip-slinging, monster smashing action. It’s probably no coincidence that thus far, all of my top favorite games also happen to have amazing soundtracks, and CV4 is no different. The graphics, for their time in 1991, were groundbreaking, making a lot of very impressive early use of the SNES hardware, with loads of detail, and cool special effects such as a stage where the background is cylindrical and constantly spinning.
This game also introduced several cool and very useful features, not all of which were included in later entries. The most important of which was the ability to whip in eight directions, as opposed to most other classic CV games where you can only attack straight ahead of you. I love many other entries in this legendary series, but this one will always and forever be my favorite.
6. Super Metroid (Metroid III)
In all honesty, Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid are almost interchangeable as “Number 5” on my list goes. I like them both a hell of a lot, and it’s rough to put one over the other. But regardless, Super Metroid is yet another game I didn’t get to experience until likely sometime in 1996, two years after it’s release. But that didn’t stop me from once again being “wowed” and amazed. I had played the original Metroid briefly, and watched it be played at a friend’s house when I was younger, but similar to Castlevania, for some reason I never rented it myself in my childhood. So in many ways, Super Metroid was also my first real Metroid experience, and I was again hooked once I started playing it. From that awesome, creepy opening sequence aboard the attacked space station, to those tense opening areas exploring the surface of the planet Zebes.
The game exudes a dark, brooding mood, and translates the feelings of isolation and survival incredibly well. And of course the main hook of the game, the true fun of the game, comes with it’s open sense of exploration. An action game at heart, with a deeper and more-sophisticated-than-usual-for-it’s-genre subtext, Super Metroid also established many gaming conventions that would be liberally “borrowed” by other games for years to come. And it has to be said, Samus Aran is one of the coolest game heroes of all time.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
I’m not 100% certain that this is the first Zelda game I ever played. I know that I played the first two, at least a bit, and I am certain that I did at some point rent Zelda II (a very hard but very underrated game). But when I got my Game Boy for Christmas 1993, Link’s Awakening was one of the games I got with it, and thus it was, again, my first REAL full-blown Zelda experience. And again, like the two previous entries on this list, it was the game that made me fall in love with it’s larger franchise, a game that I became totally engrossed in. Playing on that clunky old gray Game Boy, with an even clunkier “Light Boy” attachment so I could actually see the damn screen, would probably seriously test my adult level of patience. But I was a real trooper as a kid when it came to shit like that, and I really didn’t care, so long as I was having fun, which where this game is concerned, I surely was.
Why is this my favorite Zelda? That’s a good question, because I do really like Zelda II, despite it’s balls-hardness, and I also absolutely adore Twilight Princess for the Gamecube, my favorite 3D Zelda. In fact Twilight Princess at one point occupied this spot on my list, and in some ways, still deserves it. But upon further reflection, and upon recently going back and playing this again on my Super Game Boy (one of the coolest inventions of all time), I had to settled upon the simple truth that while I absolutely love Twilight Princess, there is something about Link’s Awakening that I enjoy that much more. It certainly helps that at one point in the game you get to walk around with a Chain Chomp from Super Mario Bros. 3. Also, I can’t praise this enough: a feather item that gives you MANUAL JUMPING. Praise the Goddesses.
Year: 1990 (1991 in NA)
Yet another game I was treated to after finally getting my own SNES, Actraiser is a very unique title indeed. One part world building “Sim City” type game, one part badass action side-scroller, it features a seamless blend of disparate genres that hadn’t really been tried before, and hasn’t really been done since. This was another game that I initially borrowed from a friend, but eventually wound up owning, and it was yet another game that I was totally enamored with upon playing it. Yet ANOTHER game with an absolutely amazing soundtrack, this one in particular being very epic and symphonic (to the best of the SNES sound chip’s abilities). And yet another very early SNES game that featured absolutely breathtaking, gorgeous sprite-based graphics. It didn’t really “push the hardware” in ways like Super Castlevania IV did, but at the same time there were few other games to come along on SNES or Sega Genesis that really could match up to this game’s level of detail and aesthetic. The action sequences are very tight and fun to play, and the world building is addictive in it’s own right, accompanied by, to me, the coolest (and most “gets-stuck-in-your-head” catchy) tune in the game. They honestly could have made an entire game that was just the world-building part of Actraiser, but on a grander and expanded scale, and it would have been awesome. Yet, it is that perfect marriage of “sim” and action gameplay that makes Actraiser the unique and (yup I’m gonna say it again) timeless experience that it is.
The first 3D game on my list (since I replaced Twilight Princess with Link’s Awakening), it should be said that I never personally owned the console this was released on, the Gamecube. I intended to buy one eventually, but I wasn’t quite as into gaming during that GC/PS2 era, and first because of a lack of funds, and later just a lack of commitment to the idea, by the time I was finally ready to get myself a Gamecube when Twilight Princess was going to come out in late 2006, the Wii was already going to be coming out, and so I just waited and (after waiting til February before I finally got one) got the Gamecube games that I liked for the Wii, which is totally backwards compatible. But, there were a few Gamecube games I really did enjoy, all of which I played on my friend Harold’s system. Pikmin was one of those, a game we rented together but I wound up playing, even staying up most of a night to try and beat it at his house.
It’s a very odd and quirky little game, but it has a distinct charm and unique personality, not to mention very addictive gameplay, which sees you controller tiny alien Captain Olimar, use strange little plant creatures which he named Pikmin, to help him find the missing parts of his crashed spaceship. I was hooked from the first level, and this is one of the few games in my adult life that I got so engrossed in that I tried to beat it in one sitting. The unique “strategy lite” type gameplay, where you explore natural settings and direct up to 100 Pikmin at a time to fight monsters or collect treasure or parts for you, is really a blast, and I have never played any other game quite like it. In certain respects, it’s sequel Pikmin 2 is a superior game, with no set-number-of-days time limit, and a heavier focus on treasure collecting, but because I fell in love with Pikmin 1 first, and had such a great time with it, it deserves this spot on my list.
10. Street Fighter II
The question of what game to include in this final spot, was and is a tough one. There are many games that deserve to be included, which now wind up as “honorable mentions” (because I don’t want the list to go on too long), such as but not limited to: Mighty Final Fight, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Adventure Island II, etc. All of those games are totally worthy of a “#10” spot on this list, but the reason Street Fighter II gets the nod over any others, while it was a tough call, is rather simple. It comes down to the fact that, while I love all of these other games, and have at various points in my life spent a lot of time playing them, Street Fighter II is the only game out of all of them I can genuinely say, at one point in my childhood, was an obsession of mine.
I explained in the last article how I rarely ever got to play it, because I didn’t have a Super Nintendo and my grandmother rarely ever gave me quarters to play it in the arcades. So to me, it was somewhat of a “Holy Grail”, it was a sacred thing that I obsessed over, perhaps directly BECAUSE I only got fleeting tastes of it, and was never (till much later in life) truly allowed to get my fill. It was the one game, out of all the games that I fell totally in love with at some point, that I didn’t get plenty of time to sit down and really explore and enjoy. So because it was somewhat of a “forbidden fruit”, or at least hard as hell for me to ever get to actually play, it just made me want it that much more.
Don’t get me wrong, when I DID get to play it, I certainly loved what I experienced, and to this day, it remains, even in the midst of so many other greats, my favorite fighting game of all time. That fact alone merits it’s inclusion in this list. But that isn’t just it. Street Fighter II, in it’s own way, is as “perfect” a game as Mega Man 2 is. It is the other game I mentioned earlier, the only other game Capcom ever made that was really just a total package. Mighty Final Fight on NES is close, the only thing holding it back being missing one of the levels of the arcade game, and not having 2-players. But Street Fighter II, it shares many elements with Mega Man 2, timeless graphics, a great soundtrack, a truly unique and colorful cast of great characters, and gameplay so good that almost every fighter after it tried to emulate it’s success.
Street Fighter II, whether we’re talking about the original version, the “Championship Edition” or the “Hyper Fighting/Turbo” edition, is just a true classic in every sense of the word, and in my mind, I don’t think any fighting game is ever going to really match that perfect combination of elements that made it great.
So there you have it. There are a lot of other games I could mention, but I’ve already written enough. Even my “limited comments” (for most of them), while successful, turned into some rather hefty material. What can I say? When it comes to stuff I love, I guess I just love talking about it, and I can’t help but go into detail and talk at length. It just kind of flows out, and that just shows my passion for these subjects. I realize that it might seem kind of odd that my #1 favorite game of all time got possibly the least said about it on this list, but that’s okay. It would honestly take an entire dedicated article to explain all the reasons why that game is so awesome and why I love it so much. And trust me, at some point I probably will. For now, I hope you enjoy the list, and don’t hesitate to share some of your own favorite games with me in the comments below!
Till next time, Cheers, and Happy Reading!