I was chatting to an acquaintance on twitter a while back who works as a recruiter in the video game industry and she mentioned that one of her favourite questions to ask candidates was to name their top 10 games of all time, this got me thinking about what my top ten games were and why. This list is the result of a lot of introspection, and is my personal top 10 favourite games. I stress this list is MY list there are many like it but this one is MINE
1. Chrono Trigger [Square 1995 – SNES]
Chrono Trigger is without a doubt my favourite game, it’s one of the few games that I have gone back to multiple time and completed multiple times, and it served as my main introduction to the JRPG. In a way it’s a shame that this was my introduction to JRPGs because it’s so good that it sits up there on a pedestal and other games tend to be judged by it and usually pale in comparison.
The Intricacies of the plot, the time travel and exploring the consequences of your actions hundreds if not thousands of years later make this game really resonate with me. The writing is spot on and it has a tendency to move the goal posts in such a way that you never really know whether you are about to head to the final show down or not. The fact that on your second play through you can in fact head to the final show down at any point for a different ending only adds to the magic.
The graphics were/are beautiful and, having recently replayed this game on the DS still stand the test of time, there aren’t many 19 year old games you can say that about.
I’ve had a play through of the Sequel Chrono Cross, which although very good didn’t quite capture the magic of Chrono Trigger, I’d love to see a modern reinterpretation of this type of game, be it in the same universe or another.
Note: I found it really hard to add Chrono Trigger to this list and not add two other games that I played at around the same time: Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana. Final Fantasy VI introduced me to the FF series and was also critical in igniting a love of JRPGs in me, and Secret of Mana (Which was originally going to be the same game as Chrono Trigger but they had too many ideas and split them into two games) will hold a special place in my heart as one of the best 2D action RPGs I’ve ever played, possibly better than any of the instalments of the Zelda franchise I’ve played, although I think they are a different type of 2D action RPG one focusing solely on combat and the other on puzzle solving.
2. Kings Valley 2 [Konami 1988 – MSX]
It really saddens me that this game hasn’t seen a re-release, there are various remakes of it that you can download for free, but I’d love to see Konami revisit this series the same way that they revisited Metal Gear.
The original Kings Valley was a variation on Lode Runner, you were an Egyptologist who ran about the inside of a pyramid chasing being chased by mummies and hunting down soul gems which when collected would allow you to progress to the next page. Rather than having the ability to dig whenever you wanted to you could only dig if you had a pick axe and once you’d used it up it disappeared. It was more puzzle orientated than Lode Runner but it was fairly simplistic if quite fun, but there were only a limited number of levels that looped when you completed them.
The sequel though, improved the graphics tenfold, added a host of monsters that chased you in different ways, traps and door, and many more tools to your arsenal like the boomerang the drill, the shovel, and the hammer. More importantly because there were so many more levels it added a password password system so you could carry on playing where you left off later and a level editor so you could create and share your own levels with your friends on disk or cassette tape.
This game still haunts me, I often find myself humming pieces of music from it years, the puzzles were genuinely difficult requiring both the ability to figure out how to solve them and the dexterity to actually pull off your solution without getting killed by one of the monsters that inhabited the pyramids.
3. Salamander/Life Force [Konami 1986-1987 – Arcade,MSX,NES,PC Engine, PSP etc…]
I was going to put an entry in the Nemesis/Gradius Series in this list, but to be honest the spin off Salamander was just better than the original series. Salamander, which was released as “Life Force” in the US, came out on a heck of a lot of systems, and was also available as an arcade. It was a spin off of Konami’s popular Gradius series (released in some territories as the more sinister sounding Nemesis which is how I was introduced to the series).
After a little research it looks like as a kid I was lucky enough to play the best version of Salamander released, the MSX version took the original Salamander game and added some elements that had been removed from the Gradius formula in previous version, the graphics were improved and the game was given a story or sorts which involved you navigating the inside of some giant monster.
This is a shoot-em-up of of the purest form, survive through a swarm of enemies and bullets, and then fight a boss at the end of the level. The game had a few extra features that made it better than it’s predecessor and in some ways better than the other elements of the Gradius franchise.
Chief among these was simultaneous Co-Op play, this meant that rather than waiting for your friend to die to take your turn, both you and your friend could play together sharing power-ups and saving each others skins, there was even a powerup that allowed you to merge your ships into one super ship, this I’ll be honest was something my friends and I never got to do very much because the game was quite difficult, but when we did it was glorious!
The game also features horizontally scrolling levels as well as the traditional vertical levels which added a little bit of variance to the game play.
All in all, this is my favourite Shoot-Em-Up game of all time and I really like shoot em up games, I can see how some people could prefer the R-Type series, but apart from a brief stint on the Amiga and playing a version of R-Type on the PlayStation R-Type just doesn’t have the nostalgia of 7 year old me lying on the ground, sharing a keyboard with a friend on an MSX trying to blast those weird clover shaped enemies out of the sky (Come to think of it they were probably meant to be amoeba).
4. Fallout 3 [Bethesda Game Studios 2008 – XBox 360, PS3, PC]
When I started making a mental list in my head I thought that none of the games would be 3D, and definitely none of them would be first person shooters, then I remembered Fallout 3. I’ve had a long and awkward relationship with the Fallout series, I remember getting a demo of Fallout on the cover of some Mac Magazine, it allowed you to play through the first battle of the game, I think I might have played that battle over 100 times, I was obsessed, and I really wanted to own this game. Sadly I lived in a country where it was incredibly difficult to get Mac games, and this was before you could buy anything you wanted on the internet so I never got to play Fallout or the sequel Fallout 2.
Then I got an X-Box, and Fallout 3 was released, and I played it and played it, and played it. There is very little not to love about this game, the story its self is a little on the short side, but you can ignore the story and just enjoy the setting. Blast super mutants, and listen to the amazing music.
I’m not going to lie, the hours I spent playing fallout has made me start listening to new music, I have gone out and bough Ella Fitzgerald CDs because of this, and the music from this game will forever be associated with Christmas for me, as that is when I go the chance to play it the most.
This is the only X-Box Game I own that I have not only completed but that I have gotten 100% of the achievements for, I think my play count for this game is something in the region of 160 hours, a lot of that was spend just wondering the wasteland looking at how beautiful Washington DC is even after it’s been blown to bits, I even recognise some of the places in the game from when I visited DC years ago, and oddly it’s made me want to revisit DC again.
You don’t play Fallout 3 for the main story, you play it for the side quests, for the setting, the music, the characters, and to blow stuff up with cool weapons.
5. E.V.O.: The Search for Eden [Enix 1992 – SNES]
These days the default type of game that anyone makes when they come up with a concept seems to be a first person shooter, when I was growing up the default gameplay type was the 2D platformer, as such 2D platformers have a special place in my heart.
It was really tempting to pick a Mario title as my favourite game that represented a 2D platformer, Super Mario Bros 3 was very nearly on this list as my example of the genre, but if you’ve played one Mario Game you’ve played them all, sure they are tweaked a little, the odd power-up added here and there new game design elements innovated, but at their heart you are a plumber who eats mushrooms trying to save a princess by jumping on other mushrooms and turtles.
E.V.O. is different, the bane of platform games has always been the aquatic levels, very few games get it right, E.V.O. does, the first hour or so of the game is an aquatic level, but that’s fine, because you are a fish.
In E.V.O. you start off as a fish and gain EVO points by eating other fish and or plants, you can use these points to evolve better jaws, a bigger tail, armour, a spike among other things, how your character turns out is up to you, you will eventually emerge onto land where you will spend the rest of your time, unless you evolve into a bird later (I seem to recall having the choice to evolve into either a mammal or a bird but I could be wrong).
It’s a really clever game, and the evolution mechanic is really well done, it lets you tailor your character to play as you want to play.
People lauded Spore for doing this in 2008, but E.V.O. beat Spore to the concept by 16 years. What other game lets you start off as a fish and through the decisions you make lets you evolve into anything from a Dragon to a Human?
6. Castlevania: Symphony of The Night [Konami 1997 – PlayStation]
I only recently started playing Metroid on my 3DS so the Castlevania series is the only part of the “Metroidvainia” pairing (a duumvirate if you will) that I have much experience with. I’d played the original Castlevania or Vampire Killer on the MSX and I’d played Simon’s quest and Super Castlevania on the GameBoy and SNES respectively, but none of those games stick with me like Symphony of the Night.
It’s partially the extensive castle that gives the series it’s name, this was the first game in the series that allowed you to explore and re-explore areas of the castle with parts becoming available as you gained different abilities.
It’s also probably partially to do with the main character, rather than playing a love struck Belmont on a quest to save the damsel in distress, you are an angsty half vampire on a mission to redeem yourself and stop you father’s reign of terror. Not only that but instead of the series’ regular whip you get to make use of a veritable arsenal of weapons, armour, magic items and spells, as well as being able to transform into a bat, a wolf, and a cloud of toxic mist. Aaaaaaaand! you got to have one of a number of familiars which aided you on your quest by killing enemies from afar or pointing out hidden secrets!
This game was essentially a 2D platformer RPG, and a lot of the elements pioneered in this game have been carried forward in later iterations of the series, especially the handheld incarnations.
Also you can’t mention Symphony of the Night without mentioning it’s soundtrack, the synth metal gothic riffs made full use of the PlayStations capabilities, and really helped to build atmosphere and tension. You could even listen to some of the soundtrack if you put the game disc in a CD player and skipped to the 2nd track.
The developers of Symphony of the Night opted to stay true to the series’ 2D heritage rather than going 3D, they used the extra space to pack the game with some of the most beautiful sprites that have ever graced a console, and given how the later Castlevania 3D on the N64 turned out I’m really glad they stuck to two dimensions, this game is stunning and still stands the test of time, and it’s available on the XBox 360 and PlayStation Store.
7. Tetris [Alexey Pajitnov 1984 – Every console/computer under the sun]
This game needs no introduction, it’s one of the most widely sold games in the world and is available on almost every platform with a screen, and probably some without. I got Tetris with my GameBoy in 1989 and was quickly addicted.
There is a lot to be said for simplicity in game design, and it doesn’t get much more simple and elegant than Tetris, this game spawned a bagillion remakes and inspired a whole genre of games, giving birth to everything from Columns to Dr. Mario and beyond.
One of the magic things about Tetris is that by some fluke the number of combinations of 4 blocks is 7 which is apparently a “Magic number” for the average human brain, in that it’s the maximum number of things the average person can keep in memory at the one time. This allows us to be prepared for any of the 7 Tetronimos.
Apparently playing Tetris too much changes the way you think improving your spatial awareness and even making you a better driver.
8. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem [Silicon Knights 2002 – GameCube]
I’m not really one for survival horror games, I remember playing one of the Resident Evil games with a group of friends once, but to be honest they don’t really scare me, although I’ll admit that Dead Space stresses me out, when I play it I think it’s stress and not fear.
Eternal Darkness isn’t a survival horror game, sure it’s a horror game where you have to survive as in any game (I can’t think of any games in which the object is to die I’m sure they are out there though). This game takes a leaf from the works of HP Lovecraft, it’s Eldritch horror and it’s done really well.
A core mechanic in Eternal Darkness is the sanity meter, if your sanity goes below a certain threshold you start to go crazy. The clever thing about this is that the game messes with you as a player some of the insanity effects are:
- A fly buzzing about the screen
- Going into a room and being brutally killed then flashing back to before you entered the room.
- The screen goes blue and displays Video 1 in the top corner as if the video cable has been disconnected.
- The game pretends that the console has crashed and rebooted and that your save is corrupted.
- The game makes you think you’ve accidentally deleted all your saves
- Controls get inversed
- Screen is flipped upside down
The game also plays really spooky sounds the more crazy you get, it’s really atmospheric.
This isn’t just a concept piece though, the game it’s self is really good too! You play Alexandra Roivos, and you are investigating the mysterious death of your grandfather, in doing so you discover a book bound in human flesh, and when you read it you play through a series of characters through history all uncovering a plot to summon an Elder god to this world and bring about the end of the world.
The range of characters is excellent and along the way you pick up runes which when combined allow you to cast various spells, the nice thing about this spell system is you can experiment and find out spells or you can wait till you find guides for particular spells.
It’s a real shame that Silicon Knights have gone bust, this is a game that needs a sequel, sadly Nintendo has patented the sanity mechanic and given Nintendo’s reluctance to release games aimed at adults I don’t see them making use of that patent any time soon. There was a Kickstarter campaign to fund a remake called Shadow of the Eternals but it didn’t even make half of it’s funding goal.
9. Mass Effect [Bioware 2007 – XBox 360, PS3, PC]
I never got a chance to play the Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic games, I’ve since seen bits and pieces of them being played and I understand their place in video gaming history. Mass Effect is the spiritual successor to that series, this game is what happens when you take as many science fiction tropes as you can think of put them in a bag shake it up and add amazing story telling.
On this surface this game could conceivably be seen as a StarWars game with all the licensed stuff ripped out, that would be unfair though, the creators of the Mass Effect universe have gone to great pains to weave a deep and interesting setting. The story telling is top notch, the extra fluff that you don’t even need to read is actually interesting, and the characters are well thought out.
If I had to take issue with one thing it’s the polarity of the alignment system, everything is boxed into either “Paragon” or “Renegade” and you progress along a track towards one or the other. This ends up being you either being a goody two shoes or being an ass-hole, when will game designers realise that being an ass-hole is not the same as being evil?
The choice of classes is top notch too, if you want to play this game as if it were an FPS you can, if you want to pause it and cast spells etc. you can do that too, there are even middle ground classes for the indecisive.
Mass effect also get’s top points for it’s cast of NPCs and the relationships you can choose to form with them, or not, your decisions will at points decide whether members of your party live or die, at one point at your own hands, I like the permanence of that.
10. Bomber Man [Hudson 1983 – Almost every system under the sun]
I have vague memories of playing a version of BomberMan on my cousin’s MSX, I have fond memories of both the multi-player and story mode of Super BomberMan on the SNES, and I still rave about playing 10 player games of Saturn Bomber Man.
There is something cathartic about running about a maze trying to blow your friends to bits. BomberMan is a really simple game concept that requires both reflexes and forward planning, navigating the maze avoiding the little red balloons is almost PacMan like, but instead of relying on power pills you rely on bombs, everybody loves bombs.
The strategy of bomb placement to try and outsmart or trap the AI opponents, or even another player, the frustration of accidentally boxing yourself in and blowing yourself up, the satisfaction of triggering a bomb that was meant to kill you and instead blowing one of your friends into smithereens, there is nothing like it.
A few games didn’t quite make the cut for top ten, I feel the need to mention them though, so at the risk of making this a top 15 or top 20 I’ve included a few honourable mentions, that might not be in my top 10, they may not even be very good games, but they are games that mean an awful lot to me and either kindled my love of games or cost me a lot of spare time when I should probably have been doing something more useful.
1. Sinistar [Williams 1982 – Arcade]
The words “Beware I Live!”, “I Live! I Hunger!” and “Run Coward!” will forever be etched into my psyche. This was one of the arcade games that they had at the recreation center where I grew up and I spent so much money on it it’s unbelievable.
2.Blast Corps [Rare 1997 – N64]
It doesn’t quite have the retro appeal of BomberMan, but there is a lot to be said for trying to destroy as much of a city as possible with large vehicles.
3. Frogger [Konami 1981 – Everything!]
I’m not sure if this was the first game I ever played on a computer but if it wasn’t it was the second. I made up a whole mythology about why the frog had to get across the road to get flies to feed his starving family.
4. Spaceward Ho! [Delta Tau Software 1990 – Mac, although currently also available for PC and iOS]
I spend hours playing this eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate, before we had network connections my friend an I would take turns walking away from the computer and not looking while the other took his turn.
5. Penguin Adventure [Konami 1986 – MSX]
I think this game sparked my love of penguins, not quite an infinite runner, but close. I’ve already written a whole blog post about this game so I won’t rant on too much.
6. Airborne! [Silicon Beach Software 1985 – Mac]
I’m not sure games get much simpler than this, it’s essentially a military themed missile commander with an army theme where the enemies come from one side of the screen and you have to click to shoot bullets at them. I’m not sure I ever survived past the F15 swooping in, the memory of the roar of it’s engines still sends a shiver down my spine.
So that was my top 10 games, what is yours? Leave a comment with a list, and if you can be bothered tell me why.