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1/17/2016

Spoony's Top 100 Games, #100-91

Just as the name implies, this is a top 100 of my personal favorite games of all time.  Keep in mind that this list is my opinion and no-one else's, so if you don't agree with an included game or where it's placed... I honestly don't care!

100. Castle of the Winds (Saadasoft, 1993)

I'm very particular when it comes to dungeon crawlers, but Castle of the Winds was always one that appealed to me.  I think a large part of that may be nostalgia value for a simpler time in gaming; the crudely-styled non-animated sprites and graphics, the tiled Windows interface, the brief but very well-written bits of prose (most of which are in a .hlp file; how ancient is that?), and of course hours of gameplay that its developer managed to cram onto a single 3 1/4" floppy disk.  Even today, I can still load this one up in a VM and have fun for a few hours disarming traps and killing monsters with ice balls.  Games like Diablo and Torchlight may be better in every way, but Castle of the Winds is an excellent guilty pleasure.

99. SaGa Frontier (Square, 1998)

SaGa is definitely one of Square's less popular franchises, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by them at first - their unusual mechanics, free-roaming design and emphasis on setting over individual story make them much more akin to old CRPGs like Phantasie than a typical Japanese RPG.  I've always liked them for just that reason, though, and Frontier is my favorite of the bunch for its bizarre atmosphere and creative format - seven short stories set in the same overall world, and while characters and plot points occasionally overlap,  they're all self-contained and very unique.  From a woman finding herself in a bizarre new life with powers she never asked for to a supermodel framed for murder to an ancient robot trying to find his purpose, it's a game with a lot to offer.  It was infamously rushed, though, resulting in a lot of cut areas and some quests being much shorter than intended (and featuring stark difficulty leaps as a result), but a few flaws don't stop it from being a surreal and entertaining masterpiece.

(Much of its cut content was also restored in the 2021 remaster, as well as it adding several quality of life improvements, so check out that version!)

98. Battletoads (Rare, 1991)

An ever-controversial NES game for its sheer insane difficulty, but unlike many others on the system, it gets an inordinate amount of flak for that.  But if you can look past that and appreciate the game itself, you have a brilliantly-crafted experience.  While it at first presents itself as a beat-em-up, no two levels at all feel the same - from rappelling down a giant hole and dodging traps to surfing down a river to the fast-paced (and notorious) Turbo Tunnel, the game is a challenging series of obstacle courses that require a lot of memorization and twitch skill to complete, but all are very well-made and feature some downright jaw-dropping visuals for the NES.  Not to mention when you finally get to the end and trounce the Dark Queen, you feel like a king for what you've accomplished.  I'm not sure why games like Ninja Gaiden get a free pass and this one doesn't, but regardless, Battletoads was fun back then and I still love it today.

97. Space Harrier (Sega, 1985)

It's hard to believe that this game is almost as old as I am, since it conveys a feeling of three-dimensional depth and speed that easily rivals games released years after the fact.  Its gameplay is fairly straightforward shoot-em-up fare, but the sheer number of sprites on screen at a time, as well as the scaling effects, smooth motion and sheer frequency for which things fly at you, is downright exhilarating.  The strange science fantasy landscapes you blaze through throughout the game are also a joy to behold.  The game was so far ahead of its time that it couldn't be properly conveyed on a home console for nearly a decade after the fact, and even then you had to buy one of those crummy 32X addons to play it!  Thankfully, we now have a much better alternative in the 3DS port of the game, which adds in some new features like a proper final boss battle and analog controls to make it true to the arcade version.

96. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Intelligent Systems, 2004)

It may be sacrilege to some, but I honestly think the second Paper Mario game holds up better than Super Mario RPG (and make no mistake, I love Mario RPG).  The N64 original was just okay and most of the ones that followed were pretty forgettable, but this game goes all-in, putting a 2D Mario into a 3d picture book world and taking advantage of the concept in every way it can - unfolding parts of the terrain to reveal new paths, having Mario transform into a paper airplane or a boat to reach new areas, and of course having some impressive and fluid design with hundreds of sprites onscreen at a time.  It takes the minigame-driven combat of SMRPG a step further too - not just for timed button presses, but shooting minigames, filling bars, spinning the control stick, et cetera all tie in, and doing well with all of them will fill up the audience, which in turn lets you unleash more powerful attacks (and occasionally they try to sabotage you too, so be wary of that).  Fun, charming and with a kickass soundtrack, TTYD is an amazing game that deserves another shot.

95. Lunar: Silver Star Story (Game Arts/Japan Art Media, 1999)


A remake of the brilliant Sega CD RPG, Lunar sported colorful graphics, impeccable design, a fantastic soundtrack and animation and voice acting on par with that of a big budget animated movie.  Not only was it voice acted, but the FMV scenes were fully animated, hand drawn and gorgeous to behold, even sporting some song numbers that rival many of the memorable Disney films in quality.  Pair that up with some brilliantly written characters, impeccable dialog and some very challenging gameplay and you have a truly unforgettable experience.  An absolute classic RPG that easily stands up as my favorite effort from both Game Arts and Working Designs to this day.

94. Star Fox 64 (Nintendo, 1997)

A great many fans ended up disappointed when Star Fox 2 was cancelled.  Understandable, as the game looked fantastic, expanding on the original in every way imaginable and featuring some downright amazing 3D graphics on the SNES (which, as stated, was not designed with 3D graphics in mind at all).  Well, Nintendo somewhat made it up to us with Star Fox 64, a solid remake of the original game featuring a voice acted narrative (with actual voice acting, not garbled gibberish), sharp graphics, gigantic bosses, clever stage designs and numerous stage routes that gave the game some substantial replay value.  There were even two new controllable vehicles in the form of the Landmaster Tank and the Blue Marine sub, which were pretty cool but sadly limited to specific stages.   All in all, though, we have a solid entertaining game that's fun to try and get a high score on.  It was also the first game that touted the use of the "Rumble Pak", the device that introduced proper force feedback to gaming and would shake your controller whenever you took an especially big hit.  Every game console since has incorporated that into their controllers in some form or another, so it was a pretty big deal at the time.

93. Grandia II (Game Arts, 2000)


An overlooked RPG if there ever was one, though I can't blame people too much for that - its initial release was on the Dreamcast and the PS2 and PC ports that followed a couple years after left much to be desired.  However, I am glad it's getting more recognition in recent days, as Grandia II, like the others in the series, is a fantastic experience.  A darker tale than the first for sure, but it retains its innovative combat system that allowed turns to be delayed or cancelled entirely with well-placed attacks.  And of course, some excellent music and surprisingly good VO for the era add much to the experience as well.

92. Worms: Armageddon (Team-17, 1999)

The third in the Worms series is not just regarded as its finest entry, but one of the best video games ever made.  You certainly won't hear me arguing against it, either, as it's a fantastic title.  With a huge variety of weapons (from Street Fighter style martial arts to grenades to grappling hooks to airstrikes to Concrete Donkeys) and an ever-changing Battlefield affected by wind and deformed by weapon blasts and player construction, there is a ton of variety to its design and enough strategy to keep you constantly entertained.  Moreso in its multi-player aspect, which let teams of up to eight worms Duke it out until only one was left standing. The ability to bulls one's own custom terrain was another cool bonus; after all, who doesn't want to blow up their own house at least once in the virtual arena?

91. Sonic 3 & Knuckles (Sega Technical Institute, 1994)

Sonic 3 was a technical marvel on the Genesis, maintaining the series' colorful visuals, kickass music trippy levels and fast gameplay and polishing all of those elements up to 11; however, it attracted controversy for its short length compared to 2.  That was little surprise, as it was released as half a game and the later half was brought out as "Sonic and Knuckles" with a double-ended cart that could lock on to 3 and combine both games into one.  A few other extras were included too, like the ability to lock onto Sonic 2 to play as Knuckles in that game, and the ability to lock onto Sonic 1 to play endlessly-generated levels of the Blue Sphere minigame.  Basically, DLC before DLC.  But we didn't care too much, as both halves of the game (and the sum of its parts) were excellent.  Sonic may be the target of much mockery and ridicule these days, but S3&K will always be a fantastic platformer.