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1/17/2016

Spoony's Top 100 Games, #80-71

80. Mother 3 (Nintendo/Brownie Brown/APE, 2006 in Japan)


Mother 3 is a game with a very long and troubled production history; beginning in 1994 on the Super Famicom, moving to the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, then the N64 once the 64DD tanked, then finally being cancelled in late 2000 when the Gamecube was announced and the team had failed to make much progress due to their inexperience with 3D game development.  Then it was picked back up in 2003 and finally released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006, undergoing heavy rewrites and changes all the while.  This does show up in the final product, as the game has a rather uneven difficulty level and several segments feel rushed (particularly the last two chapters).  But in spite of its problems, this is an Earthbound game through and through.  That means a quirky sense of humor and some surreal set pieces lain atop a surprisingly heartfelt and dramatic storyline.  Well worth checking out for any RPG fan, especially in light of a very high quality fan translation that was completed in 2008.


79. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Eluisive Age Definitive Edition (Square Enix, PS4/PC/Switch/XBone)

Dragon Quest is a series that was largely ignored in the west for a long time, but XI was the first in over a decade to really take off and become regarded as one of the genre's finest.  It's easy to see why, too - while the core design, aesthetics and even sound effects and music cues have stayed unchanged for over three decades now, the game is so finely polished and flawlessly executed in every respect that they add to its overall charm, not subtract from it.  The characters are fantastic, the writing is solid and Akira Toriyama's distinct character designs are brought to life with expressive animations and great voiceover.  There is still a heavy focus on monster killing and item farming, though you can greatly speed up the combat and even assign party members to AI control to quickly blaze through mundane fights and switch back to manual on the fly whenever necessary.  The game even pays homage to all of its predecessors with a game-spanning questline where you set the past straight, which is just awesome.  Lots of companies are content to just make cynical cashins that look the part but are no fun to actually experience, but Dragon Quest XI gets it, embodying everything great about old-school RPGs while working in enough quality-of-life features to ensure that it remains fun to even the most jaded modern RPG fan.


78. Tyrian 2000 (Eclipse Software, 2000)


I've never been a big fan of shmups, but Tyrian 2000 is definitely an exception, providing challenging gameplay with plenty of pop.  Drawing inspiration from the likes of R-Type and Zanac while introducing many elements of its own, Tyrian has a lot to offer.  In addition to a story mode that has you collecting points to purchase ship upgrades, there are other clever game modes like an Arcade mode that lets you collect powerups and input Street Fighter style moves to do special attacks, minigames like "Destruct" (an artillery combat game similar to Scorched Earth or Worms), plenty of alternate paths and hidden content and a strong sense of humor.  All in all, just a fun, kickass game for the PC platform; it's a pity Eclipse Software never made more games after this one.

77. Hades (Supergiant Games, PC/MacOS/Switch)

2020 was seemingly the year of action-roguelikes, and Hades is probably the best-acclaimed of all of them.  Following the story of Hades' son as he attempts to escape from Tartarus and make his way to Olympus, it's got plenty of the usual roguelike tropes - different weapons and upgrades to purchase and find, currencies to upgrade your character between runs to give yourself a better shot next time, and of course, plenty of risk-versus-reward tradeoffs in the form of making deals with Chaos.  But what sets its apart is the presentation of its story, becoming another element that gradually gets revealed the more you play through the game, die off and return to the start; all of the characters are amazingly well-written and performed, and seeing all of their interactions each time you die and return to the start keeps you invested and ensures you never get frustrated. A very challenging, yet stylish, immaculately well-made and highly rewarding experience that will keep you coming back for "just one more try" we'll into the early hours of the morning. 

76. Skullgirls: Second Encore (Autumn Games/Lab Zero/M2, 2012)

A sleeper title that slowly built its way up to becoming a cult classic, Skullgirls is a great fast-paced fighting game with some fantastic hand-drawn animation, very creative character designs and surprisingly innovative elements - infinite combo protection, virtually no unblockable attacks, and surprisingly robust rollback netcode that makes playing online a breeze even without a super-high-end connection.  Even the story is great, which is pretty rare in the fighting game genre; it hits the perfect blend of humor and drama and ends up being extremely memorable.  It may never be as big as Street Fighter or Tekken or (ugh) Smash, but it's the one I'd much rather play any day of the week. 

75. X-COM: UFO Defense (Mythos Games, 1994)

Also released as "UFO: Enemy Unknown", UFO Defense served as the first game in the strategic simulation X-COM series. The game expertly combined elements of base building, turn-based combat and business sim as the player had to manage their limited resources, reverse-engineer alien technology and keep their squads well-equipped (and alive) enough to deal with escalating alien attacks across the globe, with their ultimate goal being to take the fight to the alien base on Mars and defeat their leader in a final assault.  It also found just the right blend of gameplay elements, providing plenty of depth and challenge while not overwhelming the player.  X-COM had a remarkably good multi-platform remake in 2012 (which had an incredible sequel a few years later), but the original is certainly nothing to sneeze at either.

74. Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, PS4/XBox One/Xbox Series X/PC)

Yep, Yakuza is back for more, though it takes a very bold new direction in terms of gameplay - rather than being a light RPG with an actiony beat-em-up combat system, Like a Dragon goes full-tilt into turn-based RPG territory, emphasizing stats, elemental resistances, timed button presses for extra damage and even magic (yes, magic - you summon pigeons and spit booze-fueled flames and do other silly things with it).  The story is once again a fairly dark crime drama, but the atmosphere outside the story scenes is the same usual Yakuza charm - irreverent, goofy nonsense packed to the brim with minigames and side-stories, all of which are excellent in their own right.  Yakuza continues to be a fantastic series that isn't afraid to have fun with its concept even as it punches you in the feels. 

73. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami, 1997)

While it wasn't the first game in the franchise to utilize an open-world style of exploration (that being the relatively unpopular Castlevania II), Symphony of the Night was the game that took it to perfection.  Giving the player tons of options and abilities, as well as an enormous castle environment to explore, ensured that Symphony of the Night is a widely played game that still enjoys a massive cult following to this day.  While I never was a big fan of the Castlevania franchise, there's no denying that SOTN is a very worthwhile endeavor for the sheer amount of gameplay it offers - challenge runs, speedruns, or just casual playthroughs are all a blast in this one.  Oh, and it's got some really kickass visuals and music to boot.

72. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (Rare, 1995)


Another example of a groundbreaking game getting an equally groundbreaking sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2 had more of everything to offer.  Stage variety, hidden secrets, animal companions, sharper visuals, better music... it really was a step above the first DKC in every respect.  Hell, it even took a page from Super Mario World's book and had entire hidden worlds to discover if you found enough special coins to unlock them, and these stages were among the toughest the game, so your skills had to be honed to a T just to stand a chance at making it through them.  There were even some clever cameos from other Nintendo characters if you managed to collect enough hidden DK coins before the ending.  Now if only they could get their act together and make another sequel even half as good as this...


71. NieR: Automata (PlatinumGames, 2017)

Yoko Taro is famous for making games both deranged and surprisingly emotional, but they were always rather lacking on the gameplay front.  Automata definitely fixes that right away, combining Platinum's over-the-top style and smooth animations into the mix, and the result is sublime.  A tragic, beautiful, twisted and thoroughly gripping ride, made all the more impactful by an incredible soundtrack (that changes on the fly based on the in-game action) and some incredible voiceover from all involved, but particularly Kira Buckland as 2B and Kyle McCarley as 9S.  It may go on just a touch too long, but it's a journey you'll never forget after you take the plunge.