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1/17/2016

Spoony's Top 100 Games, #90-81

90. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (Blue Sky Productions, 1992)

A game that was built from the ground up to not just be a more realistic kind of puzzle-driven dungeon crawler, but a full blown life simulation too.  To that end, you had skills not just oriented around combat and spellcasting, but for swimming, conversing, identifying items and bartering with NPCs among many others.  It had a lighting system and rudimentary physics for platforming, letting objects bounce off of walls (and activate switches) and no single set solution for most puzzles, letting the player take an innovative approach to figuring out the game's mysteries.  Downright mind-blowing stuff for 1992, and the influence it's had on the industry since is immeasurable. inspiring games like Elder Scrolls, Half-Life 2, Deus Ex, and numerous others.  It's a bit clumsy and awkwardly slow to play today, but it's nevertheless a great game and an important building block for gaming as a whole.


89. Gunstar Heroes (Treasure, 1993)

The debut title of Treasure (an independent company spun-off from industry giant Konami) and still one of their finest titles, showing the world that "blast processing" wasn't just a marketing gimmick and that the Sega Genesis most definitely could tread ground that the SNES couldn't by providing incredibly fluid animation and fast-paced gameplay that its competitor simply could not match. All that and it was a pretty damn fun game too, having one or two players combine four different weapon types in any way they pleased (resulting in things like steerable firewalls, homing lasers and a short ranged beam of lightning) and blasting their way through hordes of enemies and countless over-the-top boss battles.  This really was a game that made even the most die-hard of Nintendo fans just a little green with envy, whether they admitted it or not.

88. 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.

87. Gitaroo Man (iNiS, 2002)


A low-key release in the early days of the Playstation 2, which would only get buried further once the music game genre took off and it got buried under a parade of Rock Band and Guitar Hero games.  A shame, as Gitaroo Man is a wild ride from start to finish.  Telling the story of a kid named U-1 as he acquires the magical Gitaroo and battles an invading alien force with its powers, the story, animations, songs and general gameplay style are all perfectly suited to that brand of energetic madness, lending itself to a fast-paced, challenging, hilarious and thoroughly unforgettable experience on every front.

86. Resident Evil: Village (Capcom, 2021)

Resident Evil is a franchise that's definitely had its ups and downs over the years, but with a resurgence that brought us the amazing VII, an excellent remake of 2 and a not-quite-excellent-but-still-solid remake of 3, everyone was excited for what would come next.  The answer was Village, and it frankly blew me away.  The game masterfully works in all things Resident Evil, from the slower-paced segments with a focus on puzzle solving and evading danger to the over-the-top boss fights, treasure hunting and inventory-upgrade system of 4, and the game looks absolutely stellar - virtually photorealistic.  It's also the first game in a very long time that genuinely creeped me out on several occasions, building a brilliantly unsettling atmosphere and a true sense of dread.  It's the best RE I've played in over fifteen years, and that's saying a lot considering how amazing the games that came before it were.

85. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (Level-5, 2005/2017)

Dragon Quest wasn't an especially popular series in the west for a long while; it survived as a niche series in the NES era, but then missed two entire console generations (well, other than a late and little-advertised port of VII on PS1, but that game... wasn't very good), so when VIII was announced for a western release on the Playstation 2, nobody quite knew what to think.  However, under Level-5's banner the series stepped into a new generation in style, with colorful cel-shaded graphics, expressive character animations in cutscenes and combat alike, and even full voiceover; a very stark contrast to earlier games, which featured the bare minimum for animations and sound design.  The gameplay itself remains faithful to series tradition - turn-based battles and random encounters are still the order of the day - but having a customizable skill set for each of your characters, as well as a new mechanic in "Tension" (basically, storing up strength for one or more turns and then using it to buff up one of your moves) added a new layer of strategy.  The 3DS version adds even more content, including an alternate romance option, faster battles and two new playable characters.

84. Streets of Rage 2 (Sega AM7/Ancient, 1992)


Streets of Rage 2 is considered by many to be the greatest beat-em-up ever made.  I don't know if I quite agree with that, but there's no denying that it is a very worthwhile addition to the genre.  Take the usual beat-em-up formula, add in a huge variety of crazy enemies (including robots, jetpack guys and ninjas), and complete the package with challenging gameplay, detailed and well animated characters, and a fantastic soundtrack that pushed the Sega Genesis platform to its limits thanks to composer Yuzo Koshiro, and you've got one hell of a good time.  A game which truly highlight Sega and the Genesis platform at their best in every respect.

83. Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005)

Admittedly, I've never been much for horror games, survival ones in particular; their attempts to be intense and scary mostly just come off as contrived and their gameplay is so one-note and slow that they generally bore me straight to sleep.  But Resident Evil 4 is definitely an exception, taking the puzzle-based gameplay of the earlier entries and kicking the action up to eleven.  The slow, lurching hordes of enemies, satisfying gun and melee combat make the action both tense and extremely satisfying, and some grotesque boss monsters add variety to the proceedings too.  That, plus some extra campaign content and the ever-fun Mercenaries mode, make it a game that simply never gets old to play.  It may be a divisive entry among long-time franchise fans, but regardless, it's a game you can start up at any time and have a blast playing.

82. 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 build 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?

81.  Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)

Point-and-click adventure games were a pretty huge genre in the 80s, but began to fall off around the time the mid 90's rolled around.  Solving puzzles and following their storylines was fun, but once you'd figured out all the puzzles and gotten to the end, that was basically it; the game wouldn't be any different the next time through.  Maniac Mansion is definitely an exception, though, letting the player pick a team of three characters (Dave and two others), each with their own talents and ways to bypass certain obstacles, which in turn lent itself to eleven different endings.  That, plus a consistently hilarious sense of humor, a lack of cheap deaths (you can still get characters killed, but it generally requires doing something really dumb) and a lot of nods to cheesy horror movies the tropes thereof, made Maniac Mansion a great time that's still fun today.