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1/24/2016

Spoony's Top 100 Games, #10-1

10. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Nintendo/Squaresoft, 1996)

I'm quick to denounce any console fanboying, especially those who insist on fighting the 16-bit "console wars" in Nintendo's name well into their thirties... but it's hard to deny that they have a point when the SNES has games that are as unbelievably good as this.  A collaborative game between two giants of the era that perfectly blends elements of JRPGs with Mario's distinct style of platforming, as well as introducing many creative new twists of its own.  Mostly in the form of minigames both in and out of combat - in battle, they serve to allow the player to do extra damage with their attacks or evade damage from enemies, and out of battle, they serve as a plethora of sidequests, allowing the player to unlock new weapons and items through a variety of challenges.  Once you get good enough, you can also utilize these to blast through the game in a scant four hours.  In short, an RPG experience that manages to be fun and appealing to beginners, yet also provides enough depth and challenge for even the hardcore crowd.  A real work of genius; just a pity its successors haven't yet managed to capture the same charm, and Square's later attempts at minigame-driven games mostly fell flat.

9. Scorched Earth (Wendell Hicken, 1991)


While I never was a huge PC gamer, Scorched Earth is one of those games that really managed to captivate me.  Not only was it a fun title with its relatively simple premise (blow up all the other tanks) and its wide variety of weaponry and power-ups (from ground-tunneling warheads to enormous nukes to numerous homing systems), but the sheer amount of customization it offered was amazing.  Changing winds, lightning storms, destroyable terrain, air viscosity, walls that can be set to wrap around or reflect shots, and so forth.  Hell, the retail version even lets you scan in your own mountains than you can blow up during matches.  The game really could be customized to the last detail, and provides endless fun as a result, especially when you have friends to battle with.  The only real letdown is that it lacks online functionality.

8. Mega Man 3 (Capcom, 1990)


Widely considered to be the pinnacle of the classic Mega Man series, Mega Man 3 was certainly a stellar game for its time, expanding on Mega Man 2's gameplay in numerous ways while retaining the excellent design that put the series on the map.  The formula is essentially the same as 2 - fight eight bosses in any order, then tackle a final gauntlet - but the additions made turn it into something brilliant.  First being Rush the robo-dog, who can transform into a submarine, a jet platform or a springboard to more easily navigate the environment (and cross some otherwise insurmountable obstacles).  The gauntlet also ups the stakes by having you fight a menacing "Doc Robot" who mimics the abilities of all of Mega Man 2's bosses, as well as several original bosses and a mysterious new arrival in "Break Man", later revealed to be one of Dr. Light's original designs.  And of course as per series standards, the visuals and music are absolutely top-notch for the NES platform.  The NES had a lot of solid platfomers, but nothing else quite equals classic 8-bit platforming like Mega Man in my book.


7. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 Golden (Atlus, 2012)


Once again, Persona 4 takes an already ground-breaking game and polishes it up in every respect, creating an even better experience than its already inventive predecessor and crafting an unforgettable RPG experience that ranks as one of the finest ever made.  Persona 4 pushes the character development to new heights, as well as adding new content onto Persona 4 in the form of new dungeons, an expanded storyline, countless new gameplay features and locales to visit, and even a new ending or two.  Another definitive reason to own a PSVita in my book, because this really is one of the best games I've ever played.

6. Ultima VII: The Black Gate (Origin Systems, 1992)


Origin Systems was ahead of their time in too many ways to count, and that is perhaps most evident in their brilliant 1992 RPG Ultima VII: The Black Gate.  Built on the foundation of ten amazing games before it, Ultima VII upped the stakes by having an enormous game environment that could be freely roamed and interacted with in a surprisingly realistic fashion - bread could be baked, drawbridges can be raised and lowered, and nearly anything can be picked up and wielded as a weapon.  Of course, as per series standards it also reveled in its amazing storytelling, with a cast of hundreds of well-realized characters and a game world with hundreds of years of history and lore for the player to experience in addition to the usual complement of enemy hordes and dungeons.  It was a bit buggy and hard to get running, but that's to be expected for a game of this size, and hell, for 1992, the sheer ambition of its design made it worth putting up with a few glitches and some high system requirements.  Just avoid the terrible, awful, ghastly, horrible, ridiculous and (did I mention?) atrocious SNES port, as it does not do this game justice at all.

5. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1993)


Link to the Past was one of the earliest games I can remember that had me hooked on the sheer strength of its narrative and presentation, thrusting the player into an epic, world-spanning journey whose merit comes from the sheer polish in every facet of its design.  The player definitely has plenty to see and experience with the wide variety of weapons and items at their disposal, but as if that's not enough, the game also utilizes two parallel worlds to travel between, with the subtle differences between them enabling all sorts of creative treasure-hunting and secret finding.  Top that with a colorful cast of characters, a strong storyline with a lot of gravity behind it, a simple yet charming and colorful visual style and an incredible soundtrack that gives it a feel of a legendary adventure, and you have my pick for the greatest Zelda game of all time.

4. Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1994)

Some may consider it a copout to put a compilation game on a top games list, but hey, it's my list and I'll put what I like on it!  Besides, I couldn't bring myself to pick one of the classic Mario games over the others - they're all too damn good.  Mario 1 is an undeniable genre-definer and probably the single most important game for console gaming as we know it, Lost Levels was one of those devious "hard mode" hacks before we even knew those were a thing, SMB2 was an enjoyable, if unconventional, sequel, and of course SMB3 took the gameplay style to perfection with its brilliant stage designs, inventive powerups and impeccable presentation.   Finally, Super Mario World, while it may lack the challenge and fine polish of its predecessors, also brought a touch of nonlinearity to the table, not to mention plenty of hidden secrets to find.  No matter which one you play, though, you're in for a really good time.

3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (Nintendo, 1996)


Mario's games are undeniable classics, but to me, the undisputed king of action-platformer gameplay has to be the first in the Yoshi spinoff series, Yoshi's Island.  An extremely stylish, colorful and fluidly-animated game to be sure (thanks to the Super FX2 chip), but more than that, the game is a bastion of absolutely impeccable design.  The stages are layered with hidden secrets and the mechanics lend themselves to all sorts of creative puzzles - ricocheting eggs to hit targets, transforming into vehicles, and hordes of creative enemies and bosses.  The only real tragedy of it is that all of the Yoshi-centered sequels insisted on giving the franchise a much more infantile atmosphere and that all of them ranged from mediocre to awful in comparison.  Just because it's designed with a young audience in mind doesn't mean that you can't also make it enjoyable for an older crowd, guys!

2. Suikoden II (Konami, 1999)


Another game I always felt was vastly overlooked, but I can't really blame people too much for that as it was released with little fanfare amidst Final Fantasy's runaway success in the late 90s, and, seeing its slow sales, Konami refused to print any more copies.  It put up as a digital download on the PSN many years later, but by then Konami was going out of their way to burn bridges with frivolous copyright claims and the cancellation of many prominent franchises, leading to many long-time fans turning their backs on the company for good.  It's all a pity, really, as Suikoden II is a fantastic war epic with an enormous cast and gameplay that combines elements of turn-based war strategy games and traditional JRPGs, not to mention some surprisingly good characterizations and emotional writing throughout.  Definitive proof that a large cast can be used in a JRPG's favor, and that storytelling in them can easily be on par with a good book or TV series.

1. EarthBound (Nintendo, 1995)

One of the games that got me into RPGs, and despite playing hundreds of them since, I always come back to Earthbound as my choice for the finest game in the genre, as well as my personal choice for the greatest game ever made.  That mainly comes down to one big factor, namely that this is a work of passion rather than rote repetition, seemingly going out of its way to break every trend the genre had established to that point.  Rather than being set in a medieval fantasy world or a dark future, Earthbound is set in modern day and features relatively mundane, ordinary "weapons" like yo-yos, frying pans and baseball bats.  Its enemies are equally strange, with runaway dogs, possessed fire hydrants and Manly Fish to name a few.  It soundtrack is among the best ever composed for the medium, with each and every locale accompanied by a distinct and memorable tune; I can listen to any track from this OST and the memories of my adventures instantly flood back.  But most of all, I love the game for its humor and sincerity, taking the visual style and quirky, unique charm of a good comic strip and expanding it into a world-spanning adventure, which lends itself to a lot of novel sights, clever jokes and surprisingly heart-felt moments.  This was a game meant to introduce a little more happiness into the world, and it shows throughout.  And it's for that reason that I can say, without hesitation, that I have yet to play another game that even comes close to it in terms of establishing an emotional connection to the player.  Simply genius.