GameSpite Quarterly 2 | Prologue: A Few of Our Favorite Games: The latest issue of GameSpite Quarterly is dedicated to exploring the GameSpite's favorite games of all time and studying what precisely it is that makes them so great. Before we kick off the online edition, though, a few of this issue's contributors have penned brief synopses of their own personal favorites, many of which didn't make the cut... but are perfectly fantastic games regardless.

Posted August 19, 2009

Bionic Commando
Developer: Capcom | System: NES | Date: 1988 | Contributor: Parish

The platformer genre is so deeply ingrained in the videogame medium these days -- so common, so well-defined -- that it's strange to think there was ever a time when it was a new and risky endeavor. Yet it was precisely that age of uncertainty that gave rise to one of the most inventive examples of the form ever made: Capcom's Bionic Commando.

Drawing inspiration from the fairly unremarkable arcade game by the same title, the team behind Bionic Commando's NES port were working with a completely untested set of rules: the hero didn't jump but rather grappled and swung. Where this had been simply a hollow gimmick in the arcade, on NES it became the essence of the game. The titular commando's inability to jump became not an impediment but rather an interesting challenge that forced players to explore his alternate abilities. And each level was constructed in a way that encouraged players to experiment and excel with the grappling mechanics.

Yet ultimately what cemented Bionic Commando in my memory wasn't simply its unique (and as of yet unsurpassed) game mechanics, but also its rather melancholy story. Despite the heroic bombast of war, the over-the-top nuttiness of exploding Hitler's skull, the triumph of saving the day, Bionic Commando ended on a wistful note as you realize the entire game was a memoir by Capcom's original leading man, Super Joe. "So much time has gone by and I'm old now," he muses over a montage of celebratory photographs that fade into black. "I hope this story will be told for a long time...."

And here we are, nearly at the day when elderly Super Joe will recount his tale. I'm old now, too, and I find that more and more I can sympathize with the Federation's former hero. As games grow ever more formulaic, I hope people will look back to this rule-bending adventure and remember the value of risk in design.

Super Robot Taisen
Developer: Namco Bandai | System: Nintendo DS | Date: 2007 | Contributor: Kat?

I wouldn't exactly say that my first year in Japan was my greatest ever. When 2007 arrived, I was still reeling from culture shock, had no friends and could barely speak the language. I was often desparately homesick and could think of no real reason to be living in Tokyo apart from "the experience," whatever that meant.

Around that time, I picked up my first freelancing gig. AnimeOnline is long gone now, but it had just launched in 2007, and they were looking for articles. I ended up being assigned a list of the "fifteen best anime-based games to never arrive in America," which was fine save for the fact that I didn't play anime-based games at the time. In fact, I really kind of hated anime.

That was how I started playing Super Robot Taisen. It had only been a faint echo up to the point, a name that I knew but had no connection with. As one of the game's that was suggested for the list though, I figured it was best that I actually try playing what I was writing about. I picked up Super Robot Taisen W for the Nintendo DS, and despite knowing absolutely nothing about any of its signature robots, I fell in love with it. I couldn't get enough of it.

Up to that point, I had generally avoided Japanese language games, but Super Robot Taisen's eye-catching visuals and copious numbers of really awesome robots helped me power through the language barrier. Maybe it's a coincidence, but it was around that time that I started developing more of an appreciation for the country that I would reside in for the next two years, and I finally started making friends. More importantly though, I had found something truly irreplaceable in Japan, something that I could make my own. From that point on, my interest in Japan went beyond mere appreciation for the culture or the food. I finally had a part of Japan to call my own.

I don't know if Super Robot Taisen is the greatest game ever made, or if it's even the greatest tactical RPG. But playing it marked a turning point for my stay in Japan. I was a little less homesick, a whole lot more proficient in the language, and overall more willing to engage in the experience, which resulted in some of the very best years of my life. Improbability be damned, those giant robots will always occupy a special place in my heart.

Developer: Ape/HAL Labrotory | System: SNES | Date: June 1st, 1995 | Contributor: Loki?

I loathed EarthBound at first. As a teenager coming down from the highs of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, I found EarthBound childish. The graphics offended me with their simplicity. I struggled against the bare-bones battle system and limited inventory. The game was more difficult than Square's RPGs and I was frustrated at constantly losing to Black Antoids and other low level mooks. Worst, the plot was basic and blunt. It almost seemed a parody of RPG conventions. I had learned that RPG plots were grand epics and the best stories ever told. That EarthBound would waste the narrative potential of the medium was nothing less than revolting. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get through the Peaceful Rest Valley I proclaimed the game terrible and put it aside forever.

A few weeks later I found myself humming Onett's theme. As I strolled to class I realized that the upbeat tune was great walking music and really gave a sense of optimistic adventure. Then, in my mind's ear, I heard a haunting melody play over the top of the song. In the outskirts of Onett there's a scenic spot where a trumpet player stands overlooking the ocean. When you speak to him he'll play seven seconds of Atonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, Movement 2. I've never cared for or understood classical music but these 12 notes, suspended above Onett's jaunty theme, captivated me. If a moment of such unique beauty was in a game as vile as EarthBound maybe I was missing something. I decided to try the game again and play with an open mind.

What I found were many moments of subtle wonder. I came to appreciate the graphics first as charming, then as art. I learned to approach the game with patience and the gameplay clicked. I discovered that the plot wasn't important but the humor and incidental NPC dialog was. I realized that other RPG plots were a little stupid and not as important as I had thought. In a small and not very important way I grew up.

I've replayed EarthBound nearly every year since then. I find something new each time I do. For half my life, it's been a constant source of joy and wonder, and I consider it the greatest game ever. And I would have missed it if not for those 12 little notes.

Katamari Damacy
Developer: Namco | System: PlayStation 2 | Date: September 21st, 2004 | Contributor: Kirin

Katamari Damacy is barely a game. You roll up objects with a sticky ball, and it gets bigger. That's it. If it weren't for the fact that they added some size goals, time limits, and clever layouts that make progression at least partly skill-based, it would be one of those products that some gamers like to derisively refer to as a "mere toy."

And what a fun toy it is. In a venue dominated by increasingly complex action games and immense RPGs, Katamari Damacy is a breath of simplistic perfection. Tank-like dual-stick controls, a dash, and a quick reverse are all you need for hours of blissful rolling action. Trying daring new routes, setting new speed or size records, or obsessing over the item collection screen - there's plenty to do here despite the lack of complexity. The presentation doesn't hurt either, with a blocky but ditinctive art syle, the wonderfully surreal humor of the King of All Cosmos's dialog, and the amazing soundtrack. Who knew tracking down a bunch of decades-old Japanese pop singers and having them belt out some silly tunes about a video game would be so sublime?

Silent Hill 2
Developer: Konami | System: PlayStation 2 | Date: September 24th, 2001 | Contributor: Tomm Guycot

Silent Hill 2 does a lot of things right. It has a compelling aural landscape. Its atmosphere is, at times, unmatched. Pyramid Head is freaking scary. These are all things I expected from the game, having played the original and watched the EB trailer at work nonstop for months. One thing I didn't expect, however, was to be changed. Silent Hill 2 surpasses all other games for its themes. They are not simple metaphors that suggest application, or cutout stand-ins for real-world concepts. Silent Hill 2 speaks frankly of the human soul.

Late in the game, James Sunderland is searching a hotel. One door leads to a flaming staircase where he encounters Angela, a woman who was abused by her father as a child. She's seemed troubled the entire game, but within this fiery passageway there is no doubt she is suicidal. She blames herself for what happened. She calls herself worthless. She begins to climb the stairs, the flames grow, and James comments on the heat. Angela stops, considering his words. "You see it too?" We wait. "For me, it's always like this." We realize that this flaming staircase isn't an anomaly. For Angela Orosco, this is the equivalent "Nightmare" that she's been battling, as James has battled through his own. And yet, she didn't say "For me, Silent Hill is always like this." These flames aren't anything new for Angela. She's had to live here, in this hell, her whole life. When I saw this scene for the first time, I realized there are people, real people, who wake up in those flames every morning. I felt a horrific empathy for Angela -- a video game character -- and a deep sadness that she wasn't just a video game character. She isn't something someone made up.

And yet, the implication follows we all have a Nightmare. Maybe not a flaming Nightmare, or a rusty Nightmare, or a rotting Nightmare, but something horrible inside us we battle with every day. Do I deserve someone's horrific empathy? Do you? In the second game of this series, Silent Hill became more than a game. More than a scary town where creepy stuff happens. Silent Hill established itself as something dark within each one of us. Something we can never escape from.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Developer: Nintendo EAD | System: Nintendo 64 | Date: October 26, 2000 | Contributor: Johnny Driggs

Sometimes I wonder how much luck was involved in my becoming a gamer. How many friends and birthday presents and magazine covers swayed me from becoming a guy who will play some FIFA '09 from time to time instead of a guy who writes for a video game fanzine? I hope I would have developed an appreciation for the medium no matter what, but I can't deny the effect of a few turning points in my life.

In late 2000, there wasn't much to look forward to for a young Nintendo 64 owner besides The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. All the buzz in the gaming world surrounded the upcoming PlayStation 2, and it's not as though there was a steady stream of quality software for my platform of choice anyway. Ocarina of Time was my formal introduction to the Zelda series and I had since played Link's Awakening to its completion. I was all ready to be a devotee of the series, and looking back, was perhaps pinning a bit to much of my hopes on the title. After all, I had to buy the game myself, buy the expansion pak separately, and a week before release, my N64 broke. After all that trouble if I had been disappointed, who knows; maybe I would have lapsed as a gamer.

I wasn't, and I didn't. It actually turned out to be my favorite game ever, one of my best reasons to stick around video games. And I'm thankful for that.

Out of This World
Developer: Eric Chahi | System: Amiga, et al. | Date: 1991 | Contributor: Ben Langberg

Out of this World begins with a scientist performing a late-night experiment at a massive cyclotron particle accelerator. There is an accident involving a lightning storm. The scientist and a chunk of the lab are seemingly vaporized.

The next scene shows the scientist, lab section in tow, teleported underneath a body of water. This alerts some sort of underwater creature. Tentacles come up from the depths and grab him, dragging the scientist to his watery death. Game over. You restart.

The man again appears underwater in a flash of light, but this time you push up. He climbs out of a lake and takes in his surroundings. He is on an alien world and there is a wild animal in the distance. He loiters too long as a tentacle emerges from the lake, dragging the scientist under. Game over.

While death is a common occurrence -- at least at first -- the game is incredibly intuitive without the need for any tutorial. Rarely repeating itself with a incredible sense of immersion, Out of This World makes for a near perfect ďthinking manísĒ action/puzzle/platformer.

Final Fantasy VI
Developer: Square | System: SNES | Date: October 11, 1994 | Contributor: Justin Hoeger?

I saved up for and bought Final Fantasy III (as it was then known in the U.S.) a bit before Christmas, 1994 -- enough time to fall completely in love with the game and, perhaps as importantly, its soundtrack. Inside the game box was a little fold-up catalog of Squaresoft's mail-away wares, including Kefka's Domain, the full score to the game. It was at the top of my list, and of the gifts I received that year it's the only one I can still remember. I listened to it nonstop for weeks; I listen to it still.

Over the following years I would steadily import game soundtracks I loved -- Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, Suikoden and Suikoden II, most of the other Final Fantasy games -- and have even picked up some domestic releases, like the Halo game scores. But it was Kefka's Domain that set me down that path, and so I remain forever grateful to Square for making it available here in a time when such soundtracks simply didn't exist here.

Developer: Blue Sky Software | System: Genesis | Date: 1991 | Contributor: Mightyblue

Starflight is the game that solidified my fascination with the space opera genre at a young age. Iíd seen the Star Wars trilogy -- the original trilogy -- on VHS by that point, but it was this port of the PC original that really sealed the deal. There are relatively few games that just hand you a very basic starship, some money to kit it out a bit, and boot you out into the galaxy with a bit of story to guide you along the way. There are even fewer that do it well, and that also instill the sense of truly exploring the great unknown as opposed to merely checking out spots on a map.

Without Starflight and its "sister" game, Star Control II, itís very unlikely that the space opera genre wouldíve had much of a future at all, and just that reason alone is enough to make it one of the greatest games of all time.

Developer: Crack dot Com | System: PC| Date: Summer 1996; August 15, 2009 | Contributor: Justin Fairchild

Somehow I perceive a deeply antisocial feeling in the idea of a desert-island favorite. Just me, the sun, the ocean, a laptop, and a palmtree with a wall outlet... staring down the years all alone.

Perhaps there's nothing more antisocial than spending months inside Abuse's fully GUI-based level editor, first drawing crumbling alien forests, sprawling caverns, and eerie corridors, and then populating those environs with mutants, robots, gun turrets, devious traps, and secrets so inconspicuous that they lie forgotten years later. This desert island is starting to sound suspiciously like my senior year of high school.

Despite its side-scrolling action heritage, Abuse was way ahead of the curve. It exhibited mouse aiming years before Quake, and was developed by one of the first companies to throw "dot com" into their name. Although the controls lacked the instantaneous timing of the best console games, no contemporary console offered a home for the levels I had imagined. For me, Abuse's legacy lies in countless Mario and Mega Man level sketches on graph paper, finally brought to life.

Final Fantasy IV
Developer: Squaresoft | System: Super NES | Date: November 23, 1991 | Contributor: bobservo

If you asked me to assemble a list of my favorite video games, Final Fantasy IV wouldnít make it into the top ten -- hell, it probably wouldnít even make it into the top 20. Itís not that I dislike Final Fantasy IV, but more obvious choices seem to surface whenever itís time to decide on the best of the best (for me, anyway): EarthBound, Final Fantasy VI, The Legend of Zelda: Majoraís Mask, and other fanboy-favored masterpieces. Recently, though, Iíve discovered that Final Fantasy IV may somehow secretly be my favorite game of all time; despite its absence from any top-whatever lists I may craft, this little 16-bit RPG will always remain an important touchstone for my life as a gamer.

My first experience with the game involved watching my stepdad play through most of the game. Every time heíd progress a little more each day, Iíd sit on the sidelines, completely wowed by what I thought was complex gameplay and a Pulitzer-quality plot -- keep in mind I was nine years old at the time. Soon after this, I finished the game myself and got absolutely hooked on the genre; and while Iíve kind of moved on from Japanese RPGs in recent years, every time Final Fantasy IV gets a new translation/port/remake/new hat, I have to play it. And the strange part is, thereís not a lot of excitement involved whenever I return to the game -- itís more like the comfort that comes with the familiarity of a seeing a profoundly stupid story acted out in front of your eyes for what must now be the dozenth time.

Even bastardizations canít ruin my love for Final Fantasy IV; I paid actual American dollars for the first few terrible chapters of The After Years, a sequel that rehashes all of the content of the original game with little regard to playability and tedium. Iím not sure if Iíll be investing in the rest of this downloadable abomination -- guilt and poverty often trump nostalgia in desperate times -- but I was able to milk fifteen awful hours out of The After Years based on warm and fuzzy childhood memories alone. And thatís really saying something.

Gradius II
Developer: Konami | System: Famicom| Date: 1988 | Contributor: Rene Decoste?

My favourite 8-bit game never saw a domestic release: Gradius II for the Famicom. Sure, you may argue that the arcade or PC Engine CD version, Gofer No Yabou, is the superior game, and you're probably right. But in the NES heyday, we didn't have anything approaching arcade-perfect ports, and we liked it that way. And even if we didn't like it, some games (Bionic Commando, for example) turned out better for it.

I first heard of the game in the second issue of GamePro. I pored over the preview for a "cart" they said was likely never to appear 'Stateside' due to advanced chip technology. Other games with custom chip-sets made the jump, like Castlevania III, albeit in a downgraded form. I was surprised that there was "another" Gradius II; after all, that's we thought Life Force' was. And I was covetous of the superior technology across the Pacific.

Luckily for me a import shop opened up in town carrying the most beautiful device then created, the Honey Bee converter. I don't know who manufactured this device, but it had the Hudson bee on it, and it probably wasn't licenced. Whatever. The store also had Gradius II, with its reflective packaging, and it looked like the real deal. I put these 2 items on my Christmas list. The best part? Since I was a miscreant, I discovered these gifts ahead of time (along with Starship Hector) and promptly played through Gradius II. Thanks Mom!

Now in our veritable gaming utopia I can play the 'arcade' perfect version of Gradius II on my PSP with Gradius Collection or on Virtual Console. My heart isn't in it, though. I like the flawed (yet awesome) 8-bit version. It has slowdown and not nearly as many objects (namely bullets) on the screen, but it was the forbidden fruit. And Yea, it was Good.

Pics courtesy Hardcore Gaming 101