Welcome back to the second part of my Top 25 Games list, where we’ll be covering entries 20-16. As I began working on this part of the list, I realized it might seem strange to mention which platform I used to play these games. After all, I should theoretically be focusing on the software, not the hardware. I think it’s important to mention platforms because somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that I’ve played several of these games without experiencing the definitive versions people prefer. Talking about the hardware I’ve used helps contextualize my experiences with each game, and tells you something about how and when I might have played them.
For example, I had the luxury growing up to play both the original version of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and the HD edition, and came to the conclusion that Wind Waker HD is better. But this isn’t the case with every game. When I listed Legacy of Ys: Books I & II on DS, I mentioned that many fans see that port as inferior to many of the others out there, especially the PSP version. Similarly, with a game like Rez, I’ve only experienced the PS2 version, even though most people came to the game when it was enhanced for Xbox 360 or Playstation VR. Sometimes, the platform you play on is almost as important as the game itself. I can think of cases later on where this line of thinking breaks down and the platform doesn’t matter as much, but I still think it’s good to create this context where appropriate.
Anyway, on to the next portion of the list.
THE LIST SO FAR:
25. Kirby Air Ride
23. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
22. Legacy of Ys: Books I & II
21. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
20. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Ubisoft Montreal / Platform: PS3 / Release Year: 2010
The last time I played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, I blew through it in four days. I don’t think I can tell you a lot about the story without consulting a wiki, but even when I’m replaying it, it feels sublime. It’s like being sucked into a vacuum where ten or twelve hours can pass and I barely notice. This isn’t something that happens often with me, but when it does, it makes me happy. It’s one of the biggest compliments I can give a game – every single element from the narrative, to the structure, to the gameplay works so well together, it becomes hard to stop. In my mind, it’s a mess of blurred memories and pure satisfaction that I’d love to play again.
What’s funny is that I booted up Brotherhood again because Far Cry 5 left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to see if I could still enjoy the Ubisoft open world formula, and clearly I did. Where Brotherhood succeeds despite being eight years older is how it balances everything. I feel like I’m interacting with the game in the best way possible, not sitting there, second-guessing gameplay systems and design choices. The story is fun and gets appropriate coverage, but players can choose to experience each beat when they want to. Exploration, in turn, is pretty open but has enough barriers to not feel directionless. It’s the difference between dropping a player in an open world and expecting them to have fun, and dropping them in a world that’s carefully directed, but still extremely open to interpretation and experimentation. It’s a fine line to tread, but Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood handles it masterfully.
19. Mega Man Legends
Publisher: Capcom / Developer: Capcom / Platform: PS1 / Release Year: 1998
I wrote about my nostalgia for Mega Man Legends for this blog pretty early on, and count myself as one of the game’s defenders. It’s not like other Mega Man games, but it’s worth playing on its own terms. It’s one of the few 3D PS1 titles that manages to hold up okay. One of the things I’m still impressed by is how crucial its sound design is. Dungeon crawling feels lonely, and is accompanied by sparse, ambient noise that can unnerve the player, setting them on edge. The rest of the game is bright and cheerful, not too removed from the Saturday morning shows I watched as a kid. These two disparate tones should not work together, but they do. One acts like a respite from the other, instead of just clashing like you might expect.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Game Informer’s Super Replay of Mega Man Legends. Their playthrough of the game brought me a lot of joy when it released over eight years ago. It helped me realize things about this game that went completely over my head, and reminded me of just how great it is. Game Informer‘s Super Replays are partially responsible for my love of a few other games from this era, including Illbleed (#24 on this list), Blue Stinger, and OverBlood. However, Mega Man Legends ranks above them because it’s still the most fun to play. Without Game Informer‘s weekly Replay show, I don’t know if I’d be here writing this, so I suggest giving it a watch. You’ll see where a good portion of my tastes come from. Especially in comedy.
18. Life is Strange
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Dontnod / Platform: PS4 / Release Year: 2015
I’m willing to overlook the campy dialogue because Life is Strange is so much more than its moment-to-moment presentation. On almost level, this game is a success, and has helped pioneered the cause for more realistic and thoughtful games, even though superpowers and time travel exist at its core. Looking at the larger picture, it’s an ambitious title that takes huge risks in every episode, and almost always finds ways to pay them off. It deals with subjects like depression, suicide, queer sexuality, and more in terms that are relatable and still relevant four years on. More games have since come out that tackle subjects like these with more finesse and subtlety, but this is a game with a full range of broad strokes and small character moments. Max and Chloe are some of the most realistic protagonists I can think of, while supporting characters like David Madsen and Warren remind me of people I know. (If you say you don’t know a Warren in your life, you’re probably a Warren. Sorry.)
This is a title I love coming back to again and again. I’ve watched Let’s Plays and I’ve introduced it to friends. Despite the amount of story, no two playthroughs are quite alike because everyone’s choices are so different. I love seeing the way some players can sit stumped, agonizing over their choices for minutes, while someone else can make the choice without a second thought. Plus, there’s the ending, which takes a page from the Neon Genesis Evangelion and Metal Gear Solid 2 school of endings. It goes bonkers in all the right ways while still finding a way to justify the sudden diversion. I imagine that’s a controversial statement to make, but it’s true.
17. Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Bandai Namco/Sora / Platform: Switch / Release Year: 2018
I ended up not reviewing Super Smash Bros Ultimate last year because I had more fun playing it over the last eight months than I would have trying to rush out my thoughts. As huge fan of Melee, I believe Ultimate is the superior game – the true successor that I’ve been waiting for. It makes me excited for the Smash Bros franchise in a way I haven’t been in years. I’m hanging on every piece of DLC news like it’s 2006 again and Oblivion‘s horse armor is making headlines. Ultimate came in fourth place when I tallied up my Top Ten Games of 2018 months ago, but it’s moved up since then. Second to my time with Life is Strange 2 (which will likely make this list if it sticks the landing), this is now my favorite game of 2018.
A lot of it comes down to the combat. It just feels right. I didn’t like what changed in Brawl, and thought Smash 4 came close to outshining Melee, but Ultimate feels like a true evolution. From the speed, to the expanded roster, to the minute balance changes, it’s just great. I also love that in Classic mode, each character has a campaign that reflects their personality or history. Just as clever are the abundance of obscure titles and characters (Raymond Bryce!) brought to the World of Light mode. It’s a work that shows a greater love for games and craft than I ever thought possible. If this list were longer, I can see a point where Melee would have eventually popped up, but Ultimate runs circles around it. I kind of wish I reviewed it now.
Publisher: Sega / Developer: United Game Artists / Platform: PS2 / Release Year: 2002
My experience with Rez started when I found a used copy in a generic case at a local game store. I had heard of the name before, but didn’t know much. When I brought it home, I recognized the surface comparisons to Panzer Dragoon-style on-rails shooters, but quickly found a game that’s so much more. It’s about the experience, not playing it from start to finish. You can do that, but if you don’t take the time to let the game wash over you, you’ll probably feel nothing.
An electronic beat starts off every level, as the visuals start to build themselves before your very eyes. You lock onto an enemy and fire, and suddenly you’re creating beats to the music and adding particle effects to the world. The enemies start coming faster and faster, the levels speed up and show more of themselves in their abstract, wireframe way, but after a while all of that starts to melt away as you focus on getting in the zone. You react to the game and the game reacts to you. That sounds really basic to say, but in most games, that’s taken for granted. Here, it feels like a bonus.
Like Illbleed, Rez is a great example of the unique experiences Sega was pumping out as the Dreamcast died and they became a third party developer. Launching on both their system and the Playstation 2 everywhere but in North America, it’s hard to imagine anyone else funding Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s vision of a synesthetic on-rails shooter. It’s a cult classic, but so much has come out of its development, from the Trance Vibrator to, later, the Synesthesia Suit. Because of Rez, Mizuguchi was able to make a career out of providing like these, later creating Lumines and Tetris Effect. Actually, thinking about it – I have a PSVR. I really should try Rez Infinite. I’m just scared that, once I start up, I may never want to leave.
If you disagree with this list, I’d love to know! You can leave a comment below, follow me on Twitter, or email me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com to tell me more. You can find Part One of this list here. Part Three will be up soon, and cover entries 15-11, so stay tuned for that!