Scott's Top 25 Games of All Time
by Scott

25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1 |

10: Starflight 2: Trade Routes of the Trade Nebula

Developer: Binary Systems
Publisher: EA
System(s): PC
Date of Release: 1989
Genre: Starship Simulator/Free-Form Adventure/RPG
Reasons for being on this list:
The first Starflight game was made by five people and took them three years to make it, but what a work of art when it was finished. The game had a huge galaxy to explore, with hundreds of solar systems to journey to and uncountable planets to land on, all for 768K of memory. I have word documents that are bigger than that. While it did feel a bit empty (which was kind of the point, alone in deep space), it still had a rather interesting story. It was also a pure free-form adventure. Oblivion, Freelancer, or even Grand Theft Auto has a set mission followed by set mission, with the ability to do a great deal of sub-missions. Starflight instead has a series of objectives, or goals, that had to be completed. The best part was that there was no order to which ones had to be done first (some did require others to be finished beforehand) and there was no 'quest log' or 'mission screen' that popped up when you did something. Everything was decided by the player. The game never held your hand, told you to go in a certain direction, or do something. It only had a time limit that you had to beat the game by. You could, however, continue playing the game after this time limit or after you beat the game.

The sequel removed this time limit, realizing the true free-form adventure design. So how did the second game convince you to get started with the story? By mugging you. You have to grovel to a blob of slime (the Spemin) and give up some (or half) of your fuel, or they blow your ship into non-returnable fragments. So you want revenge, you want the same technology and kick their asses (do blobs have asses? Doesn't matter), which was how the story of the game begins. This game then expands into a rather deep plot. Plus, your first, second, and all meetings with the Spemin are completely random. No scripted events until near the end. One last note about the 'ending', you can change how it ends, and showing mercy actually gets you the better ending. One could argue that the second game, since it doesn't change the interface or adds any new crew positions, is not a full sequel to the first game, but it's a hollow argument. In Starflight 2, you had to land on planets and trade with the aliens living there, unlike in the first game where could only trade at the home base.

This meant that you could meet races that had not gone into space yet, such as the Nelsons (a race of 1950s American farmers) or the Teeelveee (A race of small and many limbed, things). This also added special trade goods that you follow routes to make lots of money and the aliens will be much nicer to you. You make your own crew, buy new parts for your spaceship, so it also features plenty of RPG elements. Your actions also affected how the aliens spoke to you, they remembered when you sold them special trade goods, how you spoke them, if you attacked them in space or on the planet, making your actions actually matter in the game world.

A special shout out goes to the Ng'Kher'Arla, the strangest alien race I've ever seen. They rotate between the hostile Ng, the insane Kher, and the friendly Arla, changing every 10 days. So, a game that came out nearly 20 years ago that does more things better than games today, despite the advancement in technology, kind of makes you wonder.

Ease of acquiring/playing: Surprisingly easy? You can find the first and second games rather easy, there are plenty of fan sites that have the files. To run them, get DOSBox, and run them through that. For the password protection, the same fan sites have tools that allow you to bypass them. Note, you do need use the slowdown functions in DOSBox to talk to the aliens in space, just a heads up there. Also, this game is not for those who require instant gratification. The graphics can't be described as 'basic' or 'simple', more like archaic, so don't get this game if you have no patience. Yes, I know about Starflight 3, but I have no idea when it will be done.

9: The Legend of Zelda

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
System(s): NES
Date of Release: 1988 (North America)
Genre: Adventure
Reasons for being on this list:
This is the game that made me a gamer. Super Mario Bros was a nice diversion from schoolwork, but it was this game that sucked away my free time and made me forever bow to the alter of the gaming gods. I still hum the Zelda theme wherever I go, and I still play this game on my old NES. Is my love of this game misplaced just out of simple nostalgia? Not even for an instant. While the whole adventure genre is commonplace today, Zelda was a completely new type of game when it first came out.

Instead of just a side-scrolling game where you walked in one direction to reach the goal at the far right side of the stage, Zelda plopped gamers down onto a large map just waiting to be explored. In fact, the designers of this game where afraid that people would not enjoy just wandering around, so they packaged a large map with the cartridge and a walkthrough to the first dungeon in the instruction manual. However, to leave something up to player, several screens of the map were left blank, urging players to explore on their own. This idea of 'holding gamers' hand' design mentality was still very low in the first Zelda game. And it struck the exploratory need in American gamers, making this game an instant classic. Where this idea came from and its growth through the Zelda series is completely beyond the scope of this article, so back to Zelda.

Another interesting thing that this game introduced was the idea of using an inventory to defeat certain monsters. It was revolutionary to make a monster vulnerable only a select weapon, and it inspired experimentation. Players would throw down bombs and shot arrows to see if it could one-hit-kill an enemies or bosses. Almost everything in this game had never been seen by people anywhere before Zelda. This game just gets into your mind and never lets go, I still see people playing this game, and everyone still remembers where everything is. Where all the moblin 'It's a secret to everybody' spots, where the old women are, and how much money you need to take into dungeons to buy more bombs or when you get mugged.

Yes, another game that mugs you. Oh, there's more NES games that mugged you (Déjà vu was another). I wonder why newer games don't still do that. Oh yeah, because it's freaking annoying. At least it only happens in the second quest, just like those red bubbles. Those things permanently take away your sword, and they still haunt my dreams.

Ease of acquiring/playing: Really easy. It was re-released, how many times? 4? 5? I still meet people who have played this game, despite not being alive when it originally came out. Apparently, fans have completely remade Zelda 1 for the PC, called Zelda Classic. Plus they packaged a game editor with it, to make your own Zelda games with.

8: Psychonauts

Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Majesco
System(s): PS2, XBox, PC
Date of Release: 2005
Genre: Tim Schafer Adventure
Reasons for being on this list:
Okay, I'll admit this right now: I didn't get this game when it first came out. I only got this game a short time ago, and it nearly stopped me from completing this article. "Just 1 hour, that's enough time to get through 1 stage, right? I wonder what the next stage is like..."
And that would continue for the next 2 hours.

Right from the get-go, this game knocks you off your feet with an actually funny sense of humor, twisted art direction, great voice acting, and snappy dialogue. That's just the introduction by the way. You get to meet outrageously unique bit characters like a kid who wears a tin foil hat so he doesn't make people's heads explode, again. There are two band members constantly fighting over what the band should be called, one with a fire problem. Two cheerleaders straight from a Saturday Night Live sketch that try to kill themselves constantly. And finally a kid who tells long winded, boring stories that go nowhere but involve vampires. After all your fellow campers' brains have been stolen, you want to gather them all up not just for the life up bonus, but also to hear more dialogue.

The stages are all uniquely made, from a square with its own gravity, to a swinging disco dance hall, to a board game level where you shrink yourself down to recruit more pieces and can find the two players of the board game in a house in both the largest size and the smallest size, and to a painting level where you dodge a giant bull, buy art from dogs that talk about poker, and fight Mexican wrestlers. And I think no one will ever forget the Milkman Conspiracy level, with the government secret agents who disguise themselves by just holding an everyday object, like a telephone, a watering can, or even a high powered sniper rifle. I haven't laughed this hard at a game that was actually trying to be funny since the No One Lives Forever games. Most of the time, games are funny on accident.

This game does kind of have two major problems. The first is that this game tasks you with finding lots of crap. Imaginary figments, emotional baggage, arrowheads that are used as money, memory vaults, and brains just to name a few items. It can get kind of annoying and tedious to run around looking for stuff. Hell, I must have almost worn out my 'F' key looking for the deep arrowheads. At least in Psychonauts, you can start using the quarter life extensions as soon as you get them. Hear that Zelda: Twilight Princess and your freaking 5 heart pieces to find for one heart? The second problem is that it has a really weird difficulty curve. The game starts out nice and easy, and then around the Godzilla level, the difficulty jumps up to around 'beat you upside the head' level. The game also randomly jumps between the easy and hard setting very quickly, sometimes right in the middle of a stage or even a boss fight, when one segment is clearly much harder than the others. Some parts aren't even that hard, they're just really annoying, like the first part of the meat circus level.

Still, there are games that have far worse game play issues, and ask you to put up with badly designed characters and ridiculous plots that take themselves way too seriously. So there's no reason why any problem you have with this game should stop you from getting a copy.

Ease of acquiring/playing: Easy. You can find it on-line rather easily, and it has just been released on steam. If you get it for the PC, use a controller to play it. The keyboard-mouse set-up doesn't quite work. I did play through this game with the keyboard and mouse, so it can be done. Just schedule yourself some time off before you get you hands on it, because it will rule your life until you finish it.

7: Ninja Gaiden 2

Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
System(s): NES
Date of Release: 1990 (North America)
Genre: Soul Crushingly Hard Side-Scrolling Platformer
Reasons for being on this list:
Difficulty of a game is a hard thing to nail down, no pun intended. Too easy, and gamers will beat it quickly and not play it again. Too hard, and gamers will complain, and won't even beat it once. Ninja Gaiden fell clearly into the second camp, but with a two notable exceptions. The first was that Ninja Gaiden gave unlimited continues. This meant that someone could play as long as they wanted. It became a battle of wills between the game and the player, to see who could last longer. It was the player's decision to quit, never an arbitrary end of the game due to a lack of lives. Ninja Gaiden 3 screws this up, but let's just ignore that game, shall we? The second was the cinematics between the stages and bosses. There were other NES games that had cinematics for ending or intros, and today, it's surprising when we don't get a cinematic between levels. So what made Ninja Gaiden's cinematics different and so special? Go watch the beginning intro to Ninja Gaiden 2. The music was perhaps more varied than any other NES game that ever came out for that system. It starts at a low reverb, and it slowly builds and builds until it reaches the climax, changing the tempo over and over. There is also the first use of camera angles in a console game, such as dramatic close-ups, panning far shots, and quick cuts between different characters.

This trend continues throughout the whole game, and its effect is clearly noticeable. There was even two "Ryu looking at the bad-ass fortress of evil" moments. Of course, games have gotten too in love with cinematics in recent years *cough*Kingdom Hearts 2*cough*, but this game still had a huge variety of challenging stages. Ninja Gaiden 2 had the windy mountain, the dark lightning stage, the underground maze filled with water-conveyor-belt platforms.

Story wise, it's your standard 'dark lord of evil wants to summon demons to conquer the world', but at least there are (somewhat) memorable side characters. Robert is a member of Special Intelligence, U.S. Army, who provides plot points and another target for Ashtar to zap. Irene fulfills the required damsel in distress who spends the whole game calling for Ryu to save her. Despite the very minor faults, this game is hailed as the best game of the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, if not one of the best games ever.

Ease of acquiring/playing: Easy. All three Ninja Gaiden games were put into one SNES cartridge. This SNES collection was then put into the XBox Ninja Gaiden game, which is easy to find. However, the SNES version made severe edits to all three games, and almost none for the better. The originals for the NES is far better, and they are slowly being put onto the Wii Virtual Console.
Screenshots are from the VGM.

6: Heretic

Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: id Software, GT Interactive
System(s): PC
Date of Release: 1994
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Reasons for being on this list:
While everyone loved Doom, I found more interest in the well-made clone, Heretic. I didn't like the whole 'going to hell' storyline of Doom, or the limited palette it used for wall color. Heretic was far more colorful and its story was about revenge and justice. Course, Heretic used brown and grey like it was going out of fashion, but at least it threw a bit of blue in there every now and again. There was a quite extensive story that came in the game's instructions, but like all first-person shooters, it doesn't matter. The enemies and weapons were also clones of their Doom counter-parts. I had a friend who owned Doom, and we spent a good deal of time comparing and contrasting the two games.

One difference is that the enemies were given better attacks. The gargoyles were flying imps, the golems were the pink demons with some given a projectile attack with limited tracking, and the Iron Lichs were Barons of Hell with 4 attacks (counting melee attack), I freaking hate those tracking tornados. The weapons were more balanced; the super weapon wasn't an insta-kill attack for example. To survive on the highest difficulty levels, you had to use certain weapons against certain enemies because there wasn't that much ammo lying around and you'll waste too much ammo using the wrong weapon or need the ammo of more powerful guns for stronger monsters. Heretic also added features like an inventory, and after ever stage, the number of items in the inventory was reduced to 1. This meant that you shouldn't hold onto your items, you should use them. I have no idea why someone would want 5 tomes of power, but that's just me. Heretic has the ability to look up and down, before the mouse look, and environmental dangers beyond damaging floors and crushing ceilings: ice to slide on and wind to push the player and projectiles. Let's all not forget about the and the ability to fly, which single handily forced better level design, Doom had lots of tricks that became broken the instant the player could hover 5 feet off the ground.

So, why is a 10+ year old first person shooter on this list? Because all FPS games still follow Doom's mold: Put the majority of the story in the manual and it doesn't matter, have the shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle (yes, I know Doom didn't have sniper rifle), and rocket launcher, and the multiplayer mode is more important than the single player mode. I still want to play this game with 3 other players cooperatively, since any yahoos can blast each other apart, but it takes good friends to work together.

Ease of acquiring/playing: Moderate. I think you can still find a copy of this game, but it might still only be found on 3.5" floppy disks. Can't think of many computers that have a floppy disk drive. Still, if you have the files, you can run them under either the Doomsday Engine, an engine put together by fans of the Doom games, or run it in DOSBox. There is jHeretic, a version of it made for the doomsday engine, but I don't know how close it to the original version.

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