This series was initially published at Optix Gaming.
When I was writing for Optix Gaming, I came up with this series – my Top 100 Video Games of All Time. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get around to finishing the thing. I’ll be doing that here, on my personal blog. Here is the first chunk of 25 entries – if you read it over at Optix Gaming, nothing has changed. Move along.
100. Fester’s Quest (NES)
Right off the bat, I have some explaining to do. Fester’s Quest is a derivative tie-in video game. I understand that, but somehow the gameplay has stuck with me over time. The design of the levels were engaging and the combat mechanics worked as well as they should have. Obviously, with many of these choices, other personal factors play a key role. From a young age, this was one of my most rented games at our mom-and-pop video store, Four Star Video. Something about the macabre nature and recognizable characters caught my eye, but the gameplay kept me coming back.
99. 1080 Snowboarding (N64)
Plenty of the choices on this list have to do with firsts. Now, this isn’t the best snowboarding game on the list, but, as with many Nintendo 64 games, this was the first one where I felt as if I was cutting through powder. The responsiveness of the controls and the fantastic animations fleshed out this game in a realistic way. The courses were fast and challenging, and the customization, though limited in retrospect, gave 1080 Snowboarding an advantage over other sports titles at the time.
98. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (N64)
I bet I know why you owned Star Wars: Rogue Squadron growing up: the Expansion Pak. Sure, as kids we didn’t have any clue what it was, but all we knew was that we had to have it in order to take our Nintendo 64 to the next level. And the difference in resolution output was better, but even better was the game itself. Rogue Squadron took one of the best elements from Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, the flight action, and replicated it throughout the Star Wars saga. The environment seemed so grounded in the ethos that it was one of the first Star Wars video game titles to feel like a true extension of the universe.
97. Wave Race 64 (N64)
Again, here is where the game design for Nintendo 64 excelled and why it is among the best systems ever produced. Many of the game developers at the time recognized the gigantic leap forward that the N64 represented, and a lot of them concerned themselves correctly with building games that stressed environment over structured gameplay. One of my purest memories is cracking open Wave Race 64 on Christmas Day and feeling transported to the water – it rocked just like the ocean, it parted just like waves, and it was manipulated just the right way. The openness of the tutorial session at the beginning of the game was less about teaching you the controls and more about showing off. Gotta love confident and competent developers.
96. Galaga (Arcade)
No gamer worth their weight in quarters would deny the addictiveness of Galaga. There were many pretenders out there, and there have been many since, but this original arcade staple is still one of the most enjoyably frustrating games to play. Looking back, Galaga had a lot going for it – the amount of perfectly constructed villains was elaborate for the era, the gameplay was smooth (depending on the responsiveness of that particular cabinet’s controls), and the visual design was aesthetically pleasing. All in all, Galaga represented the best in basic arcade fixed shooters.
95. Jungle Strike (Genesis)
An often overlooked series of games, the Strike series for Sega Genesis was a bold step. There were plenty of airplane fighters, naval shooters, and side-scrolling macho blasters, but nothing did helicopter warfare quite as well as Jungle Strike. The Genesis afforded the developers a platform that could handle a layered, 3D-like experience, which this game used to its advantage. In the end it was a shooter, but it was also an open-world game with a destructive setting. Buildings were reduced to rubble, ladders dropped from the chopper retrieved NPCs, and armored vehicles patrolled realistic streets.
94. Star Wars: Battlefront (PS2)
Battlefront holds a special distinction in my life: it was one of the only games that my sister and I ever played together. We had different tastes: she played Myst, I rocked Leisure Suit Larry. She played games based on television shows like The X-Files, I loved movie-property games like Genesis’ Jurassic Park. Our paths never really crossed because, even though I was a massive gamer compared to her, we just liked differing styles of games. That was until Battlefront came out, and holy shit, did we waste a ton of time on that game. The great thing about this title is the scope, and how well the engine drew these chaotic battles. Nowadays, games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 feel cinematic and gigantic, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the immersive nature of Battlefront.
93. WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (N64)
Every child of the 80s/90s/00s goes through their wrestling phase. It is a right of passage in the United States, and it is something that sticks with you forever. Seriously, it is almost like a curse but then you realize how awesome it is that you know Triple H’s walk-out music or that Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock was the best finishing move of the late 1990’s. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that wrestling is a lifestyle and it is a robust topic. The elements, angles, and aspects of the sport are jaw-dropping and WCW vs. nWo: World Tour was the first wrestling game to come close to replicating the magic. The game was pretty basic in terms of its presentation, but the system for the actual sport was as spot-on as it could be for the time.
92. Twisted Metal 2 (PS1)
The first Twisted Metal was legendary, but the second installment did it better. An absolute must-have for any Playstation owner, Twisted Metal 2 doubled-down on the humor and carnage of the original and bettered the driving mechanics. The controls were more responsive and easier to use, resulting in more exciting bouts and more volatile results. I vividly remember renting this game for three straight weeks from the local Blockbuster and playing it almost non-stop. I remember it so well because when my mother and I went to return the game, I asked if I could re-rent it instead. She drove me straight to Target and bought me my very own copy. That’s love.
91. Sim Tower (PC)
I’ll get shit for this one, but I don’t care: I put some serious man hours in on Sim Tower. It is frequently rated as one of the most overlooked of the Sim series of games by Will Wright and Maxis, and I completely understand it. It was slow moving and didn’t have the slick elements of Sim City 2000 which came out around the same time. Everything in this game breeds addiction though. There was never a point in playing Sim Tower where I thought that I understood how to game properly. Every building constructed, whether it emphasized offices or residential, I could never strike a perfect balance. That’s exactly what you want in a simulation game like this. I was chasing a ghost of perfection, and I was doing it in a stable and often beautiful cross-sectioned high-rise.
90. Jurassic Park (Genesis)
When Jurassic Park was released into theaters in 1993, it was a formative experience for myself and like-minded kids around the world. There just wasn’t a movie like that in recent history and I threw my whole being into the world that Steven Spielberg created. Being a youngster now bitten by the JP bug, and also being an avid gamer, the video game adaptation could not be allowed to falter. And they most certainly were not – the NES, PC, and Gameboy versions were below average. But then the Sega Genesis rolled around, and with it, a side-scrolling Jurassic Park by a competent team of developers. It was glorious and captured the excitement and danger of the film perfectly.
89. Blood (PC)
Honestly, don’t remember much about the single-player campaign of this game. All I know is that the multiplayer kicked serious ass. This was the game when it came down to a LAN party at a friend’s house. Yeah, Duke Nukem 3D and Doom were favorites, but Blood was a whole different specimen of awesomeness. The choice of weapons were key, with dynamite being in my favored arsenal, but the design of the multiplayer levels were top-notch. An hugely underrated and forgotten game that deserves to be thought of fondly.
88. Star Fox (SNES)
I came to the party late on the original Star Fox, as I had already moved onto bigger and better systems. The game, and its subsequent remake for the Nintendo 64, remains one of best action flying games ever made. The responsiveness of the controls were revolutionary for a flight sim, but one of the best parts of the gameplay was the sound design, namely the music. Man, the soundtrack is addictive and completely marries aural with the image perfectly. On top of all of this, it was a challenging game, ousting its Nintendo 64 counterpart in terms of difficulty.
87. Super Mario World (SNES)
Any kid who got a Super Nintendo in the 1990’s logged most of their playtime on mastering this one. Super Mario World continued the progress made by Super Mario Bros. 3 by adding more functionality to how Mario made his way around the levels, namely the inclusion of fan favorite Yoshi. The addition of this single element merited its entry, but it was a hell of a lot of fun too. Great variety of levels and an immense replay factor just puts it over the top.
86. Resident Evil 4 (GC)
We were all skeptical – a Resident Evil game on Gamecube? The much-maligned system was not the ideal platform for the best survival horror franchise in the history of video games, but it was the kick in the ass that this series needed. It abandoned the borderline science fiction plots of the previous entries and returned to horror. Needless to say, it paid off big time, and introduced a whole new generation to how good a Resident Evil game could be when the scares were ratcheted up to 11. It also unveiled that chainsaw-wielding villain that is still in our nightmares. Shudder.
85. Mansion of Hidden Souls (SCD)
The Sega CD was not a great add-on for the Genesis. It didn’t have a lot of variety, and the games were riddled with bugs, even rendering some unplayable (I’m looking at you, Joe Montana’s NFL Football). But the one thing the quasi-system did well was point-and-click adventure games, and Mansion of Hidden Souls was one of the most polished examples. The dream-like environment and the enthralling story was unmatched at the time, and was proof that the Sega CD format could be utilized correctly.
84. The Oregon Trail (PC)
There are ties that bind an entire generation. Sometimes they are touchstone films like Star Wars, or seminal bands like Nirvana. And then there is The Oregon Trail, nearly unrivaled amongst children of the 1980’s and 1990’s, if you don’t count Sim City 2000. It was a simple educational game but it represented so much more, and it wouldn’t have resonated so much with people if it wasn’t good. The build of this frontier simulation was engaging, forcing users to look after NPCs as if they were the actual friends they were named after. That’s powerful stuff. Plus, it was always fun to take a risk and ford a raging river. No guts, no glory.
83. Duck Hunt (NES)
Man, that dog sucks. But this game, for sure, does not. It was often the introduction of lightgun gaming to young people at the time, and it seemed so magical at the time. Now rendered unplayable by HDTVs, this was a beacon of what Nintendo would become later in their company’s history, edging towards direct interactivity by the gamer versus creating elaborate situations to be traversed using a gamepad. But, at the time, it was just an addictive and fun game to play with a sibling or friend, always challenging for the top score. It also united gamers around the world against a common enemy: that condescending, asshole dog.
82. QuackShot (Genesis)
An unfathomable thing nowadays is a good title from a popular film/television/cartoon property. It is one of the rare achievements in the video game industry now, but just twenty years ago, we had a renaissance of such games. Disney movies and shows were among the best games for particular systems, with the likes of The Lion King and Castle of Illusions. They were predominately side-scrolling platformers, and QuackShot was the most dynamic and entertaining. The worst thing you can do in a platform-style game is to be one-dimensional and repetitive, and QuackShot bucked that by having varying antagonists and alternating settings.
81. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
I’m positive everyone out there is screaming “too low,” but let me preface this entry by saying that it just isn’t the best Zelda title. The most consistently rewarding franchises in the gaming world, the first entry was simply a framework for what would come later, and it is my belief that the Zelda games were bigger than the systems that limited them. The Legend of Zelda was my first introduction to fantasy gaming in the traditional sense, and while it never really stuck with me as an interest, I continually returned to the Zelda series. This game was a great mixture of action and puzzles when there wasn’t much like it on the NES.
80. Madden Football 2005 (PS2)
With a series as long as Madden, it is hard to pinpoint on iteration that eclipsed the others. Yes, there were some lackluster entries (Madden NFL 06 was the first one on Xbox 360, and it was awful) but, on the whole, Madden has been a serviceable franchise. Madden NFL 2005 was a huge step forward though and it included one of the best additions the series ever implemented: the hit stick. Tackling and sacks in Madden prior to the hit stick always felt routine and ordinary. With the hit stick, you could crush guys. You felt like you were really taking it to an opposing quarterback. The progression of Madden has always been to develop a narrative and make it as close to the real thing as possible, and Madden NFL 2005 was the opening salvo in their sheer domination of the sports genre over the course of the next decade.
79. Duck Tails (NES)
My mother has boxes upon boxes of photographs from my childhood – just like any other mother in the United States. One day I was rummaging through them for some random reason and came across a picture of myself, probably in Kindergarten or younger, standing in front of our family’s television set with a beaming smile of accomplishment on my face. Why was I so proud? Well, I had just beaten my first videogame, Duck Tails, exhibited on the screen behind me. It wasn’t that this game was difficult, but that I had invested a significant amount of time into completing it. In the end, this entry is representative of that feeling when you finally conquer a game you care about for the first time. That elation and pride, but also the bittersweet reality that you’ll never experience that seminal gaming landmark ever again.
78. Dracula Unleashed (SCD)
Mentioned previously in my post on Mansion of Hidden Souls, the Sega CD was a huge disappointment for any kid who opened it up on Christmas like I did. Man, the games sucked hard, but this is one that didn’t do that. The detective-like story found within this Victorian-era adventure game was taut and engaging. Basically playing out like a bootleg Bram Stoker’s Dracula for a video game console, the goal of the game was to discover why your brother died some time ago. Needless to say, he was part of a merry band of guys who defeated Dracula, and obviously, the dark prince had sought retribution. One of the only sleuthing games that I can stand, it was like a visual novel and I appreciated the dedication to story even if the acting and design was somewhat dated.
77. Burnout 3: Takedown (Xbox)
My first job, while still in high school, was at a video game store. Cool, right? Not really, and it was always because of people like you. Dude, I get it: you like video games. You can rattle off some obscure Japanese RPG and how it was better than all the Final Fantasy games combined. Awesome. Can I get back to stocking the shelves and eating my Domino’s Chicken Kickers? Sometimes, I wished people would just play something brainless, that didn’t have interweaving love stories set in alternating realities. There had to be an awesome game that married together different sets of gamers, right? At that time, Burnout 3: Takedown was that game. There is nothing more satisfying in a video game than inflicting as much damage as possible. That’s what makes the Grand Theft Auto series so popular, so why not do the same thing but for a racing game? The result is one of the best gaming experiences in recent history. And it helped me reach across the aisle to the RPG-loving audience and share this beautiful creation. I’m a real leader like that.
76. Coolboarders 2 (PS1)
Love this game. Love it. Love it. Love it. This is the best extreme sports game ever created, and it is largely ignored by people making lists like this one. The greatest advantage that Coolboarders 2 held over challengers like 1080 Snowboarding is that you felt as if there was a real progression as you marched through the game. Items unlocked, antagonists got stronger, and the maps increased in difficulty. It was an uphill battle, if you excuse the pun, rather than just an exercise in physics and accuracy. While the interface isn’t pretty, the game itself is an example of structure over the open-world nature of most extreme sports ports nowadays.