Sega Rally Championship (Saturn)
Definitely one of my top racing games of all time. It’s amazing how many hours of fun I got out of only two cars (plus a hidden bonus one) and three tracks. But when the gameplay is this honed and polished it’s not surprising. The cars all handle slightly differently and brilliantly, and each and every turn feels very deliberately placed, and it really does come down to trying to eek out a couple of milliseconds for that best lap time. I think the simplicity of the game, that small selection of cars and tracks, is actually one of its strengths (contrary to what most gamers would likely look for these days) because it makes you really explore every facet of the selection available to you, and it becomes far more intimate and rewarding as a result. I literally got into a fight with my old flatmate over this game, arguing about whos turn it was to compete for the best times—that’s how much we got into it and how serious we took it 😮
Tetris (Game Boy or Color)
If there was ever a game with basically limitless replayability—Tetris. The whole stacking and clearing lines of blocks is such a simple and brilliant gameplay mechanic that’s honed to absolute perfection, and somewhere in there is the secret formula for pure addiction. I defy anyone to pick this game up and not feel compelled to keep playing for much longer than originally intended. Even the default music is almost hypnotising rather than annoying after hours of play. The basic nature of the original Game Boy or Color versions (without a whole bunch of random extra modes and other fluff) really is a strength in this case, for me at least: Keeping things simple, pure, and fun, is one way to ensure you’re already half way toward gaming bliss. Tetris is probably the best puzzle game of all time.
Street Fighter II’ Turbo: Hyper Fighting (SNES)
One of the fighting game genre’s greatest achievements. I honestly don’t think fighting games have gotten better since this; I just think they’ve gotten more bloated, convoluted, and complicated, and are now more for a small group of highly dedicated specialists as this point than anything else. I’m not saying some of them aren’t still a lot of fun, but Street Fighter II Turbo is basically the perfect fighter as far as I’m concerned. It has the perfect number of characters, the perfect balance between immediate pick up and play and special moves to discover, the perfect visual look, the perfect balance of conveying just enough information with the GUI and no more, and perfect gameplay. So yeah, I like it—a lot.
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
First there was GoldenEye, and then there was Halo: Those are basically the two titles that set the bar for and defined console fps gaming up until that point as far as I’m concerned. Halo did so many things right and brilliantly, from the controls to the AI, and even the stunning open level designs that really encouraged you to play exactly the way you wanted to. And the musical score is just sublime; it’s totally iconic, one of the best in the industry, and up there with the all time top movie soundtracks in my opinion. Also, like GoldenEye before it, I think Halo was another flag-bearer for console multi-player gaming (both split-screen and LAN in this case). I also still think it’s the best Halo game in the entire series.
Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa (Master System)
Most people probably won’t know of this game but it’s definitely one of the best shoot ’em ups (shmups) on Master System and in my opinion one of the best shmups period. The quirkiness of the game really sets it apart from most other titles in the genre, from the egg-shaped protagonist’s ship that walks on actual feet when it lands on the ground, to the bizarre enemies and level designs that are all unique and silly fun. But its appealing kiddie and goofy look hides a game that’s also very challenging; it takes genuine skill to master and beat this little shooter. And it even has a bit of depth and strategy too, with warp levels to find and shops that allow you purchase various weapons and items that add a lot of fun variety to how you play the game. It also feels rewarding simply to make your way through this title just to see what wacky ideas for new enemies and level visuals the developers are going to come up with next. A highly enjoyable romp in the Fantasy Zone.
What a great launch title to really show off what the Super Nintendo was all about. This and Super Mario World totally convinced me the SNES was an absolute must have console. The sheer speed of the game was an instant draw, and the whole futuristic look and the brilliant soundtrack really added to that appeal. But it was playing the game that really sealed the deal. It may have simple flat tracks but driving around them a super speed feels sublime (even today), and every twitch of the d-pad is perfectly nuanced. When you achieve a best lap in F-Zero you really feel like it was all your own work and precise driving skills that earned you that time. The one thing the game lacked that I really would have loved was multi-player, but even without it I still consider F-Zero the best racing game on SNES, and for a launch-day title that’s an extremely impressive feat. Coming with its own printed comic that followed the exploits of Captain Falcon was also extremely cool, and certainly not something you’re likely to see with games these days; it earns extra kudos for that.
Pokémon Ruby (GBA)
All the main Pokémon game are great but this gets top bill for me simply because it’s the one I put the most time into. It feels like a perfect evolution and honing of the original design, and it’s probably the best of the classic 2D Pokémon games created in that lovely sprite-based pixel art. Pokémon is one of those games/franchises that might appear to be “kiddie” to people who haven’t played any of the titles, but the games really are as wide and deep as any other RPGs I’ve played and more satisfying and fun than most to boot. The whole “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” hook really is extremely compelling and addictive too, largely because of how cool many of the character designs are. And, the Pokémon count here is still at a number that isn’t ridiculous, which it kind of is now as far as I’m concerned. I’m never going to “Catch ‘Em All” when there’s 700+ creatures out there. This game, however, got the balance spot on.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Well, it’s not oft-considered the greatest games of all time for no reason; it’s because it really is one of the greatest games of all time. This is one of only two main Zelda games I’ve actually played to completion, and for me that speaks volumes. All the Zelda games are brilliant but it takes a near perfect focus in the design to compel me to play all the way to the end of any of these more “open-world” exploration games (as a genre in general), and Ocarina of Time achieves that brilliantly. In so many ways this game is a defining moment and shining example in the industry, from the inspired introduction of mechanics like z-targetting to the amazing realisation of the Zelda world in full 3D for the first time (who doesn’t remember being stunned when first stepping out onto Hyrule field and seeing the castle and Death Mountain in the distance), and even down to things like the choice to make jumping automatic and the intelligently programmed camera that really does a lot of the heavy lifting for you too. This game is filled with moments of awe and wonder, and it’s the best 3D RPG I’ve ever played.
This is a game that definitely caught me by surprise. It wasn’t really given much spotlight when it originally released on GBA, not that I recall anyway, but playing it many years later for the first time left me stunned at how brilliant it was. It’s one of the few games I’ve sat playing for literally whole days non-stop (save for toilet and snack breaks), because it was just so addictive and fun. Visually it’s really simple on the GBC screen but also brilliantly realised at the same time, with some great character details and well done cutscenes at select moments in the game. And the controls really have to be commended here too; squeezing any kind of RTS controls on the two buttons of the GBC and actually making it feel genuinely good is a major achievement. But that’s true of almost every aspect of this game. It’s a technical marvel that they managed to have so many little characters all moving around independently with simple but perfectly workable AI doing its job very admirably. I even love the blippy-beepy music and sounds of the game too. Warlocked is an RTS game that will likely surprise a whole lot of people if they give it a go, which I very highly recommend.
Inside (Xbox One)
This is a modern masterpiece in my opinion. It’s one of those games where you can see immediately that the developers really have polished every single aspect of the game design to near perfection, from the stunning artistic visuals and fluid animation to the extremely intuitive and smooth controls. The music and sound design too is utterly inspired at times and is used very intelligently at those moments where it’s really going to make the most impact. And the game has this underlying idea and theme running throughout it that’s just totally and utterly compelling, and actually has something to say that raises it above simple “game” status and more into the realm of serious, thought provoking art—although, exactly what message the game is trying to convey is open to interpretation (often a trait of truly great art). Those final twenty minutes or so—just wow!