Top 5 Games of All Time

Posted in Reviews by Michael Pica on the April 19th, 2007

A while back I read an article over on Trusted Reviews where the editors listed their top 5 games of all time (in no particular order). At the time I had made my own top 5 list on the Xbox-Scene forums. I recently saw the topic revisited and decided to rethink my list.
So here are mine, with a brief reason why. I’d appreciate it if you shared your personal top 5 list as well.

Flashback – SNES
Flashback is a side-scrolling adventure game, Basically all of the backgrounds were detailed still images and you moved along climbing jumping sneaking one image to the next, the character was very small on the screen but the animation was buttery smooth, they also had what were some of the earliest cut scenes, they made what looked like 3D models (unheard of for the time) by simply moving around sprites in a really smart way. Later they re-released it on Sega CD with “improved” graphics and completely re-done cut scenes. The background graphics were better but I think the re-done cut-scenes added the early FMV graininess for only slightly better detail and the game lost a whole lot of it’s charm.

It really pushed the envelope graphically for it’s time and it was one of the first games where I experienced somewhat of a cinematic experience on a console. Despite it’s age the graphics are solid enough and the plot is interesting enough that this game is still very enjoyable to play today even beyond reasons of nostalgia, it’s just a good game. If you’re interested in playing it I recommend checking out the multi-platform port REminiscence.

Hard Drivin’ – Arcade
Released at the early beginnings of the 3D era it was the first arcade racer to feature true 3D graphics… and they were horrible. Cars consisted of about 10 polygons and you were lucky if there were any textures. Even still, playing Hard Drivin’ in the arcade today is still the most realistic driving experience I have ever had in an arcade (yes even better then F355 Challenge), it used a real clutch and the had weights in the back to provide force feedback on steering wheel. A real gated shifter (as opposed to the up down crap they have today). They even made you turn a key to start your car before you could drive. The game stands as a testament to gameplay over graphics. The fact that even with all the great racing games we have today I can still put some quarters in Hard Drivin’ and get a realistic enjoyable experience means something. What made the game even more fun was the fact that in addition to the realistic physics and gameplay they featured a stunt course with jumps, banked corners and even a loop, things you’d probably never want to try in a real car, and definitely not offered in any of todays simulators.

They made a sequel to this called Race Drivin’ but it wasn’t as good, they also made a similar game for PC called STUNT which was interesting but obviously lacking in the whole simulation department. I’d love to see them make a similar game today but with modern graphics, it really wouldn’t be all the difficult to do but most arcade manufacturers just throw their games in generic cabinets instead of taking the time to tweak physics, force-feedback and controls for a genuine simulator experience.

Killer Instinct 2 – Arcade
A joint effort between Rare and Nintendo used to push their “Ultra 64″ platform. The N64 never got a good version of the game. Out of all the fighting games I’ve ever played Killer Instinct 2 is still my favorite and I still consider it to be the best. It fit a very interesting niche squarely between 2D fighters and 3D fighters. Basically the fighters were modeled in 3D then they took still images to make 2D sprites, from there they created real 3D backgrounds. Gameplay is similar to a 2D fighter but the character move around the arena like a 3D fighter… and it looks like a 3D fighter. Since the fighters were computer generated frame-rates were buttery smooth and the game was was amazing looking when compared to the first run of 3D fighters such a Virtua Fighter.

Graphics are not what really made this game great though, basically the developers looked at the other popular fighters out there, they took what worked, avoided what didn’t work and then added some features that still haven’t been matched. It took Street Fighters solid 6 button layout, special moves were similar to Street Fighter with semi-circles and charges. Then they looked at Mortal Kombat they added finishing moves called “ultimates” as well as their own sort of stage fatalities but rather then having the enemy stand there like a dope after you’d won 2 rounds you were required to perform the maneuver while the player was still alive but with their 2nd health bar in “danger”. Once an opponents life was low if they avoided attacks they could gain back a little life and take themselves out of danger, making the end of battles last a bit longer while the person hung on by a thread. It took a solid hit to finish them off rather then just toppling over when someone just lightly taps their little toe. Another cool feature was the round system. Most fighting games after you finish the round the screen blinks, the health is reset, the starting positions are reset and it’s as if the first round never happened except for that little check box next to the winner’s name. In KI2 the characters would pick themselves up off the ground dust themselves off and get ready for the next round right were they left off. In addition to that whatever health the winner had lost in the previous round STAYS LOST. So if you won but damaged half your health you started the next round with only half your health. So basically it was like one big round with a little break to recollect yourself. The only game I’ve seen use the Killer Instinct round system is Tao Feng for Xbox.

That’s not even the best part though. The combo system in KI2 to this day is the best any fighting game has ever implemented. Basically different special moves and different advanced moves (direction+button as opposed to just button) had different functions. Some were “starters” others were “linkers”, or “jugglers” and others were “finishers” There was an order to the buttons too, so if you started with LP your next move had to include either MK or SP You started with a starter, then did a basic move, then a linker, another basic move and ended with a finisher, if you knocked them up in the air you could do a juggler. You could do moves more then once per combo and having to switch up your buttons limited your options. The combo system was completely open ended, unlike the regimented “auto combos” in Mortal Kombat but it was bound by a regimented set of rules good enough that you could figure out a combo on paper, try it in the game and it would work, unlike the fairly random and sloppy combos in capcom and other fighters. In addition to that it also featured a super move that could be used as a “finisher” like a fatality but attached to a combo for the ultimate smiting. Combos could also be broken, certain special moves were dubbed “breakers” and performing the move using the same button that your opponent is using in their combo would attack them and break you out of the combo. Similar to the countering system in DOA but it was attack based instead of position based.

Considering that Rare holds the rights to the Killer Instinct franchise I really hope they bring an arcade perfect port of KI2 to the Xbox Live arcade. I also really hope they make a whole new chapter in the KI series using similar gameplay but with modern graphics, AI, and multiplayer capabilities.

Space Channel 5 part 2 – Dreamcast
I started with a list of about 50 and narrowed it down to 5… and somehow Space Channel 5 part 2 made the cut. It’s not as random as you might think. When SC5 part 1 hit the Dreamcast I was mostly uninterested. The game looked like it would be pretty stupid, J-Pop 70s disco themed with rhythm gameplay and childish graphics. At some point I got a Space Channel 5 as part of an eBay lot with a bunch of other games and decided to play it out of boredom. I was INSTANTLY HOOKED. The game basically plays like a really advanced version of Simon put to music (some have compared it to a sci-fi disco version of Parappa the Rappa). The game gives you a direction or button, then you repeat it on beat, then the game gives you 2 directions or buttons and you repeat them on beat and it builds up and up just like Simon. Sometimes they’ll change it up so they’ll give you 5 instructions then 5 different instructions.

In addition the stupid fun gameplay the graphics were pretty damn good for the time. Like many other Sega games from the Dreamcast era they used a Cell Shading derivative, so even if the game was remade today it would look mostly the same because the art style fit within the bounds of the graphics technology of the time.

The game takes place in the future as seen through the eyes of someone from the 60s and 70s. Basically you play as Ulala (pronounced: ooh-la-la) and you’re a reporter for a news channel called “Space Channel 5″ your job is to get to the bottom of an attack by aliens or are invading and forcing people to dance. You defeat the aliens and save people along the way by out dancing the aliens. Ulala is voiced and motion captured by Apollo Smile who is known as the “live action Anime girl”. She sings pop songs, does voice acting and almost always shows up at Anime conventions. The game has some Anime style to it but really not that much Apollo Smile IS Ulala though; body and soul. The game is really quite comical and it feels like it could be a side story to one of Austin Powers many adventures.

Why part 2 though? While the first game was original and really fun the 2nd game just took it to a whole new level. The story was branching, depending on how you score on one section determine the next section you go to. The graphics improved, the dancing improved, the story improved, the music improved they added another button and hidden beats which added a lot to the gameplay as well as keeping it fresh and interesting. They also added loads of hidden stuff, unlockable costumes, characters and accessories, unlockable modes, different game modes (including a VS mode), and part 2 also included many cameos by famous 80s pop singers, most notably Michael Jackson and Boy George (yes both of them really did voice and motion capture for the game).

This is one of very few games that I find myself going back and playing through again, and again. The Dreamcast version was never released in the US, but they re-released both part 1 and part 2 for the Gamecube and PS2. I’ve since purchased the PS2 version but it’s the Dreamcast one I imported from Japan that I fell in love with, I also think the Japanese voices on the Dreamcast sound much better then the GC and PS2 ports, particularly because they used cheap voices actors and poorly translated the English versions of Part 2.

Rez – Dreamcast
Rez is another music and rhythm game. Unlike other music games you don’t follow a song or set pattern the game is completely free form and you’re free to play it how you like. At it’s core Rez is an “on-rails” shooter similar to Panzer Dragoon (not surprising considering it was developed by members of the PD team) and the music will change as a results of how you play.

Graphically the game stands the test of time, similar to Space Channel 5 the art direction is such that even a modern remake would not provide any real benefit to the the graphics. Basically the elements on screen are all 3D wire-frame as you progress the wire-frames become more structurally detailed and eventually gain solid colored polygons. Similar to the graphics the music also evolves as you progress. The graphics and sound tie into the game much more deeply as concepts of evolution, self awareness, and the meaning of life become the underlying themes for the game. It’s difficult to describe but the game is truly an example of interactive art (and has won awards to that effect). Anyone who likes music games and the graphical style of games like Geometry Wars or Boom Boom Rocket will find a lot to love about Rez.

It was only ever released on the Dreamcast in Europe and Japan and later on the PS2 worldwide. I’d love to see more games like this. A re-release for the Xbox Live arcade with some new features would be a God-send, though I question if the game would fit within the 150MB limit for XBLA games.

Honorable Mentions

Tony Hawks Project 8 – Xbox 360
The Tony Hawk series is probably one of my favorite franchises. Originally I considered THPS4 to be the pinnacle of the series but with the release of THP8 I think a new championed is crowned. THP8 managed to dramatically improve on the series where it was thought that little more could be done. One major problem that kept it out of my top 5 is that the game mechanics are buggy. The foundation of the Tony Hawk series has always been it’s near flawless and smooth game mechanics, and while THP8 improved nearly every aspect of the series the one aspect that didn’t need improving actually took a hit. Even still the game is definitely worth playing and definitely a treat for new-comers to the series as well as veterans.

Sonic Spinball – Sega Genesis
I love pinball machines, though most pinball video games just don’t do it for me, the problem is they try to emulate the experience and that is something they will always fail at achieving. You simply cannot get a real arcade pinball feel from a controller and video monitor. Sonic Spinball was different though. Rather then trying to emulate an arcade experience they utilized platformer aspects from the sonic series in conjunction with the pinball gameplay. The result is a pinball game that could never exist in an arcade machine because it utilizes the aspects that make pinball fun and at the same time integrate game elements that can only be afforded to a video game platform. Basically, it wins as a video pinball game because it doesn’t pretend to be an arcade machine.

I really hope this game makes its way to the Xbox Live Arcade. If they do re-release it I think they should update the music a bit as the the old midi tunes are melodically sound but their reproduction is quite harsh on modern ears. I was happy to see it released for the Wii’s Virtual Console though.

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