100 games. I’m 56 and have been playing video games since they first appeared as consumer products. My tastes are still very much affected by those early pioneering times; particularly in the arcade but not exclusively so. This is a list of those that left the biggest impression on me curated to a list of 100. These are not the “best games” ever – though I do consider most of these to be among the upper end of any the “best games ever made” list. This is a list of games that really had an impact on me – either because of their initial impact, or because I still play them, or maybe because there are nostalgic reasons. I have taken the time to pick out a top 10 out of this hundred – and I pick them out in this list by accompanying them with a screenshot. The order of these top 10 is not relevant at all. I have cheated in some places by combining a series into one entry – but I can do that because this is my list 🙂 I hope there are some surprises and ones the reader hasn’t heard of – and might even be tempted to give some of them a try. I’d be interested to hear what readers think in the forum – there will be a “davyK top 100 list” thread for comments and I’ll try and respond as sensibly as possible if further justification is asked for!
** Top 10 ** F-Zero X (N64) Nothing imparts the feeling of balls to the wall racing quite like F-Zero X. It looks rough, sounds cheesy but plays like a dream spread across a generous pile of cups (including the algorithm-generated tracks in the X Cup) consisting of a healthy collection of Escheresque tracks. The trade off between speed and safety – both dependant on a single energy bar is a work of design genius. The N64 controller has never been used better and the rumble pack probably never used more effectively. I still get a rush playing this , chasing down my rival on the last lap with my power bar in the red, entering a chicane with the recharge lane waiting on the next stretch. Never bettered.
Super Breakout (2600) The definitive ball and paddle game that so elegantly makes every demand the genre can make off the player via its 4 simple variations (classic, double, cavity and progressive), that it leaves later admirable efforts such as Arkanoid with their gimmicks and intrusive graphics redundant. The 2600 paddle controller is used immaculately to facilitate its beautifully implemented control scheme leaving the player with no excuses for hamfistedness.
Kaboom! (2600) Pure twitch, in the zone gaming. Move a stack of three buckets side to side using faultless paddle control to catch bombs before they hit the ground. Each wave keeps speeding up until you max out at level 8 at which point there are 13 bombs being dropped a second. Drop one and you move down a speed level – which isn’t a sop as it screws with your timing – but the game also removes the bottom-most bucket. A cruel twist that is pretty much unique to gaming – getting harder to punish a mistake. I still play this 30 years on.
Darius Gaiden (Saturn,MAME,Switch). The original Darius games are pretty so-so hori-shooters that enjoyed some success because of their impressive multi-screen cabinets in the arcade. The recent Switch compilation makes them enjoyable as modern big widescreen TVs can recreate the original arcade multi-screen experience. But Darius Gaiden remains the series highlight. Taito dropped the multi-screen presentation but enriched the sights , sounds (inc. operatic vocals in some levels), powerup system and level design to create a superbly entertaining shooting game. It’s novelty – the ability to convert the mid level mini-boss to an ally remains compulsive and the branching level system ensures the game is stoked with replay value.
Jet Set Willy (CPC464) One of the few 8bit micro games I’d still bother with today. I mapped this back in the day on a piece of A2 paper. The scale of the game was staggering and I loved just trying to visit all of the rooms which was the first task. I planned a route to collect everything but I never managed to actually implement a run. The CPC464 version had bugs fixed and a whole new section in space. I’ve since played various PC remakes and I feel it still holds up today. Inspired Matthew Smith design adds to the fun.
Chuckie Egg (CPC464) Another 8 bit micro game that remains playable. The BBC version was the original and slickest but this was a decent port. Nice fake physics and collision scheme gave the game a sense of pace that elevated it from the pile of ladders and levels games that abounded at the time. Played this a lot.
Thrust (CPC464, 2600) And the 3rd 8 bit micro game. Gravitar was an Atari arcade game with pin sharp colour vector graphics. It was a gravity shooter with the player wrestling with gravity, thrust controls and hamfistedness to navigate through tunnels, collect fuel and take out gun emplacements. It was a beautiful but terrifying prospect in the arcade with a learning curve that would empty the pocket of any gamer on a budget far too quickly. Thrust appeared on the 8bit micros and is obviously inspired by the Atari game – even down to the fake vector graphics. It’s a bit more forgiving but adds a new requirement to tow an object through underground passages implemented with excellent Newtonian physics. It proved to be a highly addictive experience on the CPC 464 and a more recent technically astounding Atari 2600 homebrew remake is just as playable. Timeless.
Contra aka Probotector (NES) I remember reading a review at the time that called this game “war in a box”. What a great description. This is a rip roaring run n gun with great level design and superb speed, handling and level design and is still just stupendously good fun. There is a change of style with some into the screen levels that keep everything fresh but are just as fun. And what a challenge – I got a real sense of achievement when I beat this thing. The SNES sequel is great too but I don’t like the overhead levels that much but Contra Rebirth on WiiWare is a magnificent love letter to it.
Yoshi’s Island (SNES) I was holding off moving away from 16bit consoles until all 3 next gen options hit the shelves, so I got to play this when it was released. This was mesmerising in the day and not just because of the beautiful graphical design that made it hard to believe it was running on a SNES. The controls, level design and set pieces set a high bar for the competition and no-one, not even Nintendo themselves, have managed to top it. I completed it but only 100%-ed the first 3 worlds.
Cosmic Smash (Dreamcast) “Have a blast” says the chilled out announcer in this game. This has Virtua Tennis’ control, Breakout’s satisfying gameplay successfully hauled into 3D, and the production values of Rez. It’s a beautiful looking game that remains quite unique. It’s a short game but it’s all about replay – the map has several endings to aim for and there’s a goodly amount of scoring bonuses for score chasers. Magnificent Sega offering that only they could do.
** Top 10 ** Worms Armageddon (PC) Office LAN gaming was never as good as with this game. Hilarious to play with friends – and the turn based system allows for pure vindictiveness and back-stabbing. The large weapon set and landscape selection (with editor) kept the interest up. Humorous and tactical in equal measure. Management had to have a word such was its impact on productivity with lunch breaks starting to collide with afternoon tea break.
Athlete Kings (Saturn) Button bashing athletic games are a favourite of mine and while the impact of Track & Field in the arcade will never be matched this game comes close. It’s another solid Sega arcade game with a slick port to the Saturn. The 3D graphics still look decent if simplistic today. The gameplay is a step up from the old arcade game, but not too far, and the 10 Decathlon events have been implemented with enough variety to keep up the interest. Even the 1500m which in most games of this type is dull is made amusing by the fact that you have to navigate your way through a pack of drone runners that can be manipulated into pushing you down the track while conserving energy. OK in single player but the competitiveness is top drawer in multi-player.
Baku Baku (Saturn) This is a typical symbol matching puzzle game a la Puzzle Fighter and its ilk but the charm of the animal feeding theme (monkeys match with bananas, pandas with bamboo etc) and the solid presentation that still passes muster graphically and the excellent soundtrack makes it stand out. It was an arcade game but it was only released on Saturn and PC with a cut down port on the Game Gear, so not many got to play this and that’s a shame as it deserves more attention. What makes this game really stand out though is the 2P versus mode. There is alchemy at work buried in the symbol dealing algorithm as every round of the this just seems to be highly entertaining. Solid Sega craftmanship on show. I’ve used this in an office gaming competition too and it proved to be a hilarious event.
Bangai-O (Dreamcast,N64) Japanese weirdness goes a long way with me but it does have to be backed up with a good game. This is very weird and very good. The basic mechanic is that your firepower increases with the level of danger you are in. The more bullets are in your immediate vicinity the more missiles you generate with your main weapon. It’s a great feeling when the danger is maxxed out, you activate the weapon things grinds to a crawl (perhaps purposefully knowing Treasure) as 100 homing missiles fire and seek out a target. Later levels become light puzzles and your two sub-weapons, one of which is a ricochet shot, have to be selected depending on the situation. Each level has its best score kept too for replay. The weirdness of the text dialogue , and THAT continue screen all add to the fun. I still find the game enchanting. The N64 and DC versions have quite different scoring rules and powerup schemes – but the implementation is rock solid on both and well worth investigating.
Battletoads (NES) Technical ability was matched by variety and quality gameplay by RARE in this late NES game. It’s a real compendium of genres but the crippling difficulty would put many off. The 2P mode was a riot but impossibly tough – not helped by the fact that you could hit each other. I played the hell out of this, reaching the penultimate level. The SNES sequel is everything it should have been and the graphical fidelity on the SNES allows the humour of the first game to come out more effectively. It’s a bit easier but still no walkover, and the 2 player mode has an option to switch off inter-player collisions making it a more feasible proposition. The Megadrive got a straight port of the NES game , indicating just how good the original looked and it has some of the difficulty toned down.
Saturn Bomberman Oft called out by Saturn fanboys as a reason to own a Saturn and they aren’t far off the mark. As far as I can see this is still the definitive version to own. I’m willing to bet hardly anyone has played the 10 player mode -it’s more of a novelty – and restricted to one arena. The fact is that all other arenas can support up to 8 players and if you can get hold of 2 multi-taps and enough controllers it is worth the effort. The variety of options is pretty much definitive, and it lets you continue a series of up to 99 matches with backup support. Each round sees daft awards given out for extra bragging rights and I’ve plenty of happy memories playing this in team mode with the nephews and nieces etc. It also happens to have a gorgeous 1-2 player main mission mode and an addictive, highly replayable solitaire master mode that strays into puzzle game territory while retaining an arcade game feel. Still to be bettered.
Bust-a-Move 2 (N64) The N64 got a solid zero-load-time port of this great game – so far so good. So what? Well – in amongst this game’s options is a little time trail mode that lets you race against each other in 2 player mode – this mode appears to be exclusive to the N64 port. It comprises of a load of specially designed smaller levels that fit into classic 2 player puzzle game split screen format. Unlike the normal battle mode there are no garbage attacks – it is a pure race to clear your side of the screen as you both get the same selected level each round. Some levels are ludicrously simple to complete – and when one appears that requires a single accurate shot , the 3-2-1 countdown is hilariously tense. As well as the game keeping count of the number of rounds won, each level has a best 5 times table too – so more salt can be rubbed in if you knock your opponent’s best time off the top. My wife and I would play this for hours and she would never admit defeat.
Donkey Kong ’94 (Gameboy) Not only the best platformer on Gameboy but in the mix for best platformer on any console. This starts off with the first 4 levels of the arcade game but then moves up a gear with brilliantly designed levels in which you must retrieve a key and take it to a locked door to escape the level. The traps are varied as is Mario’s moveset which is beautifully implemented. The icing on the cake is the special border art that shows when played on a Super Gameboy, recreating the arcade cabinet around the game area. It also has slightly enhanced sound effects played that way. Delightful.
Ghosts & Goblins (arcade) This game shouldn’t be popular. It’s a coin grabbing, cheap game; glitchy and bug ridden – but I love it. It’s another game I first saw in the arcade and it was gorgeous looking with great atmospheric sound. I hate to be one to overlook gameplay for look and feel but the design of this game, which includes that little red devil bastard, means it carries off the baggage of its shortcomings. I’ve played this via many retro compilations and MAME and I’ll still pass 30mins or so with it from time to time.
Castlevania IV (SNES) First Castlevania game I played and I haven’t since experienced one better. That’s including Symphony of the Night which I hated because of the loss of the tightly focussed linear format. An early release so has strong association with a great time in my life. I was single in my own jump purchased house when I bought this and spent many happy hours with it when the beer tokens ran low. It features eight-way whipping and it’s one of the main reasons why I found it hard to adjust to other entries in the series. Great level design incorporates some nice Mode 7 set pieces and an astounding soundtrack (which I own on vinyl!!) make up for the slightly jilted feel to the controls. I still have the cartridge, boxed with manual and in lovely condition and is worth quite a few quid, but I can’t see me ever parting with it.
** Top 10 ** Super Mario All Stars (version inc. Super Mario World)(SNES) It’s no fluke that Super Mario World is the “best 2D platformer ever”. It is the result of a gradual progression of the genre which is described by this beautifully presented compilation. These games don’t have (m)any spectacular set pieces – their main strength is that they just do everything right in an extremely low key fashion. The physics, enemy placing and level layouts all go together to define the genre and provide the best experiences for experts and casual players.
Daytona USA (Dreamcast,360) My favourite arcade racer with classic Sega blue sky graphics. The DC version is a graphical improvement over the original with some extra tracks. The controls take a bit of getting used to but using the DC wheel makes a big difference. The 360 XBL version is a delight too with widescreen support although it is more of a straight arcade port with less extra content.
Diddy Kong Racing (N64) I’m a cute game apologist but I only really appreciate them when they are difficult. Playing DKR, particularly later in the game when you are attempting the silver coin challenges, is like having your liver ripped out by a Disney character. That bloody octopus boss – especially 2nd time around is a case in point. This game gets bonus points as my wife bought it as a Christmas present. Not so good in multi-player but a superb single player game. I almost completed it with TipTup (the turtle), getting to the final 2nd Wizpig race which is a hateful race in planes involving dodging floating boulders etc – wretched.
DoDonPachi (Saturn,MAME) You hear a lot of talk about DoDonPachi and how influential it is. So much so that you start to think to yourself that maybe it’s fanboy-ism. I’ve played this emulated in MAME but I’ve spent most of my DDP time with the Saturn port. It deserves the love it gets in my book and is still among the best 2D shooters. There are a few games that came before it that introduced some of the game play elements that make the modern shooter genre what it is, but DDP is for me the first modern shooter as it hangs together incredibly well. It’s also a game that on first encounter comes across as pretty generic. But spend some time with it and Cave’s craftmanship in scoring rules and general level design starts to show itself and haul you in. The Saturn port looks a bit on the rough side but it features a TATE mode and it’s the first game I rotated a CRT for and it was worth the effort as the game looks and plays a lot better played in its native resolution. Just a highly enjoyable and really rather clever game that has that modern shmup duality where you play it for survival and then start to play it for score.
Doom 2 (PC) Another work-based gaming experience. The heady days of before “managed” desktops. Sigh. This did the rounds on a set of 3.5″ discs. I was one of the first to get a Pentium with a sound card and that changed everything. The sound of the Arachnatrons approaching is one of the greatest experiences in gaming I’ve ever had. I played it to the end and then played it again on Ultra Violence. Quite, quite brilliant. Thing is, that was me as far as FPS games went. I couldn’t get into later titles that had more depth. Duke Nukem was OK but I found it too fiddly. Doom 64 was the only other FPS I completed.
Dragon’s Fury (Megadrive) I quite like pinball based video games but I always asked myself why the developers restricted themselves to recreating tables that resembled real-life ones. Then this came along. Loads, and loads of things to discover and a great gothic/horror inspired graphical look and feel. I’ve played the PCEngine version on the Wii and also a WiiWare followup , but the MD version is the first I played and that’s why it’s my preference. Still play this.
Layer Section (Saturn) “Just” a straightforward vertical shmup. I picked this up for the Saturn knowing nothing about it – something I rarely do – and I just couldn’t stop playing. It’s very old school , the only original feature being a lock on laser that you can use to defeat enemies below you , the look of which is implemented in gloriously drawn scaling sprites. The level design is the killer feature though as it’s just so entertaining to play – so much so that its cruel level of difficulty doesn’t spoil the fun. It looks pretty good until you activate TATE mode and rotate your screen and then it looks spectacular.
Gigawing (Dreamcast,MAME) Another shmup, but this has a unique feature whereby you have a rechargable shield that when used properly enables heroic manoeuvres through the bullet and enemy ridden levels in the game. There’s a couple of sequels but they aren’t as good as the original and it’s also a Dreamcast exclusive. As with most good modern shooters the level design is cleverly crafted so that no matter how manic the screen becomes there is a way out and it’s only by repeat play and level learning that this shows itself. That might sound a bit tiresome to those who don’t like modern shmups but that feeling I get when starting to cane impossible looking levels is unlike any I get from other genres. This is also one of the few games I have managed to properly beat – by getting to the end without using the continue feature.
Gods (PC, SNES) Chaos Engine comes close to this but Gods is my favourite Bitmap Bros game. I first encountered it on a work PC via a hooky copy and it ran like treacle but was still entertaining. I found it intriguing enough to pick up the SNES version when it became available. It’s a great port -it runs lightning fast – faster than the Megadrive version and it looks and sounds better too. I wrung every last ounce of playtime from this game. Choc-full with short-cuts and secrets and I’d say I found most of them – but I can’t be sure – and that’s why I loved and still love this game.
Parodius : Fantastic Journey (Saturn) This provided one of those rare “Oh my God” moments in gaming. I’d played the 1st game on SNES and that was a great port but Konami really went to town with the sequel. The level 2 enormous cat submarine scene with a Suza marching band tune was one thing, but at the start of level 4 when the William Tell Overture kicked in I realised I had moved up a generation in console hardware. This is still my favourite entry in a uniformly brilliant series.
Kororinpa (Wii) An awful lot of waggle waffle inhabited the early days of the Wii and it just so happens that a proper motion control game, perhaps the best ever, sneaked out in the early days without much fanfare. It’s a really rather simple roll and move game in the mold of Monkey Ball but using the wiimote’s tilt detection instead of an analogue stick to the tilt the levels and guide marbles through a level while picking up a target number of gems on the way. The control scheme is sublime and really shows just how sensitive the control is. There aren’t a huge number of levels but this is made up somewhat by having bronze, silver and gold cup times to go for. The final levels in the game are tortuous and it’s a pity the difficulty didn’t crank up earlier. The physics are beautifully implemented and the game is brimming with charm which really is the icing on the cake, and there are lots of different marbles to collect which can make the game play quite differently – for example the football bounces quite a lot and that changes how some levels are tackled dramatically. I played this to death and unlocked everything. There’s also a workable 2 player race mode that we had plenty of fun with. There’s a little known sequel called Marble Balance Challenge which offers a pile more content but the physics have been tweaked to make it a bit easier (though you can unlock marbles, including a custom one, that largely recreates the feel of the original). I’d still get the original first and then hunt down the sequel though.
** Top 10 ** Super Monkey Ball 1&2 (Gamecube) is as close to a perfect game as it is possible to get; subsequent updates with unnecessary additions prove my point. There is real purity of play here – requiring only a stick in the main game, and the GC stick with its notches is the perfect match. This still looks and sounds great and the extra games with 4 player support, many of which could be expanded to full games, are genuinely varied such that there will be something for everyone, and this gives it longevity. This game has been the cause of actual tears in my house (Monkey Baseball). Monkey Ball 2’s main mode isn’t as pure as the original with the introduction of switches, but its suite of mini games bolster the originals – and even though they aren’t quite as clever they deliver more variety. I’ve put these two together because they are published together on one disc on PS2 and Oldbox – but it’s the Gamecube versions that are on my list. Modern remakes have changed how Monkey Target plays – so I’m staying with them.
Mario Kart (SNES,GC,Wii,Switch) The original was an early SNES purchase and therefore attached to that great time in my life (see Castlevania IV). Great pre and post pub (and other times) multi-player entertainment. GP and battle modes went on into the wee small hours. Excellent single player game too – and the first time I got into time trialling and the early primitive ghost support is memorable. The N64 sequel was disappointing but the Gamecube’s power means Double Dash is more than likely Miyomoto’s original vision realised – an interactive racing cartoon. DD is the first version my daughters played and therefore their favourite. Still gets an outing at my house. I’ve even stumped up for BB adaptors for LAN mode. The Wii version is still magnificent, and MK8Dx on Switch carries on the majesty of the original idea – hauling a platform game universe into racing game was quite simply genius – the game was complete and correct on Nintendo’s first attempt.
Megamania A truly excellent shmup for the 2600 inspired by the brilliant Sega’s Astro Blaster in the arcade. Activision coded and so therefore technically excellent and its clean look means it still looks decent today. A proper 8 level shmup with loops that introduce new wave patterns, colours and speeds. I played this until I clocked the score at 1million at which point the game has the decency to end. Wonderful memories of playing alone and with bro and cousins.
Metal Slug (PS1&2,Wii) Gorgeous run n gun series with lots of humour and excellent hand drawn sprite work that is amongst the best ever. First game I played was MS3 and while it’s excellent and inventive it’s far too long and the bosses have ridiculous levels of HP turning it into a slog. The best in the series is probably MS1 and MSX but for casual play all of the games are tremendously entertaining and 2P co-op adds to the fun.
Mr Driller (Dreamcast,Gamecube,Wii,PC)) Cocaine dusted chocolate hobnobs wouldn’t be as more-ish as this. A beautifully pure arcade game – in my opinion, this is the best thing Namco has ever done. Once this game gets its claws into you, you have problems with invaded dreams, and a constant desire to go back for another fix. I pick the Dreamcast version of this because it’s the version I first played and because it’s the first DC game I played at 60Hz which punched the scales from my eyes. There is just something about playing this game on that console (which is the arcade at home) with the luxurious official arcade stick that cannot be quantified. The Gamecube got the stupendously good JP only Mr Driller Drill Land (now released in all regions on modern consoles) which is a better game (including a gut wrenching 2 player race mode) , and the WiiWare version is just as good, but the original on DC with the arcade stick will always be special for me.
Legend of Mystical Ninja (SNES) You won’t find too many adventure games with a story in my list, in fact you might not find another. This game popped out of Konami when they were at their peak and couldn’t put a foot wrong on the SNES – the console that seemed to inspire them most. It’s a one or two player roam around with tough side on platforming sections set against a whimsical, nonsensical storyline. What makes this game worthy of attentions though is the Japanese weirdness and humour. The roam around village sections are interspersed with mini games which keeps the interest up but the game truly comes to life in the platforming sections, especially in 2 player mode that introduces a hilarious piggy back mode. Excellent boss fights, slick control and a great Japanese soundtrack round the package out.
Super Meat Boy (PC/Switch) Didn’t like this at first. Didn’t like the artstyle. Didn’t like the controls. Didn’t like the concept of infinite lives. Played it until ch.2 and gave up. Then fast forward several years and got it in a sale for Switch but ended up going back to the PC version. This is a top 5 platformer and sits alongside the mighty Nintendo Trilogy of SMB,SMW and YI. The control and physics are the best thing about it – and its depth means I don’t think there is an actual skill ceiling. The level design and progression are superb too – going back to an earlier level you struggled with and destroying it is shocking – the skills are burned into your brain. Loads of replay value with bandage hunts, warp levels and new characters to try. Have 106%-ed this game.
Peggle (PC,360) Impossible to explain why this is so enjoyable. Its beautiful presentation plays a very large part but the underlying satisfying blend of luck and skill makes this very difficult to put down. Has an enjoyable 2 player turn based mode too that probably doesn’t get much attention.
Phoenix (arcade,MAME) I got a huge buzz playing this game in the arcade. First shooting game I played that sported a shield. The great thing about it was it could be used for attack and defence. Of course there was the adrenaline rush of that boss/mothership level. Great gurgly sounds and the somewhat quirky implementation made it feel organic and unpredictable. Many , many 10ps were pushed into this by both myself and my brother. Was the first game I looked for when I first discovered MAME existed.
Pilotwings (SNES) Seeing this on Gamesmaster is what tipped the balance to SNES over Megadrive. A mate of mine got a SNES with it as well and we had a great time racing each other to the end. Dreaded the phone ringing as it might have meant him bragging down the phone he had cracked the next level.
** Top 10 ** Asteroids / DX (arcade,2600,7800) Asteroids was a beautiful experience in the arcade. The needle sharp vector graphics are really only being realised now in modern reproductions, but these don’t have the sheer presence of that glowing screen, bass speakers and iconic cabinet and control layout. The Deluxe version plugged the bugs and weaknesses that experts took advantage of in the original and the introduction of a finite shield and hunter satellites (seemingly influencing Geometry Wars) make it the better game. The 2600 got a home port and despite the crude technical limitations of the hardware was a highly entertaining game as it retains the “no-two-games-the-same-non-linear” feel. My brother and I played that port regularly for years – game variation 39 – 2 players + hyperspace + fast asteroids + 1up at 20,000. The Atari 7800 console got an excellent port too (it is built into the actual PAL version of the console) that has none of the 2600 limitations though is still of course limited by a raster display. My love of the game means I own a reconditioned original Asteroids Deluxe arcade cabinet.
Prince of Persia (SNES,PC) I first played this on a PC in work but the SNES version is superior. The soundtrack is superb and the graphics have had an extra layer of polish applied. Very satisfying to complete.
Punch Out (NES, Wii) I’m pretty sure the NES version is the first game to ever make me laugh out loud. Loved this and was a real crowd pleaser in a gaming session with friends. The SNES update was pretty good but the Wii remake is an under-rated gem that I suspect didn’t sell anywhere near as well as it deserved to.
Puchi Carat (PS1) Paddle games do it for me, and this game comes with a paddle controller to see off the shortcomings all paddle games have on consoles later than the Atari 2600. It’s a cross between Puzzle Bobble / Bust A Move and Breakout. The arcade original had a 1P mode and 1PvCPU and 2P mode. The PS1 gives you these but with a handful of extra modes like Time Trial and Endless. Recreated more or less perfectly and while the earlier levels are soon defeated the later trials are incredibly tough. But practice really does make a difference and seemingly impossible targets can be achieved. Thoroughly satisfying game from Taito.
Rez (DC,PS2,360) Style over substance is the diatribe of its detractors, and it’s fair comment. I bypass the games as art tosh, and the supposed implied meaning within the levels, and just enjoy it as one of the finest on-rails shooters around. Of course it looks and sounds glorious. I have tripled dipped on this and while the new HD/VR version is definitive, for me its natural home is still the Dreamcast. The enemy pattern design and boss fights imbue me with a feeling of pure enjoyment and they reward repeated play in score attack.
Rhythm Paradise (Wii) First game I’ve played where not looking at the screen helps. It’s a shame to do that though because the visuals are as charming as they are hilarious. The difficulty is a bit up and down but it’s a consistent tough cookie later on. There’s a handful of toys and 2 player modes that are downright hilarious and this is perfectly at home on the Wii even though it only requires a single button to play.
Defender(Arcade, 2600) Being of an age, I first saw this intimidating game in the arcade. It had a 2 way joystick for up/down, and buttons for thrust, reverse (which actually just turns the ship around!!), fire, hyperspace and smart bomb. The radar was a revolution – one of the first examples of a graphically presented game world that exists off-screen. Defender players were a step above the rest of us arcade denizens. I played it a bit but being on a budget the price of expertise was too high for me. I got the 2600 port which technically was a flickering shambles but it played well – initial disappointment gave way to extended sessions seeing me clock the 6 digit score and the 2 digit wave counter. Of course I knew it wasn’t as hard as the original but it was enjoyable. I’ve since played the original quite a bit on retro compilations and the controls incorporating 4 way movement on the dpad makes it more approachable but not any easier. Dropzone on the NES is a beautiful riff on the sequel called Stargate which added some extra features and tweaks.
Rtype Final (PS2) This, along with Gradius V, was the reason I got a PS2. It splits opinion in the shmup community but I love this game. It looks gorgeous and the funereal place of the scrolling is matched by the soundtrack. Not a huge game level-wise as with all shmups but some of the levels change depending on what you did in the previous one so there’s more levels in the game than meets the eye. There’s a score attack mode that lets you tackle each level individually and what really makes this game is the huge number of ships (over 100), force orbs and other bolt ons that make the score attack mode feel like the Gran Turismo of shmups. It shouldn’t work. There is no way the developers could have properly tested every level with every combination and it should collapse under the weight if its own ridiculousness but it doesn’t. It somehow holds together and is a triumph. Not many game series developers have the balls to announce an ending and go out with such a strong showing.
Fantasy Zone (Saturn) This was an arcade game but I never saw it never mind played it there. I first encountered it as as JP only entry in the Sega Ages series which apparently is a very accurate port. Gameplay is pretty run of the mill but what makes it is the charm inherent in its pastel shading, catchy soundtrack, enemy and player ship characterisation, and the boss fights. It’s rock hard too – the Saturn version’s option mode seems to only offer ways of making the game easier. The game’s shop offers all sorts of weapons and upgrades and the fact that everything gets more expensive after each purchase prevents overuse , encouraging experimentation.
Space Invaders (arcade) A revolutionary experience in the arcade when first encountered. Even the shmup genre’s latest bullet hell extravaganzas share its DNA. Exchanging shots with enemy waves. Three lives. High Scores. This was an obsession with me in those days. I can remember rows of machines in the bigger arcades. Its little known sequel is a far better game with more variety and bonuses and it’s still worth a look. Nowadays it doesn’t really get much play as it’s pretty primitive now, but the impact of the original is why it’s in my list.
** Top 10 ** Mario 64 (N64) Mario Galaxy is a better game, but Mario 64 is in my top 10 for a few reasons. Firstly it was revolutionary – pulling a 2D game into the third dimension – fully realised with the resultant problems of camera control and navigation largely solved, and setting the genre template for years to come. Secondly – it remains the only game that prompted my wife to hook up a console to play while I was out. Thirdly, it’s probably the last time a game imparted a sense of wonder within me and finally it’s still a great game to play simply because of the control scheme and solid weight and inertia implemented in its physics that enables you , for the most part, to effortlessly navigate the now iconic levels. The Wii and Switch remakes support wide screen and add a tiny bit of polish but it’s the original N64 version that’s on my list.
Streetfighter 2 Turbo (SNES) A pre and post pub multi-player stalwart back in the day this game I feel has aged very well. A few years ago I had an office gaming league pre-Christmas party tie-breaker using this. It still looked good even through a projector and the gaming session went on for hours long after the league was decided.
Super Aleste (SNES) The SNES isn’t known for its shooting games. The slower processor wasn’t compatible with the speed that is part and parcel of the genre. Super Aleste bucks the trend – it’s a technical marvel – in many ways outdoing anything the Megadrive or PC-Engine had; the sheer number of fast moving different sized sprites on screen with not a hint of slowdown being its hallmark. It also happens to feature the best use of Mode 7 – it’s in level 2 – a battle against a huge space platform that starts off in the distance launching missiles at you and ends up as a series of low passes over its many gun emplacements. The game has more levels than the norm and your ship’s large number of weapon options keeps up the interest and add to the replay value. I picked this up on a whim and the game’s Japanese feel enshrined in the visuals and soundtrack are augmented by the Japlish in the manual. Brings back a lot of happy memories of that period in my life but it just also happens to be an excellent game with an arrange mode, a suicide bullet option, and a short score attack game for when you don’t have time for the full 12 level mission.
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) Brought back my faith in Nintendo with a bang after the disappointing (though really not that bad) Mario Sunshine. Beautiful graphics, epic soundtrack, the hallmark control excellence and that level design – with simply more ideas than any one game deserves to have.
Smash TV (SNES) A magnificent followup to Robotron, implemented with some aplomb on the SNES. Another game that shouldn’t have been possible on the supposed underpowered SNES. It plays great and the SNES 4 button layout means it plays just like the arcade original. It’s only after you complete the game finding the 10 keys and accessing the pleasuredome that the developers start to show off as a turbo mode is unlocked – revealing that the game was throttled back the whole time! Excellent 2 player mode too.
Tetris & Dr Mario (SNES) I’ve already got a Tetris game in my list (see below) so why another? Three reasons. First of all , Dr Mario is on the same cartridge and this was the first version I played of this highly under-rated game that is mistaken for a Columns rip-off when nothing could be further from the truth. The cart features pretty strong CPU opposition particularly in Dr Mario mode but it’s in multi-player that the cart comes to life. Second reason is the exclusive Mixed Mode which is a 2 player score attack mode where players tackle a round of Tetris B, Dr Mario and then Tetris A until a time limit runs out. It’s an unusual and enjoyable mode that can be further tweaked in the settings. Finally this is an annual institution in work when we have a pre-Christmas Tetris versus competition and the old 16bit graphics look great stretched over a projector screen. The Tetris B versus mode (first to 25 lines with garbage attack on) is hard to find on other Tetris releases (the 360’s Tetris Evolution is the only other one that has it) and it’s a great leveller when trying to get casuals involved.
Chaos Engine (SNES,PC) Bitmaps Bros’ does Gauntlet but ups the challenge and slaps on a stylish coat of steampunk paint. This game doesn’t suffer fools but if you can stand the heat it has loads of replayability due to the different pairings and the CPU assist isn’t half bad. There’s plenty of scope for tactical play too with the range of weapons and the characters strengths and weaknesses when team building. I played the hell out of this – actually getting to the final boss and only falling at that hurdle. Having to play through the last long level to get to it repeatedly was just too much for me even back in the day. This got a sterling port to the SNES – looks and sounds great.
Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast) A huge slice of Sega genius. This shouldn’t work but of course it does. The hilarity goes off the scale in 2 player versus mode which cleverly only awards points to the first player to complete a word – so it goes from being a straight typing race when one word is on the screen to a tactical poker match when multiple words start to appear. Hiding the score to the end of the level ups the tension. I ran an office competition several times with this and the inspired word & phrase list offers endless possibilities for double entendre, and scores can be separated by less than 10 points.
Zelda : Link to the Past (SNES) I don’t go for adventure games but I loved this game. It was the first Zelda I played. And the only one I finished. Beautiful 2D sprite work and the pace of the game – the way it unfolds – is quite superb. Once I completed it I was done though – it was never the same as the 3D games felt like they were rehashing the same ideas. I’ll always have the memory of that epic playthrough though.
Buster Busts Loose (SNES) I knew I had arrived in the 16bit generation when I first got this. Super Mario World is a far better game but for sheer looks, sounds, presentational panache and charm this one is hard to beat. Oddly the first level is a bit humdrum, but that second level with its glorious Western themed soundtrack and that 2nd act with the brilliant train section remains one of my most beloved game experiences. I played through this multiple times at the hard level which shackles you with a 1 hit health meter.
Yahtzee (Apple IIe) ’twas the year of ’79 (or maybe ’80) when an Apple IIe arrived in school. We soon discovered a games disc that had various demos and programming examples using Apple BASIC and a few slicker efforts in assembler such as a decent Space Invaders clone. Yahtzee wasn’t the flashiest game on offer but it had staying power. It supported 4 players with its turn based action and was probably the favourite for lunchtime sessions. I remember examining the program listing which to me at the time was wondrous looking having only written one or two very small programs (would call them apps now I suppose). I re-created this game (sans the optional CPU player) on my CPC-464 in Amsoft BASIC. Great times.
** Top 10** Tetris (Party Deluxe (Wii)). It’s Tetris, so it’s one of the best games ever in many people’s list. I still play Tetris but it has slowly evolved over the years. Older versions are still excellent but modern games play and control better now – wall kicks, rotation schemes, lock down delays, hold pieces, bag randomisers are all features that you only notice missing if you compare a modern game with something like the GB version. Tetris Party Deluxe delivers a solid modern game experience but it also throws in a pile of extra content in the form of new games that use the basic Tetris rules – you can race pieces down deep scrolling maze like pits, create pictures, guide climbers to the top of the pit by building staircases, and more – all with up to three others with some co-op and 2 versus 2 modes. You can even do daft stuff like try using the balance board or the steering wheel to play. Best version at the moment for me. Tetris Effect will likely topple it as I spend more time with it but Tetris Party for multiplayer will always be hard to beat.
Bubble Bobble (NES) I still play this evergreen game from time to time on retro compilations but I first played the NES version which is a solid port and despite the occasional technical drawback retains the excellent playability. The sheer number of secrets gives it an air of mystery and the later levels become very puzzle like while still demanding high level platforming skills. As good as it is it’s at its best as a 2 player game with levels starting off as co-op enemy clearing and ending as a selfish race to the bonuses. Never quite replicated and it remains a unique game.
Virtua Tennis 1, 2 (Dreamcast) I don’t like sports games as a rule. Team games don’t feel controllable , but Tennis is the exception. With it’s 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 format and small arena, it’s perfectly suited to videogaming. VT1 and 2 are simply among the best of the genre – the later releases diluting its greatness. Mario Tennis is a more complete game with more content but Sega’s arcade game’s sensibilities and conservative looks have more universal appeal – and you can play it with arcade sticks.
WarioWare (Gamecube) A love letter to video gaming. The single word instruction micro games tug at videogame players’ hard-wired memories and there is nothing like the high this gives you when you first play it. The GC version has a handful of superb 4 player modes that elevate the game above the original handheld version.
Wetrix (N64) Puzzle games don’t survive the move to 3D but Wetrix couldn’t exist as a 2D game. Rock hard but enjoyable at the same time because of the clever scoring system – so it makes you its slave – but it features an excellent playable tutorial that gets you up to a level where you have a chance to last more than 2 minutes as a newbie. The presentation and excellent music finish the package off. The PS2 update is spoiled by unnecessary additions. The Dreamcast version is prettier but doesn’t sound as good as the N64 original.
Wii Sports Resort (Wii) The original Wii Sports was nice but it was too easy to see how it worked and cheat the controls. Resort is what the original game should have been. It uses motion plus , which should have been there from the start too which lives up to the hype – but maybe its fidelity and requirement for calibration would have killed immediacy of the original. This is a great box of ideas and features several games that could be developed into full titles of their own. So-so in single player but has truly excellent multi-player versus and co-op modes. It’s a riot – and in all likelihood we won’t ever see something like this again.
Yars Revenge (2600) This was originally conceived as a port of Star Castle but the programming techniques of the day weren’t up to it. I’m glad because it forced Atari to create a highly entertaining and challenging original game. It’s pretty much typifies the classic Atari game – addictive but simple gameplay backed up by excellent sights and sounds that make the most of the hardware’s features, and there are options to crank up the complexity and challenge that casuals will never try because they are hidden in the typical Atari option system (too many only ever play variation no. 1 on 2600 games which are usually the most basic).
Yoshis Story (N64) Lambasted by most as a followup to the Majestic Yoshi’s Island but its critics miss the point – this isn’t even an attempt at a sequel. A playthrough of this game consists of only 6 levels – one from each world – but the game consists of 24 levels. Each world has 4 levels with escalating difficulty and you have to find hidden super happy fruit to unlock them in worlds 2-6. Once these are found the trial mode takes over duties from the Story mode and the title becomes an excellent score attack game and repeated play soon reveals subtleties for score chasers. Of course it’s too cute by far and has a nauseating soundtrack but the production values are sky high and the presentation of the between-world sequences, shown as the turning of the page in a child’s pop-up book is simply beautiful.
Gunbird 2 (Dreamcast) At first this looks like just another vertical shoot-em-up. The painful level of difficulty and very fast enemy bullets make it unfriendly and don’t fit with the whimsical look. But the level design and scoring tricks with the genre’s trademark risk/reward balance draw the player in. The range of attacks at your disposal and the variety of characters to play give this a pile of replay value. The DC version is far better than the technically poor PS2 port, and features an exclusive extra character and a “one-player-two-character” mode that lets you choose 2 characters that tag-team with each life loss.
** Top 10 **Combat (2600) I first saw a 2600 up and running in a shop with the Combat cartridge. I was with my brother and 2 cousins on a city centre walkabout during the Summer holidays. We had played Space Invaders in the arcade and pong at home, but this was real boy versus boy stuff and it was head spinning. We played and played and kept playing until we were chucked out of the shop , blinking in the sunshine. But what a buzz we had and I knew then I had to have one. It was only a year or two later that it happened , and only because my parents followed through on a promise to give me £100 when I was 16 and an endowment policy they had set up for me matured. Its thrills had not diminished over the intervening time and was a regular entry in any multi-player Atari session. The 2600 played a major part in me becoming interested in computing which is how I earn a living. I ran an Office competition event recently using the Tank Pong variation and its timeless charms went down a storm.
Pole Position (arcade) First immersive driving experience for me this one. Bags of character with its “Prepare to Qualify” preamble to the actual race. This was a regular stop-off game in the arcade. The sequel has more variety with selectable tracks but the original is still my favourite. It really isn’t the same playing it emulated – it has to be sit down cabinet.
Star Wars Arcade (arcade).……same here. It’s hard to imagine the use of colour vector graphics being used to imbue an atmosphere but Atari managed it back in 1981. The excellent yoke controller leaves you with no excuse and the multi-phase play keeps up the interest. The sound effects add to the experience and the sit down version simply could not be walked past if you had coins in your pocket.
Surround (2600) Remember the snake game on Nokia phones? Well imagine a 2 player version of that in which you have to box your opponent in – first to 10 wins. That’s the brutal simplicity of this game which was an Atari 2600 launch title and is an obvious inspiration of the light cycle scene in Tron. There was actually an ancient arcade game called blockade on which this was based – but I suspect more people played this. The game throws in some variations such as steadily increasing speed, wrap-around, and diagonal moves along with a stupid game breaking option – the ability to not leave a trail behind you (a rare mis-step and perhaps the result of Atari’s Friday pot and hottub parties). It looks and sounds primitive but it’s simply brilliant fun. There’s a retarded versus CPU mode which is a waste of time and a Video Graffiti mode which just lets you draw on the screen – an indicator of the sophistication of gamers of the day and the power of the novelty of interacting with a TV.
Pong (dedicated) To those of you born when video games already existed and just another way of spending time, I really can’t convey the impact that an appearance of a home pong console had on me and my family. A beloved uncle, now sadly not with me (he was taken too early at 49) bought this (he was a single man and the high price at the time for a shipyard worker who loved a pint and a bet was only justifiable to himself) and I can remember my thoughts the moment I first saw the box in his hands. Inexplicably I had heard of TV games – I have no idea how – but that knowledge was a poor substitute for experiencing interacting with a TV. The gameplay was of course primitive and I haven’t played a game of Pong in decades, but that early experience with the whole family playing is why it is on my list. I can remember my father shaking his head in bewilderment trying to figure out how it worked and asked if there was a TV station somewhere broadcasting these images. The idea that the little magic box was doing all the work seemed miraculous. Of course for many it was a short lived fad, but for me it was something that I knew would change my leisure time and getting my own pong console later on with a light gun, and arcade visits kept me going until the arrival of the Atari 2600 a few years later.
Tap Runner (Wii) No other game demonstrates imaginative use of the Wii remote better than this simple little game which is part of Sega’s Let’s Tap. It’s a straight left to right obstacle course race with the wiimote placed on a box that the player taps gently to run and firmly to jump making it a bit like athletics button bashers except with panache as tapping too hard results in unwelcome jumps. The Rez-like presentation is excellent but what really makes it a great experience is the fact that it’s a multiplayer game for up to four and I deny anyone to play this without a stupid grin on their face and these grins in my experience are matched by any onlookers in my office gaming sessions.
Moon Patrol (arcade,MAME) This was another arcade love. Played a lot of this in the 147 arcade in Belfast – now long gone. I got pretty good too – drawing spectators on occasions. Great soundtrack and effective parallax scrolling are what initially attracted me to it, but the little subtle touches here and there and its satisfying course progression style of play are what kept me playing. I jumped (OK – fist pumped) for joy when MAME started running this.
Wardner (MAME) MAME is great for going back to replay favourites, but its greatest asset is that it’s a conduit for new experiences. I saw this briefly in the arcades as a student in the late 80s but I only got to play it via MAME. It’s a coin grabbing platformer by Taito but it has a certain level of charm and the levels just feel enjoyable to play repeatedly partially because it has a fair old number of secrets to discover which reward the player with points and more importantly – 1UPs – unusual for a coin grabber. Have 1CCed this game and recently completed a deathless run.
Sky Kid (arcade) Played quite a bit of this in the arcade as a student. It’s a cute little hori shooting game but there are a few differences from the norm. Firstly when you take a hit you can recover by rapidly hitting the fire button while holding up on the joystick provided you are far enough from the ground. Then there’s your target which you need to drop a bomb on – a fort or battleship usually. The bomb has to be picked up off the ground amid lots of enemy fire about half way through the level. The simple mission structure keeps you playing and it’s a Namco game – so it’s all very jolly with a solid implementation and silly cute features like the dancing girls that welcome you on the landing strip at the end of a level that can be shot and turned into smiling pink marshmallows for no reason at all.
Chips Challenge (PC) Probably the best thing in the Windows Entertainment Packs back in the Windows 3 days. A top down viewed sliding tile puzzle/action hybrid game with hoards of levels that prove to be surprisingly varied due to clever use of the different types of tiles, enemies and pickups. Many a worktime lunch break was spent playing this trying to get to the end before office rivals.
** Top 10 ** Mushihimesama Futari (360) I’ve been around since Space Invaders came out in the arcades and for an age video games equalled shoot-em-ups so they have a special place in my heart. The genre has been in the doldrums for some time but boutique setups like Cave pushing out arcade releases kept the fire alight. This 360 port of one their flagship games is astounding and is simply the most entertaining shooting game I’ve ever played. Hordes of modes and options stretch the seemingly mean 5 levels to breaking point – from the too easy Novice mode right up to a forboding Black Label God Mode. Gorgeous sounds and sights are accompanied by a comprehensive option mode that can be used to optimise the game for CRTs or even simulate one if you want. The various clever scoring rules encompassing a glorious balance of risk and reward means this will last long after the servers hosting the online leaderboards end up in the recycling plant. This is worth getting a 360 for and several years down the line I’m still playing.
Astro Blaster (arcade,MAME) Rock hard fixed screen shooting game from Sega. The variety of the enemies and the bright colours were enough in the early 80s to attract attention but this game didn’t suffer fools with its overheating laser and constantly dropping fuel gauge that could be refilled at risk in the middle of an asteroid section that appeared just before the end of each wave when your ship was running on fumes. This one had lots of secret bonuses to discover too – challenging the player in a way that the better thought out XBL achievements do now. I can remember the cabinet used to shake with the resonance effects of its speakers because the operator must have turned the volume up too high – but this is still a effective MAME experience and a favourite of mine.
Bank Panic (MAME) Sega arcade games aren’t normally shy and retiring but this one is. It looks a bit on the low key side and I suspect not many played it because of that which is a shame. You play the part of a security guard in an Old West bank and you have to cover 12 doors of which you can see 3 at any one time. You have a separate fire button for each door in your view and a joystick to move left and right. A radar display at the top lets you know which doors require your attention. At any time, any door can be opened by a customer , an outlaw ,or a kid wearing a stack of sombreros that gains you a bonus if you quickly shoot them all off. A customer will deposit money and you clear a round by having a deposit made at each door. It quickly becomes quite manic and the game soon starts confounding you with fake customers, hostage situations and other tricks all at high speed and often simultaneously. The colour palette is a wee bit on the dull side but the graphics are well designed with plenty of humour and the game itself has lots of little risk/reward bonuses to go for which make it always worth going back to. Never played this in the arcade so I have MAME to thank for this.
Boulderdash (NES) I originally encountered this game on the C64 but I really spent quality time with the NES version which is an excellent port – I’d posit that it’s the best ever in fact. My wife took a liking to this one which is high praise indeed as puts in in the same company as M64, Tetris, Bust-a-Move and Picross.
Scramble (arcade) An arcade stalwart that I’ll still spend a bit of time with either on MAME or XBL. The stage progression is still satisfying and the increasing demand on fuel makes subsequent loops worth going for. Even when the shine went off it in the arcade it was always worth a credit or two when waiting for the latest machine to be available.
Track n Field (arcade) Multi-player arcade gaming was never better or more hilarious. The variety of button bashing techniques I saw was bewildering and the simple idea of a world record board made you painfully aware of unknown savants who had played earlier that day – giving them an air of mystery and heroism. The game itself has little secret bonuses that somehow spread pre-internet. The pigeon in the Javelin, the photo finish bonus etc all somehow ended up as common knowledge. A recent acquisition on XBL showed me how good this game still is – the daughters found it compulsive and hilarious in equal measure.
Mr Do (arcade,MAME) I always preferred this to Dig Dug – there’s just so much more to it and the number of secrets and techniques still bestow it with a sense of mystery and wonder. It feels a tiny bit clunky in its implementation but that somehow adds to the charm. Played it a fair old bit in the arcade but I’ll still drop a virtual credit or two into MAME with this from time to time.
Gradius (Arcade, NES, Saturn) The original game is taken for granted – but I recently shelled out for the Saturn version and I was reminded just how beautifully balanced this game is which still defines the horizontal shooter genre. This series lost its way before making a comeback with Gradius V but the original game doesn’t have the unfair crippling checkpoints and greedy coin grabbing design that the 3rd and 4th entries have. Gradius 2 is also a superb game (it’s on the same disc for Saturn) but the original takes the glory for me as I played it in the arcade and on the NES which got a solid port which suffers technically but still delivers an accurate experience.
Hunchback (Oric-1) Not the greatest game in the world, nor is it likely that this is the best port, but for Oric-1 owners starved of games to go for this was an no-brainer of a purchase. It’s a decent port and played pretty well. I was able to loop this game several times until a bug produced a “death screen” that features a fireball that comes to a halt as soon as you try and jump over it making progression impossible. This was one of those games my father loved to watch us playing and so is remembered with a great deal of fondness as a family gaming experience.
Balloon Fight (NES) Nintendo does Joust. And outdoes the original in every department. It looks more whimsical and is easier to play which is only right being a home game. But Nintendo added extra features while retaining everything that’s great about this sadly under represented genre. It shares the engaging 2 player versus/co-op blend that Bubble Bobble has that is quite hard to find. Developed by Satoru Iwata himself – and they even threw in a survival “Balloon Trip” mode – a candidate for the first ever endless runner – just because they could. It pre-dates Flappy Bird by 30 years and outdoes it too.
Bombjack (CPC464) Never played the arcade original but the Amstrad got a great port of this game. It’s a real score chasers dream with large bonuses to go for by optionally grabbing the bombs in the right order which of course is the most hazardous way to do it. I played this to death and I suspect the cassette was in danger of wearing out.
Super Robot (Vax 11-750) My first proper job was as a COBOL programmer with login rights to a Vax 11-750 mini-computer (basically a small footprint mainframe). Its 80 x 24 character display wasn’t exactly designed to host games but this game which plays a bit like a turn-based version of Robotron set in randomly generated mazes was highly addictive. Its high-score table was shared across the corporate network providing an early introduction to online leaderboards. I liked this game so much I developed an update for PC using BlitzBasic. It was even picked up by Softpedia and garnered several hundred downloads.
Shanghai Triple Threat (Saturn) I first played tile matching games on the PC – the best of WIndows Entertainment Pack (which somehow did the rounds in work illicitly) had a decent version called Tai-pei. This title is more of that with extra bells and whistles, an arcade mode that features a timer to work against and a few other modes that add gravity and other complexities to make the head hurt a bit – but the star of the show is Golden Tile mode. This is a 2 player battle mode with 2 small piles of tiles set side by side a la split screen mode, each with a hidden single golden tile. First to click on theirs wins the round. You can use tiles from your opponent’s pile to match and clear your own pile but you can’t click on your opponent’s golden tile. It’s a really nice competitive game and my wife and I would play this for hours. My eldest daughter has developed a taste for it and sadly her skills now exceed my own. Underated, excellent little game.
Solar Jetman (NES) game which takes the gravity shooter (Thrust, Gravitar et al) to its limits. Huge levels to explore and lots of toys and power ups with a lengthy mission involving finding ship parts. My pop used to enjoy watching me play this one. Good memories. Really odd soundtrack that sticks in my mind still.
Geometry Wars 1,2,3,Galaxies (360, Wii) Pretty much the definitive twin stick shooter. The original “Retro Evolved” game is pretty straightforward, but GW bests Robotron and even Smash TV because of the sheer amount of variety offered in GW2, 3 and the Wii’s Galaxies which also offers a novel alternative to control – aiming with the wimote and moving with the nunchuck. GW2 in particular is a superb multiplayer game with hugely addictive modes like Pacifist and superb high score tracking using the 360’s friends list. GW3 warps the levels into 3D and uses the geom collecting introduced in Galaxy and at times it feels like playing a twin stick version of Tempest, gazing down tunnels preventing enemies from getting to you.
Bishi Bashi Special (PS1) Weirder than WarioWare which is saying something. The colour based games aren’t as accessible as the PS1 controller button symbol colours aren’t as instantly applicable but its huge fun when 2 or more are assembled and it’s a fun game to watch too. The disco dancing game with the growing afros is a highlight.
Shoot Away (arcade) This Namco classic is a clay pigeon simulator with a large back-canvas adorned with a forest clearing scene onto which discs of light are projected which you shoot at with nice chunky shotgun controllers. The arcade operator in which we played ensured it was regularly calibrated – and subsequently it was a joy to play. A friend and myself became pretty good at this. Draw-a-crowd-to-watch-us-play good – an experience that is sadly lacking in these on-line times. Two player mode was brutally simple in cranking up the pressure as you alternated every 2 clays – facilitating a “follow-that” atmosphere with the pressure building every time a round completed without a miss. Feeling people behind you and hearing the odd gasp of approval when the game went into extended play and boosted the clay speed – isn’t matched by a Twitch chat stream.
Bit.Trip Complete (Wii). The Bit.Trip series was a successful experiment on Wii; critically if not commercially anyhow. It used the Wii controllers to excellent effect delivering a series of 6 games that when played can induce “in the zone” gaming. Two of the games – the first and last – are based around paddle control – implemented by holding the wiimote on its side and rotating it. Other games use simple control schemes making full use of the Wii’s control configurations. The six games cover the basic genres of gaming stripped down to their bare essentials. What makes this package is the presentation – the graphics and sounds remind me of what an enhanced 2600 would produce and indeed – some of the games are reminiscent of early 2600 games. The design of the levels is linked to the soundtrack, merging these games with the modern rhythm genre and this soon puts the player into that zone like trance which so enjoyable – with the sights and sounds becoming more complex the better you do. A truly unique experience and it’s great to see the series originally released on WiiWare given a physical release with some extras including an soundtrack album on CD that make it an excellent, collectable package.
** Top 10 ** Tempest (arcade,Saturn,PS1,Switch) The early 80s arcade was a great experience. New genres were popping up all over the place. New control schemes, new cabinet configurations, new experiences. But even amongst that Tower of Babel, Tempest stuck out. Its eye popping colour vector display was the initial attraction, but once I played and experienced the beautifully weighted spinner control I was hooked. This game is on my list because of the sheer thrill and buzz I got from playing it that no analysis will ever explain to me but it has to be experienced in its cabinet – XBL ports and emulations are pale faded copies with compromised controls. BUT – Tempest also gets the best update of a classic game ever. The graphics on Tempest 2000 have been amended for raster displays and the gameplay additions have added enough variety to make it suitable for home play. Tempest 2000 is probably a “better” game simply because it is one of those rare times when a modern remake manages to add more gameplay while retaining the feel of the original. By all accounts the Saturn version , which was how I first experienced T2K, has some bugs in its collision detection in the later levels and it’s missing one of the bonus levels but it still really impressed me and I played it an awful lot when I first discovered it. The Jaguar original is now playable accurately on modern consoles thanks to the Atari 50 compilation. The PS1 got the excellent Tempest X3 which is a variant on T2K, and the latest incarnation, Tempest 4000, on Steam and current gen consoles updates everything and plays great but my initial T2K experiences on the Saturn still make it my favourite remake.
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A retro gamer and occassional writer..