Welcome to part 6 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This sixth post features entries #50 to #41.
Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.
“We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.”
#50 – City of Heroes
Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Cryptic Studios, Paragon Studios | Publisher: NCsoft | Genre: MMORPG | Year: 2004
There’s a good case for suggesting that the common childhood fantasy of fighting crime as a super hero had yet to be properly realized in a video game until City of Heroes came along.
Initially released as a US market exclusive in 2004, I had the rare opportunity to play this MMORPG during its earliest days (via an import copy) and it turned out to be something quite unique and thrilling due to how fresh the newly defined genre was at the time.
Using the incredible character creation system, you would craft your very own costumed crime fighter complete with super powers and backstory and then be thrust head-first into an original comic book universe to fight against the forces of injustice across several massive environments teeming with thousands of like-minded online players.
Different from other RPGs of its type, City of Heroes began life with an item-less character upgrade system. Instead of finding more powerful weapons or pieces of armour whilst out on a mission, characters would come across enhancements; circular power ups that could be applied to any of the your existing super powers in an effort to increase/decrease damage, accuracy, recharge time or endurance cost.
Although gameplay did not diverge from the standard ‘click power, wait for it to cool down, click it again’ formula that the genre is often known for, City of Heroes possessed such an ease of play and staunch commitment to its universe that it was impossible for me not to get sucked in by the spectacle.
Later content patches would bolster the game’s rather simple gameplay with added features including new quests, new environments and the coveted base builder mode which allowed you to house your own super hero team in their very own lair of operations. All of this was supported by an effective control scheme and helpful navigation system that made playing the game a breeze.
My experience with MMORPGs has not been all that extensive but something I felt City of Heroes got very right over the competition at the time was the incentives towards player progression.
At predetermined character levels your hero would could gain access to special features including the convenient travel powers (flight, teleportation, super speed and the like), the simple privilege of wearing a cape and the application of a super-powered aura that would radiate from your character’s eyes or fists.
These features may sound simple, but their effect on keeping players invested is unmistakable. Likewise the badge system (that awarded you special medals for completing tasks) turned out to be a great way of expanding the game’s lifespan and preempted the Xbox 360 achievement system by at least a year.
Although the game and its excellent stand-alone expansion City of Villains have now been officially discontinued, the game remains my favourite MMORPG to this day; a heady mix of comic book antics and rewarding team-play that is gone but not forgotten.
#49 – BioShock
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 | Developer: Irrational Games | Publisher: 2K Games | Genre: First-Person Shooter | Year: 2007
The hype leading up to this game’s release in 2007 was almost overwhelming, but against all odds, BioShock delivered a memorable experience that will likely resonate with players for many years to come.
Your faceless character begins by swimming to a giant lighthouse after his plane crashes somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Inside he finds a bathysphere which transports him to the wondrous underwater city of Rapture.
The brainchild of a man named Andrew Ryan, who desired freedom from the constraints of the world above, Rapture’s commerce and sciences flourished due to his lax ethical and regulatory structure of government. Until one day of course, it all fell apart.
Most of BioShock’s plot is revealed through audio diaries; collectible voice recordings that feature the various inhabitants of Rapture explaining what became of their lives during the city’s collapse into hellish violence and insanity.
This is to say nothing of the many twists and turns that the narrative takes on the player’s journey; all culminating in what is a very mature yet thoughtful tale about objectivism and the perception of one’s reality. By the usual video game standards at least, BioShock‘s story truly does stand alone.
The game’s varied environments combine the themes of beauty and oppression extremely well with some of gaming’s best looking water seeping from every corner of the barnacle encrusted world that is Rapture. It’s also a rather unnerving game at times and straddles the line of horror and first person shooter thrills in an altogether vivid and enticing fashion.
The roster of enemies is similarly impressive. Due to the violence engulfing the underwater city, its denizens have taken dire measures in order to survive and it’s never long before you come across another screaming disfigured civilian out for your blood.
And how can you talk about enemies without mentioning the Big Daddies? Fighting these monstrous drill-wielding behemoths is a treat every time you can pluck up enough courage to do so.
Everyone remembers their first encounter with a Big Daddy and I’d be very impressed if that story didn’t end with the player being smashed into a wall or bitch slapped into oblivion by an armoured gauntlet.
Deciding whether to include BioShock or its more recent sequel BioShock Infinite on this list was a tough decision. Whilst both games exude an unmistakable quality, I feel that BioShock Infinite is a more enjoyable story than it is a video game and although it shared many of the same criticisms as its prequel, BioShock feels a little more fresh considering it was the first time around for this now famous series.
Despite a lacklustre final quarter and the frustrating omission of a run button (which is just cruel by the way), BioShock is a quality gaming experience and one that stands as a centrepiece for why 2007 is often considered a golden year in gaming.
#48 – Pac-Man
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Many home platforms… | Developer: Namco | Publisher: Namco, Midway | Genre: Arcade | Year: 1980
One of the most instantly identifiable video games for the past several generations, Pac-Man is the very definition of a classic that is perhaps only just now being overtaken by mobile hit Angry Birds as the go-to gaming experience that anyone can enjoy in sixty seconds or less.
Charged with the simple task of maneuvering your hungry yellow avatar through a static ghost-infested maze, Pac-Man must gobble (it’s impossible not to use the word “gobble” when describing this game) up dots and pieces of bonus fruit to earn points. Despite the simplicity inherent in the concept, Pac-Man was one of the golden age games to bring the hobby to a wider audience.
Part of that is actually down to the game’s simplicity – there are no button commands; just the simple directional movement of your arcade stick that will guide Pac-Man to eating every dot on the screen before a ghost manages to make contact and rob him of a life. Eat one of the maze’s four ‘power pills’ however and Pac-Man is transformed into a figurative ghost-chomping machine and is immune to defeat for a short time.
The version of the game that I first experienced, namely: the Atari 2600 port is a bit of a different story in the quality department. This particular version of the game is often criticized with being rushed to the market by its publisher Atari in order to capitalize on the immense wave of success the game was experiencing at the time and let me tell you that throughout history, this particular scenario is a hard lesson that many video game companies would subject themselves to time and time again.
And man, does that lesson ring true here…
Featuring messy, flickering graphics, overly basic sounds and almost non-existent animation, Pac-Man for the 2600 is at times barely recognizable from its sacred arcade counterpart. Even the simple dots that Pac-Man eats in the arcade version are rendered as unsightly lines or “wafers” in the Atari version. Gone also are the bonus fruit items instead replaced with a generic large wafer that as a kid I thought was supposed to represent a slice of buttered toast…
I find it a somewhat amusing twist then that this awful translation of a classic was the beginning of video games as I would know them. And yet, I loved this game as a kid.
Much of this is down to the fact that I had no comparisons to the original arcade game and no allusions of what a Pac-Man game should look like. The truth is, that at a very basic level, Pac-Man for the 2600 still has the core concept of the game intact – the simplistic objective and fairly nippy gameplay even in this botched version still manages to shine through at times. It’s a testament to the original game design that I’m even able to say that at all.
As I grew older and my awareness of games increased, I began to see this title in a different light and recognized the ugly truth that was there all along. Playing the original arcade version of Pac-Man on modern machines was a real blessing as I was finally able to play the game in the way it was always meant to be played.
It may surprise you to learn that Pac-Man has received several modern sequels over the last couple of years and may also surprise you that those sequels are actually very good!
Released under the subtitle of Championship Edition, these new versions of Pac-Man feature psychedelic graphics, disco music and amped-up gameplay with fireworks and new scoring mechanics. As terrible as it may first sound, the combination works a treat and it once again shows how adaptable the simple Pac-Man formula truly is.
Thirty five years on and still going strong, Pac-Man is still as instantly playable and addictive now as it was in the Eighties. The arcades may be dead, but Pac-Man himself is still very much alive and chomping.
#47 – Shenmue
Principal Platforms: Dreamcast | Developer: AM2 | Publisher: Sega | Genre: RPG | Year: 1999
At one time the most expensive game ever produced, this billion dollar effort from Sega is something that encapsulates the “if it’s fun, then go for it” attitude of their late Dreamcast console.
A 3D RPG/adventure game set in Japan, players take on the role of Ryu Hazuki as he seeks to uncover the mysteries behind his father’s murder.
Featuring wonderfully life-like graphics and an unconventional commitment to realism, Shenmue is a Dreamcast exclusive that has endured in the hearts of Sega fans for many years.
Although the game as a whole is a very deliberately paced and often plodding yarn, it’s incredibly immersive and the convincing Japanese town of Yokosuka is rife with characters to talk to and things to do.
Players are granted the freedom to pursue the game’s main storyline at their own pace, leaving you free to explore the surrounding environment, interact with characters and play various parlour games in the various nightclubs and arcades located in town.
Pursuing details on your father’s killer often leads to conflict though and sometimes you’ll have to beat answers out of people. Combat takes on the form of a Virtua Fighter style encounter where you square off against multiple opponents in real time. There are no enemy life bars, time limits or flashy special moves to be found here, Shenmue‘s combat feels more real than you’d expect and marks one of the most satisfying features present in the game.
Ryu can learn new moves over the course of the game and improve on existing ones by practicing each day. When you become more adept at executing certain moves, the animation changes to be more fluid thus granting you a slight edge in battle.
Shenmue is also notable for reintroducing the concept of what it calls QTEs or quick time events. These button commands quickly flash on screen and if you fail to match the input on your controller in time then you trigger a failure condition.
Unlike most games that have (bewilderingly) adopted this old fashioned practice though, Shenmue features a lot of dramatic QTEs that are not fatal to your progress should you fail them.
Sometimes a QTE is simply to catch a football that was accidentally kicked at your head and in combat you’re often given a second chance to counter a punch say if you fail the first time of asking. In short, it’s a lot more forgiving than most titles that shoe-horn the feature in for no good reason.
Shemue is an artistic experiment that doesn’t always pay off. The day to night cycle of each day is a bit on the short side, the English voice track is hilariously robotic and certain strands of the story are a bit too well hidden at times.
But it’s a remarkably diverse experience and there’s still very little else like it on the market today. Whether the game as a whole grabs you or not, Shenmue is certainly a new way of thinking and proves that nonstop action and mindless violence aren’t the only tools with which to make a compelling video game.
#46 – Pokémon: Red Version/Pokémon: Blue Version
Principal Platforms: Gameboy | Developer: Game Freak | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: RPG | Year: 1996
So with the many technically superior sequels available for Nintendo‘s esteemed raft of modern handheld consoles, why do the very first Pokémon titles for the Gameboy get a spot on this list?
That’s an easy question for me to answer and it doesn’t stem from nostalgia, from thinking that monster designs were at their peak here or anything like that, but rather because of how undiluted these titles now feel in the face of their successors.
Although the Pokémon games have undergone a significant change in code from this generation of titles for the Gameboy, many of the moves, items and design philosophies are still the same in 2015 as they were in 1996.
Story-wise, the pursuit to become the Pokémon League Champion is the guiding focus here and whatever supporting narratives that run alongside this goal are secondary at best.
But without the heightened worry for multiplayer game balance, Pokémon Red and Blue presents you with every item, TM, collectible and Pokémon (except for the promo monster Mew) without making you jump through hoops like the later games in the series rather irritatingly uphold.
Aside from that, these original titles are very well paced. The game feels like it’s the perfect length really and even if there isn’t a whole lot to do after the main campaign is complete, getting to that point is still an extremely enjoyable, varied and replayable experience.
Even with the Gameboy‘s rapidly aging technology on full display, Pokémon Red and Blue are loaded with character and are still a lot of fun today.
In the late Nineties, these two Pokémon games blew the competition clean out of the water by offering many hours of rewarding gameplay; something not all that common for handheld games of the era. Pokémon would quickly become Nintendo‘s leading handheld franchise following these two games; a privilege they have rightly coveted to this day.
It all started here for a reason.
#45 – Rez
Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox Live Arcade | Developer: United Game Artists | Publisher: Sega, Microsoft | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 2001
Originally released for the Dreamcast in 2001, Rez is an experimental title from lauded designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
Fundamentally an on-rails shooter and often derided as such, there is more to Rez than first meets the eye. A journey through five levels of trance music, trippy wireframe graphics and Panzer Dragoon (on acid) inspired gameplay, Rez is an audiovisual treat in more ways than one.
As your computerized avatar drifts through cyberspace, the surrounding environment develops to the beat of the music. Enemies drop power ups that evolve your form and allow you to take additional hits and sometimes you might comes across an overdrive power-up that acts as a psychedelic smart bomb; melting your screen in a wave of bright lasers and digitized sounds.
But if Rez is truly about one thing then that one thing is the music. Undoubtedly the game’s most important and polished asset, the game’s trance soundtrack is vital to enjoying the game to its fullest.
Every time your targeting crosshair locks on to something there’s a unique sound effect for it, whenever an enemy explodes in a cloud of wireframe smoke; there’s a beat present, and by the time you reach the final stretch of a level you’ll find the background music has intensified to match the rapidly accelerating drama unfolding on screen.
What passes for a plot in Rez is admittedly pretty weak, but playing through the final level as it chronicles the evolution of life on Earth (through the added use of text pop-ins) is a sight to behold and it’s one of those flourishes that always keeps you eager to see things through to the end.
A very different and unusual game from most, Rez was met by a wave of indifference following its initial release, but later found some success with the incredibly polished port called Rez HD for Xbox Live Arcade. This is my version of choice as it features wonderfully defined graphics and widescreen presentation to match its infectious beats and meaty synthesizers.
The controls are extremely easy to grasp, the crisp graphics are wonderful and the difficulty curve is judged perfectly. You could easily argue that Rez is more of an experience than it is a video game but all I know is that I’ve played it more than fifty times without sign of getting bored of it yet.
#44 – Unreal Tournament
Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast | Developer: Epic Games, Digital Extremes | Publisher: GT Interactive | Genre: First-Person Shooter | Year: 1999
When Epic Games decided to re-engineer their Unreal game into a spin-off that catered solely to the multiplayer aspects of the emerging first-person shooter genre, the result was Unreal Tournament; an all-out deathmatch spectacle that arguably beat Quake III: Arena at its own game.
Supporting up to 16 players in simultaneous head-to-head combat, Unreal Tournament is about as undiluted and enjoyable as an FPS game can get.
There are plenty of character skins to choose from and a range of maps to fight on including floating castles, industrial factories, asteroids and the fan-favourite Face maps that feature opposing fortresses that are just perfect for a team based capture the flag match-up.
The key element to UT’s success lies in this strong and varied multiplayer experience. The game includes a good selection of weapons including your regulation rocket launcher and sniper rifle to the more interesting Link Gun (that can power up team mates) and the portable guided nuke that is the Redeemer.
Whilst multiplayer is the focus here, you can also get some enjoyment if playing by yourself due to the extremely clever A.I. controlled bots that this game boasts.
In team games your CPU controlled helpers can be instructed to attack and defend and if left to their own devices they will make use of all the terrain’s features in order to reach key weapons and eliminate opposing enemies whenever possible.
A standard issue portable teleporter called the Translocator is given to each player in order to mix gameplay up further and the A.I. is even skilled in using this too. It’s an especially amazing job the programmers have done with this facet of the game.
The soundtrack is also excellent and features plenty of fast, industrial metal backing tracks that fit the frantic pace of the game perfectly and that’s to say nothing of the game’s hilarious sampled speech that includes such gems as “my house!” and the now legendary “killing spree!”
A remarkably playable game and one that works with a range of different player counts, Unreal Tournament is a frag-fest for the ages.
#43 – Power Stone
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Dreamcast | Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom, Eidos Interactive | Genre: 3D Beat ‘Em Up | Year: 1999
This is more like it, Capcom!
Indeed, it’s strange sometimes to think how poorly 3D arena beat ’em ups have been represented over the years with Power Stone frequently getting mention as one the genre’s highs despite being a game over fifteen years old now.
Power Stone marks a return to the instantly appealing character designs that Capcom was once known for with each selectable fighter bringing their own spectacular blend of fighting styles and special moves.
Each level is a veritable toy box of interaction, but they’re designed to be just tight enough to encourage frequent confrontation between the two players.
Collect three ‘power stone’ artifacts (that randomly spawn on these battlefields) and your character transforms, Power Ranger style, into a faster and more hard-hitting version of themselves and gain access to super moves so devastating that your opponent will be frantically diving for cover within moments of their activation.
The single player component of the excellent Dreamcast port features a wealth of unlockable material too including minigames, bonus items, playable boss characters and art galleries.
Power Stone is a very pure beat ’em up that mixes good fundamentals with a fresh spin and marks one of Capcom’s finest efforts in years.
One of my genre favourites.
#42 – Theme Park
Principal Platforms: MS-DOS, Amiga, Many home consoles… | Developer: Bullfrog Productions | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Genre: Simulation | Year: 1994
Theme Park is a brilliant game.
As a kid I played this title as any kid would; as a classic ‘sandbox’ style management simulator. Many a day did I spend trying to build the grandest theme park ever seen; purchasing bigger and better rides and attractions, hiring mascots to entertain customers in every queue and distributing handymen to tackle every speck of litter left on the ground.
Many years later, as an adult, I would revisit the game in a different light; reveling in delight at my inflated ticket prices, under-payed employees and shady business practices that yes, saw me increasing the level of salt added to the fries to make customers thirsty for the drinks stand located suspiciously nearby.
Theme Park is such an exquisite game for that mere fact alone; you can appreciate the game in very different ways depending on your age and how deep you wish to delve into the deceptively ruthless economy going on behind the scenes.
The game offers you a choice of how broad an experience you’re looking for with sandbox mode drip-feeding you new rides and developments automatically to the full difficulty which requires you to undertake inventory management, research, wage negotiations and stock market purchases.
Whichever mode you choose however, you need to have a clear understanding that your time spent as theme park manager is primarily about turning a profit and not necessarily about making all those little people happy.
It’s funny that all those roller coasters, bouncy castles and tea cup rides are only there to keep your visitors happy enough to spend money at your shops and attractions as that’s where your real earnings come from.
It’s important to build walkways in a circular fashion so that each visitor is rotated through your park in a fast and efficient manner. Once a visitor’s wallet has run dry, it’s time for you to get them out of there ASAP and you have to be crafty in ensuring that they find their way.
Space in your park is limited so it’s in your best interest to keep those fresh wallets coming in and don’t think twice about firing a mechanic who doesn’t pull his weight or shooting for lower wages during the next salary negotiation.
Building a theme park is still made enjoyable without the business end interfering though and you’ll find a broad bed of research to engage in that can unlock new rides, more competent staff and even snazzier toilets.
However you want to the play the game though, Theme Park is a classic from the developers at Bullfrog and one with enough depth and complexity to make it worth playing today.
#41 – Puyo Pop Fever
Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Nintendo DS | Developer: Sonic Team | Publisher: Sega, Atlus, THQ | Genre: Puzzle | Year: 2004
Puyo Pop Fever is a 2004 remake of an original puzzle game made by Compile in 1991. Whilst Fever is mostly the same in concept, it does include a few new game modes as well as a significant graphical update.
Whilst I’m going to talk more about Puyo Puyo as a puzzle game here, I’m selecting Puyo Pop Fever as chief representative for the series simply because of its visual polish and overall accessibility.
Of the many different Tetris clones that emerged during the Nineties then, Puyo Pop is the puzzle game that I consider to be the real deal. Following on from its incarnations as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for Sega and Kirby’s Avalanche for Nintendo, the series would finally emerge in its own non-branded Puyo Puyo form for multiple platforms.
The game is made up of a supremely addictive formula where players rotate and stack jelly bean-like critters into order to make them pop. Linking up four or more of the same colour beans causes them to vanish from play with any remaining beans above those falling to create combos and thus score you more points.
The strategy is in anticipating these stacks to create the biggest combos you can and doing this in a versus mode will drop nuisance puyo (that look like black rocks) onto your opponent’s stacks to impede their play and hopefully cause their screen to fill up completely to give you the win.
In truth though, Puyo Pop Fever isn’t the best that the series can be. The titular “Fever” mode allows players to pull off huge combos with ease and it’s the one part of this version that I seriously dislike owing to how utterly unbalanced the mode is in practice.
The completely over-the-top manga-style presentation also works against the game’s presentation. There are no likeable characters in the story mode and each one shouts their stupid lines during gameplay which can get extremely distracting when you’re trying to concentrate.
Even with that said though, the gameplay still shines through in this one, especially when you’re playing with friends.
The classic gameplay is what makes Puyo Pop brilliant. It’s a timeless design that becomes immensely addictive when you discover how to properly create combos; my “Endless” mode record currently stands at just over the 80 minute mark!