Welcome to part 4 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This fourth post features entries #70 to #61.

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.

“I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive, my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”


 

#70 – Diddy Kong Racing

Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64 | Developer: Rare | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Racing | Year: 1997

Diddy Kong Racing (N64)

Those who brush off Diddy Kong Racing as a mere Mario Kart clone tend to forget is that it is very much a Nintendo game at heart.

Nintendo trusted the developer Rare with their Diddy Kong character because they expected nothing less than a quality game and that’s exactly what gamers received.

Whilst the basic setup of cute characters racing in go-karts is directly inspired by the popular Mario titles, Diddy Kong Racing distinguishes itself by including hovercrafts and planes that, in the multiplayer modes at least, are often interchangeable.

Having one player take to the skies in a plane and another hitting speed ramps on the track below is quite a unique setup and one that has not been used heavily in similar titles since this one.

This game features impressive 3D polygonal character models (instead of the 2D sprites seen in Mario Kart 64) and whilst the graphics on the whole are not jaw-droppingly amazing, they are certainly very colourful and each stage is lit remarkably well for an N64 title too.

The overall gameplay is also extremely satisfying (as is the case with most of Rare‘s N64 efforts) as each character has their own weight class, top speed and overall cornering ability. There’s also a large emphasis placed on effective braking, power-up usage and boost ramps too, so it’s certainly a game where you have to practice in order to get the most out of it.

Different from most games in the genre, Diddy Kong Racing is notable for its supremely enjoyable and not to mention extensive single player mode that sees your chosen racer tackling each track in between a spot of light adventuring within a full 3D hub world. The replayability is a bit limited but the campaign as a whole is so large and challenging, that it will take a considerable amount of time to complete in full.

Due to a wealth of piss-poor offerings, the kart racing genre has been maligned in my effections for many years. In my opinion, there is simply no other kart racing game on any console that comes even close to Diddy Kong Racing in terms of accessibility, enjoyment and longevity.

Forget the ill-fitting port for the Nintendo DS, this Nintendo 64 original is the real deal and long may it remain so.

 

#69 – Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Developer: Remedy Entertainment | Publisher: Rockstar Games | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 2003

Max Payne 2 (PC)

Released only two years after the original game, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne suffered no high profile delays on its way to release and landed to critical acclaim during the busy run up to Christmas in 2003. Despite the positive reception however, Max Payne 2 experienced lousy sales and would ultimately put the series on hiatus for nearly a decade.

“Life knows two miseries; getting what you don’t want and not getting what you want.”

This sequel seeks to outdo the original in terms of everything it offers. The graphics are sharper and characters look more lifelike, the music is much more pronounced and dare I say: sadder, and let’s not forget to mention the incredible attention to detail with regards to its consistently enjoyable gunplay and intense action set pieces.

The flagship bullet time feature and slow motion dives return from the first game but rather than simply slowing down the action entirely, Max now has the ability to move at his regular speed whilst it’s active. This one change alone is enough to justify the game’s excellence as it allows players to exploit their advantages during play more than ever before.

Adding to this accomplishment is the (then) cutting edge Havoc physics engine that represents one of the earlier examples of “rag-doll” physics done well in a video game. The first bad guy you shoot in-game is setup to fly back into a rack of shelves and watching the various paint cans and pots tumble to the ground along with a realistically moving body was truly stunning for the time.

The controls are especially easy to get to grips with too. You’d be amazed how far the starting pistol can take you through the game as head shots become so easy to line up with the precision aiming on offer. Like the first game in the series, Max Payne 2 does try to mix up the encounters as much as it can within the basic framework of just “shooting bad guys” over and over. Some segments charge you with protecting a certain character, taking up position as a sniper and the infamously creepy dream sequences are back (minus the awkward platforming mechanics) in full force too.

It should go without saying that the game is supremely stylish. Bullets are individually modeled, there are plenty of gratuitous slow motion deaths and even the loading screens vary depending on what point of the story you’ve currently reached.

The narrative commitment is even stronger this time around (however cheesy it can get at times) and presents plenty of evocative voice overs, cutscenes and story boards that drip with that heady film noir flavour. Max’s profoundly pessimistic monologues keep the game moving forward and the various returning characters he meets on his second journey feel more fleshed out and better realized than they did before.

The biggest weakness with this game though concerns its length. The compulsive shoot ’em up action is easily consumed and you could probably finish the entire game in a weekend without much trouble.

Regardless, Max Payne 2 is a short and sweet sequel that still looks and plays great even today.

“I didn’t deserve to walk away. There are no happy endings.”

 

#68 – Capcom vs. SNK 2

Principal Platforms: Arcade, Dreamcast, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | Genre: Beat ‘Em Up | Year: 2001

Capcom vs SNK 2 EO (Xbox)

I had a real dilemma when it came to selecting my favourite 2D beat ’em up games for this list. How does one decide between the many compilations, re-packages and upgrades available from Capcom over the years?

Ultimately I made my decision based both on quality and overall playtime and the first game that fits that bill nicely is Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Available for multiple platforms and featuring a massive roster of playable characters plucked from popular franchises, including Street Fighter, Fatal Fury and King of Fighters, it’s easy to see how Capcom vs. SNK 2 is a game designed to appeal to a larger cross section of fighting game enthusiasts.

Whilst it may not feature quite the same flashy spectacle as Marvel vs. Capcom, this is a much purer beat ’em up with a large emphasis placed on the fighting styles or “grooves” that are derived from one of the other Capcom or SNK titles that each playable character belongs to.

Any character can be played with any groove and thus the game offers a staggering number of fighting styles for each individual character. No one groove dominates the proceedings though and most options should be viable and balanced for any expert player.

Capcom vs. SNK is a huge improvement over the first game and now offers battles featuring up to four characters a side. When you select a fighter you get to assign your own “ratio” to that character (up to a maximum value of 4) that decides his/her overall power level.

You could take two fighters at ratio 2 into battle, four at ratio 1 or even a single character at the full ratio 4. To say this is a huge improvement of the preset values of the first game is a major understatement and you’ll no longer feel like your favourite character feels underpowered compared to the rest of the cast.

It has to be said that some of the in-game sprites are under par for Capcom‘s usually high standards. You get the feeling that some of the characters (Morrigan especially) have merely been ripped from their native game and quickly inserted here without being touched up properly by an artist. The home ports also vary in graphical quality and don’t expect there to be much in the way of replay value either; this is a purist’s game and doesn’t offer much in the way of additional game modes or single player content.

Having said that, the “EO” version that was released for consoles does include an interesting beginner’s control scheme that allows players to activate special/super moves by a simple touch of their controller’s analogue stick. Seeing as complex input commands frequently scare away newcomers to games like this, it’s nice there is an option included to allow anyone to pick up and play.

The colour edit mode is also worthy of mention as it allows you to create your own custom palette for any of the game’s characters meaning that dream of an inverted black and red M. Bison uniform can finally be realized!

As a sequel, Capcom vs. SNK 2 realizes a dream match-up between two major companies in a much more varied and exciting way than before and it still ranks as one of my absolute favourites.

 

#67 – Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes

Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Capcom | Genre: Beat ‘Em Up| Year: 2000

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Sega Dreamcast)

Just narrowly beating Capcom vs. SNK 2 to the punch, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is my favourite 2D fighting game for a number of reasons.

Combining characters from both Capcom‘s own franchises and the multiple Marvel licensed arcade games they released in the Nineties, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a well regarded entry in the popular series that amps the action up as high as it can possibly go.

Other beat ’em ups will look incredibly tame once you witness the awesome “hyper combos” that often feature multiple characters on screen throwing everything they’ve got, from fists and fireballs to missiles and laser blasts, the action barely lets up for even a second. Fitting to its comic book roots, it makes for a heady over-the-top spectacle that’s insanely fun especially when played with friends.

Each battle is a 3v3 affair with multiple assist styles available for each of the 50+ selectable characters. The control scheme and overall strategy behind each fight is perhaps a bit simpler when compared to “purer” Capcom beat ’em ups, but there’s no denying the enjoyment to be found in trying to find a perfect three character team that best suits your play style.

This game has been blessed with faithful home conversions too, not least of which being the near arcade perfect conversion for the Sega Dreamcast. This version is also the only one that “locks” a large portion of the roster and introduces a shop menu where you must spend points earned in single player to purchase additional playable characters and colour palettes. Although this is a feature that won’t be popular with everyone, I’ve always appreciated it as an effective way of adding replay value to the overall package as arcade conversions are notoriously lacking in this regard.

For the casual fighting game fan, it’s almost perfect really. If it wasn’t for that music…

God damn it, Capcom… What were you thinking with that music?

There’s no other way to really angle this so I’ll just say that Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes has by far the worst, most irritating and ill-fitting soundtrack I’ve personally come across in a modern video game. You may have noticed that I value the audio in my favourite video games very highly and you can sure bet that this game would be higher on this list if it wasn’t for how execrably bad the music is at every moment during play.

Even with that particular sore point though, the colourful sprite work, varied selection of fighters and addictive gameplay make Marvel vs. Capcom 2 one crossover that I don’t regret investing my time in.

 

#66 – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance

Principal Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube | Developer: Snowblind Studios | Publisher: Interplay| Genre: Hack and Slash, RPG | Year: 2001

Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (Xbox)

Whilst I can’t personally comment on the quality of the PlayStation 2 or GameCube versions, I can happily say that the Xbox version of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance is one of the most visually impressive console games that I’ve ever played.

I’ve always been amazed at the incredible graphical quality that this game presents; from the glistening gelatinous cubes and massive golem enemies to the gorgeous dynamic lighting and eye-poppingly good liquid physics, here is a game where the developers clearly went the extra mile in delivering a quality visual experience.

As one of the first Diablo clones for a home console, Dark Alliance distinguished itself from the crowd of imitators with its realistic effects, awesome graphical quality and replayable campaign adventure for up to two players.

Although this game doesn’t do anything that Diablo didn’t already do before it, what is on offer here is simply of a very high production standard and despite its slightly short length, amounts to an entertaining fantasy adventure with an almost total focus on combat and character upgrading over any deep role-playing experience.

The game features three different characters to choose from, each one with a suitable archetype from its official Dungeons and Dragons setting. There’s a dwarf fighter, a human rogue and an elven sorceress and each one brings their own unique slant on gameplay. The popular and not to mention powerful character Drizzt Do’Urden is also available during the game’s post campaign bonus level too, which is nice.

The character upgrading features are a lot lighter but subsequently less crucial than in Diablo; characters earn points that can be spent on various perks upon leveling up (represented by a set of lit/dim bubbles on your character sheet) that grant everything from new spells and abilities to an array of passives that buff a character’s damage, defence or regenerative capabilities.

It’s a much simpler system then, but therein lies its success. The game doesn’t burden you with a choice of different statistics and skill trees but instead allows you more time to focus on gathering equipment and working through your various upgrade powers without the fear of “gimping” your build. This reworking of Diablo‘s complex structure proved so successful that many other copycat titles would adopt the exact same approach (bubbles and all) for years to come.

Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes, Dungeon Siege III and the X-Men Legends series to name but a few, all adopt the same simple but addictive character leveling elements with Dungeon Siege III seeing release a whole decade later!

Despite its somewhat derivative origins and rather short length, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance manages to stand on its own two feet and outclasses similar offerings that could never hope to match the overall quality it exudes.

It even outclasses its own sequel, it’s that good!

 

#65 – Toejam & Earl

Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Developer: Johnson Voorsanger Productions | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Action, Roguelike | Year: 1991

Toejam & Earl (Sega Mega Drive)

One of the most popular Sega exclusives in existence, Toejam & Earl remains one of the most original offerings home consoles have ever produced.

A funkadelic tale of two would-be mascots, the three-legged alien Toejam and his pal “big” Earl find themselves stranded on Earth with a ship to repair and 25 levels of randomized chaos to explore.

Best remembered (and best played) with two players, Toejam & Earl is notable for its dynamic split-screen system that kicks in whenever the two characters wander a certain distance apart.

Essentially an isometric “roguelike” action game, players will come across many presents on the ground that feature randomized contents from game to game.

Opening a present might equip your chosen alien with time limited travel options such as spring shoes, inner tubes or super-charged rocket skates. Of course they might also punish you with lightning filled rain clouds, sleep inducing school text books or even the dreaded “randomizer” that resets all of the presents you had uncovered up to that point.

Part of the fun comes from how you manage each new present you find. Do you open each ??? labelled gift and hope for the best? Or do you hold out for the appearance of the Carrot Man?

Carrot Man is a helpful earthling that identifies presents but not all inhabitants you come across will be so friendly; in fact most of them are downright deadly. On your journey you’ll come across flying cupids, giant hamsters, entrancing hula girls and teleporting ice cream vans that impede your progress with damaging or disorientating attacks that they’re more than happy to use on you.

Toejam & Earl is very much a lighthearted game and benefits from a wacky sense of humour throughout. It’s one of those games just brimming with nice little touches from the little quips that Toejam often throws Earl’s way to the assortment of amusing soundbites and animations from a large cast of supporting NPCs.

There are secrets to uncover, lots of laughs to be had and plenty of funky tunes courtesy of composer John Baker here and it all makes for an irresistibly original game that Sega fans have held in high esteem for many years.

And if the recent Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove kickstarter is successful, then who knows? Perhaps the funky pair will return to our screens once again in the distant future…

 

#64 – Diablo II

Principal Platforms: PC, Mac | Developer: Blizzard | Publisher: Blizzard, Sierra Entertainment | Genre: Hack and slash, RPG | Year: 2000

Diablo II: Lord of Destruction Expansion Set (PC)

When I first began playing PC games there were many widely considered classics available under several budget retail labels. As such, I got to experience some of the best titles that PCs had to offer at a particularly low price.

Diablo II was one of first games I tried; its lauded reputation and quality seemed apparent to me despite the fact I knew very little about it. Such is the way with the Blizzard name I guess.

Fortunately the game turned out to be as good as an experience as I expected with a smooth-as-silk multiplayer component being a particular highlight.

Although I’ve not experienced the first game in any capacity, it’s my guess that this is where Blizzard‘s propensity for high quality intro sequences was born. Right from the beginning we’re treated to a gorgeous FMV sequence that betrays Blizzard‘s unmistakable commitment to the Gothic horror theme.

Even though the game as a whole is closer to a straight hack and slash at times, Diablo II injects just enough story elements to give your character purpose and a suitable impression of impending doom caused by the reawakening of the Prime Evils. Every step taken in this game has you feeling like you’re just one step behind the forces of darkness; desperately trying to catch up so you can settle the score once and for all.

The five different character classes offer a range of different gameplay styles from the melee focused barbarian to the pet summoning necromancer. What sets the game apart from the many copycat titles that followed is a remarkably robust gameplay system that offers consistent bursts of enjoyment over each encounter with the enemy. Every engagement is fast, brutal and delivers an adrenaline rush in the form of collectible items and experience points that each enemy dishes out when slain.

Tearing down the legions of hell, shredding though dungeons and upgrading your equipment back in town is a fast paced experience and it will keep you pushing forward long after you should have gone to bed…

The spell effects look incredible for their time too with every ability lighting up the screen in some vivid way. The paladin can launch bright bolts of holy energy whilst the sorceress ignites the battlefield with scorching flames and freezing blizzards that look incredible for their time.

The often lauded graphical tone is suitably impressive too. Every dungeon, catacomb and accessible area bears the taint of evil. Walls drip with dark slime, blood splashed remains litter the sewers and enemies never fail to look disturbingly horrific whether it’s a bloated blood maggot, a reanimated corpse or a hellish demon wailing on your character with deformed limbs or grotesque tentacles.

The Gothic horror theme is so well upheld that it actually makes the action really hard to discern at times because of how the enemies tend to blend into the aesthetics. It’s more than possible to simply walk into a whole crowd of enemies that you outright didn’t see because of how similar the throng looked to the background around them.

The skill tree system is similarly unfortunate with many balance concerns present even after numerous software patches. Playing at the hardest difficulty level is no mean feat and requires a character built in a very specific way, so it’s depressing to say that the leveling system is so restrictive and sometimes misleading.

Why offer a necromancer close combat poison abilities when they crumble like a stick of Rivita in melee? It always seemed a bit strange to me that Blizzard couldn’t have made each ability more equal.

Nevertheless, Diablo II overcomes this more hardcore design by offering an overall game experience that prides itself on both instantaneous as well as lasting thrills. Its simple mix of fast paced combat, item collecting and character building has often been copied but rarely has it been succeeded.

 

#63 – Worms Armageddon

Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Nintendo 64 | Developer: Team 17 | Publisher: Atari, MicroProse, Hasbro | Genre: Strategy | Year: 1999

Worms Armageddon

I ran into a bit of trouble selecting my favourite Worms game for this list (much the same as with Capcom vs SNK 2 above) because again; how do you really select your best Worms title when there are so many different versions, remakes and formats of what is essentially the same simple concept?

Originally intended to be an expansion to Worms 2 called “Wormageddon“, legal action ensued from developer SCI over the similar sounding mess of a game called Carmageddon and brought about not only a change in name but also a change in direction. Worms: Armageddon instead became a stand alone release and later found its way to many consoles, awkward control schemes and all.

This title is essentially a souped up version of Worms 2 from what I understand then and is the main Worms title that I have the most experience with. But rather than getting hung up on version differences, let’s just talk a bit about what makes the concept behind the Worms series in general so damn entertaining.

Two or more teams, consisting of small cartooney worms randomly spawn on fixed (or sometimes randomized) 2D terrain. Every turn thereafter, a player directs one of their worms in an explosive turn based firefight with the intent of being the last worm standing.

Eliminating the enemy worms is a case of employing both strategic thinking, analysis of the terrain and considering what weapon may be suitable for launching an attack.

Depending on the setup (games are highly customizable), worms get access to all sorts of artillery ranging from basic bazookas, miniguns and grenades to the more outlandish air strikes, holy hand grenades and explosive barnyard animals.

The game’s humour is well presented and each team of worms can have sound packs added to give them wacky accents and other silly voices that will have you and friends quoting all through an evening’s play.

Worms is as close to a multiplayer exclusive title as you can really get and as such the single player experience is pretty abysmal when you get down to it. A mission mode is present that offers more scenario based gameplay with puzzle elements but it’s an imprecise and fussy endeavor that really doesn’t play to the game’s strength as a party piece.

The artificial intelligence for any computer controlled worms is also, well, artificial. Computer players take way too long to decide upon their moves and they end up taking shots that are either completely worthless or legendary feats of calculation; there’s no real consistency. AI players can only use a small portion of the game’s impressive range of weaponry too so it’s best to only engage with human controlled worms wherever possible.

The multiplayer thrills though are almost perfect in execution and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy playing this game with friends. The PC version of Worms: Armageddon is still supported by Team 17 with the last update landing a whole 13 years after the game’s initial release!

The timeless appeal of Worms endures it seems. The series is continuously repackaged and re-released with various bells and whistles but as it stands for me, Worms: Armageddon represents the complete experience of what this multiplayer standard bearer has to offer.

“Take cover!”

 

#62 – Halo Wars

Principal Platforms: Xbox 360 | Developer: Ensemble Studios | Publisher: Microsoft | Genre: Real-time Strategy | Year: 2009

Halo Wars (Xbox 360)

Here is a major release that I think excels at everything it sets out to do.

Notable as the first spin-off title in the Halo franchise, Halo Wars is a realtime strategy game designed exclusively for the Xbox 360 console.

Games of this genre have struggled time and time again to make an impact on consoles due to the difficulty in replicating the precision offered by a keyboard and mouse setup. But if anyone could do it then it was surely the veterans at Ensemble Studios.

And despite my initial concerns I was so glad to find that they succeeded, as the controls in this game accommodate the weaknesses of the joypad very well. I never would have expected it from a spin-off but I think the game soon wins you over with its presentation of popular characters and units plucked straight from Bungie‘s universe.

Ensemble realized how careful they had to be with this hugely popular franchise and everything from the music to the menu screens are handled with such care. The story is a bit lame but the CGI cutscenes are very nicely rendered and keep the campaign ticking away in between frantic multiplayer sessions.

I think simplicity is the key to Halo Wars‘ success as it presents intuitive rock-paper-scissors unit mechanics with very straight forward rules for building bases and researching special technologies. There is only one resource chain to keep track of and each unit’s strengths and weaknesses are made clear and concise.

There are still plenty of awesome moments to witness which is what really keeps Halo Wars competitive with similar titles. Massive liquid nitrogen airstrikes, roaming convoys of Warthog jeeps and of course the creation of your first Spartan solider are always satisfying to witness. This is very much a game made for the Halo community, with so much fan service packed into its core gameplay that I think it will be hard for any sympathizer not to be enamored.

It all just works so well and is very faithful to the property too. The cooperative campaign is just one more RTS innovation that elevates this surprisingly good title above similar console offerings and makes it an absolute essential co-op experience on Xbox 360.

What a shame that this would be Ensemble Studios final game before shutting down and despite that tease of an achievement, there won’t be a sequel!

 

#61 – Alex Kidd in Miracle World

Principal Platforms: Master System | Developer: Sega | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Platformer | Year: 1986

Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega Master System)

The Sega Master System console may have found some modicum of success in the emerging markets of Europe, Australia and especially Brazil (where the system was still selling well as late as 1998) but on the whole it couldn’t do anything to put a dent in Nintendo‘s monopoly of the market during the Eighties.

Nintendo had every major video game publisher tied to exclusive contracts and as to be expected; very few quality games would end up being released for the Master System during its commercial lifespan.

Even now there are very few games for the console that I personally like, but the biggest exception to that statement of course is one of Sega‘s first party answers to Super Mario Bros. and a game that would eventually be built-in to the mark II version of the Master System hardware itself; Alex Kidd in Miracle World.

The character most commonly known as Sega‘s former mascot (before being replaced by Sonic the Hedgehog), Alex Kidd stars in his first 2D platforming adventure here that’s a lot more fun than the routinely boring Master System cover art would first suggest.

The graphics are simple but crisp and look extremely good for an 8-bit title and even if the audio is not particularly advanced, it does feature some fun SFX and pretty catchy tunes to accompany the games various levels.

Anyone who has played Super Mario Bros. will know what the order of the day is here; levels are traditional platforming fare except they’re mixed in with a little more variety than usual. There are many areas where Alex can pilot a vehicle, whether its the speedy motorbike section, speed boat chase or gyro copter ride; each one adds a little twist to the game’s overall infectious charm.

Alex can jump pretty high and has a nifty punch attack to deal with enemies and often needs the help of various power ups to proceed without being hit by the many hazards out to trip him up. You’ll need to collect bags of cash to purchase items in shops which can include the aforementioned vehicles, fireball-shooting magic rings and valuable extra lives.

Boss battles take the form of rock-paper-scissors games and there’s a map screen and story text that adds extra detail to the journey that Alex takes over the course of his deceptively challenging adventure.

This is the definitive game for the Master System without a doubt, and one with plenty of nice twists for those fond of 8-bit action games in general. With consistently good gameplay and precise controls, both experts and beginners alike should have no trouble becoming immersed in Miracle World.