91. Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!!
Nintendo Entertainment System
1990

As I was playing Punch-Out!! tonight, my beautiful, sexy girlfriend entered the 2600-360 Project Lab. She suggested that it would be a good time to join her in the bedroom. Her demeanor, to say nothing of the new lingerie she was wearing suggested that joining her in the bedroom would lead to That Activity That Grown Ups Do That Is More Fun Than Video Games. There are moments when a young man has to put down the directional pad.

However, I was beating Bald Bull. Bald Bull had kicked my ass the last several times I had fought him, and this time I had him. Punch-Out!!, for all of its many virtues, lacks a pause function. And if I didn’t beat Bald Bull right then and there, I would have to go back and re-fight Don Flamenco, re-de-pants King Hippo, and re-tame Great Tiger. And I had him on the ropes right now!

There are moments when a young man has to put down the directional pad, and there are other moments where a young man has to hold onto that pad and say "I will make love to you soon but before I do, I must pummel a large bald Turkish man into a knock-out of the technical variety." It is this second kind of moment that Punch-Out!! excels at producing.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

91. Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!!
Nintendo Entertainment System
1990

As I was playing Punch-Out!! tonight, my beautiful, sexy girlfriend entered the 2600-360 Project Lab. She suggested that it would be a good time to join her in the bedroom. Her demeanor, to say nothing of the new lingerie she was wearing suggested that joining her in the bedroom would lead to That Activity That Grown Ups Do That Is More Fun Than Video Games. There are moments when a young man has to put down the directional pad.

However, I was beating Bald Bull. Bald Bull had kicked my ass the last several times I had fought him, and this time I had him. Punch-Out!!, for all of its many virtues, lacks a pause function. And if I didn’t beat Bald Bull right then and there, I would have to go back and re-fight Don Flamenco, re-de-pants King Hippo, and re-tame Great Tiger. And I had him on the ropes right now!

There are moments when a young man has to put down the directional pad, and there are other moments where a young man has to hold onto that pad and say "I will make love to you soon but before I do, I must pummel a large bald Turkish man into a knock-out of the technical variety." It is this second kind of moment that Punch-Out!! excels at producing.

90. Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden
Nintendo Entertainment System
1989

This game is called "Ninja Gaiden."  A gaiden is a noncanonical sidestory of a larger franchise, so one would think that there was a video game series called "Ninja" and this game was a spin-off of that series.  Nope. 

Fifteen years later, there would be a new video game called Ninja Gaiden featuring the same protagonist from this game, but an entirely different continuity, so an argument can be made that Ninja Gaiden 1989 has retroactivlely become a gaiden to the series that is created in the first place.  That argument isn’t very solid, nor is it very interesting, but that is all I’ve got on the topic of Ninja Gaiden because between my reviews of Kick Master, Ninja Gaiden II, and Ninja Crusaders I’ve pretty much exhausted all the different ways I can say  "Yay! Ninjas are awesome swordy magic pajama men.  Me like!" 

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

90. Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden
Nintendo Entertainment System
1989

This game is called "Ninja Gaiden."  A gaiden is a noncanonical sidestory of a larger franchise, so one would think that there was a video game series called "Ninja" and this game was a spin-off of that series.  Nope. 

Fifteen years later, there would be a new video game called Ninja Gaiden featuring the same protagonist from this game, but an entirely different continuity, so an argument can be made that Ninja Gaiden 1989 has retroactivlely become a gaiden to the series that is created in the first place.  That argument isn’t very solid, nor is it very interesting, but that is all I’ve got on the topic of Ninja Gaiden because between my reviews of Kick Master, Ninja Gaiden II, and Ninja Crusaders I’ve pretty much exhausted all the different ways I can say  "Yay! Ninjas are awesome swordy magic pajama men.  Me like!" 

89. Ninja Crusaders

Ninja Crusaders
Nintendo Entertainment System
1990
 

"Stage 1-1 Civilization’s Ruins" is a magnificent title screen to kick start a game. In Ninja Crusaders you are a lone ninja or pair of ninjas if you are playing with a friend, sibling, or lover in a sprawling wasteland of a world. This world is filled with shambling horrific monstrosities and cold calculating robots of death. There is nothing left of man excepting yourself, your possible friend/sibling/lover, and the decimated remnants of what was once a mighty culture. It is in this tableux that you must nobly traverse from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen.

Along the way you will totally get to kill the shit out of some monsters, robots and horrible monster-robots. You will get to choose between four different ninja weapons to ninja kill with, and more importantly, each weapon lets you turn into a different animal. But not just a normal animal, a ninjanimal. That is the official term. 

There are some who would argue that these trappings do nothing to hide the fact that this game has bland muddy graphics, uninspired level design, and cheap frustrating deaths, that it is in fact the quinetessential example of a mediocre game shoveled out by jaded souls fully aware that as long as the word "ninja" is on the game’s box, eight year old boys will want to play it. However, I can’t hear those arguments because I am too busy turning into a FREAKING DRAGON AND FIREBREATHING THE SHIT OUT OF SOME ROBOT MONSTERS.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

89. Ninja Crusaders

Ninja Crusaders
Nintendo Entertainment System
1990
 

"Stage 1-1 Civilization’s Ruins" is a magnificent title screen to kick start a game. In Ninja Crusaders you are a lone ninja or pair of ninjas if you are playing with a friend, sibling, or lover in a sprawling wasteland of a world. This world is filled with shambling horrific monstrosities and cold calculating robots of death. There is nothing left of man excepting yourself, your possible friend/sibling/lover, and the decimated remnants of what was once a mighty culture. It is in this tableux that you must nobly traverse from the left side of the screen to the right side of the screen.

Along the way you will totally get to kill the shit out of some monsters, robots and horrible monster-robots. You will get to choose between four different ninja weapons to ninja kill with, and more importantly, each weapon lets you turn into a different animal. But not just a normal animal, a ninjanimal. That is the official term. 

There are some who would argue that these trappings do nothing to hide the fact that this game has bland muddy graphics, uninspired level design, and cheap frustrating deaths, that it is in fact the quinetessential example of a mediocre game shoveled out by jaded souls fully aware that as long as the word "ninja" is on the game’s box, eight year old boys will want to play it. However, I can’t hear those arguments because I am too busy turning into a FREAKING DRAGON AND FIREBREATHING THE SHIT OUT OF SOME ROBOT MONSTERS.

88. Micro Machines

Micro Machines
Nintendo Entertainment System
1991

Micro Machines is not just another Nintendo game.  It does not come with the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality so I was afraid of what the game could contain.  That seal is the thin red lines protecting the consumer from   What would Senator Joseph Leiberman think if he saw me playing Micro Machines?  What nudity, sexuality, profanity, violence, drugs, political messages or religious symbols might I be exposing myself to?  This game about racing little toys cars could contain literally ANYTHING.  Maybe I should just skip this one.  Maybe I should just stop my video game playing project for over a year.

Ahem.

Over time, my apprehensions were soothed by the goldenness of the cartridge.  The only other gold cartridge I own is The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda is the easily one of the greatest Zelda games of all time.  Surely this game must contain comparable worth, or they would not deem it worthy of a golden cartridge. 

Emboldened by the canny Codemasters marketing department, I loaded the game into my NES.  It wouldn’t start.  I jiggled it.  Nothing.  I tried to take it out and found it was stuck.  This is what happens without Nintendo’s team of Quality Engineers. 

Eventually I pried it loose and found out that it had a NTSC/PAL format toggle on the back.  Of course, the toggle wasn’t labeled by format, merely as "Position B" and "Position A".  I flipped the switch and success!  The game started.  And sweet Christmas, it was so worth the build up.

Golden cartridge aside, you don’t really expect much from a toy license tie-in.  They tend to be sub-par because the money spent on licensing is money not being spent on making a good game that is fun to play.  This title, however,  is everything I would want from a tiny toy car racing game, and I didn’t even know I wanted anything from that particular genre. 

The game has tons of tracks and loads of vehicle types and there is a genuine difference between driving a roadster and driving a sports car.  The tracks are set in bathtubs and tables and all sorts of other clever household environments and they all look gorgeous and and create a sense of whimsical fun.  It is totally good shit.

Fun as the racing is my favorite part of the game is the character selection screen.  You can choose from 11 different kids, despite the characters not actually appearing in the races, and having no attributes that affect play.  It is wholly unnecessary, but these characters are all such wonderfully animated freaks that I am grateful for their inclusion.

It is hard to pick a favorite.  I adore Joel, with his tattered shirt proclaiming "YUCK!" but my top pick has to be Walter, possibly the fattest fat guy I’ve ever seen as a video game playable character, and, y’know,  I’ve seen E. Honda.  In the game’s backstory that exists in my brain these eleven kids were a bunch of kids who were all picked last for sports who decided to find a new sport where the cruelties of nature would not prove a hinderance.   He might get picked last for sports, but even Fatty-Fat-Fat Walt can be a winner in the rough and tumble. high stakes. anything goes world of micro machine racing. 

What an awesome find.  I will be playing the hell out of this game.  If I’ve learned anything from Micro Machines it is that shiny gold video games are better than the regular kind.  And that the Nintendo Quality Seal has more to do with cartridge construction than software content.  And that tiny car racing is a totally valid sport.   And that fat guys make awesome player characters.  It was a lesson well worth learning.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

88. Micro Machines

Micro Machines
Nintendo Entertainment System
1991

Micro Machines is not just another Nintendo game.  It does not come with the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality so I was afraid of what the game could contain.  That seal is the thin red lines protecting the consumer from   What would Senator Joseph Leiberman think if he saw me playing Micro Machines?  What nudity, sexuality, profanity, violence, drugs, political messages or religious symbols might I be exposing myself to?  This game about racing little toys cars could contain literally ANYTHING.  Maybe I should just skip this one.  Maybe I should just stop my video game playing project for over a year.

Ahem.

Over time, my apprehensions were soothed by the goldenness of the cartridge.  The only other gold cartridge I own is The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda is the easily one of the greatest Zelda games of all time.  Surely this game must contain comparable worth, or they would not deem it worthy of a golden cartridge. 

Emboldened by the canny Codemasters marketing department, I loaded the game into my NES.  It wouldn’t start.  I jiggled it.  Nothing.  I tried to take it out and found it was stuck.  This is what happens without Nintendo’s team of Quality Engineers. 

Eventually I pried it loose and found out that it had a NTSC/PAL format toggle on the back.  Of course, the toggle wasn’t labeled by format, merely as "Position B" and "Position A".  I flipped the switch and success!  The game started.  And sweet Christmas, it was so worth the build up.

Golden cartridge aside, you don’t really expect much from a toy license tie-in.  They tend to be sub-par because the money spent on licensing is money not being spent on making a good game that is fun to play.  This title, however,  is everything I would want from a tiny toy car racing game, and I didn’t even know I wanted anything from that particular genre. 

The game has tons of tracks and loads of vehicle types and there is a genuine difference between driving a roadster and driving a sports car.  The tracks are set in bathtubs and tables and all sorts of other clever household environments and they all look gorgeous and and create a sense of whimsical fun.  It is totally good shit.

Fun as the racing is my favorite part of the game is the character selection screen.  You can choose from 11 different kids, despite the characters not actually appearing in the races, and having no attributes that affect play.  It is wholly unnecessary, but these characters are all such wonderfully animated freaks that I am grateful for their inclusion.

It is hard to pick a favorite.  I adore Joel, with his tattered shirt proclaiming "YUCK!" but my top pick has to be Walter, possibly the fattest fat guy I’ve ever seen as a video game playable character, and, y’know,  I’ve seen E. Honda.  In the game’s backstory that exists in my brain these eleven kids were a bunch of kids who were all picked last for sports who decided to find a new sport where the cruelties of nature would not prove a hinderance.   He might get picked last for sports, but even Fatty-Fat-Fat Walt can be a winner in the rough and tumble. high stakes. anything goes world of micro machine racing. 

What an awesome find.  I will be playing the hell out of this game.  If I’ve learned anything from Micro Machines it is that shiny gold video games are better than the regular kind.  And that the Nintendo Quality Seal has more to do with cartridge construction than software content.  And that tiny car racing is a totally valid sport.   And that fat guys make awesome player characters.  It was a lesson well worth learning.

87. The Guardian Legend

The Guardian Legend
Nintendo Entertainment System
1986

After playing the thirty-two NES games that I own, and reporting my findings to the internet, there was one game that lots of people told me I needed to try.  Guardian Legend. It was that one game that everyone loved but nobody could quite describe to me.  I had heard so many good things about this game that it seems fitting that Season 2 of the 2600-360 project begin with a review of this game.  Also, I play these games in order, and it is was next in the long abandoned queue.

People talk in reverent tones about this game, and I was excited to try it.  I missed out on the 8-bit era the first time out, and I’ve had a great time discovering the hidden gems of this simpler time.  Was this going to be another River City Ransom?  Another Bionic Commando?  No, it was going to be a big piece of crap.

I’m not surprised that many people fondly remember this poopstain of a game because it has such a good (albeit stupid) premise.  It starts out as a top down shooter and then your spaceship morphs into a woman in space armor and turns into a  Zelda clone with guns instead of swords and you go back and forth for the rest of the game.  This is a solid premise for a game.  The List of Stuff Isaac Loves includes top down shooting, Zeldaing, and things that turn into other things.  Isaac is aware that “Zeldaing” is not a word but there is only so much room to write things on the List of Stuff Isaac Loves, and “three fourths overhead perspective action puzzle games with a strong element of exploration” takes up too much space and lacks elegance.

While Guardian Legend’s game’s designers got the coming-up-with-a-good-idea-for-a-video-game part of video game making down cold, they totally wiped out in the actually-programming-a-video-game-that-is-fun-to-play department.  The game has two halves, and both halves suck in the exact way that you don’t want them to.

The shooty half of the game is a bullet hell game, comparable to R-Type, Gradius, or 1942.  The key to a good bullet hell game is to kill the player over and over again, but make it feel like it was their fault each and every time.  In Guardian Legend, every collision feels clunky, each hit feels cheap.  Gameplay consists of trying to catch more power ups faster than you take cheap hits.  It is the opposite of fun. You curse the shoddy design, not your insufficient reflexes/pattern memorization/quarters in your pocket.

The Zeldaish parts are no better.  The environments are uninteresting, and your objectives are unclear.  But the real sin is the game punishes you for combat.  Enemies don’t drop loot.  Most of them are easier to avoid than to kill.  And worst of all the more you use your weapons, the weaker your weapons become.  And so we have a game based around killing monsters where the last thing you want to do is kill the monsters.

The game does have some meat to it, with puzzles, alternate weapons, stores, and big areas to explore.  Unfortunately, these are all presented in a package of bland graphics, cheesy music, repetitive gameplay, and unbearable game mechanics.  Damn shame.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

87. The Guardian Legend

The Guardian Legend
Nintendo Entertainment System
1986

After playing the thirty-two NES games that I own, and reporting my findings to the internet, there was one game that lots of people told me I needed to try.  Guardian Legend.  It was that one game that everyone loved but nobody could quite describe to me.  I had heard so many good things about this game that it seems fitting that Season 2 of the 2600-360 project begin with a review of this game.  Also, I play these games in order, an it is was next in the long abandoned queue. 

People talk in reverent tones about this game, and I was excited to try it.  I missed out on the 8-bit era the first time out, and I’ve had a great time discovering the hidden gems of this simpler time.  Was this going to be another River City Ransom?  Another Bionic Commando?  No, it was going to be a big piece of crap. 

I’m not surprised that many people fondly remember this poopstain of a game because it has such a good (albeit stupid) premise.  It starts out as a top down shooter and then your spaceship morphs into a woman in space armor and turns into a  Zelda clone with guns instead of swords and you go back and forth for the rest of the game.  This is a solid premise for a game.  The List of Stuff Isaac Loves includes top down shooting, Zeldaing, and things that turn into other things.  Isaac is aware that "Zeldaing" is not a word but there is only so much room to write things on the List of Stuff Isaac Loves, and "three fourths overhead perspective action puzzle games with a strong element of exploration" takes up too much space and lacks elegance.

While Guardian Legend’s game’s designers got the coming-up-with-a-good-idea-for-a-video-game part of video game making down cold, they totally wiped out in the actually-programming-a-video-game-that-is-fun-to-play department.  The game has two halves, and both halves suck in the exact way that you don’t want them to. 

The shooty half of the game is a bullet hell game, comparable to R-Type, Gradius, or 1942.  The key to a good bullet hell game is to kill the player over and over again, but make it feel like it was their fault each and every time.  In Guardian Legend, every collision feels clunky, each hit feels cheap.  Gameplay consists of trying to catch more power ups faster than you take cheap hits.  It is the opposite of fun. You curse the shoddy design, not your insufficient reflexes/pattern memorization/quarters in your pocket. 

The Zeldaish parts are no better.  The environments are uninteresting, and your objectives are unclear.  But the real sin is the game punishes you for combat.  Enemies don’t drop loot.  Most of them are easier to avoid than to kill.  And worst of all the more you use your weapons, the weaker your weapons become.  And so we have a game based around killing monsters where the last thing you want to do is kill the monsters. 

The game does have some meat to it, with puzzles, alternate weapons, stores, and big areas to explore.  Unfortunately, these are all presented in a package of bland graphics, cheesy music, repetitive gameplay, and unbearable game mechanics.  Damn shame.

Best Games of the Previous Decade

Analysis, notable omissions, and counterlists welcome in comments.

10. Katamari Damacy

You roll shit up into a ball!  That’s the whole game.  Most elegant game since Tetris?

 

9. Metal Gear Solid 3

This game had a great story, great cut scenes, and the best sneaking I’ve ever snuck.  It was also uncompromisingly weird.   Metal Gear games are like no other games and this is the best of the bunch. 

 

8. Geometry Wars 2

This game takes everything that was awesome about the arcade shooters of the 70’s and 80’s and just goes fucking nuts, creating 6 games in one that will never get old as long as I have high scores to beat.  And thanks to my buddy Mike, I will always have those.

 

7. Portal

This game had modest objectives and it nailed every last thing it set out to do. 

 

6.Guitar Hero

Oh man it turns songs into stages!  And the controller is a guitar!  Guitar Hero is halfway between music and video game and it started something special.

 

5. Rock Band

The sense of camaraderie this game creates in unparalleled.

 

4. Halo: Combat Evolved.

The tightest single player campaign experience I’ve ever played.  Multiplayer is also fun.

 

3. Grand Theft Auto III

This game changed everything.  It let you do… whatever you wanted.  And it is funnier than Portal.  Between the violence and the paradigm shifting not enough attention has been given to the beautiful craftsmanship in the construction of the city.  

 

2. Space Giraffe

I’ve sung this game’s praises enough, I think.  Suffice to say this game dug deep into untapped design space that most people didn’t know existed beforehand.  Utterly brilliant.

 

1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Is GTA an RPG?  Not quite, but this game has the scope of one.  In one disc you have four games worth of content, each with a different tone and feel, one chapter progressing into the next, each in the same persistent world. A world where you can operate almost any vehicle you could imagine from bicycles to boats to airplanes to jetpacks to go-karts.  All with a rock-solid story, likeable characters, huge swaths of humor and a great soundtrack.  This game is the high-point of narrative gaming.