Probably my all-time favorite racing game, right here, or at least it was back when I had perfect reflexes. No joke, this is the hardest racer I’ve ever played, and without a doubt, still the fastest. Some may discount it for being the type where you’re never letting off the accelerator for all but 0.01% of the time, but unlike other titles with that common complaint (see the Burnout series), F-Zero GX is brutally punishing, and death defying. And when you die, there is no respawn. So much of the gameplay relied less on subtle analog movement, and more on knowing exactly when to slam the stick to turn on a dime and pull off a perfect power slide around an insane jagged bend. It also had extremely vibrant, 60fps visuals, that pushed that tiny cube to the limit.
Not only did this game come with a staggering amount of content, but the soundtrack was all over the place. There were 41 character themes that dabbled in almost every musical genre to match each goofy superhero personality, but the stage themes were quite nice. This particular track was a bonus on the 2 disc soundtrack that didn’t play in the game unless you unlocked it with a code, but it happens to be my favorite remix of the SNES original Big Blue theme.
One of the only console first-person shooters I can enjoy, TimeSplitters 2 certainly left an impression. With a focus on mature humor, cartoony animation, a deep map editor, and weapons/settings from all eras, this game was the total package. The game was so awesome that it played a role in Shaun of the Dead, as both the game of choice of the two leads, as well as the Scrapyard theme being used as BGM during Shaun’s panic-fueled foreboding. It’s such a shame that we may never get TimeSplitters 4, as Free Radical got acquired by Crytek, especially after the buggy mess that was TS3, most likely due to EA’s highly optimized whip-crackers.
Easily one of the best $2.50’s I have ever spent. I grabbed this rock-solid PSN-to-PC port during a crazy Steam sale, along with many other great deals a while back. I feel like I’ve played a couple dozen revivals of the Arkanoid/Breakout concept, mostly freeware, and I have to give props here. Shatter is by far the best effort. None of the new mechanics derail the core experience. The whole thing remains very balanced and fun, with every step the developer took forward. It also came with the full Steamworks community support. It’s the total package, as far as time-sink casual games are concerned. Newcomer to game music, Module hits us with a fantastically refreshing trip into a kind of 80’s space synth pop that I can’t get enough of. I’ve listened to this album probably 7 times at work. Definitely in my top 3 soundtracks of 2009! Be sure to check out the official music video for Amethyst Caverns, which was definitely the weirdest track of the set!
Comix Zone. There is still nothing like it. Well maybe Viewtiful Joe , but that’s stretching it. One of the final great Genesis titles, Comix Zone was a love letter to comics nerds everywhere. Tons of 4th wall breaking to be had here, by the very fact that you get pulled into your own comic book from the real world. Easily one of the most beautiful and creative Genesis games ever made. It only really suffers from high difficulty and short length, and lack of multiplayer perhaps. Brawlers always need multi. The music, while catchy, had some pretty rough quality samples on the guitar side of things. Fortunately, Howard Drossin, Sega-centric composer, lead an effort to perform, arrange, and vocalize 6 tracks from the game. And what a great job he did. This stuff could have passed for radio play in the 90’s, I think, not that I’m being condescending in that statement. That’s a unique thing in the world of game music.
I loved Populous 3 so much. It’s probably the only god-sim I can fully enjoy. They usually involve way too much micromanagement for me. Pop3 instead focuses on the combat between the tribes, and having a central character, your shaman, where most of your attention will go to. It was really ahead of its time in some ways. You could pull out into space and see the entire world. You could deform the land in real 3D to your liking. You could use spells like tornado to see your enemy’s structures ripped to shreads. It was such an atmospheric experience too, thanks mainly to Mark Knight‘s soothing sounds. This track here is actually a piece he posted on his site, which is a preemptive example of what his Populous 4 score would sound like, if it ever came to be made.
Fighters Megamix was Sega’s attempt at combining their two biggest 3D fighting series. The melding of two distinct fighting engines may remind you of Capcom’s efforts with the SvC and MvC series. It was also chock full of Sega fan-service much in the way of Nintendo’s own Super Smash Bros. While it had fantastic animations and innovative mechanics, there were many sloppily developed characters that screwed up the balance. It also lacked the 640×480 resolution Virtua Fighter 2 ran at. But it still was my most played Saturn title growing up.
SimCity 2000 was probably the first game to strike me with the depressing realization that I have no creativity. I absolutely fail at god games and management simulations. I know not how to create, but to destroy. Maybe if I grew up with a PC instead of a NES/Genesis, I’d have developed some different skill sets. Oh well. That’s why the game offered you wonderful catastrophe tools such as plane crashes, floods, and volcanoes. The music is a delightfully cheesy jazz. It sounds like the kind of background music that would serve as a segue piece for the breaks in an 80’s urban sitcom. Maybe it’s a retired genre, but I keep it for the nostalgia.
Crayon Physics is a very unique idea, if anything. The only thing I can really compare it to is the recent Scribblenauts, being that both involve reaching a goal item via the conjuring of practically limitless objects. The difference here is that you draw the objects yourself. Personally, I found the game to be very overrated. I think it would really shine on a tablet PC or on the Nintendo DS, as the mouse control just doesn’t compliment things very much. They could have also expanded more on an objective mode so we’d feel compelled get creative with our solutions. There’s something like that in place, but its the same rules for every level, and quite vague. I find myself finishing every single level easily, but completely failing at the creativity aspect. But since I only paid a buck during the “pay whatever you want” sale they held a while back, I can’t complain. The game sports a scant 3 music tracks. This one has the strongest hold over me.
Can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a Contra game quite the way I did the original, but props to Konami for not abandoning or abusing the series like some other developers would have. I guess I just really struggle to play these games with 3D graphics, even when they use fixed 2D perspectives. At least I can still enjoy the music. Shattered Soldier (Shin Contra in Japan) has the best soundtrack since Super C on the NES. The quality of the metal here is pretty outstanding, while the rest of the tracks are some very heavy sci-fi techno, with a little Blade Runner vibe thrown in. And yes, this is Akira Yamoaka, the Silent Hill guy. This track alone proves that his recent departure from the survival horror series should give him the much needed freedom to excel in totally different styles. Seven SH scores was enough. We don’t want him getting burnt out.
Easily one of the best JRPGs of all time. Why is Grandia 2 so great? Well, what can I say? It polishes the genre mechanics to perfection, while having the balls to ditch or replace the aspects that often fail. No random encounters. A turn based combat system that moves like a real-time one. A phenomenal soundtrack that makes full use of streamed audio instead of sequencing. A perfect frame rate. A high contrast story that can handle cute, upbeat moments and dark, mature, tragic scenes while treating you like a mature adult. An English dub that includes much of the Metal Gear Solid cast is the cherry on top. While it doesn’t reinvent anything, it administered a much needed evaluation of the JRPG. Even if you absolutely hate the genre to a borderline racist degree, give this one a shot. But, for your own sake, stick with the Dreamcast version. The PS2 got the laziest port imaginable.