Itís kind of hard for me to really pick one game for this. As someone who was raised up squeezing every last minute out of a game because you never knew when youíd get another, Iíve cherished quitw a few games that constantly seem to find their way back into my disc drive. As youíll read, sometimes itís not even the game Iím attracted to. Thereís some sentimentality or some small detail that I just canít let go of.
Letís dive in, shall we?
Music games (Rock Band, basically)
The first time I ever played a music game, like many other lads like myself, it was with PaRappa the Rapper
on PS1. I never did buy that full game but I remember sitting in my cousins room in my grandmothers basement and frustratingly retrying that damn demo for hours. The concept had eluded me, the idea of gaming based on rhythm was just something that I couldnít fathom. It was frustrating as hell and, contrary to how most people get themselves attached to a genre, I ragequit after about a weekend. Everyone picked the game up with ease, in fact that was one of its many praiseworthy qualities (this was before making a game accessible became ďcasualĒ and therefore evil), but I just couldnít do it. It stung a little, and it hung over my head like a decisive vice.
Years would go by without me ever touching a music game again. The final straw that broke the camelís back came in the form of a Wal-Mart kiosk. On the way home from guitar practice mother decided to stop by this dingy little Wal-Mart on the side of the road and left my little brother and I to fend for ourselves amongst the magnitude of the electronics department. Leaving two little kids in the electronics department of a Wal-Mart is similar to leaving a lonely man in the red light district of Amsterdam. Itís dirty, really colorful, and you want everything you see. While my little brother and I tried to engage ourselves in the glorious and genius delight of a hulking gray Nintendo DS we were constantly distracted by this tall hairy man to our right clicketing away on some red plastic guitar. Once he finally finished butchering Smoke On the Water
(a song Iím ashamed to admit I was once not ashamed to admit I liked) curiosity got the better of me and I finally tackled my vice to the tune of I Love Rock Ní Roll
by my beautiful hero Joan Jett. The rest my dear reader, is history.
Why I keep coming back to music gaming recently became simple. Itís not that I enjoy the illusion of performing music. Iíve been a drummer since I was 12 and easily could learn and replicate the sound and composition of any song on guitar if I really wanted to. Itís not the scene that keeps me coming back, those color coordinating gods and goddesses who use songs like Evileís Thrasher
and Yngwie Malmsteenís Caprici di Diablo
as warm-up tunes. Really, if weíre being honest, itís not even the gameplay. While I would certainly praise Harmonixí recent Rock Band 3 for creating a videogame experience that crosses the threshold into the real world and creating the perfect party game UI at the end of the day none of that matters because (A) I donít even play Pro mode and (B) no matter how good the UI is thereís always gonna be that one guy who doesnít understand not to press any damn buttons before youíve made the setlist. What keeps me coming back is the music.
I love listening to music but even more than that I love interacting with the music. I love the connection I feel when I feel like Iím investing time solely to the track I love. It isnít often that I find myself just sitting down and enjoying a song purely for the song. Either Iím driving or cleaning or writing a blog. When I play Rock Band itís the music and I together as wholly as possible without absolute replication. I love that. I love it because in the same way sitting in my room playing an old Joan Baez vinyl on my turntable can open my ears to all her subtly and rich liveliness so too can a game of Rock Band alone at my plastic drum kit following along to the Pixiesí La La Love You
For myself, Rock Band has become a practice in embracing the music, where for others it seems to be only a practice in color coordination. Which is not to say I criticize them but for myself even if Rock Band ever went the unfortunate route of the Hero franchise, I donít think Iíd ever stop coming back. Iíll keep coming back for the music long after I keep coming back for the game.
Tom Clancyís Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
I love Splinter Cell. Always have, and always will. Ever since the original Iíve never been able to say no to a romp with Sam Fisher and the criminally underrated badass Anna Grimsdottir as they travel the world fucking shit up. Chaos Theory has always been, and probably will always be in my mind, the pinnacle of the Splinter Cell franchise. From the fantastic score to the absolutely ingenious level design everything about Chaos Theory is simply built to keep me coming back.
To this day some of the most fun Iíve ever had in a videogame has to be fooling with the open world structure of Chaos Theory. Itís never let me down, keeping every single theft, assassination, and bug plant fresh. Sometimes when Iím on the huge boat I like to screw with the lights when assassinating Lacerda. Especially the fridge. Oh man, and the bank robbery. It always starts off calm but I love upping the ante, setting the alarms off, and watching everyone turn the place upside down trying to find me.
Chaos Theory keeps me coming back because it is everything I want in a stealth game. Itís about stealth just as much as it is about completing the mission and it leaves the definition of stealth completely up to the player. Stealth doesnít necessarily mean staying invisible. One alarm and youíre out? BS. In Chaos Theory you are given a sandbox, a pale and a bucket, and how you make the castle is completely up to you. Thatís why after 6 years it is still getting constant play from me (just last weekend in fact).
Chaos Theory is also gorgeous. Probably one of the best looking games of its time and one of the few games of the era that actually looked prettier than any of its cinematics. Itís funny, it almost feels silly saying Chaos Theory looked good for its time because it still looks damn good today almost like it came out a year or two ago. And the music? It just ties everything together beautifully. It makes the whole experience feel good.
To date, Iíve yet to find the stealth game that makes me feel as truly stealthy as Chaos Theory does. Even the spectacular Conviction, which takes place as my second favorite Splinter Cell title, canít add up. It lacks the openness, the vagueness, and the suaveness of Chaos Theory. Chaos Theory took the signature Tom Clancy style of videogames and made it damn near sensual. Itís that unique vibe and broad take on stealth that constantly brings me back.
Jet Set Radio Future
JET SET RADIO FUTUUUURREE!!! JSRF stands very very high on my list of all-time favorite games. Much like Rock Band itís one of those games that I keep coming back to less for the gameplay and more for everything else. JSRF has a style and an attitude all its own, one that many can imitate but never replicate.
It all begins, probably against the unwritten Hardcoar Gamers Code, with graphics. So much of JSRFís style is ingrained in its visuals which until the debut of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was, in my opinion, the unmatched apex of stylized cel-shaded graphics. From the characters designs like the sleek Gum, the iconic Poison Jam, and the intimidating Rokkaku Gouji, to the delightfully asymmetrical environments and stunning graffiti. Everything about the visual style of JSRF just makes it a delight to return to and skate around in in awe at this universe.
Naturally, the music of Jet Set Radio Future is another draw that still receives constant praise. Hideki Naganuma has his finger so intimately on the pulse of the soul of Jet Set Radio Future that the music does more than complement the game, it threads the entire world together. I cannot imagine a Jet Set Radio Future without The Concept of Love
, Fly Like A Butterfly
, or Shape Da Future
constantly playing on loop. Hell, just hearing it in my head right now is causing me to swoon. What Naganuma doesnít contribute, even it remains a constant reminder of the unique sound and spectacle that developer Smilebit created with Jet Set Radio Future. I donít know anyone who played JSRF and doesnít immediately glow when they hear Cibo Mattoís Birthday Cake
Even the characters, who for the most are silent, are always excuses to come back. The wonderful thing about voiceless characters is the personality you put to them. My little brothers and I have all chipped in to what we think each character is like based on their flourish styles. Itís hard not to. They just pop right at you immediately.
And of course, I owe much of my childhood to JSRF. It was one of the games that just put my little brothers and I in a state of awe and happiness. The bright colors all running together, the unique and bombastic music that we never heard anywhere else. I mean for us these things were exclusive to JSRF, they were contained in that universe and that exclusivity made it all feel that much more alive. It still does. I pop in JSRF for a quick weekend run through the campaign and even though now I blast the remix of Humming the Bassline
every other day in my car something about hearing it in the game reminds me why I keep visiting that world. Itís a self-contained preservation of everything that I love in a good fictional setting. Great characters complemented by beautiful worlds that show enough to satisfy the right part of the brain while still letting it run wild.