Back in July I made my top 10 favorite games of all time. For something I’ve spent so many years putting off, it was surprisingly easy to come up with those and properly arrange them. What’s even more surprising is how much more difficult this second list has been. I’ve been agonizing over it for a couple weeks now. What game deserves what spot and why? For this reason, you’re going to see a few compilations/collections.
For the record, the same rules apply as last time:
20. Burnout 3: Takedown (Xbox)
Now I’m not big on racing games, don’t get me wrong, they can be fun, but they can have terrible controls (yes YOU Dirt 3 and Project Cars, even Forza can be touchy) but Burnout’s controls are spot on. The vehicles feel like a natural extension of your hands, when you crash (and you WILL crash) it feels like it’s your fault.
The game is special for more than just the controls though. The visuals are fantastic at least on Xbox (I haven’t played it on PS2) with a buttery smooth 60 FPS, and the sense of speed is exhilarating. The track designs are good with plenty of places for drifts, jumps and (most importantly) takedowns. You are openly encouraged to drive like an asshole, in fact, you won’t get far being civil. It’s so satisfying running your rival into oncoming traffic or off of a cliff. Crash mode has you steering your car into a busy intersection and seeing how much damage you can do.
The icing on the cake for me is the audio, simply put, this is my favorite licensed soundtrack of any game. I got a lot of my taste in music from the pop punk and alternative that plays during races. Some may find DJ Atomika obnoxious when he makes random comments and announcements, but I’ve always found it part of the charm.
19. Doom 64 (N64)
If you would have read the reviews at the time, you would think there’s no way in hell (pun intended) that Doom 64 would have ended up being such a special game. I think a lot of it stems from shooters at the time evolving so rapidly, so I can’t say I totally blame them. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter had massive labyrinths to explore and Goldeneye had the objective based missions and stellar multiplayer. Doom was stuck in the last generation, you couldn’t even jump or look up and down.
So why this Doom? Well in my opinion, it most closely embodies what I feel like Doom should be. The first thing is the atmosphere, this is a very dark game (seriously turn the brightness slider all the way up when you play) the atmosphere is chilling. Gone are the generic butt rock tunes of the original replaced by ambient noise, demons growling, and other ominous sounds. You never feel at ease in Doom 64. While Doom 3 captured this quite well, the combat always felt sluggish and the levels were boring and linear. Doom 2016 is excellent too but makes me feel too empowered and doesn’t give me that sense of dread from being on an alien planet. Doom 64 is the best of both 3 and 2016. The level designs are quite clever as well, let’s just say there’s actually a reason you can’t jump.
I know there’s a Doom 64 EX for PC, and I imagine that’s probably a better version. Maybe one day I’ll download it and give it a shot. In the meantime, Doom 64 still holds up as a stellar FPS. Highly recommended.
18. Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition (Xbox One)
I was ready to put down Killer Instinct Gold. That was easily my favorite fighter on the N64 (not like it had a lot of competition, but I digress) and one I spent hours on, the N64 port added so much from the arcade too. But I ultimately went with Killer Instinct Definitive edition because it embodies what I want out of a game resurrection. You see, ever since I played Killer Instinct Gold, I have wanted Killer Instinct 3. There was the rumored sequel on the N64DD, but it never came to fruition. Out of nowhere Killer Instinct for Xbox One was announced and I lost my mind. When I finally got to play it, I was enthralled at how much the developers respected the source material. While the initial offering left me wanting more content, the project eventually became more than even I expected. Every character from the first two games became playable with new ones filling in the roster. I adored the revamped combo system, the visuals and music were all top tier, they even added a single player mode. What solidified its place what the definitive edition which gives you all 3 seasons, Killer Instinct 1 and 2 arcade, and a bunch of extras including the awesome Killer Cuts soundtrack. Truly a fantastic package.
17. Virtua Fighter 5/Final Showdown (Xbox 360)
You might be surprised to find another recent entry, and an odd one at that; allow me to explain. I could actually start with Virtua Fighter 4 on the PlayStation 2, that’s the game that really gave an aging engine a much-needed revamp, all the subsequent games are simply evolutions of that that game.
Once again, the single player content is what makes this stand out. Virtua Fighter 5 has the Quest Mode, where you pick one of the fighters, give him or her a ring name and go around Japanese arcades challenging the local talent. Everything goes into making the experience feel authentic, your wins and losses are tracked and there are individual fighters with their own names, fighting style and custom gear, you’ll learn to hate some of the more skilled fighters. But if you work hard you’ll earn gear and rank of your own, it’s so much more satisfying than simply buying these pieces in Tekken.
As far as the engine, that’s what sets Virtua Fighter apart, most other games you tend to pick several different fighters but in Virtua Fighter you basically have to stick to one and master him/her. There is no “memorizing move lists” in VF, these come naturally with time and practice. You reach a Zen state where you can pull off any move in your arsenal at the drop of a hat. I can’t really explain it, you just have to play it enough to get to that point.
Final Showdown is the latest incarnation with two additional characters and new mechanics, but it omits the single player content. There is no way to have both together, so I’m stuck needing both games to get the complete experience.
16. Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
How can I pick a Halo? Each one of the 4 games offered me something special. I loved the open-ended gameplay of the original. It revolutionized the first-person genre and is loved by pretty much everyone.
The second game is an improvement in nearly every way, the story is more interesting, the level designs are far and away better, and the multiplayer was what put Xbox live on the map for me and a lot of other people.
The third game let me finish the fight, gave us Forge mode and allowed us to record gameplay long before it became an industry standard. It’s got the best multiplayer maps of the series too.
The fourth game may be weaker than the orignal three but it has my favorite campaign and it opens up the expanded universe. I spent hours online, witht the multipayer and spartan ops, too bad aboout missing firefight though.
The TLDR with Halo is that it truly is the sum of its parts, most other first-person shooters concentrate on a certain type of gunplay, and aren’t flexible like Halo. Everything from pistols, to sniper rifles, to vehicles, to rocket launchers, to grenades feel so balanced in my mind. It’s such a shame that Halo 5 was so disappointing.
15. Soul Calibur II (Xbox One/PS3)
I debated myself on this entry as I feel like Soul Calibur 1 was more impressive for its time (it’s a game I believe deserves a perfect 10) but when I directly compared Soul Calibur II, I couldn’t deny it simply offers a better version of the same game.
The biggest thing that sets Soul Calibur II ahead of the rest is the Weapon Master Mode. Even if you had never touched a fighting game before, it will ease you in and teach you the ropes. You simply play one mission at a time and as you progress you unlock modes, characters and stages. By the time you are finished you will be a certified badass able to stand toe to toe with just about anyone. The fact that it’s still my gold standard for single player experiences in fighting games is depressing. Modern fighting games simply don’t seem to grasp this concept.
Obviously, the gameplay itself holds up incredibly well. It’s got a great roster of fighters, the visuals and music hold up well, and the balancing is spot on. But I don’t feel I have to go any further as this game’s reputation precedes it.
14. The Last of Us (PS4)
I debated on this one simply because of its age. I was afraid that it might be one of those games that simply hit at the right time, but after playing through it on both PS3 and PS4 three years apart, I’ve come to the conclusion that’s going to be just fine.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the real star of this game is the story. Sure, it’s got the age old post-apocalyptic setting but it’s totally justified. The main character Joel isn’t a typical hero, actually it’s hard to call him a hero at all. He’s a man who has lost so much that he’s bitter at the world, he’s cold and calculated because that’s how he’s survived. Through a series of circumstances, he’s given a job to transport a 14-year-old girl (Ellie) across the country. Just seeing the two characters grow and develop is captivating. Sure, this kind of story telling could be done in a movie, but playing though all their troubles gives everything so much more weight. The ending was totally unexpected too. Let’s just say that it will likely stick with you for days.
I guess you could make a point for saying the gameplay isn’t as earth shattering but I found it very satisfying, it has stealth, puzzles, exploration, resource management and action. In my opinion it’s well worthy of a 10 and one of my favorite games of all time.
13. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
It kind of amazes me that Nintendo hasn’t a compilation of Mario Kart games, but then again, they don’t do them very often. Now I love the series as a whole, I started with Mario Kart 64 and probably could have picked that one, but let’s be real here, as fun as it is, the game is broken. Mario Kart Double Dash is fun, but the AI is downright brutal, and I would pick Mario Kart 8 but the battle mode is dreadful (I have yet to play Deluxe).
Mario Kart Wii wins by process of elimination in my book. I love the mechanics, the tricks add much needed depth, the roster of characters is impressive, and the track selection is amazing. What really wins me over the battle mode which has the best arenas, the coin-runners mode, and ditches the elimination rule that had too much downtime and made people reluctant to play aggressively.
12. Sonic 1-3 & Knuckles (Xbox 360/PS3)
I got a few comments last time at the lack of Sonic games in my list, which given my affinity for that teenaged hedgehog may seem surprising. So yeah, I know this is a bit of a cheat putting a collection of games for a single entry. Part of this is I didn’t want to flood the list, part of it is I can’t pick a favorite. The fact is I love all these games and they all belong together in my mind.
The first game I love for its sheer simplicity, you are forced into thinking through things a bit, this one of the tougher entries too, no Tails or save feature to help you through; Labyrinth Zone is particularly brutal. It may be rough around the edges compared to the second and third installment but it has my all-time favorite Sonic level: Starlight Zone.
I actually played Sonic 2 before Sonic 1 as it came with the Genesis my brother got, so it feels like the default Sonic game to me. Tails was easily the biggest addition to the game as Sonic’s BFF it adds the essential co-op mode that works so well. Beyond that it does what a sequel should do: be a bigger, bolder version of the original. Chemical Plant Zone is a particular standout (replaying it in Sonic Generations was amazing). But I must admit those special zones are insane, only this year was I able to beat them through abusing save states.
Finally, we get to Sonic 3 and Knuckles, at this point Sega is just showing off what they can do with the Genesis. From the instant you turn it on you’re are greeted with an impressive title screen with sky high production values. The level designs are easily the best in the trilogy, the sphere stages are fun while still being challenging and the save feature makes this by far the most accessible. I consider Sonic and Knuckles the “second half” of Sonic 3. Adding a third playable character as a hard mode was brilliant and adds quite a bit of replay value, and that design was so good it was the basis for Sonic Mania, which in my opinion is the real Sonic 4.
11. Super Mario All Stars + Mario World (SNES)
Does this compilation need any introduction? You are basically getting all of the mainline Mario games from the golden era of 2D platformers. The enhanced visuals and included save features are basically all they needed to be “up to modern standards”, that speaks volumes to their quality.
I can’t swear to it but I believe the original Super Mario Bros is the first game I’ve ever played. The game is so iconic that nearly every aspect has become a cliché at this point. Even in 2017 we’re still using bottomless pits, jumping on enemies to kill them and finding power ups in boxes. This is the game that revitalized the games industry in the 80’s, and it deserves our utmost respect.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Mario Bros 2 (USA). While the first game may have had a larger impact, the second brings platformers to a new level. I love the level of exploration, the timer is notably absent, and the branching paths with a newfound verticality brings a lot to the game. The four playable characters gives even more incentive to replay levels. But beyond that it has this amazing feel that I would love to see revisited someday, Wart was always unappreciated.
Mario 3 is the crown jewel of the 8-bit era. If there’s a better game on the NES, I haven’t played it. The levels are brilliant, the music is timeless, the powerups were nothing shy of amazing. Seriously, in any other game on the NES a single power up would have been a main mechanic, and Mario 3 just tosses them around like a gimmick; Kuribo’s shoe is only in a single level. I could write a blog on this game alone.
The Lost Levels (i.e. the real Super Mario Bros 2) is admittedly the weakest of the NES games, but this is where I got my passion for difficult 2D platformers. I borrowed my copy of Mario All Stars from a friend and started playing Lost Levels. I beat the stages one by one without warps. There was a lot of frustration and game over screens, but after 48 torture chambers…ahem levels, I felt like a god.
Finally, we get to Super Mario World which is the culmination of all the previous games. Sure, it wasn’t nearly as groundbreaking, but it felt like the Mario game Miyamoto always wanted to make. It toned down the power ups for sheer refinement, the cape had much more complex physics than anything the racoon suit could do. But it also introduced Yoshi, which had both baby and adult forms as well as multiple color variants with their own abilities. The world map was fleshed out as well. It remains my go to classic Mario just because of the mechanics and sheer accessibility.
So, what do you guys think, is this a crazy list or do you understand where I’m coming from? I’d love to discuss this in the comments section. Also, to keep it as short as I could I didn’t talk about how I decided the best version too play, but I can elaborate if anyone doesn’t understand.