#25: Final Fantasy VII
Here's the thing: This game lags way behind the three earlier American games in this series. You won't see the next one in the countdown until the Top 10. However, the fact that this game is so far behind the other games, and it still made the countdown, is a testament to just how spectacular the Final Fantasy series is.
What's so ironic about this game's appearance in the Top 25 is this: originally, I had proclaimed that this was the beginning of the end for this series, since it looked like it had once and for all been taken over by a mechanical atmosphere. True, there is a lot of high-tech stuff going on, but the heart of the plot remains in the hands of supernature. The struggle between good and evil can be a bit sluggish at times, but there are just as many times where the game can totally engross you.
With the release of Final Fantasy VII, the gaming public was assured that this series was far from out of gas.
#24: Tecmo Super Bowl
I made it a point not to have too many sports games on this list. One of my major gripes with the Top 100 list I reviewed from Game Informer was that too many spots were given to the latest EA release in each sport. There are only two sports games in this top 25 list, and this is the only one that involves one of the four major sports. It came down between this game and Baseball Simulator 1.000, and I chose this one simply because I play it more.
I'm a big football fan. Unfortunately, football appears to be the most difficult sport to translate into the realm of video games. Too many players to keep track of, plays that are too complicated, and computer AI that either doesn't get it or is way too savvy for regular players. If you pop in Tecmo Super Bowl, though, you'll find that none of this is the case.
You've got just enough plays to give your offense some variety, but not so many that you spend half an hour studying the playbook on each play. Defensive schemes are equally simple to execute. No flags are thrown, so you're free to rush and tackle as you please. Some terrific action graphics, too. If you're ready for some football, this should be the game you reach for.
#23: Marble Madness
Not every game has to be an epic that requires a full month of solid playing to get through. In some cases, the simplest of pleasures comes in a game that barely takes any time at all to play. That's how Marble Madness finds itself on this list. It's such a quick game, it doesn't really have a chance to pick up any faults along the way. And just because it's short doesn't mean it isn't challenging; it took me quite a while before I managed to finish the final race.
Marble Madness represents all of the video games out there that exist solely to be played in short spurts. It's the only game I know of that literally takes a few minutes to play.
#22: Mega Man 5
Nobody pulled for the success of the Mega Man series harder than I did. When the fourth game in the series left me quite disappointed, I resigned myself to the fact the Mega Man had finally jumped the shark. Once I tracked down a copy of the fifth game, though, I was ready to rescind that notion immediately.
All of the elements that made Mega Man such a playable game were back. From the great audiovisuals (featuring some of the greatest music in the series), to a challenge rating that once again gave the stage select concept a purpose, Mega Man 5 was a shot in the arm for a series that appeared to be waning.
The Mega Man saga continues to flourish to this day, with the new series - Mega Man X - having released 6 games of its own.
#21: The Adventures of Lolo
This game came at a time when puzzle games themselves were undergoing a bit of a transformation. If you look at the puzzlers released from 1990 onward, you'll find that just about all of them involve the same premise: manipulating blocks, pills, columns or jewels as they fell into a playfield, in an attempt to clear them off the screen before they reached the top.
The Adventures of Lolo (and its two sequels, who earn vicarious nominations for their contributions) was actually a puzzle game that tested mental acuity, as opposed to just mental reflexes. It wasn't just about creating lines or getting four in a row; in this game, you had to learn the ins and outs of each hazard, and figure out how to evade them, neutralize them, or even use them to your advantage. Few games have offered such a challenge since, and none of them have done it with the style and creativity that the Lolo series did.
#20: Ninja Gaiden
In the early to mid '80s, having a plotline to a video game was considered at best an afterthought, and at worst completely unnecessary. Even adventure games like The Legend of Zelda were given no opportunity to have their story progress further than what was provided in the instruction manual. And if the plot in that instruction manual was the least bit descriptive at all, you considered yourself lucky.
That all changed in 1989, when Tecmo came out with the first video game to ever use a viable story arc. Very little information is given at the beginning, with the opening cinema depicting two rival ninjas dueling in the moonlight. From there, the conflict and characters slowly take shape - and for once, players found themselves following character development just as much as the game itself.
Of course, that's not the only thing in Ninja Gaiden's favor. The game itself is a challenging one, with the emphasis put on acrobatics and precision jumps as opposed to kamikaze warfare. The graphics and music have also been praised by many. But its one lasting impression on the world of video games is that it took the game's story out of the instruction manual and into its very core. From then on, any game that didn't have an evolving storyline was criticized for it.
If your only experience with RPGs come from those with chocobos or an ancestor of Erdrick, then you're missing out on one of the greatest games to come out on the Super NES.
Arcana follows the journey of a man named Rooks, who sets out to defeat an evil emperor and avenge the murder of his father along the way. Many characters come in and out of the party as the game progresses: some stay to help Rooks, others end up betraying him. Each chapter of the game ends in a climactic scene where Rooks butts heads with his opposition.
The game itself takes a relatively common facet of RPGs - the relationship of the four elements - and interweaves them into the storyline, creating an environment that other games have been hard pressed to duplicate. Each enclosure surrounds you with its depth, the endless corridors and dead ends making you feel as if you're really in the dungeon with Rooks and his cohorts. When the party is attacked, the enemies slither, growl, and flap their wings at you, and the musical accompaniment is fanastic.
Arcana is a game that wasn't very common among SNES players. Those that do have the game, though, know fully well how great a title it is.
If someone had told us back in 1985 that a hit video game would be made out of a regular teenager saving his uncle and defeating an evil alien with a yo-yo, we'd have had that person committed. But when StarTropics came onto the scene in 1990, the NES was graced with one of its biggest surprise hits.
Part puzzle, part Zelda-like adventure, Each level of StarTropics offered new and different challenges. First, you're trying to make your way to the top of a hermit's mountain. Then, you're being swallowed by whale, left searching for a way to get out. After that, you must learn the melody that opens the way to an old pirate ship. If you were the kind of person who liked to think on your feet, this was definitely the game for you.
StarTropics also holds the award (in my view) for having the best ending sequence on the console. After the credit roll, you're given a step-by-step recounting of the events that took place on your journey. How many other games do that?
StarTropics proved that Nintendo could make one heck of a video game without the use of a plumber or an Elf. Its lack of games on later systems was a real shame.
#17: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The Legend of Zelda did not make the Top 25. Many people consider it among the best, even the single greatest of all time. I don't see it that way, myself. But its sequel, which is often considered the least impressive in the series, makes the grade.
So why did this game, and not its prequel, reach the countdown? It's hard to explain, but it has to do with the fact that Zelda II has always held a special place in my heart. I never really enjoyed the first game, but I was all over the second. And why not? This game was just as challenging as the first, with side-scrolling and RPG elements added in to make the game more than just a case of retrieving Triforce pieces. Getting to the Great Palace was a feat in itself, and making your way through it is equally impressive to me as beating Ganon.
Of course, this isn't the only time you'll see Link in the countdown. But as far as I'm concerned, it's the best Zelda offering on the NES.
#16: Dragon Warrior
Imagine how hard it must be to invent a new sport. You've got nothing to go on at the outset, and have to come up with all the rules and methodology from scratch. While Dragon Warrior won't win any awards for having the best presentation on the system, nor will it completely engross players in an epic struggle between good and evil, it did do one thing: create the genre of RPGs for video game consoles.
Of course, RPGs had been around long before Dragon Warrior even appeared, but all these games were on computers. The Dragon Warrior series was the first time programmers created an RPG solely for console use. Thanks to a promotion with Nintendo Power magazine, thousands of NES players found themselves hooked on this simplistic yet very playable quest. We got used to the ins and outs of fighting monsters, building levels and experience, and interacting with townspeople to acquire more information on their quest.
Without Dragon Warrior, another company might've come in and created RPGs for us instead. But the folks at Enix should be commended for coming in when they did.
#15: Yoshi's Cookie
Most of the time when you hear about the qualities of a puzzle game, you'll hear one word thrown around like a frisbee: "addictive". Since puzzle games by their design have quick timelines, it would make sense that the game tempt you into playing several rounds in succession. While many gamers side with Tetris as the ultimate puzzle game, though, I declare my loyalty to Yoshi's Cookie.
Drawing some influences on the "death from above" form of puzzle games, YC is simple to understand and draw strategies on. But what really makes this game so terrific is its variety. You've got three different play styles to choose from: the panic-inducing Action mode, the chess-like Puzzle mode, and of course, the rip-roaring Vs. mode. Each rendition of the game includes mounds of Mario atmosphere, and is complete with an upbeat and catchy soundtrack.
Ask just about any gamer what their favorite puzzle game is, and they'll likely respond with Tetris, or maybe Dr. Mario. When it comes to reflexive puzzles, though, I'm sticking with Yoshi's Cookie.
#14: Time Bandit
I've never been one to mince words when it comes to the droves of first-person shooters and so-called "survival horror" games out on the market: I hate 'em all. And yet, one of my absolute favorite games ever could be considered the forefather of all those games. Sure, it's not first-person, and no, there really aren't any horror elements, but its purpose is just as simple: kill or be killed.
Chances are this is the first you've ever heard of this game. And that's OK: it came out on the fairly obscure Atari ST computer system. But if you have played this game before, I'm sure you'll agree: no other shooter out there comes close to the expansiveness and fast-paced action of Time Bandit. Deceptively easy at the outset, it quickly becomes a marauding mess of evil denizens, populating 16 different atmospheres ready for exploration.
I'm not much of an emulation buff, but in this case I'll relent: I implore everyone out there to get an ST emulator and give this game a try. You're welcome.
#13: Heroes of Might & Magic II: The Succession Wars
I have my brother-in-law to thank for exposing me to this game. A hand-me-down graduation gift, it's one of the only computer games I play.
Derived from the popular Might & Magic RPG series, it's a strategy game with a fantasy twist. With dozens of single scenarios, each with countless play configurations, it's almost impossible to get bored with this game. In fact, this game is probably responsible for the most instances of me staying up until 3 o'clock in the morning playing video games. And if that weren't enough, there are also long-term campaigns to complete, revolving around a struggle for the new lord of the realm.
The series has since moved on to a fourth installation, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't really need one. Heroes of Might & Magic II is easily my favorite PC game, and always a great choice when I'm up for a little castle sieging.
There really isn't a whole lot you can do to a soldier shooter. The only games that really stand out amongst their peers in the genre are the ones who manage to add enough of a twist to separate themselves from the crowd. In the case of this game, one extra feature not only propels this game to the pinnacle of its genre, but actually makes it one of the best on the console.
Of course, this revolutionary gimmick I'm referring to is the gravity flip, which obviously turns the levels upside-down. But putting a gimmick in a game without really using it to your advantage doesn't give you much more than a gimmicky game. That's where MetalStorm really earns its spot: it tailored the level design and even some of its bosses to put this feature to use, from areas with infinite vertical scroll to bosses that also act as footholds over a trapped ceiling and floor. The presentational elements are also well done, and it's got a smooth learning curve to boot.
In the realm of soldier shooters, you need more than just the basics to make a splash. MetalStorm makes more than a splash, though: it makes an impression.
#11: Super Metroid
The original Metroid will go down in my book as being the single most overrated and disappointing video game in history. So many people laud it as a classic, and yet I can barely stand to play it for more than half an hour. When the Super NES came out with its rendition, I was hoping for the best but fearing the worst. After playing it through, though, this game didn't just exceed my expectations: it blew them away.
I derided the original for its tube-like scenery and overpowering coloration. Super Metroid had beautiful graphics and spectacular animation. I bashed the first game for repetitive music and annoying walking effects. Super Metroid had some great tunes and you could barely hear Samus run. I lambasted Metroid for horrendously slippery play control. Super Metroid gave you complete control over your hero. Every problem I had with the prequel was corrected, and as I result I finally got to see how great the series could be.
There aren't a whole lot of "must-own" games on the Super NES, but this is one of them. Believe me, you'll be blown away by the game too.