Thursday, December 04, 2008

What I've Been Playing

by Ping33

Hello all,

I'm back sooner than I expected... more than a year ago I posted my 'top 10 games of all time'

Every year there seems to be a debate as to if the current year is the best one in gaming history, this makes sense as technology is constantly improving. In films, it's not often true that the sequel is better than the original, there are exceptions (Star Wars, maybe The Godfather...) but these are vastly outweighed by those which aren't (Indiana Jones, Matrix, Lord of the Rings, every horror movie ever... Weekend at Bernies) In games this ratio seems to be reversed, I can think of few games where part 2 isn't better than part 1 (Big ones being Devil May Cry and Halo.)

I acknowledged this in my list where I had the 10th spot as 'reserved for the now'
I think it's interesting how much my list can change in 15 short months so I would like to take this chance to update with annotations about the additions and subtractions.

Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS) - (replacing Zelda: Wind Waker) Phantom Hourglass is the direct sequel to WW which is quite rare in the Zelda series, as virtually all of them tend to recreate the story rather than update it. PH is also the most different Zelda game since Zelda II. I loved Wind Waker because I thought it's graphics held up better than the aging Zelda Ocarina of Time and because it was just plain fun. PH updates the formula via the sole reliance on touch-screen controls. That plus the ability to take notes and make marks on the map are genius applications of Nintendo's technology and fit in perfectly with the Zelda series (far more perfectly than the clumsily implemented waggle controls of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii)

Joust (just about every videogame system since 1981) - (Returning Champ) I loved and still love the feeling of weight you get while flying, this was the first game which caused me to use Body English to vainly keep my Jouster out of the morgue.

Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox) - (Returning Champ) Man, I love this game. I also just got a used copy of the Gameboy Advance remake of Jet Grind Radio, the Dreamcast original the name was changed from 'Jet Set' to 'Jet Grind' in the west because Rare had a game called Jet Set Gemini for the n64 and threatened to sue Sega if they didn't change it, I guess that wasn't an issue by the time JSRF came out for Xbox, not sure why they didn't revert to 'Set' with the GBA game. In anycase, I'm not a fan of the isometric controls on the GBA version but the music and aesthetics are still strong. As for JSRF, it is perfection... the speed, music, everything. JSRF is a under-appreciated masterwork which never garnered the audience it deserved. Cross genera games have a tendency to do poorly commercially and this Platforming/Skating mash-up is no exception. But it is playable on Xbox 360 if your 360 has had a system update since April 19th 2007 stop reading this and go to ebay and drop $10 on this immediately!

Bioshock (PC,PS3,360) - (Replacing Halo) For my money Bioshock is the best single player FPS. Wonderful design (Underwater Art Deco.) Superbly written with great themes (what other game is a meditation on Objectivism?!) On my list Bioshock replaces the juggernaut called Halo. A wonderful game which has dimmed in my mind as each sequel gets worse and my memories of LAN matches fade into the haze that was 1999.

Starcraft (PC) - (returning champ) still my favourite RTS game though Age of Empires III comes close. I will even spend money to upgrade my PC to play Starcraft II when it comes out.

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP) - (replaces Nights: Into Dreams, the memory of which was killed when the awful Wii sequel came out) Shortly after making my list last year I discovered FFT. I got halfway through the PS1 version on my (hacked) PSP before my Hong Kong Knock-off Memory card died. Then I got the PSP Remake which outshines the original in several ways. I played Final Fantasy Tactics in some form or another from September 2007-March 2008, I then got the DS sequel FFT:A2 in June and played THAT for several months. I LOVE these games... LOVE them.

Portal (PC,PS3,360) - (Replacing Super Metroid) The best written game in recent memory is a puzzle game?! strange but true. Portal is so good it got my wife to play a FPS to completion. There is a reason that so much of its content went on to become Internet memes. Portal will be long remembered as a cultural milestone beloved by all. And Then There Will Be Cake!

Every Extend Extra (PSP) or Every Extend Extra Extreme (360) - (Returning Champ) I wrote a rapturous ode to the PSP version of this on my own aborted blog and that still holds up. I think e3 is better than e4 but both try to do different things. e3 recreates Asteroids with shortish bursts of play while e4 is a tantric epic which can take hours.

Burnout Paradise (PS3, 360) - (Replacing WipEout, though the new WipEout HD for ps3 is also spectacular) The flat out best racing game, with the best online features, and prettiest graphics EVER. Just an amazing, stunning achievement and best of all... Criterion keeps on supporting it with new content!

#10 Reserved for the NOW (Little Big Planet, Fallout, and the new GTA IV Content in Feb!)

What have we learned from this?
More than half the entries have changed in a little over a year, only Burnout and Phantom Hourglass are purely technical achievements. Bioshock's wonderful graphics and design help it but it and Portal are both new entries which made the list in large part because of writing (an element which didn't factor on the old list.) Now that graphics and tech resources aren't as limited I think games are freed to explore more areas than just having the most realistic images and best sound. Portal and Bioshock can push narrative. Little Big Planet can push design and user involvement. Fallout, Oblivion and Grand Theft Auto can push immersion. I look forward to writing this list next year and wonder how it will have changed.


Kyle said...

The Rare game you are referring to was Jet Force Gemini, a cutesy third person shooter where the bug aliens spattered rainbow blood. The characters were a guy, a girl, and a dog with a back-mounted turret. I couldn't beat the first boss.

finsof72 said...

I can't figure out why you hold Halo in higher regard than Halo 2...I mean everything has been improved...everything, in fact I feel like Halo is just a bare-bones version of Halo 2(also, Halo came out in 2001 as a launch game). I guess this is sort've a subjective list, because when I think of the greatest games of all time I tend to also include into the formula their impact on traditional gaming. I have a few here, not in any particular order:

Super Mario 64-revolutionized platformers in 1996 and is STILL the standard by which many platformers, including every subsequent Mario games, are judged.

GoldenEye-it may have been beaten to the punch by DOOM and Wolfenstein as far as first-person shooters go, it basically popularized mutliplayer FPS.

Halo 2-Halo 2 can be argued as the SOLE REASON we have XboxLive. It is the vehicle and spokesperson, even moreso than its sequel (Halo 3, duh) for online gaming.

I could go on; Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart, Gran Turismo, Grand Theft Auto III, etc etc

I noticed you have quite a few recent games on the list, and while that's fairly original, I have some issues with games these days. Thanks to our tech-driven world of PS3 and Xbox360 (Wii doesn't count) I feel like developers are so concerned with GRAPHICS GRAPHICS GRAPHICS and gritty realism that they forget about depth and gameplay and fun. Take the new Xbox360 Madden NFL games for example: they're shiny and slick and the graphics are amazing, but the gameplay is shallow, like an arcade. When I bought Gears of War a few years ago, I dropped $60 on a game everyone was raving about only to go home and beat it within 4 hours. That's it. Goodbye half a paycheck.

This sacrifice of features for graphics can be seen everywhere, another example is Project Gotham Racing. Project Gotham Racing 2 is one of my favorite games ever for the original Xbox, so imagine my enthusiasm when I opened Project Gotham 3 to find that while it now supported HD graphics, it actually had FEWER cars with FEWER tracks with FEWER features...which ultimatley means FEWER REASON TO PLAY THE DAMN THING.

Anyway, that's my issues with today's's not that they're not fun, it's just hard to find one that isn't shallow and can be beaten before your receipt gets printed and you've noticed 60 bucks missing from your bank account.

But at least they're pretty.

scott91777 said...

I played the hell out of FFT for the PS1 (couldn't imagine playing it on a portable system though... it would be headacne inducing)... I've got one game that I just kept playing and playing... I think I have several characters who are level 99... there's over 100 hours clocked on it... I even mastered a guy in ever job class to see if something cool would happen... it didn't.

No love for the standard FF series? It's always been a favorite of mine with III/VI and VII being very dear to me.

finsof72 said...

Those game piss me off. No real reason. They just do. Like sorority girls.

Ping33 said...

Finsof72: Aren't all lists like this subjective? I understand what you're saying... but Impact on Gaming is hard to figure and misleading. I mean, if you were making that list you would need to include Rogue, SpaceWar, Pong, Zork, Adventure, Frogs... basically all the games which defined their genres back in the day. Not a very fun list to play methinks. I guess my list should have mentioned that these are all games I would play right now if they were put in front of me. I LOVED Goldeneye back in the day... have you played it lately? it's a fugly slideshow. I loved Super Mario 64 and I think I would play it now... but I'd rather play SMB Galaxy. I could do a list of games which I loved back when I played them...
NBA Live 95
NFL 2k1
Virtua Racing (32x)
Greatest Nine Baseball 98
Space Harrier
The Ninja
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Sega Rally
Pitfall II
Nights: Into Dreams
Jet Grind Radio
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
and on and on. But Most of those games don't hold up. Playing them again would just ruin the memories.

As for Halo>Halo2. Pistol Rules, the Sword Sucks. That combined with H2's shitty ending cinches the deal. Only the online mode makes up for it.

Ping33 said...

Scott: Final Fantasy: The first Nintendo System I ever owned was n64. I was a Sega Fanboy prior to that.

The first Playstation I owned was PS2.
The only proper FF game I've played is X. I started FFVII on PSP but got bored and turned it off. I'm sorry but I don't get them. Great CGI, lousy story, linear gameplay... meh. I guess I just don't care about the world as I like other JRPGs and am much looking forward to Chrono Trigger for DS.

hcduvall said...

As I'm very much a pc-centric consumer, I think my own list would be quite different, but where I do have an opinion...

Have you tried Dawn of War or Company of Heroes and the like? I like them much better than StarCraft because the units seem a lot more unique and the groups (races or armies or what have you) actually changed my play style and because the latter always sort of had a rock-paper-scissors relationship amongst the units--something that from everything I see Blizzard has kept in its forthcoming sequel.

Man alive I do like me some rpgs but I hated Oblivion. The story was nice, but the world wasn't dense enough for single player play and the gameplay itself was eh. Maybe the new Fallout would do it. Or they could go the route of the GTAs with great design in story, sound, graphics. Still mediocre gameplay though.

Kenney said...

Ping, I cannot disagree with you more about Jet Set Radio Future. Do I like the game, sure, but I think the original is far superior -- at least to my tastes. Future I think got a little too complex, with the areas being a little too big (I cannot tell you how lost I got in the sewer), while Grind was just a completely tight experience from beginning to end. I also liked the tagging mechanics and music better in Grind over Future. Future is definitely good stuff, but I would much rather play the original.

I think it's a shame that so many fans decried the graphics of Wind Waker for being "too kiddy". I had quite a few problems with that game, chief among them being traveling by sea which felt like a chore, but that game is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I would put it up against anything from this generation and would bet good money that it looks better than most games by half. Reason why is that game had what so few games do, and that's personality. The same can be said of Jet Grind/Set Radio Future. The Gears of Wars and Halo 3's look amazing, but that's because of technical proficiency. Wind Waker looks good because of stye. It's like how Jim Lee is an amazing artist, but his older stuff always looks very much of the time. While Bone is going to look awesome, and not dated, pretty much for the rest of eternity.

Ping33 said...

Kenny: The scope of the Levels and the complexity of the maneuvers is why I like JSRF better.

I liked the Tagging, but I thought it broke up the fundamental gameplay with the Parappa type Simon style mimic.

I like the music in both. Understand the Concept of Love and Fly (Like a Butterfly) are wonderful tracks in the second game.

Stefan Delatovic said...

If Wind Waker didn't have that late game fetch quest it would be nearing on the best Zelda of them all. The graphics are certainly the best in the series.

I played Halo for hours, and took the rare step of going through it on Legendary - something I never, ever do.
I played through Halo 2 once and was done. Yeah, I missed the pistol.

And there are many pivotal games that sucked my life away for months at the time, but that I could never play again, especially with an ever-growing pile of new content.

Julian Lytle said...

Hmm, I guess you aren't a Fighting Game fan since there are none on your list. I can't totally agree with it since I've never played Bioshock (or want to) or Portal (I only plan to play it because of friend's talk about how good it is).
I also have to disagree about JSRF and the dreamcast original. I like the sequal alot, it was one of the two games I got a Xbox for after dissin' it for a whole year prior, but I feel they simlified the tagging mechanics too much and you lost that danger. They both are a underrated gem of awesomeness.

I don't know if E3/E4 is that great yet, I enjoy it greatly but I feel there are superior puzzle games, like Tetris on the OG Gameboy.

I'm glad FFT is finding new people, it was one of my favorite FF games when it came out and I prefer it over most JRPGs these days. I love A2 I still play it.

sexy said...
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