A running game meme I first encountered in Ruben Schade’s blog post, and then a “but different” version at avoiderdragon.com. I love reading and writing about (retro) games, thus these posts immediately got my attention. It’s always interesting to see which games had a lasting impression on others. Instead of posting this on my dedicated retro game weblog, I thought it would be good to do a bit of cross-pollination here.
I highly approve of Ruben’s Sim City 3000 pick as the best of all time, as well as Commander Keen as the best protagonist. Also good to see Age of Empires II on that list, something I should perhaps have included as well. Avoiderdragon’s favorite of all time, Arcanum, also had a big impact here. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s atmosphere was indeed gripping but the many bugs and sometimes empty spaces made the game end lower in my own list. I can still hear Quake’s shotgun blast (BOOM sjik BOOM sjik BOOM sjik) or the nailgun firing off at a rapid pace—indeed a great “back in the day” game. I disliked Quake II, though.
Here’s my own answer to the game meme:
Favorite game of all time: Baldur’s Gate II. What’s there to say? I know every nook and cranny of this game by heart. I’ve soloed my way through it with a Blade kit. I can cast Evocation spells in my sleep (Incertus, Pulcher, Imperio! See?). I’ve installed and created countless of mods. This is the grandest adventure I’ve ever embarked on.
Best Story: Final Fantasy Tactics. I was on the fence on this one, but in all honestly, FFT’s political intrigues with surprising twists were much deeper than becoming The Slayer. Tactics Ogre (both the SNES and GBA versions) also fits into this category.
Favorite Art Style: Captain Claw. Hollow Knight might also be an outstanding candidate, or more pixelated games such as older Monkey Islands or its recent cousin Thimbleweed Park. I am a 2D gamer at heart, and I love Claw’s hand-drawn look—even the cut-scenes are mesmerizing. See for yourself:
I’ll finish it some day: Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer. I’ve been a fan of the M&M series since discovering VIII, but never managed to actually finish it. It seems like a yearly tradition, and one day, I will make it to the weird science-fiction cross-over in the later part of the game.
Big Personal Impact: Gobliins 2: The Prince Buffoon. This was my first contact with a real game, a classic (and a little crazy) adventure game I used to play with my dad on his brand new 80486 with Adlib sound. I simply love this thing.
Best Combat: Diablo II. Whack, loot, repeat. Yup.
You like, but everyone hates: Looney Tunes Collector: Martian Alert. It received unfavorable reviews—perhaps rightfully so, as it was sort of a quick cash-grab after the Pokémon hype reached its peak. I do have a soft spot for it. There’s a sister cartridge called Looney Tunes Collector: Martian’s Revenge, and you could exchange collected figures via the Game Boy Link Cable.
You hate, but everyone likes: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The death of classic Zelda gameplay. Full of empty spaces and useless enemy outposts that respawn. Full of useless weapons that break after three swings. Devoid of any Wind Waker-style charm. What a disappointment. I still do not get why this receives so much praise.
Underrated: Nox. One of the underrated Diablo II clones I reviewed in December 2020 and recently replayed for the 10th time. It oozes with charm and knew how to charm me back in 2000—and still does. If more people bought it back in the day, Westwood might have been saved.
Overrated: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. See above.
Why do I like this?: Animal Crossing: Wild World. Catching fish in bed on a rainy day, looking for scallops on the beach, exchanging fruit with strangers through Nintendo DS friend codes. What a great time we had. It’s still hard to categorize Animal Crossing. Too bad the Switch version focuses on customization instead of neighbor interaction.
Game you always come back to: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. I’m a big Castlevania sucker, and AoS simply is the pinnacle. Forget Symphony of the Night, this one really is superior! In fact, I love all handheld ‘vania games, but it’s AoS I replay yearly. Bloodstained did not match my sky high expectations.
That atmosphere…: Deus Ex. Dark, gritty, complicated, full of politics, bio-genetic mutations and of course betrayal. The original Deus Ex is one of the best in its genre and not even BioShock knew how to topple it. Play nineties and noughties games, people!
Bad Day Cure: Serious Sam. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. BOOM.
Favorite Protagonist: Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island). Guybrush’s ignorance that gradually evolves into cheerful fake expertise is what lured many gamers into the adventure game genre, and rightfully so. You fight like a dairy farmer!
After Work Relaxation: Zeus: Master of Olympus. Any relaxing city builder or simulation game could be slotted in here, such as Sim City, but I have more fond memories of the Pharaoh, Zeus, and Emperor games. The series has an amazing feedback loop with a relaxing pace. Although these are single player, the last one has a multiplayer option where you can trade goods with a friend’s neighboring city, which we greatly enjoyed.
Biggest Letdown: Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (the GameCube one) was perhaps my favorite GC game. And then things started to go downhill pretty fast. I put too much hope into Sticker Star, which completely ditched the XP system, to my great frustration.
Back in the day game: Wario Land 3. Or any Wario Land game, really. Hauling around a Grey Brick and four spare AA batteries. Playing games that you can finish in one hour now but we were never able to do so back then. Good times.
Not the best, but having fun: Hocus Pocus. My childhood was dominated by my father’s 486, so I was a PC gamer, although we did own a SEGA MegaDrive. Many platform games on it (Duke 1, Keen, Cosmo, Bio Menace, Monster Bash, …) were published by Apogee games. Just booting up the game and hearing the jingle makes me smile. In all honesty, many of those games, such as Hocus Pocus, were inferior compared to console platform games of that time, like Super Mario World.
Criminally Overlooked: Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. In 2001, I was a big cRPG player, and Troika produced many cult classics, including Arcanum. Sadly, pressure and a ridiculous amount of sometimes game breaking bugs made critics mad. The result is yet another company bust.
Depressing Game: Sanitarium. Resident Evil 4 might also fit here, but Sanitarium was much more gripping because I was younger and it was paced better. The horror adventure game twisted itself (and its players) with every new chapter that unfolded. Glorious!
Favorite Active franchise: Kirby. It was very difficult to pick one here, as most of my favorite franchises are dead. 2D Sonic might be another correct answer, given I’m crossing my fingers for Sonic Mania 2. Until then, I hereby express my love for the pink fluff ball called Kirby.
Indie pick: Into the Breach. A chess-like game played with a limited amount of pieces on small levels. The result is a brilliant turn-based tactics game that can be indefinitely replayed.
Not usually my thing, but…: Slay the Spire. I’m big into card games, but I usually stay away from digital adaptations. Furthermore, I’m also not that keen on roguelikes, although Into The Breach might also be called that. Slay the Spire is a modern deck building roguelike that simply works splendid.