Talk to any sports fan, movie buff, music lover, and so on and so forth, and you will discover that most of them will have a favourite team, favourite film, or favourite song. Gamers are no different. Our favourite games speak to us on a personal level. They entertain us. They excite us. They frustrate us. They bind us to a community. Games are a passion that light up the soul. Maybe it’s like the soccer fan who religiously wakes up at unearthly hours of the morning to watch the World Cup. I’m not sure. What I am sure of are my top ten favourite games of all time, a list which wasn’t easy to compose, but I can promise is filled with real classics and really long descriptions. These are my treasures. Enjoy.
- Developed by Rare, published by Rare/Nintendo in 1998
- Genre: 3D platformer/Action-Adventure
- Platform: Nintendo 64
After trying out Banjo-Kazooie at a friend’s house many years ago, I was instantly enamoured. With an art style reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country, and epic collectathon style gameplay that would set a very high precedent for 3D platformers to follow, Banjo-Kazooie for Nintendo 64 is without a doubt my favourite game of all time. At one stage, I thought that this position went to Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but after some thought, I realised that in a head to head battle, Banjo-Kazooie is the one I would choose. The level design is flawless, right down to the underwater fish of Mumbo’s Mountain, to the blistering sands of Gobi’s Valley, and the ever-squawking birds of Click Clock Wood. Gameplay and controls are a joy, and although I have read several critiques of the flight and swimming controls, these are very minor drawbacks in my eyes. One of the most outstanding features of Banjo-Kazooie is its soundtrack, which was composed by the one and only Grant Kirkhope. Each level has a different tune, which is always catchy and has a myriad of nuances: going underwater in Treasure Trove Cove or into the machine room of Rusty Bucket Bay will transform the track into a slightly different version of itself that makes the worlds of Banjo-Kazooie both ridiculously authentic and intriguing. All the collectables in this game-jigsaw pieces, notes, eggs, feathers, jinjos and so on-are part of engagement loops that are so tightly interwoven into gameplay that you become effortlessly immersed within the game. Add to that the unique, humorous and rhyme-affected speech of Gruntilda the witch, a host of memorable characters like Clanker the whale, Boggy the Polar Bear and Gobi the Camel, and of course Kazooie’s brash and inappropriate remarks-and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one damn fine game. And last but not least, I would like to give endless praise to Grunty’s Furnace Fun, a gigantic and insanely fun quiz board game that tests your memory and your ability to beat some mini-bosses and challenges for a second time. For me, that quiz was like the cherry on the cake.
For an excellent breakdown of the history of Banjo-Kazooie including unreleased music tracks. please watch this video by Beta64.
- Developed by Rare, published by Rare/Nintendo in 2000
- Genre: 3D Platformer/Action-Adventure
- Platform: Nintendo 64
An impressive sequel to Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie was released just two years later (also for the Nintendo 64) and delivered the same contagiously humorous bear and bird antics we were treated to in the first game. Not only did we get new egg types, like grenade, ice, and clockwork Kazooie eggs, as well as bundled musical notes and treble clefs, but our kinetic palates were broadened thanks to Jamjars, Bottles’ drill sergeant brother. Basic gameplay, while always strong, was revolutionised with moves including grip grab, airborne and sub-aqua egg aiming, glide, and of course, split-up, which separates the duo and enables them to complete specific jigsaw puzzles they wouldn’t be able to do together (don’t ask me how Banjo managed to fit a baby dinosaur into his backpack). Speaking of jigsaws, the extended animation sequence when Banjo picks up a jiggy was dropped (as was the number of total jiggies in the game), a change I sometimes felt took the triumph out of earning a jigsaw piece. Nevertheless, one of the first things you’ll notice about Banjo-Tooie is how utterly expansive its worlds are; compare the enormous prehistoric plains of Terrydactyland to Click Clock Wood, or the pure volume of underwater areas in Jolly Roger’s Lagoon to Clanker’s Cavern, and who could forget the temperamental Hailfire Peaks-two entire worlds fused into one! There is a new way to access worlds this time around as well, a method which borrows the mechanic from the secret Bottles mini-games in Banjo-Kazooie, and renovates it to fit inside Master Jiggywiggy’s temple. The game’s music, once again composed by Grant Kirkhope, is absolutely brimming with personality whichever level you find yourself in, but my personal favourite was Glitter Gulch Mine. We are also introduced to some new characters in Banjo–Tooie, such as Canary Mary, Lord Woo Fak Fak, Terry, Mrs. Boggy, and the creepy as hell Mingy Jongo, but everybody’s favourite camel Gobi is back again, as is sanitary hero Loggo. Another huge difference compared with Banjo-Kazooie is that Mumbo Jumbo is no longer responsible for your transformations and has been replaced by Humba Wumba, a ‘sha-woman’ who insists that Mumbo is just an amateur in comparison to her, but I think that’s up to the player to decide. And you can imagine my joy when The Tower of Tragedy Quiz popped up on my television screen, complete with Gruntilda’s two sisters as fellow participants. A worthy sequel, Banjo-Tooie is a wonderful demonstration of Rare’s 3D platforming skills and a hint at the greatness that could have been Banjo Threeie-a game that I am still hoping for.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Developed by Nintendo EAD, Published by Nintendo in 1998
- Genre: 3D Platformer/Action-Adventure
- Platform: Nintendo 64
The first time I played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I didn’t like it. Sheer madness, I know. My only excuses are that I was young and thought that the puzzles were too difficult. But fast forward a few years, and I became fascinated with Link’s world, the people that lived within it, and its countless stories. I remember finding out how so many of Link’s adventures in dark caves and mysterious woods were inspired by the creator of Zelda Shigeru Miyamoto’s own youth, and feeling amazed. The enormous canyons of Death Mountain, the shifting sands of the Desert Colossus, the tranquility of Zora’s Domain-suddenly they all struck a chord with me. All the areas of Hyrule are separated into distinct microcosms, but they all breathe the same air, most of them being connected through secret shortcuts such as the tunnels in the Lost Woods that lead to Lake Hylia and Goron City. The Kokiri Forest, Link’s hometown and the location where his journey begins, serves as a great training ground for the future Hero of Time. But it also introduces us to core elements of Ocarina of Time’s narrative, and the text-based speech system that somehow echoes in your mind even without sound. I think that despite looking like a game suited for children on its surface (much like many manga or Japanese comics do), the themes of Ocarina of Time are rather mature. Sheik’s quote about the flow of time being cruel for example, tells me the level of depth that went into characterisation, something this game highly excels at. We are even led to become curious about side characters like the Running Man, who does not even have a name, yet goes about his purpose as if we didn’t exist.
“The flow of time is always cruel…its speed seems different for each person, but no one can change it…a thing that does not change with time is a memory of younger days…” ~Sheik
Apart from the characters, Ocarina of Time is intelligently organised into ‘real world’ areas and ‘temple’ areas, the latter corresponding to levels. The design of each temple is always different, and filled with puzzles and obscure and terrifying monsters who Link must defeat, often in a David and Goliath style battle. I often perished at the hands of these beasts, and while most games would require you to beat them in order to progress to the next milestone, Ocarina of Time is full of side-quests to complete and rupee-rich areas to explore, and that one of the things I think contributes most to the success of Zelda games. The other thing, is the music. Composed by Koji Kondo, each tune is turned into something akin to a magic spell within the game, where by playing it on Link’s ocarina, you can teleport, change the weather, summon a horse, and more. My favourite piece of music from Ocarina of Time, however, is background music-specifically, the music of Gerudo Valley. I cannot tell you the joy that music gave me, or should I say, my sister, who to this day fondly remembers riding Epona through Gerudo Valley’s streets. By the end of the game, I had realised something. Ocarina of Time wasn’t only a game about defeating Ganon and collecting all the medallions just to say you had ‘beaten’ it. It was about the journey, or as the poet Cavafy puts it,“Ithaka”. Because when you put down your controller after beating this game, you hold onto an experience that will stay with you forever.
4. Aladdin (Sega Genesis)
- Developed by Virgin Interactive, published by Sega in 1993
- Genre: 2D Platformer. Action/Adventure
- Platform: Sega Genesis
If you liked Disney’s Aladdin, then this game pays homage to the film in all the right ways. Developed by Virgin Interactive in 1993, Aladdin follows the story of the eponymous hero who must brave his way through swashbuckling, action packed levels that hide tons of secrets. Thanks to its fantastic level design, faithfully rendered characters and backgrounds, and exciting gameplay, it never failed to kept me entertained back when I was a kid. We play from Aladdin’s point of view, and each level focuses on a specific part of the animation and expands upon it magnificently. This is important, because some films or cartoons that are transformed into games don’t always follow the original plot (Frozen: Olaf’s Quest), and others tend to mimic the ubiquitous Candy Crush/Bejewelled match three gameplay style (Frozen Free Fall). The game starts off by quickly introducing you to the basic goals, collectibles, weapons and bonuses, and then the fun begins.
The controls in Aladdin are tight and precise, whether he is jumping or running or crouching. Aladdin can also use his sword or throw apples at the many guards who block his path, and often with hilarious consequences. There are ropes, fire pits, knife-jugglers, merchants, camels, creeps hiding in pots-and this is just the first level! If you can stand the insufferable heart of The Desert, be prepared for snakes, razor-sharp spikes, and a loud-mouthed bird that fans of the animation will know all to0 well. Agrabah Rooftops ups the ante with flying ropes and magical flutes, but be prepared for the dagger-wielding rascal and the mini boss at the end of the stage. The Sultan’s Dungeon is a grim and spooky kind of place, but once you make it to the exit hold your breath for the Cave of Wonders, which is full of murderous statues, turban wearing ghosts, poisonous fish and a multi-limbed demonic yellow creature that flies. Yes, the imagination of these creators knew no bounds. It’s as if they studied the animation frame by frame, singled out specific moments, and said- “This will be a level in the game”, and I love that. If you explore the levels carefully enough, (namely Agrabah Market, Agrabah Rooftops, and Cave of Wonders) you might find an Abu face, which lets you control Abu in a bonus level. Of course, the bonus levels have increased difficulty, but the novelty of being able to play as Abu is an excellent and refreshing game design choice. Sadly, I don’t think the Genie bonus levels ever eventuated, although the Genie’s face (where he smiles at full energy and looks distraught when Aladdin is about to die) does represent your health, a unique system if ever I saw one. Gameplay begins to get tough in the Sultan’s Dungeon, where bats and psychotic bomb-throwing skeletons abound, but becomes insane particularly during The Escape, Rug Ride, and Inside the Lamp. At times, those levels become a test of mental strength-it’s very easy to die, and what’s most ironic about it is that two of them don’t even have enemies. Only The Escape-or as YouTube user Sestren NK puts it, the “level where everyone dies”, is plagued by a few bats here and there. But no matter how frustrated you might get while playing, the satisfaction of beating the hard stages more than makes up for it, and the aesthetically pleasing background art (see Sultan’s Palace) doesn’t hurt either. More recently, I’ve discovered other Disney titles like Pocahontas and The Jungle Book, which are also very well designed and illustrated, but as a game I grew up with, Aladdin is something I will always consider to be a masterpiece.
5. Diddy Kong Racing
- Developed by Rare, published by Nintendo in 1997
- Genre: Racing
- Platform: Nintendo 64
I wholeheartedly disagree with whoever describes Diddy Kong Racing as a Mario Kart 64 clone. As someone who has played both, I can see their similarities. They’re both racing games, they both have a multiplayer battle option. But the music tracks, race items, playable characters, and perhaps most importantly Diddy Kong Racing’s Adventure mode sets these games apart by miles. In the world of Diddy Kong Racing, a wicked porcine creature from space who goes by the name Wizpig has taken over all the racing tracks, and is challenging you to beat him. To do that, you have to master all four tracks in each area (Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, Dragon Forest and Future Fun Land), defeat some wacky bosses, and unlock the magic of the T.T amulet. Depending on which area you go to, tracks will offer you the choice to race in one of three vehicles: car, plane, and hovercraft. The car is the easiest to control, but once you get the hang of the plane flips and hovercraft jumps, they too become a fun addition to the racing experience. What I love most about Diddy Kong Racing is the competitive spirit it creates within you, which is especially true in the silver coin challenge. Not only do you have to collect all eight coins on each track, but you have to come first, which sometimes seems downright impossible (see Greenwood Village). But at their core, the silver coin challenges were pleasantly frustrating, and super-satisfying to beat-much like the boss races. And who could forget the amazing soundtrack, which I prefer to Mario Kart in general. Rare sure had a secret formula when it came to producing catchy, boppy tunes, and I would specifically like to thank composer David Wise for Boulder Canyon, a multi-layered track that I love to pieces. Last but not least, Diddy Kong Racing boasts very high replayability, which I think happens because of how suited each music track is to its corresponding racing track. No matter how long I leave Diddy Kong Racing aside, it always feels fresh when I come back to it-the sign of a truly phenomenal racing game.
6. Mario Kart 64
- Developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo in 1996
- Genre: Racing
- Platform: Nintendo 64
Mario Kart 64 is a brilliant racer with fine controls and well designed tracks, and initially, I had a hard time picking whether I liked it more than Diddy Kong Racing or the other way around. Nintendo’s beloved Italian plummer can seemingly do no wrong, and Mario Kart 64 is no exception. Joined by a host of his friends (and enemies), he must race through sixteen tracks that are categorised into different racing cups: the mushroom cup, flower cup, star cup, and special cup. Each of these cups features progressively harder tracks, with the added ability to increase your vehicle’s engine from a 50cc (slow) to 100cc (medium) to 150cc (fast). The players are also divided into ‘lightweight’ (Yoshi), ‘middleweight’ (Mario) and ‘heavyweight’ (Bowser) classes, which affects their acceleration and ability to retain speed when they veer off the main course. Playing Mario Kart 64 was always a blast. It was the type of game that put gameplay in the limelight and backgrounded the narrative, but it worked. Each race, prefaced by Lakitu hovering above you with a set of traffic lights, is a joyful and adrenaline pumping experience. All the items are very cleverly designed and borrow features from other Mario games, such as invincibility star and turtle shells. Playing Mario 64 in multiplayer with friends and family added a whole new dimension to it too in terms of the glorious battle mode-balloon popping, potential friendship ruining madness. Another bonus of having a few more controllers on deck was how much easier the Grand Prix was to beat (this also applies to Mario Kart: Double Dash), and before you ask whether I think that’s taking advantage of the game mechanics and majorly cheating-no, of course I don’t….anyway, the only word of advice I can give to players is don’t play Mario Kart 64 concurrently with Diddy Kong Racing, because in one game bananas are your enemy, but in the other, they’re your friend-and that can get hella confusing. Mario Kart 64 succeeds in keeping you constantly entertained, and tracks like Yoshi’s Valley, Royal Raceway, and Koopa Troopa Beach with its secret tunnel, are evidence of how much love and effort into eliciting player curiosity went into the design of this game. Despite the music tracks not being as catchy as Diddy Kong Racing, there is one exception to the rule in the form of Rainbow Road, the longest level in the game and one that continues to evolve in the many sequels within the Mario Kart franchise. Many years ago, Mario Kart 64 also featured on Australian children’s television show A*mazing in a video game battle between different schools, which I think could work as a wonderful teaching method if an educational game was being used. All in all, the power of the Mario Kart series is strong, one that I think will continue to dominate Nintendo’s racing genre for a long while to come.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
- Developed by Nintendo EAD, published by Nintendo in 1993
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Platform: Game Boy
Considering that Link’s Awakening came out in 1993, I became acquainted with it rather late. It was about three or four years ago when I received it as a Christmas present, and couldn’t seem to put it down. Highly addictive gameplay with minor emphasis on (an often emotional) background story seemed to be the key to success in many platforming games of the nineties, and perhaps the Zelda franchise is the best way to exemplify that. In Link’s Awakening, which I talk about in more detail in this review, Link is tasked with exploring the entirety of the mysterious Koholint Island in order to awaken the wind fish, a creature that will provide him with the answers to all his questions. What drives this game so much is its strong puzzle design, which is present in each dungeon, and never feels stale. We are introduced to key activity loops from future Zelda titles, like the find-key-open-door feature, as well as treasure chests, pots, and the final boss, whose defeat will result in Link gaining an extra heart container and some kind of reward. In the case of Link’s Awakening, we receive a different musical instrument for each boss we vanquish, which when combined together at the very end of the game will rouse the sleeping wind fish from its deep slumber. The impressive slew of enemies inside and outside the dungeons will always keep you on your toes, sometimes making you gasp for breath as you’re down to a single heart and praying you had a fairy, as will the puzzling trading sequence side quests, which have become a staple of many Zelda games. But what makes this game a joy, pure and simple, is the basic platforming freedom of being able to just grab your sword, and run through a field of grass to go and collect rupees. That, and the beautiful, melancholic message you receive at the game’s closure, makes this an amazing journey that still gives me chills every time I watch it.
8. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
- Developed by Starbreeze Studios, published by 505 Games in 2013
- Genre: 3D platformer/Action-Adventure
- Platform: PC, Xbox, PS3
When I say this is the kind of game that will leave you weeping at your desk with a bunch of tissues in your hand, I am not kidding. At the very least, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons will move you on a very deep emotional level, which is something that I discussed in my review of the game and is usually associated more with books or films. I was so inspired by this game that I had my sister play through it, who as a big fan of film was really able to appreciate it as well. Gameplay takes full advantage of the keyboard or controller, where you must help navigate two brothers through a visually stunning world on their quest to save their ailing father. But what starts out as a simple journey through peaceful village life soon turns into the fantasy adventure of a lifetime, as the brothers find themselves encountering mythical creatures, walking through dreams, scaling gigantic mountains, and defying relentless arctic weather before the biggest surprise of all. This game is beautiful in every aspect, and while it might take a little bit of getting used to controlling both brothers simultaneously, I think that is exactly the point. This game mechanic grows on you without you realising it, creating a sense of comfort and unity, and will be revisited in the final climactic moments of the story in a way that can never be reproduced in book or film. Having said that, should this game ever be made into a movie, I would be over the moon. The power of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to touch the heart of nearly whoever plays it is not an easy feat to achieve. Many books, films, and games are about loss. Many of them have beautiful artwork. And many of them have good stories. But out of all the games I’ve played recently, I don’t think I’ve ever been so shocked, speechless, and touched as when I first played the bittersweet yet painfully realistic Brothers. This game is gold.
9. Prince of Persia
- Originally developed by Jordan Mechner in 1989, subsequently developed and published by Brøderbund
- Genre: Cinematic Platformer
- Platform: Mac, Windows (DOS)
I have so many memories with this game, it’s unreal. Prince of Persia was probably one of my very first platforming games, which set the standard for how I perceive many 2D platformers today. Countless hours were spent on trying to beat each level, which while apparently basic in structure, actually paved the way for complex and puzzle filled gameplay that included Jafar’s henchmen, skeletons, guillotines, and a shadow that you couldn’t get to stick until the very end. One of the standout features of Prince of Persia is its smooth and as far as I know never again seen movement style, which Jordan Mechner achieved by a stop-motion/rotoscoping technique where he filmed his brother acting out the manoeuvres required for the game. The technique lent the game a level of never before seen animated realism, which contributed to its success in the same manner it did for Karateka. Although there isn’t a constant backdrop of music in Prince of Persia, the sound effects-sword fighting, running, grates opening and closing, and the iconic theme heard each time you beat a level-fill in the gaps quite well. And although the format for each stage is similar, the colour schemes and overall design are so different that it really does create the illusion of wandering through a massively diverse multi-levelled dungeon. Add to that a mysterious green potion that will enable the prince to temporarily float in the air, a tiny mouse who will come to his rescue at the most unexpected of times, a shadow that cannot be beaten, and an evil vizier hell bent on killing the prince’s fair maiden, and you’ve got the grounds for how Prince of Persia became one of my favourite games ever.
10. Day of the Tentacle
- Developed and published by LucasArts in 1993
- Genre: Graphic Adventure, Point-and-click
- Platform: Mac, Windows (DOS)
The first time I played Day of the Tentacle, it was without sound, and on one of those laptops that have a button wedged in the middle of the keyboard that you use for the mouse. I was intrigued. Who was this goofy looking character with a protruding stomach, suspenders, and thick black glasses? As a child, I didn’t even know. It would be many years later when I learned the tale of Bernard, Hoagie, and Laverne, their wacky time travelling adventure, and the crazy Dr. Fred Edison’s plan to stop the purple tentacle from enslaving all humankind. It was also very recently that I had the honour and privilege of being able to interview the awesome duo of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick in the January 2015 issue of The Indie Game Magazine, former LucasArts writers who made the script for Day of the Tentacle, and are now working on a brand new point-and-click adventure called Thimbleweed Park. As my first experience with a point-and-click game, Day of the Tentacle made me eager to test out nearly every combination that the verb interface made possible upon the gorgeous, colourful, cartoonish background. The witty, sometimes dark, but always hilarious humour in this game is hard-matched, as well as its ability to keep you entertained with a story that plays out over just a few screens. To me, this proves one thing. It is not the size of a game that counts. In Day of the Tentacle, it is the ability to switch between three equally weird and interesting characters, it is the voice-acting, the music, the art style, the cursor directing gameplay rather than a keyboard or controller, but most of all it is the believability of the story. I believe this the reason why the game was considered a classic, why countless people devoted themselves to cosplaying the characters, why there is going to be a special edition released in the near future, and why gamers of today would still enjoy giving it a playthrough. Day of the Tentacle will always hold a special place in my heart, in only the way a slimy purple tentacle can.
There you have it, my ultimate list of favourite games, which I have come to realise are mostly action-adventure titles, many of them developed by Rare. Whatever your favourite games may be, cherish them. They will always be yours to enjoy. -kkatlas
(1) Banjo-Kazooie gif: http://www.picgifs.com/games-gifs/banjo-kazooie/
(2) Banjo-Tooie gif: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/banjo-kazooie/images/31352401/title/banjo-tooie-fanart
(3) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time gif: http://rebloggy.com/post/gif-zelda-link-nintendo-original-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time/21389174603
(4i) Aladdin (Sega Genesis) gif: http://anythingaladdin.tumblr.com/post/36916411473/disneys-aladdin-sega-genesis
(4ii) Aladdin (Sega Genesis) image: http://www.dosgamesarchive.com/download/aladdin/
(5) Diddy Kong Racing gif: https://www.tumblr.com/search/diddy%20kong%20racing%2064
(6) Mario Kart 64 gif: http://rebloggy.com/post/my-gif-mario-mario-kart-toad-mario-kart-64/8811638811
(7) The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening gif: http://rebloggy.com/post/link-legend-of-zelda-link-s-awakening-awakening-gifs/17618637466
(8) Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons gif: http://www.wow247.co.uk/2015/03/11/brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons/
(9) Prince of Persia gif: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_Persia_(1989_video_game)
(10i) Day of the Tentacle gif: http://www.hardydev.com/the-compendium/7-best-martial-arts-fight-scenes-in-adventure-games/
(10ii) Day of the Tentacle gif 2: http://www.shapeways.com/product/2CGEWHXBD/day-of-the-tentacle-purple-6cm