Sometimes the English language falls short in its descriptive adjectives. Such is the case with Earthbound, which is often described as “quirky”. It’s quirky in the same way that the ocean is big; it’s a description that sounds about right, but doesn’t do it justice. Earthboundis a hyper-exaggerated version of how Japan viewed American culture. Your enemies include Mad Taxis and New Age Retro Hippies, instead of health tonics you eat burgers and fries, your weapons are baseball bats and frying pans, and you save your game by calling your Dad—who also manages your earnings from defeated enemies. However,beneath the cultural sub-text was a rather solid RPG with some pretty unique gameplay mechanics. One example is that in EB you can purchase a new weapon, equip it, and sell your old one all at the same time instead of trudging through menus, something that Final Fantasy has yet to do. Your character can get homesick which affects their ability in battle and can be fixed with a call home. The slot-style HP counters ensures that if an enemy lands a killer blow you may have enough time to heal yourself before the counter reaches zero. The story is your typical “chosen one prophecy” butEarthbound manages to make it feel fresh. While its graphics may not impress,Earthbound is a unique and humorous RPG experience—up until the final boss anyway.
On A Personal Note: There’s this great little joke in the game where you come across a sign that says “Planning Meeting for Earthbound 2” and when you try and enter the house, someone tells you “Come back in the year 20XX” or something. Well, a sequel to Earthbound was planned for the N64DD system but was cancelled when they realized the system, well, sucked. The game was finally made as a Game Boy Advance game—and was never released outside of Japan. However, a dedicated group of fans translated the entire game and turned it into a patch you can apply to the game’s ROM file. So why is this a personal story? Well, I played it. It was awesome.
8. Pokemon Crystal Version
It’s hard not to understate how huge of an impact Pokemon had on the video game world and pop culture at large. “Gotta catch ‘em all” was the phrase of my childhood, and the majority of my entertainment focused on the cute catchable critters that adorned my Game Boy, television, toy collection, card binder, and plush animal collection, to name a few. Of course, once the second generation of Pokemon began to be revealed I and my friends lost our minds. Pokemon was at the height of its popularity in the Gold and Silver (GS) generation. After all, the first four Pokemon movies all featured GS generation Pokemon, and three based their plots on them. It’s also worth mentioning that the GS games were massive. In addition to 100 new Pokemon, you could still catch or trade Pokemon from the original games, for a total of 251 Pokemon. Upon completing the eight gym leaders and Pokemon League of the new Johto region, you then got to back to Kanto,the region from the first game, and complete the original eight gym leaders and Pokemon League there; no other Pokemon game has done this ”second quest” style of game since. Also, the game had a clock and calendar that ran in real time, and so some events would only occur on specific days of the week, and some Pokemon only came out at night. So why did I choose the Crystal version specifically? Well, Crystal did everything that Gold and Silver did, but added cosmetic touches, such as being able to play as a girl and sprite animations for Pokemon in battle. There were a few subplots added in involving the Unown and Suicune, but the bulk of the gameplay remained the same. Even though Silver was my version of choice, Crystal was the final game of the GS generation and, essentially, the last perfect Pokemon game.
On A Personal Note: I was a total Poke-geek. Cards, toys, books, games, posters,blankets, you name it and I had it. Though not directly related to Pokemon Crystal, this story is related to the GS generation of Pokemon. I had a pretty decent collection of cards that I shared with my friends. I made a few decks and participated in a small competition at the local Toys R Us. One of my most prized cards was a super-rare Venusaur that only came with the Player’s Guide to the Pokemon Card Game video game (yes, there was a video game of a card game based on a video game). One of my opponents had a card with a Pokemon that wasn’t even named in North America. The card was all in Japanese and had a glossy finish to it. I traded my Venusaur for this Japanese card, thinking it was rare and collectible. Less than a year later, the GS generation of cards came out. The card I traded it for was a Hoppip. A Hoppip which could be found in practically every booster pack.
7. Fallout 3
It’s not very often that a video game inspires you, but that’s exactly what happened here.Fallout 3 was my first foray into a post-apocalyptic world, and I haven’t left it since. Gameplay-wise, Fallout: New Vegas is far superior, but the atmosphere and story belong entirely to Fallout 3. Fallout 3’s Wasteland is lonely, gray, and deadly, and I was engrossed in every minute I spent in it. The various Wasteland locales, citizens, factions, and creatures were really unlike anything I had ever seen before (having never played any of the previous Fallout games). But unlike many post-apocalyptic settings, this one wasn’t completely bleak. The story was about restoring hope to the Wasteland, and your character’s actions reflected whether or not they were successful in doing so. And there was a surprising amount of humour to the Wasteland, even down to weapons such as a railway rifle, which shot rail spikes and gave a cheerful little “toot” each time you pulled the trigger. The VATS targeting system was a clever little mechanic, which would pause the action and let you target specific areas of your opponents body, lending strategy to an otherwise guns-blazing firefight. And sometimes it was just fun to wander the lonely roads and see what you could come across. As far as open-world games go, none have immersed me as much as Fallout 3 did.
On A Personal Note: Fallout 3 revived my love of writing, and from that game I became more and more absorbed in post-apocalyptic fiction, to the point that it has become my genre of choice. I actually wrote three large stories set in the Fallout 3 world. The game was so rich in details that I was able to craft these long, detailed stories and drop little hints of events or characters in the game. They were originally meant to be parts of a larger story, but I never finished it. Instead, I moved on to craft my own post-apocalyptic stories. So don’t let anyone tell you that video games can’t inspire your creativity.
6. The Curse of Monkey Island
A long time ago LucasArts wasn’t just cranking out adventures of a galaxy far, far away. During the early 90s, the Adventure game genre experienced a boom of brilliant and engrossing games that, to this day, are still revered in the hallowed halls of video game lore. One such series (and, arguable, the most iconic) was Monkey Island. The first two games were filled with clever brain teasers, witty dialogue, and sharp humour. All of those reached their apex with the third and best entry in the series, The Curse of Monkey Island. The game even included a “Mega Monkey” (or hardcore) mode for puzzle lovers. But what struck me most about COMI is that for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I was playing a cartoon. It was the first Monkey Island game to include voice-acting, and wasone of the few adventure games to use hand-drawn animation and backgrounds. The voice acting is still superb and the dialogue still surpasses most actual cartoons and the score by series veteran Michael Land is still the best in the series. It’s sad that the proposed Monkey Island movie never came to fruition, and we’ll probably never see a proper Monkey Island 5. But the combination of perfect voice acting, sharp humor, and gorgeous animation makes Curse of Monkey Island an adventure worth repeating.
On A Personal Note: Curse of Monkey Island is as much fun to watch as it is to play. During High School, my friends would actually sit down and watch me play. For a brief period of time “insult sword-fighting” became an inside-joke with our group, and a few one-liner’s from the game have still stuck with us (“That’s a duck!”).
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
“Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. Ah, 90s marketing slogans; you tried so hard. But in this case, it was actually true. While Nintendo was (and still is) all about family friendly entertainment, Sega was (and no longer is) all about attitude. And none captured the attitude of the 90s generation of kids better than Sonic the Hedgehog. It was all about speeding through levels and timing your jumps to avoid pitfalls or enemies. If you stopped moving, Sonic looked at you and started tapping his foot, as if to say “what are you doing? Start moving.” While the original Sonic the Hedgehog introduced him, it was the second game that truly cemented his place as Mario’s biggest rival. It can all be attributed to a single iconic move that Sonic added to his repertoire: the spindash. By holding down and pressing the jump button, Sonic began spinning in place like a car doing a burnout. Iactually still feel a slight adrenaline rush when I rap on the button, hearing the screech of spinning hedgehog increase in pitch with each button press. And then you let go, and Sonic becomes an unstoppable spinning ball of death, impervious to almost any enemy that gets in his way. But adrenaline kicks aside, Sonic 2 also introduced Sonic’s sidekick, Tails, who could be controlled with a second controller. And also, it replaced that asinine bonus game from the first one with a pseudo-3D halfpipe run where you collect collecting rings. Though Sonic’s reputation has dwindled since he made the transition to 3D, his original 2D games still remain as fun and exciting to play as they were on the original Sega Genesis.
On A Personal Note: Like most games of the 16-bit era, Sonic 2 included a debug menu. It was basically the ultimate cheat code, where you could access any level in the game or give yourself unlimited lives, etc. I could never do it properly so, believe it or not, I actually had to get my Mom to input the code for me, since she was the only one that could do it properly.