Chris and I wrote these lists seperately, and were both quite surprised to see that we had any cross-overs.
I took a different approach to the top ten than normal: I made a few rules that I wanted to follow, because I feel that other lists I have read have been too biased toward current games. This list will only cover games available at home. It will not cover arcade games, unless there are conversions available for home systems. This might exclude some great games that don't have good home translations. This would include a game like Operation: Wolf, because most every conversion lacks the gun -- or your machine gun acts like a pistol (as in the NES version).
I will not say that this is the final list of my favorite games of all time, because I hate to be quoted about such things; I may have temporarily forgotten about a game, which is by no means a reflection on the game's quality. When you have hundreds and hundreds of cartridges and disks for various game systems and computers, it just becomes difficult to remember them all. Besides, even if this list were 100% accurate at the moment, my tastes may change an hour from now. These types of lists are always hopelessly dated.
You know, before I discuss my actual favorites, I would like to speak briefly of some of the games that almost made it. At other times in my life, these would have been on the main list. Maybe they will be again later. I don't know. Some of the games that didn't quite make it are:
1) Shark! Shark! (Intellivision)
2) Checkmate (Bally/Astrocade)
3) Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 7800)
4) Centipede [when used with the Roller Controller] (Atari 7800)
5) Galaga (Atari 7800)
6) Zork Trilogy (All computers)
7) Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)
8) Gate of Thunder (Turbo Duo)
9) Minestorm (Vectrex)
10) Bomberman (Turbo Duo)
The plan was to have ten descriptions for each list, but since I am so long-winded, I will only be able to fit my first five choices into this month's issue. My other five choices will be listed at the end of this article, but not "reviewed" yet; that will have to wait until next time.
So here is my actual top ten, again in no particular order:
1) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA (NES)
There have been sequels and rip-offs, but none capture the elegance of the original. Something that bothers me is that many people refer to this game as an RPG. It isn't. It is an action game that takes place in a fantasy setting with swords and quests, but it is not an RPG.
Even by today's standards, this game is quite big. I've heard many people refer to the fantastic puzzles of ...Zelda. Well, I want to tell you something: There are no fantastic puzzles in Zelda, because there are no puzzles in Zelda! Everything in this game can be beat through brute force. Sure, you may have to go find something, but that isn't a puzzle. Anyway, this isn't meant to be a review of the previous past ten years of reviews!
I like The Legend of Zelda. It is very simple to learn. (You will notice that all of the games on my list are easy to learn.) Zelda came with an excellent tutorial as well; it lead you all the way to the second level in case you were slow or something.
One of my favorite things about this game is that there is a second, harder quest. It is exactly the same as the first, except that everything is in a different position in the game, and the mazes are shaped differently. This was a neat idea. I had played the second quest before beating the first quest by entering my name as Zelda, which was also a neat trick.
This game has excellent play control -- the only way a game is fun. I've played so many games that would have been good, perhaps great, if the play control had been just a bit better.
What else can I say? Play it!
2) SUPER MARIO BROS. 1 & 3 (BUT NOT PART 2!) (NES)
I wanted them both on this list. (So sue me. I cheated a bit.) Super Mario Bros., as everyone knows, is the game that put Nintendos in so many homes. It's also the game that shaped platform games, and the entire game industry for that matter. One of the best things about this game is that it doesn't have that horrible side-effect of some platform games -- something I call a drag. You know what I mean: A game has good control, seems like great fun, and then, for reasons that only the company might know, it seems as if they turn off all the fairness in some places that was in the rest of the game. Not fun; and that is why Super Mario Bros. is not a drag.
The Super Mario series really shows off the NES -- even part 2. Part 1 is completely linear; there is no going backwards. It actually gains strength from this. If you miss a power-up or coins, you can't go back for them. But by the end of the game, you might wish you could go back. And this is why sequels are created!
Super Mario Bros. 3, although still quite linear in nature, gives the player much more freedom. It is this freedom, and the much-improved graphics, that make part three the best of the series.
I have only one complaint about part 1 or 3. (Forget about part 2; that isn't even a Mario game!) The last world of Super Mario Bros. 3 is far too hard and frustrating.
As with every other game on this list, play it again and enjoy.
3) JUMPMAN (C64/Atari 8-bit)
I read comparative reviews for Lode Runner and Jumpman when I was eleven or twelve. They said that they were both fun and worth the money. I had played Jumpman, Junior on my friend's ColecoVision and thought it was okay -- but it only had ten levels, which my friend had mastered quickly. Lode Runner had 150 levels. Wow! It was going to be great!
I somehow scraped together thirty dollars to buy Lode Runner. The lady at the local computer store rented the game as well, and offered to rent it to me first. If I liked it, she would take the two-dollar rental fee off the game when I bought it the next day. I thought the idea was stupid; I knew that I was going to love Lode Runner, since it had 150 levels! She stressed that there would be no refund if I didn't like the game. I bought it anyway, with the most intense desire to play it on my 64 when I got home. Boy, was I ever disappointed.
I could not believe that the little character could not jump. I felt like I had made the biggest mistake. After playing Jumpman on the ColecoVision, this game seemed like a bad rip-off.
So there I was, the very next day, with a game I could not return. I was so upset. But my stepfather seemed quite hopeful that we could get a different game. I guess he called the store or something, and the lady agreed to just charge a rental fee for the game, so I could get something else. Back went Lode Runner, out came Jumpman.
Purchasing Jumpman was a choice I never regretted. In reflection, I want to say that I actually like Lode Runner now; but it is completely different from Jumpman. Where Jumpman is all about reflexes (or, in my case, lack of them), Lode Runner is more of a puzzle game. But in my mind, clearly Jumpman, even with only thirty levels, is much more fun.
If you haven't seen Jumpman before, it is quite a treat. The graphics are well-done, even though now it looks like the character is a stick figure (he never seemed that way before). But the game has all sorts of enemies, the most pesky of which is the simple bullet. The graphics were never what made this game great fun anyway. It was always the fact that the play control was so precise. The character always did exactly what I wanted. It continues to be the game which I swear at the least, because everything is my own fault, and there can be no blame placed on the control mechanics. Excellent!
A few notes in comparison between the C64 and Atari 8-bit versions: They are the same game. No differences there, really. What makes this game better on the Atari is that it loads, like all Atari games, much faster than the C64 version. Considering that after each level is played the new level must be loaded, it can really brighten your day. (Special note: A friend of mine loaded Jumpman into the 256K RAM expansion he had on his C64 and played it that way. As expected, it loads as fast as a cartridge would! But it takes about ten minutes to load into RAM anyway...)
4) WARLORDS (Atari 2600)
It's amazing what a slight variant of Breakout can be. I mean, there really is little difference between this game and the other Breakout clones that have been written. So what makes this so different from the rest? First of all, you are defending a warlord with your shield. It doesn't matter if you lose all your bricks; you just cannot have your warlord hit by the flying fireball (the pixel that is bouncing around the screen). Sound simple? It is, and like all great games, it's totally addictive.
Have you ever played this game alone? I'm sorry if you have, as it really wasn't meant for that. Even if you play against three other computer-controlled players, the game is far too easy. The secret to this game is a bit of friendly competition (or, if you are Chris and I, a bit of me bashing on him... he he)! [UNFAIRLY FORCED INTERJECTION: Adam, don't make me have to set you straight by whipping you at networked Doom again...]
When you play with up to three other people, the game really shines. One other game on my top-ten list, Scorched Tanks, is also best when played with three other people. (I am a sucker for multiplayer games, as you can also see from my choice of Bomberman on the near-hits list.)
A great tip for all you paddle fans out there: Try spraying the inside of the paddles with WD-40. It makes them like new again: smooth and precise. With precise paddles and three other players, this game becomes a must-have for the 2600 player -- or any game player, for that matter.
5) BALLBLAZER (Atari 7800)
I did not play this game until about four years ago. I had read the reviews for it in all the magazines in about 1985 or 1986, when the game was first released; it looked okay, but boring.
When I started collecting for the 7800, I happened upon this cartridge. I brought it home and thought it was excellent. I brought the 7800 and Ballblazer game to the next Atari user group meeting and played against someone already familiar with the game. It was great fun.
The game is really simple, yet holds elements that give it quite a bit of depth, such as the ability to launch the ball toward the goal when it is not in sight and get the maximum three-point score, which always infuriates the other player!
I heard that this game was going to have a sequel on the PlayStation called Ballblazer X. I'm not sure what happened to that idea. Does anyone have more information about that? This game is simply good, clean fun.
Okay, that's it for now. Next issue, I will be taking a closer look at the following five games:
Doom 2 (IBM PC)
Scorched Tanks 1.90 (Amiga)
Tetris (Game Boy)
Archon (Atari 8-bit)