Brain’s Top 25 Games | 20-16

Moving right along to the next five in Brain’s all-time top 25 vidya games. We’ve got some indie gems and some bigger selections that will probably make people angry for not being higher. Here’s Part 1 if you missed it!

20. CUPHEAD

Developed by Studio MDHR | 2017 | PC, Xbox One

CupheadA newcomer to the scene, but one that immediately struck a chord with me was Cuphead. I devoured this game in a little over a week, which is not that impressive to the common person but to me and my poor attention span it felt like a crowning achievement, and one worthy of putting in my top 25.

The first thing one notices about Cuphead is the very distinctive art style. These guys at Studio MDHR produced all manners of hand-drawn art to make this look like a cartoon from the 1930’s, and their dedication shines through. The artificial “film grain” and crackling sound in the music tracks are perfect touches. I feel like there are a lot of plates to keep spinning in the air to capture this look and feel and these folks pulled it off.

Of course, The second thing one notices about Cuphead after playing is that this game is damn hard! Cuphead is essentially a series of levels of unique boss fights with a few “run-n-gun” levels thrown in there. Each boss has its own patterns and phases to get through, and seems indomitable at first. There will be many frequent deaths, but after each one you get a little measurement graphic showing how far you got, and how close you were to the end or a new phase which is a great aid in renewing your determination. Plus, the levels are fairly short, so you never feel like you’re really in the weeds for too long only to die and waste all your time. There were several points where the challenge frustrated me and provoked terse language, but never a point where I felt I wouldn’t eventually succeed.

I hope to see more of Cuphead and his pal Mugman in the future!

19. SUPER MEAT BOY

Developed by Team Meat | 2010 | Xbox 360, Steam, many platforms now

Super Meat BoyTeam Meat’s bizarre difficult sequel to a Flash game about a hunk of meat named Meat Boy contending with the likes of the villainous Dr. Fetus sounds like something to walk away from slowly before breaking off into a sprint, but it ended up capturing my attention and not letting go until I had completed every task and challenge it had to offer. I tend to really enjoy 2D platformers, which are something of a dying breed these days. Super Meat Boy is an extremely competent platformer with real challenge, unlike all those Mario Maker levels you’ve probably seen that have a million spikes and make you spin jump on a shell over and over or something.

This game may be hard AF, but you won’t be blaming the game for dying over and over (and over). The controls in Super Meat Boy are tight and responsive. If you perish on a trap, it’s your own fault. The challenges in the game may seem insurmountable at first, but the great controls and level design lend itself to some degree of predictability, so it is possible to learn and continue to improve. I think that’s the main reason why I was able to push on through this game – like with Cuphead, there is always a sense of improvement and feeling like you’re getting better.

I’ve often touted the Super Meat Boy soundtrack as one of the best I’ve ever heard in a video game, and I still stand by that, but I do feel as if I need to provide a word of caution. Apparently the composer for the original version of the game split from Team Meat a few years ago, so the newer versions have a completely different soundtrack. It’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Like most great things now, there’s a new sequel coming to the Switch!

18. WORLD OF WARCRAFT

Developed by Blizzard | 2004 | PC

World of Warcraft Illidan
I made this artwork, trust me.

This damn virtual crack. I’ve been playing this off and on (mostly on) since shortly after its release in 2004. It still continues strong to this day, six expansions later with a seventh on the way. Blizzard has refined the gameplay over this last decade and has really streamlined the experience.  

One of the big highlights of the game at first was it was something I played with some good friends I made at college. After I graduated and moved away, it was a fun way to continue “doing stuff” with them. Though we weren’t particularly great at the game, nor did we take it as seriously as most, we had a good time playing and chatting away. I even met a few cool people online that I keep up with on Facebook now. So I did build meaningful social interactions while it just looked to April like I was talking to myself at the computer.

World of Warcraft definitely shines as a social game for me – in the past few years most of the people I used to play with have moved on, so my interest doesn’t stick around for as long playing by myself. Despite that, the amount of time and enjoyment I’ve gleaned from it over the years earns World of Warcraft a spot in my top 25.

17. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: LINK’S AWAKENING

Developed by Nintendo | 1993 | Game Boy

Link's AwakeningThis was a hard decision and it was a tight race between this and Link Between Worlds. Both excellent, “traditional” 2D Zelda games, but the classic portable title has a bit more going for it and ultimately nostalgia won out.

And for that elephant in the room – I have not finished Breath of the Wild yet, or else this mandatory Zelda entry might be very different.

Looking at Link’s Awakening objectively, it’s a very odd game. For starters, it doesn’t even have Zelda in it! Link ends up shipwrecked on Koholint Island (I forget why he was sailing around on a rickety raft in the first place) and learns that he needs to wake up the sleeping “Wind Fish” to get the hell off of the island. Since this is a Zelda video game, he must accomplish this by gathering tools to find musical instruments that are in eight different dungeons on the island. I mean, how else do you wake up a fish?

There were also a bunch of neat, but odd, inclusions to the game. With the inclusion of the Roc’s feather Link could finally jump, something he could previously only look at his Nintendo brother Mario and dream about. Speaking of Mario, there also were Goombas, Piranha Plants, and even Wart from SMB2 making appearances, for some reason.

The Simcity guy is even in here, meaning Mr. Wright now has just as many appearances in Zelda games as he does in Simcity games.

Mr. Write
It’s Mr. Write/Wright?

In my memory of the game, I remember thinking the Wind Fish was basically a giant whale wearing jeans. Looking at the sprite again, I don’t think I was wrong, but I’m now remembering how damn creepy this thing looked.

Wind Fish
What the hell, Nintendo?

16. UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES

Developed by Naughty Dog | 2009 | PS3

Uncharted 2
This is the FIRST level!

I would be remiss to not include a title from Naughty Dog’s hit action-adventure series. All four of the games in the main series are terrific, but when it comes down to the right mix of awesome set pieces and action, I have to pick Uncharted 2 as my favorite.

The second in the series expanded on the excellent story and character-driven adventure formula started in the first game. This time though, it seems like more focus was given to the locales and the characters than the excessive shoot-out sequences that dominated much of the first. This is fine by me – it’s the characters and their voice actors’ performances that really make this series. Despite the general lack of my favorite character Victor “GD” Sullivan, the relationships between Nathan Drake and Elena and newcomer Chloe are developed further as they traipse, banter, shoot, and often plummet to their deaths thanks to my lack of coordination.

Uncharted 2 just seems focused on action and getting through exploding unsafe environments. The very first level has you escaping a train can that’s dangling precariously off the side of a cliff. From there you’ll explore more snowy levels and ruins that are exploding around you, all while shooting a bunch of dudes that are always one step ahead of you somehow waiting to ambush, despite your characters always priding themselves on being one step ahead of them. This is the common thread through all of the games, but I felt Uncharted 2 struck the best balance of action and adventure and kept the strongest pacing all throughout.

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