We’re almost to the Top 10 portion of my Top 25 games of all-time, but first we’ve got another five that are near and dear to me to get through first! While this batch has another relatively new game, I’m also really digging back into the annals of history with another one.
15. POKEMON RED/BLUE
Developed by Game Freak | 1996 | Gameboy
I know, I know.
The multi-quintillion dollar property started off a couple decades ago with just a couple of humble Gameboy RPGs. Before all the cards, cartoons, and bizarrely popular walking game we had a “red” version and a “blue” version of a greenish-gray monochrome handheld game that popularized the creature collecting and forced combat merchandise franchise. Actually I guess it was probably the cards that make it so huge among kids, but for me and my fellow high school aged friends who were all admittedly much older than the target audience, it was all about the games!
The concept is pretty simple. You play as a personality-less silent child starting his journal to become a “Pokemon Master”. This entails capturing beasts and critters in the wild (don’t worry, they don’t mind, at least that’s what the characters insist on telling you) and collecting “Gym Badges” by beating other peoples’ captured creatures in battle. Every Pocket Monster (Pockmon or Pokeymon to the lay person) has one or two of 15 different “types” like Fire or Grass or Normal (they ran out of ideas). These types are strong or weak to each other, making it like one big strategic game of rock-paper-scissors, if the people playing had 5 arms all participating at once or something.
The two different versions of the game were mostly the same offering, but had slightly different creatures available for capture. If you wanted to “catch’em all”, and you are constantly being told that you Gotta, you’ll have to connect to the other game. This is where the revolutionary and often lost Gameboy Link technology came in! If you had a friend with a copy of the game, and one of you miraculously has not lost the Gameboy link that came with the system yet, you could connect your Gameboys to trade or battle beasts.
In fact, one of my favorite memories of playing Pokemon Blue belonged to the “competitive battling” side of it. About halfway through the game, after meticulously powering up a balanced team, I decided that I had had enough. I then put all of my resources into one champion beast: the obese lightning mouse Raichu. I soared through the rest of the game and maxed out his level, while my dopey friends were fielding a battling troupe of creatures that could handle any situation. When it came time to battle, the sheer magnitude of my stats overwhelmed their beasts, and I reigned supreme with one monster. This all changed after a couple weeks when their whole teams were up to snuff and I had moved on to something else.
God, I’m such a cool guy.
14. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
Developed by Rocksteady Studios | 2009 | Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC, Mac
Batman is an awesome character who has been a part of pretty much every form of media out there. Up until the Arkham series, however, there had never really been a great Batman game that truly captured the character and his adventures. It was usually some kind of beat-em-up, which is an important part of the Bat-brand, sure, but unfortunately lacked the other aspects of the character, like the parts that make him the World’s Greatest Detective, able to solve the cases of which villain’s face to smash in next. Rocksteady’s Arkham series changed that.
Arkham Asylum was the first Batman game that really lets you feel like the Bat. There were crime scenes to analyze and clues to gather, in addition to busting skulls (though that part, with the Freeform fighting style was also very, very good). Fancy gadgets were needed to traverse the asylum and expand your exploration options, giving the game a bit of a Metroidvania feel. While the later games in the series added more gadgets and continued to be excellent games, I prefer Asylum and its many filled out, connecting smaller areas to the sprawling open-world maps of the rest. This sense of exploration and the desire to backtrack to open up new areas with your new toys started to get lost as the series went on.
These gadgets were also useful in the game’s many “Predator” sections, where Batman would need to lurk around the shadows to take on groups of armed thugs. Even though you are Batman, a bunch of guys with guns could mess you up pretty quick, which raised the stakes, and just made sense. Fortunately, these segments were also a lot of fun, and usually gave some unique challenges to think though. I’m not a huge fan of stealth games. I don’t like hiding in lockers for an hour while memorizing guard patterns. Regardless, I enjoyed the stealth sequences in this game, which provided a nice change of pace from breaking jaws and beating the hell out of inmates.
And as if the fun gameplay, setting, and story weren’t enough, the series featured voice actors reprising their roles from the amazing 90’s animated series, namely THE Batman and THE Joker themselves, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
13. YAKUZA 0 (RYU GA GOTOKU 0)
Developed by Sega | 2015 (Japanese Release), 2017 (Worldwide) | PS3, PS4
The Yakuza series has always been yooge in Japan since it’s launch on the Playstation 2, but there haven’t been always great or heavily advertised ports to the US. I downloaded Yakuza 4 on PS3 when it was a free PSN+ game one month many years ago and played a bit of it, thinking it was “Grand Theft Auto, but in Japan” and boy was I wrong. I really enjoyed what I played but it was very obvious I was playing the fourth part of something I had no clue about. This is really only acceptable for Star Wars, not rich Japanese crime dramas. Along comes Yakuza 0 for the PS4, a prequel game set at the very beginning chronologically, and I saw my chance.
Yakuza 0’s origin story for series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is a great introduction to the series. The main story is surprisingly good, which I say primarily because of how batshit insane the side stories are. From helping a pop star that is obviously a ripoff of Michael Jackson to helping a guy walk across a bridge without getting beat up to beating a series of children in customizable slot car racing, I was constantly finding something ridiculous to enjoy and irritate Jimmy with stories of.
Getting 100% completion in this game is a ridiculous feat, but since I was enjoying myself for most of it I did not mind. My final playtime was around 140 hours, which sounds especially sad typing this out now, but I did spend most of the year playing this game (as my wife will angrily agree). I had to learn mahjong to fully master this game. I have no regrets!
Look, my words cannot do this game justice. Instead, I’ve decided to just dump a series of images from the game, without context (it wouldn’t make much more sense if I did provide it).
12. MR. DO!
Developed by Universal | 1982 | Arcade
Here’s one I really don’t expect many people to have heard of – Mr. Do!! (One exclamation point for the title, another for my excitement).
This was back when games didn’t need to try to force some kind of poorly-written story on you. Let’s look at the premise. You’re some kind of creepy clown digging around what I assume is just colored dirt collecting cherries and watching out for these guys trying to kill you. That’s all you need to know. You don’t need to go be a Double Dragon. You don’t need to win the fighting tournament to stop Shang Tsung from eating your soul or whatever. Just get in that dirt and get some damn cherries!
I remember playing this every chance I could in all the Putt Putt arcade rooms and random mall food courts in my travels. My earliest recollection is playing Mr. Do! In a small side room in a Sears department store of all places. Being a height-challenged youth of three years old, I needed a step stool to reach the controls to work my magic. I really put up the points on the scoreboard, to the amazement of all of the older kids watching. That last part was information straight from my mother, so you know it must be true.
Wikipedia claims there were several home adaptations of Mr. Do! but I never saw any of them, which was supremely disappointing. I had cartridges of my other favorite arcade games like Pac-man and Donkey Kong, why not my absolute favorite clown game? One day I decided enough was enough, and I took one of my father’s Commodore 64 floppy disks and wrote in marker on it “MR DO”. I stuck the disk in the computer and tried to load up the game, but it didn’t work. I’m not really sure what I expected, but fortunately I’ve learned quite a bit more about programming since then.
I don’t know what the future of the clown prince of Universal is, but considering it’s been 35 years and there hasn’t been anything, I’m not going to hold my breath. At least for now, Mr. Do! has earned its spot on my list and my heart.
11. MEGAMAN X4
Developed by Capcom | 1997 | PS1
I don’t know if it’s cheating to include a Megaman X game on this list when I already have Megaman on here (spoiler alert: I’m going to have a Megaman on here, big surprise) but this is my list so I’m going to do what I want!
Many people regard Megaman X1 as the best of the series, and I’m fine with that. The first Megaman X was awesome and brought a lot of great new ideas to the franchise. But there’s no doubt in my mind that X4 is my favorite of the series, having played them all. Well, except X7, which everybody seems to largely regard as a dumpster fire.
This game was one of my first Playstation games that I owned, long ago. I was at the Babbages in the mall, which I realize is a very 90’s thing to say, when I saw this game on the shelf. The sales clerk, clearly picking up on my interest in having this, joined me in coercing my mom to buy this for me right then and there. I feel pretty bad now to put my mom on the spot like that to drop a few Jacksons on a new game, but at the time I was pumped. MEGAMAN!!!!!!
Megaman X4 was the first 32-bit Megaman X game, and like X jumping to 16 bit from 8 bit before it, X4 raises the stakes again with a number of new features. The biggest change is you have the option to play the game in full as series-favorite Zero complete with his own set of moves and storyline. While X kept his traditional gameplay of destroying robot bosses and taking on their weapons, Zero learned a bunch of different lightsaber moves with long Japanese names.
All the extra bits included in the Playstation afforded Capcom to ability to really improve the presentation all around. The artwork and animation were much more fluid, and the soundtrack, already a highlight of the series, was improved dramatically as well. There were also numerous anime cutscenes throughout the story, which I remember being mind-blowing at the time, but watching them again I realize they were pretty bad. Fortunately, nostalgia turns it into a “so bad it’s good” thing. I mean, take a look at this breathtaking cinema:
And in case you missed Megaman X4 because your mom wouldn’t buy it for you at Babbages in 1997, the full Megaman X collection will be coming out next year for modern consoles!