Monday, February 6, 2017

Daily Ten: Games That Turned Out To Actually Be Good

Sometimes a game can surprise us. Back in Ye Olden Times, every Friday my parents would take my brother and I to the local gaming store to rent one game each. Now, when you're 8, this is the single most important decision of your week. What if you pick up a crappy game!? You're stuck with it until the next magical weekend when you can pick up something else.

For every time you grab Spider-Man and X-Men: Arcade's Revenge, which is a horrible game that will be covered later, you get a game that defies all expectations. For the inaugural Top Ten list here on Positive Nerdery, we're going upbeat by running down my personal Top Ten Games That Turned Out To Actually Be Good!

10) Clash at Demonhead - NES

Take a moment and just marvel at that box art! That shit could not be more generic 80's sci-fi! Amazingly, the actual game is a non-linear platformer with tons of hidden items. Back before the internet, trying to progress up to the mountain (Demonhead) and stop a Doomsday Device was a lesson in trial and error. Mostly error, as the bosses were incredibly tough. My favorite was one that starts out as a puny green monster but when you shoot him enough times, he gets a little bigger....and then bigger...and then large enough that you need to use a special power to make yourself tiny. In order to get the Force power that you need, you have to find the Hermit. You can find the Hermit once the Sprite tells you where he is located on the map. To find the Sprite, you need to come across Michael, a special agent secretly being mind-controlled by a demon imprisoned in the mountain that needs you to accidentally break his bonds.

For a NES title, this is actually incredible stuff. My brother and I would rent this game over and over, charting our progress and while we never did beat the game, it was always a fun romp.

9) Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters - NES

It's a Godzilla game where your goal is to destroy Godzilla. For once, you get to be in charge of the hapless Tokyo military as they throw all sorts of tanks, planes and bombs at giant rampaging monsters. It's all done in a style that resembles the Advance War franchise but with less options and far more hair-pulling as you vainly try to stop Godzilla. This should be a bad, poorly conceived game, but the uphill struggle against the monsters actually works! 

There's a rock-paper-scissors style to the combat and some actual strategy involving using the terrain to your advantage if you want even the slimmest hope of winning. Of course, line up a great missile shot on the flying Rodan and you might just miss completely due to the roulette wheel that determines results of each combat. I swear, this game was a highlight of the NES for me as a kid and is far better then it sounds on paper! 

8) Illusion of Gaia - SNES

The Super Nintendo had some INCREDIBLE RPG games available, so many that it was easy to overlook some. Illusion of Gaia was one of those action-RPG games that, as a kid, I didn't remember seeing much marketing for it. The back of the box looked cool by showing different forms for the hero (A Dark Knight! A Ninja!) and real-world locations (Pyramids! Great Wall!), that it was worth a gamble. 

The absolute best part of the game had nothing to do with the dungeons, the puzzles to solve en route to stopping a comet from destroying the planet or even the music. Nope, the best part was one particular sequence, towards what I think is the middle of the game, when Will (main character) and Kara (incredibly annoying Princess) get stuck on a raft in the middle of nowhere. The result is a series of conversations as the characters discuss their fate, their hopes, dreams and end up getting close to each other. It's a great sequence that rivals Final Fantasy 4 and 6 for pathos. Even better, is when the pair end up getting stuck in an underwater castle (I think it may have been Atlantis?) with what might be vampires. 

Except that beyond some creepy music and empty coffins, there's no actual enemies. You see evidence of the possible vampires living in an underwater castle but no actual creatures. At all. For the entire sequence! It's a lesson in setting mood and the right atmosphere even in 16-bit form. Not bad for a game that looked super generic at first glance. 

7) U.N. Squadron - SNES

Generic side scrolling shooter? Nope! 

U.N. Squadron has characters that make a big difference, buyable planes and weapons that make a big difference, and a difficulty that is both really hard and yet makes you feel like it was your mistake that got you killed. One of the bosses is also an aircraft carrier in the middle of the desert. that's the sort of insanity I expect from my Japanese games. 

6) Einhander - Playstation 

Technically, I should have expected this one, the next game in the list, to be good. I have been a huge fan of SquareSoft since the first Final Fantasy and they are one of the companies that could piss in my mouth and tell me it's raining. Einhander is a side-scrolling shoot'em up. Made by SquareSoft. The RPG guys. 


There's nothing really impressive about Einhander other then the fact that it has just rock solid gameplay. It did not reinvent the wheel, but it's an absolute blast. 

5) Tobal No. 1 - Playstation 

It's a SquareSoft fighting game. 

As you can tell by the box art, this came packaged with the Final Fantasy 7 demo in an effort to increase sales. While some people may have bought it just for the demo of one of the greatest games of all time, the actual fighting game itself was really good. "Quest Mode" combined the fighting game with a roguelike dungeon that allowed you to unlock characters for the main game. Imagine something like what Tekken 6 tried to do, but in this case it, you know, worked. 

4) Syphon Filter - Playstation 

This was a case of hearing 'hype' from the different gaming magazines but still being shocked with the actual product. Syphon Filter, and its sequel....but not really the 3rd game....were incredible stealth games. Syphon Filter does everything the original Splinter Cell did! I still fondly recall the third mission, which has you tasked with getting past a bridge undetected, and being amazed at all the different routes you could take and the sheer joy of using night vision goggles while sniping the stupid AI guards.....except turns out they were perhaps the smartest guards of the time. Yeah, no taking out a guard talking to his buddy and then calmly reloading without an alarm going off. These bastards would HUNT YOU DOWN LIKE A DOG. 

Seriously, we need a Syphon Filter collection. 

3) Aladdin - Genesis 

It's a movie tie-in game, which immediately raises red flags, especially back in the day of the cheap cash-in. Amazingly, Aladdin for the Genesis was really good! Not only were the graphics some of the best for the system, but the gameplay was super responsive and incredibly well done. It's easy now to look back at what a great game this one turned out to be, but at the time, it was mindblowing. 

This is a case as well where the schoolyard fight of Sega vs. Nintendo was well warranted. The SNES version had subapar graphics and a different gameplay style that was based around Aladdin doing...cartwheels or something off of the guards. It was inferior in every way to the Genesis version, which actually looked like the Disney movie. 

2) PURE - Xbox 360 

When I bought PURE, it was from the local Best Buy. The store was running a promotion and Warhammer: Battletide was one of the games on sale. Well, I wanted Warhammer, but to get it, I had to buy PURE. I figured it was worth it for the price of $10. I then tossed PURE aside, not really interested in a racing ATV game. Once I actually put the game into my system, willing to give it a shot, I...well...I don't think I played another game for about 2 months. 

PURE was a great a mix of arcade style racing, insane aerial tricks and no blue shell style power ups. It was such a simple gameplay system with such a great feedback loop to the races that I was hooked. I'm struggling trying to explain why this game resonated with me the way it did, but when it comes to defying expectations, PURE went from tossed aside to being one of my favorites on the Xbox 360. 

1) Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen - SNES/Playstation 

My mom had to drive me one town over to rent this one. The local stores didn't carry it at all, and I fell in love with this game. I went into it expecting a sort of turn-based strategy game, like Godzilla 2 I suppose, but did not count on the real-time macro-management filled with secrets and 16(!) different endings. No game since Ogre Battle has even attempted this sort of gameplay style, as even alter games in the franchise went to the Final Fantasy Tactics gameplay. 

I loved designing squads of characters for different tasks. The Cleric with Angels for city liberation, the Knight with Ninja or Mage support to act as a first line of defense, the specialist Princess unit for boss-busting, a super unit of reformed enemy generals or even the nocturnal Vampire and Werewolves unit! You could have a dozen units on the map at each time, with up to 5 characters in each unit, which means....carry the one....60 characters to keep track of! 

The re-release for the Playstation cleaned things up in the user interface, allowed you to set waypoints for your units and also added a mid-battle save feature. I still play this game today, which is pretty good for a game that could have been very, very bad so easily. 


1 comment:

  1. I remember those Fridays very well. It took your brother and you a long time to pick out games! It is a fond memory of mine though. You, both, were so good about not playing on school nights and waiting for Friday.