#10: Commander Keen (PC)
They might not seem like much today, but the seven side-scrolling action platformers in the Commander Keen series by were ahead of the pack in their time. In a time when PC gaming was generally a sensually dull experience, fledgling developer id Software proved that DOS games could be every bit as smooth, colorful, and fun as their console counterparts. I think these games still hold up today - honestly, what more could you want than a kid in a football helmet shootin' up some aliens? Er, don't answer that.
This old series of old-style adventure games about time travelling is notable for its photorealistic, immersive environments. Empty though they were of other characters, at least in the first game (talking to people creates a time paradox), the passages you could walk through were varied and interesting. These games richly reward you for exploring; I will never forget the holodeck-like room you could find in the original. Coming out as it did before Myst, The Jouneyman project was really a game worth stopping to notice.
Here's an odd man out if ever there was one. Nintendo has such a penchant for dragging up its old material that hardly any Nintendo game but this one could make it on a list like this. Yet, here it is - how many people really remember Pilotwings? There are only two games in the series, launch titles for the SNES and N64. Both were eclipsed by the Mario blockbusters that accompanied them to market and forgotten once the systems' libraries started to flesh out, but these flight sims are amazingly specific in their physical detail, quite varied in the craft one is able to pilot (Jet belt? Gyrocopter?) and contained fairly impressive environments. These calm, simple games aren't for everyone, but everyone should give them a try.
The best beat-em-ups on the Sega Genesis, bar none. Here's an example of a classic genre not done that differently from usual, but simply done right - and sometimes that's enough. Streets of Rage is awesome mindless fun, especially for two players, and its surprisingly deep (for a beat-em-up) control scheme makes it more than a "tap-this-one-button" fest. The music and environments are memorable, and the second and third games are even better than the first, bearing noticably more polish. I don't know why Sega abandoned this franchise, failing to release an SoR on the Saturn, Dreamcast, or afterward, but it is nice to see the originals getting a bit more attention these days with their presence on Genesis compilations and the Wii's virtual console.
If you've never heard of this series and were to play the first game, you'd probably say, "Hey, this is a clone of Adventure Island!" Actually, it's the other way around. What we know as Adventure Island was a graphical conversion of Sega's Wonder Boy. However, Hudson continued to make sequels in the style of this game, while the Wonder Boy series went in a completely different direction, becoming sword-and-shield sidescrolling action games with some RPG elements. All the games in the series after the original (with the possible exception of the migrane-inducingly hard Monster Land) are very fun. My favorite is Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, which includes the awesome feature of allowing you to transform into several differently-controlling animal forms, each with different capabilities, and is in my opinion the single best game on the SMS. This series metamorphosed into Monster World, and has not seen a game since 1994's Japan only Megadrive release, Monster World IV. I consider Wonder Boy to be one of the all-time classic game series, but it's been overlooked by most. If you're into retro gaming, give these a try.
This clever puzzler is one of the earliest games by the company that would soon become Blizzard Entertainment. Three vikings - Erik the swift, who can run and jump, Baleog the fierce, who can attack, and Olaf the Stout, who has an nearly invincible shield - are lost. To get them home, you have to switch between them and figure out how to take advantage of the abilities of each in order to get them all to safety. The puzzles are excellently put-together and are challenging, often requiring you to really think outside the box. The second game in this series upgrades the vikings with some new cybernetic equipment and moves and introduces some new characters; this game was remade on CD for the PC and Playstation in 1996 under the title Norse by Norsewest, the last release in the series. Many may have forgotten the vikings, but Blizzard hasn't, sneaking references to them into their popular newer titles, including World of Warcraft.
The original Rocket Knight Adventures is one of the Sega Genesis's best third-party exclusives. Developed by Konami, this game about a opossum wearing full armor and a jetpack - GOD, what an awesome concept - is one of the all-time classic platformers. All the game's characters and settings exude charm, and the level and boss design is great. There are even some shmup segments, which are a nice touch. There are two sequels; confusingly, they're both called Sparkster, one is for the SNES and one is for the Genesis, and they're completely different from one another. Neither quite lives up to the original, but they're still good games in their own right. Any Sega Genesis owner owes it to themselves to play at least the original. Sadly, Konami hasn't touched Sparkster since 1994.
It's a trivia game, yet it transcends all other trivia games with ease. In You Don't Know Jack, developer Jellyvision has made a unique achievement: they've managed to create a totally immersive host personality. It is perfectly easy to forget that your host in Jack is pre-programmed, due to the great pains the developer took to provide a response for every possible action you can make. There are responses for waiting too long on anything, typing dirty words into the open answer questions, and even special intros when the game is played on a holiday. The game consistently surprises you by doing things you would never think possible, like throwing in a comment to a wrong answer you made several questions ago into the ordinary script of a later question. Most importantly, these games are funny, possessing a decidedly adult, irreverent, biting wit. Jack is the most fun with the frantic competition provided by three players, but even alone, it's a treat. YDKJ is like no other series in the way it managed to instantly plummet from the top of the heap to utter obscurity. It was one of the best selling computer games of all time, with over 9 games and international editions in three languages, yet around 2001, it disappeared. These days, YDKJ is hardly discussed at all, and certainly long gone from stores. But since late 2006, Jellyvision has been making a quiet comeback on youdontknowjack.com, releasing free, small flash editions frequently. It hasn't really taken off yet, but hopefully it'll lead to a serious return. Check it out.
Oddworld is just what it sounds like: a very odd world. The story centers around a race of beings called Mudokons, enslaved by beings called Glukkons. All the creatures are bizzare and ugly - almost perverse - and the settings are post-apocalyptic, yet these games have a certain endearing charm and a surprisingly light-hearted sense of humor. With a set of traits as complex and off-puting as this, it's no wonder Oddworld never fully caught on, but if you did play it, you were in for a hell of a game. The first two games, Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, combine 2D platforming perfectly with challenging puzzles. Abe must rescue his fellow mudokons, getting them to do what he wants by talking to them with a number of preprogrammed phrases you can use, a mechanic that usually works very well. An Xbox game, Munch's Oddysee, took a similar concept into 3D platforming with solid results. The final game in the series, an Xbox FPS called Stranger's Wrath, put an interesting twist on the genre by giving you live ammo - that is, ammo that is actually ALIVE. Sadly, the creator of the series became discouraged with the way the game industry operates, and at this point it's unlikely there will ever be another Oddworld game. With Stranger's Wrath released in 2005, this has a more recent release than any other series on this list, but I'm still confident it's obscure enough to be here.
Here is a game that has to be seen to be believed. The Neverhood is a full-scale point-and-click adventure game made entirely in clay. All the settings and characters were sculpted and filmed, and the result is both impressive and bizarre. The game also features a huge soundtrack unlike anything else you've ever heard, by Terry S. Taylor. A chaos of horns, guitar, and assorted noises made by the singer's voice create an experience as unique as the clay visuals. The other game I'm counting as part of this series is Skullmonkeys, a platformer for the playstation - again, everything is done amazingly in clay, and again Terry S. Taylor provides a truly memorable soundtrack. As a game, it features some pretty interesting level design. These games are really unforgettable. The company that made them, also called The Neverhood, made a third game, a fighter on the PS called Boombots, but although it was also clay and had an appearance by the neverhood protagonist as a secret character, it isn't really part of this series, and not a very good game anyway. The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys, however, are two of the few games I think really have to be experienced.
These are games that I think deserved to be remembered. You might not agree with my tastes, but if you try these games and don't find at least half of them to be real standouts, well, there's either something really wrong with you, or with me.
List by Tim333 (03/27/2007)
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