Boomshakalaka! This game came out in 1993, a time when sports games were not yet the yearly sims we see today. A two-on-two basketball game with a few playable real world athletes, you might be curious why this game is on this list if you have not already played it in the 90s. Well.. because this was not truly a sports game at all. That would be like saying Ryu and his hadouken represent Mixed Martial Arts games. The ridiculousness was something else altogether. Seriously, they took the figurative and made it literal - being "on fire" actually meant the ball would light up in flames!!
NBA Jam itself is outdated and probably not a technically well-designed game, but its playability and announcer are unique classics nonetheless.
It all began with "The Matrix", and that's where Max Payne comes in. Released in 2002, this game made the revolutionary special effects playable while that movie was still fresh on peoples' minds. No longer were you amazed by seeing bullets slowed down for fictional superhumans to dodge - YOU WERE superhuman. Do I still play the series? No, but I do play stylish, modern games that use bullet time elements - like Bayonetta.
The game itself may have had design-issues, but the concept was breathtaking. I don't personally play sandbox games anymore, but Black & White was so much more than sandbox. It was God simulation. Blasphemy to some, I suppose, but incredible to the rest of us in an era where even being an individual was a mind-blowing concept. Think of it like this: Morrowind popularized the genre a year after Black & White came out, yet in terms of scope B&W simply aimed much, much higher. That doesn't mean it was a better game, but was more enticing.
"But, I hated gambits... the game played itself!". Sigh... especially after XI, this was again not SNES/PSX era Final Fantasy, with a lot of MMORPG cues. JRPGs have always been a single player experience and most of us, including myself, resist the idea of others interfering. What JRPGs also are though, is a menu-based experience of preparation and customization and in that aspect; gambits truly excelled. I'm not saying FFXII is one of the all-time great games or that the battle system itself was implemented perfectly. But so many times I have played other great Action RPGs like "Tales of" or "Xenoblade", and gotten frustrated at the limited AI customization options. Tales of the Abyss and Vesperia weren't too bad, but neither were nearly as advanced as FFXII - if a game is making you wish its features were everywhere - it must have been doing something right. Gambits were a dream system that got very poor reception.
Metal Gear Solid was the game which introduced stealth to many of us, and the original Metal Gear came out in the late 80s - it took us a decade to even discover the stealth genre! It wasn't never a new concept to try to sneak past enemies without engaging them - something gamers did intuitively in the past to save their hides. What the Metal Gear games did however was reward the player with stealth being the primary focus of the game. It's really about execution and planning, and the consequences of poor play can be just plain harsh. To some gamers, their no-kill finishes of MGS games are their greatest accomplishments. To me, the highlight of the series is its characters and story, but the gameplay in-between is unforgettable too.
Sidequests are an RPG and adventure game staple, and the basically go like this: Walk around talking to random NPCs until they ask for your help, and then do what they want you to do. Majora's Mask didn't turn sidequests themselves on its head, but what it did was breath real life into those NPCs. They now had names and real problems. Sometimes they wouldn't ask for your help, but you'd get a clue as to how to help them anyways. The first innovation this game introduced was its clock system, which gave every NPC its own schedule. What the bomber's notebook did was keep track of NPCs' problems and their schedules. In the past players could always bring a notebook of their own and keep it beside them when playing, but the bomber's notebook did that for you - in one sense it was totally something the game could have done without, yet it was perhaps the game's strongest point.
Turn-based RPGs just made sense in the NES era. Between limited resources and classic RPG concepts, they were a method of emphasizing strategy, luck, and patience rather than other video game staples such as timing and performing under pressure. As games like Mother and Final Fantasy came out, Japanese-developed RPGs started to approach the adventure genre rather than the Dungeons-and-Dragons core - effectively giving rise to Active Time Battle in FFIV. No longer did you play the game at you own pace - you played it at the game's pace like an action game, but what active time battle did was retain the strategy, luck, and even patience of turn-based, while encompassing enough high-pressure situations that the player had to stay on their toes. The ATB system of menu-based combat was so rock-solid that Squaresoft kept it around for another five games and also employed it in Chrono Trigger. To date, a lot of fans would welcome its return, as long as it isn't accompanied by random encounters.
When I first heard of Portal, it was something along the lines of "A Half Life mod that turns it into a puzzle game". That was not factually accurate, but it sure did make an interesting catch line. In actuality, Portal was a true commercial puzzle game running on the Half-Life 2 engine, and came packaged with that in The Orange Box. And it was an incredible and fresh idea - depending on where you place your portal, you can use the basic concept of momentum to solve puzzles or otherwise progress.
Verticality had always existed in platform games - whether that was the racoon tail in Super Mario Bros 3 or the opening sequence of Quick Man's stage in Megaman 2. What hadn't yet existed was the sense of control one could attain by literally kicking your way up virtually every wall you came across. To me, wall jumping was such a great mechanic that I simply do not enjoy older Mega Man games half as much any more.
I first saw the above concept in Dragon Ball Z, when Goku finally made it to the end of Snake Way and discovered Kai-ou's planet. At no point did that seem like a remotely interesting concept to play in a game. It was so simple and unfathomable that it could not be fun, right?
Now fast forward about two decades: this game is everything that has always been "Super Mario" yet looked at in another way, though, and you find perhaps the most unique 3D Platformer ever made. That is because of that concept - you will be right side up one moment, and upside down the next. It was implemented with some of the most varied and engaging stage-design ever, with the now mysteriorness of gravity itself leading to exploration - "If I jump, will I be pulled in that direction by gravity?". And while Super Mario Galaxy 2 felt like a rehash in its early stages, it ended up with even better overall level design that further capitalized on this sheer brilliance. In an era where "Bigger is better" is the norm, SUper Mario went "Smaller and Stranger".
I have no doubt I omitted a ton of other excellent options. It's always encouraging to try games with new innovations - even when those games belong to a long-running franchise. The best answers do end up being a bit subjective... and thus here are a few honourable mentions that just missed the cut
Turning Back Time - Prince of Persia - The Sands of Time
Insanity Meter - Eternal Darkness
New Game+ - Chrono Trigger
Backtracking after getting new items - Metroid
Living the life of a country bumpkin - Harvest Moon 64
Living the life of a street thug - Grand Theft Auto III
Living the life of a Jedi or Sith - Star Wars KOTOR
Motion Controls that weighed like 15lbs - MoCap Boxing
Dance Dance Revolution
Crude Obnoxiousness in MY cutesy platformer? - Conker's Bad Fur Day
List by SuigintouEV (11/07/2013)
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