As the simple title implies, this entry is going to be dedicated to my own personal favorites when it comes to video game developers/companies. The criteria I'm using is also rather simple: which companies have made the most games that I have liked/loved in my life? Of all my personal top favorite games (a subject I will cover on it's own in future articles), which companies made the most? Especially from my childhood and teen years, most of my favorite games tend to come from those eras of my life, and have stuck with me, not merely because of nostalgia, but because the games themselves were/are that damn good, and their quality has held up over the decades. I honestly believe that video games were at their apex in the late 80s and early to mid 90s.
That isn't to say, of course, that great video games didn't exist earlier or later than that, surely there were amazing early games like Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, etc., and the late 90s, 2000s, and the current decade have certainly provided a few of the greatest games ever made. But to this gamer, the 8-bit and 16-bit era was the golden age of video games, not merely for home consoles, but with a few exceptions, that period also saw the biggest arcade boom and best arcade games, as well as many of the best PC games while we're at it. So it should come as no surprise then, that given my "Retro" sensibilities, that my top favorite game developers are companies that created a lot of the games from that era that I love.
So with that foundation established, it's time to get right into it.
|In this man's opinion, THE best rpg ever crafted.|
Squaresoft - I'm not a HUGE rpg (role playing game) fan, especially not of the early dungeon crawling variety, or massively online multiplayer variety, or really even most modern rpgs in general. But, there was a certain era, specifically the 16-bit era, more specifically on the Super Nintendo, that produced a slate of rpgs that I absolutely loved. And one company back then was chiefly responsible for the rpgs I loved the most, that being Japan's Squaresoft. The first rpg I had ever really played was actually the first Final Fantasy, on NES, which I do still like today in spite of it's unrefined nature and hard-as-balls-ness. But the first rpg I fell in LOVE with, and the one that remains to this day my absolute favorite rpg of all time, is Final Fantasy IV, known at the time in North America as "Final Fantasy II" (don't ask).
What I loved so much about SNES era Squaresoft rpgs, is that most of them were really just the total package. They had great sprite-based graphics, amazing soundtracks, good stories, fun and diverse characters, solid, fun-to-play turn based battle mechanics, you name it. Those were games where I could actually ENJOY just zoning out and "grinding" (getting into lots of battles to gain gold and upgrade character levels), both because the battles were fun and easy to play, and because the music just made it easy to zone out in the first place. Final Fantasy VI (III in NA) was also amazing, as was Chrono Trigger, and even the unloved-by-pretentious-rpg-snobs Mystic Quest. And of course, while I don't love it QUITE as much as some do (though I do love it), I'd be remiss without mentioning the phenomenon that was Super Mario RPG. Square knew how to do classic style turn-based rpgs better than anybody, and their SNES catalogue, as far as I'm concerned, still represents the best the genre has ever produced.
Games I Like Made by Square: Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy IV (II), Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy VI (III), Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, Chrono Trigger, Rad Racer, Super Mario RPG, Secret of Mana, Chocobo Racing, Final Fantasy IX, Brave Fencer Musashi, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
|R.I.P. Master Higgins, you were a god amongst men.|
Hudson Soft - Growing up with an NES, I fell in love with the "platformer" (run and jump) genre, and one of the absolute best that genre has ever produced, was Hudson Soft's "Adventure Island" series. Adventure Island II, pictured above, is my favorite, but really the first three in the series on NES are all great platformer games. Colorful graphics, fast-paced "beat the clock" style gameplay, tight controls, catchy music, you name it. Hudson Soft were great at making games, period. During the late 80s and early 90s they had a very interesting deal going on, because while they produced some of the very best NES and SNES games ever made, from 1989 through about 1995, they also developed a majority of the hit games for another console, Japanese company NEC's "Turbo Graphx 16" (known in Japan as the "PC Engine"). And when I say they produced a majority of the hit games for the Turbo Graphx, I mean that to a lot of people, that console was basically "The Hudson Soft system", and it really kind of felt like in a way they were the "first party" (meaning console-owning developer) company for the ol' TG16. And the crazy thing of it is, Hudson was super-prolific during this time period, not only producing TG16 hits like Keith Courage, Dungeon Explorer, the Bonk trilogy, Neutopia 1 & 2, Super Star Soldier & Soldier Blade, New Adventure Island, etc., but they also still managed to put out multiple titles on NES and SNES as well.
Beyond just Adventure Island, Hudson was responsible for creating many great franchises, such as Bonk's Adventure, Star Soldier, Neutopia, Gate of Thunder, Faxanadu, and a majority of the Mario Party franchise for Nintendo. Then of course there is their most popular creation, Bomberman, a series that has seen entries on almost every gaming platform to exist, including: Various home computers, NES, Turbo Graphx 16, Sega Genesis, SNES, arcade, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Neo Geo, Game Boy, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo Wii, Xbox, mobile phones, etc. In my opinion, they were one of the best ever game developers, though sadly, in the 2000s they were purchased by rival Konami, and later totally absorbed, in this case essentially meaning killed off, as there has not been a new Hudson Soft franchise title in several years.
Games I Like Made by Hudson: Adventure Island 1-3, Bomberman I & II, New Adventure Island, Bonk's Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, Bonk III, Super Bonk, Super Bomberman, Neo Bomberman, Bomberman 64, Bomberman Hero, Neutopia 1 & 2, Star Soldier, Soldier Blade, Milon's Secret Castle, Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu, Faxanadu, Starship Hector, The Adventures of Dino Riki, Xexyz, Felix the Cat, Mario Party, Kororinpa: Marble Mania, Bomberman Blast, Lost in Shadow
|Still one of the coolest opening scenes in video game history.|
Konami - One of my favorite franchises, hands down, is Castlevania. A side-scrolling action-platformer series, Castlevania is filled to the brim with a great gothic-horror vibe, filled with great mythological and Hollywood classic inspired monsters, a whip-wielding monster-hunter hero (usually), great detailed graphics, and some of the very best game music you will ever hear. Now unlike most of the other games/franchises that occupy my top favorites list, for some absurd reason, I never rented or played a single Castlevania game when I was a kid. Not one, and I honestly have no answer as to why. I'm sure they were available at my local video store, I'm sure I probably picked up the boxes and looked at them, and they absolutely would have been right up my alley (even IF the old NES games are hard as hell). But I never did rent one. My only childhood exposure to the franchise at all, was in the form of one of my favorite childhood cartoons, "Captain N: The Game Master", in which one of the characters is a goofy version of the series' most famous protagonist (because most of the games have different heroes), Simon Belmont. But no, sadly, I didn't actually play a Castlevania until I was in my teens, and the first one I really played, is the one pictured above, Super Castlevania IV on SNES. And let me tell you, even though I was a few years late to the 16-bit party (meaning I didn't get my SNES until Christmas 1995), I was still in awe and totally blown away. The graphics, the music, the atmosphere, the monsters, I was hooked. Another entry in the series that is up there on my "favorite games ever" list, is the Playstation 1 classic "Symphony of the Night", which starred series antagonist Dracula's son "Alucard", and featured it's own brand of monster-slaying greatness, set to more great music.
Beyond Castlevania though, Konami also made quite a lot of other great games. Among them, were a whole slew of arguably the best "beat 'em up" style games ever made. While Capcom's "Final Fight" is my favorite beat 'em up of all time, there's a strong case to be made for Konami perhaps being the kings of the genre. In a certain span from the early to mid 90s, they made a steady flow of beat 'em up titles such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men, Asterix, and Bucky O'Hare. In fact, TMNT (known as TMNT II: The Arcade Game on NES), and TMNT: Turtles in Time (TMNT IV on SNES) are two of the best ever, with TMNT II being my favorite of theirs. Their arcade beat 'em ups were awesome though, and that's a fact. Konami also made quite a few great licensed games for home consoles, such as NES classics like Tiny Toon Adventures, Bucky O'Hare and Monster in My Pocket, as well as SNES classics like Tiny Toons: Buster Busts Loose, Batman Returns, and The Adventures of Batman & Robin. On top of that, they had many of their own non-licensed properties, such as Contra, Metal Gear, Twin Bee, Rush 'n Attack, Gradius & Lifeforce, Parodius, Rocket Knight Adventures, Sunset Riders, and The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.
Games I Like Made by Konami: TMNT (NES), TMNT II: The Arcade Game, TMNT III: The Manhattan Project, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, The Simpsons Arcade Game, X-Men, Bucky O'Hare (both the NES and arcade), Castlevania, Castlevania III, Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, Castlevania 64/Legacy of Darkness, Twin Bee, Stinger, Gradius, Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster, Rush n' Attack, Asterix, Monster in My Pocket, Tiny Toon Adventures, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose, Batman Returns, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, Contra, Super C, Contra III, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Kid Dracula, Castlevania Legends, and Frogger.
|After all these years, still the best.|
Capcom - When it comes to Japanese developer Capcom, they entered my gaming life during my childhood on two different mediums, both of which having a major effect on me. The first, as you can see, was Mega Man. The first Mega Man I think I actually rented was Mega Man III, and I liked it okay. Then I rented the original Mega Man, which was also good, but both were pretty hard. Then I finally rented Mega Man II, and was blown away. It was just BETTER in some amazing, possibly intangible ways to the two games that sandwich it in the series. It has one of the best soundtracks ever made, great 8-bit graphics, tight controls, fun gameplay, awesome stages and bosses, just the whole damn game is pretty much perfect. Don't get me wrong, in all honesty, all six of the original NES Mega Man games were good. I would say my least favorite is Mega Man 4, for various reasons, but it's still a good game. But with Mega Man 2, which I eventually owned, I don't know what to say, other than I was addicted to it. I just loved playing it, and I got good enough at it that I used to run through it while hardly dying at all. Another Mega Man entered my life a bit later, in the form of Mega Man V (not to be confused with Mega Man 5 on NES), another entry in the series for Game Boy that I just really dug, though not quite as much.
The OTHER game that really struck me as a kid, was in the arcade, probably of the local Pizza Hut the first time I saw it. A little gem known as Street Fighter II. This game was my holy grail for awhile as a kid....not to imply that it was my TOP FAVORITE game, it wasn't (I'll get to that in a minute), but rather that I was just addicted to it, it was an obsession, and I honestly think a big part of it for me was that I rarely ever got to play it. My grandmother was the type who thought arcade games were a waste of money, so I rarely ever got quarters to play anything, and when I did, seeing as I rarely got to play, I wouldn't last long, making those tastes fleeting and bittersweet. But I still loved me some SFII, to the point that I would read up on it in video game magazines and study other people playing it, trying to formulate strategies that I would try to use on the rare opportunities I got to actually play. But beyond that, it really is a fantastic game, there's a reason it stands today as probably the most popular fighting game of all time, and that's because, like Mega Man 2, it is just so well crafted, the graphics, classic soundtrack, great controls and gameplay, colorful, diverse characters each with their own personality and moves. Sufficed to say, Mega Man and Street Fighter both were important parts of my childhood, and I still love them to this day (the classic entries at least).
Naturally there were a lot of other great games Capcom made that are worth mentioning. Like Konami, they were great at the beat 'em up genre, with games such as Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, Alien vs. Predator, and of course arguably the best ever, Final Fight. I've already written of my love for Final Fight, and most especially it's NES version Mighty Final Fight, but it still bears saying that they are just really great games. Also like Konami, Capcom had a span of time (during the same span of time really), where they excelled at making great games based off of licensed properties, in their case mostly Disney properties, such as Duck Tales, Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, Darkwing Duck, and Aladdin (at least the SNES version). They also had other great classic hits such as 1942, Ghosts n Goblins, Gargoyle's Quest, Bionic Commando, and Resident Evil. It also has to be said, that beyond SFII, they were pretty much the kings of fighting games back in the day as well, with many hits such as X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Dark Stalkers, Street Fighter Alpha, and Marvel vs. Capcom. All in all, Capcom was once the very definition of excellent third party software, as almost every game they made was at least good, if not great.
Games I Like Made by Capcom: Mega Man 1-6 (NES), Mega Man V (GB), Mega Man X (SNES), Final Fight, Mighty Final Fight, Street Fighter II, 1942/1943, Ghosts n Goblins, Super Ghouls n Ghosts, Gargoyle's Quest 1 & 2, Demon's Crest, Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, Duck Tales 1 & 2, Chip n Dale 1 & 2, Bionic Commando, Super Buster Bros., X-men: Mutant Apocalypse, X-Men: Children of the Atom, Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom 1 & 2, the Darkstalkers series, Magic Sword, King of Dragons, the D&D arcade games, Legendary Wings, Street Fighter Alpha 1-3, Strider, Super Puzzle Fighter II, Code Name: Viper, Breath of Fire, Little Nemo (both the NES and arcade games), Snow Bros., Disney's Aladdin (SNES), Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, Resident Evil 1 (and GC remake), and Okami (developed by Clover).
|To this day, the Gold Standard of Gaming.|
Nintendo - I've never hidden my love for Nintendo. My first system was an Atari 2600, but the first system to make me REALLY love games was my NES, and the first game I became obsessed with, was Super Mario Bros. Once I got my hands on Super Mario Bros. 3 (seen above), it was game over. It immediately became my ultimate gaming crush, and remains in my mind the best game ever made, and my favorite game of all time. But it isn't just Super Mario Bros., that's only part of the equation. Nintendo had such a profound impact on my childhood, as has been well documented in past articles, that it really can't be under-stated. From Mario, to Zelda, to Star Tropics, to Tetris, to Kirby, to the Nintendo-based cartoons I loved, the Mario comics I collected, hell, I daydreamed in 8 bits.
But whether you love Nintendo and their games, or not, one thing any sane person really can't argue, is that Nintendo stands for quality. Out of all the game companies that have existed over the decades, I honestly cannot think of a single one that has such a sterling record when it comes to games made. That doesn't mean to imply that Nintendo has NEVER EVER made a bad game. They have, but the thing is, it's so rare, that most people would be hard pressed to even try to think of what game(s) I could be referring to. By and large, Nintendo has not only forged a reputation for high marks in quality, but also just in creating great games and franchises in general. Whether you're talking about Mario, or The Legend of Zelda, or Metroid, or Kirby, or Mario Kart, or Donkey Kong, or F-Zero, or Star Fox, or Punch Out, or Pikmin, or Fire Emblem, or Super Smash Bros., etc. etc. etc., they have defined great gaming over the years. That doesn't mean EVERYONE loves their games, many don't. But out of the Top 50 highest selling games of all time, 30 of them are Nintendo games. Or to put it in even greater perspective, out of the Top 20, 18 of them are Nintendo games. No matter which way you want to look at it, that really says something.
To me personally, since the age of 8 years old, I have been a "Nintendo Gamer", meaning I typically choose them as my platform of choice, and do so in large part because they consistently put out games in each new console generation that I know I'm sure to like. I certainly don't like ALL their games, there are many I straight out dislike, and several franchises that I don't dislike but have just never been able to get into, such as Fire Emblem, Earthbound, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, etc. I've owned other consoles in my time, such as PS2 and PS3, and I have an old TG16 and Sega Genesis as well, not to mention plenty of gaming on PC in days past. There was even a period, during the Gamecube/PS2 era, when I somewhat lost interest in new games, never bought a GC, and only got a used PS2 years after it released, for cheap. Though during that time, I still played games I was interested in at friends' houses, and fell in love with a handful, such as Pikmin and Eternal Darkness for instance. But hands down, Nintendo has developed or published more games that I like than any other company in existence, and thus, ultimately my "loyalty", if you want to call it that, lies with them.
Games I Like That Nintendo Has Made: Super Mario Bros. 1-4 (4 being Super Mario World), The Legend of Zelda 1 & 2, Star Tropics 1 & 2, Tetris, Dr. Mario, Kirby's Dreamland 1-3, Kirby's Adventure, Kid Icarus, Metroid, Duck Hunt, To The Earth, Donkey Kong & DK Jr., Ice Climber, Excite Bike, Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!, Mach Rider, Mario Bros., Popeye, R.C. Pro Am, Yoshi, Wario's Woods, F-Zero, F-Zero X, F-Zero GX, Sim City (SNES version), Pilotwings & Pilotwings 64, Mario Paint, Super Mario All-Stars, Super Metroid, Yoshi's Island, Donkey Kong Country 1 & 2, Super Mario Land 1 & 2, Wario Land (SML3), Kirby's Pinball Land, Donkey Kong (Game Boy remake), the Game & Watch Gallery series, Killer Instinct 1 & 2, Wave Race 64 & Blue Storm, Blast Corps, Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7, Star Fox 64, Yoshi's Story, the Super Smash Bros. series, Zelda: Link's Awakening, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Paper Mario series (especially Super Paper Mario), Mario & Luigi 1 & 3, Luigi's Mansion, Pikmin 1-3, Chibi Robo, Eternal Darkness, Wario World, Wario Land: Shake It, the Metroid Prime Trilogy (especially MP3), Wii Sports, Excite Truck, Punch Out!! (Wii game), Super Mario Galaxy, the New Super Mario Bros. games (especially Wii), Mario Party 9, Link's Crossbow Training, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, Kirby 64, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, Kirby: Squeak Squad, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Kirby's Return to Dreamland, Super Mario Advance (remake of SMB2), Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission, Tetris DS, Super Mario 3D World, NES Remix, Mario Kart 8.
|Images from my childhood.|
As a final aside, it's worth pointing out that as time goes on, the shape of gaming seems to drift further and further away from where my own personal tastes lie. Of all those companies listed above, I'm sad to report that only one of them still continues to make games I am consistently interested in, that being of course Nintendo. There are many other honorable mentions that I didn't feel merited the time or effort to list, such as companies like Data East, Kemco, Namco, Enix, SNK, Sunsoft, Jaleco, Midway, etc. In my teen and adult years, I even finally got around to giving Sega games a more in depth look, and discovered there were more I liked than I originally thought. But out of all these, many of them, like Kemco, Data East, Jaleco, Hudson Soft, Midway and Enix are all effectively dead. Midway was a real shocker, as they were an industry giant from the early days of the arcades all the way through the 2000s. I already revealed poor Hudson's fate, and around 2001 or so, Squaresoft and Enix merged, and while technically speaking "Enix bought Square", or so the story goes, I say that Enix is the one who died, because since the merger, not a single Enix franchise has been touched in all these years, except for their most popular, Dragon Quest. Square, meanwhile, at least in my personal view, has gone drastically downhill since the merger, and were already slowly headed in that direction even in the PS1 era. I really just fell out of Square rpgs during that time, and they haven't really made much I've enjoyed since. Capcom and Konami both have also fallen by the wayside, Capcom pretty much ruining and then abandoning Mega Man, squandering Street Fighter, and ignoring their older, cooler franchises. Konami, meanwhile, used to at least continue making good handheld Castlevania games, but that too has ended, and the series has become something I don't care for anymore.
Even Sega, Nintendo's old faithful (and sometimes nasty) rival, who themselves used to be known for quality games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Phantasy Star, etc., fell out of the console business, and have become a pale shade of themselves. On the one hand, it was unreal and pretty cool to see Sega games on Nintendo systems, and to even finally see Mario and Sonic in the same game (I'm talking about Smash Bros., not those Olympics games). But on the other, there is a part of me that would honestly rather have it still be Nintendo vs. Sega, two real longtime game companies, instead of what it is now, a market dominated by Sony and Microsoft, billionaire corporate conglomerates who decided to get into the game console race, as a small part of their businesses. Nope, out of all of my top favorite gaming companies, and even the longer list of companies I liked, the sad truth is that most of them are either defunct, or just suck now (for the most part). Nintendo is the only one left of the "old guard" that continues to make the kinds of games that appeal to the old gamer in me. It's not all gloom though, as there are in fact newer companies that have popped up that I really like, such as Good-Feel, Vanillaware, and WayForward, for example. Plus there is the burgeoning "indie" gaming scene, which produces a lot of more "old school" style games that, to me, represent more of what made gaming great. So all is not lost, and again, I have always been able to count on Nintendo coming out with at least a handful of games I really like each generation.
But even if that weren't the case, and I fell out of modern gaming and new games altogether, one thing that will never change, and one thing that I'll always be able to count on, is the fact that there are hundreds of classic games that I will always be able to enjoy, in some form, no matter what. And that's one of the great things about collecting, is that so long as your shit doesn't break, you'll always have the classics. Cheers!