Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Favorite Video Games

As a follow up to my last article, which covered my top favorite video game companies, now I'm going to discuss a much harder list to really pin down: my favorite video games of all time. The top five or six are pretty easy. It's everything from then on that starts to get a little messy, as different games have been higher on that list at different times, some rising, some falling, and "what really deserves to make it in over what else" of course becomes an issue. Following similar criteria to my favorite developer list, my top favorite games of all time have to be games that I not only enjoyed the most when originally playing them, but also games that are virtually "timeless" to me, games that I can come back to and still enjoy at almost any time. So with that in mind, I'm going to say the first five to maybe seven games are covered. The rest, it still gets messy, but seeing as how I'm going to try to limit myself to no more than ten or so tops, it's gonna have to work itself out somehow.

Also, given the number of games and the nature of my writing, I'm going to be challenging myself to TRY to keep my comments on each game as short as I can manage. I can and most likely will cover many or perhaps even all of these games more in depth in their own articles someday, so we'll see how I do. And away we go!

Absolute Perfection.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Year: 1988 (1990 in NA)

So if you've been following Retro Revelations for a decent length of time, you already know that my favorite game of all time is, hands down, Super Mario Bros. 3. It was the first game (after a brief fling with SMB1) that I fell head-over-heels in love with, it was my first true gaming obsession, and it was a game that, no matter how many other games I got as a kid, even after I got my Game Boy later on, I would still come back to it. I would still play it through every once in awhile, and not surprisingly, still have a blast whether it was my 20th playthrough or my 100th. As for why I love it, it's hard to sum up in just one paragraph. But if I had to try, I would say that it is, simply put, gaming perfection. There is not a single true flaw I could care to point out about this game, it was Nintendo taking their Mario formula, and NES gaming in general, and honing it to it's absolute peak. The graphics are timeless, the music is still some of the catchiest in history, the gameplay is turn-on-a-dime perfect, the enemies, the worlds, the cool power ups, the imagination and inventiveness. Many of these elements found their way into future Mario games, but in this man's opinion, never did all of those things coalesce into one beautiful, flawless package of greatness the way SMB3 did.

To me, it is the greatest video game ever made.

Arguably the coolest lineup of bosses ever assembled.

2. Mega Man 2
    Publisher: Capcom
    Year: 1988 (1989 in NA)

Only one game, in my mind, comes even remotely close to the perfection of SMB3, and that is Capcom's classic Mega Man 2. In the long franchise of Mega Man, even though they gave Mega Man more powers and abilities, even though the games got bigger, and the graphics got better, etc., Capcom never QUITE hit it out of the park with any other single entry in the "Blue Bomber's" games, than with this one. This game lacks the useful slide feature that is introduced in it's follow-up Mega Man 3, or the charge shot "Mega Buster" ability that debuts in Mega Man 4. It lacks the cool robo-dog pal Rush, instead having generic proto-type platform items. And as mentioned already, it's not as long as games from MM3 onward would become, only having one final Wily's Castle area.

But, in spite all of that, this game is as close to perfect as Capcom probably ever got with any game, with maybe one major exception that I'll get to later. Mega Man 2 just has "it". Again, it's somewhat hard to quantify in so few words what makes it so amazing. Again, the graphics are timeless, the music is one of the most rockin' video game soundtracks of all time, the gameplay is tight and easy to get into, the bosses and stages are awesome, Wily's Castle has some of the coolest moments in the entire series. And to top it all off, it has one of the single coolest ending/credits sequences of any game ever. I will always remember, one of the first times I ever beat the game, getting up and dancing around the living room to that awesome theme song that plays as the credits roll.

Something so amazing, that a pink cream-puff could be such an awesome game icon.

3. Kirby's Adventure
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Year: 1993

This game is one of the primary reasons why I was, as a poor kid growing up, so lucky to still have a system in the NES that got a healthy dose of new games for it at least through 1993, and still continued to see releases until late 1994. Only just getting my own NES in late 1990, not getting a Game Boy until Christmas 1993, and not getting a hand-me-down SNES from a cousin of mine until Christmas 1995, you could say as a kid gamer I was a bit behind the curve. But lucky for me, even though the SNES debuted in North America in 1991, old grandpa NES got some of it's coolest games between the years of 1991 and 1993, which means I still had cool new games to rent (and on the rare occasion when I was really lucky, own). Kirby's Adventure was one of those games, and while I would not say it reaches the pure, complete level of perfection that Super Mario Bros. 3 does, or that Mega Man 2 just about does, it still comes pretty damn close. Graphically speaking, Kirby's Adventure was one game that really impressed, and pushed that old NES hardware to it's utter limits, in an era when arcades, SNES and Genesis were wowing everyone. Taking place in Dreamland, the game is just so chock-full of color, vibrance and imagination, with a sweet soundtrack to boot, that it's hard not to like it.

But the REAL selling point, the real thing that got me hooked and blew my pre-teen self away, is the power up system. Similar to Mega Man, where he beats a boss and then gains a version of their attack, with Kirby they took that to a whole new level, where now within any given level, or even section of a level, Kirby runs into a plethora of enemies, and if he swallows them instead of spitting them out as stars, he gains their power. And the real kicker is, in this NES classic, Kirby has a grand total of 25 different powers available to him, outside of his own natural sucking, sliding and floating abilities. And especially for an old 8-bit game, that is an absurd amount of power ups. That one feature alone kept Kirby fresh and fun, even if you've played it 100 times.

When it comes to role playing games, this one is King.

4. Final Fantasy IV (II in NA)
    Publisher: Squaresoft
    Year: 1991

As mentioned in the previous article, the first rpg I ever really played, outside of perhaps Sorcerian on PC, was Final Fantasy 1 on NES. I enjoyed that game immensely, even through it's archaic spell-buying system and insane level grinding. But when I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy "II" on SNES, it was a whole different experience. I could liken it somewhat, to first seeing and playing Super Mario Bros., and then later getting to experience Super Mario Bros. 3. I originally got exposed to "FFII" when I spent the night at a friend's house, and one of HIS friends stayed up late playing this awesome rpg. I was mesmerized, and sometime later, once I had my own SNES, I managed to finally borrow the game, and was thoroughly engrossed during my entire playthrough. I honestly love FFI, and IV, V, and VI on SNES. They are some of my favorite rpgs of all time, along with other SNES hits like Chrono Trigger, Mystic Quest, and Breath of Fire.

But why FFIV ("II") is my favorite of all time, is just.....I don't know. Again, it's kind of "perfect". One of the most amazing soundtracks in gaming history, truly epic that helps tell the game's story, and a story that is interesting, thrilling and compelling. All a challenge for a video game, especially an old video game, to accomplish. The cast of characters is second to none, some of the coolest and most colorful of any rpg ever crafted, and the game's sense of pacing and how the story unfolds, it's just really special. I clearly remember during my first play-through, there were a few times when I was legitimately like "YEAH", fist pumping in the air type of stuff, I was that into it. And it's another game where the ending and closing credits sequences totally feel worthwhile after having strived to beat the game. Many would argue that there are "better" rpgs, even in the Final Fantasy series. But to me, the SNES era was the franchise at it's peak, and FFIV was the apex of that peak. Final Fantasy V and VI are both great games. But IV is timeless.

This stage has one of the coolest tunes in game history.

5. Super Castlevania IV
    Publisher: Konami
    Year: 1991

As also mentioned in the previous article, while I dearly love the Castlevania series (though not ALL of the later entries, and the new direction it's taken sucks complete donkey balls), I didn't actually, for whatever crazy reasons, PLAY a Castlevania game until CV4 on SNES, after I had gotten my SNES at the end of '95. But once I did play it, I was totally sold, because it had everything I would have loved as a kid, and everything that made me wish I HAD played it before I was 14 years old. Monsters galore, many derived from mythology and classic monster movies. Great, dark, gothic backdrops, fun whip-slinging, monster smashing action. It's probably no coincidence that thus far, all of my top favorite games also happen to have amazing soundtracks, and CV4 is no different. The graphics, for their time in 1991, were groundbreaking, making a lot of very impressive early use of the SNES hardware, with loads of detail, and cool special effects such as a stage where the background is cylindrical and constantly spinning.

This game also introduced several cool and very useful features, not all of which were included in later entries. The most important of which was the ability to whip in eight directions, as opposed to most other classic CV games where you can only attack straight ahead of you. I love many other entries in this legendary series, but this one will always and forever be my favorite.

Mortal enemies. Awesome enemies.

6. Super Metroid (Metroid III)
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Year: 1994

In all honesty, Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid are almost interchangeable as "Number 5" on my list. I like them both a hell of a lot, and it's rough to put one over the other. But regardless, Super Metroid is yet another game I didn't get to experience until likely sometime in 1996, two years after it's release. But that didn't stop me from once again being "wowed" and amazed. I had played the original Metroid briefly, and watched it be played at a friend's house when I was younger, but similar to Castlevania, for some reason I never rented it myself in my childhood. So in many ways, Super Metroid was also my first real Metroid experience, and I was again hooked once I started playing it. From that awesome, creepy opening sequence aboard the attacked space station, to those tense opening areas exploring the surface of the planet Zebes.

The game exudes a dark, brooding mood, and translates the feelings of isolation and survival incredibly well. And of course the main hook of the game, the true fun of the game, comes with it's open sense of exploration. An action game at heart, with a deeper and more-sophisticated-than-usual-for-it's-genre subtext, Super Metroid also established many gaming conventions that would be liberally "borrowed" by other games for years to come. And it has to be said, Samus Aran is one of the coolest game heroes of all time.

The original "black and white" version, to me, is still the best.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Year: 1993

I'm not 100% certain that this is the first Zelda game I ever played. I know that I played the first two, at least a bit, and I am certain that I did at some point rent Zelda II (a very hard but very underrated game). But when I got my Game Boy for Christmas 1993, Link's Awakening was one of the games I got with it, and thus it was, again, my first REAL full-blown Zelda experience. And again, like the two previous entries on this list, it was the game that made me fall in love with it's larger franchise, a game that I became totally engrossed in. Playing on that clunky old gray Game Boy, with an even clunkier "Light Boy" attachment so I could actually see the damn screen, would probably seriously test my adult level of patience. But I was a real trooper as a kid when it came to shit like that, and I really didn't care, so long as I was having fun, which where this game is concerned, I surely was.

Why is this my favorite Zelda? That's a good question, because I do really like Zelda II, despite it's balls-hardness, and I also absolutely adore Twilight Princess for the Gamecube, my favorite 3D Zelda. In fact Twilight Princess at one point occupied this spot on my list, and in some ways, still deserves it. But upon further reflection, and upon recently going back and playing this again on my Super Game Boy (one of the coolest inventions of all time), I had to settled upon the simple truth that while I absolutely love Twilight Princess, there is something about Link's Awakening that I enjoy that much more. It certainly helps that at one point in the game you get to walk around with a Chain Chomp from Super Mario Bros. 3. Also, I can't praise this enough: a feather item that gives you MANUAL JUMPING. Praise the Goddesses.

Famous last words: "HAH!"

8. Actraiser
   Publisher: Enix
   Year: 1990 (1991 in NA)

Yet another game I was treated to after finally getting my own SNES, Actraiser is a very unique title indeed. One part world building "Sim City" type game, one part badass action side-scroller, it features a seamless blend of disparate genres that hadn't really been tried before, and hasn't really been done since. This was another game that I initially borrowed from a friend, but eventually wound up owning, and it was yet another game that I was totally enamored with upon playing it. Yet ANOTHER game with an absolutely amazing soundtrack, this one in particular being very epic and symphonic (to the best of the SNES sound chip's abilities). And yet another very early SNES game that featured absolutely breathtaking, gorgeous sprite-based graphics. It didn't really "push the hardware" in ways like Super Castlevania IV did, but at the same time there were few other games to come along on SNES or Sega Genesis that really could match up to this game's level of detail and aesthetic. The action sequences are very tight and fun to play, and the world building is addictive in it's own right, accompanied by, to me, the coolest (and most "gets-stuck-in-your-head" catchy) tune in the game. They honestly could have made an entire game that was just the world-building part of Actraiser, but on a grander and expanded scale, and it would have been awesome. Yet, it is that perfect marriage of "sim" and action gameplay that makes Actraiser the unique and (yup I'm gonna say it again) timeless experience that it is.

So strange, yet so awesome.

9.  Pikmin
     Publisher: Nintendo
     Year: 2001

The first 3D game on my list (since I replaced Twilight Princess with Link's Awakening), it should be said that I never personally owned the console this was released on, the Gamecube. I intended to buy one eventually, but I wasn't quite as into gaming during that GC/PS2 era. At first because of a lack of funds, and later just a lack of commitment to the idea, by the time I was finally ready to get myself a Gamecube when Twilight Princess was going to come out in late 2006, the Wii was already going to be coming out, and so I just waited and (after waiting til February before I finally got one) got the Gamecube games that I liked for the Wii, which is totally backwards compatible. But, there were a few Gamecube games I really did enjoy, all of which I played on my friend Harold's system. Pikmin was one of those, a game we rented together but I wound up playing, even staying up most of a night to try and beat it at his house.

It's a very odd and quirky little game, but it has a distinct charm and unique personality, not to mention very addictive gameplay, which sees you control a tiny alien Captain Olimar, and use strange little plant creatures which he named Pikmin, to help him find the missing parts of his crashed spaceship. I was hooked from the first level, and this is one of the few games in my adult life that I got so engrossed in that I tried to beat it in one sitting. The unique "strategy lite" type gameplay, where you explore natural settings and direct up to 100 Pikmin at a time to fight monsters or collect treasure or parts for you, is really a blast, and I have never played any other game quite like it. In certain respects, it's sequel Pikmin 2 is a superior game, with no set-number-of-days time limit, and a heavier focus on treasure collecting, but because I fell in love with Pikmin 1 first, and had such a great time with it, it deserves this spot on my list.


10. Street Fighter II
      Publisher: Capcom
      Year: 1991

The question of what game to include in this final spot, was and is a tough one. There are many games that deserve to be included, which now wind up as "honorable mentions" (because I don't want the list to go on too long), such as but not limited to: Mighty Final Fight, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Adventure Island II, etc. All of those games are totally worthy of a "#10" spot on this list, but the reason Street Fighter II gets the nod over any others, while it was a tough call, is rather simple. It comes down to the fact that, while I love all of these other games, and have at various points in my life spent a lot of time playing them, Street Fighter II is the only game out of all of them I can genuinely say, at one point in my childhood, was an obsession of mine.

I explained in the last article how I rarely ever got to play it, because I didn't have a Super Nintendo and my grandmother rarely ever gave me quarters to play it in the arcades. So to me, it was somewhat of a "Holy Grail", it was a sacred thing that I obsessed over, perhaps directly BECAUSE I only got fleeting tastes of it, and was never (till much later in life) truly allowed to get my fill. It was the one game, out of all the games that I fell totally in love with at some point, that I didn't get plenty of time to sit down and really explore and enjoy. So because it was somewhat of a "forbidden fruit", or at least hard as hell for me to ever get to actually play, it just made me want it that much more.

Don't get me wrong, when I DID get to play it, I certainly loved what I experienced, and to this day, it remains, even in the midst of so many other greats, my favorite fighting game of all time. That fact alone merits it's inclusion in this list. But that isn't just it. Street Fighter II, in it's own way, is as "perfect" a game as Mega Man 2 is. It is the other game I mentioned earlier, the only other game Capcom ever made that was really just a total package. Mighty Final Fight on NES is close, the only thing holding it back being missing one of the levels of the arcade game, and not having 2-players. But Street Fighter II, it shares many elements with Mega Man 2, timeless graphics, a great soundtrack, a truly unique and colorful cast of great characters, and gameplay so good that almost every fighter after it tried to emulate it's success.

Street Fighter II, whether we're talking about the original version, the "Championship Edition" or the "Hyper Fighting/Turbo" edition, is just a true classic in every sense of the word, and in my mind, I don't think any fighting game is ever going to really match that perfect combination of elements that made it great.

So there you have it. There are a lot of other games I could mention, but I've already written enough. Even my "limited comments" (for most of them), while successful, turned into some rather hefty material. What can I say? When it comes to stuff I love, I guess I just love talking about it, and I can't help but go into detail and talk at length. It just kind of flows out, and that just shows my passion for these subjects. I realize that it might seem kind of odd that my #1 favorite game of all time got possibly the least said about it on this list, but that's okay. It would honestly take an entire dedicated article to explain all the reasons why that game is so awesome and why I love it so much. And trust me, at some point I probably will. For now, I hope you enjoy the list, and don't hesitate to share some of your own favorite games with me in the comments below!

Till next time, Cheers, and Happy Reading!

Friday, January 17, 2014

My Favorite Game Companies

Better late than never, Happy 2014 folks, let's make this year bigger and better than ever!

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, Game Boy 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, arcades, 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!