Top 7: Video Games

Top 7. Because 5 is never enough, but I’m too lazy for 10.

I was going to say that I wasn’t a huge gamer growing up, but thinking about it, that’s totally not true. When I was a kid, we had an Intellivision. I loved playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on that sucker (even though I’ve never played D&D in real life). We also had an Atari 400 — many of the games came on audiocassettes, and you’d put them in a special player that took a half-hour to load the data onto the computer. The game I remember the most from the Atari was called Preppie, and it was a Frogger clone involving a caddy out fetching golf balls on a busy course.

Then we moved on to the Apple IIc. We had games galore on the big 5″ floppies, some of which we’d attacked with a hole punch so we could put data on both sides of the disc. That Apple also had our first modem, a lightning-fast 300bps model that transmitted written material slightly slower than the average person’s reading speed. I played many a multi-user dungeon on various local dial-up BBSes using that little beauty.

As technology improved, I moved up to Windows (386!) and various consoles. Although I was a latecomer to the newer consoles — I missed out on machines like the Genesis, SuperNintendo, and the PS1, and picked up with the original Xbox, the GameCube, and the PS2.

All that said, here are my personal top 7 games ever. At least, to date. Because we haven’t bought Portal 2 yet.

7. The Saboteur – Xbox360, 2009

This little-known gem is a third-person open-world game. I have no memory of how we discovered it — maybe by chance, maybe by seeing a review on G4, or maybe while we were looking for information on possible sequels to Mercenaries, another excellent open-worlder also made by Pandemic. The story of The Saboteur centers around an Irishman in Nazi-occupied Paris, wreaking havoc and destroying everything possible. The game itself is beautiful, and has a fantastic soundtrack. The dialog can get clunky in spots, but everything is forgiveable when you can load out with a silenced pistol and a silenced machine gun. This is the only game in which I’ve earned 100% of the Xbox achievement points (which took me about 50 gameplay hours).

6. The Neverhood – PC, 1996

I was on some sort of gaming break between college and marriage. Hitching myself to Scott also meant hitching myself to his Windows computer, and in the year of our marriage, we found both the original Tomb Raider and The Neverhood. I watched Scott play through as Lara Croft, and we quickly developed our system of him playing while I spotted treasures and bad guys. But The Neverhood was the first modern game I played through myself. Claymation characters, a weird-cool soundtrack, and the incredible weirdness of it all have stuck with me through the years. We still use certain lines from this game as in-jokes.

5. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! – GameCube, 2003

There have been many other iterations of Mario Kart, but for me, this one is the tops. It’s even better than the Wii version — a lot of the classic tracks that they imported for the Wii really suck, plus the GC version allows two people to have what we call “a race around the world” — a cup made up of all 16 tracks. Sure, it takes over an hour, and afterward your fingers feel like hamburger. But it’s all worth it when a pair of unlikely teammates (Peach and Birdo, anyone?) win the gold.

4. Sly 2: Band of Thieves – PS2, 2004

I’ve played all three Sly Cooper games. In fact, Sly is the only reason we still have our PS2. But of the three, the middle game is the best. It improved on some of the wonky mechanics from the first game, and was the perfect balance of missions, free-range destruction, and collectibles. The third game took away most of the collectible aspect, which broke my heart. The second game also includes a nice soundtrack (the great Peter McConnell), some fun dialog, and a not-too-easy but not-too-hard level of gameplay. The only problem I have with it is the player’s inability to invert the controls. It was hard to get into the groove of pushing the stick one direction to turn, when my instincts wanted to push the stick the other way.

3. Assassin’s Creed II – Xbox360, 2009

We tried playing the original game back when it first came out in 2007. The missions were repetitive, it felt like you had to ride a horse for hours to get anywhere, and the main character, Altaiir, was a dick. So when ACII came out, we didn’t pay it much mind until a friend told me how amazing it was. We borrowed his copy and fell quickly in love with Ezio, the suave and charming lead. (In exchange, I introduced that friend to The Saboteur, so we’re even.) The game is a massive improvement over the original AC, with a huge but easier-to-navigate open world and side missions galore. Sure, sometimes Ezio veers off in weird directions, but every game has its little glitches. The soundtrack, by Jesper Kyd, is an example of how video game music can be better than the music in most movies. I’m sitting at 995 out of 1000 achievement points on this one, since there’s one fighting move I just can’t master. But no matter. Maybe I’ll try to tackle it during my third playthrough.

Oh, and yes, I’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It’s great! And I love the ability to build a squad of trained assassins to do jobs for you. But some of the missions were incredibly long, and felt like there were 10 parts to them. Plus, the ending of the Ezio’s story part was kind of weirdly abrupt and confusing. So an excellent game, and a worthy follow-up to ACII, but II still wins as the best AC game.

2. Psychonauts – Xbox, 2005

This is, far and away, the best game you probably haven’t ever heard of. Even though it got great critical reviews, sales were poor. Which is a shame, because it’s a fun, beautiful, weird, charming game. You play Raz, a kid at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. You learn how to invade people’s minds and help battle their various neuroses. I know it sounds weird. It is really, really weird. But it’s full of fantastic characters, gorgeous settings, an awesome Peter McConnell soundtrack, and an entertaining storyline. I’ve played it through probably 6 times, and will most likely go through again the next time we’re in a drought for new games. It’s backward-compatible, so go out and get a cheap used copy to play on the 360.

1. BioShock – Xbox360, 2007

I’m not normally a first-person shooter girl. As you can tell from the list above, I lean more toward third-person games, either open-world or platformers. But BioShock is in a world all its own. Spooky situations, beautiful settings, an amazing soundtrack, and nice clean gameplay work together in the best game I’ve ever played. The first time through, I watched Scott play (and provided spotting support). Then I played through, and discovered a ton of new stuff (he’s a straight-through storyline guy, while I’m an explorer). Then I played through again, and again. A wide variety of weapons, both hand-held and physical, make it easy to find your favorite combat methods. The locations are so unique and distinctive, you can’t wait to go back to see them again. Heck, just writing about it makes me want to fire up the game and revisit Rapture.

BioShock 2 is a good game, but much of the surprise of Rapture is gone. Still, it’s well worth a play. We can’t wait for the next game, BioShock Infinite, which is scheduled for a 2012 release. Let’s hope we get a chance to play it through before the world ends.