Trying to nail down my top 5 favorite video games, is, I have to say, a pretty weird experience. I didn’t really get into console gaming until the last few years or so, and I’m still a really casual player when it comes to those games. And though I played a lot of Gameboy in my time and really enjoyed it, those games always felt like more of a fun way to kill time than anything that really stuck with me. Lastly, like Peder, I have a long list of obscure PC games I played the crap out of when I was a kid but that are in a totally different realm than console games. It’s not easy to categorize such a broad and highly varied list, but here goes my best attempt!
5. The American Girls Premiere
Okay, guys, you’re gonna have to bear with me on this one. I got this game back in the height of my obsession with American Girl dolls and books (an obsession which…may or may not still exist in some form) — it was among the first of the PC games I really loved, right up there with Oregon Trail II and other such goofy educational games I played ad nauseum in the late 90s/early 2000s. But what the heck was an American Girl-themed computer game like, you might ask? Basically, it was a platform for creating plays starring the American Girl protagonists and the side characters that populated their book series. You would pick your backdrop — say, Kirsten’s farm or Josefina’s sala (living room). Then you could add set pieces like furniture or toys (most of which seemed prone to glitching so that you were constantly having characters walking through chairs and other such nonsense). Next, you picked the characters you wanted in your play. You could tell them where to move and what action to take — digital stage directions, if you will, limited though the selection may have been.
And then came the best part — adding the dialogue. Now, if you were one of those fancy people who had a newfangled microphone setup for your desktop PC (an unimaginable luxury to 13-year-old me), you could record your voice to create the dialogue for your play. But for the rest of us peons, there was the computer-generated voice option — think Stephen Hawking’s speaking computer, but with pitch issues and abysmal pronunciation.
Sound terrible? Believe me, it was not. For me, the true fun of this game came not from creating cute little stories for the characters, but from setting the stage, plugging in dialogue, picking a voice and pitch that came halfway near an approximation of what you wanted, and then listening to the computer absolutely mangle the dialogue you typed in. Oh man…it was great, you guys. The amount of hours I and my friends spent trying to finagle our pixel-y characters into moving where we wanted and devising weird phonetic permutations for our dialogue to force the computerized voices to bend to our will was honestly impressive. There are inside jokes that were created by this process that I still think about and giggle over sometimes.
In short, I loved this game for so many reasons that I’m sure the game creators did not intend — the weird memories and dorky jokes this game spawned were worth the price of admission alone.
4. Super Smash Brothers: Melee
This is a game I’ve probably spent more time playing than any other (not as much as my brother, who I’m pretty sure earned each and every trophy, but still). This was one of the first ones my brother and I got with our GameCube, and it was always the first one we pulled out when friends were over, or when we just had a free afternoon. I eventually stopped playing it one-on-one with my brother — one can only get sent flying into the backdrop so many times, you know? — but I remember many happy hours of whaling on dear friends with cutesy Nintendo characters, and I get super nostalgic on the rare occasion I pick this game up again.
I’ve played the Wii version of the game as well, Super Smash Brothers: Brawl, but Melee remains my favorite (mostly for nostalgia-related reasons; let’s be honest). It was perfect for so many things — hanging out with friends, playing around with it on your own, tournaments at youth group lock-ins, you name it; playing this game was always a good time, no matter how badly I got trounced.
3. Super Mario Galaxy
One of the reasons I love this game is because it was the first console game I ever played all the way through, and that sense of accomplishment alone makes me remember it with fondness. There are so many more reasons to love SMG, though; it’s arguably one of the best Mario-centric games out there, both technically and story-wise. It’s got wonderful atmospheric music, gorgeous settings, some really unique gaming mechanics, and one of the more heartfelt storylines of the Mario games.
My favorite aspect of this game is the way it plays with gravity effects as Mario travels around from planet to planet. Sometimes he’s jogging around on a tiny planet that’s almost small enough to fit within the screen; other times, he’s slinging between planets and asteroids using special jumping-off points; still others, he’s activating things that change the way gravity affects him on the current plane. It all just feels so innovative and fun, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. In terms of overall feel and approachable gameplay experience, this game is one of the best as far as I’m concerned; it’s just delightful in every way.
2. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Though I’ve never met a Zelda game I didn’t like (aside from some side-eye in Majora’s Mask‘s general direction), this one stands out from the others for me. It has a great premise, with Link as a denizen of a village in the sky, where everyone gets around by riding on the backs of giant, colorful birds. There’s the usual setup — Link and Zelda are close friends, Zelda is stolen away by a mysterious, nefarious entity, Link must rise up to achieve his true calling as a warrior and go out into the unknown world to save Zelda, picking up new weapons and learning new skills along the way.
But though the game follows the usual formula for the LoZ series, it feels fresher this time around. It includes many of the things that have always made the series great, but it has a lot of new stuff, too — in particular, it has some great new mechanics that really enhance the gameplay. Unlike many Wii games, it uses the Wii remote to advantage, making it an integral part of the way Link’s sword works and the different powers it has. And then there’s the flying aspect — I’ll admit it took me a while to get the hang of it, but once I did, maneuvering Link’s bird around Skyloft became a highlight of gameplay for me. And though some of the weapons Link acquires are the same as those from other LoZ iterations, there are several new ones that are totally different than anything from the preceding titles, and it’s a ton of fun to monkey around with them and test the limits of what they can do.
Overall, this game is a great blend of the familiar aspects that make this series great, and some clever new elements that make the game feel fresh and exciting to play through.
- Dragon Age: Origins
This game is honestly the video game I’ve been looking for all these years but had never found until now. I love fantasy RPGs in theory, but they all seem to either have something missing, or have some annoying aspect that I can’t get past. Not so with Dragon Age: Origins — it sounds dumb and sappy to say it’s the video game of my dreams, but you know…it really is. It’s got cool settings that are detailed but nonetheless don’t feel too difficult to navigate. It has amazing characters with complex personalities that you can actually get to know, and with whom your character can have a variety of different relationships, from coldly professional to hostile to warm and friendly to romantic, making the characters and the interactions between them feel true-to-life. It has a decent fighting mechanic that you can use to hone your characters’ skills in whatever way you like (or even set it on super-easy mode so you can focus on the story, like I’ve done). And best of all, it has a compelling story that gives every gaming session a great sense of depth, and makes it so that you feel like you’re accomplishing something important and weighty every time you play. There’s honestly nothing I would change about this game, and I’ve loved every minute of it that I’ve played so far.
Lastly, we must have some honorable mentions! They are: Animal Crossing (the first console game I really loved–it tends to get boring/repetitive pretty fast, but it still has a special place in my heart) Mario Kart: Double Dash (mainly by virtue of time spent playing it, honestly), Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wario World, Cooking Mama (Gameboy DS version), Oregon Trail II (man did I used to be so impressed by those graphics…), and Virgil Reality (a science-themed video game complete with a goofy protagonist who sang silly songs about science, a couple of which I can still sing most of to this day).
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