Friday, August 10, 2007

Now contemplating...


This unabashedly biased listing of The Five Greatest Game Systems of All Time doesn’t take into account when each system was released or how good each system was (or is) relative to its era. Listed in order of sheer greatness, it represents the systems I would have in my collection today if the fates (or my lovely wife) decreed that a lowly five systems was my max. (Luckily, the understanding Mrs. Obsessive Gamer is co-owner of almost 40 systems).

1. PlayStation2

Yes, a relatively modern system is numero uno on my list, and for that I make no apologies. While most PlayStation2 fans praise it for its Metal Gear Solids, its Final Fantasys, its Gran Turismos, and its Grand Theft Autos (great games all), I love the PS2 primarily for two reasons: the Maximo series and the system’s backward compatibility with the PS1. Unencumbered by vague objectives, nonlinear gameplay, overly complicated controls, or forced camera angles, Maximo: Ghosts to Glory (along with its sequel, Army of Zin) is one of the most purely enjoyable action games released in the last 10 years. Here’s hoping for a third title in the series, and here’s hoping it maintains the basics (cool weapons, intense battles, straightforward gameplay) of the first two games.

The PS2’s ability to play PS1 games is unfairly overlooked by many gamers, deriving them the pleasure to relive (or enjoy for the first time) such awesomely entertaining games as Crash Bandicoot (classic platforming), Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (proof that the series belongs in 2D), and Street Fighter Alpha 3 (perhaps the best game in the franchise). Better yet, the PS1 library is the place to go for the classics, giving gamers (via a variety of arcade compilations) perfect ports of such treasures as Gaplus (the sequel to Galaga), Scramble, Time Pilot (works beautifully with the dual analog sticks), and Super Pac-Man. The PS1 has a number of other discs of interest to retrophiles, including Q*Bert (an excellent expansion of the original game), The Buster Bros. Collection, Bubble Bobble Featuring Rainbow Islands, Taito Legends, and many more.

2. ColecoVision

My nostalgic pick as the pinnacle of gaming greatness, the ColecoVision is known for its stunning (if sometimes incomplete) arcade ports of such high profile games as Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Turbo (love the steering wheel), and Zaxxon. Back in 1982, gamers nationwide gaped in awe at the joystick-dropping beauty of the commercials showing Donkey Kong in action. For the first time in console history, a home game could look almost identical to its graphically sophisticated arcade counterpart. And, despite lukewarm critical reaction to the controllers (I happened to think they were very good, if a bit fragile), most of the games played about as good as they looked. And they are still nice looking and fun to play.

Where the ColecoVision truly shines is in its awesome library of second-tier (but first rate) arcade titles, many of which have yet to appear on any other console. Lady Bug is a truly manly maze game; Frenzy is a more-than-worthy sequel to Berserk; Mouse Trap makes excellent use of the controller keypad; and the underrated Pepper II (love the catchy Alfred Hitchcock theme) is one of the most entertaining and rewarding games ever created. The system also has a number of excellent third party games, including Miner 2049’er (the only version to have 11 levels), Oil’s Well, and Jumpman Jr. The ColecoVision did have its share of disappointments (Why were so many arcade ports missing a level?), but it’s a marvelous gaming machine, especially for those of us who remember those wonderful TV commercials: “Your vision is our vision: ColecoVision.”

3. Nintendo Entertainment System

Affectionately dubbed the NES, this magnificent device change the scope of home gaming forever when it introduced Super Mario Bros. on a world of unsuspecting gamers. The expansive, smoothly scrolling, freely moving, multi-world quest was filled with secrets, both underground and in the sky, both within and without. Gamers bowed in awe of its unprecedented level of platforming pleasure. Amazingly, Nintendo followed up with a host of equally trailblazing (ok, not quite equally, but pretty darned trailblazing) titles such as Metroid (Samus is a what?) and The Legend of Zelda (Playing the flute where does what?). Also, who can forget Super Mario Bros. 3, which is a constant on various “best games of all time” lists?

In terms of hardcore action, the NES is, to this day, without peer. Real “gamer’s games” such as Contra (the best platform shooter of all time), Ninja Gaiden (the first truly cinematic game), Bionic Commando, Gun.Smoke, Ghosts and Goblins (frighteningly difficult), Castlevania (sheer gaming bliss), and Batman (one of the greatest super-hero titles ever) make the system a must-own for anyone serious about the entertainment value found in maneuvering images around on a television screen. As a bonus, the NES has a variety of quality old school titles, including Xevious, 1942, BurgerTime, Joust, Bump ‘n’ Jump, Donkey Kong 3, and Mario Bros. There are some missed opportunities (Where’s the main mission two-player mode in Double Dragon; Where is fourth level in Donkey Kong?), but these are petty gripes considering the overall brilliance of the system.

4. Atari 2600

This no-brainer is one of my favorite game systems for many reasons. Chief among these is its huge library of fun, fast-paced games that are easy to pick-up-and-play. It has excellent shooters that are simple to learn but hard to master, such as: Space Invaders, which doesn’t try to be a perfect port, but is infused with stellar gameplay mechanics and options galore; Phoenix, a nice rendition of the great arcade game; Asteroids, a creatively designed raster take on the vector graphics classic; Demon Attack, a dazzling third party title from Imagic (who, along with Activision, helped revitalize the system); and Yars’ Revenge, an original creation that remains a distinct pleasure.

In addition to great shooters, the system has a number of excellent maze games (Jr. Pac- Man is unbelievably good), some truly unique cartridges (Tax Avoiders, anyone?), and, believe it or not, some very fine arcade translations (and arcade copycats), including Dodge ‘Em, Solar Fox, Frogger, and Super Breakout, the latter of which is one of the most faithful ports of all time thanks to Atari’s brilliant paddle controllers. The paddles also allow for such killer games as Warlords and Kaboom!. True, the 2600 has a plethora of clunkers, but even these games are fun to collect. After all, what Atari enthusiast in his or her right mind would turn down a copy of Chase the Chuckwagon, despite its wretched gameplay?

5. Super NES

A significant upgrade over the NES in terms of graphics and sounds, the 16-bit Super Nintendo offers a host of NES sequels, many of which are equal to or better than their classic counterparts. These include such classics in their own right as Super Mario World, Super Castlevania, Super Metroid, Super Contra: The Alien Wars, Super Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (which is also “super,” even though the word is not in the title). Other significant games for the system include the action-heavy Star Wars trilogy and the revolutionary (in terms of graphics) Donkey Kong Country trilogy, which gave a last gasp of life to the system near its regrettable (if inevitable) demise.

In terms of retrogaming, the Super NES has a pair of super (sorry, couldn’t resist) interesting titles that are a bit hard to find, but that offer unlimited replay value. Mr. Do!, which has a two-player battle mode in addition to the standard arcade version, and Q*bert 3, which has colorful graphics and a variety of playfield configurations, are hugely entertaining, especially for those of us who enjoy getting back to the basics now and again. Also noteworthy is Space Invaders, which benefits from a two-player split screen mode, and Ms. Pac-Man (also available on the Genesis), which enjoys 36 levels of play and a variety of quirky options. Despite its greatness, the SNES does have a number of flaws, including excessive slowdown in certain early titles, a crummy port of Final Fight, and the lack of a paddle controller packaged in with the otherwise fine Arkanoid: Doh it Again.

There you have it, readers: The Fab Five. It pained me to place the 2600 so far down the list, and there’re many killer systems (such as the Xbox and the Game Boy Advance SP) that I couldn’t include due to the list’s restrictive nature, but I stand by my choices.

What are your Five Greatest Game Systems of All Time?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Let me first say I offer this spirited comment in peace.

The NES below the Colecovision? I don't know about that. Heck, I would put the NES at number one all time. Look at the innovations it lead too. Console gameplay was revolutionized. Need proof? Look at the controller. How many controllers used the same basic set up as the NES controller? Super NES and Game Boy of course, but also the Sega MAster System, Turbo Grafix 16, Genesis, and Playstation all used a derivative of the NES controller. And the games are another story. Legendary series started on NES; Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Bomberman. All which are living on today on newer platforms.

Don't forget about the wealth of add ons. Game Genie thrived on NES. Powerpad was the predecessor of the DDR mats. And the Zapper. Who hasn't used or adapted that?

Innovation is clearly in the favor of the NES.

The NES is clearly above the Colecovision and should probably be placed in front of the PS2. If you want to cite game library fine. PS2's is huge, especially considering the compatibility of the PSX, but NES had over 1,000 titles of it's own.

But I suppose, to each his own. I admit I am somewhat biased as the NES is my favorite system.