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The List: My Top 100 Favorite Video Games of All Time, part seven

By Damien Wilkens
09 March 2011 In the time since my last edition of The List, I've grown as a person and realized a lot of important things about the world. Namely, 20 of something is a lot more than I originally anticipated. Yes, it's true, I intended to finish The List in 2011, but I'm sure Batman intends to rid Gotham of crime at the end of every issue, and we're basically doing the same work. Think about it.

This installment includes a bunch of games I really like. Dare I say, they're games I treasure.

You see, it's funny because a lot of them are never mind.

#70 - Alien Soldier
Systems: Mega Drive / Genesis, Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation 2 (as part of the Treasure Box)
Originally released: 1995

What is it?
As the legend goes, Treasure conducted a survey among players of their flagship title, Gunstar Heroes, in an effort to find out what parts of the game players felt were the most fun and exciting. The results overwhelmingly showed that boss battles invoked the highest emotional response, and, thus, the decision was made to produce a game that was almost exclusively boss battles.

Alien Solder contains 31 bosses in 25 levels, and I use the term "levels" loosely, as they're really just abbreviated scuffles with minor enemies before the bosses. It is the ultimate in hardcore run-and-gun gaming; it's more chaotic and technical than anything Treasure had attempted before.

Why did it make the list?
You'll see more evidence of this later on, but a lot of my history with the Genesis involved the Sega Channel, an amazing service that was well ahead of its time. Not only did I have access to any game I could imagine, but often there were games exclusive to the service that had never seen the light of day in the United States. Alien Solder was one of those games.

You play as Epsilon-Eagle, a member of a genetically enhanced robot-animal-terrorist group that's merged with the body of a psychic boy. Yeah, just roll with it. This is really just an excuse to run around and kill everything, and there's a lot to kill; the game is always full of something violent and exploding, constantly testing the console's sprite limit. Often the game will drop graphics off the screen in an effort to keep up with the chaos, and, trust me, when you're trying to shoot a laser into the maw of a cyborg tiger, chaos will occur.

It's also notable just how deep the gameplay mechanics are, all things considered. Not only do you have to devote yourself to four main weapon types at the start of the game, but each type has a different effect on the various bosses which, if used correctly in conjunction with your Phoenix Dash ability, can get you through some levels in under a minute.

All that said, the real reason the game made the list is the start screen message: "VISUALSHOCK! SPEEDSHOCK! SOUNDSHOCK! NOW IS TIME TO THE 68000 HEART ON FIRE!"

If that doesn't make you want to kick the world in the face with bullets, you have no soul.

Best Moment: My favorite boss fight in particular involves flying backwards at several hundred miles per hour while being pursued by a 30-foot-tall robot horse that hates you. You know, as opposed to the kind that just wants to be fed a giant robot carrot.

Fun Fact: The game features two difficultly levels: super easy and super hard. The only difference between the two is the inclusion of a password system. The game is still asswrenchingly hard regardless.

#69 - Ikaruga
Systems: Arcade, Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox Live Marketplace
Originally released: 2001

What is it?
Another Treasure game. I swear I didn't do this on purpose.

A sequel of sorts to legendary Saturn shooter Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga also takes elements of the oft-forgotten Silhouette Mirage to create an experience unlike anything the shooter genre had ever seen to that point. In fact, it's less a shooter than a strategy / puzzle game.

Why did it make the list?
I've never been one for the traditional top-down shooter. While I've dabbled in the R-Type and Gradius games, there always seemed to be an element of replayability missing from the genre.

What Ikaruga does so well is take your expectations of what a shooter should be and turns them on their head, almost retraining you to approach the game differently. After all, most shooters not only expect but depend on you to avoid shots to survive. Ikaruga, on the other hand, uses a changing-polarity system which allows you to absorb shots of the same color for energy. When your ship is a dark polarity, you absorb all dark bullets while doing extra damage to light enemies and visa versa. What starts off simply enough quickly turns into a chaotic frenzy of risk-reward decision-making beyond the typical shooter pattern recognition.

It's entirely possible to beat the game without shooting a single enemy, simply choosing to absorb shots until they retreat.

Best Moment: The final boss is a combination of epic music and nail-biting complexity, making it easily the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in a video game.

Fun Fact: Ikaruga shares more in common with Radiant Silvergun than just developer and gameplay mechanics. Silvergun was one of the last games ever released for the Saturn, while Ikaruga was among the final dozen to be released for the Dreamcast.

#68 - Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side
System: Sega CD
Originally released: 1995

What is it?
A 2D fighting franchise that should have been revived yesterday.

For years, fighting fans wanted a crossover between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. When that became less and less likely, Sega created a franchise with the fast gameplay of the latter while still supplying the violence and story emphasis of the former.

Why did it make the list?
I've spent more time with Challenge from the Dark Side and the original Eternal Champions than any fighting game not named Street Fighter. The original, while full of some really interesting ideas and characters, was not a great game, at least from a mechanical standpoint. It was slow, clunky, and the special move meter took a lot of time to get used to. All that said, I loved it, and the sequel made a genuine effort to improve things offering more combo options, and overall making the gameplay much faster and tighter. They also added, of course, plenty of new gruesome ways to finish your opponent. Not only were there stage fatalities, but each character had their own Vendetta moves. Under certain conditions you could even summon the evil Dark Champion to show up and kill your opponent in a cutscene.

For all of its innovations, let it be known that the greatest accomplishment of this game is the ability to vanquish a foe with the power of Full Motion Video.

Best Moment: Among the typical unlockable fighters, you can also unlock several animal characters, such as Hooter the Owl, master of Owl-Kwon Do.

Fun Fact: The original game not only inspired this sequel, but also two action-adventure spinoff games based around individual characters. Most notable was X-Perts, "notable" only because the title sounds kinda like a porn.

#67 - Guardian Heroes
Systems: Saturn, Xbox Live Marketplace
Originally released: 1996

What is it?
A 2D beat 'em up combined with an RPG combined with a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and one of the many Saturn-exclusives people point to when discussing how awesome Saturn-exclusives were.

Also, a Treasure game. Yeah.

Why did it make the list?
You know Castle Crashers, that fun little cartoon beat 'em up that went on to be the best selling Xbox Live game of all time? This is where it got everything from.

Itself taking cues from River City Ransom, Guardian Heroes took advantage of the Saturn's 2D-biased hardware to create what was, at the time, one of the most visually impressive games, filling the screen with large numbers of huge sprites for you to battle. Though, what really set the game apart was its approach to character-building and storytelling. Up to this point, storylines for brawlers were little more than "save the mayor's daughter" or "are you a bad enough dude to save the president?" In Guardian Heroes, there is essentially a full RPG's worth of dialog, with characters that actually exist on a level of moral neutrality, making the story more a clash of ideals than good versus evil. Is it the most engaging plot in the world? No, but there's a level of sophistication to the way that it's handled that modern games can still struggle to reach.

And there are a lot of choices to make. Each level ends with at least three different paths for you to take, some of which can cause you to gain or even lose allies, along with the myriad of ways to build your character and command the Undead Hero to assist you in battle. Yes, you can command a skeleton knight to fight at your side. It's also worth mentioning that the soundtrack contains some bitchin saxophone, because nothing quite goes together with skeletal combat like the saxophone.

Best Moment: Playing a versus mode game with friends under the random setting, only to see one of your buddies stuck playing as the old man character, whose only attack is a sneeze.

Fun Fact: One of the paths you can take actually results in a boss fight against Golden Silver from Gunstar Heroes, turning this game into a distant prequel.

#66 - Bayonetta
Systems: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Originally released: 2009

What is it?
Someone read page 89 of my dream journal and turned it into a game. It reads as follows: "A tall dominatrix with an English accent that's fixated on a lollipop beats the ever-loving dogfuck out of a bunch of angels. She has guns on the back of her heels and she likes to dance. Sometimes she turns into a panther. Japanese pop music is playing for some reason."

Why did it make the list?
Because if I were ever asked to create a video game, it probably would have ended up a lot like this.

Forget for a second all of the inherent wackiness of the concept. Yes, the main character makes me feel funny and the gameplay is the perfect blend of style and substance, but it's really worth pointing out just how strongly I expected Bayonetta to fail. Though stylistically similar to Devil May Cry, this game has none of the testosterone-fueled rock star appeal of that series, instead preferring to remain something distinctively Japanese. For all intents and purposes, Bayonetta should have been a commercial flop. It was too crazy, too discordant, and too niche in its appeal.

But it was a success, and I for one couldn't have been happier.

Bayonetta came out at precisely the right moment for me. It was a time when I questioned if creativity was still possible on a mainstream scale, considering the financial risks involved in creating a game for the current generation. It's a game that not only consumed my life for weeks, but revitalized my enthusiasm for modern gaming in a lot of ways. It was stylish and funny and heart-wrenching all at the same time, making jokes without hitting you over the head with its self-awareness, giving tribute to older Sega franchises without coming off as pandering. Even if you ignore the insanity of the characters and the story, it plays like a dream and it's a game that anyone should try.

Best Moment: Probably that one time where you have to ride a motorcycle up the side of a rocket on the way to a boss fight with God.

Fun Fact: Due to having many of the same team members from the former Clover Studio, the game is full of references to other franchises Okami in particular. Bayonetta in her panther form will create a trail of flowers behind her much like Amaterasu.

In the next addition of The List, we'll be dealing with mad beats, bad wolves, and creepy claymation.


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