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200 Best Nintendo Games (Part 3) – The Big N

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Named after its central processing unit, the Nintendo 64 would bring three dimensions to previously two-dimensional franchises. Some of the most influential games would appear on the Nintendo 64 — some regularly voted as the best of all time — but while the Nintendo 64 was making history with some stellar titles, an older console was making history of its own during this era. The Game Boy gave rise to one of the biggest franchises in history, while also upgrading itself to become the Game Boy Color — as revolutionary as color television itself, as handhelds would never be the same again.

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Earthbound

Part Three: 1995 – 2000

56) Earthbound
Developer(s) Ape/HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: August 27, 1994 / NA: June 5, 1995
Genre(s) Role-playing

The SNES is arguably home to some of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, but even among such revered company, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stands out as a brilliant satire about growing up and our fears of conformity. It’s anarchy versus conformity, only conformity doesn’t stand a chance. This often funny, always poignant coming of age tale, deeply embedded in suburban mores, centers around four kids, off to save the planet by collecting melodies while en route to defeating the evil alien force known as Giygas.

Earthbound didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure had fun twisting the usual JRPG tropes. There’s a princess you must rescue — not once, but twice — who’s really just a child prodigy, and there’s an arch nemesis who turns out to be your next-door neighbour. The game pits you in the shoes of a young boy named Ness as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash. There he learns that Giygas has enveloped the world in hatred, and consequently turned animals, humans, and inanimate objects into dangerous creatures. A bee from the future instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas from destroying the planet. While visiting eight Sanctuaries, Ness partners with three other kids: a psychic girl (Paula), an eccentric inventor (Jeff), and the prince of the kingdom of Dalaam (Poo). Along the way are underlining themes of corrupt politicians, post-traumatic stress, corporate greed, depression, capitalism, police violence, terrorist attacks, homosexuality, religious cults, and xenophobia. Your adventures take you through modern cities, prehistoric villages, cold winter climates, a desert wasteland, monkey caves, swamps, dinosaur museums, and even a yellow submarine. EarthBound has been often compared to Catcher in the Rye with its complex issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation. Blistering, hallucinatory, and often brilliant, Earthbound is a one-two punch of social satire, and a hilarious ride into the twisted recesses of a boy’s psyche.

Earthbound stands, sweet and strong, outrageous and quirky, like its heroes — it’s about the loss of innocence as well as gaining wisdom — and is one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. While it suffers from a slow start and stretched premise, the charm of its cast debunking an intergalactic conspiracy goes a long way. (Ricky D)

57) Illusion of Gaia
Developer(s) Quintet
Publisher(s) Enix
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: November 27, 1993 / NA: September 1, 1994
Genre(s) Action RPG

Illusion of Gaia was something of a spiritual sequel to Soul Blazer, with very loosely linked gameplay and story elements. Named Illusion of Time in Europe, the game put you in command of Will, a young adventurer with latent psychic abilities and the power to morph himself into the fully-grown adult body of a knight, as well as an alien-like lifeform named Shadow. Saving the world requires using each version of the hero at the appropriate time. As an action-RPG Illusion of Gaia fails in the RPG section, but shines well in its action. Although not as close to perfection as its predecessor, it still manages to be one of the most entertaining action-RPGs available on the SNES, and a fitting second game in a trilogy. (Ricky D)

58) Mega Man X
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: December 17, 1993
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Capcom made Mega Man fans wait a very long time for the arrival of Mega Man X, releasing the game for the SNES two and a half years after the system’s debut. But when it arrived, it was obvious why it took so long. This wasn’t just another Mega Man game — it was a complete reinvention of the franchise, and it blew our young minds. The classic series mythology forms the basis for Mega Man X, but the plot is new, taking place a century after the original Mega Man series, with an all-new arch-nemesis named Sigma and a supporting hero named Zero (a Maverick Hunter/mechanical soldier) who helps X defeat robots who turned against humanity. With the help of his partner, X must thwart the plans of Sigma and save mankind.

The standard run-and-gun action remains intact, with traditional attack strategies all carrying over, but this time around players get an assortment of advanced maneuvers like dashing, wall jumping, and instant weapon-swapping. In addition, X can charge his buster, and can now increase the length of his health meter — as well as upgrade his suit, piece by piece, to complete a set of new armor (which makes you look more and more like his hero, Zero). If you haven’t yet played this game, give it a try, and find out why Mega Man X is one of the all-time best. (Ricky D)

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59) Super Punch-Out!!
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D3 / Locomotive Corporation
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: NA: September 14, 1994
Genre(s) Sports

Super Punch-Out!! had some mighty big shoes to fill in the wake of its predecessor’s worldwide success. The general idea of a sequel is to keep what works with a beloved formula while presenting something new and unique, and Super Punch-Out!! did just that.

Super Punch-Out!! set itself apart with its cartoon-like style and colorful, outlandish opponents such as Aran Ryan, Mad Clown, Super Macho Man, and Rick Bruiser, to name a few. The gameplay didn’t change much, but the usage of transparency was added to facilitate the game’s “behind the back” perspective, and like the original Punch-Out!!, Super Punch-Out!! is more of a puzzle game rather than a sports game: Each opponent of the rogues gallery (16 in total, some familiar and others new) has their own unique style of fighting, and more importantly, their own unique weaknesses. You can’t just randomly punch your way through to victory by smashing buttons; players must carefully observe each opponent in order to find their weak spot. Mac’s moveset remains simplistic, amounting to left and right jabs, hooks, and dodges, and Doc is still in your corner! Much like its star, Little Mac, this is one underdog not to be taken lightly. (Ricky D)

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60) Super Metroid
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1 Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: March 19, 1994 /  NA: April 18, 1994
Genre(s) Action-adventure

One of the things most notable about Super Metroid is its profound and effective sense of atmosphere. Few games have managed to make an alien world feel so strange and surreal as the planet Zebes does here. Though the evocative music goes a long way to establishing the sad and decaying world, points must be given to the design team, who really nail the deliberate strangeness of the creature and area layouts. What makes Super Metroid such a strong experience is its uninhibited use of wordless story-telling to craft an emotionally engaging narrative that casts two characters as mothers and creates an intense dichotomy and rivalry between them, culminating in an unforgettable battle over a savage but innocent child.

In the nuts and bolts department, the gameplay is wildly inventive, utilizing the power-up-based exploration mechanics that were introduced in previous installments. Super Metroid takes an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to growing your character, wherein you start off as a pellet-firing weakling and end the game as an invincible, hyper-driven, flashing, super-speedy, infinite-jumping juggernaut. Add to that the fact that you’re playing as the most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy, and Super Metroid equals pure gaming bliss. If you want a game that absolutely lives up to all of its hype and more, than you need to play Super Metroid. (Mike Worby)

61) Super Bomberman 2
Developer(s) Produce
Publisher(s) Hudson Soft
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: April 28, 1994 / NA: September 1994
Genre(s) Action, Puzzle

The Bomberman series is one of gaming’s quintessential examples of a simple premise done to perfection having lasting appeal. Playing Bomberman with friends requires such a low barrier of entry to the fun; the game can be played with just one button, after all, and the constant threat of accidentally causing as much harm to yourself as you can to other players means multiplayer is a consistently frantic and riotous experience.

The SNES’s Super Bomberman 2 was a big improvement over its predecessor — particularly in the game’s single player Adventure Mode. Levels are larger, and subsequently make use of screen scrolling to pack in even more puzzles and environmental hazards like magnets, furnaces, and trampoline pads. The level design is complimented by a sizeable increase in enemy variety, forcing players to learn new behaviours and abilities for a number of new foes.

At the end of each themed world, Bomberman faces off against the game’s main antagonists: the Five Dastardly Bombers. Each boss has their own unique bomb type, and each showdown plays out as a tense bomber vs. bomber affair…that is until the defeated villain wheels out a screen-filling robot for a slightly-less-fair round two.

Even with an improved single player mode, multiplayer is naturally still the main event. A SNES Multitap means up to four players can have a go at blowing each other up in a variety of different arenas, each with its own bespoke features and mechanics that help to keep the action from becoming stale or predictable. There have been an astonishing number of Bomberman titles released over the years — many on Nintendo hardware — yet Super Bomberman 2 deservedly remains one of the series’ highlights. (Alex Aldridge)

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62) Demon’s Crest

Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: October 21, 1994 / NA: November 1, 1994
Genre(s) Platforming

Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated and overlooked; even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario franchises. The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also — unfortunately — the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series.

While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console, without the benefit of a carefully constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games.

A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed liked Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series, and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time. (Sean Colletti)

63) Donkey Kong Country
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: 21 November 1994
Genre(s) Platforming

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard, and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, but there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone could imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of depth. The characters are fluidly animated, and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’ armory. And in Donkey Kong Country you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths.

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country‘s visuals were spectacular, with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, and detailed backgrounds, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement, and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listeners over. But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and a lot of patience. Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the Super NES’ defining platformers. The game looks great and sounds great, and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero, and it paid off in spades. (Ricky D)

64) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: August 5, 1995 / NA: October 4, 1995
Genre(s) Platforming

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a bit of a strange twin in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Both followed widely acclaimed and genre-defining games, and somehow both chose to do somewhat similar yet insanely different things with their respective sequels. In the case of Yoshi’s Island, it was casting Yoshi as the hero, rather than Mario, and relegating the latter to a screeching infantile annoyance instead of the protagonist. Baby Mario’s recurring cry is probably the number one reason not to enjoy this game, but luckily there is a host of new ideas that more than make up for it. For one thing, Yoshi plays dramatically differently from Mario, and the fact that he is constantly hampered by having to keep everyone’s favorite plumber safe gives the game a puzzle-lite element that no one saw coming. The gorgeous animation and trademark level design only further raise SMW2‘s status as an instant cult classic, and another great example of how going a different direction for a sequel, rather than retreading the original, can work wonders in the long run. (Mike Worby)

65) Breath of Fire II
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) SNES
Release: JP: December 2, 1994 / NA: December 10, 1995
Genre(s) Role-playing

Unlike the original Breath of Fire, the SNES sequel in Capcom’s overlooked RPG series is an in-house production (Square Soft, a god amongst third parties at the time, helped localize the first game). The result is a love letter of a project that is a little rough around the edges. Though similar to its predecessor, it is ultimately a better game than Breath of Fire, and a fine addition to the SNES library of RPGs that would set the series on a course for true greatness.

Different versions of the characters Ryu and Nina return in Breath of Fire II, and would become series staples. The rest of the cast is full of lively personalities and poignant archetypes that add to a wider scope and much-improved storyline of redemption. In the same way that the PlayStation’s Suikoden II is essentially the same game as Suikoden — just a lot better — Breath of Fire II builds on every layer of the foundation built by Breath of Fire (the only exception possibly being that the music lacks some of the charm).

Capcom’s most successful traditional RPG series, Breath of Fire would make the jump to the Sony consoles and produce three more main series games. And while the third and fourth installments are the richest experiences overall, the first two make up an of-the-era pair that is deeply nostalgic and indicative of how the simplicity of design and vision isn’t necessarily a drawback if tone and atmosphere are done right. Both games are available in Game Boy Advance ports and on the Wii U Virtual Console. (Sean Colletti)

66) Mega Man X2
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) SNES
Release: December 16, 1994
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Following up the critical and commercial success of Mega Man X was no small task, but Mega Man X2 did an admirable job. The plot follows the android protagonist, X, who has saved humanity only six months prior. Now a trio of Mavericks calling themselves the X-Hunters have arisen, intent on destroying X by luring him with body parts of his colleague Zero, who sacrificed himself during the conflict with Sigma in the first game.

This second installment gives the android protagonist five new cyborg sub-bosses to battle, and seventeen bosses, both new and old, including Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail, Wheel Gator, and Overdrive Ostrich. Mega Man X2 doesn’t really do much in the way of innovation, featuring much of the same action-platforming elements that date back to the original Mega Man series. While it isn’t groundbreaking in any way, X2 comes highly recommended to anybody that enjoys the previous title. (Ricky D)

67) Pokemon Red and Blue
Developer(s) Game Freak
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy
Release: JP: February 27, 1996 / NA: September 28, 1998
Genre(s) Role-playing

Never before have two games begun such a massive franchise. A bold statement for sure, but just look at how inescapable Pokémon has become, from the merchandise filling up the shops to the fad that we briefly encountered in Pokémon Go. This all began in 1996 with a game designed around a simple accessory for the Game Boy called a Link Cable. The idea of creating two of the same game that offered unique collectibles that could be traded between the games, a new multiplayer concept that actually had kids outside of the house  (a Dratini by today’s standards) and socializing with pocket monsters they had caught and raised, plus a surprisingly complex competitive strategy game that only became more compelling as the franchise grew, was unique to Pokémon Red and Blue at the time.

150 pokémon to catch, with the addition of Mew available as an event exclusive, kept many fans on a never-ending journey to complete their pokédex. 150 might seem like a small number by today’s standards, but without the internet opening up the entire world to trade, you relied on your friends to help you complete the process. This brought the fundamentals of socializing to an uncomfortable place, where negotiating and persuasion were skills that were quickly learned to help us evolve our Haunter into a Gengar. In fact, kids with their Game Boys linked up became such a common sight that arguably the Link Cable became an iconic symbol of the nineties.

With so many pokémon to catch, it’s easy to forget that Pokémon Red and Blue had a pretty dark theme shadowing it. Lavender Town is a legend all in itself, with its soundtrack thought to have resulted in the death of numerous Japanese kids. Myth or not, it was the place that brought the chilling story to life. Team Rocket, the famous villains that debuted in Red and Blue, had done some terrible things in this town, including actions that resulted in the death of a now-famous Marowak. Its pre-evolved form, Cubone, has one of the creepiest pokédex entries.

While as a strategy game Pokémon Red and Blue was broken — Psychic was so over-powered that Alakazam effectively had no weaknesses — it remains so iconic and influential that the world cannot escape the franchise it created. A defining game of the nineties that time will never have the longevity to lose. (James Baker)

68) Chrono Trigger
Developer(s) Square
Publisher(s) Square
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: March 11, 1995
Genre(s) Role-playing

Occasionally in media you come across a film, book, television show, or game that is near-universally beloved. Sure, no piece of fiction will enchant every human alive, but these are the stories that come as close as possible. Finding Nemo. Star Wars. The Princess BrideChrono Trigger might not be as good as The Princess Bride, but it occupies a similar place in our collective hearts as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. Made by a dream team of key developers from both Square and Enix (years before those companies would merge), Chrono Trigger combines the battle system of Final Fantasy with the lighter tone of Dragon Quest. Add in Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama’s art, and a rousing score by Yasunori Mitsuda, and you have a recipe for something wonderful.

It’s a meticulous masterclass in design that goes against many JRPG conventions, while still serving up a classic tale of action and adventure. In a genre where unwieldy length is typical, Chrono Trigger clocks in at a relatively brief (and much more digestible) 20 hours. In a time where battles would flash to a separate screen to showcase highly detailed monster sprites, Chrono Trigger instead had its monsters appear in the field. The player could even avoid some fights by just walking around them. Combined with a touching story and funny, lovable characters, Chrono Trigger is an outstanding example of a studio at the top of its game.

So what more can be said about a game so beloved? How about proof of its enduring quality? I have a confession to make: I never owned a SNES, and I didn’t play Chrono Trigger until I was already out of high school, fifteen years after its release. Today, I still unreservedly call it one of the best games I have ever played. (Mitchell Akhurst)

69) Tetris Attack
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES, Game Boy
Release: JP: October 27, 1995 / NA: August 1996
Genre(s) Puzzle

With Tetris Attack the classic Tetris formula has been scrapped in favor of competitive match-three action set in the Mario universe. This title sports some of the most addictive puzzle gameplay ever created, especially when playing against another person. Matching three blocks together clears them, but skilled players will go for multiple clears back to back to rack up enough blocks to place on your opponent’s screen. Once the blocks hit the top of the screen, the game is over.

The gameplay is simple, but the skill cap is huge, meaning there is almost always room for improvement. Gamers who prefer to play solo are in for a fun, albeit challenging, experience as well. The villains of the Super Mario Bros. series form a path to the final battle with Bowser. Each battle is more challenging than the last, and while this mode isn’t particularly lengthy, it’s a blast to replay on higher difficulties.

It says a lot about a game when its formula has been copied time and time again by other series. Tetris Attack separates itself from these clones because of its charming aesthetic. It’s an ageless formula that provides a fun time for gamers of any skill level, and is sure to be played competitively for years to come. (Zach Rezac)

70) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) SNES
Release: 20 November 1995
Genre(s) Platforming

Back when the console war between the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis was splitting groups of kids at every school, one game came along to tip the scales permanently in the direction of Nintendo. That game was Donkey Kong Country.

With its revolutionary faux-3D look, DKC became the “it” game of 1994, so when its sequel came along the following year, it had some pretty hefty shoes to fill. Fortunately for Rare, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest not only matches up to the exceptional pedigree established by its predecessor — it exceeds it. With more diverse environments, a ramp up in the challenge department, and an increase in collectibles, DKC2 is a much bigger game than the original. Not only that, but with no lumbering ape character in the form of Donkey Kong, the game actually plays more smoothly.

The similarity in size and play style between Diddy and Dixie is so close that there is never a feeling of panic when swapping between the characters. Still, since Dixie possesses the ability to glide to safety over long jumps, her inclusion as a new character never feels superfluous, despite her similarity to Diddy.

Today DKC2 is commonly debated as the best game in the series, if not simply the best of original trilogy of Donkey Kong Country titles. The credit is well-earned, as this is easily one of the best platformers on the SNES. (Mike Worby)

71) Mega Man X3
Developer(s) Minakuchi Engineering
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: December 1, 1995
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

The Mega Man X series was just the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed after so many similar titles having been released on the NES in such rapid-fire succession, and Mega Man X3 might be the best game the spin-off series ever produced. In addition to refining the mechanics from the first two, X3 also let players step into the boots of X’s badass, plasma sword-wielding partner, Zero. Easily the coolest character in the series, it was particularly thrilling to play as Zero this time around, even if it was only for a short time. With a great selection of bosses, carefully hidden upgrades, and fantastic music, Mega Man X3 is one of the best Mega Man games ever released, and is still worth replaying even today. (Mike Worby)

72) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Developer(s) Square
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super Nintendo
Release: JP: March 9, 1996 / NA: May 13, 1996
Genre(s) Role-playing

When Nintendo first announced that they would be developing an RPG with the legendary Final Fantasy creators at Squaresoft, the surprise of the public was palpable, and the hype was infectious. Just what would these two powerhouse developers cook up together? The answer was one of the best RPGs of the 16-bit generation.

Super Mario RPG recasts the titular plumber into an isometric faux-3D world, and has the overbearing gall to not only team him up with Bowser against an even greater evil, but to introduce several new and intriguing characters to his world. The jump mechanics and typical Super Mario Bros. tropes are all cross-coded into a beautiful and inviting RPG world filled with challenging puzzles, fantastic writing, and tons of fan service. This might not be the most conventional game in the dozens of Mario-centric titles out there, but it’s certainly one of the best. (Mike Worby)

73) Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Developer(s) Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super Famicom
Release: JP: May 14, 1996
Genre(s) Tactical Role-playing

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War never made it overseas, but it was one of the most influential and adored entries in the Fire Emblem franchise. The series’ creator, Shouzou Kaga, had found big success with Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem on the Super Nintendo, but wanted to create a game that focused on the impact of war over time.

The result was a game that spanned two generations of heroes, telling an epic and unpredictable tale. The game’s first half is spent focusing on Sigurd of Chalphy, while the second on his son, Seliph. The popular marriage system found in Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fates originated here, allowing players to pair members of Sigurd’s army together. Their children joined Seliph’s army in the game’s second half, making giving players more choice in how they customized their units.

The weapons triangle, where swords have the advantage against axes, axes against lances, and lances against swords, also made its debut here. Unlike modern Fire Emblem games, Genealogy of the Holy War is broken up into 10 massive chapters with huge maps to conquer. Instead of seizing one castle per map, Sigurd (and later Seliph) must capture many, with the story unfolding as they progress.

I won’t spoil the big twist that comes at the game’s midway point, but it’s one that will leave first-time players with their jaws on the floor. Kaga succeeded in executing his vision, and this is one story that fans shouldn’t miss. (Tyler Kelbaugh)

74) Super Mario 64
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Release: JP: June 23, 1996 / NA: September 29, 1996
Genre(s) Platforming

Nintendo set itself a nearly impossible task when creating Super Mario 64. It was one of the earlier three-dimensional platform games, with degrees of freedom through all three axes in space, and features relatively large areas that are composed primarily of true 3D polygons, as opposed to only two-dimensional sprites. The game established a new archetype for the 3D genre, and showed us what the future of video games would soon look like. From the moment players turned on Super Mario 64, the differences were apparent. Mario sounded different, he looked different, and he moved differently. And ever since, the game has left a lasting impression.

There is no doubt that Super Mario 64 was nothing short of revolutionary. The title is acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. The flaws, although few, are overshadowed by the awe-inspiring level design, sophisticated 3D graphics, brain-busting puzzles, and sheer imagination. Super Mario 64 is tough to beat, and one of the few games in the series that rewards curious, brave, determined, and stubborn gamers. The sheer scale of the achievement is something to admire. Not only does Super Mario 64 stand the test of time, but the game is a masterpiece in the truest sense of the word. (Ricky D)

75) Mario Kart 64
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: December 14, 1996 / NA: February 10, 1997
Genre(s) Kart racing

Mario Kart 64 remains, to this day, one of the greatest titles that Nintendo has ever created. Mario Kart 64 features eight different racers classified into three different weight categories, 14 unique power-ups to inflict friendship-testing amounts of rage (darn blue shells), and 16 tracks with an extra mirror mode that flips all the tracks to create an added difficulty. The tracks are comprised of hidden shortcuts, dangerous obstacles, and little surprises around every turn.

While the sequels have improved upon the racing formula and customization, nothing has quite captured the heart-pounding intensity of the Battle Mode. Friends duke it out to pop each other’s balloons in four small arenas, with the power ups provided on the map or as vengeful bombs. Mario Kart 64 offers a bit of something for everyone, with the Grand Prix for friends to compete against each other and computers, the Battle mode to lose to those friends, and the time attack mode to improve upon your skills and feel better, now that you’ve lost to those friends. Mario Kart 64 is the 2nd bestselling game on the N64 for good reason, as it is truly a masterpiece that still stands the test of time. (Ryan Kapioski)

76) Harvest Moon
Developer(s) Amccus
Publisher(s) Pack-In-Video / Natsume
Platform(s) SNES
Release: JP: August 9, 1996 / NA: June 1997
Genre(s) Farm simulation, Role-playing

Harvest Moon is the original farming sim, with a legacy that goes back all the way to 1996 on the SNES. On paper the game doesn’t sound very exciting, yet surprisingly Natsume’s smash hit managed to make farm simulation fresh and interesting. Working through the seasons planting goods, meeting new characters, attending festivals, finding hidden treasures, and getting married all paid off. It spawned an entire franchise — and some would argue a sub-genre — and it remains a shining example of the RPG genre done right. With all the secrets available in this game, there is more than enough reason to revisit this gem in the present day. If you’re a fan of simulation and RPG elements, this is definitely worth a try! (Ricky D)

77) Goldeneye
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: 25 August 1997
Genre(s) First-person Shooter

Since its release in 1997, no game has captured the glitz, the glamor, and the glory of James Bond like Rare’s golden hit, GoldenEye 007. The perfect adaptation of the Bond flick, GoldenEye 007 is a free-roaming, first-person-shooter putting the player in control of everyone’s favorite double-O agent: Bond, James Bond. The atmospheric campaign perfectly captures the tension and excitement of the film, giving players a variety of experiences, from stealthy infiltrations to run and gun bonanzas, all layered with familiar Bond elements, like some familiar gadgets and guns, to truly make the player feel like a secret agent. On top of a brilliantly crafted, truly immersive campaign is a revolutionary four-player multiplayer, pitting players against one another in an all-out brawl.

Careful attention to detail and immense amounts of fan service escalate an already fantastic experience to make it one of the most memorable games ever made, from the familiar blood-soaked screen that falls every time the player dies, to favorite foes, with cameo weapons and gadgets, and even multiplayer modes named after other films. This game has it all, but with Bond, even the world is not enough, so Rare stuffed the game with everything imaginable.  Hilarious, unlockable cheat codes ensure that the game has immense replayability, complete with the scalable difficulty, on top of other unlockables, like the cast of twenty-four characters that make their way in to the multiplayer.

Still an immensely fun shooter to this day, in its time the game was revolutionary, pioneering a whole genre in gaming that’s shaped up to be perhaps the most popular and prevalent today, introducing staples and fixtures such as shooters’ tendency toward more realistic tones and zoomable sniper scopes. GoldenEye 007 — like diamonds — is forever, and it’s a truly timeless gem. (Tim Maison)

78) Wave Race 64
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: September 27, 1996 / NA: November 1, 1996
Genre(s) Racing

Released in 1996, Wave Race 64 became one of the best racing games for the N64, despite the oversaturation of racing games at the time. Players can choose from one of four characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and cut through multiple unique watercourses on Kawasaki jet skis to become the best racer on the seas. The tracks are visually simple yet beautiful, and with intuitive controls and realistic wave patterns, Wave Race 64 still holds its own in a modern gaming world dominated by 4K graphics and complex game mechanics.

Wave Race 64 features four separate modes: championship, time trials, stunt, and local multiplayer. For such a seemingly simple game, there is a lot to do. Championship mode challenges players with weaving between buoys to max out the power on their jet skis and reach the finish line first. Time trials pits players against themselves to out-do their fastest race times. Local multiplayer is, well, self-explanatory, but stunt mode is where the real fun lies.

The object of stunt mode is of course to rack up as many points as possible doing any combination of handstands, flips, barrel rolls, and other awesome tricks while making it through checkpoints within a certain time. One of the most satisfying parts of this mode is the ability to launch your character off an incoming wave and pull off a full backwards flip or two. Players can also earn points by cruising through large rings hovering over the water. The dolphin that race alongside you is a cute touch (and a secret, unlockable item that players can ride instead of their jet ski).

Perhaps most importantly, with the opening cinematic music reminiscent of something from a Van Halen album, it’s hard to not still feel pumped up when hitting the start button on this memorable racing game. (Joanna Nelius)

79) Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) SNES
Release: 22 November 1996
Genre(s) Platforming

When Donkey Kong Country 3 first hit store shelves in November of 1996, it was just over two months after the hardware debut of the Nintendo 64, and by that time most players had already moved on to Super Mario 64, a title acclaimed by many critics and fans as one of the greatest and most revolutionary video games of all time. Most of those players never looked back, which is a shame since DKC3 is one of the best titles released on the SNES.

For a 16-bit game, DK3 looks beautiful, utilizing the same Silicon Graphics from its predecessors, which includes the use of pre-rendered 3D imagery. The game seriously looks great, and includes scrolling background layers, moving foreground objects, and various animated weather effects. In short, it’s another great platformer from Rare — and one that stands the test of time. (Ricky D)

Kirby80) Kirby Super Star
Developer(s) HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Super NES
Release: JP: March 21, 1996 / NA: September 20, 1996
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Kirby Superstar is one of the best values on the system. Instead of one linear, traditional adventure, gamers get to choose from eight different experiences on one cartridge. This is also one of the few instances in which players get the best of both worlds — quantity, and quality. Each game can easily stand on its own and provide plenty of fun and replay value, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few standouts among the group. Gamers looking for a more traditional Kirby experience will likely have a blast with Spring Breeze or Milky Way Wishes, whereas those looking for a challenge can have a go at The Arena. Gourmet Race is probably the most unique title on the cartridge, as Kirby must race King Dedede to the end of the stage while collecting as much food as possible. It offers a nice distraction from playing the other games, and can become quite addictive when doing the time trial modes.

When Kirby Superstar was released back in 1996, there was nothing else like it at the time. The amount of content in the game put it head and shoulders above the competition, leaving very few players bored. While a superior sequel was released for the DS years later called Kirby Superstar Ultra, the original must still be appreciated for its innovation within the platforming genre that was excelling on the SNES at the time. It’s one of Kirby’s finest and most diverse outings. (Zack Rezak)

starfox-ed81) Star Fox 64
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64, iQue Player
Release: JP: April 27, 1997 / NA: June 30, 1997
Genre(s) Rail/Scrolling shooter

Many games have strived for the right balance of skill-based self-improvement and challenging replayability. Few have done it better than Star Fox 64. In many ways, Star Fox 64 is a timeless game. Its heavily stylized visuals, endearingly campy voice acting, and tight gameplay are just as fun today as they were in 1997.

The game wastes no time in throwing you into the action. Taking a cue from Star Wars, Star Fox 64 greets the player with a bombastic orchestral synth score as scrolling text sets the stage. The Lylat System is at war, and the diabolical mad scientist Andross is poised to bring all planets under his subjugation. Not if Star Fox can help it.

As the intrepid Fox McCloud, you pilot your Arwing from planet to planet, executing graceful aerial maneuvers and blasting through hoards of enemies. Star Fox 64 is a prime example of scripted events done right. Although these events occur with a predetermined regularity, the game never takes control away from you. Between the branching paths and the Arwing’s satisfying arcade-y controls, the player has so many tools at their disposal to navigate through the game. Star Fox 64 accommodates players of all levels, but it is sure to reward the especially skilled and persistent. (Kyle Rogacion)

82) Diddy Kong Racing
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: 21 November 1997 / NA: 24 November 1997
Genre(s) Kart racing

To even attempt to call some of Rare’s most beloved N64 efforts nothing more than rip-offs of established Nintendo IPs is to do a massive disservice to the developer’s ability to adapt an established formula and produce a distinct and unique version of their own. As such, Diddy Kong Racing proves itself to be anything but a Mario Kart clone, and stakes a sizeable claim to be the best kart racer on the N64, largely due to its stellar Adventure Mode.

Thanks to an absence of Mario Kart’s traditional rubber banding, Diddy Kong Racing‘s multiplayer can be rendered somewhat of a formality if one of the players is in possession of higher ability or experience than their peers. Skill and track knowledge truly matter in DKR, and less able players will struggle to ever get back in a race if they drop off too far. While this can be frustrating in multiplayer, it means that DKR‘s single player is where the game truly shines.

Without cheating AI and blue shells to hold you back, true mastery of the game is infinitely possible. This really is a good thing, as Adventure Mode is a truly challenging affair. Tasked with saving the inhabitants of Timber’s Island, players (the mode can be played in co-op with a friend thanks to a cheat code) will be winning races in cars, hovercrafts, and planes, collecting silver coins, finding hidden items, and taking on tough boss battles. While DKR‘s single-player has since been copied by Crash Team Racing, it’s surprising that Mario Kart hasn’t followed suit.

Naturally, being a Rare title, Diddy Kong Racing’s gameplay was punctuated by charming characters, bright and vibrant themed stages, and a soundtrack so cheery it’ll give you diabetes. It’s a real shame that licensing issues arising from the Rare-Microsoft sale means we’ll probably never see the true sequel the game deserves, but thankfully it remains as endearing and playable today as it ever was. (Alex Aldridge)

83) Banjo Kazooie
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: NA: 29 June 1998
Genre(s) Platforming, Action-adventure

Rare, like Nintendo, saw tremendous success with 2D platformers on the SNES, and after following Super Mario World in the previous generation, it seemed only natural that the British developer would pursue Mario 64 into the 3D platform space. Once again, Mario had starred in a console’s flagship release, and once again Rare were unfazed in their attempts to enter his arena and take him on at his own game.

Thus, the 3D collectathon was born. While the core of Banjo-Kazooie‘s gameplay is (admittedly) similar in some ways to Mario 64, Rare’s effort has a unique spin on almost every aspect that can be related back to the moustachioed one. The bear and bird have their own arsenal of acrobatic and aerial moves, but unlike Mario these need to be unlocked throughout the adventure, giving the game a Metroidvania style of non-linear progression.

Chief amongst the differences between Banjo and Mario is Banjo-Kazooie‘s focus on personality and humour. Mario 64 was a technical marvel on release that gave players unparalleled freedom in a 3D world, but it was your typical Mario story of kidnap and cake. Banjo-Kazooie brought a much more central and refined story to the table as it punctuated all the jumping and flying with a witty and charming cast of characters, a sumptuous bouncy soundtrack, and a heavy dose of wackiness. Whether gamers had been pining to take control of a virtual washing machine before or not, Banjo had it covered.

Banjo-Kazooie is an incredible platform game that controls like a dream and remains fresh and challenging throughout. The vibrant themed worlds and fiendishly tricky puzzles help ensure the challenge of gaining a jigsaw piece never feels the same twice. Perhaps most importantly, the game keeps a handle on its requirement for collecting items to ensure it remains addictive rather than overwhelming — something that unfortunately can’t be said of its sequel, or the more recent Yooka-Laylee. (Alex Aldridge)

84) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: November 21, 1998
Genre(s) Action-adventure

You won’t find a gamer alive who doesn’t remember the first time they played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and there’s a very good reason for that: OOT isn’t just regularly counted as one of the best Zelda games of all time, but it also routinely finds itself in the conversation for the best games ever made. As a trendsetter and pioneering effort for 3D adventure games, action titles, and RPGs alike, Ocarina of Time holds a special place in a lot of gamers’ hearts, particularly those who were young enough to have a lot of imagination in them upon its initial release.

It was a game that opened a tiny door in our minds when it first introduced us to a young Link in Kokiri Forest, and then wrenched that door all the way open a mere hour later when we were unleashed onto the full expanse of Hyrule Field, gifted with a world to explore that was bigger than life. If through some very strange events you have still managed to not play OOT, then you are doing yourself a disservice as a gamer. With awe-inspiring environments, a cast of memorable characters, a charming story, and one of the most epic adventures ever experienced, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a game that will stick in your grey matter even decades from now, and is well deserving of its place there. (Mike Worby)

85) Pokemon Yellow
Developer(s) Game Freak
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy
Release: JP: September 12, 1998 / NA: October 18, 1999
Genre(s) Role-playing

When Pokémon Red and Blue had an animé produced to coincide with it, the popularity of Ash and his partner Pikachu made Pokémon Yellow inevitable. Originally, Ash’s partner in the animé was to be Clefairy, but was changed to the cute electric mouse that remains the mascot of the franchise ever since.

While there’s much debate about whether Pokémon needs third installments to each generation, Pokémon Yellow was the first and the most original in concept of them all. Rather than following the legacy of Pokémon Red and Blue, it follows the storyline of the animé, allowing the player to obtain the three original starter pokémon as part of the storyline. Furthermore, staying true to the animé, Pikachu follows the player around rather than staying in its pokéball, and refuses to evolve into Raichu when given a thunderstone, thus leaving Raichu only obtainable through trade.

Pokémon Yellow is a direct consequence of the popularity of Pokémon at the time, and with Pikachu still the beloved face of Pokémon, was perhaps shrewd marketing on Nintendo’s part. Its success inspired many other sequels to each generation, none of which would surpass the ingenuity of its predecessor. Pokémon Yellow won’t go down as the greatest Pokémon game of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable. (James Baker)

86) F-Zero X
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64, iQue Player
Release: JP: July 14, 1998 / NA: October 26, 1998
Genre(s) Racing

Developed by Nintendo’s EAD division, F-Zero X is the first F-Zero installment to have featured 3D graphics. Unfortunately, even for the time the visuals weren’t anything to write home about. However, what F-Zero X lacks in the visual department it more than makes up for in adrenaline fuelled, non-stop action. With an emphasis on breakneck speed and competitive intensity, F-Zero X is one of the best arcade racers released for the N64. The game’s “death race” mode and random track generator are what I remember best. In the death race, the player’s objective is to annihilate the 29 other racers as fast as possible, while the X-Cup generates a different set of tracks each time it’s played. It also features 30 vehicles on the screen at once, and an extremely fun 4-player multiplayer offering. For all those reasons and more, F-Zero X is a game I have fond memories playing. The N64 had its fair share of racing games, but few were as fast and exciting to play as F-Zero X. (Ricky D)

87) Super Smash Bros.
Developer(s) HAL Laboratory
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: January 21, 1999 / NA: April 26, 1999
Genre(s) Fighting

The 90’s were a juggernaut decade for Nintendo. The N64, coupled with superstar titles like Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64, helped make the studio’s third home console a massive success. By the end of this era, it seemed as if Nintendo had slowed
down a bit, riding out the rest of the millennium on the success of their previous titles. Then in 1999, Super Smash Bros strolled onto the scene and redefined Nintendo’s catalogue once again. While it’s hard to hold a candle to the later entries in the Smash series, this first game laid the foundation for the rest of the lineup. Pitting famous Nintendo characters like Mario, Link, and Samus against each other in a free-for-all battle arena was a foreign concept before Smash, which made its success all the sweeter. Add to this the fact that players got to do battle across some of the most famous landscapes in gaming history, and fans flocked to their local game shops in droves to get their hands on a copy.

What made Smash stand out from other fighting games was the higher level of initial strategy it took to win. Players couldn’t simply mash buttons until their opponent was left a bloody mess, but rather had to knock them off the map using a variety of offensive, defensive, and character-specific movesets. Mobility also plays a major factor in securing victory, as players can jump and dash above and below the main fighting area. Weapons and power-ups found across the battlefield can also be used to get a leg up on the opponent, and were themed after abilities found in other Nintendo titles. Much like other mash-up titles found on the N64, Smash is hindered by its small roster and a limited number of battle arenas. A total of twelve characters are available for the player to choose from, and range from the aforementioned classics to more obscure mascots like Captain Falcon and Ness from Earthbound. At the time this felt like a decent selection of playable champions, but as later entries in the series proved, there was room for considerable growth. In short, while Super Smash Bros is a bit rough around the edges, it captivated millions of fans and created yet another great first party series for Nintendo that is still prevalent today. (Carston Carasella)

88) Pokemon Gold and Silver
Developer(s) Game Freak
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy Color
Release: JP: November 21, 1999 /NA: October 15, 2000
Genre(s) Role-playing

We were still reminiscent of our time in Kanto before we started our journey West into Johto. As hard as it was to leave Pallet Town behind and start a new adventure, the over-powered Alazakam of Pokémon Red and Blue had become a menace on our dream to the top, and we quickly sought an answer.

Luckily, Pokémon Gold and Silver had the potion to our ills, and quite frankly a full restore to most of the problems that came with Pokémon Red and Blue. Notably, the introduction of the Dark-type really kicked Alakazam off its throne and balanced the control the Psychic-type had on generation one. The new Steel-type also opened up a new defensive style of play that competitive play had previously lacked. The broken strategy of Pokémon Red and Blue was fixed, and Pokémon Gold and Silver has continued to shine as the best Pokémon game ever made.

Even after you’ve found some of the new shiny pokémon such as Red Gyarados, or you’ve bred your Pikachu with a Ditto and hatched a baby Pichu, or you’ve triumphed in the Pokémon League with your pal Feraligatr; Pokémon Gold and Silver has the perfect gift for those missing Kanto. The end game takes you back to where your love for Pokémon started, with a trip on the S.S. Aqua back to Kanto. Not only is Pokémon Gold and Silver the only Pokémon game to allow you to traverse two regions, but it is also the only Pokémon game that allows you to obtain sixteen badges. It remains the only generation to take everything that made the previous generation so memorable, and perfects the formula to become the franchise we know and love today. Surprisingly, you can trace more game mechanics in Sun and Moon back to Gold and Silver than you can to Red and Blue, its influence outshining its predecessor. (James Baker)

89) Pokemon Stadium
Developer(s) Nintendo EAD
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: April 30, 1999 / NA: February 29, 2000
Genre(s) Strategy

Pokémon Red and Green made an enormous splash when released in Japan in 1996, and the sequential tidal wave of momentum the franchise built as it headed toward the west in the shape of Pokémon Red and Blue was deterred by nothing, as Pokémania washed over the rest of the world. Capitalizing on the fervor surrounding developer Game Freak’s property, publisher Nintendo brought the beloved monsters out of their pixel state and into a polygonal world on the Nintendo 64 in the form of 2000’s Pokémon Stadium. Outside the confines of the less capable, pocket sized Game Boy console, Pokémon Stadium effectively did nothing for the future of the main series games, had no impact on the franchise’s direction as role playing games, and did nothing to influence the turned-based battle mechanics at the core of the property. Pokémon Stadium and all of its successors are a far cry from the main series Pokémon games, and it could be viewed as a trivial, inconsequential spin-off not represented in the present day in any way, shape, or form. However, Pokémon Stadium’s significance isn’t in how it impacted the whole of Pokémon, but instead in what it did for fans at the time, something that wouldn’t be done in the main series of games until 2013 with Pokémon X and Y: portray players’ beloved Pokémon with colored 3D models, bringing them to life like never before. Oh, and it has some amazing mini games.

Unfortunately, this leap in graphics can’t adequately be compared to anything in the present day, and the thrill it gave fans, particularly those who’d grown attached to their digital friends and monsters, can’t be overstated. Consequently, much of the game’s significance is trapped at the beginning of the millennium, but older Pokéfans still give the game its due reverence. The Transfer Pak also allows players to experience the original generation of Pokémon games on a TV and off of the Game Boy’s quaintly sized one — a triviality in the day of Virtual Console, but an enormous novelty at the time. Stadium’s gameplay borrows the core, turn-based battle mechanics of the franchise, and invites players to tackle a series of tournaments utilizing their imported or rented Pokémon. The titular Stadium mode is a blast in which players aim to earn cups by defeating a multitude of opponents within specific parameters. My personal favorite, however, Gym Leader Castle, on the other hand, lets players take down each of Kanto’s gym leaders, their trainers, and finally the Elite Four in a consecutive series of bouts. Both are fun and make great use of Pokémon’s great battle system. Beyond that, the game has some endlessly entertaining mini games if multiple players are present, sort of like a Mario Party featuring different Pokémon. Pokémon Stadium might be stuck within the context of its time, but in its time it was a riveting experience for fans, has graphics that still charm and delight, expertly uses the core combat from the Pokémon franchise, and even offers a fun party experience on top, easily earning this game a spot on a list of Nintendo’s best games.  (Tim Maison)

90) Pokemon Snap
Developer(s) HAL Laboratory / Pax Softnica
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: March 21, 1999 / NA: June 30, 1999
Genre(s) First-person rail shooter

Nearly two decades after its release, Pokémon Snap is still one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. The objective might still be the same as the series it steamed off of, but the similarities end there. That’s not too surprising, since Pokémon Snap is one of the most unique, distinct video game experiences I’ve had the pleasure to undertake. The player fulfills the role of Todd Snap, who at the request of the famed Professor Oak travels to Pokémon Island to capture pictures of Pokémon in a more natural habitat largely untouched by man. Narratively the game is sound, as Professor Oak needing help perfectly represents the Pokémon franchise, but what makes Pokémon Snap truly unique is its gameplay, somewhere between a safari and a shooter. It operates like an on-rails shooter where you shoot pictures, not bullets, and success is measured by the quality of shots the player manages to take of Pokémon when they turn them into Oak. Scoring takes into account the size of the Pokémon in the shot, whether the shot is framed well, and the pose of the Pokémon. Earn enough points and the next stage will be unlocked, meaning more Pokémon to see and shoot pictures of, and a new environment to explore.

Progress also provides the player extra items to aid in their effort to capture every Pokémon’s picture, rounding out the gameplay experience. Pokémon react differently when these extra items are used, as a Pikachu might dance when it hears a Pokéflute, for instance, and each stage is full of secrets to unlock and even alternative routes to take if properly activated by the player, giving the game’s few stages replayability. Pokémon Snap might seem simple, but it’s an undeniably fun and engaging experience from start to finish, full of entertaining, vibrant, beloved monsters, light puzzles, unmatched approachability. Short but sweet, Pokémon Snap is a game for the ages and for all ages, a brilliant, must-play piece in the N64’s library, and with 807 Pokémon and counting, a title deserving a sequel. (Tim Maison)

91) Blast Corps
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: March 21, 1997 / NA: March 24, 1997
Genre(s) Action, Puzzle

Remember that time there was a runaway semi-truck with a nuclear warhead attached, and the only way to save the world was to level a whole bunch of cities? Okay, that probably didn’t happen, and even in 1997 it was a flimsy premise for a game. I mean, in a world where scientists have developed a giant bipedal robot, it seems like there might be another way to solve this problem.

Luckily what this wacky premise does make for is hours of gleeful destruction, as you must clear any potential obstacle from the path of the runaway warhead as quickly as possible. Blast Corps features eight vehicles to help you avert disaster, and the kind of categorical rating system that games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga are still using today to keep you coming back for “just one more try”. Yeah, right.

Essentially a frantic puzzle game that kind of tricks you into thinking you’re playing an action game, Blast Corps is an incredibly addictive experience, and totally worth replaying on the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)

gREATESTNintendoGames92) Jet Force Gemini
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Rare
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: NA: October 11, 1999
Genre(s) Third-person shooter, Action-adventure

Of all the games developed by Rare during the N64 era, Jet Force Gemini might be the biggest outlier. A 3rd person sci-fi shooter is generally not the kind of game you expect from Rare even today, and it was even more jarring back in 1999 when it first came out. Tasking players with beating back ravenous hordes of insectile extraterrestrials while simultaneously seeking out and rescuing a bunch of Ewoks, Jet Force Gemini is far from your typical Rare game, but like fellow Rare outcast Blast Corps, that makes for a lot of its charm.

Take for example Lupus, a cybernetically enhanced dog who joins the twin protagonists, Juno, and Vela, on their mission. I mean, talk about dogs of war. Seriously though, any game that lets you play as a dog with guns mounted on his back is okay by me. Also, there’s a guy named King Jeff in this game. No, really. And the bad guy is named Mizar — ya know, like “miser.”

But honestly, potshots aside, you really should play Jet Force Gemini. It’s like a weird gaming time capsule in and of itself, and it’s absolutely one of the best reasons to own the Rare Replay collection. (Mike Worby)

93) Donkey Kong 64
Developer(s) Rare
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Series Donkey Kong
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: NA: November 22, 1999
Genre(s) Platforming, Adventure

It’s hard to discuss the N64 without bringing up Rare games, and while not their last or greatest game on the system, DK64 is an outstanding platformer, and some would argue it even overshadows Nintendo’s own Mario 64. The levels are massive, there are tons of collectibles to go after and secrets to find, and the variety of the worlds is impressive. Better yet, there are five different Kongs to play with, each with their own unique abilities and collectibles to go after. It’s a game so chock full of stuff that Rare had to package it with the N64’s expansion pack just to make sure it worked.

DK64 is a game pushing the N64 to its absolute limits. The graphics are some of the best on the system, with real-time lighting effects throughout the levels. The audio is nothing short of legendary, with reactive music that changes as you move through the worlds, creating an audio rollercoaster that adds so much to the experience. On every level, DK64 is a game that needs to be played by any fans of platformers, and is a must-have for N64 fans. (Andrew Vandersteen)

94) Mario Party 2
Developer(s) Hudson Soft
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Director(s) Kenji Kikuchi
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: JP: December 17, 1999 / NA: January 24, 2000
Genre(s) Party

Gather some friends. Roll the dice. Play minigames. Collect coins. Buy Stars. Become the Super-Star! Looking back, Mario Party 2 hearkens to a younger Nintendo, when the image of Mario games wasn’t as manufactured as it is today. There is a childish quality that really compliments its happy “party” gameplay. Sure, some of the minigames are the definition “friendship breakers,” but really, it’s hard to stay mad when playing this game with a group of friends.

Some fantastic mini-games here, both returning from the first Mario Party as well as new ones, include “Bombs Away,” “TOAD in the Box,” “Look Away,” “Mecha-Marathon,” “Sneak ‘n’ Snore,” “Hot Bob-omb,” and more. Most of these mini-games are iconic, and unlike some predecessors, there are very few you hope don’t get picked or become bored of playing. There are a few, however, like “Move to the Music” that were possibly made by Satan, and suck. To quote Wario and Luigi, “Oh I…missed!”.

Mario Party 2 is the staple of the series that every following game should learn from. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any good Mario Party games since, but the series since has certainly lost its way. I hope for a day that we see a true successor to Mario Party 2, though perhaps it’s better to enjoy what we had: the best Mario Party game. (Maxwell N)

95) Body Harvest
Developer(s) DMA Design
Publisher(s) Midway Home Entertainment / Gremlin Interactive
Platform(s) Nintendo 64
Release: NA: October 20, 1998
Genre(s) Action-adventure, Third-person shooter

If there’s one game on this list that was way ahead of its time, it’s Body Harvest. Essentially an open-world action game in which the player fights off hordes of invading aliens, the simple concept doesn’t signal even an inch of the games incredible depth and innovation.

For example, as you explore the ridiculously huge world map accomplishing your various missions, you can literally take control of any vehicle you want to help you reach your destination. Sound like a certain million dollar franchise that you’re familiar with? It also allows you to free-roam the map, doing whatever you want at almost any time, rather than do what you are supposed to be doing. Are you getting it now? It’s a franchise that rhymes with HAND DEFT GELATTO, but only kind of.

Now, here’s the thing, Body Harvest came out in 1998, and unfortunately on a console that was way underpowered in helping it to achieve its incredibly lofty goals. Still, an ambitious failure comes out way ahead of a successful doppelganger any day, and I can guarantee you’ve literally never played a single game on the Nintendo 64 like Body Harvest. (Mike Worby)

Editor’s Note: We will be publishing one post every day between December 13th and December 21st. Check back for more. 

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN

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From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights

If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Death Stranding Higgs Boss Fights

There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium. 

A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss. 

Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle. 

At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?

As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place. 

That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules. 

In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that. 

“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)

What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight. 

From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights. 

As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive. 

Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing. 

It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam. 

Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes. 

Death Stranding

By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole. 

Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns. 

Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively. 

No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics. 

Death Stranding

Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again. 

Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on. 

By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more. 

Death Stranding

When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale. 

Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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