Capcom vs SNK: Millenium Fight 2000.
While this may not be the connoisseurs choice, that honour usually goes to Street Fighter 3 or Garou, I find Capcom vs SNK to be the finest fighting game ever made.
Released in 2000 for arcade and Dreamcast and later ported to PS1 with decent results, Capcom vs SNK was the first Capcom developed game in the VS series of games between the two companies.
The game features a huge roster of characters from both the Street Fighter and King of Fighters franchises and two fighting systems. Each character has a ratio level from 1-4 and you can select a team that contains up to 4 ratio points. After selecting characters you choose your fighting style, Capcom or SNK.
The two fighting systems have fairly minor differences but they change the approach of the play somewhat. The Capcom system features the three level super gauge. This charges throughout play when attacking or taking damage and when at least one level has been filled, you can activate a super move. Fill all three levels and you can access three level one supers or a level three super move which is crazily powerful.
The SNK system differs a little, it features a charge based system. You hold the hard punch and kick buttons to activate the charge at any time. Once full it slowly decreases until empty and in this time you have access to a level one super. The biggest difference is the desperation attacks. When energy is low your bar flashes and you have access to a level one super at any time. Combine this with a maximum charge and you have a level three MAX super available to use.
The gameplay itself is superbly balanced. It features dashes, jumps, high jumps, chain combos, tech throws and more. There is an excellent speed to the game and the fighting is ultra responsive. It feels like a balance between the King of Fighters/Street Fighter Zero games and the Street Fighter III/Garou titles. Plenty of depth due to the ratio system and mixed fighting styles but not too deep that only the hardcore need apply.
The presentation is without doubt the best in the genre. The stages have loads of cool introductions and the 2D backgrounds are fantastic and overall the animation is superb. Music is absolutely pounding and flows with the game so well. When you win a bout, the music flowing into the next one starts immediately on connection of the finishing blow. It pumps you up in anticipation for the next match.
The main annoyance of Capcom vs SNK is with the sprites themselves. They are lower resolution than the lovely backgrounds and can look scruffy as a result. Also the Ryu/Ken sprites were redrawn for the game and suit the SNK style really well. The rest of the Capcom characters are taken straight from the Zero titles and look too cartoony as a result.
Capcom vs SNK is a fighters dream. Accessible, amazing presentation and superb balance to the gameplay. It has kept me playing than any other single title within the genre.
The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.
There is always a huge debate of which Zelda game is the best but this one has taken things to a new level for the first time since Ocarina of Time.
Skyward Sword tells a much more cinematic tale compared to other games in the franchise and has some fantastic cut scenes as a result. It's told as a story of origin for the franchise and again manages to be relatively fresh despite featuring mostly the same cast of characters as ever.
The game uses a lovely pastel visual style which is vibrant gives off a lovely warm feel. It straddles the style of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess nicely. The music is also fantastic, the theme of Fi being a stand out track.
The gameplay is where Skyward Sword stands not only above other 3D Zelda titles but above other third person adventure games. While the overall basics are similar to every other game in the franchise, the Motion Plus led combat is not and brings a new level of immersion to the game.
The Motion Plus controller mimics your every move on screen, pretty much 1-1 tracking. When you stab, Link stabs. When you swipe, Link Swipes and he always swipes in the directions you swipe in.
While this is simple in itself, it's the clever enemy design that takes it further. Some enemies will guard with shields so you need to find a way past them. You can use your sword to make them follow your blade with theirs until they leave a gap. When this gap appears you need to swipe in the appropriate direction, it works really well. There are plenty of different enemies that require different strategies to defeat.
The Nunchuk is also used to parry with the shield. In certain sections, a few boss fights for example, the game feels like a full on sword fighting simulator. When you are parrying with the shield and counter attacking with the blade it really draws you in and immerses you so much more than with a controller.
Skyward Sword is a long game too, up to 40 hours for the story alone. There are also plenty of things to find, mini games to complete and side quests to do.
There are a few sticking points though. The opening two hours are far too slow and every time you continue the game, you have to read the same bug/rupee collection signs which is extremely annoying. Once would have been fine!
Skyward Sword is a 9/10 game with a controller, with Motion Plus it takes it to the next level, to a 10. On a game design front it is fantastic but certainly nothing new, the Motion Plus ramps up immersion ten fold and makes it easily the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time and its superb Z targeting system.
Released in 1997 for the Japanese Sega Saturn, there was outcry when there were no plans to bring the game to the west. We had to wait September 1999 to play the game in English after it was ported to the PS1 but boy it was worth it.
Grandia is charming, it's probably one of the most if not the most charming game ever made. The characters are just superb. They manage to pull off the serious, the dangerous and the downright slapstick without ever looking out of place. The main character Justin, spends a large portion of the game larking around, trying to be an adventurer like his father and as a result gets into some funny situations such as a wedding hijack. Sue is his eight year old sidekick and manages to be cute without every being annoying. She also has a weird creature that lives in her hair called Puffy. There are a host of other characters too all with great back stories and motivations, all of which fit together in perfect harmony.
The battle system is perhaps one of the best in any RPG. It's semi time based and semi real time. All characters and enemies move along a bar until they reaction the action zone. Once there, a move is selected and then it needs a little more time to perform. Each move takes a different amount of time, often the more powerful the slower the time it takes. There is plenty of room for strategy here as you have to balance the moves depending on enemy actions. You can cancel an enemy attack with good timing too so it presents a lovely risk/reward system. Battles never feel a chore which is vital in an RPG.
Visually it's fully 3D which is rare during a time when games were often using pre rendered backgrounds. The game looks stunning and there so many incidental details such a falling broomsticks and hanging lights, each area feels like it has been crafted with real love.
Characters are drawn using sprites and work well with the backgrounds and the animation is great too.
Music is also wonderful, easily the best soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare. The main theme is so wonderfully triumphant, it cannot fail to stir even the most grumpy of gamer.
Grandia is such a wonderful game it feels someone wrong to pick holes in it but there are issues. The PS1 version, the one most of us will play does suffer from slowdown at times. The battle scenes uses flat 2D images which are quite blurry on PS1. Also even with the Saturn version, the 3D can look scruffy in places and the frame rate chugs a bit.
Grandia has no random battles, buy it now!
Twenty two years after Super Tennis came out, it is still probably the best tennis game ever made. Only Grand Slam Tennis 2 on PS3/360 has come close to offering the sheer range of shots and shot placement that this game has. It's that good.
Released in 1991 for the Super Famicom and just in time for Wimbledon '92 on the European SNES, Super Tennis was a masterpiece then and it remains so today.
The main mode is the world tour mode, it features all of the major tournaments and a selection of unlicensed ones. You pick your player from a range of men and women and aim to be the number one ranked player. Unfortunately none of the players are licensed, nor are any of the tournaments but this does little to impact the game.
Each characters has various strengths and weaknesses that you need to find out by using them. Some are left handed, some right. Some use single handed backhand, double handed, two handed both ways, some are strong at volleys, some serving and so on.
There are four main shots using the four face buttons. B is a flat shot, A produces a slice, Y hits a lob and X give a wicked top spin shot. Combining these shots in context based actions and you end up with a huge range of shot chances. Volley with B and it will be hit with pace, volley with A and it will loop a little more, ideal to use from a deeper position to avoid the net.
Also timing, and d-pad direction play a huge part in shot placement. It's incredibly hard to explain but depending on how early you not only press the button or direction, it affects the direction of your shots. You can really push the ball right to the line with skill and of course the close to the line, the hard it is to return.
Serving is also deep and swerve can be added with L and R.
Visually it's functional and the sound is solid. The world tour mode is meaty and will keep you going for ages.
The password feature is a pain, it's miles too long and the game should really have come with a built in battery. An oversight there. No four player mode either.
Super Tennis is wonderful. Still plays a magnificent game today and when you play against someone that really knows the game, you can see the real depth it has.
Nine games down and one to go and of course there are other games I would rate as a ten. This feature though, is to highlight that a 10/10 doesn't mean perfection, it simply shows that a game stands out above others for various reasons. These reasons are also quite subjective too. For example I have listed several RPG's in here and they are not for everyone.
Anyway, onto the last game in this feature...
The Last of Us.
Yes the game that inspired me to do this. Not because of the scores it has been given, but because it has caused so many debates and humorous quotes throughout the industry. (Citizen Kane of gaming?)
The Last of Us is a ten for various reasons but fundamentally one reason, the story it tells and more importantly how it tells it.
Without going into too much detail due to the myriad of reviews online right now, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel and of his duty to escort Ellie across dangerous terrain to their destination during a major zombie outbreak. It sounds cliched but manages to avoid that with expert direction and fresh gameplay. Along they way they meet various characters either from Joel's past or present and several unknown characters to ally with or fight against.
The beauty of the game is how much it makes you care and question yourself and the actions of each and every character you meet. It manages to deal with a multitude of serious issues, such as violence, death, loss, pity, guilt, homosexuality and more. None of these topics have been dealt with in a video game as well as this since Silent Hill 2.
You really begin to care about what happens on screen. Moments of desperation really put your heart into your mouth and it manages to avoid being predictable.
There is a scene near the end which sums up the experience completely. It plays wonderfully on the frame of the mind of not only the character in the game, but the mind set of the player. You are given a choice, it's a simple choice and many people I have spoken to all took a slightly different approach. The choice isn't even presented to you via instructions on screen, it's all in real time and left to the player alone. Once you make this choice, it sticks with you depending on what you did.
Another interesting aspect is the pacing. Being so intense an experiences, the length of the game is quite fatiguing. Again this actually adds to the brilliance of it because getting through a section loaded with enemies really brings a sense of relief and just draws you into the game further. You start to feel the pain of the characters who just want it all over. You want to stop fighting but you want to keep going to complete your mission, it plays with your emotions on a grand scale.
Also a lot of dialogue is told while you are playing the game. This allows the game to avoid over long pauses in the gameplay to tell its story. The cutscenes never interrupt the game as a result.
The game is based around stealth but offers a variety of ways to approach a situation. Its strength in gameplay is in the diversity it offers each player. For instance I killed a significantly lower number of enemies than a couple of friends I know that completed it, perhaps 50% less which is impressive variation. The gameplay works really well and creates a real tense atmosphere and manages to nullify the over use of checkpoints.
There are issues though, as expected! The ally AI is cumbersome at times and one the odd occasion they get you seen by enemies. This only seems to happen when travelling with a third person rather than with Ellie.
Also Ellie can bee seen and even touch some enemies without being noticed. This breaks immersion somewhat but it's certainly the right way to do it as it would be a nightmare otherwise. An AI instruction system would have probably worked well here.
The Last of Us is wonderful, a masterpiece of storytelling with a fantastic game to boot. It's hard to write too much about it without giving away the most important parts. I went in completely blind when playing this, didn't read a single review and I urge anyone into gaming to play it.
Without the story it's a brilliant game but the wonderful cast and writing push it to that magic ten.