Continued from Part 1…
With this context in place, I would assert that the games that have left the most lasting impact on me have not necessarily been those that were technically savvy, but those that met and surpassed my preconceptions; providing minute after minute and hour after hour of satisfaction as I experienced something truly engaging and inspiring beyond what I had hoped for. As a teacher by profession those words ‘engaging’ and ‘inspiring’ come up an awful lot, but how hard is it actually to pull off something that delivers?
My 20 years of gaming have uncovered perhaps a dozen such examples; games that took hold of my expectations and led me into something even more amazing. Occasionally a game will seize your expectations and dash them to pieces as well, but we won’t dwell on those occasions or name names just yet.
Here are a few titles that you may have had a similar positive experience with, though given the subjective nature of what people desire from their games at different stages of their gaming life their inclusion in this list may equally leave you perplexed. Either way, they’ve worked for me and form the peak of experience in my gaming journey so far.
Format: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Year: 1994
Hobbies I loved as a 9 year old: Basketball. Video games.
You can see where this is leading.
Not surprisingly at the age of 29 I still love basketball and video games, and when the two combine the results are usually good. Unfortunately for them, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside (N64 back in 1998) and NBA 2k14 (PS3 this year) never had a hope of matching the rose coloured memories of NBA JAM on the SNES.
It started with a little hype; trying the arcade version at Timezone and the news of a SNES port on the horizon. Then there was the anticipation of knowing that it was in the pipeline as a birthday present*, eventually followed by the chance to unbox, insert the cartridge and get stuck in. Hundreds of hours later (including a couple of ill-fated attempts by my cousin and I to beat the game in one sitting, broken up only by food and real life basketball) the game still rocked. NBA JAM Tournament Edition was released a year or two later, but was decidedly unnecessary as the original was just so good. We played the sequel for a significant number of hours just to be sure though.
WHY IT IS UNBEATABLE: High flying fantasy basketball with a quick learning curve and simple mechanics. Great multiplayer (4 player at parties using the SNES Multitap was intense). Cheats for super strength, accuracy or half court dunks.
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY
Format: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Year: 1994
Back when the bulk of your gaming information came in the form of magazines or the occasional TV show slotted in when the TV station needed filler, the arrival of DKC on the SNES was a big deal. It was to be a major reboot of the Donkey Kong brand and introduced Donkey, Diddy and all their vividly illustrated friends and enemies to the modern era. The joy of multiplayer in games must already have been established in my young mind, as the biggest drawcard of DKC was the chance to take on these beautifully rendered levels in cooperative mode with a brother, cousin or anyone else capable of holding a joypad and pressing right on the D-pad. As with NBA JAM before it, Donkey Kong Country never took a wrong step. And as the sequels have proven again and again, as soon as you see the golden Rare logo you know you’re in for something special.
You can read any review for a breakdown of how good the level design, game mechanics and ground-breaking graphics were, but I’m convinced that there was just no downside to this game.
WHY IT IS UNBEATABLE: Beauty, variety, co-op play and an ideal starting point for speed running.
Format: Game Boy/Game Boy Advance/DS/3DS
Release Year: 1996 onwards
Back in 1998 I saw the first season of a new cartoon called Pokemon. It was pretty cool and Sandshrew was my favourite. Then in Japanese class one day, a guy said he had the video game and it all began.
There was a game!?! How did I not know this and how could I experience it?
Luckily my brother got a Game Boy Color and Pokemon Red shortly after so the apocalypse was averted, though it turned out that Sandshrew was only available in Pokemon Blue so it would be a long time before we were united.
Pokemon, at least in its earliest iterations, was never about amazing feats of technology. By necessity it sported the classic Game Boy green-tinged greyscale colour scheme, involved a lot of static sprites and featured turn based, rock-paper-scissors inspired combat. What it did have though was public presence courtesy of the cartoon, overseas popularity and solid gameplay involving elements of collecting, trading with friends, training to become stronger and eventually saving the world. This pattern has remained constant throughout the series’ history and will probably continue in the same vein for years to come, just with prettier visuals and peripheral updates.
Over the years I’ve found that Pokemon has always offered a pleasing avenue of escapism as they player takes on the role of protagonist and overcomes the carefully scripted challenges that guide you towards greatness. At a foundational level, Pokemon’s simplistic wrestle between good and evil leaves the player with a sense of joy and empowerment, sensations that can’t be bad for kids growing up in an often turbulent real world to experience. In the world of Pokemon tragedy is fleeting and good triumphs, generally through your own efforts.
There are, however, plenty of games that offer the same pleasant distraction and laid-back enjoyment, so what specifically has elevated Pokemon to its place on this list?
Behind the childlike façade of pretty colours and anime characters with out of proportion bodies is a ruthless competitive scene requiring you to sink many hours of work into your carefully thought out team to have any hope of battling success. Having ‘beaten the game’ is just a precursor to the real journey of becoming the very best. Competitive play was once a matter for you and the couple of friends that had link cables, but through the wonders of technology a massive online world of opponents awaits just a Wi-Fi connection away. You can no longer just rely on having the ‘best’ legendary pokemon, as other players will have a number of ways to exploit your champion’s weaknesses. They will also have bred countless generations of pokemon in order to select perfect genetics, natures and moves (this isn’t an exaggeration in any way – the mechanics of the game are surprisingly complex) in order to crush your poorly prepared minions.
But let’s get back to the personal history. After taking a break of a few years from Pokemon franchise I decided to delve into this hidden scientific and mathematical world in which an electric type will no longer automatically trump a water type. After hundreds of hours of research, training, and eventually breeding for genetics, I can affirm that for those with a soft spot for the franchise this advanced level of play is totally worth coming to grips with. Anyone familiar with multiplayer competitive gaming in any genre will understand the exalting sense of satisfaction that follows your triumph in battle against an opponent of equal or greater skill. You can take pride in constructing and learning to employ a team of pokemon based on tried and true formulas (so many Garchomps…) or your own initiative. Then there are single battles, double battles, triple battles and other forms I don’t like so much that all require you to reassess your strategy and team cohesion in order to win. But I digress…
Do I still have to remind myself it’s not something to be ashamed of when admitting that I play Pokemon? Yes, because at face value it is a kids’ RPG with fluffy animals.
But can I justify it as a legitimate competitive gaming experience? Based on the last few years’ experience, absolutely. Ask anyone who admits to battling and they will confirm that it is challenging and complex stuff.
WHY IT IS UNBEATABLE: Timeless formula with casual and serious levels of play. Huge online competitive community. Portable!
Whilst there are a handful more titles I could mention at this point, I think I’ll save them for their own features at some later date.
The variety apparent in just the first three that came to mind suggests that, regardless of critical opinion, the games mentioned in Part 1 of this post will indeed be unbeatable for many players. There will be people for whom Titanfall’s giant mech combat will never be bested, and others that have just always wanted a multiplayer Skyrim and will be playing The Elder Scrolls Online until the servers are eventually switched off. And given the general acclaim for Destiny’s gunplay and beauty, I am sure that it will be appearing on lists just like these in which the author was waiting for the FPS that gave them just the right blend of shooting, looking classy and shooting some more. And here it is the form of Destiny.
Were I not saddled with a real job and baby (don’t get one of those if you wish to devote time to gaming) I would be playing Destiny right now.
What are your top 3 unbeatable gaming experiences and why?