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— Multimedia

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

By Damien Wilkens
25 February 2011 In this installment, anthropomorphic wackiness is the order of the day. Also, androgyny and atomic toast.

#90 - Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse
Systems: Mega Drive / Genesis, SNES, Sega CD, PlayStation
Originally released: 1994

What is it?
A shining example of what can happen when a license is treated with respect. Mickey Mouse has always had better luck than most when it comes to video game adaptations, and games like Mickey Mania can be thanked for that trend.

Each stage resembles a classic story from cartoons past, starting with Steamboat Willie all the way through to The Prince and the Pauper. Along the way, you'll find nearly frame-by-frame references to their source material, setting a standard for 16-bit animation that was (mostly) unrivaled in its period.

Why did it make the list?
I was never a huge Disney fan growing up, but the strong tradition established by Capcom's earlier releases made certain that the early 1990s were an era to play Disney-licensed platformers without fear. While DuckTales and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers were standouts on the NES, this game was in a league of its own during the 16 era.

Mickey Mania really defies the logic of the modern licensed title. Not only is it faithful to its roots, but there's an energy to every action that Mickey takes, an intangible quality that makes you want to drive forward in spite of the game's prodigious challenges. I absolutely believe that people have, on some level, the ability to unconsciously detect just how much love has been put into a creative work, and this game is one of the earliest examples that I can remember. It's a shame that developers Traveller's Tales have often found it difficult to follow their own example, as this is still arguably the best game they've ever created.

Best Moment: Failing a mine cart segment multiple times, only to have the game then skip the section altogether so you didn't have to pull your hair out repeating it. This was 1994 and most games still haven't gotten this hint.

Fun Fact: This was the very first game David Jaffe ever worked on. He, of course, then went on to design the Twisted Metal and God of War franchises, which is the only natural progression one can make after a Mickey Mouse game.

#89 - MDK2
Systems: Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, WiiWare, PC
Originally released: 2000

What is it?
An early BioWare title that built off of an already insane world established by Shiny in its predecessor. You play as reluctant hero Kurt Hectic, who has to once again forgo his duties as a janitor to save the world from an alien invasion. Joining him in his quest are his robot dog Max and mad scientist Fluke Hawkins, who are playable for the first time.

BioWare really shined out of their element, making each of the three characters face their own challenges in unique ways, balancing ingenious level design with some of the most genuinely funny stories in gaming.

It's also one of the most stupidly hard games ever made.

Why did it make the list?
It's the rare case of a shooter that speaks to me on my level namely that of a 12 year old that thinks six-legged robot dogs with guns and jet packs are awesome. Before the Enter the Matrix debacle, Shiny was known for creating offbeat worlds and characters, and you really can't get more offbeat than a crazy man in a lab coat that combats aliens with radioactive toast.

This also probably marks my obsession with conquering games known for their notorious difficulty. There are parts of MDK2 that require, nay, demand perfection. Whether it's Kurt trying to snipe the most insignificant blue dot on a giant enemy, Max making flawless jumps, or Dr. Hawkins trying to find the right combination of toast in the process of repairing his spaceship, every moment of the game offers something new and challenging for you to face. And when you finally do beat a level, you're always rewarded with a faux pulp comic cover to signal the next chapter, followed by a hilarious cutscene that sets the tone before you're tossed into a level and given a new task completely different from the previous.

Best Moment: During Dr. Hawkins' first level, you have the option to use the toilet, which then starts a chemical reaction that causes the bathroom to explode. While running out in a panic, the Marvin-esque brain of the ship reminds Dr. Hawkins to wash his hands before leaving. There are numerous moments like this that make the difficulty worth braving.

Fun Fact: One of the early bosses hides himself inside a certain familiar blue police box.

#88 - Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Systems: PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Originally released: 1997

What is it?
The highly successful follow-up to the PlayStation original, Cortex Strikes Back was a marked improvement over the first, showing less concern with silly ads featuring dudes in costumes and more with refining what had been to that point a solid, if kinda boring game engine.

New moves were added to Crash's arsenal, like the slide, high jump, and slam. Vehicle levels allowed Crash to ride on a jet pack, surfboard, and even a polar bear. Secrets were numerous and fairly cryptic, requiring certain levels to be repeated in light of new developments.

It was the standard-bearer for fun, accessible platforming on the PlayStation, and it holds up surprising well today.

Why did it make the list?
One of the most important years in gaming was 1997, as it was a turning point for the medium, and arguably the start of video games becoming an accepted part of the mainstream. It was also the year that many started to lose faith in the mighty Sega, as they infamously teased a 3D Sonic game only to shovel out a compilation instead. By that point, the only one left to combat the dominance of Mario was Sony's unofficial mascot, Crash Bandicoot.

Anyone that ever played Sonic the Hedgehog will remember his idle animation, tapping his foot impatiently waiting for the player to move him. Crash is, in many ways, the 3D evolution of this, as his every movement expresses a dimwitted exuberance that can be hard to look away from. It's just as much a testament to the level design as it is to the animators, as the variety of levels provide the perfect backdrop for Crash's personality to shine through. And make no mistake, it's that very personality that sells this series, even in light of recent, lesser acclaimed releases.

Best Moment: The Crash Bandicoot dance. To those that have witnessed this dance in all of its pelvic-thrusting glory, no more words are needed.

Fun Fact: The voice of Neo Cortex is done by none other than Clancy Brown, best known for playing the crazy father in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. He did some other stuff too.

#87 - Defender of the Crown
Systems: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Apple IIGS, Commodore 64, Game Boy Advance, NES, Mac, PC, ZX Spectrum, CD-i, numerous others
Originally released: 1986

What is it?
A strategy game set in the Middle Ages, wherein you are a Saxon fighting for control of a throne-less England. Along the way you have to deal with invading Normans, and even your fellow countrymen in the pursuit of land and damsels. Though horribly simplistic compared to modern games of the genre, Defender of the Crown is one of the most fondly remembered for being a graphical touchstone for its period and offering what was a rather mature narrative.

It's also one of the most ported and remade games of all time, meaning that you can fail at jousting on pretty much any console you choose.

Why did it make the list?
Pure nostalgia, mostly. It's also an early sign of my Anglophilia, as I wanted to be a noble Saxon nearly as much as I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle.

There's something to be said for the strong sense of atmosphere that the game brings with it. Calling a tournament every five minutes just to try your hand at jousting for the 900th time never seems to get old, even when you've lost nearly all of your land and you're down to your last bit of gold. You want to press on just enough to afford a catapult and launch a boulder right into Cedric of Rotherwood's stupid smug face.

Best Moment: Saving the princess, only to watch her disrobe and embrace your character in silhouette. I'm sure I can somehow link nine year old me witnessing this on a Commodore 64 as some explanation for my general neurosis.

Fun Fact: One of the selectable characters is Wolfric the Wild. He's weak in most areas, but strongest in the game when it comes to jousting. That's right ladies. Wolfric the Wild is single, is a master of the joust, and he likes to refer to himself in the third person. He is, of course, not to be outdone by the cocksure Geoffrey Longsword.

#86 - Shadow of Memories / Shadow of Destiny
Systems: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC, PSP
Originally released: 2001

What is it?
A quirky story about murder and time travel. You play as Eike Kusch, a socially inept 20-something that managed to get himself stabbed on the way home from a coffee shop. Waking up in a strange dimension, Eike is offered another chance at life by Homunculus, a soft-spoken genie that gives him the power to travel through time to undo the events leading up to his death.

Using these powers, Eike travels through four distinct periods in the life of his quiet German town, preventing his death only for fate to readjust and create a new demise for him hours later.

There is no life bar or combat to speak of. Your only enemy is fate itself, and the only objective is to stay alive.

Why did it make the list?
Shadow of Memories is Dreamcast Awkwardness concentrated into a fine powder, then sprinkled onto a PS2 disc.

Anyone that knows me should be able to guess how much a fan I am of time travel in video games, and the level of detail in which it's handled here should be commended. But what really puts this game over-the-top for me is the B-movie quality that pervades every frame. It's a game so utterly humorless that it manages to be hilarious at points, with voice acting so horrifically awkward that it becomes something beautiful.

It's like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone at three in the morning, looking at the zipper on the back of the monster's suit, and using that as reason to enjoy it even more. Shadow of Memories, for any technical shortcomings, is unique, engaging, and undeniably charming.

Best Moment: The very first time Homunculus takes human form. You'll be spending the rest of the game trying to figure out if that's supposed to be a man or a woman.

Fun Fact: The PSP version features newly recorded voice acting and rewritten dialog. While is makes for a more accessible game, a lot of the magic is gone.

We still have a long way to go. In the next installment, you can expect traps, card-battling, and honor.

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