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

By Damien Wilkens
12 March 2011 This time around we have a lot of PlayStation games, and a bit of rock and / or roll. A happy accident has me also realizing that all of these games share the attribute of being really goddamn hard.

#85 - Kagero: Deception II
System: PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Originally released: 1998

What is it?
The second installment in a rather unique series of games. The first Deception had you controlling an undead prince that found vengeance in a pact with Satan. Continuing that upbeat trend, Kagero puts players in control of Millennia, an emotionless puppet for an evil immortal race known as the Timenoids. You are tasked with protecting the Castle of the Damned from a persistent supply of do-gooding humans.

To aid her in battle, Millennia is given a supply of traps that can be set in any room of the castle. Using these in creative and sadistic ways will earn you the ability to buy bigger and more dangerous traps, which brings you closer and closer to creating entire Rube Goldberg machines of death.

Why did it make the list?
There's really nothing else like it. Too few games allow you to catch an enemy in a bear trap, then crush his flailing body with a giant boulder. You can also make laser arrows. Yes, laser arrows.

Though in some ways it's more of a puzzle game than straight up action, it should also be noted that few games are able to capture the sense of intense cruelty that this game does. You are an evil being, doing the work of very evil people. Even if you choose to revolt against your masters later on in the narrative, there is still the blood of innocents on your hands, and you almost hate to admit to yourself just how much fun you had in the process.

Best Moment: Any trap combinations that involve fire. My personal favorite is dropping a vase full of oil on the victim's head, which causes him to stumble into a nearby wall, which then pushes out and launches him into the fireplace. This causes immense discomfort.

Fun Fact: The Deception games are, without a doubt, the most confusingly named series of titles in gaming. The first is titled Tecmo's Deception, followed by Kagero, then Deception III: Dark Delusion. The fourth game in the series was titled Trapt in the States, but was released in Japan as Kagero II: Dark Illusion. I may love the series, but my alphabetically organized shelf hates it.

#84 - SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash
System: Neo Geo Pocket Color
Originally released: 1999

What is it?
A card-battling game with a tremendous cult following. Card Fighters Clash is actually split into two different games: an SNK and a Capcom version, both with different starting decks and exclusive cards. It's essentially a Pokemon game with famous Capcom and SNK characters taking the place of cutesy monsters, with a surprising amount of strategy just waiting to be discovered under the surface.

Why did it make the list?
The Neo Geo Pocket Color is a strange little handheld that occupies a special place in my heart, and Card Fighters Clash is easily my favorite game for it, mostly because it showed the potential of a system that had, up to that point, only been used to port awkward super-deformed versions of well known Neo Geo titles. Since most Neo Geo game were fighters, you can imagine why the idea didn't do so well. (It actually sold worse than the infamous N-Gage.)

Card Fighters took a different approach, creating a crossover of characters much larger than any one fighting game could contain, and using them in creative ways. Deck-building was vital to your strategy, as certain cards could only compliment others based on the relation of their characters. Ken from Street Fighter, for example, can offer benefits to someone like Ryu or Chun-Li, but isn't nearly as useful to characters from Darkstalkers.

It is yet another example of that old school motto "easy to learn, hard to master."

Best Moment: Linking your Neo Geo Pocket Color to your Dreamcast to access special cards.

Fun Fact: This game has two sequels: a Japan-only follow-up, and a DS re-imagining. The DS version is notable for being a fun game in spite of a horrible translation, retarded AI, and a complete reconstruction of the rules that eliminated any semblance of strategy. Oh, and there's a glitch in the initial version that made the game impossible to finish.

#83 - Bushido Blade
System: PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Originally released: 1997

What is it?
A fighting game that broke all the rules. There are no life bars, no super moves, and fights very often end with one blow. Moves are dictated almost entirely by weapon choice, and you have to obey the laws of Honor during each battle, meaning you can never hit an opponent from behind or attack them before they're ready.

As you could imagine, it's one of the most difficult fighters ever made, with a minimalistic aesthetic that betrays the game's depth.

Why did it make the list?
There's really nothing else like it. (Is there an echo in here?)

Bushido Blade came out around the same time as Final Fantasy VII, and was part of a short-lived period wherein Square experimented with non-RPG genres, namely fighters and shooters. Some efforts were better than others, but Bushido Blade was a definite standout, offering an experience that was equal parts intriguing and frustrating.

It's a hard game, and another example of a title that fascinated me to the point that I freely gave into its often-absurd demands. Winning a battle is difficult enough without having to consider the preservation of your honor, and too often you find yourself disgraced, staring at a game over screen, wondering if your character just committed harakiri.

Best Moment: Getting the "true" ending requires you to run away from the very first opponent in story mode, leading to a two-mile long chase that requires you to jump into a pit of dirt, cripple his legs, run into a fortress, then dispatch 10 more enemies without being touched. It's suitably hardcore for a game so true to the Bushido code.

Fun Fact: One of the hidden characters in the game is Katze, notable for his ability to use a firearm. True to the rest of the game, unlocking him is an arduous, seemingly random process.

#82 - Mr. Bones
System: Saturn
Originally released: 1996

What is it?
A game that's kinda hard to describe. You see, you're the skeleton of a 19th century rural Southerner that's accidentally been resurrected to serve in the undead army of a mad vampire scientist named DaGoulian, who's tapped into the powers of alchemy with his magic bongos. (Seriously.) Escaping from the graveyard, it's up to you, as the titular character, to defeat your skinless brethren and save the world.

Best described as a 2D platformer, Mr. Bones really defies genre with its varied gameplay. No two levels are quite the same, and often have you doing completely different things, such as deflecting evil with your guitar (shooter-style), epic chase scenes with cheesy FMVs, and there's even a level that requires you to reassemble Mr. Bones whilst bouncing along his own head resulting in some weird meta Droste effect that makes my brain hurt.

Early in the game you're forced to subdue a field of rampaging skeletons with an impromptu guitar solo. Yes, you literally fight the undead with the power of rock.

Why did it make the list?
There's really noth... okay, fine. It's because games like this are a dying breed and need to be recognized. People can complain all they want about fans that romanticize older titles, but the fact is that Mr. Bones could never have been made today. As a forgotten game on a forgotten system, it's only fair that something this unique be given a moment in the spotlight.

Even playing the game with 2011 eyes, there's a Mystery Science Theater 3000 appeal to the FMVs, especially when the scene-chewing live action DaGoulian interacts with other characters. It's stupid fun, and it knows this. Every time you conquer a particularly challenging level, you're met with another silly cutscene. Stupidity is your reward, and I can absolutely respect that.

Best Moment: The penultimate level of the game is one of the strangest perhaps ever conceived. Faced with the task of pushing back DaGoulian's henchman, Junior, you do battle the only way Mr. Bones knows how: by telling jokes. The only way to pass the level is to tell eight successful punch lines, driving Junior to hysterics and granting your passage.

Fun Fact: A majority of the game's soundtrack was composed by Ronnie Montrose, a man that's made more albums than years I've been on this earth.

#81 - Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
System: PlayStation, PlayStation Network, PC, Game Boy
Originally released: 1997

What is it?
The story of Abe, a Mudokon slave working at RuptureFarms, the biggest meat processing plant on Oddworld. Combating declining sales, the bigwigs decide that their newest product will be made from the heads of their slaves, forcing Abe to escape and attempt to free his people.

It's regarded as one of the earliest champions of the "gaming as an art" movement, and for good reason, as Abe's Oddysee used a fictional world populated by grotesque monsters to tell a story of corporate greed and commercialism. Taking cues from cinematic platformers like Flashback and Another World, it added the element of Gamespeak, an ability that allowed you to command and rescue allies, adding to the already inordinate challenge.

Why did it make the list?
How the hell could it not? It still stands as one of the most daring, creative works in the medium, constructing a universe that a lot of gamers (this one included) are begging to revisit. The character of Abe himself, in both design and presentation, is so endearing that you don't just want, but need to see him succeed.

And success is not easy. There are parts of the game that demand near-perfection, and it can take multiple run-throughs to even get a sense of what you're supposed to do, let alone how to do it safely. It's every part old school in its execution as it's new school in it's appeal.

Best Moment: Earning the "Guardian Angel" FMV, which is only in the initial printings of the PlayStation version and can only be accessed through a perfect completion of the game.

And to answer your natural follow-up question, it took me three weeks.

Fun Fact: Abe's Oddysee was only the first in what was then known as the Oddworld Quintology, a series of games set in Oddworld with shared characters and themes. The developers quit after two games to focus on film production. This was back in 2005, and I don't think anyone's bought so much as a boom mic since.

In the next installment, we'll be dealing with the three F's: fighting, fear, and the French.

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