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

By Damien Wilkens
26 August 2011 It's another installment of The List, chronicling my favorite video games of all time. The theme for this one seems to be gorgeous 2D and really hard platforming. Also, backwards-walking zombies. Because backwards-walking zombies go with everything.

#75 - WWF WrestleFest
System: Arcade
Originally released: 1991

What is it?
The first game to break from overuse in every arcade in the country. WrestleFest was easily the most fun and authentic professional wrestling game to hit the States for nearly a decade. Just the mere idea of having a somewhat accurate representation of the product was a mind-blowing notion at the time, considering that WWF games up to that point worked better as abstract art than interactive entertainment.

Here you had gigantic characters, bright colors, and finishing moves that actually looked like they were being performed by human beings. I know this sounds snarky as all hell, but this was a genuine accomplishment.

Why did it make the list?
There was a time when arcades not only existed, but were a gateway to unique experiences that couldn't be duplicated at home. In this instance, all of our favorite wrestling heroes throwing each other around the screen for our amusement. It was, in many ways, the perfect arcade game, instantly gratifying, and infinitely replayable.

I'll always remember WrestleFest as one of those machines that drew massive lines at the arcade. Like any of the classic multiplayer cabinets of the day, games like this were sometimes more of a spectator sport as you elbowed your way through the crowd, trying to crane your neck to get a better view of the screen. They created an aura in their time that will never be duplicated, using the advantages of limited play time to cultivate repeat business and schoolyard rumors that could never be proven. After all, who didn't have a friend that claimed to be able to unlock the Legion of Doom?

Best Moment: Getting hit with the Doomsday Device. It's sort of amazing that it even made it into the game considering that double team moves baffled creators of wrestling games long after this one.

Fun Fact: In tag team mode, the two members of Demolition can only tag with each other, but through emulation and tomfoolery you can actually work around this. Thus confusing the game into creating awesome team names like Ultimate Warition, which sounds like some sort of comic book crossover.

#74 - Donkey Kong Country
Systems: SNES, Game Boy Advance
Originally released: 1994

What is it?
The game that pretty much established Rare as Nintendo's best buddy in the 90s, reinventing the Donkey Kong franchise for a new generation, and testing the limits of what was thought to be graphically possible on the SNES. You control Donkey Kong and newcomer Diddy on a mission to beat up a lot of reptilian pirates to recover a stolen banana hoard. As far as 16-bit platformer plots go, it's Macbeth.

Why did it make the list?
Time hasn't been kind to this game for some reason, to the point that some have even declared it to be one of the most overrated games of all time. Those people are completely within their rights to be wrong.

Did it reinvent the wheel? No, but it didn't need to. Up to that point, there wasn't much of a wheel to reinvent anyway. Side-scrolling platformers were the first-person shooters of the 8- and 16-bit eras, in the sense that they were the most frequently duplicated and most often uninspired offerings on any system. If you didn't have Mario or Sonic, chances are you were working with something half-assed and kinda dull. Donkey Kong Country took the best parts of Mario (e.g. tight controls, loads of secrets, iconic characters, etc.) and forged its own identity, offering an experience that's as fun and challenging as ever.

It was a game that very much appealed to my completionist mentality, as it kept a running percentage of how much of the world you'd explored, always pushing you to find that next hidden item or stage.

Best Moment: Seeing the map completely open, with a 101% completion on your save file.

Fun Fact: The series inspired a French CG animated series, revolving around coconut prophecies and lots of singing, much like my failed Broadway show: La Passion de la Sphère.

#73 - Super Meat Boy
Systems: Xbox 360, PC
Originally released: 2010

What is it?
An ass-wrenchingly hard platformer, Super Meat Boy is a refreshing blend of torture and nostalgia that calls to mind every 8-bit struggle of yesteryear. Due to critical and commercial success, it's become sort of a champion of indie game development.

You play as Meat Boy. He's a boy. And he's made of meat. The super part is kinda up to you as you try to rescue his main squeeze, Bandage Girl, from the evil Dr. Fetus. Dr. Fetus is quite literally a fetus in a robot suit that continually insists on giving you the finger. I know this sounds like a really bad pitch for an Adult Swim cartoon, but I swear to you that's what the game is about.

Why did it make the list?
Because I'm a goddamn masochist. If the above stated Donkey Kong Country is "Nintendo hard," Super Meat Boy is "Nintendo hate." Everything in every level wants to kill Meat Boy. We're talking saws, lasers, even piles of salt. There are parts of this game that require not just perfection, but some sort of thumbic wizardry.

Yet there's a certain addictive quality to the game that makes it impossible to put down, like the game is constantly daring you to go just a little farther: "So you beat the level? Now try the dark world version. Now try it within this time limit. Oh, you did that already? Well, did you find the secret portals? Unlock all the characters? Sure, you beat the game, but did you get the real ending?" It's both a dream and a nightmare for someone like me, always determined to show my stubborn old-school dedication, no matter the cost.

Even if you're not a hardcore platforming fan, the game has personality in spades and is something everyone should at least try.

Best Moment: Unlocking The Kid from I Wanna Be the Guy. It's true to that game in that it's easily the hardest part of Super Meat Boy. Most people never get past the first level.

Fun Fact: Speaking of The Kid, each version of Super Meat Boy comes with its own roster of unlockable characters, all from other notable indie games like World of Goo, Machinarium, Minecraft, and Braid. Many of them have unique abilities that even let you cheat in some levels, well, as much as you can cheat in a game with one-hit kills.

#72 - Heart of Darkness
Systems: PlayStation, PC
Originally released: 1998

What is it?
A 1902 novel by Joseph Conrad, which later became the film Apocalypse Now.

Wait, that's my "Turn of the Century Novels You Should Read" list.

This Heart of Darkness is a beautiful cinematic platformer from Eric Chahi, maker of the classic Another World. You play as Andy, a genius child on a mission through space to rescue his dog from the Master of Darkness, a mysterious sorcerer that rules the Darklands.

Despite its relative obscurity, its influence is felt even today in games like Limbo.

Why did it make the list?
A lot of people seem to think that the whole "art gaming" movement started with Ico. Though personally I find the term rather redundant, the truth is that groundbreaking games like that existed long before. Heart of Darkness very much carries the burden of that label by being equal parts gorgeous and inaccessible. Aesthetically, there's really nothing better on the PlayStation. The animation is smooth, the characters have heart, and the soundtrack is performed by the freaking London Symphony Orchestra. Often the visuals themselves feel like the reward, as each screen offers something new and interesting to gawk at.

On the other hand, that eye candy comes at a hefty price. Though Heart of Darkness is very straightforward and linear, it's still punishing from the word go. You will find yourself surrounded by shadow monsters. You will find yourself overwhelmed by shadow monsters. You will find yourself eaten by shadow monsters. It's all rather gruesome considering that it's an E-rated game. Andy will often meet very unfortunate fates when you screw up; never gory, but unsettling enough to make you never want to experience them again.

I think that's the secret to the game's appeal. It makes you confused and frustrated, sure, but it also makes you care.

Best Moment: Any of the FMV cutscenes. I know the stuff is considered choppy and unwatchable to a lot of people these days, but I always found it endearing. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I really don't care about gritty realism in my games.

Fun Fact: At one point Andy runs into a friendly group of aliens called Amigos. Close your eyes and imagine an alien race called the Amigos and you pretty much have it. Yes, they actually speak Spanish.

#71 - Deadly Premonition
Systems: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Originally released: 2010

What is it?
A survival-horror-comedy-sandbox-Twin Peaks-simulation with occasional bits of shooting. It's also a game that wants you to take your silly genre conventions and shove them up your ass while it talks about the DVD extras of 1980s films.

You play as Francis York Morgan, an FBI agent assigned to the town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a young woman. Actually, you don't really play as York. See, you're actually playing as Zach, his alternate personality that only seems to exist on the other side of the fourth wall.

Perhaps you can tell already, but Deadly Premonition is not a game that cares to spend a lot of time asking "Why?" when "Why not?" is so much more interesting.

Why did it make the list?
"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Dreamcast awkwardness, bitch!"

Deadly Premonition is not a game that can be broken down into its individual parts in an effort to understand its appeal. It simply is what it is, and it makes no excuses. It has horrible controls, below average graphics, and completely insane voice acting. None of these things seem to matter when you're playing, because the game is so comfortable in its own skin.

"Okay, I'll take this mission from the crazy old lady that talks to an empty pot. Seems rational to me."

"Oh, I know I have to clear this area of backwards-walking zombies, but I have to shave first so my hygiene score doesn't suffer."

"Is that a floating moose head? Okay, just checking."

You don't see games like this rushed to shelves to make the holiday, or given huge double-page ads in Game Informer. You go into a project like Deadly Premonition knowing that mainstream success isn't in the cards, and something this insane can't be fully realized without copious amounts of love and dedication.

It is quite frankly impossible to go through this game without a big stupid grin on your face.

Best Moment: When you ran to the store today to buy it, since it's less then $15 now. Ha ha. No, seriously, go do it. You think I don't have addresses? I have addresses.

Fun Fact: The game actually started development under the title Rainy Woods, but the Twin Peaks comparisons became so strong that the entire focus of the game had to be changed and all of the voice acting was rerecorded.

Wondering what I've got lined up next? Lots and lots of Sega. Like, five whole games of it.

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