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Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Nintendo Wii
Nintendo are, bar none, the greatest game developers in the world and Super Mario Galaxy was the best representation of the company firing on all cylinders. It was joyful to play, looked amazing, sounded even better, and had a marriage of level design and core mechanics that had never before been achieved in a 3D space. Impossible as it may seem, the sequel is even better. It improves the pacing by cutting the small amount of fat the original had and cranked the level design up to 11. There were times where I found myself inadvertently shaking my head and laughing at just how incredible some of the stages were. Its not hyperbole to say that there is more variety and creativity in most single levels of this masterpiece than there are in the entirety of many full length games. Nintendo did not just raise the bar for the platforming genre, they stole it and tucked it away forever.
The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch
Jumping off the Great Plateua for the first time is my single favorite gaming memory ever. Paragliding into a beautiful and dangerous world where there are no limits to where you can go and what you can do, gave me a sense of true adventure that no interactive experience had ever come close to. It is the first time that I have felt completely unrestrained by the typical confines of a video game. The clichéd "see that mountain, you can go there" quote actually applies here as the landmarks are a seamless part of the world that you can travel to and scale, always finding something exciting along the way. This unrestricted freedom permeated the entire experience and equally shined in the gameplay where the emergent systems encouraged and often rewarded experimentation. If an arrow sticks to your shield, you can pull this arrow out and add it to your inventory. If you use a torch to set fire to grass, it will create an updraft that you can then use to give yourself a vertical boost. If you toss an enemy a metal weapon during a thunder storm, they will most likely get struck by lightning. These are just a few examples of the many gameplay opportunities that were never explained but discovered throughout my time in Hyrule. Beyond its addictive traversal mechanics, stunning world design, and revolutionary physics system, it was this constant sense of discovery that took away over 200 hours of my time. Miyamoto designed the original Zelda game to capture what it was like to explore a new world. Over 30 years later, his original vision became fully realized and the legendary series produced the greatest open world video game of all time.
Super Metroid - Super famicom and SNES
The Super Nintendo era was a time where the development teams behind the company's marquee franchises used the more powerful hardware to essentially perfect the formulas created by their NES predecessors. While Mario and Zelda are excellent examples of this, it was the Metroid series that saw it's biggest leap forward. The thick atmosphere that gives the player a sense of isolation, organic progression through increasingly powerful weapons and traversal methods, non linear exploration, interconnected world design, and screen filling boss fights set the standard for what fans have come to expect from the series. In fact, you can literally measure every game in the series quality based on how closely it resembles Samus' Super Nintendo outing. Although the game certainly provided the perfect Metroid experience on my first play through, the replay value is where it truly shined. Once the credits rolled I started a new game immediately and was astonished to learn just how much the it opened up once I mastered a few of the many sequence breaking techniques. Whether it's getting power ups out of order or skipping bosses entirely, it is the ultimate speed running game that continues to stay engaging no matter how many times I have explored every inch of Zebes. The fact that the critical path feels so perfectly crafted, yet is designed to be "broken" in so may different ways, is why Super Metroid is still untouchable in the genre. It is also worth pointing out that I was extremely late to the party, playing the game nearly 20 years after release. Yet, I still find Super Metroid to be pound for pound the most well designed video game of all time. A truly timeless classic.
Resident Evil 4 - GameCube
Shinji Mikami's crowning achievement has influenced every third person shooter released since, yet it's overall quality has not been approached. Resident Evil 4 has a campaign that never loses steam despite being twice as long as any other in the genre . The key to the game's masterful pacing lies in its staggering variety. Each and every ecounter has it's own distinct feature or mechanic so that combat remains fresh and evolving through out the entire experience. Additionally, these battles never play out the same way due to the open-ended nature of their design and the dynamic difficulty curve that subtly tweaks the encounters to keep players on their toes. This combination of set piece and sandbox has yet to be matched in the action game space. It's even more impressive when you consider that this level of variety was achieved without ever sacrificing the game's identity as a simple stop and pop shooter. From it's immensely satisfying combat mechanics and genre defining boss battles, to its deep weapon economy and bevy of unlockable content, Resident Evil 4 simply never gets old to me, no matter how many times I replay it.
Bloodborne - PlayStation 4
Bloodborne could have earned a spot as one of my favorite games based on it's gameplay alone. It has a perfectly tuned combat system that feels immensely rewarding to master, the bosses are the kind of visually imposing and epic challenges I had always dreamed of, and the series' unmatched level design is on full display in each of Yharnam's densely designed zones. Its a game that is so fun to play that I could only stop for basic necessities, like sleep and food, before I finished. Then I started a new game...4 more times over the course of a year, including 2 playthroughs with the Old Hunters, the game's DLC that featured what I consider to be the best boss line up in the history of the medium. However, From Software coupled this nearly perfect gameplay experience with an equally impressive atmosphere. It's lush skies, gaudy cathedrals, haunting soundtrack, and terrifying beasts pulls you into it's world and doesn't let go. And while it is told untraditionally, the narrative has a strong presence throughout the experience. Each piece of lore is carefully placed throughout the world and provides context to the events taking place. In fact, the lore is so intriguing that I have spent just as much time researching lovecraftian horror as I have actually playing the game. But as incredible as each element of Miyazaki's magnum opus is, it's how harmoniously everything comes together that leaves Bloodborne in a league of its own. In the 20 plus years that I have been playing video games, I have never experienced a piece of software that adheres to a cohesive vision so relentlessly. I believe this, above all else, is why Bloodborne has stayed on my mind so often and continued to call me back, time and time again.
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