books films video games music

Updated 2018.06.09

Video games have long been almost as significant a part of my life as, say, oxygen. This is a list of some of my favorite commercial games, sorted roughly into "generations." (Some of the arcade and PC games don't fit neatly.)

I also have pages about video game creation, free independent games, and video game music.
Commodore 64 and NES Era
A Boy and His Blob    NES
I played A Boy and His Blob until I memorized it, and I liked to draw carefully-shaded pencil maps of areas in the game. I also enjoyed Pitfall 2 on the Atari 5200, which was sort of this game's predecessor.

You can find an excellent arrangement of the game's music here.
Below the Root    C64
Based on the Greensky Trilogy book series by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Below the Root was much more expansive and complex than any other adventure game I had seen before. My sister and I played it a lot, but I can't remember whether we ever finished it. I eventually tracked down the out-of-print books, and I enjoyed them.
Blaster Master    NES
With no save or password feature, I'd leave Blaster Master on for days. I never did find the last boss. Unfortunately, the sequels weren't nearly as good as the NES game.

I'm not especially interested in cars, but if I were to choose a "dream car" it would be the Sophia 3.
Boulder Dash    C64
I probably spent more time playing the Boulder Dash series than anything else on my Commodore 64. I often dreamed of making my own stages. Then one day I found Boulder Dash Construction Kit at a store. A dream come true, and only $5.
Bruce Lee    C64
My friend Ryan Huisinga introduced me to Bruce Lee. I don't think I've enjoyed another fighting action game more, even if I sometimes found the conveyor belt room frustrating the second time through.
Bubble Bobble    arcade, C64, NES
Bubble Bobble has appeared on many platforms, and has some excellent sequels (such as Parasol Stars) and spin-offs (such as Puzzle Bobble / Bust a Move). Among other strengths, the game has very appealing collectibles (such as "WcDonald's" fries).

There's a recording on the Internet of a high school band performing music from Bubble Bobble and New Zealand Story. You can hear part of it here.
Dig Dug    arcade
I think that Dig Dug was the first video game I ever encountered. When I was young my mom would take me shopping at some kind of fresh produce store, and while I waited for her I would climb the cabinet and watch the demo until it was time to go. I still find it and Dig Dug 2 a lot of fun to play. I also like Mr. Driller, if that counts as a sequel.
Crystalis    NES
I think that my nostalgia for Crystalis exceeds that of any other video game.

See also my Crystalis shrine.
Dragon Warrior III    NES
Dragon Warrior III had a depth that I had never before encountered in a video game. After drawing pictures and maps from it at school, I'd run home from my bus stop to continue my game. This was not easy, as due to a paperwork error I had no school locker and had to carry all of my books every day.
Dragon Warrior IV    NES
I rented Dragon Warrior IV for two weeks, at which point I ran out of money. Fortunately, my parents bought it for me for Christmas that year--one of the rare times they were willing to buy me a video game. This was one of the last NES games, and certainly one of the best. If only they had kept the old English from the original Dragon Warrior.
Destiny of an Emperor    NES
In high school, I once mentioned that I liked video games to someone on my school bus and he recommended Destiny of an Emperor. I ordered it somewhat blindly from Funco and was very glad I did. It's kind of like a high-speed Dragon Warrior with history instead of fantasy.
Final Fantasy    NES
Inspired by Dragon Quest, this game was supposedly the "final" effort that saved Square from failure.

I remember how much fun it was to find the airship, back before airships were a given in such games.
Gauntlet    C64
Gauntlet was one of my favorite Commodore 64 games. My friend Barney Anda and I often played the 2-player mode, and we always had to remember not to go into the treasure room exits or the game would freeze.

I consider Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance this game's spiritual successor. (The 3D Gauntlet games just don't measure up.)
The Legend of Zelda    NES
I don't know that I'd have the patience now for a game that requires burning every bush and bombing every rock in the world looking for secrets, but I never tired of it while playing The Legend of Zelda. I also liked Zelda 2, though I don't think I ever finished the final castle. I remember staying up all night once many years ago to watch my friend Troy Kinsey play the game all the way through, though.
Mail Order Monsters    C64
I don't think any game since really parallels Mail Order Monsters. Where else can you build a photosynthetic wasp with tentacles and a flamethrower and go up against a tyrannosaurus with a jetpack and a missile launcher?
Metroid    NES
I was introduced to Metroid when my friend Jeremy Martz traded his bicycle for a NES with a few games. Its superlative sequels aside, this first game had some of the best music, atmosphere, and exploration you could find.
River Raid    Atari 2600
River Raid was the first home video game I ever saw. I watched my dad played it at someone's house, and I remember assuming that video games were for adults. It was our first game when we got our own Atari, and it remained a favorite of mine. I once sent away for an official "River Raiders" patch that I earned for reaching a certain score. I still have it.
R-Type    arcade, C64, SMS
I first played R-Type on the Sega Master System, which belonged to my neighbors Jeff and Mike Jimenez. They'd usually enter the invincibility code for me. That version of the game remains my favorite.

See also my R-Type shrine.
Super Dodge Ball    NES
I've never been very interested in sports games--probably because I've never been very interested in sports. But Super Dodge Ball is an exception.
Super Mario Bros.    NES
I doubt that anyone reading this page needs any explanation of Super Mario Bros. But at the same time, it has to be a part of this list. The day I finally bought my NES, I stayed up all night playing until I beat it. I'm still impressed thinking of how innovative and surreal the game is.
Super Mario Bros. 3    NES
Before I had a NES, I read over the Super Mario Bros. 3 strategy guide that came with my Nintendo Power subscription many times. It's not that I wanted to cheat; this was just my only taste of the game until I finally got a NES.
Tetris    all of the above
There are countless variants and an entire genre based on Tetris, but Alexey Pajitnov's original game in its basic form is just as compelling as ever.

My favorite traditional Tetris clone is Tetra Blocks.
Xevious    arcade
My favorite restaurant has long been Pancho's Mexican Buffet, and when I was younger every location seemed to have Xevious. I preferred watching my dad play to playing myself. I once made a Xevious arcade cabinet Halloween costume out of a large cardboard box.

Agent USA  C64
Berzerk  Atari 2600
Dragon Spirit  NES
Faxanadu  NES
Jumpman  C64
Lode Runner  C64
North and South  NES
Pirates!  NES
Raid on Bungeling Bay  C64
Skate or Die 2  NES
Space Harrier  SMS
StarTropics  NES
Survivor  C64
Turbo Grafx 16 and SNES Era
Air Zonk    TG16
The Turbo Grafx 16 had many good scrolling shooters, but Air Zonk remains my favorite. Even Soldier Blade doesn't compel me to hook up my system every so often the way this game does. I like the stage 2 music, especially during the transition to the rooftops at dusk.
Axelay    SNES
If I had to choose a single favorite stage from all scrolling shooters, it might be the second stage in Axelay. My favorite part is the musical climax as Earth becomes visible from the space colony.
Chrono Trigger    SNES
The result of Enix and Square combining their talents back when they were separate companies, Chrono Trigger remains a standard for console RPGs.
Day of the Tentacle    PC
I always liked Maniac Mansion and was excited to hear of its sequel, but I didn't actually play Day of the Tentacle until years after its release. Although some puzzles are absurdly difficult to figure out, the game is very creative and very funny.
Donkey Kong Country    SNES
Donkey Kong Country is one of my favorite platformers, even if its mechanics are nothing special. I think some of the music is amazing. Donkey Kong Country 2 is more of the same and excellent as well. I honestly can't judge Donkey Kong 64, as I didn't make it past the unspeakably terrible introduction.
Earthworm Jim 2    SNES
While guiding a microorganism with a machine gun through a digestive tract lined with pencils and pinball bumpers to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, I really came to appreciate the creativity in Earthworm Jim 2.

"Well done."
Final Fantasy II    SNES
Final Fantasy IV in Japan. From the center of the earth to the moon, this game continually amazed me. It's probably still my favorite of the series--it certainly has my favorite soundtrack.
Final Fantasy III    SNES
Final Fantasy VI in Japan. I remember resetting the game several times at the opera scene so that I could go through it again.
Final Fantasy Adventure    GB, GBA
It turns out that this game is actually Seiken Densetsu, the prequel to Secret of Mana. And so it makes sense that it's an excellent game.
F-Zero    SNES
I don't care much for other driving games, but I really like F-Zero. I traded a few Magic: The Gathering cards for it in high school, and certainly got the better end of the deal. The later F-Zero games didn't had the same appeal for me.
Gradius III    SNES
I've played Gradius III through probably more times than any other scrolling shooter. Life Force for NES and Gradius V for PS2 are also excellent.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past    SNES
I couldn't have asked for more in a SNES Zelda sequel than I found in A Link to the Past. And I always like a game that surprises me with an entire additional world that I wasn't expecting.
Out of this World    PC
The simple stylish graphics, the excellent soundtrack (even through a PC speaker), and the unique gameplay in Out of This World make it one of my favorites. My friend Jesse Mallory and I played this rather difficult game in tandem, sharing strategies until we reached the end.
Secret of Mana    SNES
Good two-player cooperative games are rare, and Secret of Mana is one of the best I know of. And the two-player mode is just a bonus in an already excellent game. For some reason, I've always found the soundtrack to have a very strong sad quality about it.
Secret of Monkey Island    PC
The story and dialog in Secret of Monkey Island are very entertaining, and apparently Orson Scott Card helped with the writing.
SimAnt    PC
Some of the Maxis Sim games are better than others, and SimAnt is one of my favorites--probably tied with the SNES version of SimCity. Digging tunnels and sending the colony out to gather food and wage war is a lot of fun, and, I suppose, at least marginally educational.
Strider    arcade
Despite the unreasonably difficult parts that were calculated to drain a player of quarters, Strider has always been one of my favorite arcade games. I also recommend the PSX sequel Strider 2.
Super Mario RPG    SNES
Nintendo and Square teamed up for Super Mario RPG, and with good results. The most memorable part of the game for me was opening some door and encountering "Culex."
Super Metroid    SNES
Super Metroid is one of those games that is so good it becomes a standard by which to measure other titles in any genre. Everything about this game is praiseworthy, and I found the final battle especially moving.
Tetris Attack    SNES
Of all the puzzle games I have tried, Tetris Attack is my favorite. The original Japanese Panel De Pon had fairies instead of Yoshi and the animals. I would have preferred either to the often-irritating voices in the N64 Pokemon Puzzle League, an otherwise excellent sequel with a 3D mode that makes an already great concept even better.
Victory Road    arcade
I probably spent more quarters on Victory Road than on any other arcade game. I don't know why they decided to put the soldiers from Ikari Warriors in a bizarre universe with giant laughing geometric skulls, insects with regenerating projectile heads, flamethrowers, and full plate armor, but I'm sure glad they did.

Faxanadu  NES
Forgotten Worlds  arcade
Populous  PC
Quest For Glory  PC
Raiden D/X  arcade
SimCity  SNES
Space Megaforce  SNES
Super Mario World  SNES
Time Soldiers  arcade
Uniracers  SNES
Zombies Ate My Neighbors  SNES
PSX, N64, PS2, and GameCube Era
Beyond Good and Evil    GC, PS2, XB, PC
When Beyond Good and Evil was new, the name and theme put me off. But I eventually gave it a chance and discovered that it's actually kind of a masterpiece. Really, my only issue with the game is some out-of-place profanity.

"Carlson and Peters!"
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night    PSX
Castlevania: SOTN borrowed heavily from Super Metroid. But who can complain when you get a game like this?

I also like several of the other Castlevania titles--even the original NES game, punishing as it was.
Chrono Cross    PSX
Apparently, some Chrono Trigger fans didn't seem to like Chrono Cross. But just as the former is easily one of the best RPGs on the SNES, I think the latter is one of the best on the PSX.
Final Fantasy VII    PSX
Between the polygon graphics and the profanity, I was initially put off by Final Fantasy VII. But the interesting world with its epic yet incoherent story eventually drew me in. And the over-the-top summons, off course.
Final Fantasy VIII    PSX
Final Fantasy VIII has just about the best introduction and ending of any game I know of, and the game is full of nice artistic details. In spite of its contrived story--maybe the Final Fantasy games should stick to stories that don't quite make sense--but I was very impressed with this game.
Final Fantasy IX    PSX
It took me several years to finally finish Final Fantasy IX. A generic multi-page memory card lost my save on disc 3 and I waited until I acquired a second-hand dex drive to continue roughly where I left off. This game may be the most polished of the series and it has just about everything that made all the of previous titles great. I'm not sure why it wasn't more compelling for me.
Final Fantasy Tactics    PSX
Although Final Fantasy Tactics is very different from the series whose name it shares, it is certainly worthy of the name in quality.

"Remember how father taught us to play that reed flute?
Where did we go astray?"
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance    GC
A great tactical RPG. I guess you can't really go wrong with anything developed by Intelligent Systems.
Growlanser: Generations    PS2
I think that Growlanser 2 is the stronger of the two games that make up this set. It has good mechanics and interesting scripted missions beyond simply surviving battles. Although Growlanser 3 isn't quite on the same level, I think it's also a very good tactical RPG.
ICO    PS2
ICO is simple, artistic, and probably my favorite game in the past few console generations.
Katamari Damacy    PS2
Katamari Damacy is extremely unique and amusing. The soundtrack is excellent, as is every other aspect of the game. And whether or not it was necessary, I also really like We Love Katamari.
Klonoa    PSX
Klonoa is one of the best platformers you'll ever find, if you can find it. The PS2 sequel Klonoa 2 measures up in gameplay and visuals, but I found its characters shallower and its music less inspired. But that's a pretty tough standard.

See also my Klonoa shrine.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask    N64
Some people didn't like Majora's Mask, the sequel to Ocarina of Time. But aside from a few annoyances, my only real complaint might have been its price had I not been given a free N64 memory expansion. I certainly consider it a worthy sequel.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time    N64
Some series move to 3D and fail miserably, but Ocarina of Time is excellent. If this were the only game for Nintendo 64, the console would still be worth owning.

This game taught me that not all 3D games are terrible. Well, this and Jumping Flash 2.
Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus    PSX
I found Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus extremely creative and well-designed. It was nice to see a 2D platform game of this type on a (then) modern console. I have a permanent psychological association between this game and some orange-and-vanilla candy I ate a large amount of while playing it.
Paper Mario    N64
The 3D Super Mario games don't interest me, but I do like Paper Mario. I also like the GameCube sequel--especially the look of the pigs in Twilight Town.
Phantom Brave    PS2
I'm glad that Nippon Ichi made at least one "serious" game. Phantom Brave is a unique and fun tactical RPG with a lot of depth--you can pick up any object you find on the battlefield, use it as a weapon, customize it, upgrade it, and merge it with other objects or with your characters.
Pikmin    GC
Pikmin is creative, original, and a lot of fun. I also like Pikmin 2, but it bothers me that the protagonist's motivation becomes money rather than survival.
Planescape: Torment    PC
Planescape: Torment is the best PC RPG I have ever played, and possibly the best RPG on any platform. I also think it may have the strongest writing of any video game. I find the setting much more interesting than the usual generic fantasy worlds. I also like Baldur's Gate II, but it's no Torment.
Rez    PS2
I followed Rez with great interest before its release. After I played it, I knew it was one that I needed to own. When it became scarce, I was fortunate to have a gift certificate to cushion the effect of paying full price for it. I think I bought the last copy in my city.

See also my Rez shrine.
R-Type Delta    PSX
R-Type Delta retains every good element of its predecessors and adds more, making it my favorite scrolling shooter of its console generation. (I also like Raiden Project and Einhander.) R-Type Final on PS2 is also excellent.

See also my R-Type shrine.
Shadow of Destiny    PS2
Shadow of Destiny is a well-structured time travel game. I think it's the only game with alternate endings that I've ever been willing to go through more than once. (It doesn't take very long to see all of the endings.)

"I guess this is as far as I go."
Shadow of the Colossus    PS2
Coming from the makers of ICO, I was confident that Shadow of the Colossus would be excellent, but it still managed to far exceed my expectations. Even if it doesn't quite top ICO.
Silent Hill    PSX
It's rare to find a video game with a story that's elaborate and interesting enough to warrant analysis. I don't like the look of many early 3D games, but in Silent Hill, I think the jagged graphics actually work well.

"Huh, radio. What's going on with that radio?"
Silent Hill 2    PS2
It's disturbing and unpleasant, and I wouldn't use the word fun to describe it, but I think Silent Hill 2 is brilliant and unique, with some imagery and symbolism that's actually kind of profound.

"You see it too? For me, it's always like this."
Silent Hill 4: The Room    PS2
Aderack's review of Silent Hill 4 made me realize that the Silent Hill games might not be the shallow action titles that I had always assumed they were. When I tried a demo that my brother-in-law had given me, I was hooked. It's scary and quite disturbing in places, and very compelling.
Skies of Arcadia    DC, GC
Skies of Arcadia was a GameCube bargain title when I finally got around to trying it. I thought I was tired of traditional console RPGs, but I guess I just hadn't seen a really good one in a while. I found the Dark Rift sequence (and music) especially memorable.
Starcraft    PC
My friend Scott Gongre often recommended Warcraft to me, and I eventually got Warcraft II and became addicted to it. Starcraft perfected the formula, and I find it as entertaining now as when it was first released. This has always been my favorite game to play online. Of course, I avoid most online games (see Ultima Online below.)
Steambot Chronicles    PS2
I never doubted that an adventure game (or any game) by Irem would be excellent, but I was still surprised by how much heart I found in Steambot Chronicles.
Ultima Online    PC
I had several friends--Will Grigoratos and James Bordelon--who played and highly recommended Ultima Online. Of the various MMORPGs, this one appealed to me the most, so I tried it--and did little else but play it and work for a couple of months. After I finally brought myself to quit, I decided that I never want to try another such game.

Baldur's Gate II  PC
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance  PS2
Cave Story  PC
Cubivore  GC
Disaster Report, Raw Danger  PS2
Eternal Darkness  GC
Fatal Frame  PS2
Final Fantasy XII  PS2
Gradius V  PS2
Half-Life, Half-Life 2  PC
Ikaruga  GC
LSD: Dream Emulator  PSX
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker  GC
Metroid Prime  GC
Perfect Cherry Blossom  PC
Psychonauts  PS2
R-Type Final  PS2
Silent Hill 3  PS2
Tetrisphere  N64

Part 2: 2007-2017 >

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