I already mentioned the Bubble Bobble
trilogy in our "what's left to remaster" piece
, but screw it, this is my party and I'll pick what I want to. Rainbow Islands
was a seminal game for me in that made me really consider the nuts and bolts of design. At a glance, it's just a vertical platfomer with way too much color. Dig deeper and there's all kinds of stuff going on. To beat the game true and proper, you have to collect rainbow crystals in the right order in every single level. To do that, you have to kill enemies in a certain way and make their bonus items land in specific vertical portions of the screen, left to right. To get the red crystal, for example, the enemy-turned-bonus has to land on the left-hand side of the screen. If it lands just a bit to the right of the left edge, it'll turn into an orange crystal. If that sounds crazy convoluted, trust me, it's just scratching the surface of an Amiga game that I've never really stopped playing.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
First off, it's the best Zelda. But, more importantly, it's the game I most remember playing through with my family and friends, over and over. We'd play and watch it together from start to finish - well, mostly I'd play and they'd watch. It'd perhaps be across a single day, or split over a few weeks. When we played A Link to the Past it was this all-encompassing behemoth, a grand adventure we were all embarking on together. I distinctly remember playing it with my cousins the first time, desperately trying to work out how to progress past a floor in the ice temple, and miserably calling up a hotline for the answer. Truly, A Link to the Past is Nintendo at its creative, iconic best. You can give Ocarina of Time all the glossy 3D remakes you want, but A Link to the Past doesn't need it. 23 years on, it's still gorgeous in every way imaginable.
Championship Manager 97/98
It was Grand Prix Manager and Premier Manager 2 that taught me I could love a sports management game. It was Championship Manager 97/98 that taught me such a game could take over my life. Most people have their Oblivion stories to share round the water cooler, but I have an unending collection of epic Champ Man 97/98 stories. How about the time I led my schoolmates to the World Cup against my Italian best friend, despite getting sent off in the final for fouling him? Or how I turned lower league journeyman Neville Roach into an Arsenal and England captain at age 18, even though the only thing he was good at was headers? In all seriousness, if there's one wisdom I can impart among all the talk of HD, Ps and frames per seconds, it's that looks are so far from everything. Champ Man 97/98 was a butt-ugly Excel-like list of words and numbers, and it's easily the game that's given me the most hours of fun.
I remember my high school friends and I attempting an all-night Championship Manager LAN party for charity, only for it to go spectacularly wrong - it turns out for that kind of thing you need computers not made in the 19th century. We should've just stuck with a game we LAN-ned and loved: Unreal Tournament. Epic's hyper-excitable, m-m-m-m-m-monstrously brash shooter was the perfect game for my teenage self to play with his equally awkward, equally nerdy friends. Beers and snacks to hand, bragging rights up for grabs, and more screaming and violence than a Saw marathon. Those, my friends, were the days.
Final Fantasy X
Hands down, the game I'm the most grateful for. During a time of my life I'd rather forget, I made a mistake that truly hurt a friend. I grew sad, knowing I couldn't undo what I'd done, and I started to shirk my friends and spend time alone. I have no idea how long that funk would've lasted if it wasn't for Final Fantasy X. Maybe it could've been any game - I do wonder about that. But I think there was something about Final Fantasy X. There was something about its beautiful world torn apart by an impossible monster, about that story of an impassioned young woman trying to do the right thing, no matter what. And that ending... I still pretend Final Fantasy X-2 never happened, because I don't ever want that ending to stop making me cry. Whatever it was about Final Fantasy X, it helped me get back on my feet and work to be a better person. It reminded me that games can be much, much more than things you just beat.