- Age of Empires II (1999, PC) – 43.1/60
Gameplay – 8.5
Man, did I have a blast with Age of Empires II. I can’t speak for the campaign/quests – I didn’t do too many of them, honestly. I would constantly play skirmishes against the AI, trying out a variety of civilizations and their unique units, pitting wars against whoever for the sole reason I found it belligerently entertaining. The controls are really basic – you click the damn mouse and sometimes hit a key on your keyboard.
Fatigue – 7.1
I put in quite a few hours of AoE2, and thanks to the skirmishes being against the computers, I’d often be able to dip out once I felt like I had done enough, or keep on going (if I was playing regicide mode) to drag the damn king out of his castle and finish the job in glorious fashion. The HD remake added a lot of fresh kindling to the fire and made the game look better than ever.
Music – 6.5
Each civilization got its own musical flair, and they all feel familiar, carrying a gentle whiff of nostalgia at first listen. As the game goes on, however, you just sort of forget about it. A lot of times I’d end up turning it off because I didn’t find it all that engaging, especially compared to the groaning roar of soldiers smashing into it each other making hilarious grunting sounds.
Style – 6.8
For as good as it looked back in the day, even with the “ooh pretty” nature of the HD update, it still doesn’t really stand out with anything in the looks department. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an unpleasant game to look at. The buildings are nice, the textures they use for stone, brick, grass, etc. are inoffensive and smooth-ish. Units are all above average. That said, it’s not really all that unique.
Challenge – 6
This may not be a fair score, especially considering I’d never really play against anything other than the AI opponents, but I didn’t play AoE2 because I wanted to be frustrated. I’d play it because I wanted to build a sweet-ass dominion surrounded by walls of cannon towers, destroying other civs with my Dodge Vipers that shot bullets for some reason.
Meat – 8.2
With all the different cultures, unique units, expansions, and now stupid-modern updates for this game, anyone can fire up Age of Empires 2 HD and still have hours of fun. Has aged well, updated just as well, and I highly recommend you give it a shot. HOW DO YOU TURN THIS ON
- Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011, PC) – 43.2/60
Gameplay – 5
Can’t lie to you – Skyrim’s combat is quite clunky and unsatisfying. The horses are poorly designed, there’s tons of hilarious glitching to be discovered (sometimes not to your benefit, depending on the nature of your surrounds and the quest), but that’s not why people play the game. I was disappointed in how the menus are, how uninspired the levels of armor look, and hearing the same 7 voice actors used to flesh out the hundreds of NPCs throughout the world. I did enjoy archery, and it’s always badass to see the slowed down hero shots of your spinning arrow cutting through the air majestically before planting itself squarely in the butthole of a wolf.
Story – 7
As somebody who jumped willy-nilly into the Elder Scrolls world after playing all of 15 minutes of Morrowind and never touching Oblivion, there was a lot of unfamiliar ground to be trod. I didn’t really know the world, the races (the Dragonborn can’t be a skooma-dealing lizard or a sarcastic cat-man, I mean c’mon folks), I didn’t really get the rebellion or the Imperials perspectives. That said, I did enjoy immersing myself in this chunk of Tamriel and learning a lot about it along the way. High fantasy is fun, in my mind, and while I can’t give this a full score purely due to my ignorance, I can see why people dug the depth available in both the primary quests and innumerable side quests.
Music – 9.1
Skyrim’s Dragonborn theme that plays on the initial menu is arguably one of the most epic video game songs of all time. A horde of barbarian baritones thunder out a Nordic-sounding chant in the dragon language, and instantly I feel like leaping through the air and shouting “YAAAWP!” while smashing in the dusty head of a draugr. The music while traveling the enormous world is more subtle, but couldn’t be any more appropriate. Even the songs the damn bards sing are fantastic.
Style – 8
Skyrim’s models have come a long way in terms of quality, and it shows. While the models aren’t perfect, they clearly put a lot of craftsmanship into their design. Some of the world doesn’t feel terribly unique, but that’s the unfortunate nature of fantasy – a lot of it bleeds together and nobody’s quite sure who’s ripping of whom, and yet Skyrim’s world and characters still have a unique enough flavor that it can be identified apart from the rest of the major fantasy worlds out there.
Challenge – 5.1
Skyrim’s not really hard at any point, especially after you become overpowered (which is maybe 2 hours into the game). There’s definitely frustrations, but they lie with the game’s design problems – inventory, clipping, creativity, crafting, etc.), not so much in the bad guys or fortresses. It was often frustrating getting smashed all to hell by a giant or an unseen goddamn frost troll, but otherwise you don’t sweat too hard once your gear and skills get a few bumps.
Meat – 9
So many quests. SO. MANY. QUESTS. The main storylines are deep enough, but the sheer quantity of side quests, various guilds, random NPC encounters, and so forth is staggering. That’s BEFORE you add mods – innumerable mods – that give the game a new life and many more hours of content. If I didn’t have to use mods to make the game a bit more streamlined and fun to play out after I finished the main storylines, this category would be an easy 10.
- Super Smash Bros Melee (1999, Game Cube) – 43.8/60
Gameplay – 9.9
For all the arcade fighters that have come out for decades – Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc. – Smash Bros. translated their best qualities into a relatively simple setup that can really only thrive on one controller. The combat is flawless, really, and very obvious to the new player, while astoundingly deep enough to require many games to sharpen your ability. The only reason this doesn’t get a 10 is because little crap like wave-dashing, L-cancelling, short-hopping, are very challenging to learn, let alone master, and that irritates me because, frankly, I suck at all of them.
Fatigue – 8.3
Melee was a unique duck for Nintendo since they never likely intended for Smash Bros to become an intensely competitive game, and yet it’s a staple now among my friends and has been for years. Yes, we all dig SmashU, but Melee will always hold a special place in my heart for how long we played this during my college years. With SmashU out, however, I feel like Melee has sort of lost a bit of its luster, since it doesn’t look nearly as good. That said, still timeless in its own way.
Music – 4
The Smash menu theme is charming and fun in an anime battle kind of flavor, but otherwise it appropriately borrows from other games as needed. Overall quality is good, but it’s not terribly unique since it doesn’t have to be.
Style – 5
The interfaces are a bit weird and unique to the franchise, but it’s not very elegant at all. The character models always end up translating to the game very well, and the amount of alternate costumes they get is fun. That said, I can’t heap praise on a game that basically doesn’t need to have a unique style because the game doesn’t depend on it. Thus the 5.
Challenge – 8.7
As I mentioned (bitched?) earlier, Melee’s advanced techniques are exceptionally tricky to master, and in some situations if you’re facing an advanced player, you simply have no chance. Whether you’re facing a master of timing Yoshi’s eggs, an edge-guarding Marth who has perfected the distance of the sword strikes, or, worst of all, a Captain Falcon who perfectly times his impact to your face with just enough time to get a few taunts in before the game is over, Melee is remarkably unforgiving to the novice in most cases.
Meat – 7.9
There’s a lot of fun ways to play Melee, whether you’re doing the single player “campaign” of sorts, going for records with the home run bat, trying to master every character, or crafting a tournament with your friends, Melee is rife with content and options, which is pretty sweet considering how straightforward it is.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992, SEGA) – 44.2/60
Gameplay – 8.5
There’s few things more exciting in video games than recalling (at least for 90s kids) firing up Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the first time. The original Sonic game was okay, but the sequel was what captured our attention. Charging up the boost, the addition of Tails, and infinitely better music and more interesting levels all added up to a classic platformer that still holds up today.
Story – 6
A noble effort, the story of Sonic’s world is interesting enough. Robotnik is basically capturing and robotizing animals, and it’s up to Sonic & co. to save the day. Whatever, just let me go fast already.
Music – 9.3
Some of the best music in gaming history, Sonic 2’s music for most of the levels is memorable as hell and takes me back instantly. I still occasionally get the Casino Zone theme stuck in my head for no reason.
Style – 8.7
Sonic’s surroundings have always had a unique look: Checkered, sharp objects, lots of colorful lights and plenty of shiny gold rings.
Challenge – 8.7
Say what you will about this being a platformer for kids, this game is goddamn frustrating. I’ve audibly screamed at my TV/monitor multiple times over the years, as the unforgiving nature of punishing you for going too fast, choosing the wrong route, or just because a Flasher decided to spark up its forcefield at the worst time.
Meat – 3
There’s not a ton of meat on the bone for Sonic 2. The multiplayer mode sucks in comparison to its sequels, and you can replay the game as solo Sonic or solo Tails. Otherwise there’s not a lot else to do but play the game from the beginning again, which honestly I’ve done many a time.
- Donkey Kong Country (1994, SNES) – 44.6/60
Gameplay – 8.4
There were little issues I had with DKC: Momentum, timing, that kinda stuff. Merely frustrations that unfortunately re-occur throughout the game but never take away from the experience at all. I’d often get frustrated because Donkey and Diddy swapping is the crux of the game, and I just wanted to play as a character who was a happy medium between the two. Obviously that goes against the point of the damn game, but swapping slowed things down and, well, I’m not a patient guy. Otherwise this is a classic.
Story – 7.5
Donkey Kong’s bananas are stolen, and King K. Rool and his Kremlings are responsible. Thusly we set out as our heroes to murder every last one of those sonofabitches, killing countless quantities of beavers, vultures, and various other wildlife along the way. It’s charming and totally fun, but not exactly the stuff that engages you beyond smiling and laughing on occasion.
Music – 9.1
Throughout the unfolding adventure to retrieve your banana hoard, the music every step of the journey is immaculate. Hearing some of the music will no doubt put gamers back into particular levels right away. A few levels aren’t spectacular – just sort of dripping noises, clangs, noises, and so on, randomly infused with some gentle synth. Gang-Plank Galleon is one of my favorite pieces of video game music ever, and makes the final battle that much more engaging.
Style – 9.4
Considering this came out in 1994 on the Super Nintendo, Donkey Kong Country holds up extraordinarily well. Ahead of its time with 3D graphics, this game alone kept the SNES relevant against newcomers like the PlayStation and Sega Saturn who were pushing their 3D models as a selling point, and it was a major return for a somewhat-forgotten yet iconic character. They fleshed out Donkey Kong’s island with additions of his family: Old cane-bashing Cranky, the vivacious Candy, and 90’s surfer bro Funky, all whom provide flavor and useful additions to the experience.
Challenge – 8.1
Donkey Kong Country is reasonably difficult if you’re going for 100% completion, and there’s a few levels where you’re straightup gonna die a whole bunch of times, and that’s just how it is. Getting all the letters in every level is pretty tricky, and I appreciate that they made it easy enough to beat on its own, but difficult enough to provide a nice hindrance for gamers at any level.
Meat – 2.1
There’s a couple different modes, but the campaign is where it’s at, really. Plenty of minigames are scattered throughout the game to liven things up, but once I beat the campaign I kind of felt like I had done all there really was to do. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.