The nature of gaming is really tricky. Trying to make a game that's enjoyable is damnably tricky, and even with my expanded gaming history, there are very few titles I can enjoy every time, all the time. Soem are fun for a while, but years later you can't go back to them. Others are only fun until you die for the first time, and thinking about re-doing your work makes you turn it off instead. For various other reasons all but a very few, at least for me, stand the test of time.
So here's my top four list!
- Robotron 2084 (Williams)
- Digital Pinball Necronomicon (Kaze)
- Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved (Bizarre Creations)
- Hydro Thunder (Williams)
Robotron 2084 is from an early era in gaming, but is far more sophisticated than you might expect. It's from a rare moment in arcade history, a time when games were designed to be difficult and suck more quarters from players, but when it was still possible to become so good at it that a quarter (25c) went a looong way. It was loud, frantic and easy to understand: One screen, up to 150 enemies, and two joysticks - one moves, one shoots. That's it. Shoot stuff, avoid stuff, collect stuff. Hard as nails, loud as hell and unbeatably great.
Necronomicon ignited my love of Pinball, but every other pinball game I've tried has been mostly rubbish. None of them manage to nail the three things that make Necronomicon so amazing: the physics, the themes, the sounds. This game has nearly perfect physics, with none of the tweakery found in other games (Sega's Pinball of the Dead was really bad for magically accelerating a ball to make a ramp). It offers Lovecraft-inspired tables with names like Arkham Asylum and Cult of the Bloody Tongue. It has high-res graphics, and delicious crystal-clear sound that fairly sparkles as the game gets hectic. Throw in a seven-ball multiball and the audible assault is as mesmerizing as the game itself.
I've already spoken a lot about Geometry Wars but to recap, it's Robotron for a new era. Loud, colourful, and with six varying game modes it offers a lot of longevity.
Hydro Thunder is a bit of a weird one in this list, as it's not widely considered a classic by just about anyone. When it first arrived at my local arcade back in the late 90s everyone I hung out with played it. A lot. It was a blazing fast water-based racing game with turbos, bonuses, fantastic tracks through volcanoes and over cliffs, and a most incredible jumping mechanism that involved slamming the accelerator into reverse and hitting the nitro at just the right time. It was loud, rumbly and amazingly fun. Shame that none of the home versions were any good at all.
Interestingly, Robotron and Hydro Thunder are made by the same guy. He also made a ton of other games, like Smash TV, NARC and Cruisin' USA, but I never really liked any of them.