My Ten Favorite Games Ever – Part 4

Continuing from Part 3, these are my personal ten favorite games ever.  Not the best games ever made, or even games I want to play again.  But the ten games I had the most fun playing the first time I played them.

Banjo-Kazooie

Age I was: 9

Last attempt at playing it: ten years later at age 19, when it was released on XBLA.

Would I ever play it again: No

Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2. Those were pretty much the definitive games of my formative years as a gamer.  Sure, there were lots of oddball games between those.   The original Rayman I enjoyed.  Bubsy 3D I did not.  At age 7, it was my first clue that not all games are created equal.  But while my experience playing a PlayStation kiosk lured me into asking Santa Claus for one for Christmas, I wasn’t quite to the point of tracking down every new release and having actual anticipation for upcoming titles.  And then I played Banjo-Kazooie at Toys R Us, and everything changed.

July 11, 1998.  My 9th birthday.  A brand new Nintendo 64, a controller that looked like a tumorous raptor-claw, and Banjo-Kazooie.  All mine.  How much did I love Banjo-Kazooie?  I didn’t even open the other game I got that day, Mario Kart 64, until a month later.  Banjo owned the rest of my summer.  I spent hours hunting down every music note, honeycomb, nook, cranny, and just being in awe of how much bigger this was than anything I had played before it.  This wasn’t a roped-off parade route, like Crash.  This was a full-fledged world that was alive and breathing, and it was mine to explore.

Banjo wasn’t the last game to wow me like that.  I had similar feelings the first time I explored Hyrule in Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or raced a Killer Whale in Sonic Adventure.  None of which I feel hold up today, but that first time through each will always hold a special place in my heart.  Platformers didn’t become special again for me until long after that.  Super Mario 64, which I played for the first time immediately after finishing Banjo-Kazooie, was hugely disappointing for me.  The world seemed less alive, less vibrant, and duller.  But that made sense.  It came out years before Banjo, and even Shigeru Miyamoto wasn’t totally satisfied with it.  He wanted to keep refining it, until Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi outright told him “it’s good enough, we need to get this into manufacturing!”

Nuts & Bolts was just alright for me. Some of my readers are shocked that I didn’t like it more on account of my childhood love for Banjo. I don’t get the logic of that at all. It’s like saying I like peanuts, and therefore I’ll like peanuts even if they’re fifteen years past the expiration date.

Mario 64 not “doing it for me” was perfectly logical.  So how come Donkey Kong 64 or Banjo-Tooie didn’t “do it for me” either?  Or for that matter, Super Mario Sunshine or Sly Cooper or countless other very good platformers?  Even after experiencing a couple “holy shit, this is amazing!” moments in Sonic Adventure (a game I concede is an atrocious piece of shit, but I was blinded at the time by the shiny new hardware) or my first time playing the Game Boy Advance ports of stuff I missed like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Yoshi’s Island, nothing ever quite approached that month spent playing Banjo-Kazooie.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Isn’t that how it should be?  Those moments of pure gaming nirvana, where you know you’re playing something uniquely special that makes you feel different than all other games do, shouldn’t those be rare?  For you it might have been Mario 3 or Chrono Trigger or Link to the Past.  For me, it was Banjo-Kazooie, and that’s just because of the generation gap.  If I had felt the same way after Tooie, or Mario 64, or Donkey Kong 64, or Blinx, or Vexx, or Billy Hatcher, then that original moment isn’t as special.  I enjoyed all the games I just listed, some very much so.   But only Banjo-Kazooie made me feel awesome in ways that defy description.  And I can’t get that feeling back from playing it again.  I tried not too long after I finished Banjo the first time.  I tried again when Banjo got a nifty HD port to Xbox Live Arcade.  It’s just not the same game for me anymore.  Like Shadow of the Colossus, I have nothing left to get from it.  At one point, I chalked it up to platformers not meaning as much to me as they did when I was a kid.  I still enjoyed them, but my gaming palate had grown and I liked other genres now.  I figured nothing would ever make me feel like Banjo-Kazooie did.  And then I played this..

Super Mario Galaxy

Age I was: 18

Last attempt at playing it: I never went back and played the original again, but the sequel was a glorified expansion pack and it hit when I was 21, so there you go.

Would I ever play it again: No

Mario doesn’t mean the same to me as he does to you.  That doesn’t mean I think Mario games are somehow inferior to your perception of them.  In general, they’re pretty fucking awesome.  But my childhood wasn’t spent counting down the days until the next game with Mario would hit the shelves.  That’s why I can’t get even remotely nostalgic about Super Mario 3, nor can I stand hearing people try to justify The Wizard.  Super Mario World wasn’t a benchmark title for me.  It was just the second game in the series to be ported to Game Boy Advance, and it was really fun.  Mario 64 was that game that let me down after Banzo-Kazooie, but I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just don’t think it’s a game that transcends time.  New Super Mario Bros. was that weird title that felt like the gaming equivalent of a bunch of frat boys trying to recreate their glory days and coming across as sadly quaint and pathetic.  I guess I’m really weird, because my favorite Mario up to this point had been Super Mario Advance.  You know, the remake of Super Mario 2.  The strange one that only became a Mario game because Shigeru Miyamoto went on the rag and decided he wanted humanity to suffer, making the real Mario 2 so brutally difficult that nobody could possibly like it.  Yea, I’m talking about the vegetable pulling one where NOBODY actually used Mario.  They either used Luigi or the Princess, and they probably warped past the ice world because that shit was fucking horrid.

I didn’t have low expectations for Super Mario Galaxy.  I thought it would be fun, just like Mario Sunshine had been, and that I would enjoy it for a couple of days, finish it, and think nothing of it.  So imagine my surprise when I totally melted as I played it.  It was awesome.  And it did what no game had done for me since Banjo: it turned me into a nine-year-old again, and kept me that way the whole play-through.  It was magical.  It really was.

The amazing levels, crazy gravity, fun objectives, and that sense that everything you were experiencing was something new and unique.  You’ve seen stuff like Mario Galaxy before.  It borrowed elements from previous games in the series liberally.  But they had never felt quite like this did.  It was utterly amazing.  The goals were always short and focused, so that they never grew tiresome, and worlds had just enough objectives to feel like they knew exactly how long it would all take to get boring and stopped just short of it.  There were plenty of surprises, legitimate challenges, and moments where you had to sit back and admit that this is as close to perfect as a game can get.  I don’t put Nintendo on a pedestal.  Quite frankly, I think they’re pretty overrated.  That’s mostly because they weren’t single-handedly responsible for my entire catalog of childhood memories like they were for so many gamers.  And while I don’t think the Wii is the abomination that so many hold it to be, it certainly won’t go down as one of my favorite systems ever.

But Mario Galaxy?  It will be special to me forever.

I’m really not a big fan of Yoshi. I don’t see what it adds to a game besides unneeded complexity and annoyance. It doesn’t help that my first encounter with him was Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64. Even at 9 years old, the game was so pitifully easy that I actually spent hours staring at the box trying to figure out where the fine print that says “For Ages 2 – 4” was at.

But let’s not kid ourselves: When Mario Galaxy 2 hit, it was a very good game that simply couldn’t recreate the magic of the original.  The uniqueness had worn off, and the sense of wonder was gone.  It was more of the same.  Which is fine, because the original was so good.  But once the magic is gone, it’s gone.  That happens so much with me.  Even if a sequel is clearly the better game, the originals always stick with me more.  I really enjoyed Arkham City, but my memories of Arkham Asylum are much stronger.  I’ll reminisce about God of War before I think back to that great time I had with God of War III.  And these aren’t even the games that I hold to be the best.  It’s rare when I say a sequel actually is better enough that I’m certain to remember it first.  After discussing it with friends, only two games stuck out: Uncharted 2 and Pikmin 2 (though Assassin’s Creed III might win a spot).  Being 23 years old contributes to that somewhat, because I didn’t play most of the great franchises in chronological order.

I think why Mario Galaxy means so much to me is because it ended the cynic in me who felt that gaming would never get as good as it was when I was 9.  Obviously if playing Banjo-Kazooie on XBLA at age 19 couldn’t make me feel the same way that playing Banjo-Kazooie on Nintendo 64 at age 9 did, nothing would.  That was wrong, and I should have known better.  Of course I could feel that way again.  It just wouldn’t come from the same source.  It came from Mario Galaxy.  And you know what?  Some day I’ll feel that way again.  A game will come along that reverts me back to a smiling, giggling nine-year-old.  Do you know what else I know?  It won’t be Mario Galaxy.

Final part coming next with my two favorite games ever!

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