5. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)
It’s probably a bad idea to speak too freely about The Thousand-Year Door, on account of saying anything about how funny it is or how fun it is to play is kind of a little bit of a spoiler. See, it’s best to play The Thousand-Year Door expecting something completely different– that way, the crazy stuff Goombella, Koops, Madame Flurrie or any one of the zany personalities that populate the game say will bowl you right over. So, no. The Thousand-Year Door? Totally unfunny. None of this crazy “let’s make Mario a MMA fighter” stuff. Certainly there’s no point at which ravens quote Nietzche at you or wax philosophic on the nature of life. And, ah … the enemies are, like, totally serious. Sephiroth status. No crazy red dragons made out of paper-mache here, because that would be silly. But, oh, it’s still a great game. Just a totally unfunny one. You should play it.
Why Kyle England loves Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door…
The original Paper Mario for Nintendo 64 is my favorite video game of all time. I was disappointed that it didn’t make the cut in Nintendojo’s Top 100, but The Thousand Year Door is the next best thing. As a boy, when I heard that there was going to be a sequel to Paper Mario, I saved up my money and bought the game right on launch day: October 12, 2004. (October 11 was the actual launch date, but the stores didn’t have it available until the 12th!) This game has got it all: hilarious writing, an interesting story, and one of the best turn-based battle systems in any RPG around. The simple back-and-forth battling is surprisingly deep and can be endlessly customized with badges, and I have spent many an hour tracking down Star Pieces and delving deep into the Pit of 100 Trials. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is just one of those games that will stick with me forever.
4. Viewtiful Joe (2003)
Viewtiful Joe inspired an anime series, which is unsurprising. After all, it’s a game based on the Tokusatsu heroes of old (er, new, in Japan), though from what we know, Joe might as well be the Red Power Ranger. And yet, Joe does more than the Red Rangers ever did: he does all his own stunts, however difficult they are, and beats up monster after monster, boss after boss, in the name of his love Sylvia. And all the while, he does it while cracking jokes and breaking the fourth wall, telling off the director of the game (movie?) and– oh, but we can’t spoil anything else. It’s a movie, after all. Just an extremely difficult one, and yet oh-so-satisfying. By the way, and it’s probably too much to ask, but could you unlock Captain Blue for us? It’s just too hard. And Alastor. And Sylvie. Look, just play the whole game for us, because we’re stuck on Kids Mode (could there be a more horrifying epithet for “easy mode?”) and we’re sad people.
Why Adam Sorice loves Viewtiful Joe…
Viewtiful Joe is a quirky little game; mixing the old and the new in a way that defies both convention and my repeated screams at the television to “STOP BEING SO DIFFICULT OMG I DIED AGAIN.” Taking a total nerd (hello, self-reflection!) in the form of Joe, the events of the game transform him into a superhero that rivals those of his own imagination, on a quest to stereotypically save the girl. Twin this with a slick cel-shaded style, enough robot enemies to warrant a tin-opener being a viable power up and a whole range of special abilities that turn a mundane 2D adventure into one that makes you feel like you’re in your own action movie.
From Joe’s zoom moves to whipping out the lightning fast karate techniques and then seeing the crowd of enemies around you exploding in satisfingly slow motion, fists colliding with their robotic faces as their circuits collapse, this game is all about self-gratification. Viewtiful Joe is slick, suave and sure to get your heart racing. Move over James Bond.
3. Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Some of us (Andrew Hsieh) have a personal stake in Beyond Good & Evil– mainly, the fact that Jade is (he assumes) Asian and man, we really need a lot more of those in video games. But more than that, Beyond Good & Evil is all about what makes a video game a video game. Not explosions (though there are those), and not awesome action elements (though there are those)– but intrigue. The desire, you could say, to keep going. And with Michel Ancel’s story of governmental conspiracy and one journalist’s attempt to reveal it, there’s a very modern and relevant spirit at stake– even if they’re fighting an alien race known as the DomZ with a cast of characters that involves an ambulatory pig and a dude named Double H. Oh, sorry, does that sound kind of boring? Because it’s not– youtry taking pictures of aliens while not getting blasted away by the ones that are already looking for you. Solid Snake, you need to stop talking to whoever the girl of the week is. I’ve got your partner right here.
Why M. Noah Ward loves Beyond Good & Evil…
On what planet can we get excited about a girl who wears green lipstick and runs around with a surly, anthropomorphic pig? Earth, apparently. I was initially leery of Rayman creator’s Michel Ancel’s Beyond Good & Evil, just because of the ridiculous character designs and not originally being a Rayman fan, either. But the glowing reviews encouraged me to give the game a chance, even though so few others did.
I wasn’t disappointed. The exciting opening sequence wherein ghoulish alien invaders attempt to harvest and possess children at an orphanage, followed by the press swooping in to cover up crucial details, immediately grabbed me. As other gameplay facets were subtly revealed, such as photographing wildlife (hello, Pokémon Snap; I missed you!) for money, sneaking around guards in stealth sequences and just traversing a colorful island-and-ocean world on a zippy hovercraft, I couldn’t stop playing. I had to find out who was behind the harvesting of the population: was it the government, the press, or something more sinister? While the ultimate revelations were much more fantastical and yet not as grandiose as the game’s literal title would suggest, the game’s journey remained engrossing. Not to mention it was refreshing to play as a cool and collected heroine who was relatable, warm and not gratuitously sexual, when her of-the-times peers Bloodrayne and Lara Croft clearly were.
Unfortunately, like Xbox exclusive Psychonauts, Beyond Good & Evil was a great game released at the wrong time– the gameplay and tone were just a touch out of step with what the gaming masses were consuming in bulk at the time. In summary, the critics got it– the game got largely great reviews– but most other people didn’t, and the game was deemed a commercial “disappointment” by publisher Ubisoft. Thank the internet, and continued praises such as this one, for the chance that we may yet see that sequel Ancel announced back in 2008. Otherwise, we’ll always hold this off-the-beaten path title close to our hearts for attempting to break the mold and doing a nice job of it.
2. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Sometimes we do this thing when we play video games, where we see something on the screen and we kind of, you know. We jump. We leap out of our seats. We cry for our mommies who are in another room, another state, maybe another country. Sometimes it’s because something else leaped into view, and sometimes it’s because something fascinating (read: crazy) happened. And sometimes it’s because we’ve heard the sound of a chainsaw going for the past half hour and only now do we see the source of it: a man with a brown sack over his head and a chainsaw ready to tear your limbs apart. Resident Evil 4 is full of moments like this, and while it’s not quite as survival horror as most people generally expect the Resident Evil series to be, it surely is horrific at times. While the PS2 remake had more content, and while the Wii one can only be described as definitive, the original GameCube one held and continues to hold its own. It’s Resident Evil 4, after all: its name is thrown around even now as one of the best games ever. Maybe it sounds weird to say “play it,” because that involves the possibility of being mauled by a chainsaw man, but … it’ll be fun. We promise.
Why M. Noah Ward loves Resident Evil 4…
When Resident Evil 4 came out, a malaise had settled on the horror sub-genre of games. There were enough options to experience both fantastic games and ones that were mediocre to poor, but even the vanguard franchise wasn’t as thrilling as it once was. Reliable and predictable would be better descriptors. Plus, with this particular sequel going through four completely differing versions during development (the first resulting in Devil May Cry), we all had reason to not expect the game to be good. But, wow, how great it was.
Thanks to a well-designed update to the series’ clunky tank controls and camera, the introduction of quick time events (months before the also-great God of War began the avalanche of beating this gameplay gimmick into the ground) and an international, location-hopping storyline, Resident Evil 4 set standards and expectations that its sequels and competitors still strive to meet. The action was sublime and at times overwhelming, the new Ganados enemies actually grosser than the original zombies, and the script filled with just as many delightful B-movie cheese moments as ever. And that this game was, for a time, an exclusive to the woefully underserved GameCube made it pure gold. Add on the incredibly addictive, unlockable Mercenaries mode, and gamers definitely got their money’s worth, while Nintendo got one more system seller for GameCube– for ten months at least.