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#100 - Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra

As of my writing this, I have discussed 617 Super Nintendo games. Six hundred and seventeen. A mind-boggling number. Iím sure the vast majority of gamers have never even *played* that many games across their entire lives. Hell, most of them probably couldnít even name that many games. And very few of them are sick enough to actually want to try and dissect that many of them. Very fewÖ

Anyway, what Iím getting at is that across all of those 617 games, none of them have presented me with as much of a conundrum as Might and Magic III does. Seriously. I could have ranked this almost anywhere, and it would have been fitting. But first, a little long-winded backgroundÖ

I love this series. Love, love, love it. I played the absolute hell out of most of the later installments, and Iíd do it again if given the chance. Donít believe me? Iíve played through Might and Magic VI three times. THREE. And weíre not talking simple, straight-forward completions. Iím talking about ďdo everything, see everythingĒ sorta deals. And it is not a brief experience.

And donít even get me started about my love for the Heroes of Might and Magic series, which completely dwarfs my appreciation for the mainline games. Just looking at Heroes III, weíre talking one of my top ten favorite games of all time. Maybe top five. Weíre talking, if I could only play one game for the rest of my life, it would very probably be that game.

So, when I started up my first attempt at a Might and Magic III playthrough, suffice it to say there was a little personal history involved that was giving it a boost. Expectations were through the roof.

And let me tell you, that initial hour was rough. Truly, truly rough. I mean, the interface in this game just an absolute chore to learn and come to grips with. 99% of SNES gamers wonít last three minutes here. Maybe 99.9% of them. And creating a custom party? Forget about it. Itís so ludicrously annoying and time-consuming, that it honestly might be the worst instance of character creation that Iíve EVER seen. No exaggeration.

Assuming you survive that brutal first hour, and manage to soldier on, you will then encounter the next major obstacle: an absurd initial difficulty. Prepare to party wipe, again and again and again. Getting anywhere means taking a lot of baby steps for the first few hours, while saving and reloading after every single little thing that happens.

It all sounds so wonderful, right?

Now, assuming you survive those first few hours, earn your party a few levels, and make it through the first few encounters, what can one reasonably expect from this game?

The answer is, one of the biggest, baddest, most epic quests on the entire console.

Weíre talking a truly massive overworld to explore, a number of jam-packed towns to navigate, dozens of dungeons to fight through, a bazillion items to find, tons of secret skills to earn, lots of stats to power up, and so forth. This may be the biggest game in the library, and itís almost certainly the longest.

So whatís the catch? Aside from the horrendous introduction?

I guess the fact that youíre playing a Super Nintendo port of a big bad PC RPG and it runs and plays like utter ass.

As in, this is probably one of the worst port jobs on the SNES in many ways, and often an endless exercise in frustration and testing of oneís patience. Way back in my Eye of the Beholder review, I talked about how much that game struggled with the hardware, and how many of your inputs had a tendency to be eaten, and how slow everything seemed to move...

Thatís all present here too, only itís like ten times worse. Because while Eye of the Beholder was a slow ass game that eats 70% of your inputs, Might and Magic III is a slow ass game that eats most of your inputsÖ while also being stretched out for a much longer runtime.

Oh, and the bugsÖ Jesus H. the bugs. I mean, one of them is a relatively common one that you will encounter every 5-10 hours or so, and is triggered by one of the actions you will perform thousands upon thousands of times during the course of the playthrough. What does this bug do? Lock up your game.

...oh, and wipe your saveÖ

Yes, you read that correctly, and yes Iím sure I know what Iím talking about. I know, because itís mentioned anecdotally across the internet. And because I have personally been hit by it a number of times. It destroyed my first playthrough of the game.

Which means the actual cartridge is basically a brick. Only good for toying around, or seeing the first few hours of the game with. If you want to play this game, you have to emulate. End of story. Not that 99% of my readers arenít probably doing that already, since theyíre also not crazy enough to collect a full SNES cart set like myself, but I digressÖ

Oh, and then thereís the bug where many of the cleric upgrades donít actually work, and only upgrade your sorcerers (something I didnít notice until it was far too late), which causes some severe fuckery with your healers being underpoweredÖ but hey, it could be worse. Like, wiping your save worse.

ANYWAY, back to my original point. This game is a conundrum. It's an absolutely amazing game, and one that Iíve sunk at least 100 hours into, that provides a one-of-a-kind experience on the SNES library. Itís also a bug-ridden, unforgiving, punishing gameplay experience that should be played onÖ like, any other system. And the cart shouldnít be played. And most people will never have the fortitude to play this game in the first place.

But I still love it. So I made the hard decision to keep it in my top 100. For some people, itís gonna be a bottom 100 game. For most people, itís gonna be somewhere in the middle of the library: a curiosity piece thatís interesting to read about, or mess around with, but not something theyíd want to invest their own time into. Make of that what you will.

Did I beat it?
Not quite. I have a save I've been working on for years, but haven't quite managed to reach the end. Maybe some day.

#99 - Super Turrican

Turrican is a bit of an odd duck to me. And I donít mean that in a bad way, because I adore this franchise. Absolutely love it. But I also feel like the creator(s) never seemed to have a concrete idea of just what exactly it is they were trying to accomplish. No focused direction, as it were. So instead they just kinda rolled with whatever seemed fun. Which is fine. I can get behind that kind of thinking.

How do I explain the gameplayÖ I guess itís very ďAmigaĒ-like. Iíve talked about that before, about how all of the millions of Amiga ports on the Super Nintendo have a very, very distinct look and feel to them. I donít know how to explain it, I just know that theyíre an instantly recognizable type of game. Every time. Iíll realize Iím playing an Amiga port, google it, and find out Iím correct. Every single time.

So I also canít properly explain why this is one of my absolute favorite Amiga games. Because I donít completely know why that is. Itís uneven: the power-up system is a bit wonky, relying on floating gun dispensers that Iím not a huge fan of. Graphics-wise, the animation is kinda stiff, and the levels themselves are usually pretty sparse and lacking in details. The open-ended levels are alsoÖ well, Iíve seen this franchise compared to the Metroid series before (for various reasons), but let me just spoil things right now and tell you that that comparison is ludicrous. The two franchises are absolutely nothing alike.

The series' history is also completely incoherent. Go ahead and google it. There are multiple games called Super Turrican. Thereís Mega Turrican which is kind of like Turrican 3. This particular game is a mish-mash of Turrican 1 and Turrican 2. Just complete chaos.

But everything Iíve talked about so far is just details. The meandering levels, that donít make a lot of sense to me? Details. The incomprehensible story? A minor detail. Any other annoying quirks? Details.

Because the only thing that matters is how much fun I have playing this game. And I always have a lot of fun. I love the boss fights. I love the controls. I love the Mode 7 gimmicks. I love the HR Geiger ripoffs. All of it. I play through this game all the time, because I like it so much. And for the purpose of this rankings project, thatís the ultimate deciding factor. Games I love go in the top 100, regardless of everything else. If I play a game over and over and over again, it tells me everything I need to know about it.

So take Super Turrican for a spin. Donít expect Contra, donít expect Metroid, donít expect anything. But see if you have a great time.

Did I beat it?
Many times.

#98 - SimCity

SimCity is one of thoses games that needs no introduction, right? Itís one of most ubiquitous and popular titles in gaming history. In fact, over the last thirty years, Iíd wager virtually everyone who considers themselves a gamer has played a game that was a direct result - or heavily inspired by - this title. And for good reason, because itís a completely ingenious idea. Plan and build your very own city, while managing finances, traffic, pollution, crime, and other basic human needs. Itís like having your very own full scale Lego city. One thatís constantly trying to set fire to itself. And itís a blast to play. Thereís a reason the franchise became a gaming institution.

Or I should say, we should thank the original PC version for all of that. This Super Nintendo port - one of the systemís launch titles - came out quite a bit later. And while it was received with positive reviews, and is looked back upon fondly, it's hardly known as one of the system's juggernauts. But it doesnít need to be. It just needs to be a fun game that does the original experience justice.

Speaking of which, Iím not gonna lie, Iíve barely played the original version of the game. And it was a million years ago. So Iím not gonna pretend like I have any concrete idea how this port stacks up in comparison. But I donít need to either. Because I can tell you it does its job just fine. While SimCity 2000 on SNES was a bit of a disaster, Nintendo knocked this port out of the park.

Controls? Completely satisfactory. Obviously the preferred way to play any sort of strategy or simulation game is with a mouse and keyboard, and this game is not the exception to that rule. But it doesnít really come at the gameís expense either. The interface is so sharp, and straightforward, and simple, that you wonít mind having to constantly scroll the cursor around.

Slowdown or lag? Nonexistent until late in the game when your city starts to engulf the entire map. But even then, I found it completely tolerable, and never remotely close to what you see in the SNES version of SimCity 2000.

It also doesnít hurt that the experience is so relaxed either. You can build and plan at your own pace, without being penalized for it. Granted, running a thriving metropolis requires knowing exactly what the game wants you to do, and knowing how to solve its problems. But if youíre just putzing around, itís one of the most laid back experiences on the system. Thatís how I usually play the game, as a nice change of pace from all of the other demanding titles on the Super Nintendo.

All in all, it's one of the better strategy/simulation games on the system, and a nice way to break up the gaming sessions with tough-as-nails Konami and Capcom games. Grab it, show it to your kids, experience one of the most influential games in history, and try your hand at being a crooked and/or incompetent mayor.

Did I beat it?
No. At least, I don't think I have. I never got the Mario Statue or credits or anything.

#97 - Brandish

My time on the internet has taught me that there are two (and only two) types of people when it comes to Brandish.

First off, thereís the majority of gamers who try it. Theyíre the guys (and girls) who start up a new game, immediately notice how unusual/unorthodox the camera controls are, get disoriented, and give up. In the span of about three minutes.

And then thereís the minority. Theyíre the people who power through that initial confusion and/or nausea, adjust, and find a great game underneath all of the rotating camera hoopla. Iím obviously in that latter crowd.

Unlike virtually every other old school Koei game in existence, Brandish is a dungeon crawler. Nothing else, just dungeon crawling. No crops to raise, no armies to train, no commodities to trade, no territories to invade, nothing. Just dungeons. And crawling.

And thatís a great thing. As much as I appreciate most of the Koei SNES library, I didnít spend any of my playthrough here wishing I was spending my time making alliances with neighboring dungeon explorers, or hoping I could engage a large number of foes in turn-based combat on a large grid-based map.

The story (what little there is) involves your adventurer on the run from the local Kingís sorceress because heÖ did something... bad to the king. Honestly, I donít remember. It doesnít matter anyway. But during that chase he falls into a pit, and then spends the next twenty hours trying to crawl out of it. Furthermore, that same sorceress continues to hunt him down throughout the game, popping up on occasion for a boss fight, or just to chew him out.

Thatís the storyline. Itís pretty slim.

But thatís okay, none of the other dungeon crawlers on SNES have much of a storyline to speak of either, so I give it a pass.

Gameplay can best be described as a mix of Brain Lord, and any of those Western-developed first-person games such as Eye of the Beholder or Dungeon Master. Lots of puzzles, lots of combat, and lots of confusion. But in a good way (if that makes sense). And also much less infuriating than any of those games.

One notable (or perhaps, aggravating) mechanic is limited weapon durability. Yep, the dreaded ďbreaking weaponsĒ syndrome. You swing your sword a couple dozen times, it shatters, and you move on to the next one. I have never once seen anybody claim that they love this gameplay feature, and I donít necessarily blame them either. Usually itís something you do your best to tolerate.

Luckily, itís a non-issue here. Youíre never short of weapons, and partway through the game you start coming across unbreakable magic weapons. So it ends up being an entirely moot point anyway.

Now, back to the camera. The mechanic that makes or breaks it for most people within the first few minutes of gameplay. So let me explain it a bit further:

When you turn left, the level graphics shift 90 degrees to the left.
When you turn right, the level graphics shift 90 degrees to the right.

Thatís it. Thatís the thing people canít get over. Or at least itís the thing they think they canít get over.

And yeah, to be fair, I have an unusually high constitution when it comes to video games. I played through the entire damn Lord of the Rings Vol. 1, so I can put up with a lot. But the problem here seems a bit overblown. In fact, I would say it is still a million times easier to stay oriented in Brandish than it is in any of those first-person dungeon crawlers I mentioned earlier.

So, if you can adjust to the camera, thereís a hell of a game to explore here. Virtually everyone I know who has ever stuck with it has had a great time.

But if you canít get over it - or you have some form of ADHD - then thereís nothing here for you.

Did I beat it?

#96 - Aero Fighters

When I go about writing these reviews, I often just jump into it, spur of the moment, with whatever happens to pop into my head. No planning, no preparation, no foresight, nothing. Sometimes it works, sometimes the results areÖ well, they speak for themselves. This will be a prime example of that.

Aerofighters is a game of some infamy. I probably donít need to tell you that. As one of the rarest and most lucrative carts for the Super Nintendo, everyone knows it as that game theyíve never seen, they canít afford, and they probably will never play (emulation aside). For those very reasons, it was one of the last games I got around to playing for this project, finally giving in and emulating it, thinking (at the time) that Iíd never own the cart. I walked away with a positive impression, but knew that playing a game like this with a keyboard would never do it complete justice. And I guess investing in a PC gamepad is something that has never occurred to me.

Years later, I was lucky enough to score a cart-only copy, and give the game its proper due. And my appreciation grew. I promoted it to the top 100.

The backstory here is that this is the first game in an old SNK franchise. So that means it originated in the arcades, and probably got a port to the Neo Geo. Uh, assuming port is even the correct word here. Are the Neo Geo carts just arcade PCBs wrapped in a piece of plastic? Whatís AES versus MVS? You know what, forget it, Iím getting off track.

Gameplay is very, very basic. Odds are youíve seen every single element present here in another shmup. Probably in lots of other shmups. Power up your guns, fire off your occasional bomb, donít die. Thereís nothing thatís too far out of the ordinary, genre-wise.

Aside from maybe one thing. You see, when starting up, you also have a choice of four different pilots, all of whom have different planes with different primary and secondary weapons. Thatís pretty cool. Also, in co-op mode, player two has access to another four unique pilots. How cool is that?

Also, the game is like twenty minutes long. Stages are short, there are only seven of them, and most bosses donít take an absurd amount of punishment.

But the gameplay rocks, and thatís all that matters. The controls feel perfect, the stages are all challenging, but never in ways that feel unfair or grueling, and the fun factor always remains high. Itís not the most original shmup on the system. Nor is it the prettiest. And itís certainly not the most memorable. But damn if it isnít a good time.

Did I beat it?
Yep, a couple different times.

#95 - Pieces

Someone out there is gonna shit when they realize I have this game like a million spots higher than Yoshiís Cookie, Warioís Woods, and Kirbyís Avalanche. What can I say; I donít especially love any of those games, but I sunk a lot of hours into this one. Deal with it.

Pieces is a rather simple (simplistic?) puzzle game. And by puzzle, I mean ďjigsaw puzzle.Ē As in, you put puzzles together. Fit the pieces together. Until the picture is complete. Before your opponent completes the same picture.

Thatís the game.


Okay, hear me out. I promise itís worth it.

There are a few more wrinkles, but thatís the gist of the gameplay. And for me that works. I like jigsaw puzzles. I did a lot of them when I was a kid. I do them nowadays with my kids. Itís simple fun, but itís fun. And I like doing it here. Granted, the puzzles are very simplistic, and low on pieces. And granted, moving a cursor around with a controller D-Pad is not exactly optimal. Iíll give you that. And the puzzle selection could be a bitÖbetter. As in, there is no immense replay value to be found here.

But I don't care. The game is too fun for me to care about that. Even the campaign is a fun (albeit short) boss rush of sorts, where you topple a series of opponentsÖ

Oh right, I guess I should clarify that one of the wrinkles comes in the form of the various attacks you can lob at your opponentÖ

Oh right, I should also clarify that the game is best when played in the ďversusĒ format, where you need to solve puzzles faster than an opponent. I mentioned that already, didnít I?

Anyway, the attacks are all varied and fun too. One of them reverses your controls, one of them conceals your pieces, and so forth. Itís great.

Which leads me back to my original point (I think): the versus play is a lot of fun. I play it with my boys and itís a laugh riot. Totally worth the price of admission. And way more fun than frickin' Yoshiís Cookie. I stand by that statement.

So seek this game out. Itís not very popular, and not very common. But itís worth your time.

Did I beat it?
A few times. Mostly I just play the versus mode.

#94 - King of Dragons

Capcom does Golden Axe.

Is that correct? Maybe [Nope! - Editor]. I have to be honest when I say I havenít played either of the original two Golden Axe games in at least 20 years. Probably because theyíre not particularly amazing. But the comparison at least seems apt. In King of Dragons - a fantasy arcade brawler - you select one of four characters - melee guy, bow and arrow guy, magic guy, or other melee guy - and then wallop your way across a dozen-plus levels chock full of orcs, goblins, dragons, and evil knights. As one does. Itís not hard to guess where Capcom got their inspiration.

Gameplay is very basic, as it usually is with this sort of thing. Your abilities include a main attack, special attack, and jump. Thatís it. No elaborate Knights of the Round-style blocking here. Hell, the arcade cabinet probably featured a mere two buttons and a joystick. Itís fine though. Beat-em-ups can get away with simplicity if theyíre fun.

The enemy types are also rather straightforward: melee guys, charging melee guys, ranged guys, jelly-like blobs that attach themselves to you, a few variations of each of the above, and so forth. Nothing especially exotic, and nothing you havenít seen in a million other games.

Boss fights are also relatively straightforward. Most of them have just a few basic patterns, and their enormous size means they can usually be exploited by working your character across the vertical axis. Some of them can soak up an enormous amount of damage, and their patterns can change quickly enough to throw you for a loop, but overall there is nothing particularly tricky.

All in all, itís a game that doesnít exactly push the boundaries of the genre, and plays it relatively safe. Perhaps thatís because this game is a fairly early release in the systemís life, based on an even older arcade game.

But thatís all fine. Because King of Dragons is just plain fun to play. The controls are tight, the gameplay is tight, the graphics look great, and the difficulty balance is right on the money. Playing with two players is great as always, and something I definitely recommend if you have a buddy who is ready and willing. And the characters are different enough from one another that the game has decent replay value. Iíve played through with every character. I might even do it again.

So, is this among the best arcade/beat Ďem up ports on the system? No. Is it the best Capcom brawler on the system? No. But itís a hell of a good time, and something everyone can enjoy.

Did I beat it?
Yep, with every character.

#93 - Skyblazer

Sony does their best Konami impression with this Hindu-themed action platformer.

Well, thatís not really accurate. I believe the game ďdoesĒ have a Hindu motif running through it, just not in the West. Instead, what we got was this sanitized version for us wussy Americans. So in place of Vishnu and Shiva itís just some generic fantasy theme...

Those gaming company executives responsible for localizations really were the worst back in the day. No faith in us whatsoever.

Anywho, Iíve seen this game compared to the Mega Man series on a number of occasions, but I donít really think thatís a great match. And it shares a lot of similarities with its predecessor, Hook. But thatís not the best comparison either. No, instead I want to talk about all of those Konami games that killed it on the Super Nintendo, because thatís the comparison to make. Not that Skyblazer plays a lot like Contra III, or Axelay or anything like that, because it doesnít, but more because it hasÖ well, I donít know. I donít know how to describe any similarities. It just feels like a Konami game. With its tight action, and the detailed, colorful graphics. And also because it features tons of great setpieces. Also, the bosses? Pushovers, many of them. But they look great, and all have unique designs and patterns. Just Konami-esque all around.

Of course, unlike Konami games, Skyblazer is absurdly easy. Painfully easy. Between the ever-increasing arsenal of powers that you have access to, the unlimited continues, the forgiving checkpoints, and the relatively short length of the game, most gamers could probably knock the whole thing out in their first hour or two of play. It's probably the main thing holding the game back from cracking my top 50.

But thatís okay, because this is a game that's fun to return to every now and then. The brevity and charming gameplay make it a quick, painless playthrough. One that begs to be replayed whenever youíre looking to relax for an hour. So if youíve exhausted the library of Konami titles, and you want something in the ballpark, this is absolutely one of the Super Nintendoís best choices.

Did I beat it?
Many, many times.

#92 - Mega Man 7

So, if I wrack my brain for a bit, I can come up with roughly twenty-three different Mega Man games that I have played all the way through, as of this writing. Twenty-three! That might be a personal best for me, as far as completions across all gaming franchises go. The only possible challenger I can think of is the mighty Mario series. Which to me, says quite a few things.

One, there is a metric fuck-ton of Mega Man games out there.

Two, most of them must be good-to-great. As in, almost every one of those games must have been worth playing for me to stick with them like that. Even the extremely derivative ones. And this is a very derivative series!

Mega Man 7 is bringing up the rear somewhere in that list of twenty-three games. In fact, itís very possibly the worst of the lot.

Öer, not counting that horrid PC game Capcom licensed out to someone or another. Yeah, I owned and played through that as a kid. Pity me. But I digress.

Back to Mega Man 7. Whatís holding it back? Well for one, the larger sprites here absolutely make this a harder game to play than any of its predecessors, or any of the Mega Man X games. And I hope that doesnít sound overblown, because it absolutely does matter. This is not an easy game, and it is an adjustment you are going to have to make if you are at all used to those other games. Which most people are.

The robot masters here are also pretty lacking. Easily the weakest bunch of any Mega Man game on the Super Nintendo. None of them feel very inspired. And I realize that's kind of a silly thing to complain about when thereís been so many of them throughout the years, and thereís so many silly motifs theyíve had, and so many recycled general themes theyíve shared. But this lot is especially unimaginative. I mean, Cloud Man? Come onÖ

And then the final set of Wily stages opts for frustration over fun. Theyíre too much of a chore, when they should be something you look forward to. Again, one of my least favorite series of end stages across the entire franchise.

Finally, the end bosses just have me shaking my head. I donít know what the hell Capcom was thinking here. And donít get me wrong, Iím no stranger to difficult boss fights, or difficult Mega Man fights (Sigma in X3 comes to mind). But these fights may just take the cake. Challenging is good. Frustration is bad. These fights veer way too far into the latter.

That all being said, this game remains an absolute blast to play. Complaints aside, itís a damn Mega Man game. The series was one of the biggest in the world once upon a time for very good reason. The Mega Man formula just works. It just does.

Hell, if you removed the pedigree and history, and made this some no-name standalone game for the Super Nintendo, it would absolutely be ravenously praised to high heaven as the ultimate hidden gem.

It even kinda reminds me of something like The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the Nintendo DS. Is that a weak Zelda game? Yes. Does it have a lot of gameplay designs that are highly questionable? Yes. Does it remain a solid game that blows 98% of the DS library out of the water? Of course it does.

So, if youíre looking for the best Mega Man games, just go ahead and move on. You ainít gonna find one here. But if youíre looking for a game that is part of an incredibly fun franchise, and still happens to be a lot of fun itself, you could do a lot worse.

Did I beat it?
Just once. The bastard Wily has scared me off from further attempts.

#91 - Out of this World

Finally, I reach the eponymous Out of this World. Itís not the granddaddy of the cinematic platformer genre - that would probably be Prince of Persia - but it is the game that I think best exemplifies it. Because I feel that this is the game that took PoPís original vision for this new type of action platformer, and turned it into something truly ďcinematic.Ē So for that reason, this is what I see as the genreís gold standard: the game that feels responsible for all of the wonderful games that have come since. Everything from Oddworld: Abeís Oddysee to Limbo and Inside and all the rest. This is the experience they all needed to live up to.

While discussing this game, I donít want to talk about the controls. I donít want to talk about gameplay length. I donít want to talk about replay value. I donít want to talk about frame rates, or how this compares with the Sega CD version or whatever. No, the only thing I want to talk about is atmosphere. Because this game is absolutely swimming in it. Drowning in it. Between the fantastic music, the wonderful rotoscope animation, the very unique (and fitting) art style, and the sheer vision of the alien world you are traveling across, this game has atmosphere in absolute spades. It might be the very best across the entire Super Nintendo library, and probably one of the most imaginative in the history of video games. Bold statements, I know. But I stand by them.

I also donít want to spoil too much for players who havenít experienced the game for themselves, but the storyline is a simple one. Man finds himself on an alien planet, man desperately tries to fend off local fauna, man gets imprisoned, man breaks free and escapes. Thatís it, the whole plot. From beginning to end. Very minimalist. But itís done so extraordinarily well that itís a completely gripping experience the entire time.

And, really, I donít want to say much of anything more. That can only serve to spoil things, because this is a game you have to experience for yourself, not just read about. So seek the game out and play it. Itís available on tons of platforms (including a remaster for newer systems) so there really isnít any excuse not to. I'm sure you'd be fine with any of them, but the SNES version is super solid.

Did I beat it?
A couple times.

#90 - F-Zero

F-Zero is another first party game that feels more like a tech demo than a fully-realized release.

Does that sound overly harsh? It does to me. But I donít know how else to describe it.

Actually, let me back up a bit. There are certain Nintendo games that, to me, have always felt like dry runs for later, more fully-realized and complete visions. Almost like a video game proof of concept. The original Metroid and The Legend of Zelda are two titles that give me that feeling. And before you write up some angry response letting me know how wrong I am, just remember that Iím saying thatís how it feels to me.

Star Fox and F-Zero give me the same feeling. Except, instead of being dry runs at trying out new genres of game, theyíre both attempts to try out new things technologically.

I guess what Iím saying is that F-Zero, like Star Fox, is a pale imitation of its N64 sequel. And yes, I realize that you cannot be ďimitatingĒ something if you come before it. But both are so overshadowed by their follow-up games, that it's hard to really recommend either, wholesale, in 2022.

However, that doesnít mean there isnít still fun to be had here. A lot of fun. Because this is a great racer. One of the best on the Super Nintendo. Even if it is very, very, very barebones. Weíre talking 15 tracks, one (real) gameplay mode, a few cups to win, and some time trials to try and best. Content is lacking.

Which is funny because thereís so much content in the sequel, F-Zero X, that it seems like even the developers acknowledged this and went overboard to correct it.

But Iím not here to talk about the N64 library, just the SNES library. So the only thing that matters is that this is a good game. A very good game. One of the better early releases. It just wonít keep you occupied for as long as youíd wish.

Did I beat it?
Yes, this is one of my most recent SNES completions.

#89 - Rampart

Remember this game? Of course you do. Everyone remembers that cover art. Everyone remembers seeing it back in the day. Whether it was the arcade cab in a Pizza Hut, or the shelves of the video rental store, everybody saw that armored dude with the spear, the finger pointed at the distant ship, and the drill sergeant grimace on his face as he screamed at you.

But how many of you actually played the game? I know I didnít. It had a great provocative cover, but the screenshots made it look like some sort of boringÖ I donít knowÖ building game, or something? Something slow-paced and strategic, no doubt. So I never took the dive and put a quarter into the cab, or took home the cartridge.

Not until years later at least, when I grabbed one of those Midway arcade compilations. A great compilation by the way. Robotron, Spy Hunter, Smash TV, just winner after winner after winner. But the true shocker was the little olí castle game that had teased me so many years earlier. Not only was it a pleasant surprise, but it ended up being one of the absolute best games of the bunch. Maybe even the very best. Just endlessly addictive, and endlessly fun to play with 1-2 other people. My friends and I actually started centering some of our gaming sessions around Rampart. Not Counter Strike, not Warcraft III, but Rampart.

So what makes this game tick? What makes it so fun? Well, itís simple. Picture the worldís very first tower defense game, but instead of placing towers or turrets or whatever, youíre placing castle walls. Castle walls that come in various Tetris-esque shapes. You get a piece, you rotate and place it on the field of play, and repeat. Successfully enclose an entire area within your walls, and it becomes a part of your castle. The larger your castle, the more space you have to build cannons. The more cannons you have, the more you can shell your opponent, leaving their base in shambles. Or, more accurately, shattered wall pieces.

And thatís it. Thatís all of the gameplay. Place walls, and fire cannons. But it works so freakiní well because the random nature of the wall pieces means you are constantly on your toes, and constantly trying to adapt on the fly. Can you recover after each barrage ends? Can your opponent? It leads to some tense moments and a lot of fun.

The Super Nintendo version unfortunately does not support a third player, which is truly too bad, because the devious nature of figuring out who is going to team up on who makes that mode something truly special. But even playing with two people leaves you with one of the absolute best multiplayer experiences on the Super Nintendo. So grab this game, grab a friend, and blast the shit out of each other, and have a riot doing it.

Did I beat it?
Yes, but this is another title where the vast majority of my time is spent in multiplayer.

#88 - Kirby's Dream Land 3

The Kirby franchise is something of an enigma to me, in that I donít fully understand why itís been as successful as it has, and seen as many releases as it has. I suppose that comes across as pretty critical.

Donít get me wrong; I like a good Kirby game. And I really like a great Kirby game. And some of them truly are great. Kirbyís Dream Course, coming up in these rankings, is a great game. Canvas Curse for Nintendo DS is an absolute joy to play. Iíd love to try out Planet Robobot, because everything I hear about it sounds great. And the upcoming Switch game looks like it has a lot of promise.

But most Kirby games are not great. Most of them areÖ well, passable. Better than the average game, for sure, but often pretty lacking in effort. Or any sort of ďwowĒ factor. This is not exactly Nintendoís most ďtry hardĒ franchise, as it were.

And yet, here we are, decades later, dozens of games later, and the little pink puffball is still running strong. For whatever reason. Maybe itís his ďcuteĒ appeal. Maybe heís a massive hit with millions of young kids (my son is playing through Kirbyís Adventure as we speak, completely ignoring all the new-fangled games that sit on my shelves). Maybe Iím just an old curmudgeon who demands deep, hardcore games, and canít understand simple games with simple appeal.

In any case, Kirbyís Dream Land 3 is about as vanilla as Kirby gets. Itís practically the same game as Kirbyís Adventure, or Kirbyís Dream Land, or most of the segments in Kirby Super Star. Suck up enemies, absorb their powers, float around, find tomatoes, kill the giant tree boss, never break a sweat. You know the deal.

That doesn't make it a bad game. Clearly my putting it in the top 100 here speaks volumes for how it is still very much a good game, despite that lack of innovation. But itís also why a game like Super Mario World is going to be appearing in my top 10, and why this game would never have any business sniffing anybodyís top ten.

And to be fair, itís not completely lacking in innovation. HAL Laboratories did add a few (tiny) wrinkles to the formula, like the optional tasks found in each level that award you a collectable when you complete them. Obtaining every one of them unlocks the true final boss. Props for that.

And there is a rudimentary cooperative mode. Player one is Kirby, and player two isÖ some sort ofÖ goo.. thing. And thatís great; the inclusion of co-op is always a positive. But this game is already so easy, the addition of another player merely serves to push the lack of challenge into the realm of absurdity. Donít expect any partners to be very engaged; I know mine wasnít.

Thereís also some bonus minigames, and the return of the animal friends that I remember from one of the Game Boy games. Oh, and itís got that pastel thing going on with the graphics, which is kinda cool. Mileage with that kind of art design might vary, depending on your tastes. But I dug it. Anyway, the point is, itís a Kirby game. Fun, harmless, and worth a playthrough or two, but nothing thatís going to rock your socks or anything. So if you have kids, or if youíre dying for some 2-player action, this is definitely a game to look into. Just be prepared to check out when you cruise through the entire game without dying a single time.

Did I beat it?
Yeah, at least twice. I'll probably do it again with my boys in the near future.

#87 - On the Ball


Okay, I know, I know. Everyone over-uses that term, and weíre all sick of it. Virtually every game thatís ever been released has been hit with that label at one point or another by now, so itís impossible to really gauge what truly is or isnít a gem. And hidden is always relative. I mean, you probably know what Knights of the Round is. But the average gamer doesnít. Does that make it a ďhiddenĒ gem? Probably not, but some people will see it that way.

Either way, THIS is one of my hidden gems. A game very few people have heard of, with an unremarkable title, boring artwork, and a core concept thatís a bit of a tough sell. A game that is truly buried among hundreds of other Super Nintendo games, ignored and forgotten. But people who dive into it seem to mostly love it. Myself included.

Gameplay is super simple to describe at a high level. In short, picture that old wooden box game where you twist two different dials (one for the Y-axis and one for the X-axis), trying to direct a small metal ball into the hole at the end goal. I think itís called Labyrinth.

That is this game.

...only thereís like a hundred other wrinkles, and dozens of levels, and a gradually increasing challenge which becomes quite devious by the end, and a killer time attack nature to it all which is great for contests and competitive play.

So, take my word for it. Go buy a copy of this game. Last I checked it was still dirt cheap. You wonít regret it.

Thatís the entire write-up. But thatís all you need to know. Just go get it.

Did I beat it?
Many, many times.

#86 - Bust-A-Move

Another puzzler!

Known by the more accurate moniker of Puzzle Bobble nowadays, Bust-A-Move is the first installment in the long-running puzzle franchise thatÖ

Wait, is this the first game in the series? Iíve always assumed it is, but I guess I donít actually have any real confirmation of that. In fact I have no idea if thatís trueÖ nevermind, it doesnít matter.

UhÖ where was IÖ and where was I going with thisÖ

Ok, Bust-A-Move, aka Puzzle Bobble, is a puzzle game just like every other Tetris derivative that has ever existed. The gimmick here is that you are trying to bounce bubbles off the side walls of the playing area, and into the other hanging bubbles, while avoiding the wrong-colored bubbles, hoping you can release and drop some of the extra bubblesÖ

UmmÖ thereís also these super-secret bubble combinations you can make in order to earn millions of bonus points. But I donít know why youíd care about points if you were just trying to get through the main single player mode. Especially since itís so difficult that you donít really have time to worry about things like pointsÖ

Oh god, Iím struggling here. This was a bad night to write one of these. Iím not going to be able to do this game justice. So Iím just gonna be direct.

The single player is great. But hard. Extremely hard. Puzzle fiends will love it.

The multiplayer is also great. One of the best 2-player puzzle experiences on the system. Not because itís as fiendishly deep as Tetris Attack, or as timeless as Tetris + Dr. Mario, but because it's hilarious when your opponent misses a shot and howls in frustration. Every time. Itís always funny.

And the whole thing has a ton of charm. Who doesnít love Bob and Bub?

So, if youíre a big puzzler fan, grab this game. Try to work your way through the single player if you want a challenge, and grab a friend if you want a night of fun and laughter.

Did I beat it?
No. This game is hard.

#85 - Illusion of Gaia

I remember the origins of my history with Illusion of Gaia very clearly. My very first exposure to the game was with the 100th issue of Nintendo Power. That was the one where they declared the 100 greatest Nintendo games of all time (the sort of list that is near and dear to my own heart for obvious reasons). It was also one of the very first issues of the magazine - or any magazine for that matter - that I was able to actually own. Which means I read it cover-to-cover, again and again. A hundred times at least. And smack dab in the middle of that list of 100 games was Illusion of Gaia. A Super Nintendo RPG that I had never heard of, but immediately coveted.

Flash forward to the following summer (1998), and my family took a trip to see relatives down in St. Louis. While there, we visited one of their gigantic malls, where I immediately made a beeline to the nearest Software Etc. or Funcoland or Babbages, or whatever it was. And lo and behold, what did they have but a complete in box copy of Illusion of Gaia for $14.99. Or perhaps $19.99. The box still had the price sticker up until the day my dad threw it away, but I can no longer recall what exactly it was.

Anyway, since it was so late in the game, this was one of the very last SNES games I collected during my original heyday with the console. I had already started to move on to the then-current PC games, and I was six months out from owning my first N64. But SNES RPGs were my bread and butter, and my mind was still on that NIntendo Power list, so I bought it, jumped into it, and blasted through it. I bet I beat the game within a day or two.

And I have to say the disappointment was palpable. I had envisioned the next best thing to A Link to the Past. This game is absolutely not that.

Itís linear to a tee.

The combat isnít very deep.

The storyline is borderline incomprehensible.

Itís much shorter.

And finally, there was something about the whole experience that I found incrediblyÖ off. Or disjointed maybe? Almost like the game couldnít seem to settle itself in a way. By that I mean youíre constantly jumping around different areas, or receiving new abilities, or meeting new characters, but the game is so fast-paced that you move on to the next thing before you have a chance to absorb anything.

Pacing. Thatís the word Iím looking for. The pacing is off.

Nonetheless I still played through it another two or three times, since that is what I did with my meager collection of games back then. But I never held any great love for it. Sure, I enjoyed it, but since I loved most of my other games, that meant it was bringing up the rear in my collection somewhere.

Twenty-plus years later, I just recently sat down and played through it once more for old times' sake. Well, that and I knew I had to do it for the sake of this review. And while I knew my feelings wouldnít likely change in any dramatic way, I have to admit that I looked forward to it. I mean, how many times do we revisit a game from our childhood that we havenít played in decades?

I had a good time. With reset expectations, I enjoyed the game for what it is. I enjoyed the globe-spanning nature of the quest. I enjoyed figuring out all of the puzzles. And I enjoyed knocking out the bosses, one by one.

So I can say for sure that this is a very good game. The controls are great, the graphics are some of the best on the system, the soundtrack is very good, and the challenge and length are actually just about perfect. Never frustrating, never overstaying its welcome. Plus, in hindsight itís never really fair to compare a game solely against A Link to the Past.

Of course, I can now judge it against the other two games in the loose trilogy itís a part of: Soul Blazer and Terranigma. Two games I wasnít even aware existed back in the day. And Iíd say Gaia is the lesser game of the three. But I donít mean to disparage it, because all three games are great.

So while my personal feelings for the game have gone up and down throughout my life, theyíve settled in a very positive place. I dig the game a lot. I dig the series itís a part of. And Iím confident in calling it yet another great action RPG in the Super Nintendo library. Itís not perfect, and it could have been a lot more, but itís still a lot of fun and thatís all that matters.

Did I beat it?
Yep, a bunch of times when I was a kid, and once recently.

#84 - Tiny Toons Adventures: Buster Busts Loose

Another winner from Konami. They really could do no wrong during the era. I mean, other than that wretched football game I wrote about eons ago. But most everything else they put out on the Super Nintendo was pure gaming bliss. Donít be surprised by how many of their games end up in this top 100, because - spoiler alert - itís a ton of them. Call me a fanboy, call me biased, call me whatever you want. All I know is they did good work.

Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose is - at first glance - a rather conventional platformer. Buster can run, he can jump, and he can dash. Presumably this game came out in the wake of Sonic the Hedgehog. Nothing too out of sorts here, especially for the era.

What pushes Buster above most of his peers is immaculate polish. Every single part of the game is very, very well done. The graphics and animation are great, the controls are typical Konami perfection, and thereís tons of fun setpieces scattered throughout the game. From the level that takes the form of a tackle football game, to the boss fight against the runaway locomotive engine. Hell, thereís even a moment where youíre dodging massive turret blasts from massive capital space cruisers. Throughout the entire playthrough thereís never a dull moment.

Of course everything could have been just a tad bit better. The whole experience is pretty short, and definitely could have benefited from an extra level or three. And the difficulty curve is a bit slapdash at times. Whereas most of the game is rather easy, a few of the levels feature some unforgiving sections that will sap away your lives while you desperately try and figure out what it is youíre supposed to be doing.

But those are just minor detractions. They donít hold the game back from being one of my favorite platformers on the system, and a game that Iíve come back to again and again throughout the years. Itís not Konamiís best, and itís not even the best Tiny Toons game on the system, but itís one every SNES player should grab.

Did I beat it?
Many, many times.

#83 - Secret of Mana

One of my absolute favorite gaming memories encompasses the entire summer before 6th grade. That was the summer where I bought a video game with my own money for the very first time. It was a used (but complete) copy of Super Mario RPG, a game I had rented several times, and was absolutely enthralled with. So when I walked into the video store and saw it on the shelves for $14.95 I almost shit a brick. At the time, such prices were basically unheard of. At least, for me they were. Up until that moment, the only games I had ever seen for sale were full-priced new releases in places like Sears, Best, or Software Etc. Used game stores didnít exist yet, Target and Wal-Mart hadnít moved out west yet, so I was in completely uncharted territory. In fact, I bet I didnít even have a concept of a ďusedĒ game. Who would ever dare part with such a thing, right?

So of course I bought it. I donít know where I got the money, but I pulled it from somewhere. And the following weeks were absolute bliss. No more playing through the same few platformers I had received over various Christmases. No more Madden NFL Ď94 seasons. I had a fancy RPG, and all the time in the world to beat it.

A week or two later, the unimaginable happened. The same store had a $9.95 copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I had never played it, but I knew its reputation. I bought it on the spot.

Over the rest of that summer, I completed both games multiple times, and borrowed and completed a friendís copies of Earthbound and Final Fantasy III. It was an amazing time. Arguably the greatest run of games Iíve ever experienced. No doubt it will be the greatest run of games I ever experience.

My gaming obsession, and more accurately, my obsession with game collecting, was born.

I immediately started researching the rest of the library, and started plotting how to acquire it. Brain Lord? It was now on the radar. The Lufia games? On the radar. Ogre Battle, the Breath of Fire games, and Shadowrun? I needed all of them.

But most of all, I needed Secret of Mana.

A couple years earlier, I happened to catch a television ad for SoM on Nickelodeon. It was animated, and featured the main character pulling a sword out of the water and swinging it around in the air. Iím sure itís up on YouTube somewhere. In any case, it made an impression on me, and I managed to convince my dad to rent it for me that weekend. I was fairly young at the time, so I didnít get much of anywhere (probably not past the first boss) but I was enthralled with its open-ended gameplay, which was unlike anything I had experienced at that point.

So, several years later, I was desperate to get my own copy and revisit it, something that was extremely tricky in the days before the internet or a steady income. The only thing I could do was start biking around town, visiting all of the rental stores, seeing what they had for sale. A strategy that was, in general, a big bust.

Until one day, I stopped by Village Video, a tiny rental place on the south side of town, that I hadnít been in for years.

They had Secret of Mana.

So, I came up with whatever pitch or sob story I could, and tried to talk the clerk into agreeing to sell it to me. And she did, without hesitation. In fact, she was open to selling any of her Super Nintendo games. I was in shock. So I grabbed Secret of Mana (ignoring the copy of Final Fantasy II sitting right next to it, which I never went back to grab, for some reason), and biked home as fast as I could, riding on cloud nine. In the span of a few months, I had managed to acquire a number of the systemís heavy hitters. I couldnít believe my luck.

And let me tell you, that playthrough of Secret of Mana was quite the letdown. Even as a game-starved kid, who loved everything he touched, the disappointment was palpable. I couldnít even lie to myself about it, because it stood in such a stark contrast with how much fun I had had with all of those other games.

Öand to be fair, I realize most games canít really stand toe-to-toe with games like A Link to the Past. So I set up SoM to fail, right from the start. Thatís just a sad reality.

Anyway, I played through the entire game in a series of marathon gaming sessions, so itís not like I hated the game, or disliked it enough to give up on it. I even maxed out all of the weapon and magic skills. What Iím saying is, I put as much time as possible into it, so there should be no doubt as to how full that first impression was.

On the surface, it seems like it should be a sure-fire hit. It's a huge, grandiose action RPG, with this big brightly-colored, beautiful world, with tons of dungeons to get through, and lots of weapons to master, and lots of magic spells at your disposal, with one of the greatest soundtracks on any Super Nintendo game. And, most important of all, it has frickiní THREE PLAYER COOPERATIVE play. Cooperative play, in a big Square game! Itís a dream come true.

But the problemsÖ thereís just so many problems with this game. It really was a bit heartbreaking for young me.

First off, the story is completely throwaway. I donít know if it was butchered with the translation, or if it was mostly cut out when Square had to port this thing from the ill-fated SNES CD platform, and cram it onto a small cartridge. But it stinks. Itís completely nonsensical, and barebones, and dumb. Thereís sprites, and an Evil Empire, and a Mana Tree, and a Mana Beast, but the actual storyline, and the telling of the story is just so bad. As far from Final Fantasy III as you can get.

Second, the mechanics are just janky and rough in general. The hit detection sucks, the magic system sucks, the way you need to grind out levels and skill levels sucks, the hit detection sucks, the movement is loose, navigating the world is annoying, the hit detection sucks, figuring out where to go is a pain in the ass, and the hit detection sucks. Did I mention the hit detection? Good god. And the weird way you need to try and time your swings with your ďpercentage meterĒ, and the way you need to time it with the enemy animationsÖ it's making me sad just thinking about it.

And then thereís the boss fights. Trainwrecks. Every one of them. Those guys love to pop in and out of the screen, cheapshotting you, hitting you with the million status effects that immobilize and stun you, and the only real way to do any damage to them is by either spamming the same cheapshot magic attacks back at them, or by endlessly charging your weapons, waiting to spring your attack on them, hoping that you donít get stunned beforehand, and hoping you donít simply miss. Again, trainwrecks.

Finally, I have to mention the pathfinding and your teammatesí AI. Both horrible. You can configure how aggressive they are, and how much distance theyíll keep from any enemies, but theyíre basically useless for most of the game.

So, now that I have sufficiently bashed the game, and unloaded decades' worth of pent-up angst with this game, you may be questioning why such a clearly horrid and broken game has still managed to make it into my top 100.

And the answer to that is simpleÖ itís still a very good game. All of those many warts, and many problems aside, it is still very much a game worth playing and enjoying. Itís still a huge Square game, with a big epic soundtrack. It still offers three player cooperative play. It still offers a lengthy quest, set in a high fantasy world, with tons of great sprites and designs.

If you can rustle up two other friends, and they have a lot of patience, and forgiveness, thereís a lot of fun to have here. There is a definite ceiling to that fun, and you probably want to play in shorter sessions, but the fun is there. But if youíre solo, and youíre expecting something in the league of a Chrono Trigger? You might not want to even bother.

Öand before anyone tells me that I need to revisit the game, because I must be mis-remembering my experience or somethingÖ no, I donít. I just played through the entire thing again, in 2022. Just to leave no doubt in my mind. It changed nothing.

Did I beat it?
Just the two times.

#82 - Mega Man X3

Man, how I coveted this game when I was a kid. Iím talking, HARD. No joke, Iíd cradle the box in the video rental store, trying to figure out how a dirt-poor kid such as myself could possibly hope to raise the money to buy my own copy. I even convinced one of my classmates to sell me his copy (along with his copy of X2). Of course he wisely changed his mind at the last second, to my own despair. Later, I even tried to convince the video store to sell me their copy. Sometimes this tactic worked, mostly it didnít. In this case, it didnít. More despair.

I never did end up playing it back in the day either. It was one of those games that got away. Never meant to be. Which was a big shame, because I was a huge fan of the series (and the precursor series for the NES) and I would have had a ball. I played through my copy of Mega Man X dozens of times, and it would have been the same thing for the sequels.

Things werenít rectified until years later when the Mega Man X Collection was released for the PS2, which I greedily snatched up. And I rapidly made up for lost time, playing through each and every one of the games on that disc. Almost. There was one exception. I couldnít beat X3. I got to Sigma, I got to his final form, and I put in the time to beat him. And I got stomped. Again and again. I couldnít seal the deal. The entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I moved on.

Years later I finally got that elusive X3 cart, and I revisited the game once again. This time with a little more appreciation for ďNintendo hardĒ gameplay, and a little more patience. And I did everything. Got all the secrets, did all the side stuff. Even looked up how to get the gold armor, which I used to wreck Sigmaís punk ass in some long-belated payback.

And I honestly had a great time doing it. I know X3 is often written off as the weakest game in the original trilogy - and it is - but that doesnít mean itís still not a wonderfully fun game. Even a ďweakĒ Mega Man X game is a joy to play; it's a title that puts most other games on the system to shame. Thereís a reason the formula survived for so long, and produced as many successful games as it did. Mega Man is great. The Mega Man X franchise is great. And Mega Man X3 is a great game that every Super Nintendo fan should play through. End of story.

Did I beat it?

#81 - Top Gear 3000

Iím wondering if people are going to be surprised to see that I have Top Gear 3000 above the original game. Is that a surprise? Iím not sure. I guess I was personally a bit surprised by how good it was. Possibly because I never hear anyone talking about this game, or mentioning, or recommending it. Maybe most people have just never played it. I dunno.

In any case, while I adore the original game - always have and always will - and as much as I have had a long and complicated relationship with Top Gear 2, my experience with the third game is much more limited. I have only owned my cart for a few years, and it was one of the very last games I played for my first go-around with the SNES library.

And to be honest, Iím not quite sure what I first expected. More Top Gear I suppose. Instead I was surprised. Surprised by how much fun it was, surprised by how fast it was, and mostly, surprised by how fair it was. I guess I was still gun-shy from getting my ass kicked by Top Gear 2, one of the toughest racers on the system. Not only was I able to get through the entire game this time, but I actually did it on multiple difficulties (the harder the difficulty setting, the more of the game you see).

And I think thatís what makes it the best game in the trilogy. The fast, superlative racing action of Top Gear 2, with the tight balancing of the first Top Gear. The perfect mix of the two gamesí strengths, with less of the weaknesses.

Oh, and this time it tacks on a four-player mode. It's one of the only games on the system to offer such a thing. And itís surprisingly fun too. Cramped, and hard to see, but still quite fun. I expected it to be a fun novelty at best, but my friends and I honestly had a good time with it.

So, if you want a traditional racing game, this may be your absolute best bet on the system. Itís fast, itís tons of fun, it has a lot of content, and you can enjoy it with your buddies.

Did I beat it?

#80 - Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom

Here it is. The very last RPG thatís a port of a PC game. And the very last traditional dungeon crawler. Which means itís the best of the bunch. Well, the best of both bunches.

ďBut guy, this is the Super Nintendo weíre talking about, not a PC. No one wants to play any of those games. Especially not in 2022.Ē

Öand thatís totally fair, and completely true. No one plays Dungeon Master on their Super Nintendo. No one plays Ultima VI on it either. Why the hell would you want to dedicate your life to Wizardry V? Especially when a superior version no doubt lives on Steam or GoG or whatever else.

Well, you wouldnít, probably. These are a hardcore type of game, meant for a hardcore type of gamer. And anyone that hardcore probably owes it to themselves to explore the best possible way to experience it.

But thatís neither here nor there for the purposes of this project. And furthermore, this game is so damn good, that it deserves every opportunity for people to play it. So disregard any of your doubts or reservations. Forget about a mouse and keyboard. Just figure out how to play this game.

Öoh right, I should probably talk about the game a bit.

This is another game in the same vein as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder: two Super Nintendo games that donít have sterling reputations, but two games that I personally enjoyed immensely. Sure, they had significant problems with frame rates and laggy controls, and their generally obtuse and dated gameplay do a great job at testing your patience. But they also offered two incredibly deep experiences that you otherwise canít really get with your average SNES game.

Wizardry V is just like those two games, but better across the board. In all avenues. The controls and interface and overall quality to the port-job are all big improvements. And that is a big deal, because those were the biggest things holding those other games back. Itís incredibly frustrating to be unable to move or attack when you need to move or attack. Especially when youíre faced with quasi-real-time combat.

Also, speaking of combat, itís much better here too. Much better. It has a turn-based format that is actually quite similar to what you see in a JRPG, with characters taking turns attacking, defending, healing, or launching spells, and it works great. Itís nicely balanced, with a constant challenge, without ever feeling unfair. Thereís a ton of different strategies you can use to try and win the fights.

The quest is also once again quite sizable, but progression is much more manageable this time around. Thanks in large part to the way it gives you a hub town. Which means after each grueling trek through the massive dungeons, you can always work to make it safely back to your home base to recharge, reload, and plan out the next phase of your quest. Itís another massive improvement.

Finally, the game is just an overall tighter and better-designed experience in virtually every way. The enemies are better designed, the boss fights are a huge improvement, the equipment is better balanced, the puzzles are far less nebulous, itís all better. You arenít constantly being ganked by enemies that have spawned directly behind you (for the most part), you arenít dealing with hellish status attacks that force you into a reload, your healers arenít in danger of being one-shotted because your attacks wonít stop missing, etc.

I could literally go on for days. Because these games are just so deep, and there are so many different things to talk about, and thereís so many ways that the developers of Wizardry V learned from those previous games' mistakes and worked to correct them.

So if you want one of the deepest and longest experiences on the system, this is the game for you. You may want to play it on your PC, and I wonít blame you for it, but the Super Nintendo version is more than respectable. Respectable enough to earn this top 100 spot.

Did I beat it?
Unfortunately, I hit a wall with the final boss, who to this day I cannot beat. Eventually I'm gonna go back and grind for 10 hours so I can overcome him.

#79 - E.V.O. The Search for Eden

My buddies used to gush about this game back in high school. And when I say gush, I mean gush. Youíd have thought it was the second coming of Super Mario Bros. with the way they tried to sell it. They talked up the combat, they talked up the evolutions, they talked up the scope of the game, and the way you got to travel across different eras of time. They even talked up the ďbrutalĒ difficulty, making it sound like the Dark Souls of Super Nintendo dinosaur games. This was a thing that went on for years.

And the worst part is, I never got to play it. One of the guys owned it, and the entire group of them had spent their childhoods passing the cart around, all playing through it, but I came into the equation much too late. So I missed out on the whole thing. But I completely trusted all of their opinions and everything they told me. I mean, these are the guys who shared my love of games like Chrono Trigger. That was good enough for me.

Then, in college, to add insult to injury, a copy of this elusive game slipped right through my fingers. One of my buddies and I were on a road trip across the state and found ourselves in a gas station that just happened to also house a video rental store of sorts. For my younger readers, this was a thing once upon a time.

The two of us, being hardcore gamers (and game collectors), of course immediately went straight to the ďfor saleĒ section looking at the games.

This is where I made a colossal mistake. I went for the PS2 games. That was the main focus of my collecting at the time. Thatís what I was busy buying. The system was red hot, it was flush with billions of quality titles, and I was always on the hunt for them.

My buddy went for the carts. And goddamn him, of course he pulled out a frickiní EVO. In between the copies of Clay Fighter and Madden Ď95 no doubt.

Now, even then EVO was one of those games that you didnít exactly run across too often in the wild. Or ever. We knew it was a rare game. We knew it was a major score. It may have only been worth like $40-50 at the time, but that was a lot of money at that point in the game collecting scene.

So he got it, and I probably walked out with Ace Combat 5 or something. And heís never let me forget it. Even to this day he likes to bring it up.

But thatís okay, because years later I finally bit the bullet and sprang for my own copy. Cost me nearly $200, which makes it one of the biggest gaming purchases Iíve ever made.

And you know what? It was totally worth it. Itís a great game, and a very unique one. Adding new body parts to your creatures is always a thrill, and making your way to the next evolutionary stage is always fun. And the combat? Simple, but satisfying. And the boss fights are great. And I love the ridiculous story. And I like the graphics. I like everything about the game. Itís a great playthrough, a very unique experience (even to this day), and absolutely worth the money I spent on it. Iíd recommend it to any action RPG fans, to any Super Nintendo fans, and to anyone looking for something a wee bit different from the typical gaming experience.

Did I beat it?

#78 - Earthworm Jim

Not too long ago, I witnessed an internet debate pitting the 8 bit gaming libraries versus the 16 bit libraries. By that, I mean something along the lines of ďNES and Sega Master SystemĒ versus ďGenesis and SNES and TurboGrafx.Ē I didnít really have a dog in the race: Iím the sorta guy who tries to see the positive in everything, so I feel like I can appreciate the two different gaming generations nearly equally. But it was a chance to see some interesting perspectives offered up by other individuals.

The biggest thing from that debate that really stuck with me, was one guyís argument that the early consoles were the winners because they offered a superior platforming experience. By that, he meant that the relatively simple sprites and background layers make it much easier to move and play with precision. Thereís never any guesswork as to where the edges of platforms or character sprites lay. Specifically, he was calling out games like Earthworm Jim.

And to be fair, he was making a great point. Not a point that really defines how good a library is, or how well it stacks up against another one, but a point about the interesting shift in gameplay mechanics that subtly took place. Because he was right. In a game like Earthworm Jim, it's hard to tell where youíre standing. Itís hard to tell where you can stand. Itís hard to tell where youíre allowed to go. Itís all by design, but that doesnít mean it wasnít a fundamental change in the genre.

Luckily, even if youíre the sort of platforming purist who would scoff at the relatively loose way Earthworm Jim plays things of that nature, youíll have to admit that the game brings so much to the table that you should be able to overlook it.

Like the sense of humor, for one. As a kid I found this game hilarious. Thereís so many non sequiturs and absurd moments sprinkled throughout this game; even the most joyless old grognard should find a thing or two to crack a smile about.

And the variety of levels? Shiny absolutely nailed it. Most of them do not play anything alike:

New Junk City - Garbage can monsters, cows, and lots of bouncy tires. Not one of my favorite levels, but it does give you a good taste for the seriesí penchant for secrets, and its penchant for absurdity.

What the Heck? - Hell meets Night on Bald Mountain meets a demonic cat. Also, a killer snowman. I love the atmosphere in this level, even if it is a rather steep increase in difficulty over level one.

Down the Tubes - This is the level most people remember. Guide your watercraft through the tight underwater caverns, without touching any walls lest the glass crack and you drown. Unless you know where you're going, or you map this level out completely, you donít stand a chance. This is probably as far as most people get in this game, because itís extremely hard to figure out. I find it thrilling.

Snot a Problem - Mucus bungee-jumping deathmatches. You and your foe take turns smashing each other into the wall, trying to snap the cord that is holding each of you up, while also avoiding the large monster lurking at the bottom. While the idea is great, and the whole thing starts out promising enough, the final segments of this stage are so frustrating that it kinda saps most of the fun.

Level 5 - A trip through the conveyer belts and electrical apparatuses of one Professor Monkey-for-a-Head. The segments where you are forced to leave your suit are pretty hilarious, but otherwise this is one of the more forgettable levels.

Who Turned Out the Lights? - A bonus level, and honestly, one that I had no idea existed. That is, I had no idea until I unintentionally discovered it during one of my many playthroughs. At first I thought I was in a bonus area. And while that accidentally ruined my playthrough (I got my ass kicked and lost a lot of lives), I have to admit itís a pretty cool idea. I won't ruin it, but it involves hiding from monsters in the dark.

For Peteís Sake - An escort mission with a twist. Guide little olí Petey the dog back to his doghouse. En route youíll be waylaid by tentacle monsters, UFOs, and various other monstrosities. And when they get ahold of Pete? He takes it out on you, transforming into a demonic version of himself that tears you limb to limb. I love it. I usually hate escort missions, but this one rocks.

Final Level - A trek through the mucous pits of hell, with lots of death-defying platforming. Ends in a boss fight against an H. R. Giger monstrosity. Not my favorite level, just because of how demanding the later sections are.

Andyís Asteroids - A recurring stage where you race on top of miniature rocketÖ things. It's reminiscent of those bonus stages from Sonic 3. Jim screaming out ďWHOA NELLYĒ used to crack me up as a kid. If you lose, you have to suffer through an infuriating boss fight with Psy-Crow. Which means you need to win at all costs.

Overall, itís a great assortment of stages, with a ton of character, and a lot of variety. And while I think they were outdone in every way by the sequel, they more than hold up today, and stand on their own. Coupled with the great humor, and great characters, you have a great game. One Iíve loved for most of my life. If it defeated you as a child, head back in with a guide. If youíve never played it, revel in the absurdity of it all.

Did I beat it?
Quite a few times.

#77 - Uncharted Waters

Uncharted Waters is a port of the NES game where you take on the role of a 16th-century commodities trader circling the globe with your sailboat stocked full of rice and sugar. Spend years/decades slowly growing your fame and finances, all so that some day you may be lucky enough to earn a kiss from the Spanish princess.

Now, how many of you have I already lost? [Iím out. - Editor] How many of you have just now sworn to never, ever play this incredibly boring-sounding game? Iím gonna guess at least 90% of you. And I wager most of the remaining 10% would probably tinker around for an hour or two before swiftly throwing in the towel and going back to Mega Man and Castlevania or whatever.

And I donít blame any of you either. This is a very slow game, meant for a very (very) patient sort of gamer. Or maybe I should say, this is a game for the sick sort of people that would spend hundreds of hours playing through the likes of the Super Nintendo ports of Ultima VI and Might and Magic III. A very ďspecialĒ sort of person.

But what can I say, I love it. I played through this entire game - which took forever - and I had a total ball the entire time. I loved discovering new ports, I loved upgrading my fleet, I loved getting massive returns on my trades, and I loved wiping out enemy ships with the occasional round of (albeit clunky) combat.

In fact, this gameís sequel aside, I canít think of many Koei ďboatingĒ games I enjoyed more.

Of course there was a lot of room for improvement here, which is why I consider New Horizons to be the easily superior game.

For one, the late game can turn into a bit of a snoozefest as you hunt the globe for incredibly specific goals. And I mean specific. Youíll spend hours trying to track stuff down.

And there are a lot of luck-based events, some of which can leave you in a position where youíre better off resetting the system. Especially any sort of tropical storm. Thatís never any fun.

And the graphics are pretty horrid. I mean, I think they have a lot of charm, in a way, but itís pretty obvious Koei didnít even try to upgrade them from the NES version. I guess if you're bothering to play a game like this, they figured you wouldnít care about things like that. Maybe theyíre correct.

But none of that matters if youíre having as much as fun as I was, which really surprised me too. When I was doing my initial rankings, I honestly had this game pegged as something that was gonna have a hard time cracking the top 300. It was gonna land somewhere in the neighborhood of Koeiís own P.T.O. But as I played it, I kept moving it up. Up and up and up. By the time I was done with it, it had broken into the top 100. One of the biggest risers in the entire library.

It was an extremely pleasant surprise.

Öalso, just for fun, here are all of the random notes I jotted down during my playthrough:
  • Sea merchant the game.
  • The gist of gameplay is to load up on goods, sail to another port, sell those goods, buy other goods, sail to another port, rinse and repeat for 10-20 hours. And it's more fun than you'd think.
  • Typical Koei interface issues. Trying to move ship captains around is a pain in the ass. Finding information is often nebulous or intrusive.
  • Graphics aren't so hot. I imagine this is basically the NES game with the barest of upgrades made to it.
  • Can get a little repetitive. And for the size of the world there is actually very little to do. Basically buy, sell, or fight (if possible).
  • Limitations on the amount of cash you can carry really turns into a massive headache later in the game. The game desperately needed some way to upgrade your "wallet" or something.
  • Very fiddly. Sell, max out your wallet, buy, sell and max out your wallet, buy, sell and max out your wallet, dump savings into the bank (but only if you're in Portugal), sell and max out your wallet. Then move stuff around so that you can stock up on food and water. Then decide you need a ship with cannons, so go start selling and dumping cash into the bank so that you can offload goods off one of your ships so that you can sell it, buy a new one with the setup you need, then go take your cash back out of the bank so that you can buy new goods so that you can stock your new ship. I spent 20+ hours with this game, and a significant number of them were spent in town menus moving stuff around.
  • Sailing. It's fun, but you're gonna be doing a lot of it.
  • Storms and seaweed can go fuck themselves. Like the FAQ suggests, eventually I resorted to doing quick saves every other screen or so, just so I could get around the tip of Africa unscathed.
  • Investment and economies weren't super clear.
  • Explored nearly the entire world by the time I was done.
  • Unique items for sale at various ports, but no idea what most of them do. Pearl bracelets? Dragon icons?
  • Really had a fun time with it. Never played a game like this. Probably will never play another again. Well, other than New Horizons...
  • The Quest for the Dragon Helm: London -> Calcutta -> Panama -> Brazil -> Columbia -> New Zealand
  • The Quest for the Crystal Shield: Mecca -> Genoa -> Baghdad -> Alexandria (I was ready to murder someone at this point) -> Trebonzid -> Russia (near Alaska)
  • That Shield quest was absolutely brutal. Four damn trips around Africa, and a trip up along the Arctic. I don't know how many total days were spent on this goose chase, but it felt like ten thousand, and it didn't help that the Spanish were out for my blood for the first half of it, and pirates kept harassing me for the rest of it. I spent most of that time loaded down with guys so that I could fight them off, which made my expenses shoot through the roof, with constant supply pitstops.
  • After that kerfluffle I learned my lesson and turned down the next treasure hunt from the king.
  • Pirate fleets destroyed: Singleton, El Gato, Goldmonger, Sharktooth, Snarly Joe, Gonzalez, Poison Ice, Tiptoe Tom, Gregorio, Nasty Nate.
  • Spanish fleets destroyed: Carlos, Carlitos, Recalde.
  • Nations at war with me: Spain for most of 1506.
  • Ports discovered: basically all of them, a few Siberian-esque supply depots aside.
  • Combat: not important until later in the game, at which case you are immediately expected to be fighting at full strength. No ramp up in difficulty.
  • Wonkiness: work hard to get ports loyal, come back in a month and they've flipped to Spain or Turkey again. Which is good and bad because you can then work it again for more fame.
  • Investment is confusing and not completely balanced. Tiny investments are way better.

Did I beat it?
I did! Pretty proud of this one.

#76 - Final Fight 3

My mind briefly considered doing a ďGoldilocks and the Three BearsĒ thing here. You know, Final Fight is too hard, and Final Fight 2 is too easy, but Final Fight 3 is just right. But it would be dishonest. I wish the third game were a tad harder. Itís so close to being a great analogy. Idiom? Whatever it is.

Anyway, as is obvious, this is my pick for the best game in the trilogy. This is the game where Capcom nailed the formula, with the same classic, iconic gameplay, just with the addition of a much smoother difficulty curve, and a host of new features that are more than welcome.

First off, the game speed feels just right. Iíve heard people call the first game too slow, and the second game too fast, but they nailed it here. Thatís a trend with this writeup: how Capcom nailed everything. Pick a thing, and rest assured they nailed it.

The graphics are also great. I mean, Capcomís graphics are always great, and I absolutely loved the sprite and level designs in the first two games, itís justÖ I guess Iím trying to say thereís no letdown here. Capcom did good work, yet again. And the animation is also top notch, as per usual. Check and check.

The storyline? No idea, I forget. Iím sure itís moronic as it ever is in these games, but thatís okay, because no one cares anyway!

The roster has also been shaken up a bit. Haggar and Guy are joined by newcomers Lucia and Dean. No complaints there, since they all play differently from one another. I donít think anyone is especially saddened by the absence of Cody, either.

Oh, and did I mention co-op mode? The biggest thing missing from the first game. Yep, itís present and accounted for. Making this one of the definitive cooperative beat Ďem up experiences on the system.

The biggest addition of all though, and something I absolutely have to mention, takes the form of new ďcomboĒ moves. By that I mean, you can input Street Fighter II-esque combinations in order to pull off new special moves. Basically exactly like what Capcom did in X-Men Mutant Apocalypse and War of the Gems. I love it. I always love when these types of games have that, because it makes things way less monotonous.

Demerits? Well, the entire game could have been a bit harder. I struggled with it as a kid, but I can walk through it pretty easily nowadays (mostly because I have so much brawler experience under my belt after this project).

I also wish the game were a bit longer. Not to say that itís a short game when compared to most of its ilk, and not that you want a game like this to overstay its welcome, but I could have used another level or two.

Beyond that, thereís not much to say. Everyone has played Final Fight (or any of the millions of clones that came out in its wake), so Iím sure everyone can picture what an improved sequel would look and feel like. So absolutely check it out. Itís one of the best brawlers on the system, definitely one of the best Capcom games, and easily a top 100 title.

Did I beat it?
Numerous times.