Gauntlet Legends was a hack-and-slash game that ate so many quarters (and eventually so many raffle tickets) in my youth. I have very fond memories of piling in a car with friends to take the trip from Bay Saint Louis to Biloxi for Edgewater Mall’s Aladdin’s Castle arcade, where we would spend hours combating hordes and racing each other to loot piles. Nevermind the fact that the damned arcade unplugged that arcade cabinet every week, making the inevitably wiped leaderboards each week was enough bragging rights for the ride home, which would be followed by all-night Dungeons and Dragons fueled by fast food banquets the likes of which only youth’s blessing of metabolism can handle. Ah, nostalgia. Sorry, so in the game you apparently play as adventurers such as Archer, Wizard, Valkyrie, and Warrior, and through amassing of loot and subsequent unlocks you can play as a slew of other characters. Though the game was ported to home consoles, those who never had the joy of playing in the arcade will never know the coin-guzzling demand of “YELLOW WIZARD NEEDS FOOD BADLY”. You see, apparently the adventurers were all starving to death, or had terminal cancer, because their life points were constantly dwindling…this was remedied by grabbing food items as they appeared on the screen or (in the case of the arcade), putting in more quarters. Essentially, this was an effective microtransaction system that would soon be bastardized by today’s social media games. After fighting large groups of enemies, avoiding traps, and staving off the Grim Reaper by using a halo powerup or throwing a potion, players would unite to take down each level’s boss in order to gain the environment’s Runestone. Once all the Runestones were collected, players could then fight the demon Skorne; of course, gameplay could still continue, since characters could still be leveled up and unlockables could still be purchased. Such a great game.
Seriously, where the HELL is Episode 3? Though I regrettably have yet to play the original, Half-Life 2 was easily acquired in The Orange Box, a collection of Valve’s Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. At the time I was able to buy the whole slew of games for $20 from GameStop, but ever the gougers, you can currently order a pre-owned version of the game at their website for $34.99, nearly six years after release. Half-Life 2 earned loads of Game of the Year commendations, due in part to a fantastic package of great physics, narrative, and environments. The First-Person Shooter continued to follow Gordon Freeman as he tested his mettle with both shootouts and physics puzzles in a dystopian Earth governed by the Combine alien entity. It was in this game that I truly came to appreciate the crowbar as a weapon in an FPS. Without going too deep with spoilers, Half-Life 2 presents believable characters, an oppressive yet absorbing environment, disturbing enemies, and a plot that will grab you faster than a Gravity Gun. Also? F headcrabs.
Speaking of not beating games, here’s one with a brief and infuriating story. I had been hunting for this game for ages, only to find out that GameStop had stopped carrying Xbox games now that the Xbox 360 and the PS3 were running the market and apparently not enough gamers wanted to buy the old games. I finally tracked this game down online and bought a good copy for $30(!), brought it to my then-fiancée-now-wife’s apartment, and started playing the Hell out of it. A couple hours in and I scoot closer to my console, vertical on a carpet, because I see my girl’s roommate’s demon cats creeping closer. I go to establish a barrier with my arms, and I nudge the console, sending it horizontal. For the first/only time ever (knock on wood), I hear that awful scraping sound you never want to hear from your console. I cringe as the Disc Read Error pops up on the screen and open the disc tray in dread, expecting the worst. Sure enough, the disc I put so much work into finding is carved up with rings guaranteeing the thing won’t play. That being said, what I DID get to play began to scratch the itch of my Cthulhu/Lovecraftian appreciation. Developed by Headfirst Productions and Published by Bethesda (yeah, THAT Bethesda), CoCDCotE (get your CoC jokes here) was a great blend of FPS, stealth, and survival horror. Of course, the stealth system was a bit sketchy due to a weird system based on noise and movement that requires you to duck+move OR stealth+jump. Aside from that, there’s no heads-up display, which means you have to keep an ear out for the audible cues of your heartbeat and breath or the diminishing of color on your screen. Injuries were dynamic, meaning a damaged arm complicated gunplay while a leg injury impacted maneuverability. Finally, as sanity was torn away the deeper your protagonist delved into what should not be, hallucinations appeared and game controls even skewed until either reaching sanctuaries, eliminating threats, or committing suicide. Yeah. Great Old Ones don’t play.
So I included the picture of Double Dragon II in particular for a few reasons. One, it was my overall favorite of the first three games in the series. Second, THIS CLIFF SUCKED IN COMPETITIVE “CO-OP”. So you could play single player in the second game, co-op, or friendly-fire-enabled co-op. At this point early in the game, my cousin and I would hesitate at that ladder you see at the bottom of the screen; if you didn’t have a good lead on the other person and friendly-fire was enabled, your ass was getting drop-kicked off into the abyss. There was no maybe about it, you needed to get to that ladder or take the risk of forming a truce and hoping the other person didn’t stab you in the back…which happened approximately 78% of the time. The Double Dragon series is another beat ’em up franchise that ate many of my hours as a child. Martial artists Billy (or Bimmy) and Jimmy Lee went through this series performing awesome karate moves against thugs and using their own weapons against them. Though the series has seen a number of iterations, reappeared in cameos, culminated in crossovers (Battletoads & Double Dragon…seriously…it’s only missing Ninja Turtles for full awesome rating), and spawned a tongue-in-cheek spinoff about one of its goons, the popularity has waned even after the movie, comics, and animated series. Weird resurrections aside, we need more Double Dragon.
If you ain’t boomshakalaka’d, I feel bad for you. There have been basketball games, but this one is the best. Though it doesn’t feature a full court of players, it’s easy to overlook the two-on-two play of the NBA Jam series because the gameplay is just so wild. While not as Barkley Bows-tastic as Arch Rivals, players basically shove opponents, mash down on turbo, and dash toward the hoop in order to pull off a monster jam. Sure, you can shoot threes, but that’s only secondary to the crazy dunks that are hallmark of NBA JAM. Another feature that is integral to the series is the hot streak. Once a player scores two unanswered buckets, he starts “heating up”…a third will put him “on fire”, where his accuracy skyrockets, his Turbo is limitless, and his shots literally scorch the net. Fire is only doused with four consecutive baskets by the blazing player or a successful shot by the opposing team. NBA JAM has always featured actual players as well as hidden players, such as veterans of the game, mascots, political figures, and more. Loads of Easter eggs paired with easy yet fun gameplay make for a series that pretty much anyone can enjoy. The latest version on current gen systems slowly updates rosters, but we could use a new version with next gen tech…possibly using the console’s camera devices to scan players into the game?
Well I’ll go ahead and end it here, because once I started on this list I amassed a number of games that would take another week to include. Feel free to chime in with your own take! F YOU HEADCRABS!
Part 3 is only 2 dunes away!