On a console crawling with cutesy platformers, Little Samson is... another cutesy platformer. But so what? It’s unique in that it’s done almost as well as a first party Nintendo game. You don’t just control one character, or two or three, you control a whopping four characters. From a tree climbing human boy, to a fire breathing dragon, to a stone golem, to finally a small but plucky mouse, Little Samson is packed with variety. Since it was released in the twilight years of the NES’ lifespan, the graphics are also top rate for an 8 bit game. It’s also quite the sight to see a mouse take on a giant green Cyclops in a boss fight.
Oddworld has always been… well, odd. The previous three games in the series had been platformers, while Stranger’s Wrath decided to dip its toes in the waters of shooters. While it’s accurate to say that Stranger’s is indeed an fps, it’s decidedly not a mindless Call of Duty carnival sideshow where you just whack the baddies. Stranger’s Wrath is very artistic in its mayhem, where the settings are as alien as a town filled with talking chickens and your ammo is literally live animals. Stranger’s Wrath also features a pretty cool main character (The Stranger), whose past is shrouded in mystery.
The defining game on the criminally underrated Sega CD. Sonic CD is quite unlike its Genesis counterparts. In addition to a funky CD soundtrack and some cool “Mode 7” style 3d graphics, Sonic CD features levels that actually encourage you to explore. While you still play as Sonic, and still run as fast as you can to the goalpost, the game no longer tries to force you along. There are three time zones that will have you going to the past, present, and future. In each of these time zones, the levels are different, and you’ll want to explore each era to see how the levels change. Sonic CD does lose a few points for introducing Sonic’s annoying love interest, Amy, to the series.
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is a trekkie’s dream come true. You’ll find yourself shooting photon torpedoes at Klingons in hair-raising space dogfights, to going on away missions to solve various mysteries. The game is broken up into seven different “episodes” and is actually described as a lost season of the tv show. The cherry on top of the sundae is that the entire original cast does extensive voiceover work. 25th Anniversary was created to honor Gene Roddenberry who had passed just a year before the game was made, and it’s a fitting tribute. The adventuring spirit of Star Trek is captured here, and at the end of the game, William Shatner gives a short but heartfelt speech honoring his friend.
Here’s a forgotten gem. Imagine Bubble Bobble but only better… and with snow. Well, that’s Snow Bros. in a nutshell. Your goal is to roll up monsters in big snowballs, then launch them away so they crash. It’s simply superior to Bubble Bobble because of the combo system. You see, you can time your snowballs so that they hit multiple enemies; this makes the game more interesting. Snow Bros. is also a blast with two players. I remember playing this game in elementary school with my best friend and how we could never get past the twin eagle boss.
SNK sure knew how to make arcade hits. Sadly, the Sengoku series never hit the mainstream like Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug, and other Neo Geo favorites. Honestly though, until this third installment, Sengoku was merely average. With the third iteration, however, it became something special. Unlike many beat-em-ups where you just mindlessly punch, kick, and repeat, Sengoku 3 allows you to combo your moves. It’s not Marvel vs. Capcom or anything, but it’s a nice touch and makes you feel like one badass ninja. The spritework of the game deserves praise as well. It’s like they took Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and just made the screen explode with action. It should also be noted that one of the main characters looks like Strider Hiryu, which is awesome.
4. MUSHA (Genesis)
I don’t much like spaceship shooters, but MUSHA is an exception. Considering this game was released in 1990, a full year before the Super Nintendo, I’d say it’s quite an accomplishment. The graphics are gorgeous for their time, and there’s some great use of parallax scrolling and illusory depth. I also love the game’s futuristic take on feudalistic Japanese architecture. While many shooters share a similar concept with MUSHA, it’s the smooth as butter controls that make it stand out. You can dodge enemy fire with the agility of a tiger… with lasers. There’s also a lot of customization for a game like this. You can choose one of three energy weapons to power up, as well as collect “P-chips” to surround your ship with helper robots. MUSHA also has some rockin music that goes above and beyond traditional Genesis fart sounds.
3. Body Harvest (N64)
Yes, the graphics in this game look like mud. Yet Body Harvest is one of the most ambitious games ever produced, and it paved the way for the Grand Theft Auto series. In Body Harvest your goal is to time travel to different places on Earth, and stop an alien invasion from ever taking place. So, you just kill aliens, right? Yes and no. You do, but you traverse the landscape anyway you want in order to do it. Not many N64 games have you blowing up stuff in a tank, to then hopping out and exploring the wreckage on foot. Body Harvest also has some light adventure aspects, as it allows you to enter buildings and talk to folks.
2. Ristar (Genesis)
It’s hard to believe that a game made by Sega in their heyday is not more well-known. Unlike most Sega games, Ristar doesn’t have a lot of attitude. In fact, he’s more like Mario than Sonic. The game consists of the titular Ristar using his stretchy arms to explore new areas and grabbing bad guys to give em a quick headbutt. Ristar really is a delightful game. You’ll explore new planets, each one completely different. These consist of a world covered in ice (if you stay still, Ristar will make a snowman), to one built entirely around musical instruments. As a quick mention to the graphics, Sega did the impossible: Ristar seemingly breaks the console’s 64 color limit. Now where's Ristar 2?
1. Shin Megami Tensei II (SNES)
Now we’re really getting obscure. Only released in Japan, but now available through English rom translations, Shin Megami Tensei II is the most controversial game I’ve ever played. The majority of the gameplay is similar to the old Wizardry DOS games in that it features a first person perspective in dungeons. Suffice to say, there’s not much to see in this mode, and it’s definitely not why I like this game. It’s the story. The plot of the game basically depicts you, Aleph, trying to kill God. Picking a fight with God might sound like a bad idea, but in this game, he’s evil as hell. I love the game for having the courage to show that not all interpretations of God are equal. Some are disgusting. SMT 2 could be shown as a critique of fundamentalism and hard-line Calvinism in particular. Good thing I believe in a loving God.