Braid certainly has aspirations, and indeed its narrative has been championed, regardless of its flaws, by gamers anxious to prop up their hobby with credentials borrowed from other media.
But cast all that away and you’re still left with a puzzle game of startling imagination and invention. Each consecutive level brings a torrent of new ideas to further contort the game’s internal time-bending logic. Sumptuous in both visual and audio design, the proof of Braid is in its many moments when a conundrum unravels before you, its elegance prompting an exultant “Oh!”.
Final Fantasy VI
The delicately exquisite art style of Yoshitaka Amano hinted at what should be expected from Final Fantasy VI in the months leading up to its Japanese launch, and yet the game’s ambition managed to surpass the wishes of even the keenest fans of Square’s 2D RPG series.
Rooted in a steampunk world whose industrial edges do not prevent it from being one of the most characterful entries in the series, FFVI has gameplay depth that transcends its limited presentation. And, yes, that sequence still holds up today.
Panel De Pon
The butterfly effect: the idea that a single, small action has unforeseeable and devastating consequences.
Panel De Pon first flapped its wings on the SNES, and has found a home on every subsequent Nintendo system. The first ‘match three’ game, designed around switching two blocks horizontally to create chains of the same colour, its enduringly irresistible touch is the ability to ‘chain’ clearances with a single switch.
It’s as simple as that, yet the tiniest ripples on its playscreen produce moments of chaotic beauty that few games, never mind puzzlers, can match.
Few sequels achieve it so well: Doom II nailed everything that the original game did right, and then expanded on it intelligently. Not through technical improvements, but through stronger design.
The descent into Hell was more dramatic and on a larger scale, and it took place through a series of wide-open levels and huge multi-stage puzzles that are still fun to unravel today, especially in co-op.
Doom II is still compulsive played alone: fluid, well-paced and balanced, and the double shotgun remains one of videogames’ greatest weapons.
The rest of the world views Europe’s SingStar fixation with the uneasy confusion reserved for such oddities as cockfighting.
So be it: they don’t understand the duet of preparation and performance lurking at the heart of Sony’s casual classic, and the entertaining possibilities when you hand level design over to Blondie and Elvis.
The most transformative of all games, capable of yanking stellar recitals from the least likely of players, SingStar’s interface is a modest wonder, and the game’s appeal is as timeless as that of singing itself.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Do you want to know the true secret of Monkey Island It’s this: other games may have better puzzles and pacing, but none have Melee Island, with its wandering tricksters, grog-swilling pedants and rickety lantern-lit shacks artfully pin-pricking the thick black Caribbean night.
Guybrush’s forlorn quest to become a pirate refuses to turn stale, even almost 20 years after its release. You’ll come for the jokes, and you’ll stay for the sword fighting, but you’ll return just to revisit its midnight shores.
God of War
SCE Santa Monica Studio
The masterstroke was to treat myth not as a museum piece but as the Saturday night entertainment that it really is, and to know that legends are enlivened, not insulted, by fresh interpretations.
The result is a game where cheap spectacle blends perfectly with histrionics, where heroic suicide sits comfortably next to an orgy minigame. But while it gleefully defies taste, it never defies the fact that it’s a straightforward combo-charged bloodbath – before the sequel’s taste for exhibitionism started to turn a little of Kratos’ lean muscle into fat.
Detractors who say it’s just random miss the point. You’d think the Ode To Joy might give them a hint as where to find it. Always rewarding you, always cheering you on, Peggle may just sway favour by charm alone – but beneath the purposeful goofiness of unicorns and rainbows lies an undeniable compulsion.
Yes, chance plays a large part, but it is precisely the struggle to impose your will over the random that forms its deadly addiction. It plays to the gambler in us, and be it by luck or judgement, triumph rarely feels as good.
Sam and Max Hit the Road
Monkey Island titles may bookend the point-and-click genre’s decade of high popularity, but nestled in the middle is its most persisting pleasure. The recent tepid continuations lack the original scabrous wit of Hit The Road.
So, too, its wild imagination, voice talent and, vitally, the elastic flair with which Sam and his manic rabbitoid pal were drawn and animated. Still as hilarious today, Hit The Road’s non sequitur puzzle design is unusually forgivable thanks to the consistent, brilliant lunacy of its world.
Silent Hill 2
Surviving the horror in this drunken nightmare of a game is less about ammo than peeking through your fingers and managing to sleep through the night.
With Francis Bacon scenes shot from demented alternatives to Resident Evil’s camera angles, and an extraordinary soundscape by composer Akira Yamaoka, it lives in a world of pain. Survival horror is not a matter of working perfectly but being broken in the right ways.
A pain to navigate, daftly voiced and entirely ponderous, Silent Hill 2 achieves its malevolent, dreamlike quality despite those flaws, and often because of them.