Collecting video games used to be a feat reserved for the privileged few. I remember gawking at their bookshelves filled with Sega Genesis cartridges. I hated them, but – in my increased age – I have become what I so envied. I’m hardly alone in my newfound opulence.
Steam sales, Humble Bundles, GoG, Amazon, and even traditional retailers have made it easier than ever for the common man or woman to build a gaming empire in his or her own basement. The digital age has made our culture one of excess, long distanced from a past when a single dresser drawer could contain the average collection. What would happen if this now familiar excess ceased to be an option?
A sudden diaspora of video games isn’t imminent by any means, but it’s at least an interesting idea to consider. Reduced access would force gamers to dig in their heels even more than the “console wars” already do, and it would require that they be much more introspective about their personal preferences than their expansive Steam libraries have or will ever allow them to be.
The results of my personal introspection can be found below. Not found below? The anguish it took to cut out a lifetime’s worth of experiences. Like I said, heels had to be dug in, and they had to be dug in in some uncomfortable places.
Super Smash Bros. Melee (GCN) – Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS stole the show at E3 2014, but it wouldn’t be the world-beating phenomenon that it is now without the success of its most fondly-remembered predecessor. Melee was a sequel that left nothing on the table, perfecting every element introduced in the original and adding more that would prove to be inseparable from the franchise’s future entries.
In my household, Super Smash Bros. Melee was something of a weekly ritual. My best friend from the neighborhood would come over, and he, my brother, and I would hover around the enormous 80’s television set that my Gamecube was plugged into playing the popular brawler for hours at a time. Devotion to the title got so out of hand that we had to institute artificial limits on our sessions, ending our time with the game only when one of us had garnered 100 total eliminations throughout our many four stock battles. We had a problem, but I don’t think that any of us would ever think to wish back the time lost on Melee.
Truth be told, I would substitute any Super Smash Bros. game – excepting Super Smash Bros. 64 – in this spot, as Brawl occupied a similar space in my life and I’m certain that the Wii U and 3DS iterations will do the same. Melee was my first love, though, and I will never be able to put any fighter that follows it at a spot above it in the hierarchy of personal affection.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3) – I try not to be the kind of person who is easily influenced by a game’s technical prowess, but I couldn’t help it with Uncharted 2. From its debut at Spike’s Video Game Awards – which used to be an awkward stage show, not just an awkward gathering on Joel McHale’s couch – to its reappearance at E3 2009, I was hooked by Naughty Dog’s apparent dedication to finally translating Hollywood’s most boisterous action movies into an interactive medium. It goes without saying that my infatuation for the game extended past its release date, too, as Uncharted 2 more than lived up to the almost impossible expectations established for it by the press and fans alike.
I’ve found myself pining for Uncharted 2 many times since finishing it for the first time a day removed from its release. Diminishing returns have a surprisingly null impact on Among Thieves’ breathtaking set pieces, and the dialogue is so charming that the game serves as a perfect palate cleanser placed between the industrial glut of gritty shooters and self-serious action titles. Though it’s not the type of experience that diversifies itself upon every walkthrough, it does more than enough on these base merits to warrant several retreads. I can’t imagine composing a collection that doesn’t include Uncharted 2.
Team Fortress 2 (PC) – Team Fortress 2 and I are a story of love at first sight. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for cel-shading, but my affection for Valve’s class-based shooter is more than eye deep. In a climate of first-person shooters that was – and still is – as stale and lifeless as any genre has ever been, Team Fortress 2 was a breath of fresh air. It traded death matches for control points, and it abandoned the omnipresent brown hue of most high-profile video games for the pleasing aesthetic of Saturday morning cartoons.
I consider myself an early adopter of Team Fortress 2 – meaning in this case that I actually bought the game when a price tag was attached to more than just its virtual hats. It became a daily obsession, with many of my summer afternoons being spent behind the scope of the sniper on my cozy, Chicago-based private server. My time on the colorful frontiers ended well before hats monopolized players’ investment in the game, but I don’t begrudge Team Fortress 2 for what it has become; the move away from it was more a concession to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 reaching the peak points in their life cycle than it was to any of the game’s many evolutions. Given a smaller library with fewer games to play, I can see myself returning to the free-to-play shooter for an interminable amount of time.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) – I have a rule about giving games too positive of a public nudge in the immediate vicinity of their release, but I had to make an exception for Mario Kart 8. Suggesting that Nintendo’s latest kart racer is anything more than a satisfying iteration would be silly; however, suggesting that it is a wonderful refinement of a proven formula would be a perfectly fitting synopsis, and that is exactly how I can justify nominating Mario Kart 8 for my theoretically-limited collection.
In what can only be considered a severe bucking of Nintendo tradition, Mario Kart is an experience that has be buoyed by exceptionally competent online play. Mario Kart DS was the first in the series to transcend the living room, and that initial endeavor has only been strengthened over the course of the past two generations. Mario Kart 8 instantly matches players up with up to 11 other racers, setting the stage for fierce competition that more than dwarfs what is seen in the game’s usual single player races. What has kept me coming back to every Mario Kart since Mario Kart Wii is the game’s point system, a method of tracking player progress by awarding or reclaiming points from them depending on their success on the cart path.
Most nights this summer have ended with me mellowing out, playing Mario Kart 8 while I catch up on all of my podcasts. Surprisingly, for a game that is notorious for being nail-bitingly frustrating to anyone who dares to excel in it, Mario Kart is a calming experience for me, and I wouldn’t dare put together a collection without it.
World of Warcraft (PC) – Yes, I know. Including World of Warcraft on a list intended to identify titles with high levels of replay value is cheating, but I am naught but a mortal who spent crucial years of his life in Azeroth. I just have to have World of Warcraft.
Middle school was a tough time for me. It wasn’t class that I was struggling through – though I was barely scraping by in algebra; it was Stranglethorn Vale. I hate Stranglethorn Vale, but I also love Stranglethorn Vale. In those jungles is where I strengthened some of my best friendships, as my friends and I used valuable study time planning trips into the dangerous wilds to strengthen our heroes. We conquered the jungle, and then we conquered the desert, the swamp, outer space, etc. We conquered the world, and we couldn’t get enough of it.
Despite being an undeniable drain on my productivity that likely set my development back a handful of years, World of Warcraft is one of the things that I most fondly remember about growing up in this millennium. Like Team Fortress 2, I’ve tried revisiting World of Warcraft but have never been successful at recapturing the magic of those golden years. I believe that, given time away from my post in the dreaded Cult of the New, I could fall down the rabbit hole once again.
That said, I’m sure that my family, my girlfriend, and my employers are all grateful that this hypothetical era of no games will never occur, keeping me away from my wayward level 73 paladin. It’s just not meant to be, Trisillia.
Donkey Kong Country (SNES) – As a major fan of the platforming genre, choosing just one to grace this list was its own challenging form of labor. Ultimately, I’ve chosen to side with the original King of Swing, Donkey Kong, and what I think is the best of his numerous side-scrolling excursions.
For many reasons beyond its high level of platforming acumen, Donkey Kong Country sticks out as a personal highlight of the 16-bit era. Speaking from the perspective of nostalgia, it was my brother’s and I’s first Super Nintendo game, coming bundled as it did at the time with the iconic hardware. He was so excited that he hoisted it above his head, screaming in abject approval of his latest – and undeniably greatest – Christmas gift. There was no such celebration for Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and especially not Super Mario 3D World. Based on that criterion alone it objectively surpasses the entirety of Nintendo’s other great platforming franchise, thus also surpassing every other platformer in the known universe.
Speaking from a more objective standpoint, Donkey Kong Country introduced a number of fresh twists on platforming while retaining the basic addictive flavor that made the genre an early favorite in the industry. That combined with its unique visual appeal make Donkey Kong Country my favorite platformer and, thusly, a must-have for my collection.
WWF No Mercy (N64) – Every year, Yuke’s and – starting last year – 2K promise the moon with their WWE games and deliver only a paltry gathering of stars. This annual disappointment is especially saddening given the fact that WWE 2K games are still playing catch-up with WWF No Mercy, a wrestling game on the Nintendo 64 that was released only a little less than 14 years ago.
Describing what No Mercy is in this day and age is difficult because it is a little bit different for everyone. On its surface, it is a fairly basic re-skinning of WCW/NWO Revenge complete with Vince McMahon’s troupe of bodybuilders and glorified stuntmen. Just below that, though, is an incredibly deep and rewarding ecosystem of custom creations offering more value to players than any other similar game has. Almost nothing is off limits, with the only limits being the extent to which players allow themselves to become invested in a 64-bit grappler from an era long gone by.
I could play WWF No Mercy forever, and I say that with plenty of confidence given the past five years of experience with the game. Beginning in high school and extending until now and long into the future, I’ve been running my own fantasy federation using WWF No Mercy that has special events every month, with one of those events being a 64-man tournament for a King of the Ring-type honor. Last year, my friends and I played all 63 matches of that tournament in a weekend. Then, we played a few more. Yes, we are insane, but we love No Mercy. I have no doubt that my love of No Mercy will last many more years, making it a must-have for my 10-game collection.
NFL Blitz (N64) – Speaking of sad obsessions, NFL Blitz is a game for which I have undying passion. I’ve created an entire league devoted to preserving the game in an era that doesn’t seem to value arcade-style sports video games, with the winner of the league receiving a tiny Charles Barkley figurine wearing a football helmet. Believe me, it makes sense, but I won’t bore you with all of the details.
Fittingly for a game that is controlled using only two buttons and a joystick, it’s hard to muster up much to say about NFL Blitz. It’s a relic of the arcade era that belongs in the past for most people who play games, but for me it is a treasure trove of potential fun and excitement that I couldn’t be bothered to live without. Just as Sam Bradford was to my St. Louis Rams in 2010, NFL Blitz was a selection I made without hesitation, and – just like Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams – it will continue to excite me for years to come. So help me God.
Elite Beat Agents (DS) – I’m a person without shame, so I have no qualms admitting to my past as a regular viewer of FOX’s hit musical comedy GLEE. I also listen to show tunes on Pandora. I’m a person without shame, and I’m a bad person for my love of musical theatre. Elite Beat Agents is a game that understands this bad, shameless side of me.
Feature 18 bad songs and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Elite Beat Agents is a game that seemed doomed for failure when it came stateside. Commercially, it did fail, but it didn’t fail to win me over with its toe-tapping beats and flat-out infuriating difficulty level. Beating the game on the highest difficulty setting took nearly a year to do. Beating the game on the highest difficulty setting again? That could take another year. Or two. Or three. I could play Elite Beat Agents for however long that takes and then some.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2) – Before Desmond Miles and Ezio Auditore, Ubisoft belonged to one man: the Prince. In The Sands of Time, the Prince returned to the third dimension to audition for American Ninja Warrior, this time with a magical dagger in tow that sent time spinning in the opposite direction. This game singlehandedly took its important but altogether uninteresting franchise from the back of peoples’ minds to the forefront of the industry, snatching up numerous Game of the Year honors and my heart in the process.
The Sands of Time was ahead of its time in many ways. Players scaled the scenery using parkour well before Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed were building entire games around the sport. Time flowed in reverse well before Braid made history on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Even the story was something to aspire to, with the game’s story of time travel and romance setting a precedent for storytelling that many action titles continue to fail to live up to.
The Prince’s time-travelling caper was so compelling that it spawned a Hollywood adaptation – which set a precedent of its own by even getting past the initial stages of production – that most people hated but I, of course, loved. What can I say? I am a diehard supporter of the Prince in any and all of his endeavors. I am still holding onto the preposterous hope that Dastan and friends will have another major game made bearing their likeness. Until then, the Sands of Time will have to do, just as it has for many years and just as it would continue to do as a member of my collection.