10 Favourite Console Games Ever: 5-1

5 – Assassin’s Creed (Playstation 3)

I’ve heard it said that loving something makes you oblivious to its flaws. I disagree though – I think loving something often gives you a heightened and exaggerated awareness its failings, the key is that your emotions continue despite them. I love Assassin’s Creed, but I can’t help feeling that I’m the one in this relationship being taken for granted: however many times it lets me down, I’ll give it another chance, even if logic tells me not to. I devote hours of my life to it, I tend to its every need, work really hard to make things better and how am I repaid? With Assassin’s Creed 3. Like your partner celebrating your birthday by giving you a cheap card with a fiver in it; somehow worse than nothing. This post is the equivalent of me sitting down on the sofa with a tub of ice cream and looking through old photo albums, desperately trying to remind myself what makes it all worth the pain.

For those that stuck with that paragraph, it may have been clear that I think the Assassin’s Creed series has been growing progressively worse, game by game. This is, however, a backhanded way of saying that the first two games are great, particularly the original; hence its inclusion here. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the franchise: Desmond Miles, a 21st Century American, is plugged into a machine called the Animus, which taps into his ancestor’s memories stored in his DNA (if you think this is too far-fetched, be thankful I’m ignoring the utterly insane superbeing bullshit introduced in the second game onwards). Controlling these memories, Desmond learns of the ever-present battle for supremacy in the shadows of society between Assassins and Templars – a conflict present-day Desmond is himself embroiled in. The first game sees you take control of Altair, an Assassin in the crusade-era Middle-East. The missions themselves have been criticised for their repetitiveness: your boss gives you a name; you gather information on that person by way of eavesdropping, stealing, intimidation etc; before killing the target (preferably without being detected, mostly whilst being chased by roughly half of the crusader army).

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Ubisoft’s trump card, as seen in Prince of Persia, is its platforming. What makes Assassin’s Creed fun to play is the creation of incredibly big environments and having the character running, jumping, climbing and stabbing his way through them at breakneck speed. The simple sense of achievement gained in scaling a viewpoint, peering around then launching yourself into a nearby hay bale is as addictive as a PS3-administered dose of super-lovely heroin. It’s worth pointing out additionally that the scenery and environments produced in these games are staggering in their detail (possibly too much so). Running around medieval Jerusalem or (in later games) Renaissance Italy is a thrilling experience and a visual feast (this is what made the choice of revolutionary USA such a disappointing setting for AC3). The first game in the series is also by far the best when it comes to the assassinations themselves. You can meticulously plan, carefully manoeuvre and strike so effectively you’re often in awe of your own stealth (massaging the player’s ego never does a game any harm), yet in later games this is cut down, with the feeling that the assassinations have slipped in the creators’ list of priorities.

Though it is now a commercial juggernaut, impossible to stop, for me the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been fatally undermined by bad decisions regarding the speed of releasing games (annual releases have left games feeling somewhat rushed – see ‘Brotherhood’ and ‘Revelations’); locations (again, AC3’s choice of revolutionary Boston and New York is awful); and the staggeringly overblown ridiculousness of the apocalyptic present-day plot that I can’t even bring myself to describe. My bitterness about this is clear, and what makes me so critical of the failings in later games (which are still fun to play) is that I loved the first one so much.

I’ve never gotten over you Assassin’s Creed, and I don’t want to, I just wish we could go back to the way things were.

4 – Heavy Rain (Playstation 3)

This is the addition to the list that I played for the first time most recently and the post with which I am most worried about length, as it feels as if I could write a dissertation about Heavy Rain practically without breaking sweat. Amongst the games I have played it is unique; and frankly I am in awe of it. Without wishing to sound as pretentious as I know I am capable of, Heavy Rain is a completely different interpretation of what a computer game can be. It’s something to rub in the faces of those who snobbishly view games as for children (even if sometimes they may have a point – what they fail to realise is that’s no bad thing anyway). Most plot-driven games essentially take the form of the player starting from ‘A’ and working their way through levels and/or challenges to reach ‘B’. Some more adventurous titles throw in additional options, maybe even choices: instead of ‘B’, the player could perhaps reach ‘C’, or having the option of reaching ‘B’ by going via ‘C’ or ‘D’, depending on their preference. Playing Heavy Rain though, is like being dropped in King’s Cross train station with an unlimited ticket allowing you to go wherever you like. You could end up in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Tunbridge Wells or Paris – depending on which route you take – and it is all entirely up to you. Oh, and this process is repeated for 4 different characters.

The game begins with you mundanely controlling Ethan, making him get up, brush his teeth etc then play with his adorable kids, all happy families. However, one of these children is soon killed off in a traffic accident, fast-forwarding you to a bleak, perpetually raining future in which a miserable Ethan struggles to rebuild a relationship with his remaining son. This son is then taken by the Origami Killer, a serial murderer, who kidnaps children before drowning them in rainwater. The killer’s signature method is what lends the game its title, as the player has until 6 inches of precipitation has fallen to save Ethan’s son. Ethan is given challenges by the killer, which if completed will yield clues to his son’s location. The player also controls a likeable Private Investigator, a young female journalist and an FBI agent drafted in from out of town, all of whom are caught up in attempting to find the identity of the murderer. The gameplay itself is fairly simple: mainly based on moving around and carrying out options that flash up on screen, and often dependent on quick time events – which usually annoy me but work a lot better when used consistently throughout a game rather than thrown in at one or two random points.

                You do not play the game for the gameplay though – it’s hardly like the thrill of Assassin’s Creed’s free-running. The attraction of this game is its unfathomably intricate narrative-building and the emotional investment it builds in the gamer. As mentioned above, it is you, the player, who decides what will happen and crucially, every single decision – no matter how small – feels important. Every play of this game will result in a different outcome: trying to work out the permutations – when taking into account every decision that is made across 4 characters – makes my head hurt. Each decision feels important and is completely up to you and just as crucially, come the end of the game you can see just how these choices led you to your particular finale. I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve played Heavy Rain; all of us arrived at completely, radically different endings and yet I had no difficulty in understanding how each of these finales was reached, how each fork in the road can lead you down a totally different path. It’s also of vital importance to this set up that failure is an ever-present option. If you mess up, the character you’re controlling dies. And if they do, that’s it. You are not inevitably going to save Ethan’s son; he could die. Each character you control can be made a better person through your actions, or a far worse one. And sometimes it’s unclear what decision will lead to which outcome as well as whether being a better person will be a more effective way to reach your goals. A minor but fundamental part of this is how the game saves – it does so regularly and automatically; you cannot choose when, meaning you can’t just reboot and try again – you’re stuck with your decision.

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This constant feeling of pressure helps build the astonishing emotional immersion I found myself subject to when playing this game. I agonised over decisions: some relatively mundane ones like how soon to leave a place you’re visiting, others more important like whether or not to fight or succumb to the FBI agent’s drug habit while a number are truly harrowing. This, just like everything else in this masterpiece, is carefully constructed: scene by scene, line by line, meaning that by the end you care so much it becomes a little scary. I wouldn’t want every game to be like Heavy Rain, I don’t want to be that emotionally drained and mentally challenged by each time I turned on a console; I’d be a complete wreck, but it’s one of the most important I’ve played. If you have any interest in games, you need to play this, if you’re like me it will stand as a ‘before and after’, watershed moment in your console-orientated life. Computer games may or may not be considered art, that’s a (quite boring) debate for another time, another place. For me though, there is no argument that Heavy Rain is an artistic triumph, pushing boundaries and opening my eyes to what is possible. Awesome in the true sense of the word.

3 – Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (Playstation 2)

                Unsurprisingly, moving into my top 3 brings us to the games I’ve played more often than any others. In the case of Tenchu, the majority of this worrying amount of time invested came during a year or two of my teenage years, when a friend and I could have been describe as having a borderline obsession with it (‘borderline’ being a generous term). Unlike the huge Ubisoft franchises mentioned above, this is not a selection to represent a series of games: I’ve played other Tenchu titles and did not particularly like them, so Wrath of Heaven stands alone, a shining lighthouse of brilliance within a sea of mediocrity.

The game contains two overlapping and intertwined storylines, depending on which character’s path you choose to play: Rikimaru’s or Ayame’s. Both ninjas, the plot(s) follows their attempts to find and defeat Tenrai, and evil wizard hell bent on world domination/destruction/the usual things evil wizards want. What this fairly simple set up allows for though is a vastly contrasting set of levels, with enemies varying from simply enemy ninjas and guards to shimmering spirits, wooden robots and the undead. There are also a number of differing locations for each level; from caves to graveyards to hidden fortresses, with some of these levels ending in a rather traditional fashion: a battle with a boss. Though the combat sections are well designed – cleverly so in terms of making it accessible to button-bashers but also containing more complex manoeuvres that can be picked up by more experienced players – the main feature of the game is the stealth kills. An ever-present stealth meter on screen shows both how close you are to an enemy and how aware they are of your presence, and attacking one before you are detected results in an impressive (and regularly gruesome) execution; changing depending on from which angle you approach. Collection of a certain number of these kills on a level also grants you access to a new ability or move which can be used alongside the vast array of items picked up and taken with you on levels, from rice cakes to boost your health to smoke bombs and grenades to throw at enemies.

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As with many great games, the initial simplicity of appeal is enough to get you hooked and from then on the game continues to introduce intricacies in both script and gameplay that will draw you further into its world. Criticisms could be made of its slightly repetitive nature, as well as the glorious stupidity of enemies, who – 10 seconds after having been attacked by a mysterious ninja – will go back to being completely unruffled and unaware if you hide out of sight around a corner or something (though you could argue this stupidity is necessary – a realistic response would make any stealth kills practically impossible after you’re first detected). I felt that Rikimaru and Ayame’s styles and storylines differ enough to maintain interest at all times, while the ratings awarded to players after every level appeal to the perfectionist in me, determined to achieve a “grand master” rating on each one (which I am both proud and embarrassed to admit that I’ve done in the past). The game also has some great unlockable features – look out for a very different additional character, complete with their own levels and plot as well as a bizarre and hilarious level transporting Rikimaru to late 20th Century USA (complete with cops talking about doughnuts). It’s also probably got my single favourite intro to a game, if only because one viewing leaves me unable to get the song out of my head for days.

This is a game that emphasises the personal nature of this list: of those of you who have played Tenchu, most will probably just have thought it was ok, nothing particularly special. Unlike Heavy Rain, it’s not a game I would insist someone had to play, something I would describe as objectively brilliant. For a raft of reasons, Tenchu feels like a personal and almost a secret treasure I’m risking sharing with you here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2 – Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow (GameBoy/GameBoy Colour)

                Before you snort with derision and move on to the next post, at least hear me out and think this one through. If you’re of a similar age to me, there’s a pretty good chance you spent a worryingly high percentage of your childhood playing at least one of these games (and/or trading the cards and watching the TV show – I bet you still know the words to the theme song). Pokémon was a cultural phenomenon, ubiquitous for a number of years, with all of its gargantuan success stemming from these original games. We all know the basic premise: begin with one Pokémon, embark on an epic quest to defeat 8 Gym leaders and then the Elite Four (and your suitably hilariously named rival) whilst attempting to “catch ’em all”.

The addictive nature of these games is what made them so remarkable – you often grew genuinely attached to the members of your ‘team’ and the hours spent honing their skills, desperately fighting everyone and anyone to gain them a few more levels of experience, really did border on obsession. The game was clever in that while it offered a genuine challenge in terms of whether or not you could defeat the opponents set before you (in particular the Elite Four), it was never impossible – things were always within reach as long as you invested the requisite amount of time into the game. And players definitely did that. If you played these games, you probably still vividly remember the forensic detail with which you decided, ruthlessly, which of your charges were worthy of a place in your top 6, which combination offered the best balance in your attempt to be ready for everything and anything.

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In retrospect, the detail built into the games was staggering: the graphics may not have been particularly advanced but the extra details crammed into the games memory are astonishing: think of all the characters you come across, all the cities, trails, caves and seas, each containing different Pokémon of different levels and abilities. The Pokémon battles themselves were also never a disappointment: to draw a parallel with something else that at times dominates your life, sometimes on Football Manager you get so obsessed with which players you’re signing or will try to sign, playing the matches themselves became something of an afterthought. On Pokémon however, whether your main aim was to garner experience for the current beast under your tutelage or simply to defeat an enemy necessary for the game’s progress, the battles were never boring; requiring a combination of skill, knowledge of the ins and outs of types (fire being strong against grass etc; I’m sure you remember them) as well as the more basic advantage of battling using a higher level Pokémon than your opponent.

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The games were exceptionally crafted, with each hour put into them earning more reward and resulting in a colossal amount of time being spent walking through grass or navigating your way through a particularly complex route. The Red and Blue versions of the game even had that classic of older games: the well-known glitch/cheat, in this case the Missingno bug allowing you all sorts of impossibly levelled Pokémon, infinite items (which weren’t technically ‘infinite’ at all) and the like. It seems the majority of newer games have an unlockable ‘anti-gravity’ mode as standard and this unoriginality, as well as the fact it feels so designed, packaged and frankly handed to you on a plate rather than being a genuine mistake in the game to discover takes away a lot of the mischievous fun, for me at least. Unlike these games though, Pokémon was charming, engrossing, incredibly fun and the most addictive console game I’ve ever played. In fact, I feel like finding an old game boy and giving it a go right now…

1 – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega Mega Drive)

So we finally reach the big reveal of my favourite ever game. I’m afraid it’s something of an anti-climax: this will not come as a shock to anyone who has (a) followed me on twitter; (b) ever spoken to me about video games or (c) noticed the picture heading this blog and realised what the title of this website is a reference to. As my near-constant sycophancy in previous entries displays, I adore the games listed above for a variety of contrasting and complimentary reasons, but there was never any doubt that this would be my number 1. It is my favourite game by far. Were it not for the fact it would have been (even more) boring and repetitive, I would have included the original Sonic game in this list, too – possibly as high as second. It is the sequel to that game which trumps all else for me, though.

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A number of times throughout this list, I have praised games for their simplicity, the ability for a game to be fun whilst stripped down to its most basic. Sonic 2 is the purest example of this: the only controls manipulating the blue hedgehog are the direction pad and pressing a button to jump (or spin). Similarly, the levels come from that most straightforward platforming concept – going from one end to another, defeating enemies along the way and with a boss (Dr Robotnik) at the end of each zone’s final stage. Yet the game as a whole and each level individually are so beautifully designed that they never feel remotely repetitive and are able to constantly throw different challenges your way. One area in which I feel the second game has a significant advantage over its (indisputably brilliant) predecessor is this level design and the way in which it always allows for the building of momentum throughout, picking up a breakneck speed (if the players chooses too). The game also features a staple of many Sega games – a wonderful soundtrack, with each level’s own music contributing hugely to its feel and superbly setting the atmosphere (much like the original Sonic, whose soundtrack was rumoured to have been contributed to by little-known American artist Michael Jackson, who also lent the hedgehog his distinctive red shoes).

The sumptuous visual design of these levels also remains striking, the flowing movement ever-present throughout not so much touching at perfection as grabbing it and giving it a bear hug it refuses to release. Every aspect of this game is marvellously judged – the levels retain the key gameplay features of speed and fluidity whilst noticeably becoming incrementally difficult, as do the bosses, culminating in the challenge of the final Death Egg Zone. Similarly, I think the two player capabilities of the game are hugely underrated. This is the first time Tails is introduced as a character in a game, and while the two player competitions are outrageously fun and at times hilariously frustrating, the optional use of him in the one player version of the game is genius. It allows a companion to dip in and out of the game to prevent them getting too bored watching, while also (if the second player is any good) making it easier to collect all of the chaos emeralds. The emeralds are an important feature of another aspect of the game – the extras built into it. These are often fairly small (hidden extra lives, for example) but whether it be desperately trying to collect rings on the special stages to obtain all the emeralds (take it from someone who’s done it – it’s worth it) or playing the slot games on Casino Night Zone, there is also something different ready to reach out and grab your attention. Even Sonic’s personality provides an extra edge – designed as a less bland competitor for Nintendo’s Mario, the little things like his obvious impatience should the player remain inactive, or the amusing attempts at keeping balance when perched near the edge of a surface are relatively minor, but nonetheless merely add to the game’s charm and character.

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As is probably clear, I could go on and on about this game, saying both everything and nothing. The best advice I can give is to just play it if you have the opportunity, either on the Sega itself of by playing one of the Sega collections now available on later consoles. It is my favourite game by an embarrassing distance and it is quite simply the best. Perfection.

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10 Favourite Console Games Ever: 10-6

10 – Toejam and Earl (Sega Mega Drive)

I confess this initial selection is more than slightly influenced by my wish to reiterate my undying admiration for my first console love: the peerless Sega Mega Drive. The console I first played video games on in the early 1990s remains my favourite (a fact endorsed by being treated to one as a truly wonderful 21st birthday gift); a provider of games bringing simple but regularly unadulterated joy. The arcade brawling of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, the Tetris-esque Columns for puzzlephiles and the shape-shifting, insanely difficult Altered Beast (seriously, I’ve gotten as far as Level 6 once or twice in my entire life) all hold a special pixel in my heart but I’ve given Toejam and Earl the nod here.

For those unaware, the eponymous game follows two inhabitants of the planet Funkotron who’ve crashed their space ship on Earth and the player’s duty is to help our two heroes retrieve the scattered pieces. Along the way you come across and attempt to avoid an array of hilarious and surreal enemies – from skipping mini-devils to shopping mothers with wailing babies – while aiding (or often slowing) your progress with gifts picked up en route, allowing you access to rubber rings, pogo shoes and various types of food, amongst other things. It harks back to a previous time where games were not under pressure to be so relentlessly polished you can barely see anything past the sheen. Toejam and Earl hasn’t got an awful lot to it, it doesn’t always make sense, and it isn’t especially immersive. What it is, is silly, funny, frequently bizarre and always able to implant a smile on your face. The fact that it’s probably more fun to play two-player with a friend/relative/captive says it all; it’s simple joy you’ll want to share. Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, it’s underscored by a mind-bendingly brilliant soundtrack.

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9 – Uncharted (Playstation 3)

This is the first and probably most obvious of these selections that make it clear that I’m not particularly a connoisseur of highly-regarded games. It is also a choice that stresses this list comprises of personal favourites, rather than what I view as (as near as possible) objectively the best games. In many ways, Uncharted is Everything That’s Wrong With ModernTM Football Britain Life Games. Wisecracking American hero (with what appears to be an obsession with removing from the Earth all those unfortunate enough not to be born white and in the USA)? Check. Simplistic & unchanging plots ripped off from a Hollywood blockbuster to a frankly ludicrous degree? Check (which is why I’m including all three instalments in one here; they’re basically all the same game). Secondary characters with as many interesting character traits as Michael Owen? Check. Repetitive gameplay? Check. The constant feeling of desperately reaching for the cinematic before thinking of the plot? Check (see the utterly pointless sinking ship scene in the third game). Plot holes you could drive a hijacked armoured vehicle through? Check. In many ways, it’s the anti-Toejam and Earl.

And yet…I like it. It’s fun. It of course greatly helps that I’m a complete sucker for both the wisecracking, cardboard cut-out hero and a simplistic narrative but Uncharted always does enough to keep you interested. Though the larger fight scenes in each game are just ridiculously difficult – you die trying it about 15 times, work out a strategy, die another 15 times then fluke your way through – there is enough variation to stop it getting too monotonous, most of the time. No section is without its faults: the developers clearly feared that the puzzles section would lose their (apparently) moronic audience so essentially makes neon flashing signs appear in Drake’s notebook saying “DO THIS! NO, NOT LIKE THAT LIKE THIS! OH, JUST GIVE IT HERE!” and the climbing sections sometimes feel completely arbitrary (obviously, they are, the trick is not to feel it) in terms of which pointy-outy-looking bit of rock you can climb onto and which will leave you plummeting to a death that looks like an “arty” photo posted by a 14 year old on Instagram. It all comes together though and it’s definitely a satisfying play. Shooting people in the head, frankly, never gets old; the platforming works easily well enough to keep things moving at a decent pace and, whatever it may say about the makers’ priorities, the scenery produced in these games is staggering.

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Uncharted is unremitting in its search for blandness, following the recipe for box-office games by adding exactly the right amounts of “personality”, “peril” and “humour” into the mix (note the quotation marks: not to be confused with actual personality, peril or humour). What you get out is basically a mass-produced, oven cooked dessert. You don’t derive any true emotional satisfaction from it, you don’t feel you’ve been on any unique journey or made some huge discovery (gaming or culinary) but you know that 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be nice if you don’t do anything stupid. It’s enjoyable, fairly mindless fluff. Maybe it’s not so different to Toejam and Earl after all…

8 – Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer (Playstation)

My first instinct was that this was something of a nostalgic inclusion: as the console I played it on suggests, this was a game I first came across years ago. In fact, it was something of a quirk I got the game at all – it was initially rented, and I’ve no idea why I chose the second game in a series the first of which I had never played ahead of competitors like Croc, Crash Bandicoot et al. Suffice to say that for whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, as the young dragon’s quest to rid the land of Avalar of Ripto quickly engrossed me. The more I think about it though, the more I think this game is included on merit, too – it has stood the test of time (not to mention two, soon to be three, new generations of console) extremely well.

What is perhaps most impressive is that the game overcomes fairly obvious flaws. It’s a children’s game, and as such to say its plot is less than demanding would be an understatement. Similarly, the script is hardly cutting edge and the characters unlikely to take you on the proverbial “emotional rollercoaster” and leave you hugely invested. The set up is also simple and repetitive: in each of the three realms of Avalar (the Summer Forest, the Autumn Plains and the Winter Tundra) Ripto takes control of the Castle and it is up to Spyro defeat him. To do this, he journeys through to other worlds, in which he is greeted by inhabitants who inform him of whatever is blighting their otherwise happy lives. Upon defeating said bane, Spyro is granted that world’s Talisman as a reward. Completion of smaller challenges within each world results in Spyro being gifted orbs. Collection of the requisite number of orbs and talismans unlocks new areas and allows the player to progress (as does collection of gems; the game’s currency).

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The brilliance of this game lies in the creativity that makes this repetitiveness feel nothing of the sort – each world brings its own unique look and feel, making every level different. As previously suggested, the game also appeals to a basic instinct for lots of players – a borderline obsession with collectables. With the talismans, orbs and gems you are never short of something to be hunting down as well as being able to make very tangible progress in this regard and be rewarded accordingly. It is not a game that will leave you on the edge of your seat with nerves or tension; it is as genteel and threatening as Sunday night TV. Unlike Sunday night TV, it is a brilliant way to while away a few hours – and playing it, you’ll find these hours passing a hell of a lot quicker than you realise.

7 – Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (Playstation 2)

From this point forward, definitively ordering these games became almost impossible; from 7 to 2 the list could really go in any order, changing depending on whatever mood I happen to be in at the time. Nevertheless, I had to decide eventually, so I’ve given this place to the game that started one of the Playstation 2’s most successful franchises. When it comes to the Sands of Time Trilogy, I feel this opening game pips the second (Warrior Within) but I should also point out how close I came to including the much-maligned 2008 reboot of the series on PS3, which I adore (seriously, Ubisoft, whenever you can be bothered to make a sequel for the cliff-hanger you left that on FIVE YEARS AGO, me and about 6 other people will be incredibly grateful). The success of the series was such that it spawned the strange/deeply rubbish (depending on how generous you’re feeling) Hollywood movie – as well as ‘The Forgotten Sands’, a game put together in about 10 minutes to capitalise on the movie and forgotten just as quickly.

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It was this game that the movie was broadly based on: a young Prince of Persia, helping to conquer foreign land called Azad, is tricked into releasing the Sands of Time from their hourglass. This turns everyone in the surrounding area into zombie-like sand creatures, apart from the Prince himself, Farah (a young Princess of Azad) and the man who tricked him into releasing the sands, the evil Vizier. The player’s subsequent goal is to make his way through the castle, solving numerous puzzles and killing these sand creatures with Dagger of Time (which he has picked up en route) so he can plunge the knife back into the hourglass, reversing his release of the sands. He basically spends more time stabbing sand than someone attempting to cross the Sahara on crutches. It is this dagger which provides the mechanism for perhaps the game’s best known feature – the ability to slow and rewind time (along with other abilities than are unlocked as the player collects more sand). Though it seems a bit cliché, this idea proves an ingenious one; preventing a huge number of deaths by replacing extra lives with the ability to reverse your latest cock-up (even when you run out of sand, your “death” is technically nothing of the sort as the vague outline is that the Prince is telling a story in the past tense, so any failure is written off as a mistake). The main reason this works so well is that it allows the game to showcase the superb platforming that allows for a fast-moving, slick and incredibly enjoyable experience for the player. The Prince’s wall-running, climbing and jumping have become almost as ubiquitous as his time-travelling escapades and it’s a format Ubisoft have really proven the masters of.

All this excellence explains the success and enjoyment of the franchise as a whole, but not my choice of this game in particular – after all, the platforming and graphics are arguably honed and improved in future games compared to the original. What sets this game apart from its peers, in my view, is the writing and characterisation behind it. The Prince begins the game as an arrogant, headstrong moron and throughout the tale (aided by him regularly talking to himself for the player’s benefit) you actually see him develop in a believable way into a far more mature, well-rounded individual. The game is also funny, with the interaction (and growing affection) between the Prince and Farah as amusing and well-developed as you’ll tend to find on video games. It also helps that the Prince is British rather than American (which for some reason magically changes when he goes Emo for Warrior Within) and the script-writers find the right balance so as to make him whiny without being too much so as well as (initially at least) arrogant and annoying without being irredeemable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly Shakespeare, but by gaming standards (see #9 on this list), Sands of Time represents a very nicely-crafted experience as well as a hell of a lot of fun to play.

6 – Portal (from The Orange Box) and Portal 2 (Playstation 3)

There are two things which, for me, really stand out as by far the most disappointing aspects of these two games. One is that there are only two, the other is that it took me so long to get around to playing them (only in the last few months). They are – and I don’t use this term lightly – creations of absolute genius and I completely fell head over heels for them. I’ve also included both as I simply can’t choose between them. The first was essentially a mini-game, an extra chucked in on The Orange Box collection with no great expectations of success. The second was quite the opposite; a dedicated full game this time, coming out under huge pressure to match its cult phenomena predecessor. The original is beautifully compact and feels like a small gift-wrapped present specially designed for the player. The fact that Valve were then able to extrapolate this feel across an entire game and maintain the same extraordinary standards is to their immense credit and in my view make the sequel as much of a triumph as the opener (in itself a rare feat).

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Ultimately, the Portal games are incredibly basic. The premise is that the player completes tests in chambers for the satisfaction of a maniacal supercomputer, each solved test moving you to the next chamber. The settings are well designed and in some cases extremely visually impressive, particularly in the second game, and are always as perfectly judged as every aspect of the games, right down to the hilarious song sung over the credits. The key, of course, is the puzzles themselves, which are solved by use of the games’ crucial feature: the portal gun. This gun, when aimed at the requisite surface, can fire a blue and an orange portal, both of which open a hole on said surface-type. Pass through the blue portal and you exit through the orange one, and vice versa. The genius in its superficial simplicity. Add to this the fact that momentum can be carried through the portal and you begin to purposefully plummet down huge drops, to shoot a portal beneath your feet before landing and come zooming out at ridiculous speeds to cross huge gaps. It’s as exhilarating as being pushed on the swings as a toddler (I mean that in a positive sense). But that’s all 90% of these games are, that’s all they need to be. Even though the second game brings you to various locations, the idea is the same: solve the puzzle, move on. Valve’s management of difficulty is also wonderfully delicate: the puzzles becoming increasingly challenging (as well as introducing more props that can and need to be used) and some can be incredibly frustrating without ever being too difficult or making you give up – you know the answer is there, and the frustration is with yourself rather than the games, something that is always an important definition.

The originality of this premise is enough to make them fantastic games, what makes them truly superb however, is the script-writing. As mentioned previously “good script for a game” is damning with faint praise taken to a ridiculous degree, possibly even surpassing “good acting for a soap”, “funny for a BBC Three sitcom” and “intelligent for a footballer”. The writing behind Portal isn’t just good for a game. It’s absolutely aeons ahead of any other game I’ve played and will stand up well to anything from TV that you’d choose to put up against it. It’s indisputably funny and having games make you regularly laugh aloud is so rare it’s almost disconcerting (at least when it’s trying to make you laugh, rather than you laughing at its incompetence, which is far more regular). What’s even more striking about this is that it is done with only 3 main characters across two games – one of whom (Chel, the character controlled by the player) doesn’t say a word in either! The despotic madness of the supercomputer, GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, since you asked), results in brilliantly childish insulting of the player, spending much of certain segments accusing Chel of being fat and adopted. I’m probably not doing this justice at all – it really is funny. To sum up both just how good the writing is and how highly I regard the games as a whole I’m going to describe the 3rd main character and its voice (introduced in the second game) by using a phrase I honestly never thought I’d use and still find hard to believe I’m going to type: I found Stephen Merchant funny.