Download ’em to the WII! – Mark B’s Top Five

Original Release Date: 6/01/95
Developer: HAL Laboratories/APE
Publisher: Nintendo
System: SNES

Alright, lemme break it down for you. All of those RPG’s you’ve been playing for the past several years? Crap, all of them. No originality, no sense of humor, all about serious, medieval or futuristic bullshit, all of them thoroughly lame. You want a REAL RPG? You’re talking Earthbound.

Dig this: your main character, Ness, is a kid in the town of Eagleland who watches a meteor crash land near his house. For some reason, this causes the local wildlife to become hideously (yet humorously) deformed, not to mention hostile. So, after meeting a prophet from the future (who’s the size of an insect), and fighting off an evil alien invader, your future buddy gets squashed like… um, a bug, leaving you and your Cracked Bat to save the world alone.

Sound silly? Damn right it is. And that’s just the beginning.

Now, while I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say Earthbound is the greatest RPG ever created or anything, I DO think it’s fair to say that by missing it, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. See, Earthbound plays like just about every RPG around, it looks retro and out of date, and it’s not super-high on the innovation scale, but there is one thing that can be said about it that is undeniable: you’ve never played anything that treats the subject matter as ridiculously as it does. And that’s Earthbound’s claim to fame: it’s flat-out disrespectful to itself and the genre, it’s absolutely hysterical at points, and from a pure presentation standpoint, few games are as lovingly crafted as it is.

In short, if you’ve not played Earthbound, you owe it to yourself to do so, and more importantly, Nintendo owes it to you as well.

Original Release Date: 6/1/94
Developer: Human Entertainment
Publisher: Vic Tokai
System: SNES

Human Entertainment. For those that know, the name is well respected, and for good reason: while they were in business, they gave us some of the most interesting games around. Wrestling game fans will immediately recognize the name Fire Pro Wrestling, and horror fanatics can immediately name Human as the makers of Clock Tower. But they’ve made a lot more than just games from those franchises, and while a good portion of those games never made it stateside, those that did were certainly interesting.

Which brings us to S.O.S. The concept is certainly something different: you’re one of several people on a boat (you’re given a choice of character in the beginning of the game) that has just suddenly had an accident, and has tipped over. It’s now up to you to find a way to escape this predicament before the boat sinks.

What makes the game interesting is the fact that the game isn’t presented in the way most would expect. Not only are you on a time limit, but the game acts independently of whatever you’re doing to tip the boat in various directions. In other words, while some games will basically modify the environment to assist in your progress, S.O.S. modifies the environment however it sees fit, so you may well find yourself stuck somewhere until the boat rocks again in a few minutes. Annoying? Absolutely. Realistic? You bet. Also, you can’t die until the time limit runs out; instead of dying from large falls, you simply lose some time recovering, which is actually MORE of a motivation not to die; losing a life sucks, but losing twenty minutes off of your time to escape REALLY hurts.

Hopefully Capcom will see fit to send this our way as soon as possible (seeing as how they basically bought Human out and all). Frankly, I can almost guarantee you’ve never played a game like this (the closest concept I can think of is Disaster Report), and you really should. For all you “games as art” fans out there, this is definitely something for you, and even if you’re just looking for something different, S.O.S. is just what the doctor ordered.

EVO – The Search for Eden
Original Release Date: 1993 (can’t find a month/day)
Developer: Almanic
Publisher: Enix
System: SNES

God bless Enix. Long before they became the second half of a hyphenated name, they were one of the greatest developers/publishers of video games people didn’t play. With the exception of the Dragon Quest/Warrior franchise, most of their titles that saw stateside release were oddball titles that were hard to pin down, either because they were incredibly cross-pollinated genre-wise, or because they were really weird conceptually.

EVO falls into the second category.

Basically, the idea goes like this: you start out the game as a fish, and you evolve from there by eating other animals and upgrading your body parts. So it’s kind of an action/RPG, but I can’t honestly recall ever playing a game where you could upgrade your own body parts as you saw fit (unless you count Seventh Cross Evolution, and you really shouldn’t). Want bigger jaws? Eat some animals, then buy them. Want a horn? It’s right there in the evolutionary soup. How your creature evolves is entirely up to you, whether on land or in the sea, and the fact that you could completely evolve whatever you wanted however you wanted made this one of my personal favorites for a long, long time.

It’s certainly a shame a sequel never saw the light of day, but that doesn’t mean this is out of your reach. EVO is definitely a title that should find its way into the consoles and hearts of gamers upon re-release. Don’t let it pass you by again.

Original Release Date: 11/30/91
Developer: Quintet
Publisher: Enix
System: SNES

Ever want to play God? Now you can! Shame it’s such hard work.

I know I said it before during the E.V.O. screed, but I’mma say it again: for those of you who totally missed out, back in the day, Enix was the maker of some the greatest games no one has ever played. If the write-up of E.V.O. didn’t prove this, well, maybe this one will. See, while E.V.O. was a great game, it had limited appeal. How many people want to play as a fish through the stages of evolution? I’d imagine not too many. So, yeah, I can understand if you might be put off by such a concept.

But with Actraiser, this is not the case. Actraiser combines two great concepts (micromanagement ALA Populous and platforming goodness) into one fantastic game. What’s not to love?

Basically, you control… uh, you, only you’re a God. An evil demon has sealed all of your power, and your people have been driven from their land, so it’s up to you to take it back, kicking ass all the way. Half of the game is set up as a side-scrolling platformer, where you run around in demon lairs beating the crap out of various enemies, so as to clear out said lairs so your people may live on the land these demons inhabit. The other half of the game sees you playing God, dictating where your people should build their land, creating miracles to help them out, and killing demons that try to hurt them. You’re also able to fly your angelic assistant around to shoot down the various demons, sort of like an overhead shooter. This continues until you wipe out all of the demon summoning circles across the land, and then you dive into another monster lair to repeat the process. By properly managing your people, you also go up in levels, which makes you stronger when it’s time to fight through the various dungeons (the more people who have faith in you, the stronger you become as a God). Faith is a powerful thing, man.

So, micromanagement ALA Populous, side-scrolling action ALA Zelda II, some overhead shooting for laughs, all in one game. What’s not to love? Do yourself a favor and give this puppy (and the sequel, too!) the love is deserves when the opportunity first presents itself. You’ll be glad you did.

Demon’s Crest
Original Release Date: 10/20/94
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
System: SNES

Many many years ago, Capcom came up with one of their more amusing ideas: Ghouls and Ghosts. Essentially, you played as Sir Arthur, a guy in an easily destroyed suit of armor, who was on a quest to save his girlfriend from… Satan or something, if I remember right. Not important, never mind. Anyway, throughout your quest, you are bedeviled by, among other things, flying demons who are out to kill you. These demons are completely unimportant to the main quest, and really mean next to nothing in the grand scheme of things; they’re just there to annoy you, nothing more.

So leave it to Capcom to take one of these uninspiring monsters and turn him into the hero of a platformer. Genius, says I.

Demon’s Crest was the story of Firebrand, a demon with the desire to retake his place as demon supreme (more or less), and his adventures in getting to this point. Now, for those that missed the title the first time around (and I’d assume there would be a lot of you, as the game didn’t sell too well as I recall), this might sound like nothing new or exciting, but back in the Genesis/SNES days, playing as a villain was a rare thing, as most of your player characters were either heroes or eventually BECAME heroes. Firebrand was a great character because he was evil, and unapologetically so. Playing as the bad guy was a pretty neat concept, and even if the guys you were fighting were bad guys too, it didn’t matter so much because hey, YOU’RE still evil.

This was really impressive when I was a kid, I swear.

The other thing that made Demon’s Crest a great game was that it was incredibly challenging. Not “hard” or “impossible” or “cheap”, challenging. There were patterns to memorize, and items to use, but you REALLY had to buckle down and learn the game to make progress, and the game felt all the better for it. In addition, Demon’s Crest has all sorts of RPG elements, lending to it a pre-dated “Castleroid” feel, as DC predates SOTN by several years.

In short, if you’re a fan of old-school Metroid or modern Castlevania, Demon’s Crest is the game for you. If you’re a fan of highly challenging platformers, Demon’s Crest is the game for you. And if you’re a fan of Capcom back before they were all “RESIDENTEVILRESIDENTEVILrehashed2DfighterRESIDENTEVIL”, then Demon’s Crest is the game for you. What else needs to be said?