There was a thread and subsequent podcast over on the Waypoint Forums last week on the concept of “outliers” in the ol’ Top Ten Games list, and I was able to actually articulate my opinion in an atypical moment of lucid forum posting. This is what I wrote:
Alright, well, I just banged a top ten out off the top of my head and here’s what I have:
- Skate 3
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
- The Secret of Monkey Island
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
- Sega Rally Championship
- Crazy Taxi
- R.C. Pro-Am
- ESPN NFL 2K5
- Night in the Woods
My love for Crazy Taxi I think is the outlier here, I’m the only person I know of who loves that game with the intensity that I do. It’s just so perfect for what it is… You really do drive a Taxi and pick people up and drive them to Pizza Hut
I stand behind this list still, about a week later, and doing some more thinking about it, I think there’s a weird verisimilitude between most of the picks – I’ve found a few thematic pairs
The movement between Celeste (1) and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (3) is similar and having played and enjoyed SOTN first made Celeste feel familiar early on.
The humor, insecurity, and self-aggrandizing of the main characters of both The Secret of Monkey Island (4) and Night in the Woods (10) related to me and they both serve as microcosms of what it is that I love about adventure games. Both games have well developed secondary characters and living settings that represent the medium well, and both of them came to me at a time when I was thinking about storytelling within games as a medium.
At age 16 I was already dissecting Sega Rally Championship
R.C. Pro-AM (8) and Sega Rally Championship (6) both present the racing/driving genre in their own way. Sega Rally Championship (The Saturn version) is simple but probably the best representation of realistic racing I’ve ever played, it’s so perfectly responsive on the Saturn controller and the silly arcade aesthetic is so fun. R.C. Pro-AM is the best one can get in the unrealistic/arcade racing genre. Both of these games hit the simplicity that normally acts as a linchpin to my enjoyment of driving games but split off from there in a satisfying way
The easy pair to draw, I assumed, was the two skateboarding games… Yet… Actually… I like those games for quite different reasons. To boil it down completely, I like Skate 3 (2) because I like exploring and being creative, and I like Pro Skater 3 (5) because I like racking up points and navigating the spaces I know well in order to do so.
I call Skate 3 the best representation of my favorite sport (one in which I barely participate, mind you, but one I follow). What’s fascinating about Skateboarding, what’s always drawn me to skateboarding, is the way that skaters find spots and use their own mix of creativity and athleticism to make their mark at those spots. This is well demonstrated in this short documentary on the old grass gap at Carlsbad High School (RIP):
Skate 3 accurately captures that sense, and presents an environment that works as a canvas for the player to play on. For instance, I tried for weeks to do a fake invert on a ledge in the Hawai’i map and when I finally did it I actually uploaded it to YouTube:
I tried a hell of a lot with less success to ollie a gap in this parking garage, and to wallride down a specific drop, as well. And those are just the examples for which I have footage. Skate 3 captures exactly what I want in a sports sim, because it captures exactly what I want in that specific sport.
The other game on the list that works because it captures exactly what I want in another specific sport? ESPN NFL 2K5 (9). Football, to me, is a great sport because it’s a game of strategy belied by teams of eleven highly specialized athletes on each side. Football is exemplified when a great player exceeds through his position – My best football experiences almost always come when one specific player has a great game. In my favorite football games I’ve ever watched, James Sims racked up 211 yards against West Virginia, Mark Simmons made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen for his second touchdown against Nebraska, and Matt Wyman hit two clutch field goals to beat Texas. That individual success, aided by the work of ten others on a field, is what I love about football.
In ESPN NFL 2K5, there’s a personality to players that gets conveyed in a sense realistic to the sport. The dominance of a player like Donovan McNabb in NFL 2K5 happens because you play the way that Donovan McNabb did, escaping pressure and using his accuracy on the run to slice through defenses rather than powering over them. With Jerome Bettis, you succeed by running guys over. With Brian Urlacher, you succeed by pursuit. ESPN NFL 2K5 carves out niches the way that nearly no other game did, and recognized what it was about football that made me like it so much. In exemplification and recognition of what a sport does well, Skate 3 and ESPN NFL 2K5 are joined at the hip.
Likewise, Pro Skater 3 is all about scoring and mastering a domain. I know where the SKATE letters in each level reside like I know my own house. I know the best places to score while getting there in the same way.
Crazy Taxi (7) is similar, all about scoring by getting person from spot to spot. I know how to get from the KFC to the Church much in the same way I can do that in Lawrence. You rack up points on the way there by drifts, weaves through traffic, and sick jumps. Both of these games pair together through mastery of scoring via mastery of space.
In much of the same way, Crazy Taxi also represents what I, at 18, called arcade perfection.
I’ve gone too deeply into this, I recognize, but I find it fascinating to examine why I like games like these so much. In fact, I’ve actually made videos on or written posts about each of these save for, I think, SOMI and RC Pro-AM, at some point in decade of posting shit on the web.
Soon, I’d like to discuss a few weird true outliers that I revisit, ones that missed my top ten but might appear in a top twenty or twenty-five.