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Gamer Education: 25 Essential Games Part 1


Hi, my name is Pete, and I like to play video games.  You do too?  Awesome.  Man, introductions are always so awkward.  I’m glad we got that out of the way.  Anyway, this is my new blog, and if you don’t like games, you can probably stop reading right here.  The writer/reader relationship between us being as new as it is, I figured I’d give you a little background into the kind of gamer that I am.  And what better way to do that than with a list of my 25 most essential games?

Now, before you get all up in fanboy arms about the games on my list, remember that it’s MY list.  I wrote this as a retrospective of the games I feel were pivotal in MY gamer education.  If you were more of a PC player, or maybe didn’t have a Super Nintendo (you poor deprived child) then obviously your list will be dramatically different than mine, but that’s one of the things that makes gamer culture awesome.  So I’m going to show you mine, and then, hopefully, you’ll show me yours.

All that said, let’s get into the list shall we?

25. Turtles in Time (Arcade, SNES)

One of the most tragic casualties of the gaming world’s move to 3D was the loss of the side-scrolling ‘quasi 3D’ beat-em-up.  From its humble origins in Renegade, it was refined in Double Dragon, given some real style by Final Fight, and many would say perfected by Streets of Rage (the third game in particular.)  But, it would be doing the genre, and gaming-at-large a disservice to ignore the licensed brawlers out there, and Turtles in Time is what I believe to be the strongest specimen of the old school beat-em-ups.    It’s got everything Streets of Rage 3 has got: sharp graphics, solid combat, and a varied selection of heroes with their own unique attributes and special moves.  On top of that it manages to be a licensed game that not only doesn’t suck, (remind me to write a post about the curse of the licensed game) but actually stands out as a gem among its genre peers.  Disagree all you want, but the TMNT were just as big a part of my early childhood as my SNES, and goddamn if those pizza swilling sewer freaks haven’t swayed me in their favor.  Besides, what other game has level names as awesome as “Prehistoric Turtlesaurus,” and “Bury my Shell at Wounded Knee?”

(For modern beat-em-up goodness, go buy Castle Crashers on XBLA.  You won’t regret it.)

All the true badasses had a multitap.

All the true badasses had a multitap.

24. Contra (Arcade, NES)

I’ll spare you the nerdy reference to the Konami code that seems to come up every time someone mentions Contra.  It’s for weaklings anyway.  Contra got its spot on the list for being what I consider (along with Ikari Warriors) to be the granddaddy of every modern run-and-gun shooter we see today, and this granddaddy is the kind that slaps you around when your parents aren’t watching.  Endless waves of enemies, ridiculous bosses, and an extremely limited supply of extra lives built on a foundation of maddeningly difficult “one hit and you’re dead” gameplay make Contra the legendary “manmaker” of video gaming.  If you can finish this bad boy without the aforementioned 30 life crutch-code, then hats off to you sir or madam.  I’m willing to assert that Contra probably led to more NES controllers being pitched across living rooms than any other NES title on record.  Good thing they’re essentially solid bricks of plastic.

Contra teaches you to cope with being a bullet magnet.

Contra teaches you to cope with being a bullet magnet.

23. Ikaruga (Arcade, DC, GC, XB360)

Ikaruga is to up and down what Contra is to left and right.  The pinnacle of the vertical scrolling shooter, Ikaruga puts you in the cockpit of an experimental fighter jet that has a dual black and white nature.  Enemy bullets come in both black and white flavors, and you can flip the shade of your ship at any time, allowing you to harmlessly absorb attacks that match your ship’s current color.  When you stack this mechanic on top of the fast paced action, ridiculous weapon upgrades, and screens full of bullets that characterize the genre,  you get a shooter that manages to step past all the games that came before it.  Ikaruga’s creators certainly didn’t invent vertical scrolling shooter, but I’d say they perfected it.

Try counting the bullets.

Try counting the bullets.

22. Tetris (Every system in some form or another)

It would be condescending to even really explain this one.  Suffice it to say that every puzzle game you see today with falling blocks that vanish, and catchy soundtracks (i.e. most of them) owe a dear, dear debt to Tetris and Alexey Pajitnov, its Russian creator.  At age six, I played this on my cinderblock sized original Gameboy until it got boiling hot and made my hands all sweaty.  Sexy right?

If you can't play tetris, then I'm relatively certain you can't function in human society.

If you can't play Tetris, then I'm relatively certain you can't function in human society.

21. Toe Jam and Earl (Genesis)

I have to admit up front, that Toe Jam and Earl holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first game that taught my little brother and I to really work together.  And who doesn’t love a story of shipwrecked, early 90’s rap stereotype aliens avoiding murderous suburbanites while attempting to rebuild their busted spaceship and escape back to planet Funkotron?  This one earned its spot on the list by being endlessly entertaining, and groundbreakingly innovative at the same time.  TJ&E was a first glimpse at the future of cooperative multiplayer gaming for many young gamers like my brother and I.  It was also the first game to allow players to separate from each other in the game world, as the screen dynamically splits into two if the players wander too far away from each other in the course of their adventures.  On top of all that, it was the first game to successfully mix gaming and rap, take that Def Jam Vendetta

Awww, this makes me wistful.

Awww, this makes me wistful.

Ok, I’ll have the next five list dwellers served up shortly kids

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    03/03/2009 6:53 am

    Turtles in Time ruled. I beat that game dozens of times as a youngin. Leonardo was the best of the 4 no doubt. Nothing beats whirlwinding around in PIZZA TIME! with sharp swords…

  2. Megs permalink
    03/11/2009 2:23 am


  3. Andrew permalink
    03/19/2009 3:04 pm

    I like the new look, but you need to upgrade your flag.

  4. Andrew permalink
    03/31/2009 3:03 am

    I agree MOAR!!!

    Btw, I like the new banner.

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