My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Persona 4 Golden’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Persona 4 Golden’

When I originally bought my Playstation Vita back in 2015,  I was already well aware of many of the most highly recommended games. Danganronpa, Freedom Wars and Dragon’s Crown were amongst their ranks, but no game had higher praise than Persona 4 Golden.

Before I first played Persona 4 Golden, my experience with the franchise was extremely limited. I remember seeing gameplay clips of Persona 3 on G4’s X-Play back in the day, and beyond, that my only experience with the games was from two of my best friends.

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They had both become huge fans of Persona 4 in the few years prior, with one of them also falling in love with Persona 3. As such, I had a fairly decent overview of what the Persona games were all about. I would often listen to them gush about how great the games were, or even watch them play through bits of it. Fast forward to a PSN flash sale in 2015, and I’m suddenly playing Persona 4 Golden for myself.

It actually took me quite a few hours to really get into the game. The opening felt a bit too lengthy for me at the time, but in retrospect, I know that this was a necessary step. It does a great job of setting up the story, world and characters, so that the main narrative doesn’t have to waste time once it gets going.

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I can’t exactly remember at what point in the game things finally started to click for me, but I do remember being absolutely enamored with just about everything it had to offer. Persona 4 Golden is equal parts dungeon crawling, turn based jrpg, and high school life simulator. At times you’ll be grinding shadows to prepare for the next boss encounter, while at others you’ll be getting in one more study session before your exams.

What makes Persona 4 Golden so special is that both halves of the game are engaging. The combat system is a fairly standard turn based affair, with the key to victory being exploiting enemy weak points. The variety comes in the form of choosing which Personas you take into battle, as well as being able to adapt to different situations on the fly.

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Many people would argue that the high school life is the best part of the game. I already mentioned studying for exams, and I couldn’t be more serious about that. Persona 4 Golden made me stress about getting good grades more than I ever have in real life. Outside of academics, you can also take part in extracurricular school activities, and develop your bonds with your friends.

Persona 4 Golden has a mechanic known as social links. Essentially, there are a number of characters that you can form a special bond with in the game, and take part in their personal story arc, and doing so with your party members actually helps with their skills in combat.

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Persona 4 Golden has a really strong narrative, but what makes me truly love the game is the cast of characters, more specifically, your party members. Yosuke, Chie, Yukiko, Rise, Naoto, Kanji and Teddie, these people didn’t feel like just video game characters to me, they felt like genuine friends.

None of them are trope-y, one note or stereotypical, they are each fully fleshed out people, each with their own dreams and sets of problems. On the surface, Yosuke feels like just a comic relief character, but he actually deals with serious issues of guilt and self doubt. Another example would be pop idol Rise, who struggles with the realities of being a celebrity. Examples like this can be given for every character, making them much more endearing and relatable.

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It’s rare that video games make me feel anything other than just the sensation of having fun, but Persona 4 Golden managed to do just that, and on multiple occasions. Hanging out at Junes with my friends was super familiar and comforting.  Going on a vacation to a ski resort, and getting snowed in with my girlfriend Chie was strangely romantic, and I adored checking in on Nanako and Dojima.

One moment that will always stick with me is Persona 4 Golden’s Inaba culture festival. As I stood with my friends and watched the fireworks illuminate the night sky, a feeling of profound sadness washed over me. I should’ve been overjoyed to be sharing such a special moment with these people, but I finally realized that my time with them would soon come to an end.

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I didn’t want to leave Inaba. I didn’t want to stop living with Nanako and Dojima. I didn’t want to stop making memories with my friends on the Investigation Team. Even as I inched closer and closer to the final boss, I just wanted time to stop so that I could enjoy my days with the people important to me.

It’s those types of moments that make Persona 4 Golden so special to me. No other game has given me the same warm feelings that this game has, and that sentiment rings especially true for the happy moments. Another one of these would be getting to visit Inaba just a few months after moving back home. 

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It was a nice surprise to see how much the crew had changed. They were still recognizable as my friends, but each of them had attained a new level of maturity and personal growth. Whether it be Naoto embracing her femininity, or Yosuke gaining the confidence to carry on, I was extremely proud of each and every one of my friends.


Just thinking about Persona 4 Golden makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Even the game’s rural setting gives me a strange sense of comfort and familiarity, and I always find myself having flashbacks to specific moments that happened in the different locales. Not only is Persona 4 Golden one of my favorite games of all time, but it is one of the best experiences I’ve had in entertainment, period.

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My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Pokemon Emerald’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Pokemon Emerald’

This was easily the hardest entry to select for this countdown. I’ve loved the Pokemon series ever since I was a kid, but I’ve always had a hard time deciding what is the overall best game, let alone which one is my favorite. But whenever I toss and turn thinking about what Pokemon game is the most important to me, always land on Pokemon Emerald.

I technically didn’t start playing Pokemon until Pokemon Crystal, the third game in the franchise’s second generation. I was aware of Pokemon before I played Crystal, as I loved the anime and had briefly played the first generation at a friend’s house. I’ll never forget booting up Crystal for the first time, naming my rookie trainer, and starting my first journey through the Johto region with my Cyndaquil.

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So why Pokemon Emerald? It wasn’t my first game, and though I do think it is one of the best Pokemon games, I don’t think it is the absolute greatest (an honor that probably goes to Pokemon Black and White 2). The answer to that, I think, is the fact that Generation III, and Pokemon Emerald specifically, is where I became a genuine Pokemon fanatic.

Pokemon Emerald was elementary school for me, and being that I was the prime target demographic for the series, I was constantly exposed to everything Pokemon. If I wasn’t playing the games, I was watching Ash and Pikachu’s adventures in Hoenn and the Battle Frontier, reading the novelizations of anime episodes, studying my Scholastic Trainer Handbook or desperately wishing for one of the toy Pokedexes.

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Beyond my nostalgia for the time and place that I played Pokemon Emerald, I also think it’s just an amazing Pokemon experience. The Hoenn region is one of the most divisive ones in the entire series, but I personally love it. I’m a huge sucker for tropical aesthetics, and it’s a huge part of why I love films like Lilo & Stitch and Moana, as well as the sounds of island music, with a few trumpets for good measure.

The Hoenn region was able to convey the sense of exploring an island that was completely unique from Kanto and Johto. This was even exemplified by the designs of Brendan and May (the best Pokemon girl). Much like their Generation II counterparts, the Generation III duo are wearing outfits that look much more appropriate for going on an adventure.

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Generation III is notable for being a drastic shift in the Pokemon franchise. It was the first one to not be directly connected to the previous games, and the general art style changed to be a bit more exaggerated and cartoony. Generation III also introduced a number of new mechanics, with two of the more notable ones being double battles and Pokemon abilities.

Similar to Link’s Awakening, Pokemon Emerald is a game that I spent a lot of time exploring. I would spend hours scouring the region for stronger trainers to battle, new Pokemon to catch, and more the ever elusive Legendary Pokemon encounters. Speaking of which, Generation III introduced quite a few of my favorite Pokemon designs. Grovyle, Swampert, Torkoal, Manectric, Snorunt, Poochyena, I could go on and on just listing them out.

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Pokemon Emerald was also the first game to introduce the Battle Frontier. I remember thinking that the Battle Frontier was the coolest thing ever, and it didn’t help that the anime based on the area is one of my favorite Pokemon shows. When you do enough exploring, your team is eventually going to be able to effortlessly defeat even the Hoenn Champion. But the Battle Frontier provided a much greater challenge.

Each of the facilities caps your levels, and this forced me to think more critically about my movesets and team combinations. In addition, different rulesets were employed at each area. One facility forces you to battle using a selection of rental Pokemon, while another places you in a tournament against several other trainers.

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Pokemon Emerald is my favorite Pokemon game to be sure, but it also reminds me of a time that was incredibly important to me. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences because of this franchise, and that statement extends to pretty much every generation. Pokemon is a series that brings people together and makes them happy, and I’m glad that it has been a part of my life.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The World Ends With You’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The World Ends With You’

This next game is somewhat of an interesting one on this list. I don’t really have any nostalgic childhood story attached to it, it’s just kind of a game that I picked up and fell in love with. I first was exposed to The World Ends With You on G4 TV’s X-Play. They were reviewing this really cool Nintendo DS Square Enix RPG, and they gave it extremely high marks.

The World Ends With You was developed by a good portion of the team that was responsible for the early Kingdom Hearts games, and Tetsuya Nomura, the creator of Kingdom Hearts, was actually the lead character designer for the title. Square Enix wanted to make a game that would take full advantage of the Nintendo DS dual screens, which led to the game’s unique combat system.

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In The World Ends With You, players control two characters at once. On the bottom screen is Neku Sakuraba, the game’s protagonist, while the top screen is occupied by one of the other characters that Neku can team up with. Neku is primarily controlled by stylus inputs, while his partner is controlled through use of the d-pad.

Instead of more traditional weapons such as swords and spears, Neku fights using Psychs. Psychs are somewhat of a catch all title for a variety of different attacks and abilities, and each character manifests theirs through different objects. These can be a stuffed animal, a skateboard or even a cell phone, and Neku in particular summons his powers through an assortment of… pins.

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Combat is pretty fun and interesting overall, but it’s definitely not the main draw of The World Ends With You. The game’s greatest strengths are its story and exploration. The game takes place in the famous city of Shibuya, and the development team went to great lengths to present as accurate a portrayal as possible. I’ve never personally been to Shibuya, but based on my readings and research, I’d say they did a pretty good job.

I’ve recently been playing Persona 5, another game that takes place in Shibuya and I was very familiar with certain locales and landmarks such as the Scramble Crossing and the Hachiko statue. The even recruited a few Shibuya musical acts to contribute to the game’s soundtrack (which is really great stuff by the way). While they did have to make a couple of alterations, like changing Starbucks to Outback Cafe, the game seems to present a really authentic representation of one of Japan’s most famous cities.

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The city of Shibuya is also intrinsically tied to the plot of The World Ends With You. The game primarily takes place in an alternate version of Shibuya known as the Underground (UG for short). The Shibuya that exists in the the real world is simply called the Realground, or RG. The UG is the setting for the Reaper’s Game, which our protagonist Neku is a Player in.

The Reaper’s Game involves the titular Reapers tasking the players with various missions over the course of seven days, and each player must pay a unique entry fee at the game’s start. Upon winning the game, the Player is given back their entry fee, and granted one wish. I know that was quite a hefty info dump, and that’s honestly not even scratching the surface of this game’s lore, but for the sake of time and spoilers, I’m gonna cut the plot summary there.

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One of my favorite thematic elements of Kingdom Hearts is the idea that we are who we are because of the people in our lives. However, it is also important for us to strengthen our own hearts for the times that we can’t rely on other people. I’m not sure if Nomura had any hand in this game’s plot, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, because The World Ends With You takes that idea and really expands on it.

Neku Sakuraba is a 15 year old loner. He doesn’t have any real friends, as he has chosen to block out the noise of the rest of the world by wearing headphones. But Neku is forced to change his ways once he becomes wrapped up in the Reaper’s game. Each Player has to have a partner, as they are powerless without one, and also at constant risk of being immediately erased.

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It’s really hard to put Neku’s development in words without it just sounding like the generic story of a jerk who slowly opens up his heart to others, but I genuinely do believe that his journey is something special. One of the best moments in the game, and a moment that I actually took to heart for my personal life, is Neku’s conversation with Sanae Hanekoma.

Sanae runs a coffee shop in Shibuya, and serves as a mentor character to Neku over the course of the game. He says to Neku that, the world ends with you. If you want to enjoy life, expand your world. You gotta push your horizons out as far as they’ll go”. He is essentially telling Neku, who has lived his entire life pushing others away, that his world and perspective will only grow if he creates meaningful connections with others, a philosophy that is perfectly analogous to real life.

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Neku is amazing, but he obviously wouldn’t be anything without a great cast of friends. Every character is in the UG for a reason, and this reason in conjunction with their entry fee ends up greatly defining each character’s story arc. Again, it’s extremely hard to talk about any of this without spoiling the plot, but The World Ends With You has a really well rounded cast of characters, both friend and foe.

While the game doesn’t have a sequel (even though the Android and iOS port of the game teased one), Neku, Shiki, Joshua, Beat and Rhyme all appear in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3ds, making them the first characters in the franchise that didn’t hail from a Disney or Final Fantasy title. It was super cool seeing Sora and Neku interact, as the two couldn’t be any more different, and it was especially cool hearing the remixes of some of the game’s awesome tracks such as Twister and Calling.

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Before I wrap things up, I wanna give a shout out to the game’s ending song, A Lullaby For You. It was performed by a J-pop star named Jyongri, and she actually recorded both an English and Japanese version, similar to Utada Hikaru and her Kingdom Hearts contributions. A Lullaby For You has gone on to become one of my all time favorite songs, and should the Kingdom Hearts series ever lose Utada, I think Jyongri would be a great replacement.

I wasn’t able to really gush about this game the way I wanted to because of spoilers and what not, but this game really does mean a lot to me. It has a special focus on real world themes that I was able to relate to, many of which I try to implement into to my everyday life.

 

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time’

Throughout my middle school and high school years, I was a huge fan of Game Informer. Aside from game coverage on G4 TV’s X-Play, it was my biggest insight into what was going on in the gaming industry. Every month, I would be super excited to tear through every single page to see new game previews, reviews and even the entertaining bits of trivia that ended the magazine.

When I came home from football camp during the summer of 2009, I was greeted with the July edition of Game Informer. I can still see the cover clear as day. It was all black, with the only image being that of an old, disheveled Max Payne. And at the very top of the cover, above even the Game Informer logo itself, was a line of text advertising a preview for Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. 

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Although I was familiar with the name Ratchet & Clank, I had never played a single game. I had both a Playstation 2 and a Nintendo Gamecube, but my PS2 was almost exclusively used to play Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Ball Z and Naruto games, so I would miss out on quite a few notable games on the system, Ratchet & Clank being one of them.

The Playstation 3 is where I would really consider myself having become a true Playstation fan. I was a teenager, so my gaming taste was a bit more refined than when I was a kid, so I ended up playing all types of different games, including most of Sony’s first party offerings.

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I distinctly remember pouring over that issue of Game Informer for what must’ve been hours. I couldn’t believe how cool A Crack in Time both looked and sounded. So for Christmas that year, in addition to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and LittleBigPlanet… I also got Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Even back then, I was a sucker for continuity, so I really wanted to start with the first game in this new saga of Ratchet & Clank.

Needless to say, I ended up really enjoying the game. Although the gimmicky motion control stuff was really off-putting, everything else in the game was awesome. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I REALLY loved the gameplay. I couldn’t get enough of mowing through hordes of enemies, leveling up my weapons and collecting bolts while I explored the vast locales that the game had to offer.

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So the following year, I got A Crack in Time for my birthday (which is just one day before Christmas), and I spent the entire day playing. I was amazed at just how much fun the game was. I really liked Tools of Destruction, but I absolutely adored A Crack in Time, and it’s the game that made me a Ratchet & Clank fan.

Before I go more in depth with the game itself, I wanna talk about how it got me into the rest of the series. Not only have I played (and gotten the platinum trophy for) every Ratchet & Clank game that has come out since A Crack in Time, but I’ve also gone back and played the PS2 iterations (I also have the platinums in these games, except for Deadlocked).

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With the experience of just about every Ratchet & Clank game that isn’t a spin-off under my belt, I can confidently say that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game. The only aspect in which it has been surpassed is its presentation, and it took an installment on the Playstation 4 to do so.

As far as A Crack in Time is concerned, I’ll start with the story. Whenever I think about how I want the story in Sonic the Hedgehog games to be presented, my mind immediately jumps to this game. It’s everything I want out of a story, game or otherwise. It’s funny and comical, but knows when it needs to convey genuine drama and emotion. It takes itself just seriously enough to keep the audience engaged, but never gets so serious that you forget you’re playing a game about an anthromorph that fights aliens with crazy weapons.

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I won’t say much more about the story, as I really don’t wanna spoil how good it is, but I do have loads to say about the gameplay. In my eyes, the Playstation 2 games have a very clear trajectory. The first game was mostly a platformer, with bits of shooting thrown in for some added fun, while Going Commando was a pretty even split between platforming, exploration, puzzle solving and gunplay. Up Your Arsenal had a much greater focus on the weapons, but still had bits of platforming and puzzles, while Deadlocked is exclusively a shooter.

Similar to Going Commando, A Crack in Time is a perfect balance of everything that makes the series so great. There’s plenty of time to tear through the galaxy’s most fearsome creatures, but there’s also no shortage of platforming and exploration, the best example being the myriad of mini-planets that Ratchet can explore.

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These planets typically have a collectible that can be obtained by completing it’s challenge, and the challenges can range from defeating enemies, conquering platforming and swingshot challenges, or demonstrating mastery over your hoverboots.

One major thing that I feel like doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in the gaming industry, is how amazing the Clank sections are in A Crack in Time. In most Ratchet & Clank games, Clank’s sections are where the bulk of the puzzle solving takes place, and A Crack in Time is no different. But man, I can’t believe how innovative these puzzles are, nor can I even fathom how Insomniac Games came up with them.

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If I remember correctly, it was Ted Price that did an interview sometime during 2009 where he discussed the Clank puzzles. He said that he couldn’t accurately describe how they worked in words, you would just have to play them to understand, a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with. If a man that had a hand in making the game can’t describe the puzzles, I certainly can’t expect to do much better, but here’s a nice little video to give you a taste.

The weapons and gadgets are essential components of any Ratchet & Clank game, and A Crack in Time has a whole slew of them. While there are a few returning weapons like the Negotiator and Mag-Net launcher the game also introduces the Constructo weapons, and to this day, A Crack in Time is their only appearance. The Constructo weapons were an attempt to spice up the standard pistol, shotgun and grenade weapons. In addition to the normal benefits that are gained from leveling up, these weapons could also be outfitted with various mods that changed up their functions on the battlefield.

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I said before that I believe that A Crack in Time is the best Ratchet & Clank game, and I don’t know that any game will ever dethrone it. This isn’t because the game is perfect or anything, but it I can’t imagine it being any better than it already is. Again, aside from its presentation, there isn’t a single element of any Ratchet & Clank game that followed or preceded A Crack in Time that I think wasn’t done better in this game.

The story is much more engaging, the gameplay is Ratchet & Clank at its finest, there’s plenty of exploration for worthwhile collectibles, tons of post-game content, the list could go on and on. Not only is A Crack in Time my favorite Ratchet & Clank game, but it’s one of my favorite games of all time.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’

When I discussed my love for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Super Mario Kart, I put quite a bit of emphasis on two of my older cousins. As I said before, these two were incredibly influential on my early gaming years, and are largely responsible for making me a gamer today. Amongst the many games that I discovered because of them, is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Unlike games like Sonic Spinball, Link’s Awakening isn’t a game that caught my eye by being on display on their entertainment center. I actually found this game by rummaging through some of their old Game Boy games (which is also how I came across Kirby’s Dream Land). The Legend of Zelda, just the name alone caused my imagination to run wild. At that point in my life, most of the games I loved featured flashy, or at least attention grabbing cover art. But Link’s Awakening was a different case entirely.

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A bronze background with a rusted shield and sword at the forefront, what kind of adventure could this little Game Boy cartridge hold? The story begins with a young boy named Link being washed ashore by a vicious storm. He’s discovered by a young girl named Marin, and after a bit of exploration around the island of Koholint, encounters a strange owl who recounts the tale of the Wind Fish to our young hero.

In order to return home, Link must awaken the Wind Fish by gathering a series of magical instruments that are scattered about Koholint Island. Along the way, it is eventually revealed that Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish, and rousing it from its slumber will cause the island and all of its inhabitants to disappear.

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I have a very limited experience with the Legend of Zelda series as a whole, but Link’s Awakening easily has my favorite story of the ones I’ve played. The characters are simple, but memorable, and waking up the Wind Fish is a genuinely bittersweet moment in the game. As a player trying to out myself in Link’s mindset, I had to consider whether or not it was even worth leaving such a fun and peaceful island lifestyle.

As much as I love the story, it’s not what made me fall in love with the game as a child. In fact, I didn’t even complete the game until just a few years ago (it was a bit too complex for my childhood self). It was the sense of wonder that the game gave me that kept me enthralled and entertained for hours on end.

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As a child, I only ever got as far as obtaining the third instrument, but the fact that I never could beat the game really bothered me. I loved simply exploring Koholint Island, and interacting with all of the locals. I’ll never forget the layout of the beach that Link washes up on, or the fact that Marin’s brother gets transformed into a Tanuki.

It sounds like it should be really frustrating experience. After all, the main objective of most games is to complete them, right? In the case of Link’s Awakening and games like it, the exploration is a huge part of the experience. In real life, I could only explore as far as my backyard and playground would allow. But Link’s Awakening took me to far more interesting locales.

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Another thing I’ll never forget is the music. The soundtrack along with the sound effects will forever be ingrained in my head, and I mean that in the best possible way. The ominous track that plays over the game’s intro, the quaint piece that accompanies Marin’s village and the head-bopping tune from the Mysterious Woods are just a few of my favorite songs from the game. Not to mention the jingle that plays when Link acquires a piece of power.

Compared to other Zelda games I’ve played, I love how different Link’s Awakening is. It’s far removed from series conventions like the Triforce, the Kingdom of Hyrule and even Princess Zelda herself, but this makes it a very unique installment in the series. It put an interesting spin on traditional Zelda stories, and ambitiously tried to fit a fully featured Zelda experience on a handheld. I’ll always treasure my memories of Link’s Awakening, and beyond my own personal nostalgia, I genuinely believe it is a great game.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Super Mario Kart’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Super Mario Kart’

I’ve talked at length about how much I love Sonic the Hedgehog on numerous occasions, and even how important he was in making me fall in love with video games at an early age. In spite of my childhood fascination with the blue hedgehog, I never owned a Sega Genesis as a kid. The very first console I ever owned was a Super Nintendo. When I wrote about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I talked briefly about the time I spent playing games with my older cousins, and it’s these same two cousins that I associate with all of my memories of the Super Nintendo.

At a very early age, I was given a Super Nintendo and numerous games by one of my older cousins (a different cousin than the aforementioned duo). And man, he really gave me some classics. Turtles in Time, X-Men Mutant Apocalypse, Final Fight II, NBA Jam, Super Play Action Football, Family Feud, I could sit here all day listing off amazing SNES games. But the ones that stuck out to me the most were the Nintendo franchise games, namely, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, Super Mario Paint and Super Mario Kart. 

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The Mario Kart spin-off series is kinda of a weird one for me nowadays. I will always love the original game, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart Wii, and if I’m being fair, Mario Kart 8 is probably the strongest entry in the series. But as my gaming taste has changed, and the series has added in more and more items that stifle skillful play, I’ve found myself preferring games like Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed (similar to the people that say Crash Team Racing is better than every Mario Kart game). But we’re not here to compare and contrast mascot racing games, we’re here to discuss how much I adore Super Mario Kart!

Personal memories aside, I genuinely love Super Mario Kart, and I still think it holds up as a really good game. For the first entry in the franchise, it has very few things that I would consider flaws. The driving is very fluid, the courses are simple in design, but provide a decent enough challenge, and items, while beneficial in certain situations, aren’t overpowered like later ones in the series (no Bullet Bills or Blue Shells). My only major complaint is the fact that the computer controlled racers can activate item abilities at any time they want (especially Luigi and the Star powerup). 

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Playing Super Mario Kart gives me a similar feeling to the one I got when I played Pokemon Red on the 3DS Virtual Console last year. I didn’t bother going out of my way to get that game’s version of the Experience Share, nor did i spend anytime grinding. So for the first time in forever, I was noticeably underleveled for my Elite Four Challenge. This made for not only a much more engaging overall playthrough, but for one of the most memorable Champion battles I’ve had since I started playing Pokemon games.

Whenever I play modern Mario Kart games, I generally breeze right through the courses with very little problem (when I’m not getting peppered with shells and banana peels anyway).To be fair, this is largely due to the fact that I’m just better at the newer games than I am at Super Mario Kart, but this doesn’t change the fact that the game’s 100cc races still give me a mean case of sweaty palms. Special mention to the various Bowser’s Castle courses and Rainbow Road.

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One of the most notable things about the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis generation of games is the timeless sprite work. Many of the games that looked great back then, still look great to this day, and Super Mario Kart is no exception. Each racer’s victory animations is forever embedded into my head, and courses like Ghost Valley never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat. The game also has an awesome soundtrack and array of sound effects. As I’m writing this, I can hear the all too familiar sound of Lakitu’s countdown that comes with the start of each race, as well as the chipper tune of Koopa Troopa Beach.

What truly defines Super Mario Kart for me is the game’s battle mode, which is odd because I’m not a fan of the battle mode in any other Mario Kart game. This is where my relationship with my older cousins comes back into play. We spent hours and hours firing off shells at each other, so much so that I still remember the best strategies for each battle mode course.

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Now that I’m really thinking about it, battle mode may be the reason that I love games that reward skillful play. When I used to play with my cousins, the loser would always have to pass the controller, meaning I spent a lot of time just watching the game. So if I wanted to spend more time playing than watching, I had to get better at the game. While I never got quite as good as my elder cousins at the game, I did get good enough that they had to actually make an effort to beat me.

Super Mario Kart is by no means the best kart racer out there, but I do firmly believe that it holds up as a solid game to this day. It’s not as flashy as later Mario Kart games, nor as mechanically fleshed out as modern racing games, but for a racing game on the Super Nintendo, I feel like it holds up well against the test of time. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are centered around Super Mario Kart, and I’d love to hang out with my cousins one day to just play a couple of rounds of battle mode.

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3’

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 is the game that got me through freshman year of college. I’ll never forget spending hours and hours on end huddled together in one dorm room participating in round after round. Sometimes we would load up on snacks and drinks and just play all weekend, and other times we would sneak in a few matches between classes and before dinner.

Since the days of the Playstation 2, I’ve been a really big fan of Bandai Namco and CyberConnect2’s Ultimate Ninja fighting games, especially the Ultimate Ninja Storm series. Outside of my own personal reasons for picking Storm 3 as my favorite Naruto game, I honestly just feel like it is a really fantastic gaming experience, Naruto or otherwise. As far as Naruto games are concerned, Storm 3 just does a lot of things right. The story and cinematics are incredible, and even outshine the anime in many instances.

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This is due in part to the fact that Storm 3 has the luxury of being able to tell the Naruto story without all of the filler that the anime was plagued with. But even beyond that, Storm 3 is a fantastic example of a developer that is really passionate about the source material. Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 was released in 2013, meaning CyberConnect2 had been creating Naruto games for an entire decade! While one would think that being apart of a franchise for so long would cause a decline in interest, the Ultimate Ninja Storm games caused quite the opposite effect.

The original Ultimate Ninja games on the Playstation 2 weren’t really known for their visuals or cinematic flair. They were fairly simple 2d fighting games. With the advent of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, CC2 was given the opportunity (and the budget) to make a really spectacular Naruto experience. CC2 was able to flex their technical muscles, and make a truly beautiful anime game.

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The debut trailer for the original Ultimate Ninja Storm was the first time I was ever blown away by a game’s visuals. I couldn’t believe how amazing the game looked. CC2 had somehow managed to create a game that looked like I was playing the anime. And that’s a statement that holds true for every subsequent installment in the series.

There’s no better example of CC2’s love for Naruto than the story modes in the Ultimate Ninja Storm games. They are incredibly authentic to the original events of the story, while also throwing in their own unique elements when appropriate. The Storm games, especially Storm 3, just do a great job telling the story overall. Storm 3 has cutscenes that feel like an episode of the anime, and they never skimp on the important details of the narrative.

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As far as actual gameplay is concerned, Storm 3 does a lot of things really well, and just one thing wrong. The awakening system in Storm 3 is pretty broken. While it’s really cool that the finally allowed awakened characters to be grabbed and hit with ultimate jutsu, Storm 3 still features plenty of really overpowered transformations. 

Each of the Jinchuriki, as well as a handful of the Uchiha have giant awakenings. These transformations have really big hitboxes, and can dish out a ton of damage. In addition, certain characters have the ability to instantly awaken. While the trade off for this is the fact that your chakra is constantly draining, you should usually be able to finish the match before this becomes an issue.

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Broken awakenings aside, Storm 3 feels great to play, and is second only to Storm 4 as far as overall fluidity of control is concerned. The beauty of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games has always been their simplicity. Melee combos are mapped to a single button, and characters each have a handful of movement options and unique jutsu and ultimate jutsu. Basically, the Storm games are fairly easy to pick up and play, but take time to fully master.

Epic boss fights are what the Ultimate Ninja Storm games are known for, and Storm 3 features the probably the best ones in the series. The spectacle of these fights is incredible, and I honestly feel that they are somewhat underappreciated when it comes to video game set pieces. I’ve seen things in Storm 3 that rival scenes in really big, blockbuster triple A game franchises.

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Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 pits you against standard human sized fights against opponents like Sasuke Uchiha, the Third Raikage and Danzo Shimura, but also against the likes of the Nine Tailed Fox, Madara Uchiha’s Susanno and the Gedo Statue. These encounters are truly a sight to behold, and their scale and intensity is enough to get anybody’s adrenaline pumping.

Naruto was a huge part of my adolescent years. In middle school, I spent pretty much every weekend at Lucas Sapaugh’s house, one of my best friends in the world. As soon as the Toonami block came on, it had our undivided attention. Out of all of the shows in their lineup, Naruto was easily the biggest draw for us.

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Naruto was very much the anime of my generation. While I adore Dragon Ball to no end, that show already belonged to another generation of kids by the time I was old enough to fall in love with it. Naruto hit at just the right time to become an iconic show to people my age. In the case of the Ultimate Ninja Storm games, they are a large part of what kept me invested in the series after the ending of Part I on Toonami. The english version of Naruto Shippuden went through a weird phase from around 2009 to 2010, so I got my Naruto fix from games like Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 and Ultimate Ninja Storm 3.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 represents not only what I believe to be the best Naruto gaming experience, but a game that I hold many memories with. To this day, I sometimes find myself thinking about the times I spend during my first year of college just loving everything that this game has to offer.