Top 100 Games of All-Time: #51

Super Mario Bros. 3

Release Date: October 23, 1988

Platform Played On: NES

2018 Placement: #39 (-12)

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What It Is:

The third(fourth?) game in the Mario Bros. series. One of the classic, genre-defining platformers on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. From warp whistles to tanooki suits, from ducking on the white block to P-Wings enabling you to fly through hard levels, this game has a long, established legacy in the video game world.

After the single-player only Mario Bros 2, this game brought back multiplayer and allowed both players to explore the overworld. It added an item storage system as well, allowing you to store power-ups like raccoon leaves and hammer bro suits and use them when you needed a boost with a level. Toad Houses gave you random power-ups from chests and this game also introduced some of the best Mario characters ever: that’s right, the Koopalings. All hail Lemmy Koopa!

Why It’s Important To Me:

Super Mario Bros. 3 always had the forbidden fruit quality to me as a kid. I didn’t own the actual game myself (until I got Super Mario All-Stars for the SNES), only the first and second games. So whenever I got to play 3 it felt like a treat and a new world opening up in my eyes. I loved the overworld aspect of the game and how enemies would move around on the map. The fortress and airship levels were so cool and the theme of each world was even cooler.

It was the defining platformer for me growing up – I always considered it my favorite mainline Mario game for a long time. There was just something about the simplistic sprite work that drove me into nostalgia overdrive. And when I think long enough, I can even conjure up a distinct smell and memory of my grandfather’s old store, where we used to visit whenever I saw my extended family. My cousin had SMB3 and when I brought my Nintendo on Christmas vacations I would always be eager to borrow the game and get as far as I could while I was on vacation.

My Strongest Memory:

I fucking loved the Hammer Bros suit. The Hammer Bros were my favorite enemy from the original game, and the Hammer Bro Suit was like the holy grail of items. It was a “break only in case of emergency” kind of deal because I didn’t want to waste it. That shit was pure gold and I got excited every time I got one. I still think it’s the best power-up of any Mario game and am still personally offended it never came back in other games. And no, Mario just carrying a hammer in some RPGs does NOT count. It’s just not the same.

The other big memory was probably the same memory every child had playing this game: the fucking sun. That stupid angry-faced ball of gas was my absolute nemesis and I hated him with the fire of a thousand hims. Scared me half to death the first time I encountered him and my blood pressure still rises a bit thinking about him. And on the other end of the spectrum, Big Bertha scared the shit out of me too. A giant fish that eats you up in one gulp? NO THANK YOU.

Why It’s #51:

Super Mario Bros 3 coasts a lot on nostalgia. It was absolutely a formative game of my childhood and was one of the prime examples of awesome games that made me a platformer aficionado. The variety in power-up abilities is still unmatched (in my opinion) as Super Mario World shirked variety for a few specific ones and also got rid of the storage. While I know Nintendo doesn’t like to retread often, I wish they would drink from the Super Mario Bros 3 well a little more often: the New Super Mario Bros games almost got there but were missing the magic. A true SMB3 successor on modern consoles could be a game-changer.

 

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #52

The Messenger

Release Date: August 30, 2018

Platform Played On: Switch

2018 Placement: Unranked

What It Is:

A 2D side-scrolling action platformer that hearkens back to the days of Ninja Gaiden and other games in that style. As the titular messenger, you progress through stages, acquiring new abilities that help you fight the enemies and bosses at the end of each level. The cloudstep is a unique traversal mechanic that gives you an extra jump after you attack something while you’re in the air. If you’re skilled you can use the ability to attack enemies from all directions and it makes for some fun and challenging platforming sections.

At the halfway point is when the game decides to blow all your expectations out of the water: a twist in gameplay changes the format from stage-based to an entirely connected world and it turns into more of a Metroidvania. From that point forward you have to explore all the nooks and crannies of the world to unlock new items and abilities, which allow you to get to even more new areas. It blew me away when it happened and instantly cemented it as one of my top games in recent memory.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Some games are just special from the outset and this one grabbed me almost immediately. First, the music is absolutely stellar. The background track of the first level was instantly catchy. The third level, though, is where I became enamored with the game’s soundtrack as it is an absolute bop. And then the theme to Searing Crags is just chef’s kiss. But wait! There’s more! After the mid-game twist, the two different time periods you can go between are made distinctive through not just a change in 8-bit to 16-bit sprites, but in 8-bit to 16-bit music. You get remixes of every track in the game: here’s Searing Crags’ 16-bit as an example! The seameless transitions between the different music styles made The Messenger’s soundtrack jump to an all-timer immediately.

The game itself is fantastic on top of the amazing soundtrack. All the bosses are fun and it has some of the tightest 2D platforming traversal of the modern era. While not completely focused on platforming as a game like Celeste, it still puts some decent challenges on the table. Also did I mention how great the humor is in the game? The character of the shopkeeper is an absolute blast and the relationship between the shopkeeper and the messenger is wonderful. Also you must give a listen to all of the stories the shopkeeper offers to tell you – you’re missing out if you skip them.

My Strongest Memory:

I played this game for the first time while on vacation with my girlfriend. It was my first time in NYC and we were staying in a tiny little AirBnB apartment. The days were filled with awesome sights and touristy travels while during my down time I rested my feet and pulled The Messenger up on my Switch. My finish of the game coincided with the end of the trip as I beat the final boss while we were riding the train home. I had an absolute blast in NYC and will forever associate this game with those good memories because the two are inexorably linked in my mind.

As for the game itself, I can’t oversell how great the soundtrack is. This soundtrack is probably one of the most played albums on my phone at this point. It’s an absolute chiptune masterpiece that never lets up. It’s perfectly exemplified by the final boss, which is probably my favorite moment of the game: one of the best songs on the soundtrack accompanying the best fight in the game.

Why It’s #52:

I dare say that The Messenger is a modern classic. It’s a tight, fun experience that isn’t too long and lends itself to replayability. The DLC is also fantastic (here’s a sample of the DLC’s music – it keeps up the fire) and worthy additional content. And it was free!!! The Messenger was such a solid game that I instantly backed the studio’s Kickstarter for their next game – Sea of Stars – and cannot wait to see them knock that one out of the park too. If you have any nostalgia or interest in platformers/Metroidvanias/cool sprite-based games, you are doing yourself a disservice until you play The Messenger. It’s grand.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #53

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

Release Date: November 11, 2003

Platform Played On: PS2

2018 Placement: #47 (-6)

What It Is:

The second game in the Ratchet & Clank series, it takes the base format of the original and amps everything up, adding quality-of-life changes that improve the gameplay immensely and adding the ability to upgrade your weapons through enough usage to make it more powerful as well as new armor and weapon mods.

The gameplay is similar to all the other R&C games – shooting with crazy weapons scattered with occasional platforming challenges and other mini-games like hover racing and gladiator arenas. The story is one of the most fun, turning the misunderstood antihero Captain Qwark of the first game into an outright villain in this one. Although the final boss is probably one of the weakest of the entire series, overall the quality of this game is miles above its other PS2 counterparts.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Going Commando solidified Ratchet & Clank as one of my favorite series of all-time. While the first game was good and I enjoyed it, it was Going Commando that really put the series on the map for me and made me excited for where the sequels could go. With the all-new weapons and upgrades, the fun mini-games, and slightly more focus on lovable Insomniac humor it was an instant favorite in my books.

I watched a speedrun of the game within the last year and was surprised how little I remember about the game, though. It’s one of those games that I consider high quality and always rank highly – if you ask me what’s the best Ratchet & Clank game I will always say Going Commando without hesitation. It’s another one of those games that lives in my head and heart but more as vague nostalgia and good feelings than specific memories.

My Strongest Memory:

I…don’t really have one specifically. I do remember and love the Sheepinator, which has become one of the classic humor weapons of Ratchet & Clank. Turning enemies into sheep for the first time was a blast and always puts a smile on my face. Seeing the Plumber show up again was also very fun – especially since he was voiced by Neil Flynn, aka the Janitor from Scrubs. Other than that, though, as I said – this game really lives on in my mind as the prime example of what made me love Ratchet & Clank as a franchise. Just all-around goodness.

Why It’s #53:

I know it’s weird putting this after a game like Metal Gear Solid 3, where I clearly had a lot to say. But the fact is I love the Ratchet & Clank series and the second game has always maintained being my favorite, even after playing later games. Maybe it relies too heavy on nostalgia. But I don’t care, this is my list and this is the spot I declare my favorite Ratchet & Clank game gets. So there.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #54

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Release Date: November 17, 2004

Platform Played On: PS2

2018 Placement: #49 (-5)

What It Is:

The third entry in Hideo Kojima’s tactical stealth action series. While there are plenty of divisive opinions over other entries in the series, most everyone agrees that MGS3 is one of the best, if not THE best, game due to its gameplay and story content. MGS3 is a prequel to the first two games where you play as Naked Snake aka Big Boss, the antagonist of the Metal Gear games. It keeps the straightforward stealth and CQC gameplay while toning back a little on the twists and insanity after Metal Gear Solid 2.

This game is packed with great villains and unique boss fights, fun gameplay that stays true to the original MGS game, and has a rockin’ theme song that rivals the best James Bond tunes. It also adds new survival components to the game, such as having to eat food to keep your stamina up and your stomach from grumbling, to specific injuries hampering your movement and abilities in combat until you take care of them and let Snake heal properly. There’s also a camo index that gives you a good idea of how hidden you are as you make your moves. Everything in this game is refined to a T and the end product doesn’t feel as bloated as later Kojima games.

Why It’s Important To Me:

The Metal Gear Solid series was hugely impactful to me in my formative gaming years. It and Hitman paved the way for my excitement for stealth games. The games also made me realize how much I enjoyed the bonkers, balls-to-the-wall storytelling that Kojima provided. I loved how unique the bosses were in this one, from The Sorrow to The End to The BEEES, er, I mean The Pain. You know how I love themed groups of villains and MGS3’s crew had some of the best monikers.

MGS3 was one of those games that I walked away from thinking to myself “yeah, okay, now THAT’S a Game of the Year.” Even if I wasn’t fully in on the concept of ranking my games of the year online for random people yet, in my heart I knew that’s where MGS3 belonged: at the top of an arbitrary list. At the time it ticked every box I was looking for in a game – and even now it still holds up on replays in my opinion. Young Revolver Ocelot is one of my favorite villains and the motorcycle chase sequence blew me away at the time as an unmatched setpiece action sequence, before Uncharted had even come on the scene.

My Strongest Memory:

I was playing through this game in college and some of my friends gathered together to watch me play it off an on. Towards the beginning of the game (like the third or fourth boss I’d say if I remember correctly) you fight The Fear. During this fight the boss shoots arrows at you that get stuck in Snake and due to the new injury mechanics, you have to remove them and heal yourself using your supplies.

After I finished the boss fight, as I was healing, one of my friends innocently asked “what happens if you heal the wound but don’t remove the arrow?” I obliged them and what we discovered is that if you heal it…you can’t remove the arrow anymore. The uproarious laughter of my friends still haunts me to this day as I ended up playing THE ENTIRE REST OF THE GODDAMN GAME WITH AN ARROW STICKING OUT OF SNAKE’S KNEE BECAUSE OF MY FRIENDS.

Anyway that’s why Metal Gear Solid 3 is awesome because of stupid shit like that.

Why It’s #54:

MGS3 is a game I would consider a classic. In the sense that it’s revolutionary and important at the time, but also in the sense that it’s timeless and will always have replay value. It stands out as a great, amazing achievement in video game design and just does some amazing work with the PS2 hardware. If you pressed me for what I consider the overall “greatest” PS2 game based on objectivity and not specific, emotional, nostalgic connections I would say it’s probably MGS3. And it still has that emotional connection for me because I got to play it with friends. Play it if you haven’t, because it’s worth it.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #55

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

Release Date: July 22, 2004

Platform Played On: GameCube/Wii?

2018 Placement: #37 (-18)

 

What It Is:

The GameCube sequel to Paper Mario from the N64. It follows roughly the same outline: you play as Paper Mario and gather party members as you progress through chapters of the game and explore different paper worlds. The turn-based RPG combat system is simplified so that the attack and defense numbers are easily digestible instead of numbers in the meaningless thousands. You can only have one party member assisting Mario in each battle and each helper brings different skills to the table.

There’s also tons to do in the overworld as you walk around between battles as Mario gains more paper-related skills as you progress, along with your partners having overworld abilities that can unlock new areas and secrets. The game also contains typical humor associated with Mario RPGs and has a lot of funny moments. It’s a meaty, lengthy RPG that turns into one of the best Mario spinoffs in existence.

Why It’s Important To Me:

As I stated in the Superstar Saga entry, I bounced off the original Paper Mario due to not liking the aesthetic and having a kneejerk young person reaction to the style change from Super Mario RPG. I wanted SMRPG 2, not whatever this paper abomination was. By the time Thousand Year Door rolled around, though, I had matured and grown up a little and decided to give the game a try.

Now I don’t remember exactly how I played it. I never owned a Gamecube, but my freshman year college roommate did. So I think what happened was he owned it, and over the course of freshman year at some point I gave the RPG a try and fell in love with it. However, I do have my own copy now and may have gotten it and played it on my Wii? I honestly don’t remember, time gets fuzzy. But from Rawk Hawk’s theme (and really everything about Rawk Hawk’s chapter) to the witty humor of the fresh buddies in the Mario universe, I was enraptured by the game whenever I did play it. It catapulted towards the top of my favorite RPGs of all-time and I honestly got mad at myself for judging the first Paper Mario the way I did in the first place.

My Strongest Memory:

For some reason, Magnus von Grapple is one of my strongest memories in this game. His theme is something that just pops into my head randomly for no reason. Maybe it’s because it’s delightfully robotic and has a weird cadence to it, but I really enjoyed battling him every time he showed up in the game. Him and Rawk Hawk are the two enemies I can immediately conjure when thinking about Thousand Year Door. Music strikes again.

But the character I have strongest feelings towards is Vivian. She is probably one of my all-time favorite Mario characters, even if she is just a one-off for Thousand Year Door. In all versions of the game except the English one, Vivian is depicted as a transgender woman. I, of course, consider her canonically trans regardless and she was my favorite party member even before I discovered other translations. I won’t deny that a big part of why I regard Thousand Year Door so highly is because of Vivian.

Why It’s #55:

As I do a lot of these write-ups I really get the urge to play all these games again because they mean so much to me. Just talking about Thousand Year Door, Vivian, and all the other moments of the game is making me antsy to play this again. Even though I don’t have a Gamecube or Wii to even play it on, I still own my hard copy of Thousand Year Door because that’s how much this game means to me. It’s a great RPG regardless, but there’s a lot that’s extra special about it to me.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #56

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Release Date: May 10, 2016

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: #51 (-5)

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What It Is:

The finale of Nathan Drake’s journey and Naughty Dog’s first entry on the PS4 hardware. It’s an action-packed romp that utilizes the PS4’s power perfectly for an epic conclusion of Drake’s story. It brings back all the typical crazy action setpieces that are expected in Uncharted but also has a more grounded, slower take on the sometimes over-done “one last ride” trope of action heroes.

While it doesn’t stray too far from the third-person shooter with mild platforming formula established in all the previous Uncharted games, it does add a bit of an open world flair to some of the sections. A few specific areas give you more wide open spaces to explore, and the battle arenas often give you more options than just “start shooting and take cover when health gets low.” A grapple rope, stealth mechanics, and better encounter design make the combat arenas feel less restrictive and more free flowing. The story and acting is also one of the best in the series, although the decision to give Drake a brother we’d never heard of before in this final game is still a bit of question mark.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, if you visited my website before its revamping this past February, you know that the above image was the header image for this blog basically since its inception. I love the Uncharted series because it gives me that Indiana Jones pulp adventure vibe that not many games can replicate. Solving historical puzzles to find hidden treasure while taking part in globe-trotting action is exactly the kind of dumb fun that I enjoy reading, watching, and playing so of course the Uncharted series would be right up my alley.

This is my second-favorite of the series – I really do think the encounter design is the best of the bunch and it has some of the best new characters (and my favorite villain). The set pieces are great and the different locations are jaw-dropping. This game was the first one where I truly just dove into photography mode and had a blast. After Uncharted 4 I wanted every game to have a photo mode so I could be snapping action shots or photographing beautiful in-game vistas. It’s just a great package and a well-done finale for characters I got really attached to over the four games.

My Strongest Memory:

I tried to go into this as blind as possible: I made the mistake of digesting every single piece of pre-release media that came out for Uncharted 3, which made playing the actual game a bit of a disappointment as I already knew all the big action setpieces. So I was waiting to be blown away by whatever crazy stunts were in store that I didn’t know about.

What ended up happening was a game that was a lot more focused on the story and the characters of Uncharted and less about the blockbuster sequences. Sure there was plenty of action gameplay (and an awesome car chase that was probably my favorite sequence of the game) but what really got to me was the cut scenes and what happened in between all the action. I found myself genuinely upset as I got through the ending and the credits rolled, knowing this was 90% likely to be the last game I got to spend with Nathan, Elena, and the crew. This game brought to the surface feelings I didn’t realize I had towards the Uncharted series, and I’m thankful for it existing.

Why It’s #56:

Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece of a pulp action game. It’s not depressing or trying to be cinema like Naughty Dog’s TLOU games. It’s a fun romp with enjoyable characters that I like spending time with. It makes me smile every time I watch this fan-made Uncharted/MI6 mash-up trailer. It might not stick with you if you don’t have as strong feelings about the rest of the series, but I give it twenty thumbs up.

Episode 91 – The Dog With the Car Moment

It’s a new episode of Make Me A Gamer and we’ve got some really up-to-date news that is totally breaking and timely! First Atma and HarveyZ have a discussion about monster girls, before Atma celebrates Mario Day by quizzing Harvey on Mario enemies and what games they come from! Then there’s some discussion about the “new” Pokemon announcements and Atma talks about their experience acquiring a PS5. Enjoy!

(This episode was recorded on March 10, 2021.)

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As always, thank you so much for listening and please leave us ratings and feedback however you’re listening to our podcast! Please stay safe out there and stay out of groups if you can!

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #57

Mega Man 4

Release Date: January 1992 (NA)

Platform Played On: NES

2018 Placement: #70 (+13)

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What It Is:

The fourth game in the Mega Man series.

Oh, you want more?

Well first, it’s the game that introduces an iconic staple of the Mega Man franchise: the charge buster. That’s right, this is the first game to include a charge shot as one of Mega Man’s abilities. It’s also the first game to introduce the idea that maybe it’s not Dr. Wily behind all the bad stuff this time! Your enemy initially is Dr. Cossack and the eight robots are under his command – until, of course, you find out that Dr. Wily was actually behind all the bad stuff the whole time. It plays like any other typical Mega Man platformer – you run and shoot and try not to die from evilly placed enemies. And you get some weird-ass powers from some weird-ass Robot Masters: from the much-made-fun-of Toad Man to the oddly named Dust Man, it’s a very eclectic line-up of baddies.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I originally had this game much lower on the list, but after careful consideration I realized just how important this game was. It was the first Mega Man game that I owned and really was the game that got me into the franchise in the first place. And since Mega Man is one of my favorite franchises it holds a special place in the Mega Man pantheon for me. It has some great music: Dive Man’s theme rocks and so does Skull Man’s. I can also hear the Dr. Cossack Stage 1 theme in my nightmares. And finally, the Wily Machine music is absolutely the most bad-ass 10 second loop in existence. The music + the actual final fight makes it probably my favorite final boss in the entire Mega Man series.

I played this game a lot because it was my first Mega Man, and also preferred it to 5 and 6 (which I owned before 3). There’s just something comfort food about it to me. Despite it not being my favorite Mega Man game, it is one that I’ve probably replayed the most by quantity surprisingly. It feels the best: having the slide and the charge buster is optimal Mega Man performance in my opinion. It also just has the great nostalgia feeling of being my first.

My Strongest Memory:

Skull Man was the first Robot Master I ever defeated. I can still remember my glee at succeeding the first time as a kid and putting Skull Man in a dumpster. But that’s not my strongest memory.

Back in the days of Mega Man, you had to enter passwords to continue your progress. And one of the sticking points is that once you got to the endgame, you couldn’t password into the final stage. You’d always start from the first stage of Dr. Wily’s castle. Or, in the case of MM4, Dr. Cossack’s castle. So you basically had to run through both Dr. Cossack AND Dr. Wily’s castle in one sitting, otherwise you’d lose your progress and have to start over.

So there I was: an elementary school kid, having finally beaten Dr. Cossack’s castle for the very first time. In fact, I’d made it all the way to the Dr. Wily Stage 2 boss. My parents called me to do something so I paused the game and went to do whatever chores I needed to do. When I came back, I had discovered that my dad had UNPLUGGED THE NES because he was VACUUMING and need the plug. I think that was the most furious I’d ever been with my parents (I was a good kid) and I was so upset that my run to Dr. Wily had been ruined by a vacuum cleaner.

It still haunts me to this day.

Why It’s #57:

Look, it’s not the highest regarded Mega Man by the public, but it’s special to me. Every time I tried putting it lower on the list I looked at some of the games above it and went “no, I like this one more” or “this means more to me.” I just have a strong connection to the game that made me fall in love with the Blue Bomber. It’s not the flashiest or the one that gets the most music remixes, but it is a damn quality game and one that I will always champion.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #58

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Release Date: October 23, 2007

Platform Played On: PS3

2018 Placement: #50 (-8)

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What It Is:

If you press me, I’d probably say that Ratchet & Clank is my favorite PS2 era series. The only thing that comes close is the PS2 era of GTA games. Tools of Destruction is the first game of the series on the PS3 and it was everything I wanted in a PS2 to PS3 upgrade of the series. Up Your Arsenal and Deadlocked had done different things with the franchise that I felt were to its detriment (UYA tried to add multiplayer, Deadlocked removed the planet-hopping exploration and focused more on combat) but Tools of Destruction was a return to form.

Ratchet & Clank games are 3-D platformer shooters about the two titular characters and every game mixes crazy weaponry with fun platforming and occasional spaceship battles. Sometimes you control the two separately – and while most people think Crack in Time has the best Clank gameplay, I really like the manipulating of Zoni that is his main signature in this game. Tools of Destruction also adds Raritanium upgrades to weapons, giving weapons additional oomph. They also bring back the Grind Boots in this version, and the grind rails make up some of my favorite set pieces when I play R&C games.

Why It’s Important To Me:

There were several different PS2 era “mascot” platformers – Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper – but I only played R&C and stuck with the franchise. I’ve owned every R&C game except the mobile ones – even the co-op focused All 4 One – and the characters and gameplay just hold a very special place in my heart. Most people say Crack in Time is the best of the PS3 games but I’ve always preferred Tools of Destruction just because of how good it felt to have a “classic” R&C game that got back to its roots.

It introduces R&C staples like the Groovitron and Mr. Zurkon, two of the greatest devices in the history of the franchise. It also has some of my favorite weapons including the Buzz Blades, the Tornado Launcher, and the Negotiator. I also love the Shock Ravager, but in terms of R&C whips I prefer the Plasma Whip of Up Your Arsenal (the one thing I prefer from that game). All in all it’s a blast of a game and the sum of its parts makes it one of the best in the franchise, in my opinion.

My Strongest Memory:

I really enjoy “on rails” platforming gameplay. In the Donkey Kong Country series, my favorite levels are the mine cart/roller coaster/etc. levels where you have to time your jumps to  jump between tracks or over pits, etc. Ratchet & Clank’s grind rail sections activate the same pleasure centers in my brain, so after them not being present in Up Your Arsenal and Deadlocked I was super excited to have them back in this game. I cannot overstate my giddiness when the first grind rail setpiece on Kerwan happened. Simply bringing them back may be a large reason why I hold this game in such high regard.

It’s been a long time since I played Tools of Destruction so I don’t remember much about the specific plot (other than the Zoni and it setting up Crack in Time) unfortunately. But I do still hold the gameplay and weapons/devices in high regard in comparison to other entries in the series.

Why It’s #58:

It’s a Ratchet & Clank game, so it represents a beloved series for me. It deserves a higher spot even if my memory of it is fuzzy. I guess I need to pull my PS3 out from storage and replay this again. Or maybe an HD Rerelease of Tools of Destruction and Crack in Time on the PS5? Insomniac are you listening? Do it!

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #59

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Release Date: November 17, 2003

Platform Played On: GBA

2018 Placement: #45 (-14)

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What It Is:

After the wild success of Super Mario RPG on the SNES, Nintendo followed it up by going down two split paths, neither of which were anything like SMRPG. The first was the Paper Mario path, which debuted on the N64. The second was the Mario & Luigi path, done by the now defunct AlphaDream studio, for the Game Boy Advance. In the Mario & Luigi series, instead of a full RPG party you just play as the titular brothers. And while the combat is turn-based it requires your full attention as you’ve got to get timing down on both the attacks you use as well as defending from the enemies. The result is a unique and very fun battle system that keeps you engaged with the battles as you level up and progress through the story.

Superstar Saga is the first of the Mario & Luigi RPG series and it is still, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. It has Nintendo-brand humor and capitalizes on now-established tropes like Luigi is a fraidy-cat to deliver some great laughs. Bowser gets amnesia, there’s a new villain and a new land called Beanbean Kingdom, and it’s all one big fun romp that is executed very well in both the writing and the gameplay department.

Why It’s Important To Me:

So I kinda stole this game. I borrowed the Superstar Saga cartridge for my GBA to play it from a friend, towards the end of a semester of college. My intention was to give it back after the summer break once I’d beaten the game. And I just sort of…never did. It wasn’t an intentional stealing, I just forgot to give it back because time passed and my friend never asked for it back and suddenly it’s 20 years later and I still have that GBA cartridge somewhere because I still really love replaying this game.

Oops.

But it’s so much fun, and after not really liking the Paper Mario aesthetic I was jazzed to get another Mario RPG that felt more like my jam. The music is fantastic (as usual for games I love) and the combination of abilities in battles AND abilities that help you navigate the overworld really scratched the itch of what I was looking for in a Mario RPG. And while the remake has very nice 3D models, the original has some gorgeous sprite work that I still enjoy.

My Strongest Memory:

Rookie & Popple. Popple’s theme still rocks the house and is probably up there in my top 10 favorite RPG battle themes of all time (no joke). Popple’s theme also led me to one of my favorite video game remixers because I was searching for remixes of the theme (and there were very few) but DJ The S’s remix is top-tier (as are many of his others). Rookie is, of course, amnesiac Bowser and the dynamic between the incompetent thief Popple bossing around a heavyweight like Bowser is hilarious.

I also love this game because it was the first game to bring back the Koopalings since Super Mario World. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Koopalings and they’re probably my favorite Mario characters (hearken back to my number villain love I explained in Kingdom Hearts 2 – it’s kinda based on that) so seeing them show up again here was a delight, as I didn’t yet know that Nintendo would be dropping the Koopalings in everything once the Wii generation came around.

Why It’s #59:

It’s Mario. And Luigi. And they’re in an RPG. With great music, great humor and great battles. What more could you ask for?