Top 100 Games of All-Time: #32

Sam & Max: Hit the Road

Release Date: November 1993

Platform Played On: PC

2018 Placement: #23 (-9)

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What It Is:

A staple of the point-and-click adventure genre, Sam and Max is a glorious game where you control Sam (and try to control Max) as they hit the road and go on an adventure. They go everywhere, from the World’s Largest Ball of Twine to Bumpusville (a play on Graceland) to the Celebrity Vegetable Museum. You navigate the world and find clues and items that unlock new locations to visit, all the while keeping track of your inventory and what puzzles you need to solve at every location. There’s no combat, just puzzles and navigating dialogue.

And that dialogue is also funny as hell. Max is an asshole, and Sam tries to keep him in line but isn’t exactly the greatest either. They’re set on a case to find a missing Bigfoot and everything about every situation they get in is absurd but also hilarious. A large chunk of the formation of my particular brand of humor can be traced back to LucasArts’ point-and-click adventures – and Sam and Max is just pure gold from start to finish.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Okay, maybe I should have saved that “formation of my humor” bit for this part, because that’s a huge reason this game sticks in my mind. I wasn’t much of a PC gamer but I replayed Hit the Road constantly growing up, to the point that I could easily navigate this wide open-world puzzle game. It’s one of those games where every time I boot it up I just feel happy and at home. At one point in my life I could probably have recited at least half the dialogue of this game from memory.

It also was one of the games that made me fall in love with point-and-click adventures as a genre. While it’s lost its luster nowadays (as my patience for solving incredibly obtuse puzzles has lessened as I’ve grown older) I still hold the genre on a high pedestal. LucasArts killed it in the 90s with their point-and-click adventure games and I really consider them to be a cornerstone of my childhood in gaming.

My Strongest Memory:

Getting stuck at the Mystery Vortex. Getting stuck at the World’s Largest Ball of Time. Getting stuck at Bumpusville. Honestly I got stuck a lot in this game and had to confer with friends who also played it. Back before the days of GameFAQs and YouTube, the only way to solve getting stuck was to crowdsource with your gaming buddies. And that was a lot of the fun of this game: figuring out the puzzles together. One of us would get stuck somewhere and we’d all chip in to bail them out before getting stuck somewhere else. It was the water cooler talk of elementary school.

It was also the first game that made me fervently wish for a sequel. I longed for a new Sam and Max entry, prayed for it. When Telltale finally revived it I was absolutely ecstatic. Unfortunately their episodic games weren’t up my alley as much as the original – still perfectly fine and I was glad to get more Sam and Max, but boy they didn’t hold a candle to my nostalgia.

Why It’s #32:

Look, here’s the power of this game: mid-typing this entry I went to Steam and bought it so I could replay it because I jazzed myself up over it. It’s $6. You could do a lot worse with $6. And hey, there’s plenty of internet to help you now so you won’t get stuck nearly as much as I did.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #33

Super Metroid

Release Date: March 19, 1994

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #24 (-9)

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What It Is:

The birth of a genre. The start of a legend. The best game in the entire Metroid series. And probably more. Yes, Metroid and Metroid II both had similar gameplay and map exploration, but Super Metroid was the game that put this genre on the map for me and for a long time this game was heralded in my top 10 of all-time, occasionally even the top 5. You play as Samus Aran, bounty hunter, and have to explore an alien planet by unlocking new abilities that will get you into new corners of this terrifying, brutal world.

You’re equipped with a blaster that can be modified with all sorts of different beams: Ice Beam lets you freeze enemies, Wave Beam adds a wider range while Spazer Beam lets you shoot three shots. The Chozo statues have other gifts as well, from the Power Bomb to the Grappling Beam to the Screw Attack that lets you do damage in mid-air. This iteration of the Metroid formula is probably one of the most famous and well-regarded and it’s easy to see why: everything in the game fits together perfectly like a factory-engineered puzzle. It’s a huge reason why Metroidvania became the genre title many years later.

Why It’s Important To Me:

While the NES was my first console, I’ve always regarded the Super Nintendo as “my” console. It was the one I played the most on and was really formative of my taste in games even 25 years later. I always crave SNES retro-style games and eat them up like I’m starving. The SNES Classic is the only classic console I’ve gotten and I’m considering getting a Super NT as well because why not.

Anyway, Super Metroid was one of those formative games for me. Decades later I still rank Metroidvanias as one of my top genres that I love getting into and I love that the genre has exploded in the last decade. But man, as a kid I remember searching this world top to bottom to find every Super Missile, every Power Bomb, every Energy Tank until I had 100%’d the entire game. I also remember struggling hard to perfect the dash and wall jump with those little alien Etecoons, and yet that was just an extra ability you didn’t NEED. And yet it felt so good to actually accomplish it when I did. It’s the little things.

My Strongest Memory:

The fucking Crocomire. That miniboss has stuck with me forever and will stick with me until the end of time because of it bursting through the wall like a fucking maniac. I thought the fight was over (like everyone did) and then BAM! Crocomire skeleton doing a Kool-Aid Man impression. I may or may not have screamed in utter terror because I wasn’t expecting it in the slightest.

Fuck the Crocomire.

I also remember falling in love with Ridley’s theme. I can’t say it’s the first video game music I truly bopped out to, but it’s close to one of the first that I distinctly remember going “yeah, this is the good shit.” And yeah, we’ve gotten about fifty-gazillion variations on it now but it’s still one of my favorite OG tracks.

Why It’s #33:

I regard this game as the progenitor of a genre. While it used to be a top 10 game, the absolute glut of high quality Metroidvanias has distilled its relevancy some. I do still love it and think it is a classic in every sense of the word, but personally I have less of a chance of picking it up and replaying due to all the other options that keep coming out. And modern gamers might find they resonate better with games like Hollow Knight or the later Castlevanias. But it’s still absolutely worth playing to see where the Metroidvanias really started getting their groove.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #34

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Release Date: March 5, 2001

Platform Played On: N64

2018 Placement: #25 (-9)

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What It Is:

A typical late 90s/early 00s mascot platformer on the N64, except throw everything typical out the window and replace it with an alcoholic squirrel, sunflowers with boobs, an operatic turd, Gregg the Grim Reaper, and more. Nintendo has always had a kid-focused, family-friendly vibe and Conker’s Bad Fur Day throws that image out the window in one of the crassest, absurdly dumb platformers in the history of gaming. And yet it’s still hilarious and fun to play.

I can’t say how well it holds up because it’s been a long time since I’ve played it, but for a slightly edgy teenager in high school this game was the absolute best. You play as Conker who is trying to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend and interact with a whole bunch of irreverent characters. Parodies abound as the game hits on all sorts of pop culture from the 90s, from The Matrix to Saving Private Ryan to Aliens (which isn’t from the 90s, but everyone was still hyped about the Alienverse then ok?) The gameplay is mostly platforming but with all sorts of other genres thrown into the blender of “would it be funny? then yes let’s do it.”

Why It’s Important To Me:

There’s always been humor in games. But Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a revelation to me. A lot of the humor is low brow and you’re not really going to laugh much if you don’t like the occasional fart joke. But there are a whole lot of clever moments interwoven with every time Conker belches after drinking to much or gets cursed out by a pile of money. Slightly before Max Payne perfected bullet time as an actual mechanic, Conker’s Matrix sequence emulated the movie in a video game and I was both in awe and laughing my ass off at the absurdity of a squirrel imitating Keanu Reeves.

After a lifetime of being a Nintendo kid and eating up their brand of video games, I really appreciated the lengths Bad Fur Day went to both have competent and interesting gameplay and also buck everything that was typically associated with these sorts of mascot platformers. One of the early missions in the game is doing a fetch quest to find ways to tickle a big-breasted sunflower so a bee has the chance to “pollinate” her. You won’t see that in Super Mario 64.

My Strongest Memory:

There’s a few. First, I can’t go without plugging Rock Solid, which is the best song in an amazing soundtrack and I still insist could be played in a regular club and nobody would know the difference. When I reached Rock Solid in the game, I probably jammed out to (and watched Conker do the worm to) this for a good half hour. I love it. Then, in the same vein of music, there’s the Great Mighty Poo boss fight. Yeah, it’s gross that you have to fight a giant turd. BUT THE TURD SINGS OPERA. And it’s a damn catchy song. I was disgusted, yet laughing. It was awesome.

But the biggest thing that stuck with me about this game was the ending. A game entirely based on humor and nonsense and out of nowhere it pulls a huge swerve and gives one of the most nihilistic, depressing endings of any video game ever. I remember sitting there as a teenager, shocked, thinking “wait, that’s really how they’re ending this game?” It was a huge mood whiplash and honestly is a big reason why this game still resonates with me today. If it were just shitty humor, it’d be one thing. But they manage to pull off an out-of-nowhere ending and still made it feel earned. That’s the golden age of Rare for you.

Why It’s #34:

Maybe this game should be lower. Maybe I should play it again and realize it’s mostly teenage potty humor and I probably won’t laugh as much. But on the other hand, there really isn’t a game like this. Yeah, there are games like Duke Nukem 3D and Leisure Suit Larry who wear crassness on their sleeve but Conker’s Bad Fur Day somehow manages to be both dumb and intelligent while not feeling like either is out of place. It’s a true master class of design and the pinnacle of these types of platformers, in my opinion.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #35

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Release Date: August 15, 1992

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #28 (-7)

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What It Is:

The Super Nintendo follow-up to the NES Turtle brawlers, which could also be considering the follow-up to the arcade game since this also had a version released as an arcade machine. Turtles in Time adds the fun mechanic of throwing Foot Soldiers at the TV screen which never gets old, but otherwise sticks to the same formula that other brawlers followed.

It doesn’t do too much in the way of innovation, instead it mostly just excels at doing exactly what it sets out to be – a fun brawler starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It includes classic villains as bosses like Baxter Stockman and Slash, stylizing the Saturday morning cartoon versions in perfect video game format. The traveling in time format adds a bunch of cool new level types to the game as well instead of just traipsing through Manhattan for the twentieth time.

Why It’s Important To Me:

As I said in my entry for TMNT 3, the Turtles were just a huge part of my childhood growing up. And Turtles in Time was just the perfect video game for anyone who loved the heroes in a half-shell and wanted to use their own turtle power. I played it in the arcade, I played it at home with friends, I played it whenever I wanted good co-op brawler action because until the N64 came out and Goldeneye became a thing, brawlers were the best way to play anything with friends.

I loved getting to see fully realized sprite version of Bebop, Rocksteady, and others that looked so much like their cartoon counterparts. Metalhead, one of my favorite random Turtle villains, even gets the spotlight as a boss in this game. And Rat King was riding the Foot Ski in his boss fight, a toy I owned. It was just fantastic all around and the game is pure nostalgia for my Turtle loving years.

My Strongest Memory:

“My Toe! My Toe!”

“Big Apple! 3 AM.”

“Let’s kick SHELL!”

I can hear all these quotes from the game in perfect cadence. It’s unbelievable how all the little sound bites from this game live rent-free in my head nearly 30 years later. And there’s the awesome music like Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee. And of course the final boss theme is an all-time great. If you love TMNT you can’t help but love this game because it’s the best of everything.

Why It’s #35:

It’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m just basically reiterating everything I said for the TMNT 3 entry, except in this game it’s perfected and turned up to 11. They even included the Pizza Monsters! C’mon, if this isn’t a love letter to all things 90s Turtles, I couldn’t tell you what is.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #36

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Platform Played On: Wii U

2018 Placement: #19 (-17)

What It Is:

It’s fucking Donkey Kong.

Okay, so when this game was announced, it was turned into somewhat of a meme at the website I was a part of because somebody made a full post stating how upset they were that Retro Studios was working on another “fucking Donkey Kong” game. And I’ll never forget that description and reaction of this game because it was pure dismissal of a game simply because it was a platformer that was slightly cartoonish instead of Metroid Prime 4 or whatever they wanted.

Anyway, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is Retro Studio’s second attempt at the DKC platformer franchise and it’s hands-down the best of the entire series. From David Wise returning to compose songs, to the level design that allows for Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong all to be useful partners, to creative new enemies and bosses, to the tight platforming feeling every character has, everything about this game excels. It’s a masterpiece of a platformer.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, the Wii U wasn’t a very successful console. But I bought it because I had to play Tropical Freeze. No joke, this game was the Wii U system seller for me. (Now if I’d known it would be rereleased for the superior Switch later I’d probably have passed on the console entirely, but you live you learn.) It lived up to my expectations as well. I wanted the Kremlings and K. Rool to return, but the Snowmads actually had just as much personality as the Kremlings. The level design was also fantastic, from mine cart levels like  Sawmill Thrill to the cool backgrounds and mechanics of Scorch ‘n’ Torch.

And of course, David Wise’s stellar soundtrack. Another fantastic collection of songs that were both completely new and remixes of older works. High Tide Ride is probably my favorite track of the entire game, possibly because I love the mine cart levels and this one is a great track that escalates once the cart ride starts. Then there’s Irate Eight (FOUR VERSIONS OF IT) which is a remix of the incredible Lockjaw’s Saga from DKC2. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Punch Bowl, which is a fucking banger of a boss theme. This is a game that knocked the soundtrack out of the park and proved David Wise has still got it.

My Strongest Memory:

Funny enough, the thing I remember the most is getting hyped for the game due to the release of the Big Top Bop theme. I was like “okay, David Wise is composing so this game’s gonna have good themes, the boss tracks will probably be pretty awesome.” And then the thread of its release was just everyone being blown away by a fucking shredding electric guitar in Donkey Kong Country music. I think that was honestly the moment that this game was going to be something special for me – that first time listening to Big Top Bop.

Of course, then there was also the mine cart levels – both Sawmill Thrill and High Tide Ride were highlights of the game for me as I was grinning like a little kid when the carts and music kicked in for both of those levels. I don’t know why the little part of my brain shoots out the happy chemical when I’m riding in a mine cart as DK, but it does and I would neverchange it.

Why It’s #36:

I think this may be the best platformer of the modern era. The controls are tight, the music is tight, the art design is tight, everything is tight. There’s even a Funky Mode on the Switch version that makes it easier for new players to get into. This game just rocks, even if it is just fucking Donkey Kong.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #37

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Release Date: September 7, 2018

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: Unranked

What It Is:

Insomniac got carte blanche from Marvel to make a AAA game for whatever superhero they wanted: they chose Spider-Man. And what a good choice it was. The game takes place in an open-world-ish Manhattan and the tone and fun of the game is right up Insomniac’s alley. The combat is cribbed from Rocksteady’s Arkham but feels more fluid and Spider-Man-like. They nail the web-swinging and include plenty of characters from the Spider-Rogue’s-Gallery like Kingpin, Shocker, Rhino, and more. It also has an amazing photo mode worthy of the Amazing Spider-Man.

It is, in my opinion, one of the most definitive Spider-Man experiences out there. The story includes sections for both MJ and Miles, and while the sections where you don’t play as Peter/Spider-Man tend to drag a little bit the character moments still make them worth it. And I really respect Insomniac for writing a Spider-Man story that doesn’t rely on big “twists” – it’s just a good use of all the characters involved in the universe.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I know I’m not special when I say Spider-Man was my favorite superhero growing up. He’s always been one of the more wildly popular comic book characters, even outside of people who read comics regularly. But getting to play as Spider-Man, having a game where the web-swinging really makes you feel like Spider-Man, having a story that feels authentically Spider-Man…all of it was a dream come true for my inner child that has been waiting for this game since they played Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage on the Super Nintendo.

It’s one of the few open-world games where I never used fast travel – it was too much of a joy to swing across the city from one objective to the next. The humor moments in the game were fantastic. The boss fights were good to great, and the emotional payoff of the final boss was well worth it. This game is a Spider-Man fan’s dream come true and I can’t gush about it enough.

My Strongest Memory:

There’s a lot of strong character moments that really stood out to me. There’s a sequence in the middle of the game where Peter has a text message conversation with MJ and it was perfectly executed. Peter’s relationship with Aunt May was also well done, the quiet moments where you return to the FEAST shelter and talk with her and others are fantastic.

On the other side, finding Taskmaster and fighting him made me geek out (because he’s one of my favorite villains/characters). Fighting Electro and Vulture at the same time was the combat highlight of the entire game as it was an aerial battle that just felt authentically Spider-Man. Yeah, it’s fun to be on the ground and beat up criminals and dodge attacks, but being in the air, swinging around trying to take out two supervillains at the same time was just…chef’s kiss. I’m running out of adjectives to describe my feelings about everything in this game.

Why It’s #37:

This game is exactly what I wanted out of a Spider-Man game. I got a Spider-Man PS4 Pro, I got the limited edition with statue version of the game, and I Platinumed it pretty easily. After also playing Miles Morales, I can’t wait for Spider-Man 2. Insomniac has created a definitive Spider-Man world in video games and I’m looking forward to playing more games within it.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #38

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Release Date: March 20, 2020

Platform Played On: Switch

2018 Placement: Unranked

What It Is:

The Switch version of the wildly popular simulation game that started back on the Gamecube. The game is all about going into crippling debt to a capitalist raccoon while maintaining your house and island and being friendly with all your neighbors, except for when you want a cooler neighbor so you kick out the people you don’t actually like.

Okay so that’s the cynical version of the game, but this is one of those games where the goals are what you make of it. There’s no dating, no skill trees, no combat (except vs. tarantulas). It’s just a slice of life simulator where all your neighbors are anthropomorphized animals. There is a “credits” sequence once you reach the goal of having the famous K.K. Slider perform at your island. But then the game continues because it’s not about “finishing” it, it’s about relaxing and having a good time with your buds.

Why It’s Important To Me:

It’s kind of fitting that I’m writing this the day I got my second COVID vaccine shot, as Animal Crossing was the game that made the first half of this pandemic bearable. I’d never played a game in this series before because I never really “got” simulation games. But after lockdown suddenly happened to everyone, I downloaded this game as a distraction and to try it out. And let me tell you, it’s been worth every penny. It’s a game that hits the perfect spot of relaxation when I don’t want to play something competitively.

Every morning I would wake up and check on my villagers, do a little weeding and island beautifying, and work towards my goals of making my perfect house. I became best friends with Sherb, who is far away my favorite villager and will always be my best bud. Marshal and O’Hare are my bros, Nana, Bunbun, and Sprinkle are my gals, and Monty is the crotchety old monkey who lives in the corner but we all love him anyway. I’ve gotten to the point where I wouldn’t trade any of my 10 villagers away for anybody else, even the elusive Raymond, because they’re like an extended video game NPC family to me. Even when I don’t play the game for a while, they’re always excited to see me come back to the island and visit for a day or two.

My Strongest Memory:

The crazed turnip rush of the first few months was a highlight of the entire experience. Comparing stalk market prices, sharing friend codes, visiting other people’s islands and marveling at how nice they were, and of course making those bells off turnips so I could improve my island. It was a refreshing community to be a part of when in-person communities had been shut down indefinitely. There was never any bad blood in the sharing of islands and it was just a nice, wholesome time to spend with other people.

There is also the fact that not a single character in Animal Crossing judges you for your appearance. When I changed up my look, I cried because Sherb and Monty and Rowan and Nana all greeted me the exact same way and complimented me. It was weirdly affirming to see these companions of mine so readily accept me for who I was, no matter how I looked or what I wore. It sucks that I can’t change my name (please fix that Nintendo, please) but otherwise the denizens of AC are such a supportive crew and these little pixelated friendly creatures mean so much to me.

Why It’s #38:

When I think of COVID and the year spent in lockdown, Animal Crossing is always going to be the first game that comes to mind. It was an escape to a community when we were all divided from them. It was relaxing when the world was stressful. It was the perfect game released for the perfect moment, even if that moment lasted a year and sucked for everyone. Sometimes a game is worth more than just what’s done when you play it, it’s the memories made and the feelings it gives you. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replicate the experience New Horizons gave me, and I’m not sure I’d ever want to.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #39

Metal Gear Solid

Release Date: September 3, 1998

Platform Played On: PS1

2018 Placement: #38 (-1)

What It Is:

The game that put Hideo Kojima on the map. Metal Gear Solid is a classic in every sense of the word. Solid Snake took the gaming world by storm when this tactical espionage action game hit the Playstation in the late 90s. The main gameplay is using Snake’s stealth skills and cardboard boxes to sneak around Shadow Moses Island as you try to thwart a terrorist threat. You gather more and more equipment as the game progresses, from Diazepam to help you in sniper duels to a Nikita rocket launcher, allowing you to tackle situations in interesting and unique ways.

But the gameplay is only 50% of why this game is legendary. The story of Metal Gear Solid is a tale of spies, genetic viruses, and a team of terrorists from FOXHOUND who have some of the strongest personalities in the history of gaming. The plot is convoluted and was completely unpredictable at the time. (Although it’s not nearly as convoluted as the later sequels get.) But the charm of the characters and the absolute balls-to-the-wall storytelling make this game one of the best in gaming history.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, everyone who grew up in the 90s in the gaming atmosphere had their expectations blown away when Metal Gear Solid hit. The creativity in the game’s puzzles and boss fights were second to none. And it carried such weight in personal discussions. My friends and I loved talking about and playing through this game multiple times, shocked by all the twists and turns the story takes. We would also take turns trying to alternatively stealth through and then blast through every scenario. It was another one of those single-player co-op experiences that made up my childhood growing up with games.

The entirety of MGS is a perfect encapsulation of what gaming was in the late 90s and trying to explain how groundbreaking and shocking some of the material is twenty years later is hard, because the landscape has changed so much. Kojima is a brilliant mind in gaming creation and this game was created when he was at his peak and before his reputation got so big that he started huffing his own creative farts and got a little too auteur-tastic. MGS had a huge impact on me and my gaming tastes in the 90s because after this, I expected more from all games regarding stories and using the medium to their utmost advantage.

My Strongest Memory:

There’s so many. Having to use the back of the CD case to figure out Meryl’s codec number is an inspired, fourth-wall breaking maneuver in game design (that you can’t even replicate anymore due to digital sales being a high percentage of games). And while we’re talking about fourth walls, of course there’s Psycho Mantis who talked to the player directly, analyzed what was on your memory card and made your controller rumble. And the solution to his fight was plugging the controller into the 2nd player slot so he couldn’t predict your movements! It was unbelievable!

The Sniper Wolf fights made me fall in love with sniping in gaming. Trying to survive the interrogation sequence is still hell. Each and every character reveal, from Decoy Octopus to Liquid Snake showing up in your codec. Hell, I can hear the codec noise in my mind on command and when ringtones were a thing I wanted to turn mine into the codec (like every fan did). This game is a masterpiece and the whole game is honestly the strongest memory for me.

Why It’s #39:

We’re getting to the point in the countdown where a lot of these games are gonna be classics and masterpieces that show up in every top 100 list. Not all of them can be in the top 10 or 20. But when I say Metal Gear Solid is a masterpiece, I mean it. Sure, there’s some stupid Kojima humor and perviness, but way less than later games. And while later games improved the actual stealth action gameplay, this one hits the perfect balance of gameplay and story. It’s just damn near perfect, okay.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #40

Alpha Protocol

Release Date: May 27, 2010

Platform Played On: XBox 360

2018 Placement: #40 (=)

What It Is:

A western-style action RPG where your choices matter and isn’t in the high fantasy setting that every other RPG uses. Instead of swords and goblins, you’re put in the shoes of Michael Thorton: a secret agent working for the titular Alpha Protocol who must travel around the world and tackle a conspiracy regarding the agency he’s working for. It’s spy thriller meets dialogue-heavy RPG and it’s one of Obsidian’s finest works.

The main chunk of the game involves going to three different destinations, each of which is peppered with both combat decisions and dialogue decisions that will affect what happens at the other destinations. Your order matters and how you interact with the rest of the game’s cast will make them like you or hate you, which will open up or close off options later in the game. And while it plays sort of like a shooter in combat, there are RPG-like percentages that make the gameplay not 100% skill-based point-and-click on heads to win.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, I love RPGs as much as the next person. But there’s so many genres to explore beyond “evil wizard wants to destroy the world while the protagonist learns the meaning of friendship and there’s also probably magic and a cute mascot animal.” I love James Bond and spy thrillers and Alpha Protocol explores and satirizes this genre at the same time to a wonderful end. Each conversation always has three options, Professional, Suave, and Aggressive aka the three JBs: Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Jack Bauer. It’s so fun to watch Thorton go from raging asshole to smooth motherfucker depending on who he’s talking to.

It was also just mind-blowing to see a game where your decisions actually mattered. It wasn’t just surface-level good or evil choices, either. Getting the right character to like you can make or break your playthrough. But also, maybe you just want to be an asshole to everyone and burn everything to the ground. It’s a true role-playing game that lets you be a superspy and there isn’t anything else on the market that has even attempted this.

My Strongest Memory:

The game, like any good spy thriller, has several romance options throughout the game. Depending on your choices, you can get many different endings in the game. While the ending has a general framework, there are so many branches depending on choices you’ve made during the game and during the ending mission that you can get all sorts of combinations making each playthrough very unique. Some of these endings have you riding off into the sunset with your romantic entanglement.

My favorite character in the game was none of these romantic interests – instead it was the Nolan North-voiced Steven Heck, an absolute gem of a madman. Imagine if Nathan Drake actually acted like the psychopath that everyone says he is when they talk about Uncharted’s ludonarrative dissonance. Anyway that’s Steven Heck. And my happy, romantic ending was Thorton riding off into the sunset with Heck, psychopathic buds who were thick as thieves. God it was beautiful.

Why It’s #40:

There isn’t any game like this. Yes, there are games that let you make choices and have branching dialogue trees. Yes, there are spy shoot ’em up games that give you all sorts of gadgets and ways to get through combat. Yes, there are games where Nolan North wisecracks. But none of them are Alpha Protocol, which manages to have all that and more. When Obsidian’s on fire, they’re on fire, and this game is a prime example of it.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #41

Midnight Club II

Release Date: April 9, 2003

Platform Played On: PS2

2018 Placement: #34 (-7)

What It Is:

A straightforward arcade racer from back in the day when Rockstar made games that weren’t GTAV or RDR2. I never played the original Midnight Club, but its sequel is an absolute delight of a racing game. It is a street racing game and gives you unobstructed streets to drive through for each race. You find your opponents and challenge them in the city, and while there are checkpoints you have to go through, it’s up to you to find the best way to hit all of them as you drive through each of the three cities.

This game is a little more grounded in its arcade racing aspect: the later editions of the game added car-based superpowers which made the game a little more game-y. This focuses more on the typical skills you find in racing games: slipstream and the like. And it is missing the customization that is available in more modern games. But working your way through opponents to finally race each city’s champion still feels good and the actual gameplay of the racing makes this one my favorite of the series.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I’ve never been a huge realistic racing game fan – games like Gran Turismo I could just never get into. And more arcade-style games like Burnout 3 and Spilt/Second I do enjoy playing, but the feel of the racing tends to come second to the excitement of smashy-crashy. Midnight Club II finds the right balance of what I love about in-game video driving without going too balls-to-the-wall.

It also has an absolutely stellar licensed soundtrack, which is unfortunately why it’s not available digitally since Rockstar didn’t want to continue to pay for a lot of the songs’ use. I somewhat credit this game for unlocking my interest in techno and trance music as it has several songs that I would listen to over and over as I cruised through the cities. From Rococco by Kansai to Stealth by Art of Trance, the trance music in this game was legendary.

My Strongest Memory:

I beat every racer but the very last champion in the entire game. While I definitely enjoyed Midnight Club 3 and Los Angeles, both of them, much like other racing games, got harder and harder as you progressed in the game to the point where to succeed against the AI you had to be near perfect. And this was before you got to the fun cars. At least in Midnight Club II, the near perfect race was only required for the final boss of the game. And yeah some of the later races were difficult but it felt manageable.

It was really frustrating to see my completion percentage on my save file be that close to 100% and not being able to beat the last race, but it’s the closest I’ve ever come to completing a full racing game. And that’s another reason why I love this game – it felt manageable in a way a lot of other games didn’t due to how racing AI tends to work.

Why It’s #41:

I love driving to techno/trance music. It’s one of the best ways for me to relax, even if it’s in a high-tension racing scenario. Just navigating the cities to Rococco was a great way for me to find my zen place, so I’ll always rank this particular racer highly.