God Hand’s penultimate fight pits Gene against his rival Azel in a knuckle-breaking slug-fest that demands that the player understands every pillar of the games mechanics. To stop him from resurrecting the ancient devil Angra, you need to pick and choose your moves to beat his, to reposition to gain a tactical advantage, and to bob and weave around counter attacks that can lead into a button mashing power struggle you’ll feel all the way down your arm. And just like main character Gene, Azel can activate the supreme powers in his arm and execute a fast-action barrage thanks to his God Hand. To beat him, you need the full cooperation of a focused mind and tuned body.
The Legend of Zelda opens with Link in the small clearing of a lush Hyrule forest. At that point, the entire world is a single plot of land that exactly fits the dimensions of modern 1987 television screens. Take a moment to survey your surroundings and you’ll notice four options; you can travel north, go west, or head east, but you enter the cave first. There you get the most classic of all weapons to aid you, a trusty sword. You’re going to need it as the fate of a Princess and her Kingdom rests in your ability to reassemble the eight scattered pieces of the mythical Triforce of Wisdom and defeat the sinister Ganon.
Contra: Hard Corps opens to a robotic army assaulting a sprawling future city only to be decimated by a charging tank that ejects your character guns blazing into an active warzone. Not only does this succinctly indicate where the games tonal priorities are, it’s also the designers giving you some honest advice: charge forward until every enemy is demolished. Hard Corps distilled Alien War’s brazen creativity down to its run and gun foundation, creating a single minded epic that is equal parts twitch shooter and blockbuster action flick.
Adam Freeland’s ‘Fear’ is an inspired anthem for the push into Rez’s fifth area. The true expression of its ideas, Rez uses its slow opening tempo to kick start a metaphor for the beats of early life, the sample ‘Fear is the mind killer’ scratched over the vacant landscape of a vast digital world as you blast a squadron of enemy planes out of the sky. The techno-trance composition builds as the environment does, the basic geometry evolving terrain and developing an ecosystem of flora and fauna. But it’s also a lyrical representation of its central theme. Rez is a sensory saga of sound and light, a metaphor for the pursuit of knowledge and the quest for enlightenment.
It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul, an idiom Metroid Prime explores from a different angle. If Super Metroid’s greatest achievement was creating a cohesive world, where the majority of the game was told organically through the events on screen rather than by traditional cinematic techniques, moving that series into three dimensions needed more than translation, it needed reinterpretation. The most honest move would be to maintain the naturalness of perspective, the harmony of self and environment, and Retro Studios made the wisest, boldest move available to them, designing a first person shooter to capture the spirit of that classic and letting players strap themselves directly into Samus Aran’s suit. The first time an energy beam glances off our intrepid bounty hunters helmet and the flash reflects her eyes off the inside of her visor, it becomes apparent that the old adage holds true.
The first great fight in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is against the corrupted form of the matriarch Queen Bean. The brothers Mario have several offensive targets to select, her crowned head and her two gigantic, body-builder-caliber arms that pound the ground and send shockwaves that injure any plumber that doesn’t properly jump over it. Pouncing on her noggin’ awards you nothing more than damage thanks to those pointy golden spikes, so you quickly decide to avoid that strategy, choosing instead to deflate her arms to knock the thing off and reveal her soft skull underneath. In this dazed state, she takes full damage and hacks up beans that hatch into additional enemies if the timing of your jump is off by more than a few frames of animation and you crack one open.
As is the great curse of every artist, the critic gets the last word. For the burlesque dancer Bayonetta, the Omnitient Critic grades her revue on a six-point scale of dirty Stone to Pure Platinum. It’s a good thing that her routine was so incredibly well choreographed that she can test it against her newest dancing partner, the mysterious and powerful Lumen Sage. The purity of the battle system comes alive against an evenly matched opponent and the vast armies of Paradiso and the hordes of Inferno, on the path to save the soul of a lost friend. So let’s look closer at our provocateurs moves and understand why they steal the show.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy VII had a major impact on me. It marked my introduction to JRPG’s and broke me of my N64 stockholm syndrome and its slow trickle of games to embrace the Playstation, the platform I look back on as the defining point of my gaming life. I spent so much time breeding chocobo’s and grinding that goddamn crashed Gelnika ship that I continued to play for months after I’d killed Sephiroth and avenged Aeris’ famous death. I hadn’t experienced anything like it. Then I came to despise it and what it became in the years after its release. I thought back on the tangled weave of Cloud’s angst and Sephiroths madness and the nonsense turns its plot takes. But when you can no longer remember why you dislike something, perhaps it’s time to return and look with fresh eyes.
∞ Play Time
Out of all of Chrono Trigger’s significant contributions, New Game+ most epitomizes its soul. Not only does it recognize the player’s hard work, allowing them to return to the beginning of its story with all their experience and rewards, it’s consistent with its time-travelling premise. Of course, NG+ would be pointless if the games core wasn’t worth returning to, but it’s a wondrous adventure, stocked with a great cast of characters full of personality. Fitting a premise that can have small moments have big ramifications, it starts with a fateful encounter.
Lights Down, Curtain’s Up
Bayonetta’s prologue starts conservatively, with a nun clad in white quietly praying over a grave. It primes the world’s Victorian aesthetics with a puritanical morality up front that wouldn’t fool anyone who had seen even the box art. That a flock of angels descend from heaven and cut off her clothes to reveal the scantily-clad Umbran Witch underneath who lithely dances around shooting them in the head is perhaps the proper way to open the show.