DZ's Top 60: #10-1 - This Time It's Personal



10. Tony Hawk's Underground 2


THUG 2 is a... strange entry in the Tony Hawk franchise. It was released at the height of the popularity of Jackass, and given that Bam Marjera was also a pro skater that had been featured in a few Tony Hawk games before, they expanded his role and made the plot of this game essentially a crossover of the first Underground game and Jackass.


Jackass isn't really my thing, so I always found the story somewhat offputting, especially compared to THUG 1, but IMO everything else here is good enough that I can easily overlook it.


Mechanically, this is one of the most fully-featured Tony Hawk games before they started restructuring things in American Wasteland, which is why this game is used as the basis for the popular THUG Pro mod. The addition of the Hot Rod manual is one of my favorites; it's a manual trick that increases your speed, and it lets you get across the map quickly while still maintaining a combo. It's very useful for speedrunners or just anyone who likes to zoom around the stage.


THUG 2 has a solid stage list of 15, adding great new stages like New Orleans and Skatopia while bringing back classics like School 1, Airport, and a completely redesigned Warehouse with a whole new area to explore. So in spite of the fact that they brought back Downhill Jam, I'm happy with the selection of stages.


This brings me to the reason I like this game as much as I do: Classic Mode. This works a lot like the first three THPS games, where you have a list of 10 goals and you have to complete as many as you can in 2-minute intervals. With 14 stages, this is one of the longest modes of this type in any Tony Hawk game, and it's something that you can sink a lot of time into.


Classic Mode, the Hot Rod manual, and the stage list are the biggest reasons I revisit this game more than any other Tony Hawk game, but I still wouldn't say it's my favorite of all...



09. Star Fox 64


Star Fox 64 was my one of my favorite games when I was little. I remember playing with clothes pins or those twist-off plastic caps from Kool-Aid Bursts as Arwings, and making them shoot at an empty roll of Bubble Tape because it reminded me of the secret boss on Corneria.


But of course, it helps that Star Fox 64 is a really good game even still. The controls feel really good and it's very satisfying to shoot enemies down. Each level offers something different, and all the alternate paths to take give the game a lot of reply value.


But if Star Fox 64 was just a dry on-rails shooter with no characters or dialogue, it wouldn't be half as remembered as it is today. Almost every single line in this game is memorable, if not a meme. Your teammates all give commentary throughout the level, whether it's providing valuable information about taking out enemies or sharing their opinions on what's happening in front of them.


The bosses in this game all have their own personalities, often being snarky or condescending towards you, making it all the more satisfying to shoot them down as fast as possible. And of course I have to mention Star Wolf. Pigma Dengar is one the most love-to-hate characters I've ever known. And as corny as some of the lines can be, the voice acting itself is consistently GOOD, which makes the corny lines all the more enjoyable.


Despite the occasional campiness, I feel like I actually care about the characters. The hard mode ending of the game always makes me cry every single time. And it helps that the music throughout the game has a level of gravitas that Koji Kondo is excellent at writing.


Star Fox 64 is both an excellent game that holds up in its gameplay, as well as a game that I hold a deep emotional connection to. I do hope that the Star Fox franchise continues to live on, but even the best game they could ever make just can't match the impact SF64 had on me.



08. Donkey Kong Country 2


Donkey Kong Country 2 is a perfect example of a game that goes above and beyond in every single category.


The visuals in the first DKC were already impressive prerendered 3D, but DKC2 takes it a bit further by giving the game an even more distinct and vibrant style. Environments and colorful, unique, creative, and rich with detail. There are so many animation tricks that make the worlds look alive, like parallax 3D backgrounds in the ship holds or the dripping layer of translucent honey over the screen in the Zinger hives.


And the MUSIC. My god. DKC2 is a solo David Wise soundtrack, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. The music here is full of ambience and texture while still being very catchy and memorable. Jib Jig, the song that plays in the rigging stages, is a great example of an Irish jig-style song with a catchy melody, but is also interspersed with the sounds of rain and wind that are integrated flawlessly with the music. Stickerbush Symphony, the song on the bramble stages, is an ambient synthwave masterpiece, notoriously requiring several rewrites as it was consistently eating into the SNES's limited RAM. DKC2 is easily my favorite video game soundtrack of all time.


And that's not even getting into the gameplay. Diddy controls fast and fluid as always, and Dixie Kong was a fantastic addition to the series. I think her hover ability makes her a much more appealing pick than Donkey Kong ever was.


The level designs are so intricate and full of secrets, in a way that makes the creativity of the developers evident. The boss fights are more complex in how they're approached, and everything about the game feels carefully crafted. It feels like a magnum opus.


I can't say enough good things about this game, the presentation and gameplay are respected as equals and both of them are absolutely top-notch. Best funny monkey game I've ever played.



07. Super Smash Bros. Brawl / Project M


I'm putting these as one entry because at the core of it, they're just two ways of playing the same game.


Brawl was a game I remember reading about in magazines and watching videos of on the relatively new video platform known as YouTube. It was a cool, weird, and amazing direction for the series.


For as much as Brawl is criticized today, it's important to remember what it brought. The Subspace Emissary was a massive single-player experience with 3D cutscenes showing Nintendo characters (and Snake) interacting with each other in cute and clever ways. It brought 3rd-party characters into the mix, opening a pandora's box with regards to future titles and DLC, but extremely novel at the time to have Sonic and Mario fight each other.


Nowadays, I don't go back to vanilla Brawl very often. The physics are floaty, combo potential was greatly nerfed, and tripping seemingly only exists to punish people who like being good at things. But that's where Project M comes in. Project M is a mod that restores the physics to something much closer to Melee, while also redesigning the characters to fit the new engine.


Many characters who were good in Melee were reverted back to how they played in that with a few minor changes; somewhat controversial since that meant turning characters like Falco back into a straight clone, but personally I prefer clone Falco so that didn't bother me. But the less-good Melee characters and Brawl newcomers all had big exciting changes to their movesets that made it worth checking out even if you already liked vanilla Brawl. And if that wasn't enough, it also brought back Mewtwo and Roy from Melee, and eventually with P+ also added Knuckles as a playable character.


PM and P+ added so many new characters, movesets, stages, QoL changes, and more that were constantly being updated that it was always exciting to check what was going on in the scene. Even after the PM development team disbanded, fans were still making their own packs and branches that there was always some new reason to return to the game. P+ 2.0 dropped right around the same time that ACNH did and gave a lot of people stuck in quarantine someting new to do, and brought PM back to life in a way it hadn't been since 2014.


Also SSE with the weightier Melee-style physics is really fun, would recommend.



06. Super Smash Bros. Melee


Talk about a game that's endured the test of time. Super Smash Bros. Melee is a game that's had a competitive scene going strong for almost 20 years now, and now that we have the technology to play the game in Slippi with rollback netcode, the game is more accessible than it ever was.


Despite owning and loving the original SSB on Nintendo 64, I don't think I even knew Melee existed until a couple years after it came out when I heard some classmates talking about it. I'm pretty sure that was also the year I got a Gamecube with Melee because I remember talking about all the characters I unlocked with those very same classmates. The fact that the game was rated T made me feel like such a badass for owning it.


I loved a lot of the characters they introduced in Melee. Dr. Mario was a really fun surprise, as I was a fan of the NES game and was very shocked and happy that he was represented. The additions of Zelda and Gandondorf to round out the Zelda cast were very welcome, as well as Young Link as a smaller, faster clone of Link which I thought was really fun. Falco, my favorite Star Fox teammate at the time, making the cut was another pleasant surprise. Marth and Roy I didn't know, but I had a lot of fun imagining what their games were like.


As mentioned previously, Melee has persisted as a competitive eSport to this day, and it's one of the first things that made understand the appeal of both hardcore fighting games and sports in general. Melee's physics are fast and weighty, and the added movement options compared to games both prior and since make it a satisfying fast-paced game with a lot of options, where no matter how good you get, you always feel like you have room to improve. Melee was the blueprint for the modern platform fighter as we know it, and for good reason.


I debated whether or not I should put Melee above PM or not, as both games were instrumental in my appreciation of understanding game mechanics on a deeper level, but ultimately decided to put Melee higher for being the first. But really, they're basically tied.



05. Tony Hawk's Underground


Tony Hawk's Underground was a game-changer for me. I remember playing this at a relative's house, mostly because it was the first game I ever saw with a character creator. I don't remember the first character I ever created that well but I know he had blue hair and wore heart-pattern boxer shorts.


Naturally, when I got my Gamecube, this was one of the first games I asked for. I probably just wanted to create more characters, but I quickly realized "oh the actual game is dope too".


I've heard the THPS games described as "3D platformers with the technical depth of a fighting game" and I would say that's true, and a big part of why they appeal to me. It's all about the way you move around in 3D space, with your ability to cross gaps and reach heights dependent on how well you've mastered the controls. The combo system, while useful for getting high scores in the campaign goals, is also just fun to see how far you can take your combos and what kinds of crazy things you're capable of doing without dropping it.


THUG was the first game to let you get off your board. While this breaks the combo system a bit because of the combo run-out timer letting you delay combos for a really long time, it also opens the door to exploration. Sure, it's not as fun as getting to weird places on your board, but it makes it easier and allows you climb up buildings you ordinarily wouldn't be able to.


THUG introduced me to so much music I otherwise would never have been exposed to. Classic punk rock, hip hop, metal; fast and exciting music with an edge to it. It's certainly influenced my taste in music, and is probably why I'm still a fan of punk music to this day.


THUG's story is decent. It's not amazing but it at least makes what you're doing in the campaign feel like it has stakes. After watching your friend Eric Sparrow constantly screw you over at every turn, it's so much fun to get the ending where you punch his lights out. Actually you know what, fuck Pigma, Eric Sparrow is the real god of love-to-hate characters.


I also remember making a lot of custom parks in this game. The park creator is a little limited in some ways, but with some creativity, you can create a skating masterpiece. I made my house in-game once, and it was one of my proudest achievements.


Of all the THPS games, Tony Hawk's Underground to me feels like the most solid package. It's truly the one I'd recommend to anyone who wants to check the series out.



04. Paper Mario


I said I'm not an RPG person, and I'm not, but Paper Mario is so special to me that I totally get why people get so attached to their RPGs.


To me, everything about Paper Mario makes it the coziest damn game ever. The visuals are so pleasant to look at, the music is so pleasant to listen to, and the character designs are all cute. I always wanted to eat some of the dishes that Tayce T. made, or take a walk down Pleasant Path, or bask in the sunlight in Flower Fields and let my allergies slowly suffocate me.


Paper Mario is not a particularly difficult game, which is why it's one of the only three I've ever beaten, but I don't feel like it's so easy that it's not enjoyable to more skilled players. The combat takes the timed hit system from SMRPG and expands upon it to give every attack it's own system of inputs for max damage. The overworlds are also fun to navigate, having many platforming elements particularly in dungeons, and your partners all having unique abilities that can even help you get the drop on enemies.


Sadly I can't think of much else to say about this game because I already summed up why I love it so much: it's cozy. It makes me feel warm inside in a way no other game can and I will forever appreciate it for that.



03. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time


I don't even know what to say about Ocarina of Time that Leo hasn't already said in their massive blog post, but I'll try.


Ocarina of Time's Hyrule was the first fictional world I got truly invested in. I remember wanting to sit by the mist of the waterfall in Zora's Domain, or hang out with Zelda in the Hyrule Castle courtyard. I wanted to hang out in this world. At the same time, this world fucking scared me. The Wallmasters, the Redeads, the entire concept of the bottom of the well, no thank you.


I still have a lot of fun revisiting this game. The dungeons are always well-designed, but they feel like an investment. You go in and don't come out until you're done. I always liked the lead-up to the dungeons more, because you can go at them a little more leisurely, enjoy the NPCs and world-building more.


Like Star Fox 64, this is what I would consider some of Koji Kondo's best work. The sweeping and adventurous Hyrule Field theme, the mellow Zora's Domain theme, the spooky temple themes, there's a lot of variety here. The ocarina itself has five notes to work it by default, and yet Kondo managed to make so many unique ocarina songs that all stand out and have their own feel.


Ocarina of Time is a game I think about whenever I look back on childhood and the way I think about things versus the way I look at them now. Young Link saw a Hyrule that had problems beneath the surface but was overall a nice and stable community. Adult Link saw a fractured world corrupted by evil, but the good people in the world protected each other and tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Sometimes I remember that fan comic of adult Link, after taking on all the horrors of the Shadow Temple, you see him through the Lens of Truth and he's still just a kid. I know that isn't really canon or anything but it's still an interpretation that rings true to me.


I don't remember what point I was trying to make anymore. OoT is GooD.



02. Maniac Mansion (NES)


Right now I bet you're SHOCKED that this isn't number one. I am too, to be perfectly honest. But as much as I love and vocally advocate for this game, there's still one left that had even more of an impact on me.


I've mentioned a couple of times that most of the games I played as a child were hand-me-downs, and this is no exception. Some of my earilest memories are watching my mom play this game when she got home from work, and I would stare at the TV mesmerized by the colorful empty rooms of the mansion and the loud eccentric music blaring from the speakers. The unsettling feeling of seeing the strange red substance oozing out of the refridgerator, not sure if what I was seeing was as sinister as I'd imagined. The jolt of fear when I heard the notorious Edison music start up unannounced as a strange blue-green figure walked towards you, ready to throw you into the barren brick walls of the dungeon.


Those early memories of the game stick in my mind. I still have dreams about the version of the game my young brain interpreted. Nowadays, I know the game like the back of my hand, and realize that the tone is more comical than anything. But I think the early exposure to the game left an imprint on my brain that keeps bringing me back to it.


Luckily, the game itself is WORTH coming back to. Sure, it's a point-and-click adventure that you control with a d-pad, but I feel it was implemented about as well as it possibly could have been. The visual style is unique to this version, making very interesting use of the NES's color palette to give each room it's own style. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if every single color in the palette was used at some point.


I could go into the music but I already have here: https://www.vgfamily.com/post/the-music-of-maniac-mansion-nes.


This game was one of the first point-and-click games of it's type, and the first by Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts. As such, it's a little rough around the edges, with it being deceptively easy to softlock. Future titles like the sequel Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series offer a more refined experience in that regard. But I think Maniac Mansion is still worth playing, for not only taking place in one contained area, but also having multiple characters that can be selected from the start, whose abilities offer many paths through the game with many different endings (if you count game overs, there are 14 different endings in Maniac Mansion).


This game is probably better-known and better-recieved on other platforms like the Commodore 64 and DOS, but the NES version is a cult classic in it's own right (largely due to it's soundtrack). It's a highly-influential game that doesn't always get the recognition it deserves, but as long as I never shut up about it, that can change.



01. Super Mario 64


Super Mario 64 crosses off every possible criteria for me to consider it my #1 game. It's a game that I have fond memories of playing growing up, a game that had a profound influence on my taste in games, and is a game that I still think is excellent today. In fact, I'm going to break those points down one by one:


(1 - Fond Memories) I got my Nintendo 64 when I was four years old, and Super Mario 64 was one of the first games I had. I distinctly remember hanging out in the upstairs area of the castle (in the circular corridor where you can go to Wet-Dry World or Tall Tall Mountain) and just staring at the clouds painted onto the bricks. Looking at the one painting of the sun coming through the clouds in the sky, wondering where that painting could possibly lead to. Vaguely remembering seeing a submarine in the water level and wondering whatever happened to it.


Much like Maniac Mansion, Peach's Castle, with it's emptiness and abundance of doors that lead who-knows-where lending it a sense of mystery, is a frequently reoccurring location in my dreams. Often appearing as locations that are familiar but altered in some way.


Later in life, when I started to get into glitches, this game was ripe with them. Of course there was cartridge tilting where you can make Mario lie on his back while running. I don't condone cartridge tilting btw as it can potentially cause damage or corrupt your game, but I was a dumb kid who didn't know better and liked seeing Mario sideways. There was also the double death glitch where you lose all your health in Vanish Cap Under The Moat while falling off the side, then when you respawn in the water you instantly drown. Had a lot of fun with that one.


(2 - Influential) Like I said before, collectathons are my favorite genre of game, and it likely started here. More than that, it informed what I actually like to DO when I play games. I tend to like games that are task-oriented with an emphasis on moving through and exploring a 3D environment. Games like Tony Hawk's Underground or Breath of the Wild likely appeal to me for this reason.


(3 - Still Slaps) I just finished a 120-star playthrough of the game the night before I'm typing this. The movement in SM64 still feels so good and so responsive, Mario has a very satisfying sense of weight and speed to him. The risk-reward of things like sidejump-dives make quick calculated movements feel so good when pulled off correctly. When you know what you're doing, many of the stars can be collected in a matter of seconds. It's no wonder to me that this game remains a speedrunning staple after all these years.


Super Mario 64 is not only the foundation of my love for games but remains an enjoyable experience that I forsee returning to for the rest of my life. This makes it worthy of my #1 spot in my opinion.

The list:


60. NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

59. Sonic Advance 3

58. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie

57. Friday The 13th: The Game

56. Mario Party

55. Nicktoons Racing (GBA)

54. DuckTales Remastered

53. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie

52. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

51. Super Mario Maker


50. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

49. Mega Man 6

48. Deltarune

47. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4

46. Splatoon 2

45. Tales of Symphonia

44. Mega Man X

43. Wario Land 4

42. Baba Is You

41. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics


40. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble

39. SSX3

38. Mario Party 3

37. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

36. Kirby's Adventure / Nightmare in Dream Land

35. NiGHTS into Dreams...

34. Sonic Mega Collection

33. Luigi's Mansion

32. VVVVVV

31. Super Mario World


30. Mario Kart 8

29. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

28. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

27. Mega Man 9

26. Thimbleweed Park

25. Diddy Kong Racing

24. Super Mario Bros. 3

23. Super Mario Odyssey

22. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

21. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask


20. Kirby Air Ride

19. Rivals of Aether

18. Sonic Mania

17. Kid Icarus: Uprising

16. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

15. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

14. Metroid Prime

13. Banjo-Kazooie

12. Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom

11. Undertale


10. Tony Hawk's Underground 2

09. Star Fox 64

08. Donkey Kong Country 2

07. Super Smash Bros. Brawl / Project M

06. Super Smash Bros. Melee

05. Tony Hawk's Underground

04. Paper Mario

03. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

02. Maniac Mansion

01. Super Mario 64

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