DZ's Top 60: #40-31 - Miss Kong-geniality

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

The bastard child of the SNES DKC trilogy, DKC3 had a lot of stigma attached to it: releasing after the Nintendo 64 was already out and people were looking forward to true 3D games instead of just prerendered graphics. David Wise also took on a much-reduced role in the music even compared to the first game, but the true elephant in the room (not including Ellie) was Kiddy Kong.

I've warmed up to Kiddy Kong quite a bit in the years; giving Dixie Kong a decidedly uncool sidekick ensured that she wouldn't be overshadowed in her own game, in much the same way she did to Diddy or that Diddy did to DK. And his scream when he gets hurt is funny.

Where I think DKC3 really shines is in it's level design and sense of atmosphere. Eveline Novakovic, while not as beloved as David Wise, is still a great composer when it comes to softer or eerier tracks, which this game has in spades and gives the whole world an uncanny feel.

The level designs are also extremely inventive, feeling very much like a predecessor to Tropical Freeze having a new gimmick in every stage. Not all of them are winners (FUCK Poisonous Pipeline), but the vast majority of them are interesting and fun to play through, with many using existing mechanics in very clever ways.

This is one of those games that has become vindicated by history, with many people returning to this game with fresh eyes and being able to appreciate it for it's high points. Many would even argue that it's actually better than DKC1 in some ways. Whether you agree or not is up to you, but I can see why there's a valid case for it.

39. SSX3

The appeal of a game like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has a lot to do with it's open levels and ease of movement, but a game like SSX is sort of the opposite. Levels are downhill by nature, so while there may be a branching path here or there, you're largely moving in one direction on a linear path. It's more akin to a racing game.

There is just something about the atmosphere of this game. One of my favorite things to do is, after unlocking the entire mountain, start on the very tip top and just ride all the way to the bottom. It takes half an hour and is all one continuous run, and there's something so incredible about the journey. All the while joined by an in-game radio station playing some banging pop-punk and techno tracks while the announcer delivers amusing local news in between slopes (or you can turn it off and listen to the ambience if that's more your thing).

Obviously there's more to the game than just that, but when I think about SSX3, that's the kind of experience I think about. That experience alone got me interested in snowboarding (a very short-lived hobby since I live in the Midwest and am afraid of going more than 3 miles an hour standing up).

38. Mario Party 3

Now THIS is some god-damned Mario Party!

The fact that Mario Party 3 has a story mode is important to someone like me who never had friends over that often, but the real reason this is my favorite is because of the mini-games.

Some of the most memorable and fun mini-games are from Mario Party 3. I would spend hours in the mini-game room just playing games like Popgun Pick-Off, Treadmill Grill, Mario's Puzzle Party, and Toadstool Titan over and over again.

OK so some of them aren't that fun, I'll admit. That's true of any Mario Party. But this one just has enough winners that I like to play them every now and again.

37. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

I grew up with Zelda II and Ocarina of Time as my primary exposure to the Zelda franchise, and wasn't exposed to the top-down Zeldas until a little later in life, which is probably why I find it hard to get invested in them as much. But I did take the time with Link's Awakening when it came to the 3DS Virtual Console, and I'm glad I did.

Copying what ML said here a bit but it's a little wild to me to think how this game has basically the same scope as A Link to The Past but crammed into a Game Boy cart in 1993. Probably one of the biggest portable experiences of the time.

It's a very fun and unique classic Zelda experience, with a distinct sense of melancholy throughout. This game, as well as another one we'll get to later, do a good job of showing how well Zelda games can convey those sorts of dark, existential ideas without relying on superficial bleakness.

Side note: the seventh dungeon gave me actual, physical headaches.

36. Kirby's Adventure / Nightmare in Dream Land

This is what I would consider the quintessential early Kirby game, even more than Super Star. This game really feels like the blueprint for what Kirby is, the first game with Kirby's copy ability, and the first appearance of Meta Knight and the Star Rod.

There's some debate over the art style in the GBA remake Nightmare in Dream Land. I'll admit that it's not as impressive as the wizardry you see in the NES original (they took out the rotating tower...), but I think the sprite work and painterly backgrounds look nice regardless.

I loved the Kirby series when I was younger. I feel a little more indifferent to it now, with the last Kirby game I played being Return to Dream Land for Wii, but the series still holds a special place in my heart, and Kirby's Adventure is right in the center.

35. NiGHTS into Dreams...

I mentioned in my Journey of Dreams spot that I've always been fascinated with the NiGHTS series despite not having played it until later in life, and having played the first game on Steam in early 2020, suddenly a lot of the pieces in my brain fell into place. All the references I'd seen in the sequel or in the Sonic cameos made sense now.

NiGHTS into Dreams is a game where you play as nonbinary icon NiGHTS and fly around on a 2.5 plane. Collect 20 orbs to advance to the next path, and after doing this four times, you fight a boss. It's a simple concept, but it's fun, very arcade-y which was standard for the Saturn.

What makes it really appealing is the aesthetic. NiGHTS takes place inside the dreams of the children, and there's lots of surreal imagery within the levels. One of my favorite touches is the ground in Soft Museum sloshing around like a water bed for no real reason other than it looks trippy, and I respect that.

The music here is excellent. It's by the same composer as the EU/JP Sonic CD soundtrack, and sounds extremely similar, so if you like that OST, you'll probably like this one as well.

Overall, NiGHTS is a series I think is very interesting in its aesthetics, how it manages to balance the fantastical dream wonderland with a layer of demented nightmare below the surface, and still come out on the side of being sincere and cloying.

34. Sonic Mega Collection

OK I KNOW THIS IS LIKE OMEGA-CHEATING but I'm lumping all the Genesis Sonic titles together in this collection, not just because it's the primary way I experienced them, but because the collection itself is more than just its games.

Let's examine the games you get it in this package first: Sonic 1, 2, 3, and Sonic & Knuckles. You can also unlock all the add-on variants, being Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Knuckles in Sonic 2, and Blue Sphere. In addition, you have Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball, and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, plus two bonus games in Flicky and Ristar. That's a seriously diverse package, and it's great having other styles of games to keep you busy if you need a break from the 2D platformers.

Something else that makes Sonic Mega Collection special is the Extras section, where you can view official Sonic artwork, promo videos and trailer for recent or upcoming games, and browse through a huge collection of Archie comic covers, as well as a complete comic book. It's all accompanied by this melancholy tune that should be very familiar to anyone else who loved to waste so much time in this section.

It doesn't have any save states or adjustable screen sizes that you might expect in a more modern collection, but there's so much content here that I think it still has value.

33. Luigi's Mansion

I just love that the launch title for the Gamecube wasn't a new 3D Mario, nor the next big Zelda adventure, but this weird experimental game starring Luigi of all characters.

Luigi's Mansion is a game that oozes charm (sometimes literally). It's all about exploring and progressing through a spooky mansion, which if you know me, is my kind of game. The visuals are so unlike anything you expect to see from a Mario game even today, and it does a great job of having an actual spooky atmosphere without being too much for younger audiences. I also love how the boss ghosts all have their own personalities that tie into the way you're supposed to fight them, another instance of the game's charm.

The way that you progress through the game, unlocking new abilities and gaining access to previously locked off paths, makes me think of the game as a sort of soft-Metroidvania, though a little shorter than those games usually are. It's a perfect Halloween-time game IMO.


VVVVVV is such a great example of designing a game around a simple idea and doing it so so well.

It's sort of a platformer, but rather than jumping, your character literally inverts their gravity. You can control yourself in mid-air, but you can't change your polarity unless you're on the ground, or you bounce off of a tether.

The level design very much tests your skills even as early as the second level, with later levels becoming very demanding and requiring lightning-fast reaction times and pinpoint precision. And you might be thinking, "oh, so its just one of those brutally hard kaizo-type games, huh?".

To some extent you could say that's true, but what makes this game so much more palatable to me is it's VERY liberal use of checkpoints with no other punishment for death. Challenges are broken up into segments that only take a few seconds to complete (with a few exceptions for optional collectibles), meaning a failure wastes no time and you can jump back into it as much as you want until you get it right.

Not to mention the visuals and music are STUNNING. The game's artstyle is heavily inspired by the Commodore 64, a system I've never played personally, but I always appreciate the bright colors against a black background look. The soundtrack by Souleye is full of some very memorable modern chiptune jams for you to die to over and over.

I played the 3DS version, which also has a collection of really good fan-made levels to play through, so I'd recommend that version for anyone interested in the game.

31. Super Mario World

I never really had a SNES of my own; instead I had a cousin who kept their SNES at my grandma's house, and whenever I came over I would go to her back room that always smelled like Febreeze, where she had it hooked up to a big-ass wood grain TV from the 70s with big booming speakers. I have very vivid memories of playing Super Mario World there.

The game's overworld, with its many branching paths and secret levels, was something that was really appealing to my young mind. I'm pretty sure I have old journals full of crayon drawings I made of my own SMW-style maps stuffed in a box somewhere.

I know I'm talking about my own memories more than the game itself here, but tbh that's kinda how I think about the game. It's definitely still fun to play, but even more than that, it's a potent source of nostalgia for me.


The list so far:

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


31. Super Mario World

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