A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Hey all! It’s been ages since we’ve last written and the universe hasn’t imploded, so we’re all okay. Lately I’ve had another hobby shift. I go through these often, Erin can tell you all about it. In any case, ever since the Summer began I’ve been playing games. I’ve been working too, certainly, but in my off time I play games. Old games and new ones, on any console I manage to dig up.

I have a DS and a wide variety of old Gameboy Advance games at my disposal. I’ve found a lot of old favorites that I’m super relieved not to have sold like an idiot when I was twelve. And playing these things has only jogged my memory and made me remember which games were the best, and which ones were clearly the worst. Right now, I’m gonna go ahead and list the absolute best ones I’ve played–and that means played in their entirety, not a halfass thirty minute hit-and-quit. I mean I spent lots of my precious time kicking these games’ ass. I’ll save the best for last.

10) HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN 

A lot of knowledgeable gamers tend to avoid video games based off of movies. Before I myself developed this (unfair) movie-to-game prejudice, I liked this game. A lot. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I was essentially playing Final Fantasy, but with Harry Potter protagonists, items, etc. Another FF-clone game I had was Eragon, but it was nowhere near as good as Prisoner of Azkaban was.

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Playing through this game the first time was challenging, almost overly so for a preteen boy. But strangely, playing through a second time allowed you to stay the same level you were when you last completed the game. The first time I beat the game, I was something like level 20, and the Whomping Willow was the hardest sonofamother in the whole game. After beating the game five times, I was level 70-something and the tree was my bitch.

9) POKEMON FIRE RED / LEAF GREEN

These games were great for many reasons. Opinions differ on Pokemon games these days, and that’s okay. But I enjoyed the Kanto region of Pokemon much more than I did the Hoenn. Pokemon Leaf Green (my own personal cartridge) offered the Vs. Seeker, which solved the stupid problem of not being able to rebattle trainers whenever I damn well pleased. As a result, the game was easier and lighthearted. I felt that the only way for me to beat Hoenn games was to choose Torchic and power raise him to level 70, leaving no experience for the other Pokemon in my party (they were all HM slaves).

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Pokemon was our favorite RPG before we knew what the acronym stood for. These games got tiresome after a while, but I will say that I’d never anticipated a handheld game so much as I did with Pokemon. While they’ve lost a lot of their magic (old and new games alike, to me), I’m still overcome with weird, tingly senses of nerdy nostalgia just thinking about these games.

8) ADVANCE WARS 2: BLACK HOLE RISING

Here’s a bit of a disclaimer to start us off: I’ve never beaten Advance Wars 2. But in terms of gameplay hours spent chipping away at this stubborn game’s story mode? It’s on par with some Pokemon games. Oh my jeezors, is this a tough game. Lots of Internet fans like to announce that this game’s easy, and that it’s their favorite and they’ve beaten it loads of times. Well it’s not. It’s tough, buddy. So shaddup.

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From the get-go, you just kinda know this game is gonna take all of your smarts. Like, all of it. Because the tutorial levels themselves are a little bit rough around the edges. There are ways to screw the tutorials up, and they’re not at all obvious. Once you get into the main game, though, no one’s helping you anymore. The strategy is not predetermined; it’s up to you to create and assign your units, and if you do it wrong, you suck and you die. It’s a killer turn-based-strategy game that makes eight-year-olds cry. Regardless of its difficulty, it is still a very impressive game and deserves its place on this list. It is one of the few brilliant games that brought me into the world of thoughtful, decision-based gaming.

7) POKEMON MYSTERY DUNGEON: RED RESCUE TEAM

This game was as unique a Pokemon game as ever. It was released alongside Blue Rescue Team, which was for the DS. Because all I had was a GBA, I bought Red Rescue Team, curious to see what kinds of weird changes in gameplay I’d see. In all honesty, there were some things I like more about this game than all of the other Pokemon “version” games. Rescue Team, Conquest, Gale of Darkness, Colosseum, Ranger — all of these are Pokemon titles that have experimented in other facilities than same-old, battle-to-battle gameplay. And in my opinion, Red Rescue Team did a very good job in its own right.

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This game was a new take on Pokemon, with an entirely new formula. It incorporated side quests, dungeon crawling, unique bosses, and limited Pokemon access until much later in the game. I enjoyed being a Pokemon (the story goes that you are an amnesiac human in the body of a Pokemon… hmm…), and having a partner who helped balance out your battling dynamic was definitely a good choice on the developers’ part. It was a great game with great franchise potential, but I don’t think we’ll be hearing any more from it. Recent Mystery Dungeon titles on the DS have scored very poor ratings with critics, the main problem being that people tend to label it a shameless copy of ChunSoft’s “Mystery Dungeon” series, just with Pokemon. While that may be true, the gameplay didn’t hurt a bit.

6) KIRBY’S NIGHTMARE IN DREAMLAND

The Kirby series gets an absurd amount of praise, and I’m not complaining. People seem to like the fact that Kirby, who can copy other monsters’ abilities by swallowing and digesting them, can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. You can beat a level by swallowing a sword guy and slashing dudes to death; you can finish a level by breathing fire on dudes; you can finish a level by jumping repeatedly, floating up by the ceiling over all the enemies’ heads, straight to the door that exits the level without ever killing anybody. No one effs with Kirby.

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Kirby is a lovable-as-hell, one-of-a-kind platformer that is chock full of bosses, fun powerups, and creativity. The music was great, the combat was great, and the story was… interesting. Might I mention that the myriad of bosses you fight are typically easy as shit, while the final boss is unbearably difficult? It’s like playing Pong, and then suddenly getting dumped into a Mega Man boss fight. Wow!

5) DRAGON BALL Z: THE LEGACY OF GOKU II

This game improved upon many of the obvious flaws in the first Legacy of Goku. And to be honest, the first game was still pretty cool. But it needed work. The second game was awesome. In the first game, you could only play as Goku. The second game gave you five characters, four of which eventually became Super Saiyan badasses that destroyed evil ass. Saving was made much easier; the clunky item system was revised by pretty much removing it entirely; the storyline was better (the first followed Freeza’s story roughly, the second covered Cell); and a great level system was implemented which let you polish the characters you liked best.

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The ass-kickery was noteworthy and the casualties (theirs, not yours) were many. This game was good enough to draw you into the series; I learned much of what I know about Dragon Ball from playing this game.

4) MEGA MAN & BASS

Here’s another one of those “I ain’t beat that shit yet” games. The key word is “yet,” because I still play it… but honestly the phrase that comes to mind when considering Mega Man & Bass is “I ain’t gonna beat that shit ever.” This game is hard. The first tier of bosses is hard. No matter how many damn lives you have, this game is hard.

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But if this game gets any awards from me, it gets the “Most Time Spent Playing in Vain” game award. I played this game to death, and even though I rarely ever beat the levels I was stuck on, it was still somehow fun and fulfilling. Nowadays, I spend my time on Youtube watching “Mega Man ‘Perfect’ Runs” — people beating whole levels of Mega Man & Bass without taking any damage at all. And here I am, getting my ass handed to me. Son of a–

3) SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4: SUPER MARIO BROS. 3

Super Mario Advance is a line of GBA games that are basically old games that are put into GBA cartridges and sold all over again. If any old Mario game deserved to be resold, that’d be Super Mario Bros. 3.

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This game starts out fun as hell, and then becomes frustrating as hell. But all the while, I think, I enjoyed it. The reason is because when I die, I know it’s my fault. The physics of this game are pretty much flawless. They’re like set-in-stone laws that dictate your exact movements, especially so later in the game. Timing gets to be very crucial, unless of course you wear Tanuki suits all the time in which case you can do whatever the hell you please. You’re a freaking Tanuki. This game is one of my favorites.

2) FIRE EMBLEM: THE SACRED STONES

Somewhere, at this very moment, someone is holding a GBA, playing this game for the very first time. “Holy shit!” they exclaim. “What a compelling story!” That assertion is correct. Fire Emblem is the mafia mob boss of compelling stories. Interesting and commonly known fact: Advance Wars and Fire Emblem are developed by the same group, Intelligent Systems. There are similarities between the two: both are turn-based strategy games. Both typically portray their protagonists in anime-style. Both game series deal with battles between good and evil.

The similarities pretty much end there. While Advance Wars is the more strategic of the two, Fire Emblem retains a lesser level of difficulty that is offset by its myriad of characters, always-interesting plotline, and crucial tweaks in gameplay mechanics. In Advance Wars, you gain resources which you use to churn out new military units. In Fire Emblem, each unit is special. You can’t create them, they just join forces with you; if they die, they’re gone forever. There’s no replacing them.

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Of the two Fire Emblems to ever come out in the US for GBA, I like Sacred Stones the best. The reasons are as follows: because it’s a bit easier (no shame); because I like the characters better; because of the system of characters choosing their classes. As an example for the latter, Amelia the Trainee can choose to become a cavalier or a knight. Your choice in the matter is both pleasing and strategically advantageous. It’s a damn near flawless game.

1) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: THE MINISH CAP

It’s a wonder that more people don’t stop to appreciate this game. The fact that Capcom, the developer of Mega Man, was the first team to step in and make a brand new GBA Zelda game–and make it correctly–baffles me. But the music was brilliant, the playing was familiar, the bosses were awesome, the items were both old and familiar / new and innovative… I mean seriously! How in the hell did people forget this so quickly?

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Nintendo rarely ever lets third-party developers goof around with their golden adventure series, and when they have, it’s usually ended in disaster (like that weird-as-shit Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon CD-i game that Nintendo is trying to forget about). But Capcom did so, so well. The story itself was new and innovative–none of that Ganon shit, in Minish Cap there’s Vaati, a wizard jerk who sucks. It was the first handheld Zelda game that actually made me feel compelled to advance in the story because I wanted to know what happened.

And the overhead gameplay? Finally done correctly. It felt awesome. It almost makes me feel like the original game–The Legend of Zelda–deserves an updated, HD remake with better storytelling and graphics and all that snazzy stuff.

Almost.

RESPONSES

Thanks so much for reading my opinions. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you own a GBA, or you’ve owned one before. Here’s a little secret: I have in no way, shape, or form played all of the games available for GBA. If you believe that there are games that easily outrank some of the ones on my list, please list them in the comments and I’ll be happy to try playing them. I may have even played them a little before, but I haven’t beaten them or gotten the full experience!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

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