Watson’s 25 Favorite Video Games of All-Time

Lists. Lists. Lists. I’ve been doing a lot of favorite lists lately, and next up is video games!

The Atari 2600, which represented the dawn of quality home gaming, was released when I was 2 years old… so my whole life has been pretty much framed by the entirety of the video game era.

I’ve owned the Oddessy, Atari 2600, Apple IIe, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, PC, PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii, XBox 360, Xbox One, multiple handheld games systems, and… of course…an Alienware gaming laptop.

Because of the breadth of my gaming history, my list covers the full gaming era and plots across all platforms: early console games, arcade consoles, PC gaming, and modern, ultra-realistic consoles.

I always try not to have multiple versions of a series in my lists, so I will include my favorite installment as a stand-in. Otherwise, half of my list would be Call of Duty...

Ok…let’s do it!

25. Madden NFL ’95

What it was about : An early installment of the annual Madden NFL video game; the most enduring and successful video game sports franchise.

Game Style: Single Screen Sports

Where I played It : Super Nintendo

Why I loved it : This was a big advance in sports video games. The interface, passing, and play calling set the stage for sports games still being developed today. Me and my college buddies would drink beer and play this game for hours. Eventually we had to ban Bill Scarce from playing as Emmitt Smith because the Cowboys MVP was almost as dominant in Madden 95 as Bo Jackson in Techmo Bowl. Fucking, Scarce!

24. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines

What it was about : A group of soldiers, each with a specialized skillset, fight the Nazis in WW2 Europe.

Game Style: Overhead strategy

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : I love overhead strategy games that allow you to sit as a god, commanding tiny soldiers in battle. This one was really good. Instead of commanding full armies, you controlled a handful of specialists who used stealth and skill to take down the Nazis. Each character had specific strengths needed to defeat the enemy: Disguise, demolition, sniping, silent killing. After beating the games, I used the cheat codes which allowed the characters to do things like teleport anywhere on the map or turn invisible. That made the game different, because then the characters became superheroes fighting the Nazis! The problem with the advancement in graphics is that this overhead style of game fell out of favor. Damn, shame!

23. Defender

What it was about : No real story of course, but you are the pilot of a spaceship defending your world from invasion.

Game Style: Left-Right Action

Where I played It : Atari 2600

Why I loved it : It was a simpler time, so the graphics and game play were simple. Still, this was a fun action game that I really connected with. Like a lot of old school games, there was a repeating pattern for the game and once you figured it out, it was incredibly easy to dominate. This was the first game I ever cracked the pattern and amazed my brother with a high score he couldn’t possibly beat.

22. Double Dragon

What it was about : Two brothers, trained in Martial Arts, have to fight through town to rescue a damsel in distress.

Game Style: Two player, left right action

Where I played It : Nintendo Gameboy

Why I loved it : This was a pretty standard game made special by the fact that it was the first handheld game you could play head to head with friends. You plugged your Gameboys together with a cord and were able to play shoulder to shoulder. I remember the day me and Bill Scarce went to a K-Mart to buy our games and connector cables. Had some fried chicken from the Deli. The game was good…

21. Star Wars: Empire at War

What it was about : You are either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, fighting system by system, using space battles and on ground troops.

Game Style: Overhead strategy

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : This is my favorite style of video games AND it is set in the Star Wars Universe. The game had a huge replayability in that even the same level could produce a different outcome on the overall campaign. Also, the result of battles mattered because the strength of your forces carried over to the next battle. So if you win the proverbial battle with only one man left standing, that hurts your ability to take over another system. Lord, I wish they’d put this game on iTunes!

20. Gauntlet

What it was about : A Wizard, Warrior, Elf, and Valkyrie battle through a haunted dungeon.

Game Style: Multi-Directional action

Where I played It : Arcade Console

Why I loved it : Elf…needs food…BADLY! This is the first game I remember where you could play with three other friends. Screw playing with just one friend! That was sooooo 1984! Sadly, most people who play video games struggle to have one friend, so they did often play with strangers…

19. Super Contra

What it was about : Essentially Arnold and Sly are fighting an alien invasion with giant guns and no shirts. Bro!

Where I played It : Arcade Console

Game Style: Two player, left right action

Why I loved it : This game was an action movie masquerading as a video game. It was big dumb fun. This was the first time I think creators realized the power of video games to do things even Hollywood couldn’t. They definitely don’t have the power that comes with UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START!

18. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

What it was about : Four ninja turtles of a certain age somewhere between 13-19 fight the bad guys.

Where I played It : Arcade Console

Game Style: 4 player, Left-Right action

Why I loved it : If Gauntlet was the first big four player game, TMNT was certainly the one that took it to a new level of graphics and gameplay. It looked a lot like the cartoon of the time and the game’s environment was interactive: you could hit bad guys with a manhole!

17. Star Wars: Battlefront 2

What it was about : A domination/capture the base type shooter game; set in the Star Wars Universe. Land, air, and space battle pair the Empire against the Rebels!

Game Style: Open level, multi-player TPS

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : It’s Star Wars! Plus the game play was really sweet! There is no story mode. Just 15-20 minute battles against a lot of other players. The console version was good, but I liked the PC version much better.

16. Soldiers at War

What it was about : A squad of GIs fight through WW2 Europe.

Game Style: Turn based, open level strategy

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : This is the most unusual entry on my list and definitely the least famous. It was turn based attacks, like a role-playing game, where each character had so many movement points, and you had to advance your squad through a map to take out the opposition. Move too far? You don’t get to attack. Stay out in the open? The Nazis may walk around the corner on you. The graphics and narratives were minimal, so I made up a backstory for each guy in my head and developed a plot as I went along. Some would say it was quality role-playing. Others would say I was talking to myself. Six of one, half-dozen of another.

15. Gears of War 2

What it was about : Humanity has moved to the stars and must battle hostile, alien forces trying to destroy their settlement.

Game Style: Level based, TPS

Where I played It : Xbox 360

Why I loved it : It was great game playing. Beautiful graphics. Wonderful story. Amazing voice acting (the lead character is voiced by the guy who voices Bender on Futurama!). I started playing the series at my buddy Phil Ray’s recommendation and we soon started playing Horde online. My kids were really young so I had to play in private this ultra-violent video game where instead of a bayonet, you have a chainsaw at the end of your machine gun to hack up your foes. I knew I wasn’t being discreet enough when then 7 year old Clayton came into the living room one day with his toy handsaw tied to a toy rifle saying “Vroom Vroom. I’m gonna chainsaw the bad guys like daddy!” Poor parenting skills…

14. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

What it was about : It’s the Star Wars movies…but with Legos.

Game Style: Level based action/puzzle

Where I played It : Xbox 360

Why I loved it : Because I clearly couldn’t play my games without scarring my kids (see the previous entry…), I needed some games to play with them. Most kiddy games are dreadfully boring, but this series was amazing. It was cute, smart, and fun! Other properties would get the LEGO treatment, but the original Star Wars films were the best!

13. Tribes 2

What it was about : On some foreign world, two tribes with high tech battle suits feel the need to play capture the flag.

Game Style: Open area, PvP, TPS, Capture the Flag

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : This was the first game I played online with several other players. I finally got ISDN, the predecessor to Cable modems, and was able to meet the demands of online gaming. The action was fun and the in-game tech upgrades were cool. This was a nice quick hit distraction while I was studying for the bar exam; the beginning of my usage of video games to lower my stress level!

12. Counter Strike

What it was about : Absolutely nothing. You shoot each other in cool scenery.

Game Style: Open area, PvP FPS

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : It was an early online game I played. So we could play it online together, I loaded it on the network at my office so some buddies and I could play it together. Great game play and computer scenery that still hold up fairly well.

11. Super Mario Bros

What it was about : Two plumbers fight through a mythical world to defeat a dragon and rescue a princess.

Game Style: Left-right action

Where I played It : Nintendo Entertainment System

Why I loved it : This was the signature game of first Nintendo system and it really advanced home based game play. In emulators I’ve played since, this one still holds up. Later versions would be strong as well, but nothing like the original.

10. NBA Jam

What it was about : It’s about basketball and “On fire!” Boom Shacka-lacka!

Game Style: Single Screen Sports

Where I played It : Arcade

Why I loved it : This two on two basketball game with real NBA stars sporting oversized heads was all 90s attitude! YOU COULD PRACTICALLY SMELL THE MOUNTAIN DEW! It was a ton of fun! I played this in the student center my freshman year of college with my buddies and drank beer!

9. StarCraft

What it was about : Three species, one of which is humanity, battle for resources in the outer reaches of the universe.

Game Style: Overhead strategy

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : It was so immersive! Whether you were playing as humans or an alien race, you had to build your defenses and weapons before the other guys bum rushed you. One of the best attacks was building dozens of cheap and quick to build aliens called zergs. Then you send them all in at once in a “Zerg rush!” It was a beautiful computer effect and very hard to defend against!

8. City of Heroes

What it was about : A city set in a comic book universe allows you to be whatever kind of hero you want.

Game Style: MMORPG

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : First, I could spend hours on the character creator. Picking powers, costumes, and color schemes was better than most games. Then the co-op game play with friends was hours more of fun. I played a regular role-playing team session with pre-Gabbing Geek era Tom Kelly and some other pals! Halbrook even got in on the tail end of my game play before I let my monthly subscription lapse. When you weren’t in team play, solo patrolling was a blast too. Bonus points for coming out of a software company in Austin where their version of Superman was The Statesman…which is the name of Austin’s local newspaper.

7. Tetris

What it was about : You addictively move shapes and put them in a neat order.

Game Style: It’s pretty much just Tetris

Where I played It : Gameboy

Why I loved it : You addictively move shapes and put them in a neat order.

6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

What it was about : Soldiers fight battles against terrorists set on nihilism or world conquest.

Game Style: Open area, PvP FPS

Where I played It : Xbox 360

Why I loved it : Most of these games are A+ but MW2 is the standard bearer. A great first person shooter where you can play in multiplayer mode, enjoy some amazing special forces missions, or jump into a brilliant story mode that toggles between a modern plot line and flashing back to the Cold War era. We have a reverse emulator version of this game on Xbox One and play the sniper levels regularly.

5. Adventure

What it was about : A noble knight, in shape of a square dot, tries to bring a magic cup back to the king’s castle.

Game Style: Open map, Overhead..um… dot

Where I played It : Atari 2600

Why I loved it : It a fun game in the early day of basic graphics. You had to look around for keys and swords to defeat dragons and rescue the cup. The game was so much fun! The dragons were pretty cool for the era and when you’d see one of them they would really scare you! Plus, bonus points for featuring the first video game Easter egg.

4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

What it was about : Set centuries before the events of the films, a young soldier must learn the ways of the Force to defeat the newly empowered Sith Lord.

Game Style: Open area game that is TPS, vehicle, strategy, poker, racing, fighting, and pretty much everything else.

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : The story. It was so immersive and complex. I pray every time they announce a new Star Wars film that they are adapting this movie as a trilogy. In addition to the main story, you could do just about anything. There is even an amazing card game that I wish would be released as a standalone app.

3. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2

What it was about : Russia is really not our friend after the end of the Cold War, but still secretly wanting to do us harm. Very unrealistic…

Game Style: Overhead strategy

Where I played It : PC

Why I loved it : It was such a great series. Of the overhead strategy game style, this was The Godfather. The economy was brilliant. The offenses and defensives were epic and the graphics jumped forward a generation with this iteration. It was also the first multiplayer computer game I’ve ever played. No. I didn’t play it online. I hooked my laptop up to Phil’s with a LAN cable and kicked his ass EVERY TIME!

2. Goldeneye 007

What it was about : Bond. James Bond.

Game Style: Open area, PVP FPS

Where I played It : Nintendo 64

Why I loved it : While there may have never been a video game adapted into a great movie, it did work well in reverse. The story mode was great, but the head to head, split screen action was epic. Again, I played it with Phil at his law school apartment. We’d drink red wine out of brown paper sacks, eat Outback takeout, and play for hours. Addictive as the wine!

1. Super Mario Kart

What it was about : The characters of the Marioverse are race care drivers.

Game Style: Split screen racing

Where I played It : Super Nintendo

Why I loved it : The track racing game was a blast, but it was the four level tournament mode that had me and my high school buddies hooked. This was our 1992! We’d go play paintball and then eat pizza, drink Dr Pepper, and play MarioKart all night. Yeah…we were rebels. The idea was to pop the other guy’s three balloons before he got yours. You’d shoot the green shell, pray you could avoid the deadly red shell, and use the feather to jump and hide. Other versions of this game have been great, but the original still holds up as the standard. Those four simple levels and battling my buddies Bill Scarce, Mike McDermott, and Rich Berryman made this my favorite game of all time.

Honorable Mentions: Elevator Action (Arcade), Paper Boy (Arcade), Operation Wolf (Arcade), Dragon’s Lair (Arcade), Rampage (Arcade), The Simpsons (Arcade), X-Men (Arcade), Mike Tyson’s Punchout (NES), Tron (Arcade), Fallout 3 (Xbox 360), Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360), Doom (PC), Pitfall (Atari 2600), Metroid (SNES), Pilot Wings (SNES), Oregon Trail (Apple IIe).

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