Although my gaming habits hit a roadblock when the current generation of consoles hit shelves at crazy prices, my childhood was spent obsessing over a selection of titles that are still held fondly in my memory to this day. These are the ten games that left the biggest mark on my impressionable young mind.
RELEASE DATE: 1 December 1999
Despite having a relatively large number of games for my brother’s hand-me-down Dreamcast – a collection which was tragically taken to the dump before I was old enough to protest – there were really only two titles that I got substantially stuck into.
The first was Soulcalibur: a seminal 3D fighting game with a fantastic cast of characters each wielding a distinctive deadly weapon. So deep was the impact this game had on me as a child that to this day I follow the series avidly in spite of its continual decline in quality. My love for these games has always stemmed from how easy they are to pick up and play no matter your skill level.
Those who enjoy memorising complex button combinations in order to execute a single special move can find a comparable level of depth here, yet more casual players can jump straight in and start pulling off some neat combos almost immediately. It’s the most accessible fighting game on the market by far and boasts a wacky medieval fantasy story to boot.
In real terms, I probably spent more time playing Soulcalibur IV (Xbox 360, 2008) in my formative years, but the Dreamcast installment is both technically better and holds a more sentimental place in my heart. Plus, the fourth one had Yoda in it (embarrassing).
RELEASE DATE: 25 February 2000
The other Dreamcast title I poured hours of my childhood into was SEGA’s superb arcade port Crazy Taxi, with this initial home console release being the ultimate way to play it. This version of the title contains a banging metal soundtrack, from which The Offspring’s “All I Want” is most definitely the crown jewel. It pairs perfectly with Crazy Taxi‘s manic gameplay, providing an extra level of adrenaline as you race to get that all-important class A license.
Alas, it’s true what they say: you never know what you have until it’s gone. When Crazy Taxi saw a re-release to XBLA and PSN in 2010, its big name licensed songs were stripped away in favour of a more cost-effective generic rock soundtrack. It makes for a sobering experience. While technically nothing about the core gameplay is different, the title lacks a lot of the personality it once brimmed with. Even real-world locations like KFC, Levi’s Jeans and Pizza Hut were removed, replaced with bland imitations that make it seem an even more soulless affair.
Nonetheless, my memories of this original outing remain untainted. It’s a frenetic, high score chasing experience that was without a doubt one of the best titles on SEGA’s final home console. I wait patiently for the day when a new entry in this series is announced, because if done correctly it could be an absolute blast on current-gen technology.
Star Wars: Battlefront II
RELEASE DATE: 31 October 2005
As I never owned a Playstation 2, my earliest exposure to Battlefront II came from afternoons at my friend’s house where most of our time would be spent on Mos Eisley Hero Assault. I reached peak Star Wars nerd between the ages of nine and eleven, meaning that seeing obscure prequel era Jedi like Aayla Secura and Ki-Adi-Mundi as playable characters activated every single pleasure centre in my brain.
I would eventually lay hands on my very own copy of the game when I decided in 2008 that a PSP would be a good investment of my hard-earned birthday money. I was wrong, but perhaps the only redeeming feature of the console was the Battlefront II port that retained much of the content from the home version. While I never could wrap my head around Galactic Conquest or the nausea-inducing space battles, I never seemed to tire of hitting the frontlines of one of the game’s many iconic battlegrounds.
I spent most of my time on Mygeeto, Kashykk and Naboo after discovering that Hero Assault wasn’t quite as exciting in single-player. Nonetheless, the thrill of staging a one-man defence of a command post was worth the price of admission all on its own, and Battlefront II was a mainstay of my UMD drive right up until I flogged my PSP back to GAME. Honorable mention goes to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed which also had a very solid PSP port that proved to be yet another time vampire for me.
Mario Kart DS
PLATFORM: Nintendo DS
RELEASE DATE: 25 November 2005
How do I love thee, Mario Kart DS? Let me count the ways. Of all the entries on this list, it’s quite likely I spent the most time on this one. My parents bought me this game as a Christmas present in 2005 and although its steep asking price of £29.99 was tough to swallow, I am confident that I squeezed every drop of entertainment value out of that tiny cartridge.
There is no greater pleasure to be found on this mortal coil than the feeling of unlocking a new racer on Mario Kart DS. That’s just scientific fact. I remember working so hard to unlock a mysterious figure known as Waluigi, that it kick-started a years long fascination with the character that predates his current persona as an overused internet meme. But that’s not all this game had to offer.
Mario Kart DS was positively jam packed with content, providing 32 tracks to master across both races and time trials, as well as the added challenge of testing your mettle in the distinct Shine Runners and Balloon Battle modes. Sometimes I would forfeit a race for the opportunity to drive aimlessly around tracks looking for secrets or shortcuts, my interest in this game being so intense that it seemed like a wise use of time.
That said, I did frequently trounce my dad via wireless play so perhaps that detailed level of study didn’t go to waste after all.
New Super Mario Bros.
PLATFORM: Nintendo DS
RELEASE DATE: 30 June 2006
I’m fairly sure buying a copy of this game was a legal obligation for every DS owner and rightfully so. Although the cultural significance of a new 2D Mario platformer was lost on my ten-year-old brain, the instantly absorbing gameplay was more than enough to keep me engrossed.
I’ve seen this game described as both easy and short by people online but for me personally it proved to be neither. Cracking into worlds four and seven by defeating bosses with the nightmarish mini mushroom was an absolute ordeal and to this day I still haven’t beaten the final level of world eight.
Still, I enjoyed exploring the game’s distinct environments and at times when the main campaign got too stressful – damn those intermittent save points – I could always take refuge among the bounty of addictive minigames on offer. While the series would later wear out its welcome to some degree, this first installment in the New Super Mario Bros. line deserves to be held in high esteem.
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE: 23 February 2007
While the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Call of Duty were strictly out of bounds under my parent’s regime, occasionally a violent game would slip through the cracks and cross my path. Crackdown was one such title and I absolutely adored it. As the first open-world game I ever played, I remember being both lost and overwhelmed on my first stab at tackling the campaign. But, once I figured out how to correctly navigate the crime-ridden Pacific City there was no turning back.
Although the gameplay behind Crackdown is admittedly very simple, there was something so thrilling about being a one-man war on crime, taking down ruthless gangs against seemingly insurmountable odds. Additionally, while each mission has the same basic structure, the increasingly superhuman characteristics your agent displays succeed at keeping things interesting.
By the time you reach the final boss, you’ll be leaping from rooftop to rooftop and kicking cars down the road like an empty Coke can. Think The Punisher on super steroids and you’re on the right lines. While the first entry is by far and away the best, I am also an apologist for the subsequent two sequels, although admittedly they seemed to prove that this concept doesn’t have much room to grow.
Agent, get that orb! (If you know, you know).
More Brain Training From Dr Kawashima
PLATFORM: Nintendo DS
RELEASE DATE: 29 June 2007
While not a conventional game in the sense of the other choices on this list, I could not deny the wise Dr Kawashima his place in the hall of fame. After all, I spent much of my formative years pushing myself through his tests and while the tangible benefit is widely disputed, there are few things more humbling than being branded with a brain age of 80 at only eleven years old. My current existential dread likely has its roots here.
In spite of this, I found myself coming back for more almost every year. In fact, I’m fairly sure that training my brain everyday was one of my New Year’s resolutions for about four years running. Needless to say, that never happened. Still, I am proud to have completed a whopping 93 per cent of the Sudoku puzzles in this game and really should get around to polishing off the final few.
But perhaps the most fondly remembered part of this game is the good doctor himself. His outrageous facial expressions, emotional turmoil over your progress and general disgust of coriander made him an endearing presence on screen, a teacher who was making people feel guilty about their lack of commitment long before the Duolingo owl.
Wii Sports Resort
PLATFORM: Nintendo Wii
RELEASE DATE: 24 July 2009
As a relatively late adopter to the Nintendo Wii, my console was bundled with both the original Wii Sports and its far superior sequel which I naturally spent much more time with. Utilising the MotionPlus technology to its full potential, Resort is a delightful collection of sporting events sure to spark bitter rivalries in almost any household.
In addition, setting the game on Wuhu Island was a stroke of genius from Nintendo as the idyllic location is utterly bursting with personality and charm. So much so that some of my favourite minigames quickly became those that allowed a certain level of exploration, such as cycling and of course the terrific island flyover. In lieu of any actual tropical holidays, my younger self liked nothing more than soaking up some virtual rays over a heated game of table tennis.
But how can you talk about Wii Sports Resort without mentioning the truly epic swordplay showdown mode? A proof of concept for a Jedi duels Star Wars game that never did come to fruition. There was also that other mode where you had to slice a giant sushi roll in half. That was pretty cool too, I guess.
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE: 18 May 2010
I type this entry with a heavy heart. Split/Second Velocity was a thrilling arcade racer for Xbox 360 and PS3, but its commercial under-performance led not only to the death of any hope for a sequel but also the closure of its talented development studio, Black Rock. It’s a crying shame, because this is one of the most novel and unique racers to hit shelves in recent memory.
The game puts you in the shoes of a contestant on Split/Second, a dramatic racing television show that rigs its tracks with elaborate “power plays” i.e. devastating attacks for you to unleash on your competitors. These range from a few exploding taxis that hurl their way across the road all the way up to catastrophically large-scale events like dropping entire buildings on your foes, fundamentally changing the original route.
The single-player campaign is lengthy, challenging and varied thanks to numerous different event types. Meanwhile, taking to split-screen mode is the perfect way to show the person sat next to you how much you secretly despise them. Fortunately, this game is backwards compatible on Xbox One and currently available for free with Xbox Game Pass, so I implore you to give it a try if you haven’t already.
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE: 19 April 2011
As I reached the twilight years of what could reasonably be described as my childhood, this masterpiece hit store shelves and I swiftly fell in love with it. With no access to Xbox Live Arcade nor the financial means to buy The Orange Box, I hadn’t actually been able to play the first Portal game in full prior to the release of this sequel. However, I was able to try out the demo thanks to a disc included with Official Xbox 360 Magazine and it was more than enough to whet my appetite for more.
Needless to say, I was blown away. Portal 2 is truly impeccable. Each chamber is just the right level of challenging without ever getting frustrating, but the hugely compelling story is what elevates it from being a mere puzzle game to an unforgettable narrative experience. Valve’s writing team are able to tell a subtle and emotional story through very clever visuals as well as the stunning vocal talents of Ellen McLain and Stephen Merchant.
It was a single-player campaign I would happily return to at any time and one that I was sad to finish. Of course, the additional co-op mode is also a great success but doesn’t have quite the same storytelling ambition. Portal 2 is without any doubt one of my favourite games of all time.