It was in my younger years that I discovered the juvenile delight of video games, much to the dismay of my childhood productivity. I started life as a gamer with my trusty Gameboy, a portable device sturdy enough to wield as a weapon and designed in a flashy shade of grey. Fast-forward about twenty years. Technology has advanced dramatically and I am (arguably) more mature, but my love for video games is still as pure as it was back when I lost myself as Mario on my first Gameboy.
The Internet is filled with lists of the “greatest ever games” or “games that changed the world”, so would be a foolish endeavor for me to add another drop to that ocean of noise. Instead I present to you a top 10 list of games that have made me the gamer that I am today. These are not games that will necessarily make the regular top 100 lists, but the ones that mean the most and have defined me as a gamer.
PC – 1997
Doctor required in inflation room
Developed by Bullfrog, Theme Hospital sees you put in charge of building and maintaining your own hospital. The aim of the game is to achieve set goals like number of patients cured and hospital value to get you promoted and moved onto the next more challenging hospital. But this isn’t any ordinary hospital, nor will you have any ordinary patients. Say your GP diagnoses a patient with Bloaty Head where the poor patient in question has a head swollen to twice the normal size caused by sniffing cheese and drinking unpurified rainwater. The only possible treatment is to send him to the inflation room where a doctor will pop his head with a needle and re-inflate it back to the correct PSI.
You will have doctors with bios telling you they smell faintly of cabbage, heckle poor comedians and enrage insects with deodorant. You will have patients with conditions caused by excessive licking of yogurt pot lids, have considerable amounts of excess tongue or are covered from head to toe in hair due to prolonged exposure to the moon. And to top it all off, your receptionist is constantly making announcements reminding patients not to die in the corridors and to have their credit cards ready.
There is humour woven into the game at every opportunity making it an irresistible first entry to my list and a joy to play even today. And considering what we hear about the NHS in the news, its not even like the game is that implausible.
Gameboy – 1996
Jigglypuff, I choose you (said no one ever)
Remember a time when there were only 151 Pokemon? Well that was the age of Pokemon Red and Blue (and later Yellow with a special edition). It was amazing what they could fit on a 4MB cartridge. To summarise, you are a young Pokemon trainer, given your first Pokemon Charmander (only a fool would choose otherwise) by a strange Professor in your hometown. The professor sends you, a small young child with no combat experience, out into the dangerous wilderness to fight and catch as many critters as you can to fulfill his insane goal that he is not man enough to do himself. Then you travel through the world and everyone you see will want to attack you, then you go to a gym and to attack everyone there. When you think about it, the humans in the world of Pokemon have some serious attitude problems.
This was the game that started me on the path of video game completionist, because no matter what Pokemon you preferred, you still had to catch them all. The trading element also gave me my first taste of playing games with my friends (other than Tetris) as some Pokemon would only evolve when traded and others were exclusive to the Red and Blue versions.
This was the pinnacle of handheld gaming at the time, and to me, it still is.
N64 – 1997/2000
I might be cheating by putting both in as one entry, but they were both made by Rare and both revolutionized what a first person shooter (FPS) could be. Besides, Goldeneye was probably the title that saved the Nintendo 64 and deserves a mention for that alone.
Goldeneye was one of those rare movie-based games that didn’t suck. In fact, it was brilliant. The single player stuck as closely to the movie as it could and had some real standout moments. But it was the multiplayer mode that burned away the hours for me. I remember spending many a joyous weekend with my friends throwing proximity mines at their feet on the Facility level. Ahhh memories.
A few years later, following in the footsteps of Goldeneye came Perfect Dark. It had an original storyline, new female lead character, futuristic setting, little grey aliens with massive heads and big scary aliens who disguised themselves as blonde Scandinavians to infiltrate our planet. The game was so advanced for its time that you had to install the N64 Expansion Pack just to run it. But despite the amazing single player mode, just like Goldeneye, the multiplayer was where the party was at.
To my memory, Perfect Dark 64 was the first game to introduce AI opponents in a FPS multiplayer. So all of a sudden, I wasn’t only worrying about the three friends sitting beside me, but also the eight bot players that could be set to a superhuman level of ability. Sometimes it was like trying to kill Superman by slapping him with a dry sponge.
The Perfect Dark multiplayer was a game changer. You had bots that could have their behaviour altered so they would always seek vengeance or only run around slapping and disarming people with their fists. You could customize what kind of weapons would appear and where and choose different game modes like Capture the Flag or King of the Hill. You could even use a gun disguised as a laptop that when thrown latches onto a surface transforming into an automatic turret that would unleash woe upon your enemies.
Ultimately, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark pioneered the FPS multiplayer format and without them, the games we have today could be very different. Perfect Dark is now available remastered in HD on Xbox Live Arcade should you wish to experience the game again or missed out the first time around.
Guitar Hero (Series)
Multi Platform – 2005-10
When Guitar Hero burst onto the scene, it spawned a new generation of wannabe rockers. In my case, it actually inspired me to pick up a guitar and start learning for real. But my skills as a real guitarist are yet to match my level of mastery on Guitar Hero.
I owned all the games of the Guitar Hero series and every time I picked up that little plastic guitar and set the game to expert, I felt like a rock god. Sometimes I would even have an audience around me as friends would sit and watch my lightning fast fingers nailing the next insane solo. Then I would pick up my actual guitar and struggle to play a Status Quo song.
My real guitar skills have come a long way since then and the Guitar Hero series has been retired to gaming history. But managing to survive Through the Fire and Flames on Expert still trumps anything I’ve done with a real instrument.
Guitar Hero inspired the rival series Rockband and then the peripheral wars began. What started with one plastic guitar ended up with electric guitars, bass guitars, drum kits, the ultimate rock tool the keyboard and even microphones so the tone deaf Sing Star fans could get in on the act. The series finally reached its end when you needed a spare room to store all your plastic instruments. A shame, but we will always have Dragonforce.
Football Manager/Championship Manager (Series)
PC – 1992-Present
This is a game I put firmly in the category “Time Sponge” and is responsible for the swathes of armchair managers you get today shouting at their TVs because apparently the real managers who have spent years in training don’t know what they’re doing.
Football Manager does exactly what it says on the tin (case) putting you in charge of whatever football club you choose from a wide range of countries and leagues. You choose the lineup, the tactics, who to sign and sell, who to engage in a war of words with, and then look at your watch and realize it’s 4am and you’ve not eaten for 17 hours. It can take a full day just to get through one season. The depth of the game is truly staggering.
Should you stick with your game for a couple of seasons, you start to feel that you have built the club in your image with your tactical genius. You have won trophies and smashed your bitter rivals and the only price you have to pay is forgoing your social life! Today the game even gives you an “addictedness rating” depending on how long you’ve been playing. These range from “I’m starting to get into this” to “turning your underwear inside out saves on washing”.
I remember picking up Championship Manager 2 from a jumble sale somewhere during the mid 90s when the game was only text based and introducing European leagues for the first time. There was no slick 3D engine, almost no graphics at all, just “Cantona on the ball… he shoots… what a goal!!!” You had to exercise your imagination a bit, but it was the game that cemented my love of management and simulation games.