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The Best Video Games… of the DECADE

Atari 2600 Game… of the DECADE

First Prize: Thrust · 2000 · Atari 2600

Kevin sez: I have written previously on Thrust, an amazing port of a Commodore 64 game and, after giving it some thought, this game remains my top 2600 homebrew title of the past decade.

Maneuvering through entire, realized worlds requires nerves of steel and a deft touch, as burning your engines for too long will see you wasting fuel and crashing headlong into cavernous walls. In that regard, Thrust is as much about twitch gameplay as it is resource management.

The limitations of the 2600 are expertly worked around, and the graphics remain simple, clean, and clear, in stark contrast to the difficulty of making your way through to the end of the game. I’ve never made it past the halfway mark, myself, but Thrust is the sort of game that makes me want to go back to and try again, even this many years after first playing it.

The revised versions, released in 2002 and 2003 respectively, added in excellent new features—a pause function, Driving Controller support, and a technological achievement in an actual soundtrack—only to make an excellent game even better. It’s no stretch to recommend Thrust to anyone who is interested in 2600 homebrews.


Runner-up: Lead · 2007-2008 · Atari 2600

Jenn sez: Ever since Adam Milecki inadvertently hooked us on Lead, we’ve been huge fans. Simone Serra’s gorgeous musical space shooter makes the most of the 2600’s ur-hardware and, with its strobing graphics and crunchy blip-blurps, the result is wholly contemporary.

I adore this game.

Zelda Game… of the DECADE

First Prize: Twilight Princess · 2006 · Wii · GameCube

Kevin sez: It may seem rather cliché to call this one of the greatest Zelda games of all time—after all, publications such as EGM and Game Informer lavishly showered the game with praise—but it’s all with perfectly due reason.

Twilight Princess was the Zelda game I’d anticipated ever since N64’s Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask introduced their expansive, vaguely realistic fantasy worlds. In absolutely every regard, it seemed, Twilight Princess improved upon its immediate predecessors: the dramatic boss battles, the dungeon puzzles, and the simple joy of riding around the world on your horse put this game head and shoulders above the rest of the 3D Zeldas. And unlike Wind Waker, some of the dungeons were actually challenging!

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words on the Wii version. Yes, it was a total cash-grab maneuver by Nintendo to add in rudimentary Wii controls, push back the GameCube version a couple weeks, and throw it on their new platform. But I really came to prefer the swiping motion for my sword swings to just tapping a button, and for the life of me, it really did feel more immersive.

Plus, the fishing minigame on the Wii became a total timesink for me and was way more fun than it had any right to be.

Runner-up Majora’s Mask · 2000 · N64 · GameCube · Wii

Kevin sez: With the timer mechanic, this dark Zelda game added a new level of difficulty: trying to complete dungeons and side quests before the world went all Groundhog’s Day on you. The added sense of urgency and actual development of minor characters both put this underrated Zelda game above many of its peers.

Jenn adds: If we had a third “honorable mention” category, I’d toss Okami in right here. Just saying.

Game of Embiggening… of the DECADE

First Prize: Katamari Damacy · 2004 · PlayStation 2

Jenn sez: I can’t pinpoint why its sequels haven’t quite recaptured Katamari Damacy’s charm. Worse, I don’t even have any insight into the original game’s success.

As the story goes, Namco expected Katamari Damacy to flop. Why shouldn’t it have? Released quietly as a PS2 budget title, Katamari Damacy was unapologetically weird. With its inscrutable narrative, a Japanese synth-pop soundtrack, chunky-bad graphics, and an unlikely hero, it ought to have been a failure.

But it wasn’t. It worked. Or at least, it worked in some dream-logic way. The story—something about the sky needing to be filled with stars—was quirky. The music was catchy and, at only just the right moments, kind of triumphant. Maybe the graphics seemed dated, but the art itself was incredible. The main characters, with their Fabergé log-heads and little triangular noses, were endearing. Maybe most importantly, the game was immediately accessible, so that even the newest gamer was guided by his own intuition.

When you rolled your Katamari along the ground or up hills or down table legs, you could only really collect objects smaller than the Katamari itself. When the ball grew larger—presumably with the weight of a hundred thousand knick-knacks gelled to its surface—it became cumbersome, so that you could feel its unwieldy resistance. When you crashed your Katamari into a much larger object, maybe a couple of knick-knacks (or buildings, or people) fell off, and your Katamari shrank accordingly.

These were game mechanics that made automatic sense, so that explanation became unnecessary. Katamari Damacy had its own strict sets of rules—rules of physics, rules of weight distribution, stringent time limits, and so on—and the game didn’t need to stop to explain its logic to the player.

What I’m saying is, Katamari Damacy isn’t just intuitive; it is fair. When a game is fair, newcomers stick around long enough to realize the implicit gratification of playing a game designed well.

Runner-up: bit Generations: Orbital · 2006 · Game Boy Advance

Jenn sez: This quiet, lo-fi game drives me to the brink of insanity and leaves me utterly histrionic. The last time I lost my mind over Orbital, I said:

Here is the goal of the game: you are a particle of space dust, just a little grey speck, and you want to grow. So you collide into smaller planetary bodies and consume them, adding them to your sum total. You become larger and more meaningful, until you are finally large enough to draw the sun into your orbit. [...] The simplicity of the game is a deception: there is the slow realization that, with a patient hand, you have control over your course and your destiny.

That is Lunatic Talk.

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7 responses to “The Best Video Games… of the DECADE” »

  1. Chris A says:

    Great lists, but I’ve gotta contest the 2600 choice… have you guys played Medieval Mayhem? Good lord that game is fantastic.


    • Jenn Frank says:

      Ugh I hate Warlords. Hate hate hate. I’ll get a friend to try this with me, though.

    • Kevin says:

      Much as I enjoy Warlords, Thrust and Lead are both just fantastic games that otherwise did not appear on the 2600. It wasn’t the easiest choice, since other homebrews like Vault Assault, Gunfight, Star Fire, or Oystron were all fun games, but those two just set a bar that they don’t top in my view.

      Also, I really need to clean my paddle controllers, because they are all WAY too jittery to play much with them effectively.

  2. Dave D says:

    Is there a version or clone of Thrust on the DS or Wii?

  3. ctuck says:

    Great read, I love how it just ends, makes it feel like a real “piece” of writing, rather than a churned out year ender.

    Though I must say the exclusion of Ogre Battle 64 wounds me! Good day!! HMPH!

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