Each week editor David Howard King (a lifelong video gamer); Frank D’Aloia, owner of Forgotten Freshness, a retro video game store based in Mechanicville; and Joseph Pirro, owner of Pastime Legends, a chain of retro game stores located in Albany, Troy, Scotia and Ventura, California discuss one topic relating to video games, the gaming industry, technology or gaming culture. If you have a topic to propose please email email@example.com
The Alt: What games have you played the most during your history as a gamer?
Frank D’Aloia, owner Forgotten Freshness
#1: Dragon Force for the Sega Saturn. In the mid-to-late ’90s, I was just a teenager trying as hard as I could to fake being sick so I could stay home and play RPGs all day. Dragon Force was the first game I bought with my own money for the Saturn, a whopping $89.99 if I remember right, at a Toys R Us. This game had everything I ever wanted: a continent at war, with a story, told in anime-style still-frame cutscenes, while I chose a kingdom (eight to choose from!) and recruited generals for my army of insanely cute chibi-anime murder machines. (Oh, that cute demon-girl general, be still my beating heart!). The characters are all likable, the music is STELLAR, and the graphics are top-notch. Even the overworld micro-managing is enjoyable. This is and has always been my favorite game since it’s release, sparking regular revisits totaling thousands of hours of gameplay.
Joseph Pirro, owner Pastime Legends
#1: Super Mario Bros 3
This game sits as my favorite game of all time. Super Mario Bros 3 was the game I played more than any other in my early years of gaming. The music, the gameplay, the complexity were miles beyond that of anything I had played up to that point. Having received my NES a few years after its launch I suffered with my Atari 7800, dreaming of the day I could get my hands on the Nintendo system everyone else had already fallen in love with. Even after beating the game well over 100 times in my lifetime I still list it as my top desert island game. At this point, it’s not so much about discovering anything new, but going back to an old familiar place that makes me feel like I’m six years old again.
#1 Shadowrun for Sega Genesis
Over the years I’ve obsessed over plenty of games, but I’ve never returned to one as frequently as I have to this gem of an action/RPG. Ahead of its time in many ways, as far as console games go, Shadowrun captures a dystopian future where corporations control everything, hackers with cybernetic modifications take on mercenary assignments and magic and mythical beasts have emerged out of the shadows of time. What does it play like? Well, it’s a top-down RPG that lets you choose and customize a hacker (decker), shaman or samurai. You then take your character out on missions such as stealing sensitive data from corporations, etc. There is a broader backstory to your character, but what made this game so special to me years ago was its open-endedness. It provided the kind of freedom on a 16-bit console that didn’t become standard in games until Grand Theft Auto 3 hit PlayStation 2 a decade later. Most importantly, the game presents an immersive noir aesthetic, thanks to subtle cues and a very strong soundtrack.
# 2: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the Sony Playstation.
While Dragon Force is my favorite game, anyone that knows me well knows that Castlevania is my favorite franchise. While my favorite Castlevania game is actually Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania SOTN is probably the best and most replayable game in the series. A sprawling map filled with secrets, an absolutely perfect soundtrack, hundreds of weapons, gorgeous sprites–it’s got everything you want in a platformer, mixed with perfect RPG elements. What keeps me coming back to this one, other than the obvious, is it lets me make solid “challenge” runs. I decide what type of weapons, familiars, etc. I will use before I even start the game. This one gets a play-through every 12 to 18 months, making for a solid ten-hour nostalgia trip.
When I was a kid the Nintendo Gameboy was revolutionary, and the one game everyone was playing on it was Tetris. Portable–fun, and so addicting I was forced to contend with my parents for a chance to play it. Tetris has been ported, polished, deconstructed, reinvented, and bootlegged all over the world. Nintendo has a game on the NES called Hatris, and it is exactly what it sounds like: Tetris with hats. Still, nothing compares to the old, original Tetris with the iconic music, and climactic gameplay. Tetris is still great when you are on a long road trip or waiting at the doctor’s office.
#2: Fallout 3
So yeah, I like RPGs that let you explore and shoot things. But Fallout 3 is basically the modern realization of what Shadowrun attempted. Presenting an amazingly well-realized post-WWIII Washington DC, the game allows you to interact with its gorgeous and meticulously populated environment however you like. The kicker for me here is not the shooting, not the character customization, but the use of historical and pop-culture references throughout the game as rewards for exploration. One night while exploring the devastated ruins of The Library of Congress I booted into one of its still-functioning computers and found a message that seemed strangely familiar. It took a few minutes for me to realize the message was actually the lyrics of a popular metal band that often sings about dystopian futures. I played this game so much that my wife (fiance at the time) had nightmares that were infused by Fallout 3’s gameplay. One of the game’s mechanics lets you slow time to aim and then pick off the limbs of irradiated super mutants; my wife had a nightmare that she was targeting our cats in the same manner. I had a to take an extended break from the DC ruins.
#3: Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo. There’s a lot of good games on the Super Nintendo, games I revisit often, but I don’t play any of them the way I play Joe and Mac for SNES. I think I actually play this more than SOTN or Dragon Force, just because I can beat it in under an hour so it’s a nice quick retro fix. The animations are amazing and the bosses are huge and fun. You fight Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors. You save cave babes and fight the devil, all while smacking dinosaurs in the face with a stone wheel. I rented this all the time as a kid, and when I was 18 found a used copy at a Microplay in Clifton Park which I promptly spent all the cash in my pocket on. It’s a must-play.
#3: Super Smash Bros Melee
Super Smash Bros Melee is undeniably one of the most popular games of all time, and one that continued to pull me back in over the past 16 years. As a kid, I played Melee as a fun, four-player party game full of iconic items and goofy game modes. As an adult, I’ve taken on many roles around the game, including: sponsor, organizer, competitor, streamer, promoter. Melee is a video game that is more than the sum of its parts; as a result, it has taken me on many unexpected journeys and given me just as many unexpected friendships.
#3: Streets of Rage for Sega Genesis
As a kid, nothing beat side-scrolling beat-’em-ups. I’d do anything to get a ride to an arcade so I could feed quarters into Final Fight, Golden Axe, NEO GEO multi-game machines. The problem I faced as a Genesis owner was that Capcom and NEO GEO weren’t making games for the Genesis, and the port of Golden Axe was underwhelming–enter Streets of Rage, perhaps the best side-scrolling beat-’em-up ever made. There was nothing subtle about this game; it stole character designs from Final Fight and its bosses were ripped from popular American movies. Yet the soundtrack was absurdly enervating, the sound effects were spot on and the gameplay the tightest in the genre. There is little depth to Streets of Rage, but in many ways it was like playing a gorgeous painting accompanied by an 8-bit DJ. Streets of Rage is now a touchpoint for programmers working in retro pastiche, and for modern programmers who want to nod to the excesses of the early ’90s. For me, it is still a game I revisit for the sights and the sounds.