Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My 10 Favorite (not best!) "Party" Game Developers

Basically, what I mean here is companies that have never published games for themselves, at least without (or prior to) merging with someone else (I'm lookin' at you, Square!). So the companies that did it best while having to rely on publishers giving their games a shot every time. I made the list beforehand, but I kind of just wrote the paragraphs and posted them, so sorry if it isn't the most linguistically superior list you've ever witnessed.

10. Double Fine - Founded in 2000 by former LucasArts phenom, Tim Schafer, Double Fine has easily one of the most creative and, quite frankly, insane libraries of games. I'm going to take a minute to be a fanboy here. I fucking love Tim Schafer. The man is a genius. Let me count the ways, er games that he was the lead or one of the lead men in creating: The Monkey Island games, Maniac mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, Brutal Legend.

All except the last are widely considered masterpieces, and the last caters more toward a specific taste, but if you appreciate it the way I do, it too is amazing. The point is, the man is a genius. The thing is, only those last two were made under Double Fine, but they're still great enough to push the company to my top 10. They have made many highly praised Windows/Xbox Live Arcade games, but due to cash and space on my Xbox, I have yet to play any of them, but they definitely deserve mention. If they get the funding, they can soar up this list because Schafer is the seminal mad genius of video games. If you see anything with this logo or his name on it, BUY IT!

Necessary Double Fine Games: Psychonauts, Brutal Legend (if you're a Metalhead and/or Jack Black fan)

9. Clover Studio/Platinum Games - I put these together because when Clover Studios died, most of the members, including the two heads of Clover moved right on to Platinum and continued making similarly-styled games. Their products are some of the easiest to identify in gaming. Epic scaling, cell-shaded enough to be stylized, but not enough to look overly-cartoony, slick controls, and gorgeous environments. In both studios, the team has created some of the most beloved "cult classics" in the industry. Pretty impressive/complex resume for what's essentially an eight-year lifespan for both studios combined.

Necessary Clover Studio Games: Viewtiful Joe, Okami, God Hand. 
Necessary Platinum Games... Games: MadWorld, Infinite Space (unless you don't like Strategy/RPG games or space), Bayonetta.

8. id Software - id Software isn't what they used to be, but what they used to be is one of the biggest, best, and most important companies in gaming. They started with a now forgotten but groundbreaking and highly praised side-scrolling game franchise titled Commander Keen and went on to change gaming forever with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Back when shooters weren't flooding the market and providing creativity and unique experiences, these games changed the way games were themed and introduced both the FPS and computer gaming to the masses. And I haven't even mentioned Quake, the first competitive multiplayer game that also included the greatest graphics engine to ever grace video games at the time, not to mention Trent Reznor creating the soundtrack and even effect sounds for the game. 

They were the starting point for some of the biggest names in gaming, including John Romero and American McGee. What drops them for me is that after 1999 they pretty much haven't done jack shit worth mentioning. Rage was decent enough, and Doom 3 started off amazing but got pretty average quickly. Their first decade is amazing, but since then they haven't done much of anything. But I grew up on that stuff, playing Doom and Wolfenstein since I was 5 so maybe I just expect more. Whatever.

Necessary id Games: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, Quake, Quake II.

7. Game Freak - I know, I know. They've basically made their cash off of one franchise. But what a franchise! I've been playing the Pokemon since I got my first Gameboy with Pokemon Blue for my 7th birthday. It's safe to say these games have played a big part in making me the nerd I am today. Blue was the first RPG I ever played, and the anime was the first anime I ever watched. I very well may not be me if not for Pokemon. 

Nostalgia aside, the games are great in their own right. They challenge but rarely anger, they motivate but never push, the team building aspect as addictive as fuck, and every game is different enough to keep them highly entertaining, not to mention the literal impossibility of playing through the same way as the time before. Did I mention the music? I literally have it stuck in my head as I type. But Game Freak IS in fact, pretty much just those games, and they could easily do a lot more with the franchise. There are definitely developers I have a lot more respect for and would get psyched to see doing something different, whereas I'd be very skeptical if Game Freak made anything that doesn't involve capturing monsters in balls and training them.

Necessary Game Freak Games: Pokemon Red/Blue, Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal, Pokemon Emerald, Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen, Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver

6. Crystal Dynamics - One of the most underrated developers in gaming in my opinion, Crystal Dynamics is responsible for some of the most overlooked franchises in gaming. The Gex series is one of the most underappreciated platformers ever, along with one of the wackiest, most unique platformers in Pandemonium. Not only that, but they developed the entirety of the Legacy of Kain series:  Blood Omen 1 and 2, Soul Reaver 1 and 2, and Defiance. All 5 great games and one of my favorite series' in all of gaming. They haven't done much in the last decade or so, but I still love what they've already provided. Also, did I forget to mention that in 1998 they released the first action-adventure game to feature a black main protagonist in Akuji the Heartless? That's a pretty good game too. Also, how about that logo? CD. Get it?! Because a CD is, a thing... that exists... Nevermind, it sucks.

Necessary Crystal Dynamics Games: Gex: Enter the Gecko, Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko, Pandemic, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Legacy of Kain: Defiance.

5. Naughty Dog - Naughty Dog is the definition of platforming genius. but before their commercial success, I need to mention a game that came before the glory for the 3DO entitled "Way of the Warrior". Released in 1994, this game was beautiful for its time, one of the first and still one of the only fighting games with deep characters and storylines, and gore that put Mortal Kombat to shame. What's more, its soundtrack was White Zombie's "La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1". Violent, darkly beautiful and intricate fighting game with LA SEXORCISTO in the background? You couldn't go wrong if it played like a rotted turd, which it doesn't.

Ok, back on track. These guys are beastly platforming machines. I grew up with and loved the Crash Bandicoot series, and it's still amazing today. It's the pinnacle of Playstation platforming, only even rivaled by the aforementioned Gex, and Jersey Devil (underrated classic in my opinion, check it out). Smooth controls, interesting but not complex story, creativity out the ass, the perfect amount of challenge, and just plain fun, I love them. They also created the almost as loved Jak and Daxter series, bringing platforming back the the Playstation 2 generation and keeping it there. Oh, they also made Uncharted which is supposedly great, but I don't have a Playstation 3 so fuck if I know. But it still gets credit for it.

Necessary Naughty Dog Games: Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2, Way of the Warrior, Jak and Daxter, Jak II, Way of the Warrior (I can't suggest Uncharted when I haven't played it, so don't get on my ass, bitch).

4. HAL Laboratory - Now we're getting to the cream of the crop. The true greats among greats in my humble (not to mention infallible) opinion. HAL Laboratory. No, not that HAL (I'm afraid I can't let you make that pun, Dave). HAL Laboratory is so good. You say you don't know them? Oh, you know them you just don't know it yet. Let me throw out some titles. Earthbound? Kirby?! SUPER SMASH BROS.?! Yep, they made 3 of Nintendo's great franchises and you didn't even know it. For shame.

Maybe you don't know Earthbound, but you should. It as well as the other 2 Mother games (it's Mother 2 in Japan, also the only Mother game officially released in the States) are all excellence, and you can find them in English if you look. Easily one of the great RPG franchises. Kirby and Smash Bros. you should all already know are franchises of the highest order, some of the most fun games ever created. They also made some great titles outside of these, such as the Adventures of Lolo series on NES, Defender II, Hyper Zone, and Pokemon Stadium 1 and 2. So good. Amazing so few actually know their name, huh?

Recommended HAL Games: Kirby Super Star, Kirby's Dream Land 3, Mother 2/Earthbound, Mother 3, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Hyper Zone, Pokemon Stadium 2.

3. Squaresoft - I know this may be sort of cheating since they're now a major developer/publisher in the form of Square Enix, but hear me out here. The greatness that was Squaresoft (Square Co., whatever) basically died when they partnered with Enix. Of course, the Kingdom Hears games are good, as are the recent Star Ocean games (though more credit goes to the developers than to Square Enix), but for the most part, neither company has been the same since. I mean, literally the moment they joined with Enix they started fucking up FInal Fantasy. How do you do that when you made over 10 straight great games? Squaresoft was a juggernaut of RPG-creating mastery. 

They obviously made their name with the Final Fantasy series. As Squaresoft, they created I-X, Tactics, Mystic Quest, and many more spin-offs. Not to mention three of the other greatest RPG's in existence, Chrono Trigger (and Chrono Cross), Secret of Mana, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. They made countless other great RPG's such as Breath of Fire, Vagrant Story, Secret of Evermore, Xenogears, and Bahamut Lagoon (Originally a Japanese-only release that made its way to Wii Virtual Console in the '09). S damn good! They could have stopped there and made my top 4, but they didn't stop there.

But Squaresoft wasn't just RPG's. They could have not made one RPG and still be an amazing company. They tackled all genres and excelled at every one. Bushido Blade, Parasite Eve, Tobal No. 1, Rad Racer, Front Mission and The Bouncer are just some examples of high-quality non-RPG games Squaresoft created. It's really too bad, because Squaresoft's last big release (X-2 doesn't count), Final Fantasy X, is arguably my favorite in the entire series, which is saying a shit ton. Uniting with Enix (who was a good developer in its own right) and ruining all their biggest franchises, especially Final Fantasy (I tremble thinking about those new games) definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth and probably contributes a bit to them not being higher.

Necessary Square Games: Final Fantasy VI (III on the SNES), Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy IV, Busgido Blade, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Xenogears. (Yep, I didn't say Final Fantasy VII, because at least half the first 10 are better, so BLOW ME. Also, it's the first one I played so there's no bias in that comment)

2. Rareware - I honestly debated a long time over putting these guys anything but number one. I fucking love Rare. For two console generations, they were arguably the best company in gaming, and made some of my favorite games. They tackled every genre with absolute aplomb and it seemed like they could do anything and make it perfect. Their games are some of the greatest in their respective genres. Maybe the greatest side-scrolling series in Donkey Kong country, easily one of the greatest fighters ever in Killer Instinct, the 3D platforming kings that are Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, one of the most enjoyable, best constructed and most unique games ever in Conker's Bad Fur Day. Oh, I have yet to mention the seminal console shooter, Goldeneye 007, and its (in my opinion) superior spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. I haven't even touched on Battletoads, Jet Force Gemini, Diddy Kong Racing (Mario Kart but superior in every way), Blast Corps, fuck, even Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run is still one of the best baseball games ever made. Also, every game has awesome music, but that's for another list (hintidy hint).

As you can see, I have APT FUCKING REASON to adore Rare like I do. I spend so much time with their games as a kid, and still do now, that I genuinely feel like I wouldn't be totally who I am, and I definitely wouldn't have such a love for video games if I'd never played a Rare game. Unfortunately, they pretty much died off with the Nintendo 64. Though through no fault of their own. Microsoft purchased them in 2002, forced them into mediocrity, and eventually most of the integral parts abandoned the company with good reason. For that decade that they were great, they were the best. If Microsoft never interjected, the Gamecube may have ended up competing with the Playstation 2 in terms of quality and the whole outlook of Nintendo could be different. And they may have even locked up the top spot on this list. 

Also, please, as a favor to me, follow Mingy Jongo (@MingyJongo) or support them some other way, a bunch of old Rare team members created that company and are working to bring that old Rare style back to gaming, which is something we should ALL want to see and do our part to see happen (no, I did not receive penny one for this).

Recommended Rare Games: Banjo-Kazooie/Tooie, Killer Instinct, Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong Country series, Jet Force Gemini, Conker's Bad Fur Day (You throw toilet paper... at an opera-singing literal pile of shit. Nuff Said), Perfect Dark (it's aged so much better than Goldeneye), Blast Corps.

1. BioWare - Mmmmmmm BioWaaarreeee. *drools like Homer Simpson over a donut* I can't describe how much I love BioWare. They're the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the coupe de gras, the better of the really goods and stuff. They're truly RPG-making perfection (just block Dragon Age II out of your memories for now, please). Almost every game they made is among my absolute favorites, which is something even Rare can't say (though the game/favorite ratio is still pretty fuckballs high). They're story-telling genius mixed with almost flawless design, grade-a delivery, and fun, strategic gameplay (NO, DRAGON AGE II DOESN'T COUNT!!). 

Anyway, as I said, they've made some of my favorite games ever. Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, Baldur's Gate 2, as well as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are all pretty much guaranteed top tens of all time for me. KOTOR and Mass Effect 2 are two of a few that are in a never-ending competition for #1 in my heart. Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect 3 (yep, that ending drops it), and Dragon Age: Origins (the ONLY Dragon Age that matters) are all fairly close to aforementioned list too. Meaning if I ever listed my 20 favorite games, it'd be about 1/3 or so BioWare.  Did I mention Jade Empire and MDK2 are also amazing games? Well, I just did! 

Unfortunately, the two co-founders have recently retired (after that one game about Dragons and the Mass Effect 3 ending, I can't blame them for being worried about their company's direction under EA's tyrannic rule) so I have no clue what to expect in the future, but here's hoping it's good. But here's hoping even more that Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk get back in the gaming foray some time and give us what EA will likely kill soon in BioWare-level godliness. Dragon Age II kinda sucked...

Necessary BioWare games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2, Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights.

Well, there's my list. Comment and such, I read them all. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @SycoMantis1991 and/or subscribe to this shiz, or not, your choice. But it'd be pretty sweet. I'm trying to do these things a lot more than I have lately. If you have an idea for something gaming/movie/tv/music/comic/etc. related that you'd like to see my tackle, comment or tweet me, I'm very likely to at least attempt it.

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