When EGM was shut down a few months ago, I felt that a part of myself was lost. I had been an avid reader of EGM since issue #109 with Tomb Raider 3 on the cover, so the magazine coming to an end after ten years of reading each issue cover-to-cover came as a big loss to me.
Afterwards, I considered buying up old issues of EGM on Ebay, but I lacked the necessary funds, so I decided to settle with one issue I’d always wanted. The issue on my mind was #100, which not only contained EGM’s top 100 games list, but it also included a brief history of the magazine. Being a devoted EGM fan prompted me to score this fabled issue on Ebay. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay an ungodly price, as would have happened if I purchased one of the first few issues of EGM.
After a couple weeks of waiting, my well-maintained issue arrived. Memories of days as a middle and high school kid rushed to my brain where I eagerly awaited each new issue of EGM. I’d often flip through the entire magazine checking out what previews and features awaited me in each issue, and I’d sometimes quickly browse through all the review scores. If I had time that day, I’d then begin to read the magazine starting from the cover and would work my way towards the end over the course of the month. Even though EGM issues during the early Ziff Davis era were massive, I seemed to tear through them at an inhuman rate.
One thing I had always admired about EGM when I started reading it, was that the magazines were strictly about providing interesting content in a fun way. Unlike the journalism of today, reviewers then weren’t as cynical and critical. I’m not saying I want reviewers to be biased fanboys, but today they sometimes focus far more on the negative aspects of games than the positive. EGM #100 fell in line with those early days when I started reading the magazine. Despite sometimes being overworked, all the writers were very enthusiastic about the products they covered. They scoped out rumors on the Playstation 2, the upcoming Sega system, which would later be called the Dreamcast, and even a Nintendo 64 successor, and all this was back in ’97. EGM also wrote detailed previews of upcoming games, including some that would never make it here. This issue also had many excellent reviews on games ranging from Saturn Bomberman to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
It wasn’t the reviews and previews that got me the most excited however; what I actually enjoyed most was the massive write-up on EGM’s 100 favorite games and the small feature on the history of the magazine. EGM’s top 100 games were not necessarily the best titles in existence, or even the best titles of their time; rather, these were games EGM staffers would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island (I’m sure many later readers remember their top 5 desert island games feature). Were these top 100 games good choices? Well, that’s all a matter of opinion. I agreed with some choices, and disagreed with others, but the great thing about this list is pretty much all the games are high quality games regardless of whether they’re your favorite games or not. It’s a nice list to have at your side, especially if you’re a collector, or at least a person that likes to experience games of ages past. A couple of the titles are a little iffy, mostly the sports games, because many of them don’t hold up well today, but they were fine titles for their time.
Describing every game in this feature would rack up a massive word count, so I’m going to stick with describing how well EGM’s top 10 picks hold up today. Afterwards, I’ll list what my top ten picks from the dawn of time up until 1997 would have been.
First I’ll start with EGM’s least favorite game on the top ten list, Saturn Bomberman. Here’s what EGM had to say about it:
"The game: You still get the same little Bomberman character who likes to blow up his friends (and enemies), but this time he’s on the Saturn with up to 10 players at once. It’s as good as multiplayer gaming on the consoles gets.
It made the list because: If you have a copy of Bomberman and can rustle up at least four friends, there’s really no reason to play any other game–or even leave the house. It’s simply the greatest party game on the planet. And Saturn Bomberman is the best incarnation of this classic series yet. Sure, the Super NES and TurboGrafx-16 versions come close, but now 10 players can try to blow each other to bits in a Hi-res Mode that is incredibly hectic and fun (although it burns the eyes a bit; Eight-player Mode’s a little easier on your vision). Plus, you get options for team play and the ability to lob bombs from the sidelines after you die. Revenge is a wonderful thing.
Coolest part: Realizing that you’ve trapped your opponent(s) with bombs just as the one-ton weights are about to clobber you from above. Yep, you can start panicking now.
Don’t you hate it when: You start trash-talking before a multiplayer game, only to start and trap yourself with two of your own damn bombs. D’oh!"
What I have to say: Saturn Bomberman had just been released, and received EGM’s prestigious gold award, so maybe they were a bit hasty in placing it in the top ten, but from what I’ve heard and seen, Saturn Bomberman sounds like an excellent party game. I haven’t played many Bomberman games, but each one I’ve played has been an excellent group experience, and expanding that mode to ten players was unprecedented at the time. Four-player was starting to become a big thing during that era with games like Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye, but having ten people packed in one room must have been a great experience for those with a Saturn, a couple multitaps, a room full of controllers, and plenty of gaming friends. I’m sure this experience isn’t as fresh today, but I had some fun with Bomberman on XBLA, so this game may still be worth checking out.
Game number nine, Final Fantasy VI (FFIII SNES), is a game that is often considered the king of RPGs by people that were fans of the genre, pre-FFVII. Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: A traditional, Japanese RPG with more gameplay extras than any other title in gaming history. It has a super-long quest, multiple (and interchangeable) characters and a fun, menu-driven realtime combat system.
It made the list because: OK, where should we start? The graphics are rich and beautiful, as is the music. The cast is crammed with personality. The story line is magical and so involving that you may need to keep notes to follow its twists and turns. Heck, you even battle dinosaurs! We could go on and on. Very few people can argue that FFIII isn’t a AAA title (we’d like to be in on that argument). It’s the game that revolutionized the genre, while keeping old-school RPG fundamentals alive. It’s also far more rewarding than FFII, and just a tad better than the awesome FFVII (FFIII offers more varied gameplay). We’ll love this game forever.
Coolest parts: Trying to decide which characters are going adventuring with you and which are staying behind on the airship to twiddle their swords. And what about how awesome each character is? Some have Street Fighter moves (how’s that for RPG innovation?), some can transform, some have special attacks, etc. And don’t even get us started on the opera scene. Then there are the Chocobos, the Espers, the mechs…hoo boy–there are too many "coolest parts" to list.
Did you know: Final Fantasy III is actually called part six in the series. It’s only called FFIII because it’s the third one released in the States. And–you guessed it–Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation is the sequel."
What I have to say: Like EGM, I feel that FFVI deserves its place on this list, and I actually probably would have placed it even higher. FFIV was my first Final Fantasy and I still love it even today, but FFVI implemented some major changes that kept the genre from getting stale. FFV gave us a deep battle system, that expanded upon the original NES FFIII, but FFVI combined some of the best aspects of FFIV and V. In the first four FF games, one of your main goals was to save the crystals. In FFV, the crystals were finally destroyed, and this alluded to the new direction the series would take afterwards. FFVI forever altered the way in which RPG stories were told. You could say that this formula came from some earlier RPGs like FFII (NES), but most people first saw the Resistance versus Empire story in FFVI.
FFVI was also special because it included magic and technology in one world–it combined the old world with the new. FFIV had some great characters, but they weren’t all that developed in comparison to FFVI’s epic cast. Characters like Sabin, Shadow, Cyan, Locke, and Celes, are arguably still some of the best RPG characters. This was an era in which effeminate males didn’t dominate the RPG landscape, and women actually played a prominent role in the story. FFVI was also home to one of the most memorable villains in RPG history. Instead of just being some evil, cold-hearted bad guy with his heart set on world domination with no reasonable motive, FFVI actually had a believable villain. Kefka is the definition of insanity–he craved power, and probably loved to torture animals as a kid. Kefka is analogous to the Joker in Batman, so there’s a reason that he’s a memorable villain.
There’s so much that could be said about FFVI’s story and characters, but it also featured incredible 2D artwork, a musical score that was unrivaled at the time, and memorable sequences like the Opera House, the Phantom Train, Celes’ attempted suicide, and the destruction of the world. In this game, there were even non-linear sequences and optional characters. There was also some moral ambiguity, flashback sequences that you had to reason through to understand, and you could possibly lose certain characters. It is obvious that FFVI deserved its position on this list.
Game number 8, Contra III: The Alien Wars, is one of the SNES’ most difficult titles, and a favorite among masochistic gamers. Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: Just like the original Contra, except a thousand times more intense.
It made the list because: Talk about sensory overload! This game has everything: huge Bosses, Mode 7 stages, ultradeep gameplay–all wrapped up in a beautifully atmospheric post-apocalyptic package. You get all the great control of the original, except now with new moves and the ability to carry and switch between two devastating weapons. But what really sets this game apart are its Bosses. No two can be toppled the same way. (Our favorite is the giant robot who smashes through the wall and lobs time bombs at you.)
Coolest Part: Beating the game on normal or hard and watching the final Boss claw after you as you cling to an ascending helicopter gunship. And, of course, playing simultaneously with a buddy/sibling.
Where have I seen that before: Go back and watch the intro to Contra III: Alien Wars. Hmmm. Think maybe the folks behind Independence Day were fans of this game?"
What I have to say: Contra III is one of those games that you either love or hate. It’s clearly a well-made game, but it’s incredibly difficult, and definitely not for everyone. People who cut their teeth on nearly impossible NES games or walked on hot coals barefoot as a daily routine are the kind of people who love games like Contra III. Personally, I couldn’t hack it. Honestly, I had never played a Contra game until this was released on Virtual Console, but I ended up giving up after four or five tries. It’s a fun game with plenty of action, vehicular mayhem, and interesting Mode 7 sequences, but I just found it too difficult to get into. I had no problems with Mega Man 2 and 9, thanks to infinite continues, but Contra gives gamers the shaft in this regard. I would have rather placed Mega Man 2 on this top ten list, but Contra is a favorite among hardcore gamers, so I can understand why EGM gave it its number 8 spot.
Game number 7, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, is a title that was often overlooked due to gamers craving next-gen systems, and their dismissal of the game’s pastel art style. Here’s what EGM had to say about this overlooked game:
"The game: Super FX2-based side-scrolling platformer with the most amazingly unique graphics the Super NES has ever seen.
It made the list because: Yoshi’s Island is as much a piece of art as a game. It’s like a huge, playable coloring book. Unfortunately, the game couldn’t have been released at a worse time, going unnoticed by quite a few gamers. Trust us–Yoshi’s Island is the epitome of platform gaming, falling only inches behind Super Mario Bros. 3 as the best 2-D platformer of all time. Beautiful graphics, great gameplay, lots of bonus options and mini-games and well over 50 stages–what more could you ask for?
Coolest part: All of the "morphmation," what Nintendo calls the stretching and warping of the game characters. Also, your mad dash to rescue Baby Mario after he’s been knocked off Yoshi.
Did you know: Yoshi’s Island was in development for over three years before it was finally released. The game was redone almost from scratch at least once, but the end result shows that the time taken was certainly worth it."
What I have to say: Yoshi’s Island deserves its lofty position among the greatest video games. It’s a fantastic 2D platformer that still holds up remarkably well. Initially, I didn’t like the art style and thought it was a bit disappointing, especially in comparison to games like Chrono Trigger and the upcoming Mario RPG, but I later grew to love the game’s unique pastel visuals. Besides having stylized visuals, Yoshi’s Island also had several unique concepts. You were tasked with keeping watch over a baby version of everyone’s favorite plumber and spaghetti connoisseur, and keeping him on Yoshi’s back wouldn’t always be easy. Playing smart was important; otherwise, you’d have to hear Baby Mario’s piercing cry. Tossing eggs in all directions at your enemies was another unique concept, but what was particularly cool about Yoshi’s Island were the vehicles you could morph into and the changing environments. Yoshi’s Island was a refreshing change from standard running and jumping platformers, so this game definitely stands the test of time.
Game number 6, Super Metroid is a classic adventure with non-linear exploration that would spawn a new genre (Symphony of the Night fans, pay homage). Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: It’s a bigger and better version of the futuristic 8-Bit platform/action classic. Super Metroid has tons of levels, weapons and secrets.
It made the list because: Boy, if you’ve played Super Metroid, then you wouldn’t ask why. From the exciting intro (with elements taken from the end of the original Metroid game) to the emotional ending, this 16-Bit sequel is simply stunning. This game takes skill, brains and technique to complete successfully, and you’ll love every minute of it.
Coolest part: Seeing you-know-who come to your rescue in the end.
Did you know: You get to see Samus in her bathing suit if you beat the game in under three hours. Also, if you let the demo run uninterrupted, you can see a slew of Samus’ secret moves. A few of us didn’t even notice the educational demo until after we beat the game. Better late than never, we guess."
What I have to say: I missed out on Super Metroid when it was originally released (I was one of those who received Donkey Kong Country for Christmas), so I missed out on its unique level design, countdowns, and surprising plot-twists. Super Metroid also featured massive bosses, a plethora of weapons and power-ups, and the haunting melodies really added to the experience. This game would later be chosen as EGM’s favorite game, and while I don’t share the same sentiment, it’s still an incredibly fun, ground-breaking game that must be played. Luckily, you can now experience Samus’ best 2D adventure on Wii Virtual Console.
Game number 5, Street Fighter II Turbo, is a famous 2D fighting game that is often considered to be the best of the original Street Fighter II series. Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: The second SFII game to come out for the Super NES. This one added speed and playable Bosses to an already successful formula.
It made the list because: This is the best and newest Street Fighter that still plays like the classic. The series changed when it became "Super" and later "Alpha." But many of us still like old-school SFII best, and Hyper Fighting is as good as old-school gets. Excellent control on an excellent translation of an excellent fighting game engine. Need we say more?
Coolest part: Playing this game for hours and hours until your thumb just couldn’t take anymore.
Coolest code: Pressing Down, R button, Up, L button, Y, B on the second controller while the word "Turbo" scrolls across the opening screen. Now you can pick a 10-star speed setting. This is Hyper Fighting in the truest sense of the phrase."
What I have to say: Street Fighter was one of the major reasons for the SNES’ success, so I’d say that Street Fighter II definitely deserves a spot on EGM’s top 10 list in some form or another. It’s still a fun game, but I actually preferred Super Street Fighter II and the recent HD release in the series for XBLA. Unlike many pitiful arcade conversions like Altered Beast, Street Fighter II proved that a solid conversion could be done on the 16-bit consoles. Learning all of the characters’ moves and fighting with friends was a blast, and is still an enjoyable experience today.
Game number four, Super Mario 64 was arguably the most influential title when it comes to 3D games, so let’s look at what EGM had to say:
"The game: This adventure stars a familiar plumber in a very unfamiliar setting: breathtaking 3-D worlds. But you already knew that.
It made the list because: Take your pick: Its selling power put the N64 on the map. Its look and feel spawned a new era of 3-D adventure knockoffs (Banjo Kazooie, anyone?). Its many secrets, shortcuts–and even its bugs–fueled the hype that made it one of the most-talked-about games ever, certainly one of the best selling. But most importantly, its game-play showed that as far as 3-D gaming goes, we haven’t seen anything yet. Just about everything in Super Mario 64 works flawlessly–the analog control, the puzzles, Mario’s new moves, the way most levels offer new challenges each time you visit them. Sure, the game has its tiny flaws, especially in the camera department. But we’re talking about a title that’s as revolutionary today as the original Super Mario Bros. was back in the mid-’80s. It’s not easy creating an entirely new genre, no matter how many times Shigeru Miyamoto has done it. And while Super Mario 64 isn’t quite as challenging or fun as Mario 3, no gamer should die without playing–and beating–it first.
Coolest part: Seeing someone pull off the ultimate trick–reaching the roof of the castle before ever nabbing a single star. Trust us, it can be done.
A sleeper hit? Superstars–even digital ones–are just as "human" as you or me. Case in point: If you leave Mario alone for a minute or two, he’ll sneak in a quick nap. Talk about your computer AI advancements!"
What I have to say: Unless you’re an extreme Sonic fan that wants to bludgeon Mario with a wrench, you probably agree with me that this game was a must-pick for EGM’s top 10 list. The first time I saw Mario 64 in my friend’s EGM during 5th grade, I was blown away. I hadn’t played many 3D games outside of arcades, so I was highly impressed by Mario’s new look. I thought that the game couldn’t possibly fulfill my lofty expectations, but when I received a hands-on experience with the game at a Toys RUs demo kiosk, my jaw literally dropped. Holding the N64 controller was a bit awkward at first, but the analog control was so accurate that I actually felt like I was Mario. I was impressed enough by Bob omb Battlefield and the Castle portion of the game, that I sold my Genesis and took a thirty minute bike ride to Toys R Us a day before the N64 was supposed to launch to purchase the system. I don’t think I’ve ever been that impressed by a game, and it remains my favorite Mario game with the possible exception of Mario Galaxy to this day.
Game number 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is often viewed as one of the most ground breaking titles in the Zelda series besides the original. Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: A sequel to the 8-Bit action-RPG series, with better graphics, new tools and weapons, and more worlds to explore.
It made the list because: A Link to the Past takes everything that made the original Zelda such a classic and supercharges the entire package. The graphics are improved tenfold over the original, and the levels–especially outdoors–are huge (remember the forest maze?). The environments are also much more interactive than in previous Zeldas (remember lighting the torches in the dungeons with your lantern?) Part three of the Zelda series is clearly the best action-RPG ever made.
Coolest part: Remember seeing the rain for the first time? Remember thinking how awesome your Super Nintendo is when you saw that rain?
Did you know: In our reader poll for top games of all time, Zelda 64 received a dozen votes. Peculiar, wouldn’t you say, for a game that isn’t even out in Japan yet? We’re sure the game’s gonna be awesome, too, but let’s not jump the gun yet."
What I have to say: I loved Super Mario World, but A Link to the Past was the first SNES game that I really got into. My dad for the most part doesn’t like video games, but one of the few games he ever enjoyed was the original Zelda, so he was actually interested in seeing this title. Stumbling around finding the entrance to the castle must have stumped him, because he never again expressed interest in playing the game. I on the other hand, felt that A Link to the Past was a massive improvement over the original Zelda. There was a story actually told in the game itself, the music was excellent, the graphics were significantly better than its predecessor, but more importantly, the gameplay was altered in monumental ways. You still used tools, but the puzzles were much more in-depth, the boss fights were memorable, and the new tools were clever. It remains my favorite 2D Zelda to this day and definitely deserves a place on EGM’s top ten.
Game number 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a pop culture phenomenon. It was discussed at the work place, and could even be found in movies. Here’s what the old men at EGM had to say:
"The game: The third chapter in the insanely successful Super Mario Bros. series, it’s also the single best platform game of all time (as well as the second best game of all time).
It made the list because: Super Mario Bros. 3 took the series back to its roots, but expanded upon the original game in every way imaginable. No other game since has been able to recapture the spirit of adventure and enchantment found in Mario 3. There are dozens of worlds to explore, tons of secrets to find, minigames up the wazoo, perfect gameplay and special animal costumes that grant never-before-seen powers. What, for instance, could be better than batting turtles with your tail after nabbing the Leaf power-up? Or how about sprinting and launching into the air for a few seconds of flight to grab those hard-to-reach coins? And for the first time, the levels were spread out on an overworld map that sprawled in every direction (but watch out for the roving Hammer Brothers!). The entire game just cries out to be explored! Best of all, the All-Stars version on the Super NES is like a dream come true–everything is re-created perfectly, but with gorgeous graphics and better sounds.
Coolest part: Using the Whistle from Zelda to get to the hidden Warp Zones!
Just a reminder: We’re not including compilation games on our Top 100, or Super Mario All-Stars would be the clear-cut number one game of all time. It’s a sin not to own this king of compilations!"
What I have to say: Mario Bros. 3 is the first game I remember playing religiously. My dad had an Atari, and I played that on occasion, but the NES is where most of my early game memories lie. I played the original Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Zelda, and a few other titles, but none drew me in as much as Super Mario Bros. 3. This title was so popular, I remember a secretary at my dad’s job talking about where to find the whistles. This is the only time I can remember adults actually talking about video games in a positive light outside of gaming publications. Super Mario Bros. 3 was a monumental title, because it unleashed a baker’s dozen (well actually, more like a donut shop) of creative levels. These levels featured some things from previous Mario games, but you actually felt like you were in the Mushroom Kingdom this time when you were climbing through pipe vaults, sliding on ice, and whacking giant goombas. The unique power-ups, unrivaled level designs, and great graphics made Mario Bros. 3 a must-have game. I recently played through this game again on Mario All-Stars, and it convinced me that Super Mario Bros. 3 deserved a place on EGM’s top ten list.
The final title on EGM’s legendary top ten is a game from Soda Popinski’s homeland. Alexey Pajitnov provided us with a ground breaking game that was not only popular among gamers, but was also a hit among the masses. Here’s what EGM had to say:
"The game: Spend half your life forcing six differently shaped blocks into neat rows at the bottom of a well. Spend the other half waiting for the straight, skinny block so you can score a "Tetris."
It made the list because: Let’s forget for a sec’ that 40 million people worldwide play Tetris. Let’s forget that for most people–it’s the single most addicting game on the planet. Let’s forget that it paved the way for today’s most exciting flashy, combo-ridden puzzle games. Tetris is as pure as a video game can get. It’s just you, seven blocks and a well. Your goal is incredibly simple: line up the blocks in rows and make them go away, preferably four rows at a time, to make room for the never-ending rain of blocks from above. When the right blocks come your way–and if you can manage to avoid mistakes–the game can be relaxing. One mislaid block, however, and your duties switch to damage control, a mad, panicky dash to clean up your mess or die. No, Tetris doesn’t look, sound or play like any other video game. Nevertheless, it’s complete gaming bliss.
When it came time to pick the best version of Tetris, we found ourselves in a pickle. First, we fired up the old Tengen version for the NES (you remember–the one Nintendo filed a lawsuit over because Tengen cracked the Big N’s lockout chip?). We were really, really hoping this version was as good as we remembered. After all, wouldn’t it be as cool if the greatest game of all time was an outlaw? Alas, the Tetris packed with Dr. Mario for the Super NES plays a little better (it’s easier to control the speed of your blocks’ descent, and the Two-player Mode is more fun than the one in Tengen’s). Still, many on the staff argued for the Game Boy version. You can take it anywhere and still play two-player games with the link cable. After hours of bickering, we finally realized that Tetris pretty much plays fine no matter which system you use to rock your puzzle blocks, whether it be a PC, console, Game Boy or a $10 keychain.
Coolest part: Knowing that whenever you get bored with the latest 3-D adventure or shooter or side-scroller or RPG or sim, Tetris–and its seven blocks–will be waiting for you, always.
Did you know: The greatest video game of all time was never originally intended to be a video game at all. When Alexey Pajitnov invented Tetris, his intention was merely to create a mental exercise for fellow Russian scientists."
What I have to say: Tetris was certainly a ground breaking game, but does it deserve the top spot on this list? I’m going to have to disagree with EGM here. Tetris is fun in short bursts, and I’m sure that’s why they chose it, as they planned on moving to a desert island after all, but frankly, I’d get sick of Tetris fairly fast. I’d say it’s fine for a top ten pick, but it definitely doesn’t deserve the coveted numero uno position. I’m curious to know if the old EGM crew still frequently plays Tetris. Tetris is obviously still somewhat popular, because a DS and Wii iteration were recently released. I’ve moved on to other puzzle games since, but there’s no doubt that Tetris was an innovative game, no matter your opinion on it.
This article is already unbelievably long, but I promised to include my top ten picks from 1997 and the years preceding. Here are my top ten favorite games of the era:
2)Secret of Mana
3)Final Fantasy VI
4)Final Fantasy IV
5)Final Fantasy V
6)Final Fantasy VII
9)Seiken Densetsu 3
I was tempted to include the Lunar games, but I’ve only played the Playstation incarnations, which were released post-1997, so I’m not sure how the Sega CD versions hold up. I’m obviously an RPG fan, so here are some of my favorite games from that era that aren’t RPGs:
2)The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
3)Super Mario Bros. 3
4)Mario Kart 64
8)Kirby Super Star
10)Mega Man X
If you made it through this feature without consuming a 12-pack of energy drinks, you’re either Seanbaby-cool or an immortal walking this Earth in disguise. Regardless of how many energy drinks you consumed while reading this article, I hope you enjoyed this feature on one of EGM’s best issues.