Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
SotC is the most beautifully staged and absorbing console game I’ve ever seen. I get lost in it the way I do in certain books, which is strange because this game’s got almost no plot. You (whoever you are) bring your dead elf girlfriend to the resurrect-o-slab in a scary old temple where the voice of the darkness tells you to seek out and defeat a series of colossi. So you do the seeking and the defeating. You have a horse and a magic sword. Actually, the sword seems pretty normal, but it has a magic shininess that is vital to your pursuits. That’s pretty much it. Yet, in playing out, it shows you things about scale, distance, and physicality that you never imagined you would see on a PS2. I am kind of thinking about getting a PS3 just so I can replay this game with a better frame rate.
Time Bandits (1981)
It has almost nothing to do with SotC, but it is the 3rd-awesomest Terry Gilliam movie (after Brazil and Holy Grail, duh), so you should watch it as often as possible. And when the sea giant rises from the water wearing the Ogre’s boat as a hat, and someone stabs him in his magical weak spot, you are primed to do a couple of SotC fights right then and there.
Psychonauts (PC, Xbox, etc)
This is a 3-D platformer towering miles above the rest of the genre; it’s got the funniest writing and best voice acting of the millennium so far (you’ll maybe recognize the Old Man Murray
crew on dialogue and Invader Zim as the protagonist Rez). It handles well and has genuinely stylish scene & character design. And all of a sudden you can get it on Steam
for twenty bucks, so do. I desperately want for this studio to make another game.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
ESotSM is one of my favorite movies, and the only performance I’ve ever really liked from America’s beloved rubber-faced fartsmith. I sometimes rant about how every movie should be about a character making a single decision (see Spy Game, Hero, Citizen Ruth, Memento, Jacob’s Ladder, et al). Eternal Sunshine is the most original and the most touching of the various implementations of this structure. Again, it doesn’t have much to do with the game except that in both cases most of the action takes place in the shifting landscapes of the subconscious. And after the darker laughs and yanketty heartstrings of ESotSM you’re going to want to lighten up for a few hours by hunting figments and cobwebs and brains in jars.
The Lost Treasures of Infocom (PC/Mac)
Okay, there is a lot worth playing in this gang of 80s text adventures, but really I’m talking about the all-time greatest text adventure HHG2tG. I learned to touch-type because I had to talk to this game in complete sentences. And I learned to love arbitrarily complex logic problems when it was time to get the Babel Fish to go in my ear. If you’re a collector, this game is on the Lost Treasures I and Sci-Fi collections from Infocom, outrageously priced in the used bin at Amazon Marketplace. Otherwise just play it free at the BBC site
Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1982 BBC series on DVD)
You have several options for getting psyched up towards the whole bunch of typing that is
the HHG2tG text adventure. The recent Hollywood movie was quite solid (mostly because of Sam Rockwell and Mos Def) and the novel or original radio series share the honors for hilarity and pacing. But the BBC TV version still has my favorite Arthur Dent. Revisit it.
Dead Rising (360)
Man, I wish this would come out on PC. I only got to play for a couple hours at Penny Arcade Expo
’06. I am hooked. You can beat zombies to death (I mean, to more
death) with anything that you can lift or roll. And finally
there is a big enough crowd of zombies in a video game for me to actually feel like I am going to get eaten.
Dead Alive (1992)
Sure, Dead Rising is a straight rip of Dawn Of The Dead, and you won’t go wrong with Romero’s politically engaging original or
the surprisingly good 2004 remake
. But no zombie movie holds a candle to Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, which will juice you up to boot the 360 and sluice the lumbering undead with the lawn mower.
Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker (GC)
I never had a Nintendo, but my housemate had a GameCube and let me play his copy of Wind Waker for about a month straight while I had a broken leg. There are not that many games that you can explore for a month straight and still feel like you haven’t seen everything. I guess all you people who had a lot of Nintendos over the years would put all the Zelda games in that category. But I saw those games. They were stupid-looking. Wind Waker is awesome-looking. This is the best-ever place to be wandering around doing idiotic quests, collecting walnuts, herding orphans, stabbing flowers, whatever the hell it is you’re supposed to do to get your triforce back together and kill Gargamel or whoever. Plus you can use your pan-flute to make the weather do your bidding and you have a talking boat.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Jim Henson’s muppetless puppet movie is slow as molasses, yet still weirdly exciting. Just like Zelda! And though there’s nothing as frightening in Wind Waker as the Skeksis, and no talking boats in Dark Crystal (dammit!) you will notice that both properties center on pointy-eared midget creatures with heads shaped like almonds.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (PC, PS2, Xbox, GC)
I played the hell out of the old(est) PoP and felt my blood race when it was time to go through a vertical chomper or fight the vizier. That original king of the VGA platform scramblers stands as a classic. Find some abandonwarezy DOS version instead of playing the weirdly unsatisfying flash port
. Better yet, get a C64 emu and go back to Mechner’s
first hit, Karateka
. Before you do any of that, though, check out the first PS2 game that really convinced me console gaming was awesome. PoP:SoT has the best gameplay and level design of the modern PoP trilogy. It feels vast and complex, looks beautiful, and balances fighting with trying-to-figure-out-how-the-hell-to-get-up-there better than anything since Tomb Raider II. Oh, and before you play Sands of Time, watch:
Back To The Future (1985)
The movie that made us forgive Michael J Fox for embodying that jackass Alex P Keaton
. Much like our buddy The Prince (of Persia), Michael’s Marty learns early in his adventure that you can beat any level if you have the power to go back in time for unlimited do-overs. Wait, no, that’s the plot of Part II. BttF1 is about Marty trying to get his parents to have sex. That’s gross. Except people think I look like Crispin Glover. So trying to get him to have sex with someone is awesome. Or sort of gross/awesome. Curses! I do not know how to feel about this movie any more.
Katamari Damacy (PS2)
The first totally new idea for a game that I’ve seen since the mid-90s. If you are into video games, you probably already know about this one. But if you hate video games (and are reading this anyway), listen up. You control a ball of sticky garbage. Last night your abusive dad The King of All Cosmos got drunk and destroyed every star in the firmament. You have to roll your sticky garbage ball around and pick up everything you roll over. The ball gets bigger and bigger, until it is big enough to turn into a new star in the sky. That’s the whole game. Weirdest intro movie ever. Best in-game music ever. Lends major credence to the notion that Japanese people are insane. A must-play. By the way, the sequel We Heart Katamari
has more interesting levels but lacks the first game’s cohesive progression – in Damacy you get steadily bigger as you go from picking up matches and thumbtacks to absorbing whole continents.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Actually you should not watch this movie. Aside from some charming animation, it was pretty lame. Read the Dahl book
instead. It will get you in the mood for rotation-propelled forward-aiming unstopability.
NOTE: I got solicited by Amazon to write this but then I never got it together to give it to the right person over there. So now it’s here, with all the product links sending you to Amazon via my associate code. So buy things at amazon with those links. And I will in turn buy a giant mansion in the fashionable north-eastern foothills of my imagination.