"Hey You, Play This" is a column I might do from time to time. It is simply a big ol' list of recommendations that spans all the way back from the late '80s to very recent titles. I offer this list to you if you're looking for retro games, games in genres similar to the ones you like, or if you just feel like blind buying something on the cheap. Many of these games are available to you through the normal means, and some are tougher to find, but if you're dedicated you'll find a way to check them all out. Or, if you're really dedicated, you know, you probably have already played these games.
Without further ado, here is the list in chronological order:
Super Mario Land (1989, Game Boy): A Mario classic buried for years because it was on a handheld system. It had some great new enemies, worlds, music, and power-ups for Mario like a plane and a submarine.
Yoshi (1991, Game Boy/NES): A very simple and addictive puzzle game that featured Yoshi, eggs, bloopers, goombas, boos, and piranha plants. An early gem from Game Freak, who would later make the Pokemon games.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (1992, Arcade/SNES): The 4 player co-op best beat-em-up, and the best Turtles game ever, is available on Xbox Live Arcade if you want some nostalgic fun. Or regular fun, no nostalgia required.
Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move (1994, Arcade/Neo Geo): A puzzle game that has been copied and cloned for decades, it still holds up today. But you mostly play it for the catchy song that repeats over and over.
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (1996, N64): An early example of what FPS games could be, and how the Star Wars expanded universe could enrich media across books and games and comics.
Metal Slug (1996, Arcade/Neo Geo): A side-scroller that matched accessibility with difficulty, it's been going on for a while with more sequels. Maybe it's because the formula is so good that they keep pumping out these games.
Mole Mania (1997, Game Boy): Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of almost every single Nintendo property, made this incredible and forgotten puzzle game way back when. It's a very clever and cheeky game that no one has really replicated since.
on Pinball (1999, Game Boy Color): Combining pinball and a big name franchise might be all the rage now, but back in 1999, it was a gigantic deal. Catching them all. With pinball. I never stopped playing that game.
Roller Coaster Tycoon (1999, PC): Most kids got introduced to simulators and strategy games through this game, which was the closest thing you could get to fun without having to go to a theme park. You could just make your own, and then make a faulty coaster and crash it and kill your visitors! Or not. That's what I did.
Power Stone (1999, Dreamcast/Arcade): This was the best Smash Bros. arcade brawler since Smash Bros. invented the genre, and it's a real shame Capcom hasn't given us another one of these. Madness always ensued when playing Power Stone.
Ape Escape (1999, Playstation): The first game to warrant mandatory analog sticks on a controller, the Ape Escape games combined platforming, hijinks, monkeys, mini-games, RPG elements, and was the closest Sony ever came to having a Pokemon type series where you catch pesky animals.
Pokemon Snap (1999, N64): You take pictures of Pokemon. That is the best elevator pitch you'll ever get. It's heartbreaking and infuriating that Nintendo has not delivered another one.
Mr. Driller (1999, Arcade/Playstation/Dreamcast): Mr. Driller was a puzzle game that made the player drill downwards, through colored bricks, instead of making the blocks fall from the top. It's a very fast paced and frenetic game that is overflowing with character and flavor.
Super Dodge Ball Advance (2001, GBA): This game was like X-Com, where you could set up your team and name them, but instead they played Dodge Ball. It was a great little title for the Game Boy Advance I really liked back in the day.
ChuChu Rocket! (2001, Dreamcast/GBA, iOs): ChuChu was the king of puzzle games when it came out, and while it's fallen off in popularity, there is no excuse. Play it on your phone, right now. Go play it. Go! It's insanely fun.
The Grid (2001, Arcade): This is a game you might not be able to play, since it was an arcade only game that was made by Midway, who are now gone. But it was an MK inspired take on the Hunger Games, before that was a best selling book. One map, lots of guns, and only one winner could emerge. It had cheat codes, easter eggs, over the top theatrics, and a lot of gore. It was a bloody good time.
Ikaruga (2001, Arcade, Dreamcast, Gamecube): If Galaga was the first game to let you fly a ship around and shoot stuff, this game took it to the extreme. It was bullet hell, and you could change the color of your ship to absorb and fire off the enemie's projectiles. Very hard to master, but easy to play. Until you threw your controller at a window during a boss encounter.
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (2001, PS2/Gamecube/Xbox): The proto-cooperative RPG has been around for a very long time, but I liked this one the best. It was D&D without the paper work or dice or chance. You could save your data on the arcade version too. It also had us saying "red wizard is about to die!" for years. We still do it.
Arctic Thunder (2001, Arcade, Xbox, PS2): There were a lot of wave-racing games, like Hydro Thunder, that popped up in the early '00s, but the snowmobile racer was hands down the best of them all. Downhill races became about going through ice palaces, you could play as a monkey, knock other people off their snowmobiles, and on the arcade cabinet they had air blowing through the machine. How cool was that?
Super Monkey Ball 2 (2002, Gamecube): Besides the killer name, the Super Monkey Ball games mixed monkeys and bananas with impossible labyrinth mazes floating in mid-air you had to roll through. And a ton of mini-games to hold you over if you hit levels that were too challenging.
007: Nightfire (2002, GC/PS2/Xbox): The best James Bond game ever, yeah that's right, not Goldeneye, had 007 fighting ninjas, sniping, driving around Europe, and infiltrating castles to get the job done. With his laser watch. How sick is that? The multiplayer also rocked, because you had control over your camera angles, unlike Goldeneye.
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory (2002, PS2): A spiritual successor to the Ghosts 'n' Goblins games, this was an early 3D platformer that had some Dark Souls esque difficulty spikes. It made beating the game both challenging and rewarding, which was satisfying in an age of games made for younger players.
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (2002, Playstation 2): One of the best platformers to rival the Mario games, Sly Cooper kicked off a long running series of games that I think are among the best on the PS2 and PS3. Definitely a favorite of mine, there's a collection of them available. Stealth games weren't ever as good as these.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, GC/PS2): The Lord of the Rings games were the first movie tie-in games to actually stand on their own, and it started with Two Towers. It was a Diablo hack-and-slash that had amazing production values, authenticity down to the tiniest detail, and some deep RPG leveling that made replaying the game over and over a blast.
The Simpsons: Hit and Run (2003, Xbox, Gamecube, PS2): I think this is the best Simpsons game ever made, as it gave you a GTA-light open world to run around, or drive around Springfield. You could play as any of the Simpsons characters, and there was a crazy amount of content and jokes and easter eggs and side missions and collectibles in that game.
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (2003, GBA): Twitch, fast paced mini-games that were very simple to play but as it sped up, it got tougher to keep going without messing up. The themes and very off-brand humor is why we love these games.
XIII (2003, Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, PC): A political, conspiracy thriller done in a cel-shaded, comic book art style with an A list celebrity voice cast; that's what set XIII apart initially, but it was a really great FPS with a twisting story and some cool ideas for multiplayer.
Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge (2003, Xbox): An early contender for best game on Xbox Live (before Halo 2), this was aerial combat at its finest. It had an alternate history take on America, with a steampunk aesthetic and lots of planes to fly, and lots of Germans to shoot down.
Pac-Man Vs. (2003, Gamecube): A very innovative game where one player (Pac-Man) uses the Game Boy Advance to outsmart the other players using Gamecube controllers as the ghosts. There is a difference in map size and perspective, and shifting allegiances. The Wii U would later copy what Namco did here first.
Viewtiful Joe (2003, Gamecube, PS2): A vibrant and stunning platformer where you play a superhero with time altering powers, and you work your way through a comic book artstyle and panels. Capcom made a few of these visually arresting games.
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (2004, Xbox, PS2, PC): Imagine if you had telekinesis, and everything could be thrown at people you didn't like. Now imagine there was a game where that was possible. It exists, and had some great controls for manipulating objects in 3D. You could even shoot what you lifted off the ground, like soldiers.
Transformers (2004, PS2): The best thing related to Transformers, this game let you drive around and transform at will, collecting upgrades for your weapons and allowing you to plow through robots as Optimus Prime. Better than the toys, way better than those awful movies.
Katamari Damacy (2004, PS2): This is the greatest game of all time. Period. Our love for this game knows no boundaries. You roll around everyday objects in Japan, and grow your ball of junk into a bigger ball, which collects people, buildings, cars, cities, countries, and then planets. It's all-time great J-pop soundtrack, cartoonish graphics, wacky sound effects, ridiculous storyline, and personality allow the thin gameplay to win you over with its sense of scale and charm, something few games can do nowadays.
Ratchet: Deadlocked (2005, PS2): A rare arena shooter with heavy RPG upgrades, this is a forgotten entry in the long running and fantastic Ratchet and Clank series.
Mario Superstar Baseball (2005, Gamecube): Of all the Mario sports games, this one was the most fun to us, but somehow the least talked about. It was the perfect balance of baseball sim and arcade fun, with characters you care about. Instead of, you know, nameless baseball players.
Burnout Revenge (2005, PS2, Xbox): This is a contender for greatest racing game of all time, and somehow is not thought of as such. It combined fast paced racing, tight controls, drifting, and smashing your car into things into a masterpiece. And if there was traffic in front of you, you just went through the cars, which is something no other games do but should let you do. Traffic sucks!
Meteos (2005, DS): This was a launch game for the Nintendo DS that we really like, and not a lot of people played. So no one remembers how fun and addictive Meteos was. Oh well. Hopefully we get a port of this on iOS, or someone rips off the idea. We'll take either.
Jade Empire (2005, Xbox): Bioware has made a lot of games you've played or heard of, like Mass Effect and KOTOR. But our favorite game of theirs was this action RPG set in a mythical land where everyone knows kung-fu, and the combat was a fast loop of rock-papers-scissors. But with kung-fu.
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (2005, Xbox, PS2): A rare spin-off of the MK fighting games, Shaolin Monks dove into the lore of the MK universe and also gave us great, violent co-op action and lots of secrets to boot. And you could play as Scorpion and Sub-Zero. How great is that?
Tetris DS (2006, DS): Tetris is a perfect game, the best puzzle game out there, and has been for decades. But the DS version added so much to the classic formula, and had a heavy dose of Nintendo nostalgia and additional modes, that we still opt to play this version of Tetris over others.
Black (2006, PS2, Xbox): Criterion isn't known for FPS games, but after playing Black, we really wish they tried more. It had bleeding edge graphics back in 2006, and a lot of destruction and explosions and things to shoot. That's why we loved it. That, and the reload animations.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 (2006, Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Xbox, PSP): After the first 3 Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, this is our vote for the best since, and the last great skating game from Activision. It was an early example of what the new consoles (at the time) could do, and let us go into bullet time and customize our flip tricks. It was also gorgeous to look at, expansive to skate around in, and had a killer soundtrack.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006, Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, PS3, Wii, PC, GBA, PSP): We really like Diablo style games, like Borderlands, that take beating people up, collecting things, and upgrading characters and combine them. Now add co-op, and the best line-up of playable Marvel superheroes in the best worlds. There needs to be more of these games, they're great fun.
Prey (2006, PC, Xbox 360): We really dug what Prey had to offer. It starred a Native American who is abducted by aliens, and uses some beyond the grave powers to fight off the invasion aboard the mothership. It had a cool death system, lots of guns, and was very pretty (at the time).
Okami (2006, PS2, Wii, PS3): The Legend of Zelda template has been used throughout the decades, but this was the best at utilizing the adventures and exploration, but setting it in a Japanese oil painting. You play Ammy, the god of the sun, and use a paintbrush to fight enemies and solve environmental puzzles. Okami is so idiosyncratic that there will not be anything to look or play like it for some time. And you played as a dog!
Earth Defense Force 2017 (2007, Xbox 360): This game didn't look the best, or run well at all. But it did have huge space bugs, lots of rocket launchers, and was the best B-action movie a game can offer. It mixed '50s sci-fi schlock and Japanese Godzilla monsters into a game that was really cheap and very stupid fun.
Dead Space (2008, Xbox 360, PS3, PC): Before the modern wave of horror games on Steam, Dead Space was our only real title for being scared and fighting off an infection. But in space! Something Resident Evil never did.
Brutal Legend (2009, Xbox 360, PS3, PC): Heavy metal got turned into a video game starring Jack Black, and featured Lemmy and Ozzy Osbourne (among others) as rock gods you fought demons alongside. While listening to metal. It was glorious, and we won't be able to find another game that had its humor or its dedication to rocking and rolling.
Papers, Please (2013, PC, Vita, iOS): This is an excellent indie that you should try if you're looking for something different; it forces you to work at the border of an eastern European country, checking in people with passports. You work for little money, and have to endure the cold war of the '80s and terrorist attacks, all the while trying to make sure you aren't messing up at your job. It's immersive and smart, and strikes a great balance between gameplay and storytelling.
Jazzpunk (2014, PC): Jazzpunk might be the funniest game we've ever played, and is just a long string of goofy jokes and gags you poke at until you reach the end of a '50s conspiracy thriller. None of it is serious, and all of it is hilarious, and beautiful to boot.