And now, folks, it's time for me to list out the top ten so that I can get to bitching about games I hate. I'm sure you'll find this enlightening.
10) American McGee's Alice
When I applied to EA for a job, this was the only game I'd played that EA had made. Actually, EA published it. Rogue Games dev'ed it. Not sure if they even exist anymore. It seems like the companies that make my faves are short lived. Anyway, it's a 3rd person adventure where you control a goth Alice in Wonderland as she tries to reclaim her sanity in an insane (in a bad way) Wonderland. What really shines about Alice is the level design which is both innovative and fun. One level takes place in a hall of mirrors where murderous automata lurk behind the reflective walls.. One takes place in the mechanism of a clock. This game still stands as one of the best 3rd person hack 'n slash/platformers out there, along with Psychonauts, which seems to have been influenced by Alice from the similarities in tone and gameplay.
9) Bad Mojo
Is a 3rd Person point and click adventure where you get to play....wait for it......a bastard of a guy who has been turned into a cockroach! Your goal is to use your tiny size to discover the story of your own past and to perhaps redeem yourself. It's a very odd twist on the concept of Beauty and the Beast, and an excellent game. The "gross" factor is a big part of the appeal here as you crawl accross the face of a sleeping man, accross a TV dinner, and inside a radio. You solve puzzles by pushing things into place and by finding clues. You also have to avoid being eaten by the cat. Bad Mojo was re-released in more than the original glorious 256 colours just a few years ago, so unlike a lot of old games, this one shouldn't be hard to find.
Is a traditional city building game like Rome or Civ, or more remotely, Sim City. Except you get to build pyramids. And set up trade with other ancient countries. And defend your city. And did I mention that everything is very Egyptian? YEAH! Also, as a note, in this game, it took me about eight generations to build a pyramid with constant building. The real pyramids took about 20 years and (something that the game gets right) were built by conscript labour, not by slaves.
7) The 11th Hour: The Sequel to The 7th Guest (1996)
If you look up this game on any review site, you'll see that it averaged around 6/10 or 5/10. Yeah. The release date of this game was pushed back, and then pushed back again, and by the time it finally came out FMV adventure games were about as cool as the Spice Girls are today, and "linear" gameplay had become a bad word. (At that time, multiple endings were the "Big Thing"). This game was exactly what this fan of the original wanted: pure bad horror cheese for a plot, puzzles that are wicked hard, quotable one-liners, and hottt graphics.* You play a sleazebag reporter searching for his skanky producer Robin Morales who has disappeared into a certain evil toymaker's haunted mansion and is perfectly willing to cut a deal with the devil to advance her own career. Naturally, you follow her into the mansion, and Stauf the Toymaker requires that you humour him by playing his games before he reveals what happened to Robin. This is pretty much the Ninja Gaiden of hard puzzle games with one puzzle requiring about fifty correct moves to solve.
*Hott graphics in this case means that this was one of the first games to have more than 256 colours. The programmer, Graeme Devine, also had to write his own video player/format do display the unusually high-resolution movie sequences in the game. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be like Graeme Devine when I grew up.
6) Zork Nemesis
I originally bought Zork Nemesis because one of my friends in high school told me "I had to play this game". She had a schoolgirl crush on Lucien (one of the characters in the game). I replayed it recently with a more critical eye and was really surprised when, despite the multitude of invisible walls and the aged graphics, it held up to my nostalgic memories. Zork Nemesis is like a movie where it's obvious that all the sets are obviously painted. It looks fake. It looks cheesy but also artsy. And somehow, it just works. The designers tried to build a serious drama on top of a game mythos that is known for its silly, non-sequiter filled humour. It feels cobbled together, but this sense of conflict is one of the things that makes this game really memorable. In a way, the oddly placed humour sets the darker, more macabre aspects of the plot in releif and punctuates them. The story of two young lovers used by their elders and willing to sacrifice themselves for each other becomes more sinister with the addition of the occasional silly reference to the previous games. This game has the most absorbing world and story of any game I've played with the possible exception of Vagrant Story. And that hasn't really diminished with its graphics and gameplay limitations.
I realize this is getting long, which is why I'm going to save the home stretch for later this week. As I look over this list, I realize that the games I've loved have sometimes had what modern designers would consider serious flaws, and that these flaws have served to make the games more absorbing and enjoyable. I think this might be a pretty big contrast between my list and others where the games are actually good. :D