Lately I’ve been enjoying the podcast My Perfect Console with Simon Parkin, in which he asks guests to choose five video games that have had a particular impact on their lives and/or their careers, and assemble them all into their version of a perfect game console. My favorite entries that I’ve heard so far have been the ones with Jake Solomon and with Phil Wang.
I’m not famous enough to be on the podcast, but I’ve still got a blog and a fervent belief that the internet needs to have my opinions on it. Except I’ve already got a running list of my favorite games going, updated periodically whenever I remember another one and have time to write a blog post.
And I mean, let’s be honest: that’s all the people on that podcast are doing, is making lists of their favorite games. Even if it were a thing for video game consoles to include five games on them, most of the lists that I’ve heard so far wouldn’t make for good console games. Cool that some Infocom text adventure from 1985 forever changed your perception of how interactive narrative can work, but nobody’s playing that on a console without a keyboard and mouse.
It’s almost as if they chose a format best suited to thoughtful discussion on a podcast, instead of an actual “perfect console!”
Anyway, I aim to fix that. Here’s a list of the five games I’d choose. They aren’t necessarily my favorites, but they’re the games that had a big impact on me and would be ideal for including on a home video game console.
Probably not the most obscure choice, but any list of my formative console games that didn’t include Super Mario 64 would be dishonest. This was one of the big games that I’ll always associate with my time working at LucasArts — the others being Diablo and Final Fantasy VII — because they swept through the company and seemed to be all that everyone was talking about.
It’s easy to forget how much fun it was just to run around the castle, before you’d even jumped into a painting. This was the first 3D game for a lot of us, and it defined how 3D character controls were supposed to work. Honestly, I like Super Mario Bros 3 better, because Tanooki Mario is the best video game character of all time, but I’m terrible at it. Not only was Mario 64 one of the most influential video games of all time, but it’s also one of the only Mario Bros games that I was actually able to finish. (The other was Super Mario Odyssey, in case you were wondering).
Something that they never tell you when you’re thinking about getting a job at a video game company: you’ll probably never enjoy multiplayer games with your co-workers, because many of them play games for a living, and they’ll wipe the floor with you. I’m pretty terrible at most games anyway, and trying to play LAN games against the QA department at LucasArts was just constantly humiliating.
But after that, I worked at a start-up called Infinite Machine, and we frequently had LAN games of Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament after work. I was still awful at it, but it was during multiplayer games of Unreal Tournament that I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to be good at the game to be effective as a human shield. Once I accepted that my role on the team was to draw fire away from the better players, I had a ton of fun. I even started using the map editor to make battlezones for our after-hours games, and they weren’t great, but it was one of the first times I hit that sweet spot of I don’t need to be good at this to have fun. It was like an entire genre of video game had been opened to me for the first time.
I was at E3 during the magic year for the Dreamcast, when Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, and Jet Grind Radio were all being promoted at the same time. I can still remember being fascinated by the inline skaters zooming all over the enormous track built over the Jet Grind Radio booth, and then hearing the opening of Mexican Flyer coming from behind me. Ulala from Space Channel 5 came out accompanied by an alien dancing like Rerun from What’s Happening!, and I had trouble believing that any of it was real since it was all too wonderful.
And it’s still fantastic, but it’s Simon. Jet Grind Radio is a much better game, terrible camera controls or not. On top of its amazing soundtrack and its absurdly appealing style, it just ramps up so wonderfully: first seeing the riot police being unleashed made it seem like the game would never stop getting bigger in scope. It was definitely aiming more for style and fantasy than realism, but the first time I went to Tokyo, I came out of the subway station onto the street and immediately felt I’ve been here before!
I don’t know a damn thing about football, but I was pretty good at Tecmo Bowl on the NES. My roommates and I had a running challenge against each other (with the rule that no one was allowed to have Bo Jackson, who was a super hero) and I was surprised that I could occasionally compete. I was convinced that this would be my gateway to understanding and appreciating football, which didn’t happen, but it was a lesson in how games could be universally appealing instead of just the nerdy hobby I played alone in my bedroom.
When my fiancé and I started dating, it seemed like we’d be playing video games with each other constantly. The problems are that he’s much better at them than I am, and I also don’t have a ton of patience for them. Part of the reason I tend to prefer single-player games is because I can play at my own pace, which is glacial.
But Towerfall on the PS4 was an absolute blast. The game is such a brilliant combination of modern video game sensibilities and nostalgia for the 8-bit and 16-bit era. That nostalgia is not just in the visual style, though: it took me back to the feeling of games as a social experience instead of a solitary one.
I’ve already written a My Favorite Games entry about Pokemon Snap, but the key point makes it perfect for the perfect console: it’s the best video game adaptation of a Disney dark ride ever made, even though it’s not from Disney and it’s not an adaptation of a dark ride. (If Universal isn’t already planning a version of this for the theme parks, they’re fools!)
You could watch a thousand “I Love the 80s” style documentaries and period pieces and still not fully appreciate just how ubiquitous arcade games were back then. I grew up in a fairly small town, and we still had at least two dedicated arcades, along with a few arcade machines in every corner store. My dad would take me to the arcade every so often, and it was nice to have a hobby that we both shared.
My favorites were Jungle Hunt (for the music), Pengo (because I was pretty good at it), Q-Bert (for the implied swearing, and the brilliant detail of playing a knocking sound at the bottom of the cabinet when Q-Bert falls off the board), Joust (for the weird concept), and Tapper.
Tapper was cool because it felt like one of the only truly original concepts in arcades. Almost everything else felt like an iteration on something that came before, but Tapper was just its own thing.
Brilliant (no pun intended) concept, brilliantly executed. It’s got such great style, and a drily goofy sense of humor, that it seems to exist somewhere in the Amazing Screw-On Head universe. Which is about the highest compliment I can give anything.
It’s one of the classic iOS games, but if I remember correctly, it doesn’t demand a touchscreen and could work just as well with a console controller.