I'm Gaming Jay and I'm on a quest to try every game in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. Each week I play two games and record the results. I post my videos as Let's Plays on YouTube and write short written summaries of each game here. So are you a retro gaming fan? If so, I invite you to join me, and follow along, as I attempt to play 1001 video games... before I die.

TL;DR
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Ecco the Dolphin
Episode 119


Played on Aug 4, 2016


❝ Join the eternal struggle between dolphin and alien❞

Jay's Thoughts
Ecco the Dolphin


Ecco the Dolphin is an interesting a unique action-adventure game that sees you take on the role of a dolphin and explore the ocean in an attempt to (somehow) save your family from aliens. In typical Sega fashion, the gameplay is fast. At the time of this game's release, Sega and Nintendo were locked in a bitter console war, and Sega was known to advertise its "blast processing" capabilities. No one knew what blast processing really meant, except that games looked kinda fast on the Sega Genesis. And Ecco was no exception.

The gameplay is relatively simple in concept: you can swim around as a dolphin, jump out of the water, lunge at enemy fishes, and otherwise just sort of swim around. You do have the ability to use sonar, which both allows you to talk to other dolphins or whales, as well as to quickly map your environment. I actually really liked the creativity behind using your sonar for these dual functions. Other aspects of the game are that you need to watch both your health and your oxygen levels, as you do need to breath air to live. You can also eat little fish to recover your health if you're injured.

Much of your time in Ecco will be spent exploring labyrinthine caves in the ocean and having to find gem stones which give you the power to unlock other areas. One of my major complaints of this game is regarding these gem stones. All the gem stones seem to look alike. Hence, when you encounter a gem you never know if this one is going to give you a key or is locking off an area... it's an annoying an unnecessary aspect to the game. My other issue with this game is its difficulty. Not only is it actually kind of hard to stay alive, but levels themselves are needlessly obscure sometimes, making the game almost feel like a puzzle game at times. I actually had to look up a tutorial on the first level of the game as I got stuck. And just so you don't think I'm being over-dramatic here, the game's designer himself has said that he regrets making Ecco as hard as he did.

In the end, Ecco is actually an inventive and refreshingly novel idea for a game. It makes good use of its setting and was kind of fun to play around with. That said, it is a challenging game, both in gameplay and in figuring out what to do on any given level. Though I appreciate the inventiveness of the game I don't think it's ultimately so fun that it's a must play. You could maybe check this one out if you're curious. But it's also one that could be easily skipped.

➙ Must You Play It?
A unique and inventive game centered around dolphins. The gameplay is kind of fun, though it is hard and levels are quite obscure. If you're looking to have a bit of fun exploring some 16-bit caves in the ocean, this game might be worth a try. But if you're not super interested, I'd probably skip it.



Wizball
Episode 118


Played on Aug 1, 2016


❝ A wizard in ball form trying to restore color to the land...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Wizball


OK so all the color is stolen from your magical land. Now you, being a wizard, what is your first move? If it's to transfigurate yourself and your cat into magical balls with the power to shoot lasers and then venture off into the colorless and oddly moon-like world in search for those colors, well then you sir, belong in the game called Wizball.

So the story of Wizball is kind of weird. Also, I don't fully buy the story. The background of the game clearly makes it seem like you're out in space, and the grey landscape makes it look like the moon. So was this really a game that was developed as a game that takes place in some medievil fantasy kingdom? Or did they just develop a space game where you bounce around as a ball and decide at the last minute your ball is actually a wizard? Hmmm...

Anyway, let me preface my whole review by saying that I had never played Wizball before, and while I appreciate some people may have grown up with fond memories of this game, I personally found this game very challenging. To start off, when the game first starts your only means of locomotion is to bounce, and it is very difficult to control your speed and direction when you're bouncing, so you kind of just bounce all over. However, if you get lucky and kill a few enemies you can purchase an upgrade which lets you hover and move freely in 4 directions. Essentially, once you buy that upgrade, the game becomes a totally different game. I don't get what the point of bouncing was other than to waste a bit of time and occasionally kill you through randomly bouncing into an enemy, as it seems like everyone's first upgrade will be the movement upgrade.

Once you get the ability to fly, the game becomes much easier, though still rather difficult. You can gradually buy more upgrades, such as better lasers or even a small companion (your cat in ball form), and these upgrades do help, but it's still quite easy to die. Once you have most of the upgrades the goal seems to be to kill random enemies and collect certain colored paints to recover the stolen colors of the world. This wouldn't be so bad if you could collect the paints yourself but instead you have to have your cat do it, and you control your cat a little awkwardly by pressing the movement keys after you hold down the shooting key (which locks you in place as long as its held). It's a little hard to explain but suffice to say, it seems a little needlessly complex.

All in all, Wizball I think is just not my kind of game. I found it difficult and not very intuitive. The idea of buying upgrades was neat and actually, to buy upgrades you had to wiggle your joystick. That may sound like yet another convoluted control but honestly, that worked quite well so I have no complaints. I don't think that Wizball is a horrible game or anything like that, but I do think its the kind of game that has a limited audience, and so for that reason I really wouldn't recommend this to anyone who's never played it before.

➙ Must You Play It?
Wizball is an odd and challenging game by today's standards. Though fans of these older types of games may enjoy such a retro challenge, as someone who had never tried this game before I found it just too weird and difficult. If you grew up with this game I suspect you will still enjoy it today. But for people who've never heard of it before I suggest skipping it.



Halo: Combat Evolved
Episode 117


Played on Jul 28, 2016


❝ Time to meet the Chief...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Halo: Combat Evolved


Halo is the most iconic game of the Xbox. Originally starting off as a real-time strategy game on the Mac, the game gradually shifted into a first-person shooter. Its developer, Bungie, was purchased by Microsoft around this time and Halo shifted from a Mac game to a flagship Xbox series. In an ironic footnote, the marketing department at Microsoft didn't this "Halo" was a clear enough title for the game and insisted on the "Combat Evolved" tagline. What exactly "Combat Evolved" even means is itself kind of unclear. And it turns out it was an unnecessary addition anyway, so every Halo game since hasn't bothered.

The game itself is a science-fiction first-person shooter. You take on the role of the Master Chief, a super-powered soldier (known as a Spartan) in the human ranks, helping to fight against the Covenant, an alliance of several advanced alien species. The crux of the game is that humanity is actually losing the war against the covenant, and you are one of the last of the super-soldier-esque Spartans. The game revolves around the discovery a ring-world called Halo, which is actually an ancient alien space station that was constructed well before both humanity and the Covenant ever existed. Fighting your way through hordes of aliens while uncovering the secrets of Halo forms the core narrative structure of the game.

Now, in terms of story, Halo is great, and its universe is rich and full character and detail that put it right up there with other space operas like Star Wars. However, the thing that really made Halo so damned impressive is its gameplay. Halo was a very unique game in that introduced or included a number of great conventions to the first-person shooter genre. First, you could only hold 2 guns, meaning that you had to make a strategic choice about which guns you would carry into any given situation. In other games it was not uncommon to literally carry around every gun you'd ever found. However, because of the 2 gun innovation, every gun in the game was designed to be useful. Rather than a hierarchy of good to bad weapons as was found in games like Doom, Halo had a rock-paper-scissors-esque system, where different guns were good in different scenarios but weak in others. As well, you could use almost any weapon in the game. If you killed an alien and wanted to see what their gun was like, you could literally just pick it up. Most games don't allow this, creating clear segregation between player weapons and enemy weapons, not so in Halo.

On top of the unique weapon system, Halo included regenerating health, allowing players to take a bit of damage but then take cover to recover. This is a gaming convention that countless shooters have copied since. Rather than having a separate melee weapon every weapon in Halo had a melee attack, allowing you to essentially "quick shot" a melee, something that more traditional shooters (again, like Doom) didn't allow. Grenades were also allowed to be thrown at any point. The ability to melee or throw a grenade instantly (rather than switching over to them first) made the firefights feel far more complex and sophisticated than in previous games. The worst part about games with too many weapons is when you have to retreat from combat to scroll through weapons to get to the right one. Not so in Halo... everything is right at your finger tips.

And then there's the AI. The AI in Halo blew me away when I first played the game. Enemies will actually take cover rather than just stand out in the open shooting at you. They will dodge your grenades and flee from you if you take out their commander. The bigger aliens will order the little ones around, and they will even shout taunts at you or berate one another for not doing better. Unlike other games of the era, the enemies don't feel like a bunch of mindless bullet sponges. Instead, they feel a little more real. Mind you, they're still just AI opponents, and so they're not *that* smart... but still. It really does add to the game.

I could go on, but suffice to say, Halo is a brilliant game that did so much for the FPS genre that its influence cannot be understated. The Halo series would only get better from here, and though Halo: Combat Evolved wasn't my own personal favourite entry in the series, I think it's definitely a game that you should play before you die!

➙ Must You Play It?
Halo: CE is a massively influential game that shook up the first-person shooter genre in a way that I don't think any other game really has. Though I personally prefer some of the later Halos a bit more, this game is still terrific and holds up quite well. Definitely a game to play before you die!



Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Episode 116


Played on Jul 25, 2016


❝ Join the battle with a fighter named Butt!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Garou: Mark of the Wolves


Garou: Mark of the Wolves, also known as Fatal Fury on the Dreamcast (also known as Hungry Wolf: Mark of the Wolves in Japan), is an arcade-style tournament fighter with some smooth animations, a nice variety of fighters, and good controls. The game reminded me of street fighter or perhaps the Marvel vs. Capcom series, as it is a fairly fast-paced and colorfully animated fighter. One of the unique elements of the game is its "Tactical Offense Position" (or TOP) system. Basically, you can select an area of your health bar (the top, middle, or bottom third), and when your health falls within that range your character gains some additional attack damage and powers. I liked the idea behind this system but it didn't ultimately make a huge difference to me as I wasn't practiced enough with the moves.

Beyond this innovation, as I say, the game felt like a pretty standard tournament fighter affair. Ultimately, for fans of the fighting genre I think this would be a solid entry, and would be quite fun to play. For those not engrossed in the genre though, it felt like a fairly typical fighter and so it doesn't immediately jump out as a unique entry. Nonetheless, I had fun with this game, and I think if you're looking for a solid fighter to have a bit of fun with, you can't go wrong with this one!

➙ Must You Play It?
Garou is a solid entry in the fighting game genre. It has a good variety of characters, smooth controls, and is pretty fun. That said, to me, it didn't stand out above and beyond other fighting games of the era. But hey, if you're looking for a good retro fighting game, I would recommend it.



Final Fantasy VII
Episode 115


Played on Jul 21, 2016


❝ FF7? You know... that one with the guy with the ginormous sword?❞

Jay's Thoughts
Final Fantasy VII


Final Fantasy has always been a premiere RPG series. Oddly enough, I've never fully understood the Final Fantasy series itself as it seems as though every Final Fantasy game is kind of unrelated to the games that came before it. Not to mention the whole fiasco with Final Fantasy III never being released in North America causing the Final Fantasy games to have different numberings in the USA vs. Japan. But I digress...

Final Fantasy VII was the first Final Fantasy game on the PlayStation and it took full advantage of the full motion video and polygon capabilities of the system. Gone was the simple sprite-based graphics of the Nintendo-era, this was a whole new Final Fantasy. When it came out, it definitely blew people's minds. Great graphics, full motion videos, a compelling story, a rich world to explore, and great gameplay to boot, what more could you ask for?

In my playthrough here, this is actually the first time I've ever played Final Fantasy VII however, I found the game to be quite exciting and the combat to be intuitive. The game is broken down into overworld exploration phases where you walk through a steam-punk inspired metropolis, and a typical Japanese-style RPG combat mode, where characters build up their ability to attack and, when ready, you get to pick which enemy to attack and which attack to use.

The story to Final Fantasy seems fairly epic for its era. I obviously did not make it through the whole game but I have heard from numerous sources that this game contains an emotional and epic story, and from what I saw I had no reason to doubt them.

Ultimately, Final Fantasy VII is a landmark game that will appeal to fans of the RPG genre. Though graphics have continued to improve over the years and so Final Fantasy VII's graphics clearly look a little dated, they hold up surprisingly well and I believe still look very nice and in fact, very stylistic and charming. The gameplay definitely holds up though, and so in my opinion this is game that's definitely worth a try!

➙ Must You Play It?
Final Fantasy VII is one of the landmark title's for the PS1 and one of the most well known Final Fantasy games of all time. Even today, the game holds up with charming and stylistic graphics, fun gameplay, and a very cinematic story. Definitely a game worth checking out if you've never tried it before!



Battlefield 2
Episode 114


Played on Jul 18, 2016


❝ EU and the USA vs the WORLD!!!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Battlefield 2


Battlefield 2 is a first-person shooter that pits you in a 16 vs. 16 battle! That may not sound like a big deal these days but back in 2005, this was pretty unprecedented. Large scale battles against huge teams of people online, with the ability to coordinate with your friends over voice chat and issue commands to fellow squad mates to take objectives? Yeah, it was a big deal game in its day.

The main gameplay of Battlefield 2 will be pretty familiar to most FPS aficionados these days. The EU and/or USA seem to be at war with China and/or Russia (or something like that). You take on the role of a soldier in one of these armies using contemporary military technology such as machineguns, RPGs, and tanks, in an attempt to decimate the opposing team and win a battle. All in all, I found the gameplay to be pretty smooth and pretty decent. I personally am not a super fan of FPS games that have you die with just a few bullets to the head (I kind of prefer the unrealistic health of Halo and Destiny to the realistic one bullet deaths), but nonetheless, the gameplay is decent.

I do believe, however, that where this game really shone was in its revolutionary online play. And this is where things get a little sad. You see, Battlefield 2 is officially dead. You can find the game on the Steam store but there is no purchase option. So there's no way to formally buy this game anymore. If you want to try the original, you'll have to pick it up used. But even if you do, all of the servers for this game have been disabled and there's no way to run a private server it seems. So literally, Battlefield 2 is one of those games that is kind of lost to the ages... almost. After my playthrough here someone pointing out the Battlefield 2 Revival Project (https://battlelog.co/). It's a fan attempt to keep the game going and if you visit the site you can sign up for an account and get a free client and hop right into the action! Whether or not you are an FPS fan, I think that games should be preserved for future generations, and so I was happy to learn of the existence of this project.

So is this a game you must play? My final verdict is a "maybe"... The point of this game was to have huge online battles with tons of friends and strangers. The Battlefield 2 Revive Project definitely means you can still do this, but the player base is far smaller these days and so it's not going to be the same as when this game was at its peak. Ultimately, though fans will want to try the Battlefield 2 Revive Porject, I would probably recommend checking out a modern version of Battlefield for those who've never tried this series before.

➙ Must You Play It?
A revolutionary FPS game that emphasized huge military battles and coordination for its time. Sadly, EA shut the official servers down recently, however, thanks to the Battlefield 2 Revive Project you can still play this game online. You may want to give that a try for nostalgia's sake if you're a fan of this game, but otherwise since this game relies on having a large active player base, you may want to check out a more current Battlefield game that's at the peak of its popularity



Blasteroids
Episode 113


Played on Jul 14, 2016


❝ Eight years after Asteroids... the rocks came back!❞

Jay's Thoughts
Blasteroids


Blasteroids is the less-known sequel to the classic hit, Asteroids. Having been developed 8 years after Asteroids, Blasteroids contains some very welcome upgrades. For example, though the core gameplay is still based around you controlling a ship that destroys asteroids, there are now aliens and enemy ships to fight, your ship has shields (meaning no more one-hit-deaths), your ship can even morph into three "modes" (one fast and weak, one balanced, and one slow and strong), and there are bosses and worlds to explore.

The updates in Blasteroids feel like welcome changes, and they do add some complexity to the game. Though in a weird way, they also make Blasteroids feel a little more generic. Asteroids stood out for being a unique game at the time and a really creative use of vector graphics. Blasteroids feels like just another Asteroids clone with a number of nice updates, but it doesn't feel as classic or as iconic as Asteroids. Maybe this is nitpicking, as it may be an impossible task to ask for another game as iconic as Asteroids, but it's my impression of the game.

That said, Blasteroids was pretty fun. I enjoyed the weapons and power-ups, there was a nice variety of enemies, though I did find the giant space-head boss to be rather tedious and difficult. I'm sure there is a more effective strategy than the approach I was taking, but it seemed overly difficult to beat the boss and move on.

All in all, I think Blasteroids is a decent addition to the shooter genre. It definitely does capture the gritty feel of 80's arcade shooters and I would've happily fed some quarters into it when I was a kid. On the other hand, this isn't the most engrossing or best shooter that I've played, and ultimately for those not interested in a generic space shooter, this might be a game to skip.

➙ Must You Play It?
Blasteroids is a welcome sequel to the classic hit Asteroids, with a number of upgrades in terms of mechanics, levels, and enemies. For anyone looking for a decent shooter from the 80's, this is a game worth trying. On the other hand, this game doesn't feel as unique or iconic as Asteroids, and doesn't immediately jump out from the pack of space shooters. So depending on your inclination towards the shooting genre, this may be a game worth trying, or one you may want to skip. It's up to you!



Asteroids
Episode 112


Played on Jul 11, 2016


❝ One astronaut's classic quest to kill all rocks❞

Jay's Thoughts
Asteroids


Up there with Pong and Space Invaders, standing as one of the most iconic video games of the golden era is Asteroids. Even if you've never played this game before, you've probably heard of it, and chances are you've played or seen some version or variant of it. Hell, Pixeljunk Shooter is basically a descendant of the gameplay that was shown off in Asteroids. Though I believe Spacewar might predate Asteroids with the concept of a multi-directional shooter... but I digress.

Asteroids is a relatively simple yet decently fun game. You take control of a random space ship stuck in an asteroid field. You have the ability to shoot at incoming asteroids, which breaks them up into smaller asteroids and eventually (if the asteroids are small enough) destroys them. There's a bit of strategy regarding how you want to deal with the asteroids though. They all move around the screen at different angles and bigger asteroids move slower than smaller ones. To dodge incoming asteroids you can choose to fly around manually to try your luck with a hyperspace jump. In a rather interesting twist, the hyperspace jump is really a "Hail Mary" button as it seems just as likely to jump you to safety as it is to jump you into the middle of an asteroid, and thereby killing you. But hey, if you're about to die, might as well chance it.

Ultimately, Asteroids is not that hard of a game but it is rather enjoyable for a quick, casual play, even after all these years. As with most of the older, classic games that I try out, I do recommend that modern gamers may want to check out an updated variant of this classic game. Though to be totally honest, the game is really not something you're going to play for days at a time.

➙ Must You Play It?
Asteroids is an enjoyable classic that helped further the shooting genre and really is worth a shot if you've never tried it before. That said, these days it is a relatively simple game and it likely won't be a game you play over and over again. So maybe give it a shot if you've never tried it, I mean it is a very classic game after all.



Wetrix
Episode 111


Played on Jul 7, 2016


❝ Time for the exciting, fast-paced puzzle game where we try to... uh... save... all the... water...?❞

Jay's Thoughts
Wetrix


At first glance, Wetrix looks like a 3D version of Tetris. Blocks are randomly falling from the sky on a square field and the player has the option to rotate the blocks and drop them strategically on the field. However, that's about where the similarities end. In Tetris the goal is to constantly eliminate the blocks by completing flawless rows (which then disappear), in Wetrix the goal is quite different. Essentially, your task is to place the falling blocks in such a way as to build up valleys in which you can store falling water, which you can then later, evaporate...

To be honest, I'm not quite sure why we're saving water only to evaporate it moments later. Maybe the Wetrix gods got bored one day and just decided to watch some water do stuff, but I suppose there aren't really convincing back stories to most puzzle games so let's let that one slide. My bigger issues with Wetrix come from the difficulty in seeing what's actually going on and in easily observing the playing field. You see, in Wetrix, when you drop a block, you don't end up seeing a series of stacked blocks, which clearly demarcate how many layers tall you've built and exactly what shape of a valley you've constructed. Instead, dropped blocks end up molding the field, creating smooth hills. I'm sure this was done to show off the 3D capabilities of the N64 for the time, but as I was playing the game this just made it hard to full make out what was happening on the field. On top of that, the fact that I was building up hills on the field meant that the distant parts of the field were obscured, and overall it was hard to see where the water was actually landing and flowing around on the field, and hence, it was hard to see when I had a leak or where I even had a leak, and thus, it was hard to gauge my progress or lack thereof.

In the end, the idea behind Wetrix seems intriguing, but the execution was not my favorite. I ultimately much prefer the simplicity of games like Tetris or Dr. Mario over the more sophisticated liquid puzzles of Wetrix. That said, I don't think this is a bad game, just one that will take some getting used to, and where you'll have to develop a good intuitive sense for how the water physics work, as it won't always be graphically apparent if water is escaping from your little valleys. Wetrix is not a must-play in my opinion, but for puzzle fans looking for something a little different, this might be worth a shot.

➙ Must You Play It?
Wetrix is a Tetris-like 3D game that focuses on the idea of trying to build up valleys in which you can capture and store falling water. The core concept is not bad though the graphics make it a little hard to see what's actually happening as you play. This is a game that you may want to check out, though I think will appeal mostly to puzzle game fans. So there you go.



Missile Command
Episode 110


Played on Jul 4, 2016


❝ Sometimes you gotta fight missiles with more missiles...❞

Jay's Thoughts
Missile Command


Missile Command is a classic and iconic video game from the early days of gaming. The concept is relatively simple: you must protect a city from incoming missiles. How do you do that? By shooting missiles! Yes in Missile Command incoming missiles are shot down by your own set of missiles, it's a simple concept yet kind of fun.

Much of the gameplay derives from strategically shooting missiles down. You have to factor in the speed of enemy missiles and fire your own missiles in advance of where the enemy missiles are headed, or else you'll miss them. You can also try to fire your missiles at points where enemy missiles converge near each other, and in doing so, can take out several missiles with one shot. Interestingly though, enemy missiles gradually split and multiply, so leaving them too long can backfire and create a bigger problem than its worth.

Missile Command is ultimately a very simple game by today's standards. And there are tons of variations you can play. I wouldn't necessarily say you must play the original arcade version of the game, but I do think that Missile Command is just so iconic that it's worth playing at least once before you die, if only to say you've tried it. And hey, as I said, it is kind of fun and satisfying to shoot down these enemy missiles and get good at the game, so while this won't be the game that keeps you playing for days at a time, it should be a short fun game to try out. So what are you waiting for? Go shoot down some missiles already!

➙ Must You Play It?
Missile Command is a classic and iconic game. It may be a remarkably simple game by today's standards but the core gameplay loop is relatively fun still. If you've never tried Missile Command or anything like it, I recommend getting some version of it and checking it out. It will be a simple and short play, but it's a fun skill-based game that's worth a try at least once, before you die.