* In what may be the easiest & most positive list I've compiled, 25 great video games, for me, is almost entirely inclusive. In plain English, having never been a "gamer" myself, I'm not too familiar with many video games, but the ones I took the time to become familiar with, I hold dear to my heart. Those games - all of them - might actual total 25. 

+ The views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of some of its readers, most video game enthusiasts, people over 30, girls in school that didn't talk to me or Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

# "All time" is exceptionally finite. In this case, I'd say 1978-1994. Unlike movies, music & TV, I don't hold any grudges against the falloff in the quality of video games - if there was one. I never met a video game I didn't like, until I did. And that was that - nothing to get hung about.
The heyday of NES had some funny hiccups (Hydlide, Baseball, and every movie tie-in from '86 to '91) arcade games were not always enthralling, and computers still haven't exactly improved on chess and solitaire. But in that time - the time I played - the fad/technology (especially home systems) were still young. Brand new, actually. That may be why, suddenly and sharply, video games became part of youth culture, like bicycles or cartoons (maybe because, in some ways, it combined those two things). They made a movie about it for Christ's sake.
I hit a wall with Nintendo 64. I didn't like the controllers, I didn't like graphics, I didn't like the games, the end. It's because of this that I've always been able to use the Zelda games as a barometer: after the first 3 (Gameboy excluded) I tuned out. Out of it all. (as a side note, I never bothered with Sega, which was just Pepsi to us Coke kids). And so, because of this, for me, video games will always be in the same bubble as The California Raisins, Ren & Stimpy, and Milly Vanilli. A very specific time & place, not just for me, but for the culture, never really progressing in terms of relevance or quality, and never exceeding 16 bits.

- Paul

#25 Legacy of the Wizard
Of the dozens of games accused of ripping off Zelda (mostly because they were) this one could be the largest offender. So much so that it only helps it.
A colorful but convoluted game in which you hardly ever know which way is up, let alone any kind of objective.

#24 Spy vs. Spy
A scavenger hunt premise with graphics a little better than Pong.
It may be disorienting and unfulfilling, but I've always been aesthetically drawn to the two already-famous stars of Mad Magazine.

#23 Gremlins 2, The New Batch
Never has a movie so richly deserved a game adaptation, and the transition is smooth and accurate. The game is populated by every major creature from the movie - both as enemies and as bosses - and gameplay is adequately difficult without being frustrating.

#22 Dr. Mario
Basically Tetris 2 with the Mario label on it - which isn't a bad thing.
Just as addictive as all the puzzle games, and just like the decade of arcade games before it, more intense than any of the stuff made today.

#21 Bomberman
A combination of geometry and timing; like playing billiards in a minefield.
And, like Spy vs. Spy, I'm attracted to the old spherical bombs with the fuse.

#20 The Adventures of Lolo
Geometry, timing, strategy, anticipation, problem solving, trial and error.
The original brainiac game; like playing chess in a minefield.

#19 The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle
Basically a low-impact Pac-Man with Looney Tunes characters.
And as I write that and read it back, I myself fully understand its appeal.

#18 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The original ballbuster. More sci-fi than the comic book and cartoon combined, and harder than most video games at the time (I still haven't beaten it).
Good music, but amazing sound design that's smudged into my brain forever.

#17 Paperboy
I like flying games. Not that this is one, but I think it's the vibe of perpetual forward motion that I dig.
Also, the warm sunny 8 bit apple pie neighborhood setting was how my idealistic, Norman Rockwell brain filtered the world at that time.

#16 Marble Madness
I love marbles. And I love madness.
It's that draw to spheres again. Whether on an arcade joystick or NES controller. No other game demanded as much physical stamina, which is probably why it's so fun. (We at Bennett Media never advocate substance abuse, but this game is interesting with alcohol).

#15 Tetris
As pure as the old arcade games: no story, no hero, no end. Gaming dada.
It now roams free in the same arena as Go Fish and checkers. Thanks, ELORG!

#14 Double Dragon
For us youths not involved in actual street fights, kicking Abobo's ass was all the gang cred we needed.
Plus, a rare feature in video games: you acquired moves rather than weapons.

#13 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II The Arcade Game
Lighter and softer than part 1 - more closely resembling the cartoon - and still pretty tricky.
What made it better & more fun than the first (and a lotta other games) was the two player feature; both players working together, twice the turtle power.

#12 The Guardian Legend
The most notorious Zelda wannabe, perhaps because it's the best. Morbid, confusing, and difficult, it's also fast-paced, engrossing, and has great music.
Kind of a cult game, & I'm part of the cult. I have a tattoo of the first boss, and our retro game Tumblr, Naju, is named and designed for it.

#11 Lethal Enforcers
The one game I would search for in every arcade.
The absolute best point-and-shoot game, it's like a Michael Mann movie that actually predates Heat by several years.

#10 Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
The best 'vs.' game on the market.
I became a proficient fighter as each and every one of the racially diverse stereotypes.

#9 StarFox
Kick back with some Dunkaroos and a Mondo while you play the greatest flying game of all time.
It created a believable sci-fi universe that encapsulated the 1990s with its Lawnmower Man graphics and repetitive electronica.

#8 Sim City
Less of a game & more of a time-consuming project. The never ending parts never as great as the illusive whole.
Anyone who's a fan of Sim-anyhting knows what I'm talking about.
Also, excellent music.

#7 Super Mario World
Mario's personal welcome to "Nintendo, Part 2" lives up to its overwhelming expectations.
An explosion of color and intrigue, it's completely accessible in its breezy gameplay and brand familiarity, and still manages to be fresh and challenging.

#6 Donkey Kong Country
DK gets the makeover he deserves (and the one Pac-Man never got).
Like Super Mario World, challenging in a fun way.
And like every single game on this list, really, it's all about the music.

#5 The Legend of Zelda
The Top 5. Here's where the pattern starts.
What can I say about this one that hasn't already been said a few times before? It single-handedly personified and launched the entire concept of the home console: an adventure that can be figured out & whittled down over a period of time far exceeding any single trip to the arcade. With its hidden treasures and secret passages, it appeals to the child in all of us (especially if you were/are one).
And that opening logo with the title theme: it's on par with those first few frames of a Star Wars movie.

#4 Super Mario Bros. 3
The last great game for the original 8 bit system, it pushed the boundaries of what the original box was capable of. More enemies, worlds, colors and music than any game before it, it is the true swan song of the original Mario.
Who would've thought those ears and that tail would work, let alone become iconic?

#3 Zelda II, The Adventure of Link
Supposedly the black sheep of the franchise, it's scarier and harder than the other Zelda games I've played -- I actually beat it for the first time about 4 years ago.
The enemies genuinely seem more sinister and malicious, and it definitely doubles up on the 'secret stuff' after the first one.
The sword on the cover of the original box is tattooed on the back of my neck.

#2 Super Mario Bros. 2
My favorite Mario game, and the most exciting "part 2" of anything (even Batman Returns).
I was hurt to learn only a few years back that the entire game was a direct and intentional plagiarism of Doki Doki Panic (the music, the enemies, everything I loved about it). But we worked it out & before long we were talking again & spending evenings together.
Speaking of patterns: Birdo is tattooed on my right arm. And  if anyone's interested, I always play as Princess Toadstool.

#1 The Legend of Zelda, A Link to the Past
With a name that punny, how can it not be the best?
10x more exciting and engrossing than the Zeldas before it, and from the ones I've 'sampled,' more aesthetically pleasing and less impenetrable than the ones following. Up until this point, Zelda games were layered labors of love with an ensemble of characters and creatures that could help you or slay you (in fact, these remained the hallmarks of the franchise). This was the first one to utilize this device to its fullest capacity -- the game playing out in a linear three-act narrative that's not over till it's over. After 3 intense levels (& that friggin' Moon Pearl) we're introduced to 8 more, and then Gannon. Not to mention all the 'secret stuff' in between.
Of all my video game victories, I never felt as truly accomplished as the first time I beat this one (with the 50/50 help of my cousin, who I'm sure feels the same). While every game tried to create some "world" with its own backstory (Zelda I and II included) this one was the most captivating. Even the ever-disappointing 'credit sequence' that every game casually and carelessly rewarded our efforts with is elevated in this one with its amazing music score. Nowadays I can hop on YouTube or wherever to hear it, but it always sounds better after beating it.
So, once in a while, I do. With the original, 16 bit cartridge. Just gotta blow in it first.



All this and more at Pantelegraph


Back from the dead, and then back again

"In a few short weeks, it will be 1980, the beginning of a new decade. Here at the FANGORIA offices we're looking to the 80s with great anticipation. The 70s were kind of boring toward the end, but the 80s look like they're going to be frightfully fun. It seems like there's going to be some new ground broken in the horror film. The fascination with science fiction has run out of steam, and we are now ready to get back to basics."
- Bob Woods, Editor
Issue #4

In the spring/summer of 2003, I embarked on a weekly DVD buying binge of all the major horror franchises of the (then) past 25 years: Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'd spent the previous 10 years peripherally fascinated & mildly obsessed with these movies - most of which I'd never seen until they sat on my shelf in disc form.

In an appropriately literal sense of the word, horror movies haunted me my whole life - particularly the ones from my generation: the 1980s. Like my mother before me, I started young, and if heredity sharpened the blade, environment certainly swung the axe. To put it cordially, my sister inadvertently 'allowed' me to view both Elm Street and Freddy's Revenge at the mature age of 3. I'll never be sure of how much I absorbed as I watched them, but I am aware that it firmly established two things: for me, Freddy Krueger would be the once and future king of the monsters. Secondly, all theses scary movies that I was unable to get my hands on until the availability and affordability of DVDs were all a lot scarier (and better) in my head. In other words, the movies I did see weren't as scary as the ones I didn't (Exorcist aside).

I started buying Fangoria Magazine when I was 9 or 10 - around the time of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Casually at first, then obsessively. I couldn't know it at the time, but this was a fun and bizarre period for horror - the early to mid 90s. The slasher boom had died (until Scream) leaving the genre in some nameless void that was blindly firing in every direction: Flatliners, Candyman, Dr. Giggles, Leprechaun, Innocent Blood, Brainscan, The Prophecy. In addition to Dracula, there was also Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Wolf. John Carpenter seemed to be on a tireless winning streak with Memoirs of An Invisible Man, In the Mouth of Madness and Village of the Damned. After the success of Misery, there was a Stephen King adaptation in the theater or on TV every other week. And, throughout this entire mini-era, Tales From the Crypt was kickin' ass. In hindsight, a lot of it was as good as the 80s, or better. Definitely better than all that came after.
To be totally honest, I wasn't exactly Reading these Fangorias as much as I was Looking them. How could I not? The color pictures of gory wounds and monster faces were their own kinda pornography. Some starchy interview with Mick Garris couldn't compare with that. At least, not at that age. I guess I was, as the magazine itself called us, a 'Gorehound.' I began seeking out any place that sold periodicals, trying to determine who got the next issue the fastest. One of the greatest thrills was when my mom sent away for 3 back issues of my choice, & rushing home from school every day like Ralphie Parker to check the mailbox.

It's funny - if I had actually read-read more of the articles, I woulda had a better understanding of some of the bigger game I was missing. The wonderful thing about Fangoria (back when it was wonderful) was how honest they were, and how high their standards were. For all their eye-popping, head-splitting cover stories, when it came time to review stuff, they really didn't like much of anything. And how could they? Between the mainstream stuff, the independent stuff, and the drive-in movies (which eventually became the cable and direct-to-video movies) the volume of dreck was knee-deep. They were always loud & proud about what they thought was good: The Haunting, The Stepfather, Night of the Creeps, Dawn of the Dead, The Entity. But, I was surprised - sometimes pleased, sometimes saddened - by what they though was not so good: Halloween II, I Eat Your Skin, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Toxic Avenger, Chopping Mall and every single Friday the 13th. Disagree, Agree, or Strongly Agree with any of these, the interesting and sorta encouraging thing about these opinions is that they came from an institution that championed and advertised the genre, but were not affected by camp or nostalgia. They knew when we deserved better, and while their covers promoted otherwise, they were rarely swayed by franchise fandom.

And it's true: in this superficial pile of 70s and 80s pop trash, there were a few gems - even a couple diamonds. But overall, this 'golden age' of iconic terror left a lot to be desired. That being said, I discovered the only way to enjoy the Friday the 13th movies is to watch them all in succession (or, as the kids say, "binge" them). To watch any of them on their own (especially the first 5) is like going to a restaurant, reading the menu for 87 minutes, then leaving.

In the years and years to come, I kept buying and buying horror, trying to fill a void created by my own anticipation and expectation. I ended up selling nearly as much as I bought - I got rid of hundreds & kept dozens. That seemed to be the ratio of the good to the not-so-good. I'd had a handful of favorites, but that's all it was - a handful. By 2010, I'd hit a wall & found there wasn't much left in the genre on digital format. And apparently, I'm in some kinda minority, which is the point of all this.

I haven't had an interest in VHS since the 90s, and I never got into bootlegs, VOD or streaming. Physical media - of all kinds - has always been very important to me, and becomes more precious as it slowly slips away. Therein lies a unique tradeoff though: throughout this past decade, there has been a boom of new and/or expanding video distribution companies that have been rescuing, reviving, restoring and releasing obscure genre titles that, perhaps, I've been waiting my whole life for, heard of but forgot about, or plainly never heard of at all. These companies have single-handedly revived my love of (or interest in) seeing new stuff - even if it's old-new - and bridging the gap in this time when I have no interest in anything new-new. And more than that still, they'e cornered me back into trading in my take-home pay for digital restoration. For anyone who's not hip to this, basically these places are giving the Criterion treatment to the video nasties. And for anyone who's seen the 2013 documentaries Adjust Your Tracking or Rewind This! will find that the films that are sustaining VHS as cult are finally getting the big transfer.

In no particular order, here are 10 titles that got the upgrade they deserved, or the availability they never had...

- Paul

Society (1989)
Studio: Arrow Video
Brian Yuzna's feature debut plays out like the scariest Twilight Zone episode never made.

Cannibal Terror (1981)
Studio: Severin
The best thing about cannibal movies has usually been the score. This may rank as #1.

Witchtrap (1989)
Studio: Vinegar Syndrome
Aaron Sorkin only wishes he could write dialogue this sharp.

Terrorvison (1986)/The Video Dead (1987)
Studio: Scream Factory
A double feature set that pairs two movies that go together better than The Godfather saga.

Highway to Hell (1991)
Studio: Kino Lorber
Chad Lowe does what any of us would do: journey through hell to rescue Kristy Swanson.

Sledgehammer (1983)
Studio: Intervision
Shot-on-video supernatural slasher flick is better than most Friday the 13ths.

Killer Workout, aka Aerobicide (1986)
Studio: Slasher Films
From the director of Sledgehammer, combines fitness and stabbing = more 80s than Cyndi Lauper singing the Pee Wee's Playhouse theme.

Demons (1985)
Studio: Synapse
One of the greatest horror movies ever made gets the blu-ray makeover.

The Nesting (1981)
Studio: Blue Underground
Unlike bees, you can't dodge zombies by diving into a body of water.

Alienator (1990)
Studio: Scream Factory
Coming out June 2017. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.


The Bat, The Cat, and The Penguin : 25 Years of Summer Vacation

It's hard for me to acknowledge that Tim Burton was the author of my childhood - if for no other reason than he hasn't made a movie I've liked since Ed Wood. And doesn't that just make sense - everything he made prior to 1995 was in perfect alignment with where my interests were & where they we going. Either that or they were steering them. In any case, it seems unfair for one man to have such a monopoly on everything cool (or geeky). Kinda like J. J. Abrams now or, more broadly, Marvel Comics. Between the ages of 3 and 7 I was introduced to Pee Wee Herman, Beetlejuice, Batman (and the Joker) and Edward Scissorhands. That's a relentless cavalcade of colorful characters, especially on an impressionable young mind. There was no escape. Not for me.
The weeks leading up to June 19th, 1992 can only be described as a full-on cultural blitz aimed directly at my brain. All the gods were in cahoots: school was ending, weather getting nicer, and Batman "returning" all culminated into an orgy of voluptuous shock and awe. Like Dick Tracy before it, I was in love with Batman Returns before it ever hit the screen.

Firstly, this was a time when McDonald's was a cathedral of holy magic - to partner with them was like a blessing from the pope. And back then, a movie this monumental deserved promotional items for both the grown-up meals and the Happy Meals. The plastic toy cars were fine (they resembled nothing from the movie) but were pretty lame in comparison to the Supersize soda cups covered in beautiful wraparound murals, and I don't think ever before or since have McDonald's fries come in a solid black cardboard cup. That was fuckin' badass.

I was a card collector. Baseball, movies, TV shows, stickers, nudie cards, even the Gulf War had a set. Anything past or present with cultural relevance were wrapped into wax or foil packages, & I was there to rip 'em open. And they could be found everywhere: supermarkets, department stores, gas stations. I had a few dozen comics, but cards were really my comics. I'd amassed the entire set of series 1 from the first Batman. (There was a second series, but I think I'd moved onto Dick Tracy at that point). Returns had two simultaneous card series: the dull cardboard Topps series, and the glossy expensive Stadium Club Cards printed on "Kodak stock" and boasting a shiny Bat symbol in the corner of each card.

More than cards or stickers, T-shirts or action figures, lunch boxes or McD's cups, my big thing for
most of the 90s was posters. They were my first 'tattoos,' a visual way to display all my interests over a unified canvas. The only good promotional stuff to come out of the first movie - other than the cards - were the posters (which were just blown up publicity photos). To this day, the stylish, gothic character posters for part 2 are still some of the most striking images put out by a studio. (Modern day 'alternative posters' for this movie can't improve on the originals). After the '89 movie came out, the '60s TV series started to show up in syndication here and there, and that's how I became aware of and familiar with the other villains. So by the time these characters with the Burton-makeovers started showing up in magazines and on posters, I was able to have the same beside-myself-reactions as the rest of the world. And they covered my walls, my ceiling, my door, and even inside my closet.

At that age, I don't think I had any "concern regarding its potential to live up to the previous film." I was aware that it could maybe corrupt my monogamous love affair with the Joker. My experience with sequels at that point ranged from okay to pretty great (Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Star Wars), but as I've written here once before, I'd rarely been, before or since, that excited for a movie. It was possible that my mindset may have been a little bit along the lines of "the presence of the Joker makes any movie better." (I learned in August of 2016 that that's simply not true). What it eventually came down to was: I like Batman more than any other superhero or superhero empire, and I like Batman villains more than most characters of fiction.
I don't wanna 'review' the movie or anything - I'd find that boring & so would you. It certainly lived up to the hype that they were throwing at me & that I built up in my mind. Even now it's still pretty damn good. It's when Tim was still the man, and it's a tie with the '89 movie in terms of favorites (Rises is my #1, while Jess, coincidentally, has always said Returns).

Ironically, out of all this stuff, these posters and French fries and everything, the most notable thing about the movie, for me, was the comic book. DC released a 'companion comic' that pretty much
acted as a storyboarded script. The dialogue (minus some cursing) and scenes played out identical to the feature itself. This fascinated me because it was like owing a movie script. So fascinated, in fact, that I 'adapted' it myself, with my own artwork and some minor structuring and dialogue changes, into two issues. Ergo, Batman Returns was the first script I ever wrote.

Jess thinks of it as a Christmas movie (mostly because it is). That's tough for me, because it'll always be the movie that kicked off my summer vacation in 1992; the start of the "bonus days" as my father called them (the last several non-school days at the end of June). It was also exciting to be part of something - to like what everyone else likes, and to be way into something that's so popular that you're constantly ensconced in that very obsession. (I think the last time I felt that was Revenge of the Sith). Because of that, that summer & several others were like a Christmas morning that lasted for 2 months and change.

Today, everything's different. There's no action. But, do you really think I'm gonna be the cantankerous old movie geek again & complain about the current state of summer movies, superheroes, and pop culture in general? Of course! This is Bennett Media, asshole! Do you think McCafé is gonna have Wonder Woman salad this season? How about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bottles of water? If they did, would you care? Would kids care? I don't. Now when I order a happy meal they give me apple slices and yogurt. I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

- Paul
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