Atmospheric masterpiece which contrary to popular belief, isn't rivaled by the Donkey Kong Country series. The exposition test with a close-up of Samus is one of the most iconic still frames to not be a title screen.
There's next to no exposition throughout the rest of the game, actually, yet there's storytelling all around. In a small room you meet the Mocktroids, the first failed attempts at cloning Metroids, there's the remaining non-hostile wildlife teaches you how to use abilities such as the Shinespark, and the wrecked ship which hints at ill-fated previous attempts by humanity to make contact with Zebes. Already hours into your adventure and the planet's hostility is still making itself clearer.
Super Metroid also becomes rewarding on subsequent playthroughs, since you're easily capable of sequence breaking once you know where you need to go to make essential progress. Developers deliberately added the wall jump feature, which shows they were accepting of players circumventing the game's structure to play their own way, and this trust adds another layer of maturity to the vibe of the game, one that goes beyond any lonely paranoia or horror aesthetics.
Still, there are aspects later games would improve on. Fusion improves the control scheme, and a greater portion of its bosses feel impossible to cheese your way through. Here, you can sort of get through some fights without quite figuring out what you're doing by the end. Metroid Prime, due to its first person POV (already hard to deny as an improvement), has fairer enemy placements, plus also more interesting boss encounters. But what the series has never reached again is a level of detail and cohesiveness that filled Super Metroid to the brim with memorable ideas and moments of rewarding pause. Everything comes together here, and the more I play this, the more every indie Metroidvania success story of the modern day feels utterly lacking in anything besides spritework and polish.

You're looking at the first draft of a very standard, modern comic book aesthetic, with occasionally decent staging to boot. That's a comment purely on the visual elements. The actual level layouts are banal at best, as you'd expect from such a simple gameplay conceit. Go right. If you can't, navigate up, down or back to find a way to go right.
PlayDead already gave us more creative and less redundant puzzles on their previous go at this minimalist concept on 2010's Limbo, which also has the advantage of having a real story. Inside instead hints at a story, with plenty of moments that feel exciting (even if primarily as breaks from the boring gameplay loop) and may also feel like progressions from what came before.
That being said, the game lacks a real payoff, opting instead for shock value that bears a humorous contrast with the rest of what the game seemed to be going for. It just feels like PlayDead wanted something that appears like a crazy twist, but without a holistic narrative outline that would assist such a twist in having actual ramifications on the rest of what's come before.
I've asked plenty of questions over the years, which I'm sure is what PlayDead would've wanted, but nothing ever comes together. Researching theories on the game hasn't proved rewarding and I've long since given up on the topic.
Unemotional, unengaging, drab aesthetic, unintelligent and unrewarding. These kinds of games make one shrug away the indie craze of the 2010s.

Most reviews penalize this game because of value. Was the price inflated upon release? Sure, but prices go down over time, and Ground Zeroes got coupled with The Phantom Pain in a full MGSV combo pack, as predicted. The price is no longer a talking point. I wasn't pleased with what felt like a swindle, but it was a combination of multiple factors. One, I was excited to play MGSV, and I assumed this was the game in its entirety upon starting to play it (I didn't purchase the game with my own money) and obviously didn't get that, and two, I was not as immersed in the world of Metal Gear Solid to be able to maximize my experience.
Nowadays I really frown upon people referring to this as a demo, even if functionally it may appear to serve that purpose. If this is a demo, it is the most elaborate demo ever devised, and the density of character study and world planning that culminates just in this one mission really makes this feel like it'd be the highlight of any other AAA game. It's certainly more immersive from the getgo, with a huge arena of traversal too, and the climax is so impeccably paced that you had the sense that Kojima never feared any raising of expectations, high as they already may have been.
Perhaps if The Phantom Pain turned out to be mediocre, then people would have reappraised this, but that's not a worthy sacrifice to make. We're better off with it being their loss instead.

The formula of Super Smash Bros. is perhaps the most likable innovation I've ever seen in a fighting game. Health bars (especially in JRPGs) are certainly easy to put stock in. But instead of thinking about your character as a living being, one starts to think of them as a car, high or low on gas. A loss is merely a moment for refueling. But Super Smash Bros. is immersive because it connects your victory or defeat to your character's positioning. You being exposed, vulnerable, or perhaps not even visible onscreen. The percentage is only a guide. It doesn't really even need to be there, but it doesn't obstruct from the genius of this new combat paradigm. What's also stunning is how inimitable it is. How could you copy the Smash Bros. formula without it being transparently obvious, especially with how deservedly iconic the franchise has become?
Since this is the first entry, of course there are fewer stages, but what's helpful about this being the franchise debut is that the game isn't about having every single character Nintendo (plus other video game companies) have had, and putting them in a game. It was just a handful of iconic stars, so most of them have very different methods of maneuvering and interacting. There are some redundancies, but not nearly as many as when you get to Melee, Brawl, and especially by the time we get to Ultimate. By then it's more about having everyones' favorite characters represented, which I'm okay with. But I'm glad we still have this, because this was a game that justified itself as a game primarily, not merely as an inevitable piece of our culture.

The original Super Mario sidescroller lacks the nonstop innovation of the original Legend of Zelda entry, but it still holds up as a humble and fluid afternoon of fun.
The limited live count you start with really feels necessary to ensure you improve your platforming skills rather than skirting by on good luck and frequent dead stops to assess every onscreen change (cowardice!). At least half of the 1-up mushrooms are placed in ideal locations (whereas the original Zelda can be quite obscure with basic progress hints), plus you can quite easily obtain one hundred coins if you're unlucky.
The only levels that feel less accommodating to skill are perhaps 2-3 and 7-3, the athletic stages where you sprint past flying cheep cheeps, but over time I grew interest, because these levels force the player to keep a somewhat irregular pace in order to avoid injury. You won't get far just running at top speed.
To still rate this game this high on a scale as harsh as mine, some would say is my attempt to pose as respectful of the "art" of video games, but I'm not really invested in this game having supposedly saved the market. It's interesting as trivia, but trivia that doesn't manifest into actual gameplay (meaning something that I see hear or experience while playing the game) belongs in retrospectives, not reviews.
What you have here is an early example of a game designer really understanding how to lead the curiosity of a player, how to stay ahead and be that way consistently. And most of the time that clever strategization doesn't feel too obvious, so the immersive value remains.

There's obvious flaws to the first go at this series. Regardless, what it gets right is much more worthy of the Pokémon phenomenon we've grown up hearing about than just about any title to come after.
Adding color to the sprites was a worthy investment down the road, but in my eyes, the greater detail emphasized with gen 3 and beyond proved detrimental. Many designs lack any thoughtful qualities, with the removal of exaggerative, cartoony perspectives and unique poses reducing each monster to something that's no longer alive, but robots. The gen 1 and 2 sprites feel directly connected to the active minds of youth. They express states of imagination.
The abstraction of this game's design sense also contributes to the experience. Over time the franchise has pushed the limits on realism and as we've seen with Sword and Shield, the results aren't pretty. It connects to why people enjoyed the trading card game so much, as well as Dungeons and Dragons. Using your imagination to visualize a Pokemon battle can produce far more fun results than seeing two barely moving sprites knock against each other instead.
Debuting with reasoning such as this, one might assume I'm defending hardware limitations rather than the game itself, but let's talk about content. Though later Pokémon games may take us to more unique situations and locales, how many of them are as iconic and exciting from moment to moment as was provided in gen 1? Let's just list off a few.
- Getting a bike for the first time after a long walk and heading to Vermillion only to check your map and realize that you just skipped an entire huge city
- Seeing a Pokémon zoo AND safari zone which feels like its own pocket region with creatures unique to it
- Heading through the uncomfortable and treacherous rock tunnel for the first time, only to later return after knowing to use flash and being able to see so much better
- Discovering the secret power plant behind an otherwise unsuspicious waterway, which honestly opens you up to consider how you can affect your environment a lot more going forward. What secrets can be found?
Also, think about how the theme of scientific discovery connects the game from start to finish. The Pokédex and the Pokéball feel revolutionary in a time where the internet wasn't prevalent in everyone's lives, as was the PokéNav in gen 2 before every preteen suddenly had their own cellphone. We can only now imagine how it felt to experience it at the time.
We see the museum which foreshadows how we can later revive extinct Pokémon. We later meet Bill who has accidentally transformed into one, foreshadowing our later experience with Mewtwo, a Pokémon created by mankind through DNA splicing.
All these ideas are in the first generation of a franchise that may have more features to add, but unfortunately very few congruent ideas that really simulate an experience of going on an adventure afterschool, getting into trouble, and learning about one's surroundings. The Pokédex isn't just a tool to encourage a collect-a-thon. You use it to expand your knowledge, since all the descriptions inform you about the world through these monsters.
The game's nonlinearity is enforced through your personal take on each one. If you like cute ones, you might go for a Pikachu or Ponyta. If you like tough looking ones, you might go for a Rhyhorn or Scyther. There's ones like Porygon that are so weird you'll just wanna test them out.
Nowadays it feels like we know too much about Pokémon that it's become a game of tactics, of finding a Pokémon of each elemental type, or with the right moves to defeat the next gym leader, one that doesn't look quite as repulsive as the other ones. It's no longer special. Perhaps these are the ramblings of someone wearing rose-tinted glasses, but I still think games should be powerful experiences that have lasting impact, not merely temporary. Otherwise they're just pastimes, perhaps like Ebert would claim.

This review contains spoilers

Traditionally sequels deepen the world of and around the first installment, and deepen our connections to the characters by challenging them in greater ways than we've seen with them before. Metal Gear Solid 2 goes further in those typical sequel-related regards, but also deepens our understanding of our connection to media in general. It's not just Metal Gear Solid, or video games, or interactive media. It's literally all of it.
If every decision behind the first game didn't feel artistically motivated, Sons of Liberty is almost unfathomably dense by comparison. You name a flaw that isn't quality of life related or something to do with controls, and it contributes to something deeply embedded within Kojima's four-dimensional dodeca-narrative. To say nothing of the meta aspect of why the story is similar to that of the first in many ways, think back to how you first felt playing the game after 1, and how you tried to shake off every sense of familiarity. The new context is what you focus on deliberately, but really that's a battle we shouldn't have to fight. We ignore the history of art, we ignore the messages we consistently see, we rarely try to connect the dots. We often do everything in our power to stay locked into the ride, and thus unwittingly take part in the simulation.
However much we try to ignore the way our reality is becoming a simulation, whether we can even be classified as players (are we truly free?), the game is being played somehow and by someone. I guess the joke here is that if you're not informed on the subject, you might as well be an NPC, but that would reduce the game's ideas to memes, and not the MEMES that are its subject.
Speaking of memes, there's a harrowing moment when Stillman discusses his mistakes with training Fatman, but he also realizes that Fatman has developed his techniques beyond that of which he was taught. That being said, he did potentially incubate the walking disaster he became. The problem wasn't that Stillman gave Fatman tools for acts of terror, but perhaps that he didn't give him something more beyond that, not that we should blame him for it. How can you really tell when you're not doing enough for someone? All we can hope to do is more. And that's the cure for all of this modern trauma. If we do things out of the good of our hearts, with sociological and spiritual awareness, then this is not a simulated action. That's more real than anything.

Truly genius work of 21st century art, succeeding with modern and postmodern paradigms both. Dense like a book, yet never a slog. Has the most balls of any Nintendo game.
Unlike with EarthBound, Mother 3's sense of humor runs in conscious opposition to its darker, more grueling storyline. There's a notable instance where the once cute and silly save frogs turn up after a monkey has been tortured, and the nearby creature drops his act to tell you to hang in there, a bizarre but necessary empathetic moment. The world is changing, and every aspect of Mother 3's design forces you to reckon with those changes, almost as if you were watching a time lapse of America over its past 200 years. It's frightening but no excuse to give up hope. After all, traces of the world long forgotten can still be found. Some characters even recall the way things once were. The future isn't only something to fear, but we must proceed with understanding of what we may leave behind.
Worthy of note is that this game is only about capitalism when looked at on a surface level. Its greatest commentary is on the devaluation of beauty and empathy in our society, symbolized through the disconnection of two children from their mother.
Also, behold, the ending to end all endings. Itoi's Mother trilogy is life-changing right up to its final moments. It's the last thing I'd ever dare spoil, so you'll have to trust me on it.

Brilliant Saturn RPG that showed no fear. Its cinematics are about as dated as any 3D story games of the era, but Panzer Dragoon Saga is emotionally convincing enough to hold up. Despite the radical genre change (from rail shooter to role-playing game), Saga doesn't miss out on any of its two predecessor's appeal, adapting them to its world traversal challenges.
Though Saga has random encounters, they're far rarer than in other JRPGs. What's even more important is the battles themselves, where you have the freedom to move fully within a three-dimensional space, rather than being confined within the turn-based system. Real-time elements are included, so for example you can both evade an incoming attack and position yourself to better find an enemy's weak point. It's crazy to think that we didn't get much more action RPGs during this console generation. Even in the previous one we had Terranigma, Tales of Phantasia and Secret of Mana.

2001

Fumito Ueda's hyper-sensual debut is the most influential single player experience of the 21st century. While Ico may have adapted Out of This World's style of puzzle-platforming gameplay from a decade prior (taking it from 2D into 3D), its most unprecedented innovations actually lie in its immersive value.
Here's a bold claim: Ico is the first 3D game with fully believable animation. It's difficult to believe that characters designed and animated at the turn of the century, appearing first on sixth generation hardware, manage to be so captivating in their motions. Yorda patting a save bench in hopes that you'll come sit with her is one of countless soaring moments. You'll believe she really was there and gesturing to you, not merely conveying some mechanic you need to make use of. There's nothing uncanny about it at all. Ico is a purely interactive experience, so almost nothing that happens in the game registers in the mind as text or 'concepts'. It all must be felt to be processed, and it never seemslike the game design is punishing your progress despite how uncompromising it is.
Also worthy of note, Yorda being older than you (or at least taller) prevents the game from seeming like it can adhere to a standard otaku fantasy. Yorda must be protected, but you'd have to be pretty depraved to desire possessing her. After all, the first thing you do with her is break her out of a cage.

Hard to really think of as a stealth game. You’ll be backtracking enough to the point where it feels like you’re accustomed to patterns and just waltzing through a majority of the game. Thankfully the boss encounters (most) and memorable character interactions carry the experience forward into near-masterpiece territory.
It must be stated that this game could've coasted on its great action and stealth mechanics alone, with a standard tactical espionage narrative inspired by Bond movies. This would've already made Metal Gear Solid the single-player game to reveal how mediocre Goldeneye really was, but Kojima didn't coast on anything merely functional. Speaking of "functional", play any Naughty Dog game and count the scenes that feel like they're there just to be there, rather than genuinely surprising you. This game's full of those moments.
There have been more definitive and far-reaching fate-oriented stories featured in games since, but I’d hardly penalize Metal Gear Solid for that considering it’s one installment in a much larger story. That’s not just from benefit of hindsight either. The way characters have so much background in the world at large, plus the potential narrative threads that sprawl out from here (there’s no way the Foxhound and Foxdie programs just end here), indicates that much already, regardless of whether Kojima decided to tell the rest of the story. Thankfully he did.

In order to get a truly worthwhile experience out of playing Dragon's Lair, which for me would consist of seeing most or all of its 22 minutes of animated footage, you have to treat it as if it were a Sierra adventure game, those of which were still years away. Some of the most appealing material in works like Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry were seeing what outrageous things would happen when you mishandled a task.
While many are entertaining to watch (the first few times), it becomes an egregious issue here, especially since Dragon's Lair never lets up its intensity. It constantly chokeholds your focus, leaving you in an unending, high stakes but monotonous, button-mashing frenzy. You're rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful artwork, a marvel for its time.
In a way, this is the epitome of games being impossible to rate. Bless you, Don Bluth. Hopefully the movie adaptation isn't quite as agonizing.

Of course it's Joust with balloons, but almost every arcade game from the era was riffing on some year-old idea. However, here we have a greater reliance on proper physics-based momentum, a notable feat for the time.
Sure, it's not something you could play for more than fifteen minutes per sitting, but similarly to all the greatest arcade games, Balloon Fight manages to squeeze tons of tiny moments of tension alongside satisfying small victories. Just within a single round there's plenty to both laugh about and agonize over.

Keep this one in your memories. On my most recent playthrough I felt like I was suffering from the insane degree of repetition. This game treats you like a child, and on a second playthrough this only becomes all the more obvious. Characters recap things that happened minutes ago multiple times in order to solve mysteries.
This botches an otherwise decent narrative with a surprisingly lasting conclusion. It's strange that you don't even become professional explorers until after you beat the game, but that's the saving grace of Explorers of Sky. If you're at all invested in what can be a pretty tedious gameplay loop (I can tolerate it in bits), the postgame is quite expansive and rewarding, perhaps the most so of the franchise outside of Gens 2 & 5. Pursuing legendary Pokemon is much more exciting in this game than doing so in mainline series entries.
There's a lot of utterly tedious defects to improve on, but there's enough here that's worthy of the heavy nostalgia and adulation Explorers of Sky still gets to this day. I love me a good adventure.

I reckon Galaxy fans would admit that much of what was special about the original game was its cinematic flair. Nintendo struck a comfortable balance between traditional gameplay and cutscene spectacles and thus avoided having Mario appear too ridiculous within a high-stakes, ambitiously presented story (at least for the franchise). Strip that subtly emotional charm away and what's left?
Galaxy 2 is immediately less special. The intro's side-scrolling presentation brings the New Super Mario Bros. series to mind moreso than Galaxy. The new hub, the "Faceship", leaves little room for curiosity. There's no exploring to be done here. The observatories are removed and in its place you have rudimentary world maps that are the least captivating in the franchise since Yoshi's Island in 1995. Remember in the first game when you had rings that measured out the distance galaxies were from the observatory?
Perhaps some of the level design is tighter, but what good is it when the team has lightened up the experience to the point where it's hard to take seriously? Where's Rosalina to add mystery to the cosmos? Where's the sense of galaxies being actual worlds that characters live in, instead of just being clearly designed to be obstacles for Mario? Why is Yoshi here? Why are so many more levels and portions of levels two-dimensional?
Galaxy 2 can be fun, but you'll be fine with taking breaks. You won't be worried about Peach, about how to help Rosalina. It's just a video game.