Sasquatch DNA: Doug's 10 Most-Influential Games

Ed's note: Our staff has played more games than we care to admit -- really, it's embarrassing. But throughout the thousands of hours we willingly (and sometimes begrudgingly) wasted, only a scant few titles have shaped our appreciation of the medium. Far fewer influenced our critiquing of and writing about the entirety of videogames. It's important that we share these special games, if only to give our readers a better understanding of who we are as a publication.In an ongoing feature series, we'll highlight every staff member's 10 most-influential games. Lists aren't ordered by importance or any opinionated superlatives; rather, each list is organized chronologically by the order in which we played our games. We've also noted the original North American release dates, developers and relevant platforms.

Why not make a "Top 10?" Because focusing on numerical superiority diminishes the overall critical value of each title. (We'll save the lists for our GOTY awards.) Enjoy!

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Ninja Gaiden

March 1989 | Tecmo | Nintendo Entertainment System

I still don’t know how I ever first played the game; I remember it was when I was six or seven years old, and I had little comprehension of what the game was besides a ninja action game. The other thing I knew is that it was balls hard; I would routinely die after the second or third stage, another victim of those damned swooping birds that always seemed to perfectly clip your little sprite ninja into a pit. The death music from Ninja Gaiden is still burned into my brain. One time, with my cousins when we were grade-school aged, we managed to get almost all the way through the game (along with an assist from the Game Genie), only to stumble at the final hurdle.

Fast forward to my high school years, when I’d unearthed the cartridge from some box or another. I’d sold all of the Nintendo Entertainment System games and the system when I got a Genesis, but somehow this one slipped through the cracks. As well, I learned about the history of Ninja Gaiden: noteworthy for introducing simple manga-style cutscenes between stages, this was a game that was thought highly of by many people. Huh! So I tried it again on an emulator, and died. A lot.

It's hard to say many games stood out to me as a youngster -- the rest of the games on this list shaped my analytical tastes, but when you're in elementary school it's hard to have those. So as much as anything, Ninja Gaiden stands out as a game I remembered from my youth that held up well and proved to be influential in the world of games.

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Gran Turismo

May 12, 1998 | Sony Computer Entertainment | PlayStation

I’ve written many, many words about Gran Turismo for this site. For a little 12-year-old gearhead, this game was heaven -- buying, tuning and racing real-life cars to create a perfect virtual garage stole away my summer and winter. I completed the game three times, starting with a fresh save each time because I enjoyed the challenge so much. When I got a DualShock controller for Christmas one year, it completely changed how I played GT -- instead of the D-pad, I could now steer with analog precision! It was revolutionary at the time.

More importantly, it opened my eyes to a number of interests and possibilities that have shaped my life. The original Gran Turismo featured a heavily Japanese car lineup, and that sparked my curiosity about Japan and the cars that seemed so exotic in 1997: the Nissan Skyline GT-R, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Subaru Impreza WRX. It’s little coincidence I started learning the language not too long afterwards and have wound up living here for three years now.

Lastly, Gran Turismo was my gateway to the online world; the first forum I ever joined was for Gran Turismo, and 13 years later it’s still a crew I associate with online and in person. My life has been shaped quite a bit just from one racing game.

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Street Fighter Alpha 3

June 29, 1998 | Capcom | Dreamcast

I knew what fighting games were before playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 on my Dreamcast. I’d played Street Fighter II’s various 16-bit iterations, and I’d tried Mortal Kombat when that was still a four-letter word in America.

But SFA3 on the Dreamcast was the first fighting game where I tried to learn the mechanics of a fighter. Beyond mashing buttons, I tried my best to learn the special moves -- quarter-circles, half-circles, and those damned charges that I still can’t pull off on a regular basis. And it was where I tried to learn as much as I could about pacing a match, too. I still tend to rush and attack, but it was with Alpha 3 that I learned defense, too. It was where my appreciation of fighting games went from basic to elementary, and has grown since then. And in that time I’ve learned and enjoyed playing a number of famous fighters: Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Virtua Fighter 5, Skullgirls, and Street Fighter IV. I recently picked up Persona 4 Arena and I look forward to learning its mechanics and systems, adding another layer onto the skills I first learned on the Dreamcast.

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Sonic Adventure

September 9, 1999 | Sonic Team | Dreamcast

The Dreamcast will always hold a special place in my heart. By 1999 I had a subscription to Electronic Gaming Monthly and was reading about gaming news online almost every day. The Dreamcast announcement and Japanese launch got me really excited, and the pre-release issue of EGM where they showed off all the accessories and discussed all of the launch games is still a personal favorite.

But it was Sonic Adventure that stood apart. I knew Sonic; Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the game I got when I received a Sega Genesis for Christmas. As well as being a familiar character, this was a grand re-introduction for the blue blur: Sonic 3D Blast was altogether forgettable, and more importantly, Adventure was a gorgeous game for the time. I remember going to a gaming store the summer before that famous September 9, 1999 launch date and obsessing over the Sonic Adventure demo -- coming from the low resolution of PlayStation games, this new Sonic looked almost like Toy Story. The demo level featured the well-known segment where Sonic rushes towards the screen while an orca leaps and destroys a dock. It was jaw-dropping in 1999, and seeing that to this day still gives me goosebumps. It was the herald for the next generation, and I was ready.

Beyond the graphics, Sonic Adventure was an exciting, diverse, ambitious game. Six different playable characters had six completely different play styles, which was unheard of at the time. Beyond Sonic and Tails’ traditional levels adapted to 3D controls, Knuckles focused on exploration and E-102 built on the lineage of Panzer Dragoon titles to build a rail shooter into a damned Sonic the Hedgehog game. Re-read that again: if it sounds silly in 2014, it was revelatory in 1999. However, the less said about Amy Rose and Big the Cat’s gameplay sections, the better. Now I understand the national obsession with fishing in Japan, but to an 8th grade American kid it just does not play. And with the light anime-inspired story in the background, it gave me reason to go through all the characters to unlock Super Sonic and see the true ending -- which is an achievement I did attain.

While the launch game that truly stood the test of time was Soul Calibur (legendary fighting gameplay, truly stunning graphics, and importance as one of the best arcade ports of all time) but to a kid raised on 2D Sonic titles, Sonic Adventure was the return to prominence I wanted to see for Sonic and Sega both.

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Jet Grind Radio

October 30, 2000 | Smilebit | Dreamcast

If Sonic Adventure welcomed the new generation, Jet Grind Radio was the promise finally fulfilled. It may not have been the best game ever from a gameplay standpoint (and probably isn’t as good as its Xbox sequel Jet Set Radio Future) but it remains one of a memorable generation of Sega games that were ambitious but extremely flawed.

Jet Grind Radio was one of Sega’s major titles for the fall of 2000. It had been announced the year prior, and looked like nothing ever before -- with the trademark cell-shaded graphics that made it look like an anime playable with a controller, it swept everything else that debuted at Tokyo Game Show away and left me stunned. I knew I had to have this game. Now that I live in Tokyo, I see all of the inspirations for this game: the nightly dawn of neon, the cramped side-streets full of shops, the dense jungle of buildings.

This game oozed pure style. Back when Napster was still in vogue, I hunted down the soundtrack, song-by-song. I have most of those tracks in my iTunes library to this day. From the stunning visuals to the groovy soundtrack, no other game has come close to matching it in style.

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Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2

February 11, 2002 | Nintendo EAD | Game Boy Advance

You’d be forgiven for forgetting about this title. Super Mario Advance 2 was one of the ports of the Super Mario Bros. series that Nintendo made for the Game Boy Advance. Super Mario Advance 2 specifically is the GBA port of Super Mario World, and for my money it’s the best version of that legendary game.

If you know Super Mario World then you know all of the mechanics -- the cape flying, the Yoshi riding, the amazing art design, the intricate level design. But there is one key difference in SMA2: accessibility. It’s accessible thanks to the ability to save your game any time; in the SNES original, you could only save your game after finishing a castle.

This one small bow to modern convenience changes the difficulty curve entirely, and makes it a far more approachable challenge. The game is still a challenge, don’t get me wrong, and while I completed the main story I still struggled to unlock and complete all the Star Road special stages.

I have great memories of the Super NES original, sat on the carpet of my friends’ basement watching the chubby plumber come to 16-bit life, and the remake is even better. As well, I played the reboot when I was in high school, so I was in much better position to appreciate the design and brilliance. In elementary school it was just a fun Mario game; as a high school student, I could understand the nuance and genius that went into this classic.

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Project Gotham Racing 2

November 17, 2003 | Bizarre Creations | Xbox

It all comes back to the Dreamcast for me, doesn’t it. The first title in this series was called Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, and had the novel twist of setting its courses in real-life, map-accurate city streets in London, San Francisco, and Tokyo. It was one of the final Dreamcast games before that system was canceled, but the title lived on in spirit. The series moved on to the Xbox in the form of Project Gotham Racing, and while the first game was notable as an Xbox launch title, the second was brilliant.

PGR was never a competitor to Gran Turismo in the realism stakes, but the semi-arcade physics were perfected in PGR2. There was weight and speed to the driving engine, but it was not as sim-heavy as GT. As well, in PGR2 the number of cities and tracks was fleshed out, and the roster of cars swelled to include everything from hatchbacks to supercars. As you moved through the single-player progression, you unlocked cars and garages. In one of these garages was an Easter egg, a stand-up arcade cabinet that included the first Geometry Wars.

But most important was the online play. My freshman year at the University of Oregon saw me spend far too much time playing PGR2 online with friends all over the world. The online racing felt balanced and fair, realistic without being as punitive as more realistic racers often tend to be. It was easy to spend two or three hours in a game lobby, playing through all different combinations of tracks and cars, losing a person from the group while adding another and keeping the party rolling. It was my first real online gaming experience and, in some ways, still my favorite.

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World Soccer: Winning Eleven 9

February 7, 2006 | Konami | PlayStation 2

While this wasn’t the first soccer game I ever played, and certainly isn’t the last, it is the one that left the biggest impact on me. After spending two years playing FIFAtitles, I gave Konami’s Winning Elevenseries a try after I bought a PlayStation 2 during my first year of college. With Winning Eleven 8, I learned all about the series: its whip-smart AI, the vaunted Master League career mode, and the lack of licensed teams that necessitated a couple hours to rename and edit the uniforms of club teams.

The following year, I knew I had to pick up Winning Eleven 9, but truly fell in love when I learned that Winning Eleven 9 added a whole host of features. Upgrades included better weather effects (snow!), improved player development in the Master League mode, more ways to edit team uniforms, and vastly improved off-the-ball AI in matches -- all small things, but all adding to every single match on the field.

Winning Eleven 9 mixed all of these features together to create a blend that was toxic to my schoolwork. I was so hooked on playing through this game -- eventually going through seven seasons’ worth of Master League play -- that when finals came around, I had to disconnect my PS2 to make sure I spent time studying. And in a long history of sports games and soccer games in particular, Winning Eleven 9 is my absolute favorite.

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Mass Effect 2

January 26, 2010 | BioWare | Xbox 360

I’ve always been a console game player growing up, so that means while my friends played games like Baldur’s Gate and showed those to me, I never got around to actually playing them myself. My introduction to BioWare titles was relatively late; while I played a little bit of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, what I dedicated more time to was Jade Empire. This was the Xbox and PC RPG that borrowed heavily from Chinese mythology and leaned less on BioWare’s stop-start D20-based combat system. So when Mass Effect was unveiled and announced as a trilogy, I knew I would be onboard.

And while I love the first Mass Effect, and appreciated the combat improvements and efforts to wrap up a sprawling universe in Mass Effect 3, it’s the second game that stole my heart. I think it’s the best balance of the three, and since there were new mysteries unveiled throughout the second game, it never suffered from the over-arching dread that set in during ME3 (it gets awful hard to forget about the world ending over the course of 30 hours). Maybe it was the way the single-player story was set up: each mission to recruit a new team member felt like a TV show episode or mini-arc, and if you took the time to go through each member’s loyalty mission, you were rewarded with great backstory and the blossoming of a fascinating science-fiction world. And it’s not just unlocking stuff; all of the characters in ME2 are relatable, deep, and worth exploring those conversation trees with. Since it builds off the first game, running into characters from the first game actually feels like running into old friends. ME2 is a fantastic example of getting you to care for a cast of characters, and partnered to a wonderful space opera with great gameplay it retains a place in my heart (and should have been the Game of the Year).

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The Walking Dead: Season One

(Ended) November 20, 2012 | Telltale Games | PlayStation 3

This is a game that put me through the emotional wringer during the course of its five-chapter story arc. And by doing so, it made me question my definition of what a game was.

The Walking Dead: Season 1 was my introduction to the TellTale Games formula of adventure games. I’d shied away from the genre, first because it was the territory of PC gamers, and in more recent years because the esoteric gameplay combined item use and pixel hunting, two things that tried my patience to no end.

Where Walking Dead truly succeeds is in cutting the fat. Through the chapters, there’s very little that’s excess -- and things that do lie off the beaten path reward you for what they reveal about the world. The episodic structure allowed for the overarching “find Clementine’s parents and survive in the zombie apocalypse” story to take twists and turns with each chapter.

But what sank in the most for me was the writing. While Walking Dead employs dialogue trees that are similar to Mass Effect and other current RPGs, in this game, there’s never a “correct” choice to make. Instead, you’re often forced into the least of all evils, or even to respond with silence. As well, the way that the relationship between Clementine and player character Lee developed and bloomed was multi-faceted and the best example in all of games to this date. That the final scenes of Season 1 left me a bawling mess isn’t to do with the circumstance as much as it is everything that led up to it: it is real, honest care for characters.