Nintendo Entertainment System:
Indicative of the era it came from in a lot of ways. Narratively nonsensical to the point of outright surrealism, some of the absolute best chiptune music, solid color palette. The design starts of really solid and it helps players get a feel for the special variety of challenges the game is gonna throw our way, but things really start to fall apart near the end, especially in the infamous Act 6-2, which contains a platforming segment most easily completed by despawning the enemies.
I love this game because it’s an utter fucking mess, but also probably one of the most directly compelling I’ve ever played. If nothing else, Terranigma displays the Super Nintendo at the absolute peak of it’s aesthetic abilities. The graphics and sprite work here demolish even the likes of Chrono Trigger, and the amazing music is perfectly crafted to what sounds good on the SNES soundcard. The story, messy as it is, can only be described as moving, a story of such gigantic scope as really fits the medium quite easily.
Masterful execution of traditional game design ideas matched with a gooey, gorey aesthetic and a fantastic soundtrack packed into 7 tight, concise levels. A game you could find me playing any day of the week. A little more restrictive than the free-wheeling Super Castlevania IV and a little less restrictive than Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. My favorite overall VintageVania.
N64: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The masterpiece of conservative games, both in design and, unfortunately, politics. A clever synthesis of systems and narratives concerning the hard work and sacrifices of heroism laced into 7 really good dungeons and one tragically horrid one. A lame pick I’ll admit, but it’s the only N64 exclusive I’ve ever played more than once.
Final Fantasy VIII (overall favorite)
An actual smart game about teenage romance, masculinity, and mental illness accompanied by some of Nobuo Uematsu’s best compositions . . . with one of the roughest starts in the series. Look, the first five hours of this game are a grind, but after that it’s just the smooth joy of exploiting the shit out of massively broken systems accompanied by moments of quiet introspection. I have written more in depth about this and I will do more so in the future, but Final Fantasy VIII is my favorite videogame of all time.
I have a favorite Dreamcast game?
Sonic Adventure 2
I have always been thoroughly unimpressed by most of the Dreamcast library and I find it by far the most over-celebrated collection of games, but I do genuinely love Sonic Adventure 2. If nothing else because never before has such a legitimately great game also been in equal parts so genuinely awful. More importantly, the ideas that make levels in SA2 fun to play are genuinely foreign to formalist 101 rules of design about how to create challenge. A game I really have yet to parse despite a near decade of revisits and replays.
Legacy of Kain: Defiance
An oft-criticized, inconclusive finish to a series that was always wondering in moral ambiguity. Defiance is both the most enjoyable LoK game to revisit, and brings the subtexts about race and antitheist existentialism boiling to the surface in dramatic fashion. The game’s weakest feature might be that it reuses so much music from the series’ previous games, but I always felt that it gave them game a sense of history when that is a large part of what the game’s narrative is concerned with. Or maybe it’s just nostalgia. :)
Metal Gear Solid 4
As James Howell once confided to me in private, “Metal Gear Solid 2 squared.” A game that criticizes and deconstructs the techniques of remixing and reiteration through which MGS2 and MGS3 (which it should be noted is just as “postmodern” as every other MGS game) created familiarity and textual meaning, arguing that the whole process of regurgitating the ideas that made the previous 3 games make sense could no longer be compelling, and thus remixes some of those ideas where they don’t make sense: Johnny re-enacting the role of the Cyborg Ninja during one scene is a primary example. And as well, the game also looks gorgeous and has some of the most exciting stealth, setpiece action, and bosses in the entire series. Even the dialogue is good in this game after the work Kojima put into making MGS3 a more “traditional” story. An absolute perfect game, in my humble opinion.