Usually, the intro to new instalments of this series involve us gushing over someone’s music before making a tenuous link between that and the video games they play, as a thinly-veiled excuse for letting them talk about the games they love. With Ria Wigley though, this link isn’t exactly hard to make. Whilst Ria has been active in metal for some time, currently acting as bassist and vocalist for gothic doom outfit Karnstein and the fantastically noisy Oriza, she is also a game developer, having spent much of her spare time creating the 2D action platformer Destroy The Shogun almost entirely on her own.
The game is a must for fans of old-school side-scrollers, with fast-paced action and a ninja protagonist flipping through obstacles and slicing down enemies. And how better to celebrate its release than by having Ria talk about her favourite games of all time, from iconic 2D action titles to mindblowingly huge modern titles. Read on for her top five, and be sure to pick up Destroy The Shogun to see if you can spot influences from any of them…
This game is so iconic that the genre ‘Metroidvania’ is partially named after it, and I can say with no exaggeration that this game is the most flawless example of how to do a Metroidvania. It may come as some surprise then that I actually started the series with this game’s sequel, Metroid Fusion, and actually played most of the games until I finally went back to this for the first time. This game has basically a perfect balance of open exploration and subtly guided portions, without ever getting too hand-holdy or too expansive. You’ll frequently find yourself with many routes open to you at once, but the games clever systems keep you from getting lost by locking off areas behind certain power-ups that you’ll have to explore to unlock. The power-ups themselves are iconic at this point, allowing you to eventually roll through small gaps, lay bombs, fire missiles, swing over large chasms and much more. Each time you acquire a new one you are locked in a room and have to use that item to escape, allowing you to instantly understand its use and filling you with giddy excitement as you race back to one of those weird obstacles you remember having to turn away from earlier in your adventure that you can now pass.
Alongside exploration there is one other thing this game is masterful at; atmosphere. This is one of the most powerfully atmospheric games in existence. The combination of often chilling but always enjoyable music, absolutely minimal text and not a waypoint in sight (not to mention the harsh alien landscape and long metallic tunnels) make this game an experience in isolation and fear, which is not easy on Super Nintendo hardware. I could go on, but there is so much I could say about this game that I’ll be here for days crafting a massive essay in order to fully do it justice. Needless to say, if you’ve never played a Metroid game or a Metroidvania, THIS is the place to start, and it’s even easily available on the Nintendo Switch online app. I would say it’s the best game on the SNES if it wasn’t for…
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
On the face of it, this is an extremely simple game. You can run, jump, a simple tap of the Y button will do a little roll, and that’s largely it. Those simple moves however are incredibly fun and many very simple combinations, such as jumping at the height of a roll or using a roll to smash through seven enemies in a row with a single well-timed button press, open up a world of possibilities. But it’s not the character controls that put this 2D platformer on another level, it’s the level design. Every single level is based around a single unique mechanic, ranging from a highspeed race on skull-shaped rollercoasters, to climbing up a wrecked pirate ship while the piranha-filled water rises, to riding hot air balloons across a bed of lava. Every level introduces the mechanic in a simple safe way, and then progressively escalates the stakes till you’re chaining together a series of complex jumps and rolls over obstacles you’d have had no chance against at the beginning of the level, before abandoning those mechanics (or occasionally offering a variation on them) in the next level.
“Well okay Ria” you may be thinking, “That’s exactly how Mario and Sonic worked before this, why is this game better than them, or the first Donkey Kong Country?”. Well, honestly, the simple answer is that it just is. It does all those things better than any other platformer before or since. Each level flows perfectly, it never feels too slow or too fast, never too easy or too difficult, never too linear or too open. It’s simply just that good. It does SO MUCH with just two buttons. And I HAVE to mention the level of charm in this game. The character designs are instantly iconic and have remained that way, offering great returning characters like Diddy and Cranky, and all new ones like my personal favourite Dixie. Not to mention all the enemies, including the big bad K.Rool himself, are now sporting a pirate aesthetic that also extends to many of the levels. Who doesn’t love pirates? Normally I’d mention the music in a game like this, but honestly words cannot do this soundtrack justice. It’s the greatest music in a video game ever, no exceptions! The whole trilogy is also on the Switch’s SNES Online app, so go and play them all if you can.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Hoo boy, where do you even begin with a game like Ocarina of Time? For nearly 20 years this was my favourite game of all time and it’s still very firmly in my top five, as you can see. In many ways this game is similar to Super Metroid, in that you slowly gather items that give you new abilities that open up the world to progress, but where that game is very open, OoT takes a largely linear approach. While you do have a large open-ended world to explore, you are taken on a much more straightforward path due to harsher item locking and various story reasons. Thankfully that path is wonderful in every way. You get most of your items in dungeons, which are self-contained puzzle boxes. Things start off fairly simple in each one, allowing you to explore your way through it, collecting keys, solving puzzles and defeating enemies along the way, but with a few dead ends. That is until you stumble across that dungeon’s item, and wouldn’t you know it those dead ends are now fully open to you. Not to mention that more often than not, those new enemies that might have been giving you a little trouble now crumble against your new item too, making you feel instantly more powerful and versatile. It effortlessly combines the item-based progression and exploration that I enjoyed in Metroid, but because it takes place largely inside dungeons, each one can introduce new mechanics and slowly escalate them without overwhelming the player, much like levels in DKC2. This formula was so wildly popular that the series didn’t stray from it for 19 years.
Of course, you don’t spend all your time in dungeons, the bulk of the game takes place in the (for the time) massive overworld of Hyrule. This is a world that is bristling with life and high fantasy joviality. You’ll spend time swimming with the Zora, a tribe of beautiful fish people, rolling with the rock eating Gorons, sneaking around the giant castle to speak to the princess and so much more. That is until you reach a pivotal point in the story about a third of the way in, where you finally reach the Master Sword in the Temple of Time, an area that is accessible very early on but requires three stones and the titular ocarina to open the back wall to reach the sword. (Consider this your spoiler warning if you’ve somehow not played this game yet).
The stakes are high at this point in the story, you’ve just witnessed the princess fleeing the town via horseback, with the game’s antagonist just behind her. Your nightmare from the game’s opening has come true. But have no fear, you’ve just raised the Master Sword from its pedestal. Except something’s wrong. You awaken, suddenly now a young adult instead of a ten-year-old boy, and after some expository dialogue about the game’s plot, you walk back into the happy vibrant town you just left into a desolated wasteland, populated only by terrifying zombie-like creatures called Re-Deads. The mountain in the distant background is now clouded in a thick black smoke, and the castle where you once spoke to the princess no longer exists, replaced by an imposing tower floating above a lake of lava. Almost everywhere you visit for the rest of the game showcases the devastating effect of Ganon’s rule in your seven-year absence, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in subtle ways.
I’m not generally one to look for story as a large reason to play most games, but damn does this one deliver on that front. And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest and most influential thing this game did for both the series and games as a whole. It’s in 3D! That was a new and exciting thing in 1998. Not only did it completely revolutionise the dungeon and overworld design (you’re not getting something like The Forest Temple’s twisting corridor on the SNES for example) but it completely reinvented combat. Now you can move in all directions around, above and below an enemy, and that required a new way of thinking about how that interaction would work. This is where the concept of ‘locking on’ to an enemy first came from (something that every third person action game uses now since Dark Souls modernised the formula to great success). It can’t be overstated how important this game was to the entire industry and remains to be. Oh, and again, the music is so brilliant I can’t even really describe how with mere words, these tunes are permanently etched into my brain.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate
What would happen if Ryu from Street Fighter Hadukened Jigglypuff directly in the face from point blank range? And it took place in Green Hill Zone? While Mario summoned Grey Fox from Metal Gear Solid? Okay, but who would win in a fight between Cloud and Link? Or Mario and Sonic? What if they were all on a team and they were fighting against Pac-Man, Simon Belmont, Mega Man and Luigi? And it took place in Minecraft? These are just an impossibly small fraction of the vast amount of possible match ups in the latest Smash Bros game, party platformer/fighting game mash up featuring a now absurd cast of characters currently numbering 88 characters (with one more still on the horizon) as well as many Mii costumes that allow you to essentially create even more characters, 113 stages to fight on (all of which have two alternate simplified forms and again, one more still to come) dozens of different items (59 of which are other summonable characters and a further 55 are Pokémon you can summon with a Poke Ball) there is more content than any other fighting or party game by a pretty wide margin. And thankfully, it’s all astoundingly good.
I can’t even begin to imagine the level of work it takes to develop a game with such an array of content, especially when the fans are VISCIOUSLY protective over what they want this game to be (and are unfortunately often super toxic about it) but rest assured, this game is incredibly balanced despite just how much there is to balance in it. I managed to get to grips with this game’s entire cast with more ease than any of the previous entries (seriously, you gonna use Ganondorf in Melee or Olimar in Brawl?) and that is very much a huge point in this games favour considering that every single character is gonna be someone’s favourite in an all-star cast like this, and nothing sucks more in crossover games than having a huge connection to a character that’s just not fun to play as. Long story short, this is the biggest and most enjoyable crossover ever, the MCU has nothing on Smash, not by a long shot (not to mention it has tons of content from the other games on this list).
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
There is nothing else that could have been Number One for me. Zelda is my favourite series of all time, and this is the best Zelda game. Yet somehow, this is both the least Zelda-like and also most Zelda-like of the entire series. I’ve already talked at length about how OoT works, and the rest of the series between this game and that one largely followed the same formula. But before then, way back on the NES in 1986, the original Zelda featured a huge open overworld with little blocking the path forward other than your own skill. Sure, exploration would yield you more hearts and stronger base equipment, but you tackle the vast majority of it in any order save for a couple of elements that required a certain item to traverse. BotW takes this original concept and expands it out to a gigantic degree. Now not even the walls and mountains are a blockade, because you can climb them. You can literally climb anything and everything outside of the shrines. Death Mountain? You can scale the whole thing from the side up. Hyrule Castle? You can actually reach the very tip of the tallest spire. This game takes the idea of an open world further than any previous game before it has.
But it’s not just the climbing and large size that’s both a throwback to the original and a completely new series direction. This time you get four essential powers that can carry you through the whole game; remote bombs, which are exactly what they sound like; stasis, which lets you briefly freeze items and (later) enemies in time, allowing you to whack them a ton to send them flying a great distance when they unfreeze; Magnesis, which lets you raise up and move anything metallic; and Cryonis, which lets you create a pillar of ice from any body of water (or destroy them). These things combined with your ability to climb and glide through the air create an incredible physics engine that approaches and sometimes surpasses even the most ambitious immersive sims. On top of that it has probably the greatest chemistry engine in any game to date. Grass and other plants can catch on fire in real time, dips in the ground will fill when it rains, bombs will explode in your hand if you pull them out in hot areas. There are simply too many combinations of things to list and they’re still being discovered. Anything you can imagine within these systems is possible, from using a flame type weapon to stay warm in areas that are normally too cold to enter without taking damage, to creating a series of chemical reactions that can take you so far that you can traverse this world in a matter of mere minutes right from the tutorial area.
Just to give an idea of the scale we’re talking about; you can fit the entire rest of the series into this game with room to spare. You can probably fit all the 2D games inside the tutorial. It’s so vast that at one point when I thought I had already traversed through every region and unlocked the full map, I climbed up a mountain and discovered a whole new one that was entirely tropical. There is no game that allows you to just go off and do whatever you like that this one does. See a mysterious mountain in the middle distance? You can go there and climb it if you want, doesn’t matter what equipment you have. Chances are you’ll have been distracted by 50 different things along the way and taken fifteen hours to even get to the foot of that mountain however. What’s at the bottom of this ravine? What’s through this forest? What’s on the other end of this lake? What’s this island way in the distance? Most games would render these things impossible to reach, kill you for trying, or force you along a certain path to get to them only when the story wants you to. But in BotW, the only limit is your skill. Sure there are invisible walls around the very edges of the giant map, but nothing inside it is truly off limits.
The depth to what you can discover and how you can go about it is amazing. I was finding new and exciting thing 100 hours after I’d already beaten the final boss. That’s not hyperbole, I put nearly 200 hours into this game and many people put even more. One of the most controversial elements of this game is the fact that your weapons break. All of them! But this is actually a stroke of genius. Every new discovery becomes meaningful because you’ll always need that weapon or that ingredient or even those rupees. I was just as excited the first time I found a flaming sword sticking out of a giant tree stump as I was when I found the same one being held by a random Bokoblin on the other end of the map 50 hours later. As you can imagine for a game that can fill 500 hours for most people no problem, there’s way more to it than I really have the means to discuss, from the actual plot, the change to dungeons, what the shrines are, the combat, a deeper dive into the physics and chemistry engines, but I’ll leave you with my favourite moment, one that was entirely unscripted and happened by chance in the games vast world:
I was riding through the Akkala region on my horse Bob for the first time (quick aside, you can tame and name wild horses in this game, another radical departure from the norm), taking in the beautiful autumnal environment, when suddenly the music changes to a familiar dangerous tone as the theme tune for the Guardians starts playing. They are this game’s signature enemy, giant octopus-like walking tanks that travel very fast and will blast you with lasers for a lot of damage. At this point in the game, I had yet to defeat one, they were basically on the level of a later game boss fight for me. I tried to swerve around the trees so that I could escape without confronting it, but as I came into a large clearing amid a backdrop of flames caused by the Guardian’s laser, one beam hits my beloved Bob. I am launched into the air as my horse dies below me (yes your horses can just straight up die in this, no more invincible Epona like in past games). Enraged, I sprint at this seemingly insurmountable foe and raise my newly acquired Master Sword, the very same one that was a pivotal plot element in OoT and other past games but now is just another cool thing you can stumble across at almost any point in the story, and start tearing the Guardian apart. For the first time I discover that you can smash its legs off if you do enough damage, and now it can’t escape from me. This once invincible and terrifying enemy was now just scrap metal, and all because I had chosen to deal with it in this one particular way. Your experience of this game is likely going to be completely different from mine but it will be just as enjoyable because it gives you that much to work with. It is truly deserving of its reputation as a masterpiece.
Destroy The Shogun is out now from Ria Wigley games. Pick it up on Steam here.
Intro: George Parr