Super Mario Bros. 2, NES

The North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was controversial because it was not the same Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in Japan – it was a re-skinned game; made into a Mario game, because the Nintendo bigwigs thought the original was too difficult for western gamers.

And the result is the game you see here. It looks like Mario from a distance, but when you drill down to it, there are quite a few differences. In this there is no two-player option. Players can instead choose to play each stage as one of four different characters – Mario (of course), Luigi, Toad (the mushroom), and Princess Peach. Each character can run and jump, and climb, and do all the usual Mario-style actions, but they also each have a unique ability. Mario can jump the farthest; Luigi – the highest; Peach can float, and Toad can pick up items quickly.

Also unlike the previous game: the player can explore both left and right – as well as vertically – rather than being forced to always move left to right. Enemies are no longer beaten by jumping on them. Instead: they can be ridden on by jumping on them. And if you do want/need to beat them up you have to throw objects at them instead.

Super Mario Bros. 2 contains twenty different levels in total, spread over seven themed worlds. Each world has different enemies, plus a boss battle at the end.

Although this version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has since gone on to be regarded as a bit of a retro-gaming classic, it is easy to see why it garnered some criticism at the time. It does deviate from many of the Mario conventions we’ve come to recognise, although it does retain the precise controls, cute graphics, and charm of the Mario series as a whole, so is well worth a play.

More: Super Mario Bros. 2 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, Famicom Disk System

Super Mario Bros. 2 was initially released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986, but was not released in North America or Europe in its original form, as you might have expected. It was instead decided that the gameplay was “too difficult” for Western gamers (and also the video games market in North America was undergoing a crash at the time), so Nintendo decided not to release it in English language territories – at least until it was later re-branded as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost levels – and released a different Super Mario Bros.2 in North America instead.

This ‘lost’ version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is just as insanely difficult as the legend describes. It plays very similarly to the first Super Mario Bros. game, but has a variety of new features that seem designed to trick you. Like black mushrooms. You learn not to pick those up quite early in the game… The level designs this time have been designed to make you tear your hair out too. Make one wrong move, and you’re dead. Some sections have easier routes, but these are often hidden and require Mario (or Luigi) to find a hidden block to open them up.

The whole game seems like it was designed with “professional players” in mind. This original, Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is certainly not for beginners. Which is why it is so much loved by speed-runners and modern game pros now. It’s one of the toughest challenges in gaming.

The game sold over seven million physical copies in Japan in its first year of release.

More: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros., NES

The successor to the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan and North America in 1985, although it wasn’t released in Europe until 1987.

It is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest video games of all time, and I wouldn’t want to dispute that assessment.

Super Mario Bros. was a gigantic leap ahead for Nintendo at the time, and it expanded massively on the ideas and themes of the original Mario Bros. (which was – let’s face it – quite a limited game overall). In this game Mario (or Luigi – if playing two-player) must make his way across a series of scrolling, platform-based levels; bouncing on the heads of enemies; collecting coins; picking up power-ups (such as mushrooms, which make you bigger; essentially giving you an extra life); and eventually sliding down a flag pole at the end of a level (the higher you slide down it, the more bonus points you are awarded). Occasionally you’ll get to fight a mini boss battle; or slide down a pipe into a secret area; or pick up a ‘Fire Flower’ (which allows you to shoot at enemies).

While none of that might sound very exciting by today’s standards, back in 1985 Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary. It revolutionised platform gaming with its precise controls and brilliantly-designed levels. It raised the bar in the entire video-gaming industry in 1985 – everyone who saw it and played it knew that it was something special. Something better than most leading arcade games could offer at the time… And it remains that to this day: a game marking the transition from the old style of archaic video games, and the new style of console games that were extremely high quality.

The original NES version of Super Mario Bros. sold over 40 million physical copies worldwide during its first run (29 million in North America alone), although many of these were ‘pack-in’ titles sold with a new console. Those sales still count, though, which made it THE best-selling video game of all time until it was usurped by (sigh) Wii Sports (and other games later on).

More: Super Mario Bros. on Wikipedia

Super Castlevania IV, Super Nintendo

Released in 1991, Konami‘s Super Castlevania IV was one of the earliest releases for the Super Nintendo console – and one of the best.

And it remains one of the best – to this day – with spectacular, horror-themed platforming action, full of deadly ghosts and monsters, and demanding boss battles.

The Super Nintendo‘s famous Mode 7 graphics rotation and scaling is used to great effect too, with drawbridges raising and falling smoothly, and entire levels rotating around effortlessly at certain points.

Super Castlevania IV gave the series the boost it needed to go on to become legendary, and Simon Belmont’s quest to defeat Dracula is still enjoyed by gamers to this day.

More: Super Castlevania IV on Wikipedia

The Sentinel, Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 version of Geoff Crammond‘s The Sentinel is just as good as the original BBC Micro version of the game, if not better – ie. it’s absolutely bloody brilliant.

Like the game of chess – but scarier – The Sentinel is a game of strategy and cunning that is played-out on a mountainous chequerboard landscape that is overseen by the titular Sentinel. The Sentinel slowly rotates his view of the landscape and if he see you he’ll start absorbing your energy – energy that you need to get around, so avoiding his gaze is key to survival.

The basic aim is to move to a position where you can see the ground The Sentinel is standing on. This allows you to absorb him, and not the other way around. You move around using energy (represented as a bar at the top of the screen), but have a limited amount of it, so must absorb trees (and other, lesser guardians) in order to keep it topped-up. When you do move you create a sort of clone of yourself to teleport into, which you can then look back at and absorb for more energy, unless The Sentinel beats you to it.

The Sentinel is not a game that will appeal to those who’re looking for simple entertainment, but… You’d have to be pretty simple yourself to dismiss it as “boring”. It’s actually one of the greatest video games of all time!

More: The Sentinel on Wikipedia

Ad Astra, ZX Spectrum

This early Spectrum shooter by Gargoyle Games might look a bit archaic by today’s standards, but back in 1984 when it was first released it really set the gaming world alight. Well, the Spectrum gaming world – at least…

Playing it now you’d be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was about, because Ad Astra doesn’t have a moving starry backdrop to give the impression of speed (the stars are static); it doesn’t have the correct perspective on the craft you’re controlling (something that always bugged me, even as a kid playing it); it doesn’t have selectable difficulty levels, and it doesn’t have much in the way of excitement.

It does have large, rolling planets that come at you (impressive for the time); a blue mothership section; some nice explosions, and some TIE Fighters… Maybe that’s what impressed people back in 1984?

Ad Astra is a game that has dated quite badly over the years. It’s simple enough to play, but is from a time when video games were usually very primitive, and – as shooters go – this one is a bit of a throwback.

More: Ad Astra on World of Spectrum

Spy vs. Spy, Commodore 64

Back in 1984 Spy vs. Spy was a revelation. It was – and still is – a shining example of two-player versus gaming. Two spies, each searching for the secret plans, and each laying traps in order to stop the other – it tended to bring out the devious side (and the trash talk) of anyone who played it. Myself included. Many hours were spent playing this game against my brother back in the mid Eighties, and Spy vs. Spy quickly became a cult favourite for myself, and for many other Commodore 64 owners.

Of course, this being a split-screen game, each player can see what the other is doing, which adds another level of deviousness and trickery to the gameplay.

Spy vs. Spy is beautifully presented, with humorous animated graphics based on the MAD Magazine characters of the same name. Placing traps is achieved by cycling a pointer over a bank of icons on the right-hand side of the screen. There are six different types of traps and each has to be set up by first hiding it in either a piece of furniture, or inside a door. And when your unwitting opponent triggers a trap you laid: it’s kaboom. Or course: the same can happen to you as you’re searching for the plans.

There are eight levels of difficulty, with more rooms being added as the levels go up. There are also five levels of computer AI for the single-player game, so Spy vs. Spy has some serious replay value.

It’s still a brilliant game to play now and is definitely a Commodore 64 classic!

More: Spy vs. Spy on Wikipedia

Fallout 4, PC

The fourth Fallout was released by Bethesda in 2015, some seven years after Fallout 3, and five years after Fallout: New Vegas. In fact: I would call this the fifth Fallout game, because Fallout: New Vegas was more than just game number 3.5, in my humble opinion – it was the best game in the entire series. But anyway… What do I know?

What Fallout 4 retains from the previous games it benefits from (like lockpicking, hacking, and companions, which are essentially the same), and what Fallout 4 loses from the previous games it also benefits from too. Excepting for maybe the Perk Chart, which I found to be a big step backwards, usability-wise, in Fallout 4.

That ‘blip’ aside, I love the sparse and refined interface of Fallout 4; the story and conversations are simpler and more realistic; and ‘crafting’ has taken on a whole new meaning this time around. New additions to the gameplay, such as building and defending settlements, the use of power armour, and manufacturing helper robots, I think are all excellent. Although base-building in Fallout 4 is not perfect (trying to get fencing to connect up is a bitch), the fundamentals behind it work very well and add another dimension to the Fallout experience.

Of course, Fallout 4 is all about chasing quests, gaining and using experience points, playing politics with different factions, and hoarding every piece of tech and weaponry you can get your hands on. Exploring the crumbling, post-apocalyptic Boston, Massachusetts yields many surprising moments.

What I love most about Fallout 4 is the world itself. And the atmospherics. The effort Bethesda has made to create a believable, destroyed world is remarkable. The use of light/dark; coloured lighting; weather effects; music and sound effects all combine to make something really worth experiencing. On normal difficulty Fallout 4 is a challenging game – that I like too. At times the enemies in the game can be utterly ruthless and punishing (try meeting an Assaultron Demon and its friends when you’re lower levelled and see what you think of that experience…), and there are many unique monsters in the game that are way beyond your initial capabilities and who will mince you for dinner without warning if you make a mis-step. Which is all part of the Fallout RPG experience – fear, followed by eventual domination (when you go back to get your revenge later). And – there being no real level cap this time – you could in theory just keep on surviving indefinitely.

At times Fallout 4 can be frustrating. A game this big and complex is going to have some bugs, and I did experience a couple that broke my game (which I had to use to the console to fix), which nobody wants to do, but at least a fix was available, saving hours of gameplay that I’d otherwise have to re-do. I also think that the item management is still not quite as good as I’ve seen in other games. Organising items can be quite tiring in Fallout 4 and a few tweaks to the menu system might have made it a lot easier. But overall: I don’t want to complain about it too much, because I really enjoyed playing Fallout 4.

Where would I put Fallout 4 in my list of best Fallout games? Is it better than Fallout: New Vegas? Mmm. I would probably put it joint top with Fallout: New Vegas. In some respects, Fallout 4 is better, but in other respects: not. The story/characterisation and world-building in Fallout 4 are outstanding. There’s no doubting that.

More: Fallout 4 on Wikipedia
Steam: Fallout 4 on Steam