This is now attempt number three at this thing that started out as somewhat of a bonus post on a few favourite sights in gaming which, the more I thought about it, quickly then evolved into a top ten and more. That was around two years ago as I write, but after that initial flurry it’s been something that’s captured my imagination quite a lot and as a result has been given a great deal more thought ever since, and while I can’t promise it’s now a final and comprehensive list, it is now an awful lot bigger than ten and more, so I thought it was a good time to share it again! No more countdowns though, even though at least nine of my last top ten probably still stand; no, this time I just want to take you on a tour of some really cool sights, explain where they’re from and why I think they’re cool, or, if you prefer, you can just enjoy some pretty pictures… By the way, it’s a bit of an epic, so just after halfway through I decided we probably all needed a break, so be sure to check out Part 2 too!
Not sure how to order this now, so I’ll just completely contradict myself and start with my favourite then go random! And that favourite is the one that wasn’t in my last top ten, and is probably the main reason I wanted to get this update out there because knowing that last countdown is so significantly out of date now annoys me immensely! Anyway, it is, as regular listeners might have already guessed, the breathtaking castle hallway from our game of the year in 2021, Resident Evil Village. It started out as an incredibly impactful sight on a pre-launch trailer early that year, and was then confirmed by those bizarre Sunday night-only demos that spanned the tail-end of my PS4 and start of life with Xbox Series X, but however you experience it, stepping into that sumptuous, decadent, gold-drenched room with it’s sweeping staircase and lavish floors and balconies and carvings and the grandest of shimmering chandeliers is absolutely jaw-dropping. Like the rest of the game, there’s detail everywhere, there’s light (in some form) everywhere and there’s life everywhere you look too, but from the very second I first saw it, here was and probably forever will be the most incredible place I’ve ever seen in a game! And I’m now wishing I’d saved those histrionics to the end…
Okay, next up we’ll head to the end of my list instead, and the very last favourite sight that came back to mind before I started writing things down here, and it’s from The Secret of Monkey Island on Commodore Amiga from 1990. I actually played this one on Atari ST, and I don’t suppose it makes much difference, but was reminded of it as a favourite when I was replaying the game on the A500 Mini after it launched, and while there are probably several sights I could have picked, I’m going for the street view that might make you wonder what the town planners were up to if you think too hard about it, but actually this one is all about the atmosphere conjured up by the scene that I think sums up the game’s overall atmosphere that, together with the writing, has made this thing as timeless as it is – or at least as timeless as it is when you’ve found a nice modern way of doing away with all that disk swapping! I love the dark, night-time blues so dominant in the bold architecture, with the shadows and reflections in the puddles from the painstakingly lit (and so abundant) windows, reminding your imagination of how it used to fill in gaps before swanky things like ray-tracing. But that’s not to say this also wasn’t a stunner at the time, and fully justified all those disks it came on!
After this one we’re going completely random for the rest, but from that last top ten list I think I might need to right a wrong first… Actually, it’s not really a wrong because I still think that when all hell breaks loose as the big gates burst open at the end of stage one on the Commodore 64 port of Commando is a wonderful sight, but all the same, possibly picking the wrong spot to share has been nagging at me for two years! Instead, I’m going to replace it with when you go under the bridge with the motorbike on it in the middle of stage one on the Commodore 64 port of Commando! As an aside, this was also what was used for both the game’s title screen and the “screenshot” on the big double-page advert for Commando by Elite for all the 8-bit computers at the time, which, upon closer inspection today, appears to be hand-painted – have a look at the top of the page here for a nice photo of it taken from an old copy of Computer & Video Games magazine. Anyway, this is a conversion of the 1985 Capcom run and gun arcade game, which also happens to feature my favourite music in any game ever too, and as much as I enjoyed my own Spectrum version a couple of years later, it never matched the C64 one I played at a friend’s house first! No machine was ever more suited to this brown and grey vista, filled with trademark, perfectly-placed chunky details, and made even more dramatic by the arrival of that motorbike as you approach its shadowy passageway, with its promise of respite from a load of grenades flying about quickly replaced by the tension of having to make it through the wave of soldiers suddenly coming from the other side. It’s one of a handful of truly great C64 conversions (but not the last here), and this scene truly epitomises everything great about it!
If I ever put together a list of my top ten most obnoxious games, there’s no doubt that Super Star Wars on the SNES in 1992 is going to be near the business end! And there are two prime reasons why, and they both directly precede our next sight, the wonderfully-named Lava Beast Jawenko! There is a bit of nerd-lore behind this guy, who was worshipped as the deity Great Jawenko by the Jawas and the Sand People after he was somehow stranded on Tatooine from his home planet of Mustafar, the lava place where Obi-Wan has the big scrap with Anakin at the end of the last crappy prequel. The story also goes that after Anakin went psycho and massacred a load of the Sand People in possibly the same crappy prequel, they also believed his murdered mother was actually a witch and the mate of Great Jawenko. Anyway, Anakin’s son Luke then gets to slaughter him too, assuming you can get past the worst-checkpointed, ropiest platforming, way too long and most frustrating section of a game ever as you scale the outside of a Jawa sand-crawler looking for a way in, and then make your way through the equally brutal inside of it, only to end up back outside again to fight Lava Beast Jawenko. What a waste of time! Except the pay-off is worth it when this huge sci-fi Balrog emerges from the sand for a big boss fight, with you hopping precariously between two lumps of metal and taking pot-shots as it sprays flames all over the place. It’s not the most sophisticated of boss fights, but this demonic take on Godzilla, with its fiery mouth and fiery eyes and fiery other bits is a true sight to behold all the same!
I just saw the words “Bomb Jack” in my notes so I think we’ll go there now, and on the ZX Spectrum, no less. The Spectrum did a bit better than the Commodore 64 on arcade conversions, and if you want an example then look no further than Bomb Jack, the 1984 single-screen platformer of sorts by Tehkan (later Tecmo) that takes you all around the world, flying about and frantically trying to avoid enemies and defuse bombs, ideally in the order their fuses are sparking away for the serious points! It’s a bit monochrome in places, but the use of colour where it isn’t is superb, and none more so than on the very first level, where you’re doing your bomb-thing in front of the Giza Plateau, with, in my humble opinion, an even more evocative Great Pyramid and Sphinx than even the original arcade game could muster up! As we discovered when we looked at Desert Falcon on Atari 7800, I know I have a bit of a thing about Ancient Egyptian stuff (as we’ll also see again later) and that’s definitely the reason this screen is here rather than the possibly equally impressive Bavarian castle, but the detail in these two old monuments is exquisite, and perfectly set off by the subtle two-tone colour scheme against a pale blue sky. Love the arcade version, love the Spectrum conversion (Atari ST also good but avoid anything else!), and this screen tells you everything you need to know wherever you choose to play.
There’s a bunch of horizontally scrolling shoot ‘em ups to come here, so we should have a look at one of those next, and the first one I see on my list involves the first stage of Konami’s 1988 arcade version of Gradius II, or Vulcan Venture. Not Vulvan Venture as I initially wrote by mistake just then, though that sounds like quite the sight too! I’ve actually played PC-Engine version of this the most, which actually has a bit more to offer than the original, but since that arrived on the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection for Nintendo Switch it’s become my go-to, and despite the difficulty I do alright for as long as I’m powered up! This comes early though, so as hard as it gets I reckon anyone can experience picking their way through these huge, dragon-spewing burning suns though, with their incredible fire effects perfectly contrasting with the blackness of space behind them. Although thinking about it, they’re not that huge if your little Vic Viper ship is zipping between them! Maybe “don’t think” is the key message here!
As well as horizontal shooters and Ancient Egypt, another recurring theme here is going to be sunsets. I love a gaming sunset! We did go into those in a bit more detail when we looked at Chopper Command on Atari 2600, but for now we’ll start with one that I totally forgot to include there, from Super Turrican 2 on the SNES in 1995. Actually, stage one might be a bit of a recurring theme too… Not sure what that says about my gameplay, but maybe it’s just getting the best out first where everyone can experience it because while this run and gun and jumper isn’t quite as cruel as Super Star Wars, it’s getting there! It’s also spectacular, with some big graphical set pieces and a nice soundtrack too (albeit not quite on a par with some of its Mega Drive outings). Our scene here doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but it works regardless, as you’re travelling on foot and then on a moon buggy thing in front of this apocalyptic desert wasteland, populated by rugged mountains, ruined skyscrapers and, er, pirate shipwrecks, all behind a shimmering heat haze that, combined with the burnt orange sky, does a great job of setting up an atmosphere of pervading hopelessness. And the bonkers sci-fi action to follow!
There’s definitely something to that front-loading the best-looking bits at the start of the game, and to further prove the point, here’s the very opening scene of 1988’s Total Eclipse for the Amstrad CPC, no less! However, just keep in mind that if you want to get beyond the opening scene, maybe jump over to Atari ST or Amiga, because, as technically impressive as their mere existence on the 8-bit machines is, these Freescape engine 3D adventures move at a literal snail’s pace at the best of times! The CPC wins for this opening scene though, and you can compare it to the Amiga, C64 and Spectrum versions right here if you need convincing! I’ve just realised it’s more pyramids and the like too, which was unintentional so soon after the last batch, but it doesn’t matter… These games, which also included Driller, Dark Side, Castle Master and its sequel, this one’s sequel and two construction kits, used various geometric shapes to create their first-person worlds, and here we see my favourite example, a biplane made out of a few triangles and stuff, sat on a runway conveniently located next to an unrealistic pyramid in front of an unrealistic eclipse, but none of that matters because it sets the scene perfectly, still oozing atmosphere even if it’s not quite as jaw-dropping in motion now as it once was!
No fear of repetition with this one because we’re going right off the wall now and looking at Tarantula from 1987 for the ZX Spectrum. And yes, I know it’s just a scruffy-looking, oversized spider in the darkness of a magenta cave, but I’ve always thought it’s fantastic! The game less so, though it’s alright – you’re a little guy on a jetpack exploring a subterranean maze filled with lethal insects and pods you need to collect for unknown reasons. Coming across that tarantula, which dwarfed all the other nasties, for the first time was such a thrill though, and it quickly became the main reason I’d play, and probably the only reason I go back to it now whenever I notice it sitting there. And maybe the reminder of its simpler times!
Nothing simple about PlayStation 2 though, so let’s head there now to one of my top five games of all time, Silent Hill 2! I could live in that place, and virtually do – it’s not often I don’t have a game on the go somewhere! Of course, this is timeless (unless it’s a crappy remaster) psychological survival horror from Konami’s Team Silent in 2001. It’s got everything, but more than anything it’s got atmosphere. And more than any of the writing, the sound design, the graphics, the taboo symbolism and the relentless terror, the bulk of that atmosphere comes straight out of the fog that permeates every nook and cranny. At the very start of the game, you notice wisps of this fog swirling around you, and then you begin your descent towards the town, and the fog starts to envelope you, gradually becoming this stifling, multi-greyed, almost living and breathing entity, welcoming you back to Silent Hill.
Marginally less sinister, let’s briefly head back to the ZX Spectrum because that’s where I first noticed the thrill of this particular moment in another all-time favourite, Out Run. As I’ve said here many times, I’ll always defend that Spectrum port, though reviews at the time also do an adequate job of that if any modern dissenters care to check, but as special as getting that for Christmas 1987 was to me, it was really getting to grips with the original arcade version from a year previously that would keep blowing me away again and again the further I got. As exhilarating as things get in some of those later stages though, there’s nothing like selecting Magical Sound Shower on your radio and hitting that exotic ocean-fronted first stage, and the absolute highlight there for me is the moment where you’ve just hit the first hill and the initial dual three-lane bits of road you’ve been driving on come together into this vast six-lane coastal highway, giving you the first of many such exhilarating moments of speed and gravity as you take in that glorious view. And it would still be number one in my list of favourite sights if it wasn’t for that pesky new Resident Evil!
We should schmup again now to avoid a nasty pile-up later, and I think we’ll go with Cotton 2. For all my various favourites lists, I don’t think I’ve ever done one for favourite game series, although it’s obviously now inevitable… Literally off the top of my head, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, then there’s Mega Man, Darkstalkers, Castlevania and, no surprise, Cotton. I reckon Cotton is the one we’ve covered one way or another more than any other game on this here site too – whack it in the search box up top and see what comes out, from originals to reboots to remasters and unboxings of things that cost way more money than I should have spent on them! This particular sight we’re looking at now comes from the one entry in the thirty years old witchy cute ‘em up series that I’ve played the least though, even though I’ve played it enough to be able to complete it in a respectable handful of credits! Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams is a 1997 horizontally scrolling arcade shooter that’s actually the fourth in the franchise and has a nice Sega Saturn port and a remix called Cotton Boomerang too if you’re ever in that vicinity. Like all the other Cottons, you’re the magical candy-obsessed witch Cotton, shooting monsters from her broomstick and collecting crystals to power-up her spells, together with her very, very lovely bikini-clad fairy sidekick, Silk. And this is another sight from the very start of the game, which takes the series’ trademark gothic splendour to new levels, with a much more sophisticated, beautifully-lit and incredibly detailed look that’s very close to my favourite shoot ‘em up ever, Deathsmiles, although that wouldn’t appear for another ten years! This scene encapsulates everything I love about Cotton, from its impeccably giant moon to the near-preview of everything that’s to follow, all condensed into one screen. Doesn’t get better than this… Okay – just maybe – except for the increasingly gratuitous shots of Silk as the series goes on!
Splatterhouse! Now there’s another series I like! This particular wonderful sight is also a bit of a follow-up from our previous discussion on this topic a couple of years ago… It’s from Stage V of the PC-Engine port of the horrific, maybe Friday the 13th-inspired 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up and occasional platforming arcade game from Namco in 1988. When we first discussed its inclusion, I made the point that up to then I’d never got far enough in the arcade version to know if there was a more impressive sight waiting there. Well, now I have. Finished it, in fact. And there isn’t! I’ve always loved this PC-Engine flying skeleton-scarecrow-death guy, commanding his little army of zombies in his little barn, to the point I know getting to the fifth level inside-out, just so I can say hello again then switch off once I’m done! I like the arcade version and I’m a really big fan of the Mega Drive sequels, but this is where Splatterhouse is most alive for me, partly down to its distinctive graphics and soundtrack, but mostly down to how it feels on the PC-Engine; it just does a brawler right! And as for this scene, there’s a bit of extra magic on top that just appeals to me.
We should do a racer next as we’ve still got a couple more of those to cover. It’s hard to describe in modern words quite how jaw-dropping and exhilarating a loop-the-loop in a racing game once was, not least when it had made such an authentic jump from arcade to Atari ST like Hard Drivin’ did for me when I got it for Christmas in 1989! This polygonal 3D racer was a technical tour de force all over though, and its stunt course especially was full of these big set pieces that never stopped impressing; even had a cow that mooed if you crashed into it! Sampled farmyard sounds aside, going upside down was the main attraction though – one of those gaming legends that even people (like me) who’d never even played the original knew all about being there. And in action, it was so impressive that you’d be almost as nervous approaching it every time as you would be in a real car, and then the sensation of actually being upside-down was just out of this world! This sight to me neatly summarises that feeling, coming off a bend with oncoming traffic to suddenly consider, as hard as it is to take your eyes of this great wonder of the gaming world looming right behind it! Okay, maybe you had to be there, but I was and that’s why it’s here!
Here’s another one where I might come back in future episodes and say I backed the wrong horse here! Actually, no, I’m just going to include both because why not? The worst that’s going to happen is we’ve got one more horizontal shoot ‘em up to accommodate, and I’ve maybe also broken the previously unwritten rule that just came into my head about one game per series… I’ll just stick the other one as a bit of a bonus at the end! In the meantime, this sight is from Darius Gaiden, and is one I ended up kicking myself for not including in the last iteration of this list. Like not including Darius as one of my favourite series a few minutes ago! We reviewed this 1994 fifth entry when we looked at the Taito Egret II Mini, and since then I’ve been sinking serious hours into it (mostly alongside Puzzle Bobble 2X), but the utterly menacing approach of the Zone A boss, Golden Ogre, in the far distant gorgeous blackening red sky as you get close has been a favourite sight of mine since I first had it on PS2! It’s such a neat touch in the midst of the chaos and all that really stunning metallic architecture up front, and a thrilling one too for any fans of the series, knowing that one of its most iconic trademark mega-robot-fish bosses is on the way. Just not the most iconic…
Doom is another series I think I’ve fully experienced, from buying the first game with my day-one PS1 to the recent pair of motion-sickness nightmares, but it’s not one I’m going to add to my emerging list of favourite series though. It’s alright but I’m fundamentally not a huge FPS fan; just enjoy one when I’m in the mood. That said, 2004’s Doom 3 is currently sitting at number 142 in my big list of favourite games, and that’s where our next sight is coming from! It’s a kind of reboot of the series (and not for the last time), set in a military research facility on Mars in 2145 where said research has opened up a gateway to hell that your space marine needs to go into and sort out! This is a very atmospheric game, making great use of darkness, together with a semi-linear level design that has you constantly tense and often all-out panicking! There’s a similar sentiment to our scene here as we just saw with Splatterhouse – a moment among dozens of similar sci-fi horror moments that stuck out and visually spoke to me. Just a very cool skeleton in a science tank with some lovely lighting around and about, going by the name of Specimen 218!
I’d love to have enough wall space (as well as a more tolerant wife!) to have all of these sights we’re seeing hanging in frames somewhere, but this next one is actually there already, right above me as I type in a large-scale hand-crafted recreation next to its Commodore 64 Ghostbusters counterpart. It must have been around the summer of 1985 that an advert for Palace Software’s Cauldron first caught my eye, dominated by its classically ugly old witch stirring her giant cauldron full of bubbling bug life, though it was one of the Commodore 64 screenshots in the same issue of C&VG magazine that really did it – this perfectly-stereotyped witch on her broomstick flying in front of a big full moon above a magical forest (they had such great trees on there!) and what is still one of the best-looking old hovels you’ll ever see in a game! This was part Defender-style shooter and part arcade platformer, with your hag searching out keys that would give her access to caverns where she’d find the ingredient for a spell to get rid of the evil Pumpking. It would be a while before I finally got a Spectrum +2, and a bit longer again before I found my way to Cauldron, which, in reality I never really go on with, but I’ve never forgotten that single screenshot we’re looking at here! It’s the Halloween scene I always had in my head that I’d fail to draw every year as a kid, but works way better as a piece of art than my efforts ever would have!
And with that we can draw this first part to a close, but the second instalment is just a click away so give that a look too!