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The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Greatest Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

Readers of this blog may have caught a post I wrote around a year ago about the worst video game controller buttons ever made. I fully intended to follow that up with a post about the greatest video game controller buttons ever, but my ever-frequent sidetracks came along and kept me from doing so. But since it was a great idea, I knew I would have to get around to writing on the subject eventually, and so here it is: The long-awaited follow-up. Every gamer knows that some gaming console controllers are better than others, but there a lot of individual controller buttons which are better than others. Some are excellent for their quality and ease of use, others for their innovations, and still others are good for the way they commonly function. But which ones are the best of the best of the best? Well, keep right on reading, because I’ve come up with an inarguable, bulletproof list of the best video game controller buttons of all time. I wrote it up on my napkin during break!

Yes, you can blame Kotaku for inspiring the original idea. But Kotaku doesn’t do descriptions or explanations, and I do, so there!


10 – A Button

Gamecube Controller

Better known as The Big Green Button, the one thing the Gamecube controller managed to get right was the ginormous A Button. Standing out among a formation of oddly spaced and oddly shaped controller buttons, Nintendo’s signaling of the phrase “PRESS ME!!!” was placed front and center, larger than any of the other buttons on the damned thing, bright green and basically impossible to miss. It might as well have been a giant neon sign. Just sitting there, the A Button knew it was the lord and master of everything it surveyed. Whatever game you happened to be playing on the Gamecube, you knew that whatever function The Big Green Button performed was going to end up being hella important, and so you started plotting your gaming style and strategy accordingly. In a way, that made the Gamecube controller’s A Button an evolutionary step up from one of the legendary video game controller buttons…


9 – Button

Atari 2600 Controller

Yes, this is a posterity pick, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think it deserves a spot on this list. See, you have to remember that video games are like any other entertainment medium – they evolve, and a lot of things that were once innovations either become better versions of themselves or get junked. Back in the days of gaming yore, no one thought that video games were ever going to need more than one button, so yes, this sucker ended up running its course. But what a course it was! Sitting there alongside a joystick, you always knew where it was and what it did because it was the only action button the 2600 used. It’s the only dash of any real color on the controller. It made Pitfall Harry jump, it made the thing in Space Invaders fire, it… Well, it performed countless different functions in just as many video games. And unlike the finicky joystick standing there next to it, it never particularly cared about the position it was in in relation to the gamer, because it always performed the same way whether it was upside-down or not!


8 – Start

Genesis Controller

This is a weird selection, mainly because the Genesis controller’s version of the Start button eventually turned into such a wild card. As most people who know anything about video games are aware, the Genesis controller did something unprecedented: It wiped out the common stock button known as Select and replaced it with a third action button. At first, this looked like overkill. Then it looked like foresight. It eventually started to look backwards after Nintendo placed four action buttons and two shoulder buttons on the Super NES controller. That last one started to cripple the Genesis when Sega decided that it wasn’t going to start including six-button controllers in its packaging. Not everyone bought the six-button, and those who decided not to but loved fighting games were treated to a myriad of weird control substitutions which often utilized the Start button. In one game, it could be the turbo button. In another, it could be block. And in others, it switched between punches and kicks. The caveat was that there was no way to pause a game, but a button as useful and quirky as the Genesis Start button wasn’t something we saw everyday.


7 – D-pad Right

Most 16-bit Video Game Controllers

Well, what other direction would you go in?


6 – Z Trigger

Nintendo 64 Controller

For all the bad-mouthing we do about it, the Nintendo 64 controller was a stroke of genius in a handful of different ways. The Z Trigger is one of the coolest little innovations I’ve ever seen on a controller. Used in tandem with the analog stick, it brought a bit of ease to first-person shooter players because it was now possible to aim and fire using the same hand. Yes, the usual griping came out of PC gamers, but the Z Trigger introduced a natural ease to shooters which hadn’t been felt since the point-and-press days of Space Invaders. If you weren’t much for first-person shooters, well, you got stuck using the Z Trigger anyway. As I wrote in my piece about the worst controller buttons ever, the Nintendo 64 controller was bogged down by the fact that no one ever programmed anything into the d-pad or L button. The entire left side of the controller was useless. So when a function needed to get placed into a shoulder button, it was the Z Trigger that got the outsourced function on the Nintendo 64 version. What we have here is a novelty trigger with more versatility than a trigger is usually allowed.


5 – Analog Stick

Nintendo 64 Controller

And hey, speaking of the Nintendo 64’s analog stick, does anybody remember how much everybody HATED the thing when it first came out? The only reason we had trouble adjusting to it was because we never HAD to adjust to something so radical before. Even the Sony Playstation, which was launched around the same time and led by a prevalence of 3D games, used the basic d-pad. But the analog stick turned out to be an instance where’s Nintendo’s attempt to force gaming to evolve was right on point. Yes, everyone is still so in love with the original d-pad that all the major console makers are forcing them onto their controllers to this very day. But as a form of basic movement, the d-pad is a two-dimensional way of moving for a two-dimensional time in video gaming. When games jumped to 3D, Nintendo saw that gamers would need a form of uninhibited movement in 360 degrees. It saw that we were going to need our games to read more minute movements which would have to be read in more efficient ways than light, gentle taps on the d-pad. Now here we are over 20 years after the fact, and no hardware maker is crazy enough to try to launch a new console without this standard form of movement.


4 – L2 and R2

Playstation 2 Controller

Yes, I know everyone remains in love with the pill known as the Super NES controller. And yes, it WAS important – it included more action buttons than any controller ever seen at that point and introduced the first two shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the thing was small and uncomfortable, and I hated the thing so much that I passed on the Super NES for a Genesis. When Sony introduced the first Playstation, the pistol grip put my deformed arm at ease, so it rescued my ability to game. But it wasn’t until the Dual Shock 2 came out that Sony saw it fit to extend and taper the bottom two shoulder buttons, making them easier to grasp and get our fingers around in way that was more natural than anything we had seen before. Although L2 and R2 were originally done as novelties that only made it easier to fit more functions into a single controller, the Playstation 2 is where they started to take on a new life of their own. The use of shoulder buttons as basic action buttons started with the Dual Shock 2, and a console generation later, Sony started spring-loading the buttons to allow their greater involvement in video games.


3 – L Trigger and R Trigger

Dreamcast Controller

Concluding the trigger portion of this list is the breakthrough enhancement that enabled designers to see the potential of triggers on controllers. Yes, the Nintendo 64 was the original, but the Dreamcast spring-loaded the things and placed them properly underneath the controller, transforming the difficult shoulder buttons into practical devices we could use without having to remind ourselves that they were there. Microsoft liked them so much that they nicked them straight for the original Xbox controller, creating the iconic versions of the L and R Triggers gamers have all come to know and love.


2 – X and Y Buttons

Super NES Controller

After Sega added a third action button to the Genesis controller, Nintendo realized it would have to go big. So it created a controller for its new flagship console with four action buttons and two shoulder buttons. Not only did that force Sega to create more evolved controllers to add to the Genesis, but how many more controllers had a button C? Even the Dreamcast used the X and Y axis layout.


1 – B Button

NES Controller

Okay, you can make a powerful argument that the A button belongs in this spot, and I’ll understand. A made Mario jump and Link swing his sword, after all. B was slightly more innocuous in Nintendo’s primary mascot series because Mario mostly ran with it. But when you make that argument, you’re denying Mario his ability to throw fireballs, Link the ability to shoot his bow and arrow, Samus the ability to shoot anything, and Kirby the ability to suck up his enemies. My qualm with A here is that so much of its function revolved around jumping. It was B that continued what Atari started with the 2600 controller, but it pulled off the trick of doing that while being an additional button which let gamers play with accessories and power-ups. B was the sort of button that shined bright whenever its time came, but which knew that it had to take a backseat at other times. It was B that eventually caused video game controllers to expand the way they did, inviting the other action buttons to show up at the party and bring along unique personalities of their own. B was the button that was at ease playing either the leader or the sidekick. Its position on many of today’s hand-engulfing controllers still enables it to play both of those roles with ease. And all of it started when Nintendo promoted it to its first big boy console.


The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time playing video games, you’ve certainly noted the fact that not every controller is created equal. I can go on to amend that by saying that not every button on a controller is created equal, either. You would think that as game controllers and games themselves got to be more complex, designers would figure out how to make use of auxiliary buttons better. And, well, they did, but that doesn’t mean every button on a controller is going to be used well. And even with games allowing gamers the freedom to change up the control schemes in ways that are best suited to their tastes, some designers just still have trouble assigning decent uses to perfectly good controller buttons.

You know what? You can just blame the popular gaming blog Kotaku for this one. It was one of their famous unspecified lists. I read it, liked the idea, and decided to create my own, but with explanations! So here’s my list of the worst controller buttons ever, with undefined and haphazard qualifications!

10 – D-pad, All Directions

Nintendo 64 Controller

I’m one of the very few people who gave a wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsement to the much-hated Nintendo 64 controller. That, however, was based more on the comfort I enjoyed while I held it, the analog joystick, and the cool Z button. But let’s be honest: The detractors have some solid arguments, and they start with its deadweight of a d-pad. The question about this thing is, WHY?! Why is it there? Why did Nintendo even bother? There wasn’t much of a point, because nearly all the d-pad’s functionality was outsourced to the analog stick – even menu screens used it. And despite gamers widely complaining about getting stuck using the analog stick – you have to remember that this was the very early days of 3D games, and gamers back then had never used analog sticks before – Nintendo forced it onto everyone. Few, if any, games came with an option to use the d-pad, and so it just sat there being useless.

9 – Select Button

NES Controller

The original NES controller is the defining video game controller of all time. Every controller today is based on its interface: D-pad on the left, action buttons on the right, selection buttons in the middle. That being said, one wonders why so few people can still manage to find a valid function for the Select button. Yes, designers have been getting better about it, but the original Select button was damn near useless. It sits there, taking up space, being forgotten. The Konami code didn’t require it. When Sega designed the Genesis controller, it didn’t even see fit to include some form of it, opting instead for a single menu button – a Start button – and three action buttons. When NEC cranked out the TurboGrafx-16 and almost carbon-copied the NES controller, it tried to be a bit more inventive – the way to reset most Turbo games is to press its Select and Run (the Turbo’s Start) buttons at the same time, but it still didn’t give poor Select a real function. In just about every form, Select sits, inconspicuous in its form, limited in its function, and you get the feeling that in 99 parallel dimensions, it doesn’t exist at all. As opposed to this dimension, where it just might as well not exist.

8 – D-pad, Left

Various Controllers in the 8- and 16-Bit Eras

We can argue about the real origins of the side-scrolling adventure game until the cows come home. But what will never, ever change is that fact that Super Mario Bros. is the inarguable point where games started to model themselves on it. What did the game do? Scroll. Where did Mario start? On the left. Where did he go? To the right. Thus, a permanent template was created, and video game characters forevermore started on the left and moved to the right. This mindset enveloped games so much that, if you’ve ever gotten ahold of one of the very rare games that does it the other way around – or, hell, if you’ve even played a game that so much as offered a single level that does it – it feels completely unnatural. So where does that leave the poor left button on the d-pad? Well, there’s no denying that it has a lot of importance. After all, a gamer needs to have room to dodge, set up defense and counterattack, and weave. But there is a whole genre of game where the characters can’t even turn left! There are a lot of other games where gamers aren’t allowed to backtrack, including the original Super Mario Bros. itself. So how’s left as a useful controller button? Of course, this has been dying out since games started going 3D, but gamers around my age remember when there was one direction to move in, and it was the right.

7 – Z Button

Gamecube Controller

The thing about influential inventors and innovators is that we tend to only look at their successes. We ignore their failures completely. And everyone who ever invented anything has failed a lot more than they’ve succeeded. Nintendo, for all their influence, has made a lot of controller shit. You would be amazed how many people think their greatest work is the Gamecube controller. While a comfortable controller, it contains a LOT of obvious blights. None are worse than that Z button. Almost certainly crammed onto the Gamecube controller purely as an afterthought, the Z button sits tucked near the R button as nothing more than an auxiliary menu button. It feels like a weird outcropping on the controller rather than a real button, and to press it feels like making it click.

6 – Left Analog Stick, All Directions

All Xbox Controllers

It’s a universally accepted fact that the original Xbox controller was just a really bad idea, but even with the compact model that quickly became Microsoft’s norm, people tend to ignore the unnatural thumb alignments. The now-standard Xbox controller is basically a knockoff of the Playstation’s Dual Shock, which would be just fine if not for the unusual placement of the left analog: It sits above the d-pad rather than below it, while the right analog is distal to the d-pad. This setup takes a little bit of practice before your thumbs manage to adjust to it, and even when they do, it never seems to develop into anything natural. Now, this isn’t so bad in a lot of games because the double analog setup usually doesn’t mean very much – the sticks are used to perform two different functions. But if you’re into fighters or first-person shooters, THEN it gets to be an annoyance. The problem is more muted in fighting games because you only need a single d-pad to play them, and the proper d-pad is often an option, but nothing feels right about quarter-circle or double-tap motions with the analog so far away from the grip. In first-person shooters, it gets pervasive because you need both sticks for basic controls, and nothing about the movement/viewpoint setup feels right.

5 – Buttons L and R

Saturn Controller

Sega had led a wave of innovation with the Genesis and the Dreamcast, but it seems like they were playing catch-up during every phase in between. After gaming evolution wrecked the original Genesis controller (as well as the ability to play fighting games on the Genesis), Sega knew it couldn’t go on with anything less than six buttons… Which it included on the Saturn controller as buttons A, B, C, X, Y, and Z. You might notice that this means the Saturn controller HAD six buttons WITHOUT adding L and R! So in its attempt to keep up with the Joneses – the Joneses in this case being Sony and Nintendo, both of whom adopted shoulder buttons – it added a couple of plastic shells to the Saturn controller which it placed on top and referred to as “buttons.” They were there as replacements for the Mode button on the Mega Drive, which is video-game-ese for, “they didn’t do jack shit.” Basically, Sega put a pair of keep-up buttons on a controller strictly for decoration.

4 – D-pad, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

It would be pretty easy for me to make this argument by just copying and pasting my entry for the Nintendo 64 controller up there. But, to reiterate, the damn thing is useless. And the Gamecube controller comes with the added bonus of being far too small for it to be comfortable to use. The thing is about the size of the Game Boy Advance d-pad; not something that one would expect a real, adult-sized hand to fight with on a big boy video game controller.

3 – Buttons L3 and R3

Playstation and Xbox Controllers

No one thinks of these buttons, and there’s a good reason why: They tend to be obscured by being hidden inside the analog sticks. You press them by pressing down on the sticks; I don’t mean hitting the directional stick in the down direction, I mean it in the sense of applying pressure to the stick. Imagine trying to crush it between your thumb and your hand. This is one of those “break glass in case of emergency buttons,” to be used in case there’s no other place to put a weird, offhand function. Useful functions placed inside the sticks feel like they’re being forced there, so designers compensate by trying to hide optional, offhand junk functions into them. The sirens in the Grand Theft Auto games were put into the L3 and R3 buttons. There’s a reason why these buttons do such weird things: They’re impractical and they don’t press easily. Even the engineers at Sony and Microsoft think they’re jokes; there are gamers who have owned those consoles for years without ever figuring out these buttons even exist.

2 – C-stick, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

This was another result of a Nintendo attempt to drag gaming evolution in a direction it clearly wasn’t going to go in. This had its origin in the Nintendo 64 controller, which had four singular buttons pointing in four directions referred to C Up, C Down, C Left, and C Right. Those were intended to be camera buttons, but they ultimately functioned as the action buttons they were destined to be. The C-Stick is sort of just… There. It just sits, innocuously, not doing anything one way or the other because it’s another instance of designers – including Nintendo itself – not knowing what to do with it half the time. Now, the idea wasn’t a bad one – it placed an increasingly common function into a controller device set aside strictly for it. But it would have been a huge help had anyone been able to figure that out. There were a lot of games in which the C-Stick just wasn’t functional. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) Many other games just outsourced them to the shoulder buttons, which was the common thing to do at the time. What the C-Stick DID do was give FPS buffs a way to finally play their shooters the way they were meant to be played, with one stick to move and the other to look, so I guess it did serve as a camera stick in that capacity, at the least.

1 – L Button

Nintendo 64 Controller

Wow, what a blunder this sucker was. Now, when Nintendo made the Nintendo 64 controller, it did so with the idea of offering control options to gamers. As we’ve already seen, though, those options never, ever came into fruition. The L Button from the Nintendo 64 controller was supposed to be used in conjunction with the action buttons, the R Button, and the Z Trigger (which, by the way, looks like it will make my list of greatest video game buttons). But forget a controller that intimidates people who have all ten fingers – the Nintendo 64 Controller required three hands, or at least it would if the entire left side wasn’t so flaccid. The L Button’s work on the Nintendo 64 Controller was outsourced to the Z Trigger. When the Nintendo 64 was introduced, the Z Trigger was already a lively button – the hand-form pistol grip made it easy to reach and keep your index finger on at all times, and that made it useful for a handful of its own functions. It changed the way we look at first-person shooters. But all of the usual L Button functions were also automatically handed over to the Z Trigger too. Few games offered options, and even in the very few games in which the d-pad was at least usable in SOME way – such as a menu screen – the L button just sat there, outcast to the point where it should have come equipped with its own little anarchy sign.

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My Problem with Final Fantasy VII

My favorite game in the Final Fantasy series is Final Fantasy IX, and it was somewhat jolting to learn how many gamers didn’t like it. It had the most cohesive group of characters and plot-driven gameplay since Final Fantasy IV, which was another popular game in the series and one which, like Final Fantasy IX, was set in an outright fantasy world and stripped down to basics. You would think the contingent of gamers constantly bitching about Final Fantasy’s abandonment of its roots for the Philip K. Dick emo festivals the two previous games were made into would have been satisfied by the only real fantasy offering since IV, V, and VI rocked the role-playing realm, but the internet had become the world’s most importantly ubiquitous celebrity by then and was lighting up. Apparently gamers were loving the new tales of Final Fantasy hipster characters, so after IX, Square returned to the series 32-bit roots and has been tinkering with them ever since. 

There are two camps of Final Fantasy fans: The Before Crowd and The After Crowd. The before and after in question requires no introduction. It’s Final Fantasy VII, that great Playstation juggernaut which captured a slew of people who, before then, would have beat up anyone who described a favorite game as an interactive silicon book. The advertising blitz for Final Fantasy VII didn’t quite reach the highest level – I’ll still insist that Super Mario Bros. 3 will always hold that record because a full-length, live action feature film, The Wizard, was made for the sole purpose of making sure people knew about it – but it was unprecedented for an RPG. RPGs were the video games of choice for the most outcast of the outcasts back then, which was my social class. When Final Fantasy VII began showing up in TV ads and display features, people took notice, and being a geek became a little bit easier. All the cool kids who had been obsessed with the fighting game wars just a few years before were standing with the geeks, openly wondering what secrets Cloud’s past held and wondering if the death of Aeris was a designer ruse or for real. Aeris’s sudden murder is one of the greatest pieces of video game lore; it captured imaginations to such an extent that even today – 17 years after the original release of Final Fantasy VII and long after rumors of any shot at bringing her back within that particular game have been denied by developers and obliterated by every gamer fool enough to try – new rumors continue to pop up about this or that absurd, far-out method of resurrecting her. 

Role-playing became mainstream. Hallelujah for Final Fantasy, right? I guess, except for the little detail of Final Fantasy VII not being the best game in the series for miles. A grand survey of folks who were playing games before 3D was an accepted norm reveals that VII was outclassed by almost every other game in the series, with the possible exception of the first. You can usually tell what kind of Final Fantasy fans gamers are by asking them about Final Fantasy VII. The Before Crowd will give it a vicious verbal thrashing before stating a case that one of the earlier games – mostly likely Final Fantasy VI – is the absolute pinnacle of gaming perfection and you’re not a gamer if you think otherwise. The After Crowd lavishes its endless affection on Final Fantasy VII and claims it a revelation that turned gaming on its head. Somewhere in the middle of this weird war of magi, though, is a third crowd that just wishes they could nuke the other two into their morning coffee.

I’m a member of this third crowd, and it’s a constant oddity because being there means constantly fighting with everyone about the commercial and artistic merits of Final Fantasy VII. For every greatest game ever list FFVII tops, every best hero/villain list topped off by Cloud and/or Sephiroth, every wish for a chocobo race simulator, every Gamefaqs tournament ending with Cloud or Sephiroth in the final, and every petition to rename Las Vegas “Gold Saucer,” another little motor unit inside me fries to death. I want to champion Final Fantasy VII, but that’s impossible because doing so against anyone means going extreme in the opposite direction since concessions mean you automatically lose the debate. Unfortunately, the perceived infallibility of FFVII has gotten to be too much to bear, so even though I like the game a lot, I find myself beating it up more and more as more people born after the 16-bit era come of age and regard FFVII as their greatest seminal experience in video games. 

I don’t get the character attachments. When the game begins, you take control of Cloud, the main character and an acting mercenary for a group of eco-terrorists. Cloud is only looking after himself through the first segment of the game. As is the won’t of Final Fantasy, though, Cloud does make his presto chango, but it comes a wee bit too early and with too much convenience to character for a guy who spends a lot of the game supposedly grappling with himself. It’s too easy to lump him up with Squall, the insufferable lead of FFVIII, but Cloud does manage to change, overcome his personal demons, and become a headstrong leader in the end of the game, so that much I can give him. Unfortunately, his past is laid out and scattered in such a way that one of the side quests – the visit to Gongaga – is of utmost importance if you’re to figure out the significance of this Zack guy to him, and even then, you’re still forced to piece it together like a jigsaw even after Tifa’s visit to his head. 

The most inexplicable story decision, though, is trying to figure out the villain. To their credit, the writers managed to envision one of the most pointlessly cruel, hateful, hostile, spiteful, inhumane, and just plain evil villains of all time…. Only to place him on the side to an anime porn prettyboy named Sephiroth. Anytime there’s a new FFVII-related form of media saturation, Sephiroth is guaranteed to be a part of it. Poor Hojo, meanwhile, was there and killed and never seen again. While Hojo was a by-the-book mad scientist most of the time, his strength as a villain came from his lack of redeeming qualities. He was like Kefka in FFVI in that at the conclusion, you wanted him gruesomely tortured to death with his head mounted on a nice plaque in your study. There’s a weird dynamic at play in RPG world savior scenarios because when the villain is humanized, the need to differentiate between good and evil is blurrier, even though you still know in the end that he’s trying to destroy the world and will have to kill him rather than redeem him. It kinda nullifies the whole point of one or the other. Sephiroth, after all, turned out to be more or less a de facto bad guy whose mommy issues would blow up Sigmund Freud’s brain. Hojo was evil to the bone, and no other bad guy in the game held the importance he did. Who was as terrible as him? Certainly not Sephy. Rufus Shinra? He was almost a complete nonfactor once Cloud made it out of Midgar. Even the game didn’t consider him important enough for the party to kill, leaving the dirty work to Diamond Weapon…. After Hojo shot Diamond Weapon with the Sister Ray. The Turks were easy battle victories and hired hands. Heideggar and Scarlet were clear graduates of the Dr. Claw School of Henching. Dyne wasn’t around for very long. Yuffie was theoretically one of the good guys.

Speaking of Dyne, his good guy counterpart Barrett opens about ten barrels of worms people don’t want to point out. Barrett is one of the first characters we meet in the game – he even enters the screen right before Cloud, and is on your side for the entire game. He has a gun for an arm, a violent temperament, a short fuse, and a high level of melanin. Now, Square deserves a ton of credit for doing something which had almost never been done before in creating a minority (black) hero in a video game who played a significant role and never got corrupted or killed. But there’s almost certainly a larger picture or idea that can be introduced about society – our society – by merit of his bad temper, tough demeanor, and gun arm, and I’m fairly sure it isn’t good. The fact that his daughter, Marlene, is white probably helps reinforce said picture or idea. Elaboration, I’m sure, can be found in the writings of sociologists and psychologists who study critical theory professionally, but I can point out that Barrett reinforces an awful lot of negative stereotypes which he never quite sheds in his journeys. I don’t think I’m in the wrong by holding a spotlight to Cid, either, and his borderline abusive way of treating Shera. 

The most famous scene is easily the death of Aeris, and that’s for a damn good reason. Not only is the death done in a very powerful way which solidified the idea that CG cutscenes have a place in video games, but absolutely no one was expecting it. Aeris was the main love interest and the last member of a race that was being exploited, which made her something of a big deal to Hojo and therefore a major plot point. Her death was an emotional moment for most of the people who played the game, and it was a shock to everyone who played it. It was also an evasion. Aeris flirted her way through through her parts of the game and never seemed to show a whole lot of concern, and one strategy guide I read had the idea that there was some kind of hidden meter in the game that showed how much she liked Cloud. Although I haven’t been able to confirm that, it fits her character. When she finally does realize the gravitas of the situation, she bolts from the party, thus freeing the writers from having to develop her, and when the party catches up in the Forgotten City and she threatens to have to grow a third dimension again, she’s conveniently rubbed out. To their credit, the death and sendoff and haunting, emotional, and beautiful, but they’re still a way of getting around having to write her more. To think, these are the same writers who whipped up a silly character named Cait Sith who joined the party for a ridiculous reason, wiped him out, and immediately replaced him with a Cait Sith II (yes, that’s exactly what he called himself in the game), and nobody gave another thought to it.

You can breed chocobos in FFVII. Now, if you weren’t reading a strategy guide, how would you ever know that was even possible? Breeding them is important if you’re to grab the most powerful spell in the game, Knights of the Round, a devastator which totally cuts through everything the game can throw at you, including the last boss. Unfortunately, it involves knowing little insider details the game doesn’t tell you, like the difference between the highest level chocobos. I love thinking outside the box in video games, but this is thinking outside the marble containing our universe. Knights of the Round is mentioned casually by a lot of sources giving you ways to beat the game, but chocobo breeding requires virtually turning your life over if you’re starting from no knowledge. The summon spells also take forever to cast because the animations are long and can’t be skipped. Knights of the Round is a well-known culprit, taking over a minute.

It’s not that I don’t have problems with the other games in the Final Fantasy series. I do – Final Fantasy VIII is as bad as they come, and I even have a problem with the way the “infallible” Final Fantasy VI basically castrates itself in the second half, forcing players to figure out everything about where to go and what to do in a brand new world. Those two don’t annoy me as much as FFVII, though. Final Fantasy VIII is acknowledged as a terrible game in a lot of places, and FFVI doesn’t have the amount of saturation and hype as FFVII. My problem with FFVII isn’t the fact that people love it so much as it is the fact that it’s so fiercely beloved and defended that everyone pretends the flaws don’t exist. It’s like The Beatles.

There’s only one reason why Final Fantasy VII is as popular as it is: It was the My First RPG for an enormous contingent of people who either didn’t realize the genre existed until then or spent a lot of spare time bullying the people who did play RPGs. Yes, it’s wonderful to finally be able to play RPGs openly and not be poorly judged, but it certainly cost a lot of the genre’s integrity. Final Fantasy used to set standards. Now, because people loved Final Fantasy VII, Square found its commercial breakthrough, and so Final Fantasy is merely standard.

The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

The March Madness Video Game Tournament Finals Round

Final Four

Master Chief vs. Dante
The thing about Dante’s matches is that he really hasn’t been, ahem, challenged just yet. Now he’s facing off with a first seed who wears a suit of armor specifically designed to repel a lot of his attacks, and the person wearing it is a genetically enhanced, super-trained soldier capable of absorbing his melee attacks. Dante’s Devil Trigger is a limited mode, and it’s not going to be strong enough to knock off Master Chief in a single round. Given this, it’s easy to imagine Dante taunting Master Chief in the early goings of the fight, but Dante’s best attacks are his melee attacks, and he’s going to drop his act pretty quickly after approaching Master Chief only to get socked in the face. Master Chief’s armor is going to repel a good number of Dante’s more dangerous ranged attacks, which sucks for Dante because with melee combat being a last resort and Master Chief being a range fighter, that’s how Chief is going to make Dante beat him – at range. Although Dante is very capable of fighting at range, it’s melee combat which is his greatest strength, and so what Dante is stuck with is a choice between frying pan and fire: Use his now-unreliable ranged attacks or try to rush up to fight melee with Master Chief shooting bullets and energy weapons in his face. The Son of Sparda is going to be forced to fight off the mistakes of a guy who’s trained to never, ever make mistakes, and he’s going down.
Winner: Master Chief

Samus Aran vs. Vectorman
A battle of attrition is going to commence between Samus and Vectorman, and it’s going to be an ugly match. Vectorman can turn into a bomb, and Samus can morph into a ball which plants bombs along the ground. Both know the importance of multidirectional aim. Hell, they even both use basic weaponry stored in their arms! Although Samus is armed with the mighty Screw Attack, it’s going to be tough to be able to get into a fully safe area where she can activate it. Samus is eventually going to take a final gamble using her Speed Booster, which allows her to move at supersonic speeds which are lethal to her enemies. She’ll get an opening in Vectorman’s line of fire, charge up as fast as she can, and launch at Vectorman in Shinespark mode, which throws Vectorman off his bearings. After that, Samus launches every ranged weapon she has at Vectorman while he’s down.
Winner: Samus

Championship Match

Master Chief vs. Samus Aran
Two stars of first-person shooting games wearing protective biological suits. Sadly, this isn’t going to end up being the legendary final matchup we hoped for – after all, Samus has a lot more in her arsenal, and items other than guns which allow her more functionality beyond just protection while killing everything in sight. She can move around and do more to avoid Master Chief’s attacks. The big difference-maker, though, is going to be Samus’s Ice Beam. Although Master Chief’s armor provides protection against the elements, its makers probably never viewed a beam capable of freezing up the armor from the inside as a real threat. It would be almost too easy, actually, and after Master Chief is frozen, it’s time to unleash the rocket launcher, or perhaps the Screw Attack or Shinespark, since there’s no real guarantee using the rocket launcher against Master Chief, who’s probably equipped to survive a close-by explosion.
March Madness Video Game Character Tournament Champion: Samus Aran

And The First Lady of Video Games takes the top prize. Was there ever any doubt?

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

The Sony Bracket Face-Off

Round One

Ratchet vs. Yoshimitsu
Yoshimitsu is better off than most of the fighting game characters who have been in this tournament so far, since he carries a sword. Unfortunately, that’s still not going to let him get anywhere near Ratchet, whose only true melee weapon can double as a boomerang, which would allow him to keep a safe distance even if he didn’t have all those guns going for him. We know Ratchet probably wouldn’t use the disc blade gun, since there’s an outside chance Yoshimitsu could knock them away with his sword.
Winner: Ratchet

Kratos vs. Spyro the Dragon
Kratos has strength and abilities beyond those of any regular men, but then again, Spyro isn’t a regular man. Both have ranged attacks, but Kratos has a bit of a problem in that he doesn’t have much in the way of defense. Kratos could try to rip Spyro’s wings off, but in the event he tries that, it’s easy to see Spyro just running him through with his horns. If Kratos tries to get within range to fight with the Blades of Chaos, it’s easy to see Spyro fending him off with either a charge or a well-aimed projectile, and while it might be tricky for him, it’s entirely possible that Spyro could force Kratos into fighting from a distance, where Kratos and his small array of ranged attacks would be susceptible since they take more time to cast while, even on the occasions that Spyro isn’t bearing down on Kratos with a barrage of elements and chi, he would still be able to move out of the way before Kratos’s attacks were fully prepared. Kratos could eventually be forced into using nothing but his bow and arrow, and if Spyro manages that, he walks out as the unlikely winner, giving us the biggest upset so far.
Winner: Spyro

Solid Snake vs. Dante
Solid Snake’s only real chance against Dante are his rocket launchers. There’s no way Snake wins a melee against the ultra-strong half-demon Dante, even trying to confuse him with a chaff grenade or put him down with the tranquilizer. Even the rocket launchers are a risky proposition, though, especially with Snake trying to fumble with his aim while Dante goes all Devil Trigger on his ass.
Winner: Dante

Cloud Strife vs. Duke Nukem
Cloud has a giant sword, limit breaks, and magic. Duke has lots of guns and machismo. There’s little doubt that Duke is more than strong enough to take a barrage of Cloud’s attack spells while returning fire with his guns. Unfortunately for Duke, Cloud is eventually going to figure out that he can get further by removing all of Duke’s biggest strengths. Since Cloud has access to all the blue magic in Final Fantasy VII, he hits Duke with a blinding wave of bad breath (yes, that’s what the spell is called) which leaves Duke blind, confused, poisoned, slow, and several other unwanted statuses. Then, if Duke hit Cloud often enough during the fight (and he’s Duke Nukem, so he did), Cloud initiates the Omnislash and wipes Duke off the face of Gaia.
Winner: Cloud

Round Two

Lara Croft vs. Cloud Strife
Maybe it looks like another crushing for Cloud like Duke, but Lara has a couple of advantages that Duke didn’t: Her speed and agility. Lara is quick enough to make everything Cloud throws at her miss. She wouldn’t be stopped or slowed by a movement-altering spell, and when Cloud finally decides it’s time to move in with more traditional attacks, Lara can duck and weave out of his way while returning fire from a distance with whatever gun she feels like wielding.
Winner: Lara

Crash Bandicoot vs. Dante
Let’s just say this is REALLY going to suck for poor Crash. He’ll be able to get by spinning and jumping his way out of Dante’s line of fire for awhile, but then again, it’s possible Dante was just playing with him like he does so many of his enemies. In fact, it’s probable, and when Dante gets bored, this entire “match” will be over.
Winner: Dante

Ratchet vs. Spyro the Dragon
Both of these guys have painful ranged attacks. When they get tired of dodging each other’s bullets, Spyro will try to take to the air to finish the job off. The thing with wings, though, is that when Spyro uses them to fly, he can’t duck for cover behind them. The thing with Ratchet is that his job allows him access to the occasional fighter jet, which gives him a full range of movements – he can hover, strafe, or go backwards, and doing all those things should give him a nice, safe way to finish off Spyro.
Winner: Ratchet

Round Three

Lara Croft vs. Dante
I’m starting to sense a pattern with Dante’s opponents. There really aren’t a lot of characters who could match him pound for pound in his abilities, either with technology or magic. Snake and Crash were both unprotected, and so is Lara. Lara is faster than anyone else, though, so she’ll be able to fight Dante back, going around all his normal attacks while returning fire with her own guns. It’s going to work for awhile, and by “awhile,” I mean “until Dante activates Devil Trigger.” Then Dante is going to have every advantage he could possibly have in this fight, and Lara is going to be finished off in pretty short order even if Dante decides to finish her off with his heaviest, most unwieldy sword.
Winner: Dante

Sony Bracket Championship

Ratchet vs. Dante
I have a feeling this fight is going to go a lot like Ratchet’s battle against Spyro. They’ll match each other at first, and Ratchet is smart enough to not let Dante get close enough to use his awesome strength against him. They’ll exchange fire for awhile, with Ratchet using every weapon he can pack, and Dante being whip-fast avoiding everything while exchanging fire with his own pair of guns. Eventually, of course, Ratchet is going to take to his fighter jet to try to finish off Dante, but this is going to be a major tactical error now because Dante has that nasty Devil Trigger, which will allow him to take to the air with more maneuverability than Ratchet believed was ever possible. Dante can fly free while Ratchet fumbles with a control panel, and while Dante’s bullets may have limited effect, he’ll eventually be able to get close enough to finish the job with one of his really powerful close-range weapons.
Sony Bracket Champion: Dante

March Madness: The Sony Bracket

March Madness: The Sony Bracket

Let’s be real for a minute: When David took out Goliath, it was a lucky shot. We all know that 99 out of 100 times, Goliath is just gonna get pissed and kick David’s ass even harder. And when that happens, who do you want as your second? Yeah, you were only preparing David there as a diversion while your own Goliath finished putting his armor on, because that’s what it’s going to take to defeat Goliath – another Goliath! In the 90’s, Sega played David against Nintendo’s Goliath and took him out a couple of times. In public, Nintendo seemed on the verge of getting shut down by Sega, but in private, they had been stirred into action and teamed up with Sony to create a CD add-on for the Super NES. Nintendo eventually broke off the partnership in order to try another one with Philips, one of Sony’s competitors. The President of Sony was upset and humiliated when that happened, and Nintendo made a grave tactical error: They let him keep going with the project after breaking up, and Sony started acting like a crazy jilted romantic partner, but they were also clear-headed enough to realize nothing could stop them from releasing the CD add-on as a console of its own. And so with David knocked out for the count, his place was taken by a second Goliath in electronics giant Sony, which released the Playstation and brought Nintendo to their knees. Sony started out with a great market strategy, and along the way, they built an army of video game icons. So while Sony’s bracket strength may seem surprising, it was likely their plan all along, and you can’t argue with their results.

1 – Lara Croft
Athletic and brilliant, the star of the Tomb Raider series is hardly a damsel in distress. If anything, she’s the more badass video game version of Indiana Jones, the famous movie archeologist who never gets stuck for a solution. The first Tomb Raider game helped push the Playstation, turning her into a mascot. Since then, Lara has been credited as the first sex symbol in video games (a dubious honor if you ask me), and holds a Guinness record as the most recognized female video game character, and is often cited as a catalyst for more female leads in video games. Her appearance has kicked off more than a few fights among the intelligentsia about whether Lara is a positive or negative influence on young women, but her impact of female video game characters can’t be denied. And when Angelina Jolie portrayed her in two movies, movies based on video games – after years of being seen by Hollywood executives and critics alike as low-budget jokes to be quickly made and dumped into theaters to lure kids to brand names – began taking a turn for the better as well. Samus Aran was The First Lady of Video Games, but she had to be hidden in a suit. Tomb Raider’s designers were straightforward about Lara since the beginning, and she became one of the first lasting video game cultural phenomenons. She has been in non-gaming ads, had a CD tribute album published to her, and had several lines of third-party accessories named after her, including hiking boots, backpacks, thermoses, and leather jackets.
Lara has at various times been forced to play the roles of mercenary, hunter, and thief. Her best-known asset is her array of incredible athletic movements, which are always handy in a pinch in just about any situation. She is also fluent in several languages, and can upgrade many of her skills by game to include pain tolerance, ammo conservation, and survivalism. She is also very proficient in a number of weapons, including the two pistols she always wears at her sides, which are among the smaller guns you would have to worry about from a woman who can also effectively use a shotgun and an M-16. Sorry men, no cracks about her looks here.

2 – Crash Bandicoot
When the Playstation was released, it was originally Crash who was being aligned to occupy the necessary spot reserved for Sony’s character response to Mario and Sonic. Crash Bandicoot is the titular character of his own series, and in canon, he was created by Dr. Neo Cortex, who was the one who originally created Crash in a genetic enhancement experiment. Crash got out, and since then, has been acting against Dr. Cortex and his schemes to take over the world. Crash was used as Sony’s mascot for awhile, and his games helped push Playstations to younger gamers after the NES generation got older and started looking for more adult gaming experiences (like Tomb Raider up there). Like all cute family-friendly mascot characters, Crash has journeyed across genres, appearing in racing and party games as well as his core series.
Crash can run, jump, and spin, like many other platform characters, and he starts to learn new abilities as he defeats each boss, including a high jump, a body slam, a slide, and others. He is proficient with the fruit bazooka, immune to mind control, and gifted with enhanced stamina, agility, and speed. Crash also has the ability to jack stunned enemies to toss them into other enemies, but it’s his original tornado spin which is usually more than enough. It lets him deflect projectiles and hover.

3 – Ratchet
Ratchet is the primary good guy of the Ratchet and Clank series. He is a creature known as a lombax, and is introduced as a lonely mechanic from the planet Veldin dreaming of adventure. Adventure comes to him in the form of a small robot named Clank, and the two set off and save the universe on numerous occasions from Chairman Drek, Captain Qwark, and Dr. Nefarious. The Ratchet and Clank series is sometimes credited with bringing a real sense of true action back to a staling action genre through over the top weaponry and relentless onslaughts of enemies, and they’ve won acclaim for the weapon selection, and polished graphics, sounds, and gameplay.
In a word: Guns. Lots and lots of guns. Guns that launch streams of hot lava. Guns that throw lightning bolts. Guns that launch rockets and bombs. Guns that fire razor blades. Guns that suck up foes to use as ammunition as other foes. Guns that throw controllable walking explosives. Guns in the Ratchet and Clank series aren’t so much THE method as a way of making you ask yourself, “Now, how do I want to kill YOU?”

4 – Kratos
Kratos is the star of the God of War series and more or less a remnant of the selfish, angry anti-hero protagonist that was everywhere in the 90’s. It’s hard to blame him for his anger; I mean, he WAS tricked into killing his own wife and kid by Ares. After killing Ares and taking his place as the new God of War, Kratos is then betrayed by Zeus, revealed to be a demigod and Zeus’s own boy, and that just totally set him off about the machinations of the gods and he goes on a quest to slaughter the whole lot of their arrogant asses. He shows a hell of a hedonism streak for such a tortured soul. God of War has received almost universal acclaim as a series, and more than one of the individual games has been ranked among the greatest action games of all time. God of War II has been named the greatest action game ever by one source and is widely considered the swan song for the Playstation 2.
Well…. Where do you begin when your iconoclast is a demigod? Well, Kratos wields the Blades of Chaos, a pair of blades attached to each other by a long chain, which is a nice weapon with a nice range that can be used in many ways, and can be powered up! He can also equip himself with literal armor of the gods. Going through the game, he attains the attacks of several gods and mythological creatures as well, including the head of Medusa. Kratos has strength and endurance beyond any living creature, and the exact limits of his strength aren’t known, but they have to be pretty extensive. We’re talking about a character who once took Hercules, Hercules being a guy who once bore the literal weight of the world on his shoulders. If you wanna take out the gods – which Kratos does with alarming regularity – ya gotta have muscles.

5 – Solid Snake
The star of the Metal Gear Solid series has actually been around for quite some time. He first appeared in a pair of games on the NES officially called Metal Gear, which most casual gamers don’t even realize ever existed. The first game was, in fact, praised for potential but otherwise panned in every other way. He then disappeared and looked forgotten until Metal Gear Solid in 1995, a reboot no one expected, and upon its runaway success, Solid Snake was catapulted to gaming superstardom. Snake became popular for his aura of cool, and has been praised for eliciting real human emotion and complexity unmatched in video games. The Metal Gear Solid series is credited with the introduction of stealth gaming, scenes that break the fourth wall, and for far-reaching stories which include explorations of themes like social engineering, existentialism, manipulation of free will, and the nature of reality.
Snake’s cool alone would give him an edge, but that’s not going to count for much. Since Snake is a stealth hero, most of his moves revolve around avoiding being seen so he can sneak up on his enemies from behind and snap their necks. (Seriously, you can do this.) Although Snake tends to have trouble handling more than one foe at a time, he’s still armed to the teeth in case he gets caught. He has the ability to use handguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and explosives. He even has resourceful use of cigarettes, using them to make laser lights visible to the naked eye. Even though most of his arsenal is really only useful in VERY specific situations, he still has the ability to go either around you or through you. It’s your choice, I’m quite sure; but you really don’t want to underestimate what a guy like Solid Snake can do to you.

6 – Cloud Strife
The main character of Final Fantasy VII is the reigning face of the series. A former special soldier-turned-mercenary-turned world savior, a little bit of an emo boy, and a man of a very complex and confusing background which is difficult to sort out. (His memories were combined with those of a friend of his who was killed, but that’s never said outright, and a lot of info on the dead friend is attainable only in an optional quest.) He also came to define the idea of the sullen asshole hero, which ended up wrecking a lot of otherwise perfectly good RPGs. Despite the character and story problems, Final Fantasy VII is often credited with a few things: One is popularizing RPGs after they had been a heavy cult genre for a decade, after developer Squaresoft threw a multimillion dollar blitz ad campaign for it. Another is being the first game that utilized the full potential of the CG cutscene, and yet another is opening a genre typically known for fantasies happening in lands of kingdoms, princesses, and knights up to using hard science fiction settings.
Well, for starters, Cloud carries a giant sword almost the size of his entire body which is capable of cleaving metal in two. That sword is also capable of holding little glowy stones called materia, which have magical qualities and can enhance the strength of the weapon while allowing Cloud to lean magic himself. Cloud also has the ability to use limit breaks – very powerful attacks which can be used after attaining enough damage. Cloud learns limit breaks the slowest, but his are the most powerful in the game, and they allow him to shoot a beam from his sword or make it rain meteors. Cloud’s final limit break is the awesome and devastating Omnislash. He might be crippled by his sullen attitude, though, or at least the fact that he only fights for money.

7 – Duke Nukem
The Duke has been around since 1991, but it wasn’t until he went FPS and made the jump from PC to console that his career really took off. Although Duke Nukem basically combined the hyper-masculine 80’s action hero with the cutthroat, egocentric XTREME! attitude of the 90’s, he was for a brief window believed to be the future of the video game action hero. Duke made cracks about rival games, had a foul mouth, and was misogynistic as hell – in other words, he was the perfect caricature for many early teenage boys who thought they were ready for more adult games, and mistook Duke Nukem for an adult series because they thought being grown up would be all curse words, beer, junk food, and sex. Duke was as politically incorrect as it got, and his games were both fun and popular. He might have lasted as an icon had his latest game not spent 15 years in development, only to be released to lukewarm reviews likening it to a first-generation PSOne title.
Being a caricature of 80’s Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies means Duke Nukem is no superhuman, although he certainly plays the part pretty well. We’re given the impression that Duke is capable of using sheer machismo as a substitute for super strength, and he’s able to accomplish incredibly feats of violence though that alone. In Duke Nukem Forever, his giant ego is actually powerful enough to serve as his personal shield! Combined with his expertise with automatic weapons, energy weapons, and explosives, Duke is a threat to anyone in his vicinity, possibly including himself.

8 – Dante
Part mercenary, part private detective, part demon hunter, and part vigilante, the star of the Devil May Cry series is all fucking awesome. He’s the son of the powerful demon Sparda, and as a result, has abilities beyond those of any normal man. Devil May Cry was originally intended to be some kind of sequel or spinoff of the Resident Evil series, it was such a radical departure from the classic survival horror series that Capcom just decided to make it an independent series of its own. The first and third game in the series in particular are considered pace-setters for a sub-genre of action games called extreme combat games, which reached their fullest potential in the God of War series. Dante’s confident, fearless attitude have won a widespread following which convinced Toycom to produce a line of Devil May Cry action figures.
Dante carries a pair of pistols he named Ebony and Ivory, and obtains the use of several large swords and gauntlets. His half-demon heritage allows him to tap into a darker side called Devil Trigger, which enhances his speed and strength, regenerates his health, and enhances his abilities with melee weapons. Even without that, Dante has incredible strength, telekinetic abilities, and is very resistant to physical injuries.

9 – Spyro the Dragon
The star of the Spyro series, duh! His character description includes the terms courageous, headstrong, eager, arrogant, and fiery personality. Heroism and friendliness are among his traits, but he is also very curious and rarely cautious, which tends to get him in trouble. Although he has frequently refused to help people who would otherwise have awarded him, he still manages to regularly save the world, sometimes by accident. Although one of the Playstation’s premier characters, the Spyro series only produced a handful of top-reviewed games, though it is noted in a few parts for the musical score of Stewart Copeland as well as voice work from Mark Hamill, Billy West, Gary Oldman, and others.
He’s a dragon! Don’t be fooled by Spyro’s cutesy appearance; Spyro is still a dragon, and therefore, still capable of charging you with his horns; flying; and spitting fire. He can also use his wings as a shield and shoot electricity. Games also give Spyro other abilities like attacking with his tail; throwing balls of chi; and slowing down time. His most dangerous attacks, though, are from the elemental furies. They allow him to harness the powers of fire; ice; earth; electricity; and convexity, which is manifested in the form of purple breath.

10 – Yoshimitsu
One of the featured characters from the Tekken series, Yoshimitsu is the leader of the honorable Manji Clan, a ninjutsu aficionado, and a master swordsman with a prosthetic arm. He also appears in the Soul series. The Tekken series started out as a Virtua Fighter wannabe, but it eventually grew into its own. It shares Virtua Fighter’s reliance on real-life fighting techniques, but runs on a different engine, and is frequently cited as the best series of 3D fighting games.
Yoshimitsu is one of only two characters in Tekken to use a sword, and the sword is said to have supernatural powers, which would probably be more significant if Tekken wasn’t a fighter and Yoshimitsu could decapitate foes in one shot. His style is of course based in ninjutsu, so aside from basic puches, kicks, and throws, Yoshimitsu can also use moves like the slash kick; sword flash; and dive bomb.

March Madness: The Sega Bracket

March Madness: The Sega Bracket

In the early 90’s, Sega became known as the David that, for a couple of years, slew Nintendo’s Goliath. That should make it pretty surprising that Sega fields such a weak bracket, but in hindsight, it does make perfect sense. After overtaking Nintendo on the marketplace for a couple of years, Sega developed some marketing and developmental habits which made them famous as the hardware maker that couldn’t capitalize on the good thing it had going. Instead of developing a real business plan and sticking to it, Sega took the approach of throwing things until something hit, and the result was a horrific clotting of ideas which never reached their real potential. In some cases – like the Vectorman series – Sega had a fantastic idea which they up and abandoned. Some – particularly the 32X – were bad ideas from the start. The Saturn was undercut by better marketers. Sega managed to get their act together to launch one final hurrah with the Dreamcast, a console that pioneered a lot of the functions the new generation of gamers is taking for granted. While many gamers acknowledge the importance of the Dreamcast in the evolution of the medium, Sega’s loyalists had moved on by its launch and saw no need to return. Sega is the only bracket in the tournament which completely shut down its hardware department to focus on making games for the other consoles, but their hardware developments and competitive history are of too much importance for them to be left out. 

1 – Sonic the Hedgehog
The world’s greatest environmentalist and star of his namesake series, Sonic is a flying bundle of spikes who loves freedom and hates injustice. When he was first introduced, Sonic became the immediate prototype for the popular “XTREME” characters and attitudes that dominated in the 90’s, which produced later (and much worse) characters like Bubsy and Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel. Sonic was an instant star and when Sega still had its marketing head, they dumped their old mascot – Alex Kidd – and rode Sonic’s spiky back as he rushed them to the bank through some of the most magnificent platformers ever made. Sega invented a concept called “blast processing” to sell Sonic, but while blast processing was a real thing, it was created using a technique which can be likened to DW Griffith being the first director to move the camera: Such a stupidly easy thing to do that everyone just plump didn’t bother with it at the time. Sonic also helped legitimize video games as a medium when, in 1993, he became the first video game character to appear as a float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unfortunately, his games have undergone a terrible drop in quality since the 90’s, because they didn’t translate into 3D. His nickname in gaming circles is the Blue Blur.
The theme song called him the fastest thing alive for a reason. Sonic gets his very name from his habit of regularly using his feet to break through the sound barrier. Several of his abilities, like the Peel Out and Spin Dash, capitalize on that. His primary attack is the Super Spin Attack. In later Genesis games, a shield would enhance the Super Spin Attack by allowing him to bounce high, fly as a fireball, or double jump. In later games, it had a targeting quality. When running at a high speed, Sonic can also roll up into a ball, which enables him to take out any enemies that happen to be blocking his path. His spikes are a simple thing, but Sonic is very good at getting both literal and figurative mileage out of them. 

2 – Joe Musashi
One of the killer apps that propped up Sega in the early, unsure days of the Golden Era was a line of strong arcade games that could be easily shrunk down to home Genesis size. One of those games was called Shinobi, which starred the ninja Joe Musashi. Shinobi was one of the series in a trinity of series – along with Strider and Ninja Gaiden – which popularized ninja video games, and is arguably the best of those series. Shinobi was never ported to the Genesis itself, but its three sequels – Revenge of Shinobi; Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi; and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – are all Genesis classics. Shinobi was later rebooted for a new ninja craze on the Game Boy Advance and Playstation 2.
Like all good ninjas, Musashi makes use of a katana and shurikens. His games granted him with a variety of different ways of getting around, like dashing, hand-over-hand walking, wall climbing, and a flip from which a fan of many shurikens at once could be shot. Musashi is also known for his use of ninja magic, which is very powerful – it has the power to grant invincibility, smart bombs, high jumps, and to turn his body into a living bomb – but so rare that he rarely gets to use it more than once per level. 

3 – Ecco the Dolphin
Known as the Defender of the Future, Ecco the Dolphin is the star of a series of very unique adventure games which sent him in search of his missing pod. It’s kind of a love-it-or-hate-it series because with its slow, meticulous gameplay, it rubbed a lot of casual gamers the wrong way. People who loved it (like me), though, reveled in an engine which opened up amazing mental rewards to those who could go along with its demanding, exploration- and puzzle-based gaming depths. Ecco the Dolphin revealed exactly what was possible in the realm of photo-realistic graphics; see, Ecco is NOT a cartoon dolphin. He was designed and animated using photographs and what we know about real dolphins, and the design and atmosphere remains one of the truly great early arguments for video games as art. 
Since Ecco is a real dolphin in video game form, he has all the abilities you would expect of a real dolphin. Like all dolphins, Ecco deploys a charge which he uses against hostile sea creatures and the aliens who kidnapped his family. Also like all dolphins, Ecco communicates in song with other sea creatures, and uses echolocation to find and orient himself. Unlike other dolphins, Ecco upgrades his song through the course of his adventures so he can use it as a stunner and an outright weapon. 

4 – Akira Yuki
The mascot of Sega’s awesome Virtua Fighter series comes off a lot like Ryu: Similar garb and similar point of his entire being, wandering, improving his skill, looking for good fights against worthy opponents. The first Virtua Fighter game was released in 1993, and it sent a shock through a public which had, by then, been given fighting game nourishment on a steady diet of the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat wars which had captured the imaginations of anyone who had any interest in video games whatsoever. The reason? Virtua Fighter was in 3D and contained a deceptively simple three-button control scheme which was difficult to master because every joystick/button combination you could think of resulted in one different move or another. Those two features made Virtua Fighter an oddity, but the style caught on and now, led by games like Tekken and Soul Caliber, 3D fighting games are dominant on the landscape. 
You know what also makes Virtua Fighter unique? The fact that every character in the game uses a real fighting style. There are no meter-building power moves, no projectiles, and no unbeatable or unstoppable special attacks to abuse. Everything Akira does is based on real kung fu moves. EVERYTHING. His move list includes things like the kaiko, tenzankou, and soutoushou, things which, in the arsenal of an experienced and hotheaded fighter like Akira, are very much able to put some clangs and dents in opponents’ heads. Akira is very strong on offense and, when in the hands of someone who is truly skilled at Virtua Fighter, nearly impossible to so much as even hit. 

5 – Vectorman
Another eco-friendly hero, Vectorman starred in his own namesake game, in which he started out as an “orbot,” a cleanup robot left behind on Earth by the humans who abandoned the planet after it got too polluted to live on. He fights against a warped orbot named Raster, who took over after being mutated. Vectorman is a later-era Genesis series of action platformers which won various game of the year awards and were noted for their level designs, soundtracks, and graphics. The graphics were something of Sega’s response to the rendered 3D designs seen in Nintendo games like Donkey Kong Country. They were pre rendered, and instead of being a single sprite, were composed of many small sprites moving in unison, creating an ultra fluid look and feel. Unfortunately, they came out around the time Sega’s marketing department became SEGA’S MARKETING DEPARTMENT, and their handling of Vectorman became one of their legendary missteps. A potential new mascot was left after two stellar games, and Sega quit using their new graphic style for some reason. A third game was scheduled for release on the Playstation 2 in 2003, but it was cancelled because it deviated from the creativity of the Genesis originals, becoming just another generic third-person shooter; and the character was redesigned and looked more like Halo’s Master Chief. 
Vectorman is armed with a ball gun contained in his hand which, like in any good action game, can be upgraded; Vectorman could nab power ups containing a machine gun, a triple fire gun, and a bolo gun. He also had the ability of transformation, and can turn into a drill which breaks through floors; a bomb; and an aquatic form to help him move around underwater. That doesn’t even cover the levels where Vectorman starts out in morph form and stays that way throughout the duration. Vectorman 2 gave him new weapons like a pulse beam, and new insect transformations. Even his double jump relies on foot boosters which fry any enemy unfortunate enough to be standing too close to him! Watch out for this one. 

6 – Blaze Fielding
The resident tough girl of the Streets of Rage series, Sega’s response to the Final Fight games. Blaze is a dancer by night and she WAS a police officer by day until her efforts with her buddies Adam and Axel to form a blockade against a criminal ring failed and they all quit the force to take out the syndicate on their own. Streets of Rage was heavily influenced by Final Fight, but it tweaked the Final Fight formula just a wee little bit and made itself the better series.
Punching and kicking bad guys into oatmeal is always nice and fun, and Blaze has an extremely developed array of punches and kicks. Besides being an ex-cop and dancer, she’s also really into judo, which means she’ll pick you up and throw you across the room without breaking a sweat. She has the most powerful throws of anyone in the Streets of Rage series, which is useful for hurling bad guys into pits or other bad guys. She later develops a very short-range fireball for use in emergencies, and has the most complex and elaborate ways on using the various weapons the bad guys leave on the ground. 

7 – Chris Redfield
Chris is one of the defining faces of the Resident Evil series. Usually, fictional worlds present us with either evil corporations or evil zombies, but the Resident Evil truly terrifies us by having both. Chris Redfield was inadvertently yanked into a web of intrigue and conspiracy as a member of a special unit otherwise performing a routine mission. He and his three partners got trapped in a mansion where some experimental illegal shit was going down, and we’re not talking your average random drug dealers here. Chris was in the original Resident Evil game, a hit from Capcom which is credited with kickstarting the survival horror genre, and he is still playing regular major roles in the series. His most notable is arguably CODE: Veronica, which is considered one of THE must-own games for Sega’s final console, the Dreamcast. 
Chris served as the point man for his STARS Alpha Team, and as for that common business of no one getting left behind, he takes that very seriously. He is an extremely proficient marksman, especially with handguns, shotguns, and sniper rifles, and his stance when blowing something’s head off allows him to fully control his weapons recoil, so he can retarget right after every shot. He even has that ability with the Remington Model 1100, a weapon so powerful that its recoil is capable of knocking a person down. On the off chance that his accuracy is taking a sick day, Chris is also trained in many different fighting techniques, with both fist and knife. Powerful, fast, and agile, Chris is pretty much everything you could ask from your combat team leader. 

8 – Liu Kang
A kung fu fighting monk affiliated with the Shaolin Monastery, Liu Kang is considered the heart and soul of the Mortal Kombat series, the fighting games which competed with Street Fighter for the hearts, minds, souls, and imaginations of blood-and-guts-obsessed teenagers throughout the 90’s. Kang was mentored by Raiden, the god of thunder. In the end, Liu Kang defeats half-dragon Goro and shapeshifter Shang Tsung, becomes the champion of Mortal Kombat, and lives to keep repeating as Tsung’s master, Shao Khan, keeps trying to use the tournament to take over Earth. Mortal Kombat provided breakthroughs in photorealistic digital graphics, but the series is best known for a level of ramped-up ultraviolence. Mortal Kombat is known as one of the most violent video game franchises of all time, and it’s credited as the series that helped usher in a new era of cartoonish shock violence which changed video games by paving the way for more adult orientations, which helped because everyone old enough to remember the NES is now grown up and gaming is now a popular and accepted adult hobby. Mortal Kombat is also credited for being one of the final straws that resulted in the creation of the ESRB rating system, and Guinness says it’s the most successful fighting game series of all time. 
Liu Kang is one of the most popular characters in Mortal Kombat because he might be the best starter character ever in fighting games. It’s very easy to learn and use his moves, and his combos don’t demand the precision and hours of practice required of the more advanced characters. His fireball is a good, reliable projectile, and his flying kick is a good way to catch an opponent off guard in close quarters. His bicycle kick is devastating. Although his primary fatality move – cartwheeling into his opponent and smacking him with a hard uppercut – is one of the most boring and pedestrian fatalities in the series, his dragon fatality more than makes up for it. Since the symbol for Mortal Kombat is a dragon, it’s only appropriate that it was Liu Kang who got to transform into a dragon and eat his opponent’s torso!

9 – Earthworm Jim
The star of the same-name series is basically another marketing gimmick of the 90’s going XTREME! In the case of Earthworm Jim, though, there’s honest to god substance to back it up. It’s about an ordinary earthworm who is transformed into a superhero after crawling into a special super suit. The original game was a runaway success, and the Genesis version in particular was lauded with many game of the year accolades. There was a sequel soon after which was cited by many sources as better than the original, and a Sega CD remake of the first EWJ is considered the best game in the series. The 16-bit classics are renowned for hand-drawn-style graphics which were rare in the Golden Era, and their stylish and quirky humor. He got a couple of 3D games at the beginning of the Next-Gen Era as well, but they were made under a different developer, panned, and Jim has been retired ever since.
Jim can use his worm head as a helicopter and a whip. His gun is capable of receiving some powerful upgrades like a Barn Blaster – an actual barn which blows up everything on the screen – and a Three-Finger Gun. There are a few traditional weapons, like a 64-directional machine gun and a Plasma Blaster, and Jim also carries a rocket in his pocket which he uses to push a bomb at one point in Earthworm Jim 2. He’s just fine as long as he avoids picking up the Bubble Gun.

10 – Terry Bogard
Terry, along with his brother Andy, is the main character of the Fatal Fury series, which later crossed with Art of Fighting to create The King of Fighters series. He’s easily identifiable by his trademark red short-sleeve jacket and Fatal Fury hat, and his drive to kill Geese Howard. Fatal Fury is known as one of the Neo Geo hipster alternative fighting games played by people who got bored of the mainstream war between Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and it’s also considered a somewhat pioneer of the 3D fighting game because of the dual plane innovation. Characters could jump between the foreground and background. Fatal Fury 2 introduced the desperation move, a very powerful special move to be used when low on energy, and a precursor to today’s ultra-difficult power moves which can be used when a meter fills.
Terry can unleash the power wave, a wave of energy which moves along the ground; and the burn knuckle, where he launches himself at an opponent with his fist stuck out and on fire. Knowing Neo Geo fighting games, though, the only good special moves Terry uses are the ones in which the setting is on the powerful punch or kick, otherwise they wouldn’t dent a soda can or fly past Terry’s fingernnails. Every Neo Geo fighting game character is like that. If you’ve never played a Neo Geo fighter, later Street Fighter games give us Dan, a fighter who is in the game basically to mock the Neo Geo. Even though there are players who are awesome with Dan, he’s totally in those games as a joke character.