Great games are often defined not by how realistic they look, or how many hours it takes to finish them but more so by how fun they are and how much replay value they have. Today I’m taking a look back at games that I can’t stop replaying no matter how hard I try, because sooner or later they all draw me back in for another taste of that sweet, sweet whatever-it-is that they offer up for me. I’m excluding competitive online games that have a limited life span and focusing only on ‘standalone’ games that I can play by myself and typically have a finite ending (though a couple of picks might break that rule).
Anyone who regularly listens to our podcast will undoubtedly have heard me talk about a few of these before because I tend to relate back to them or bring them up over and over because of the story, or game mechanics, or characters just speak to me and have forever embedded themselves in my memory and heart. I absolutely implore anyone reading this article who has not given each and every game on this list a solid crack to find a way to do so as a matter of urgency, because they are pure gold and should be experienced by everyone at least once.
10. Chime (PC)
Chime is one of those casual games that you play in short stints for a little challenge and a little gratification, much like Peggle, or Bejeweled. The difference that Chime is a bit like a re-imagining of Tetris combined with some funky music that builds in layers the more of the gameboard you manage to fill in. If you manage to complete the whole board before the timer ends then you get to hear the song with every instrumental layer applied, which is a cool touch that often goes unnoticed.
Replay value: The game only has 5 levels which can be played across a few modes, but my favourite is timed mode where by you get 3, 6, or 9 minutes to clear as much as possible (keeping in mind that you get time added for filling in larger sections, so a 3 minute timed game can easily take 10+ minutes. The replay amusement comes in purely trying to beat your own high score and obtain a higher percent of completion (e.g. one full board = 100%, fill it twice and it’s 200% a so on). Once you’re quite good at the game 9 minute sessions become a bit much as they tend to stretch out to 20+ by the time you lose concentration and give up, but the replay value of the shorter modes allows you to have a short sprint at competing against yourself in a fun puzzling way in just a few minutes.
9. Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing (SNES)
RnR Racing is probably the best ‘isometric perspective combat racing game’ that you’ll ever play, and was even awarded the accolade of best driving game in 1993 (the year it was released in North America). It features the iconic voiceover of “SuperMouth” Larry Huffman of Supercross commentary fame, along with an amazing soundtrack made up of the likes of Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, George Thorogood and Black Sabbath. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s GUNS! This gem of a game is an early work of Silicon & Synapse who went on to become industry titans, Blizzard.
Replay value: RnR Racing ranges from the simple (Rookie Class) to the outright mental (Warrior Class) in terms of difficulty but is a very fun and satisfying game to race around and blow your opponents up in. The control style takes a bit to get used to and can quickly turn into a disaster when there’s rockets flying everywhere and you’re trying to boost through an oil slick to get ahead of the pack. All in all it’s a great combat racer with just the right balance of difficulty and simplicity that leaves you wanting to race again and again, especially to get into the later planets and obtain the hovercraft with heat seeking projectiles! Also the treachery in 2-player mode off the starting line is real!
8. Dragon Crystal (Master System)
Dragon Crystal is one of the only games on this list that ‘can’ be finished but I never have, because it really is pure luck that you can make it all the way to the end. No really… the game is 50 levels long and each one of them is procedurally generated, meaning every time you find the portal to the next level it could be any layout and design with random armour, enemies, weapons, etc. Of course you could finish the game on an emulator by saving state before every portal you walk into and if you get a crap level just load the state and try again (you’ll get a completely different level!), but that takes the fun out of it.
Replay value: As you can imagine a game that randomly generates almost every element it has is pretty hard to get tired of. As long as you enjoy the playing style and the overly inclined difficulty. It’s not just the levels and item placement that changes either, literally every item in the game (weapons, armour, scrolls, rings, staffs, and potions) come with generic titles and values that don’t reveal themselves until you use one to see what happens! The plus side of this is you might read a scroll that kills all enemies on screen (YAY!), but you might also put on cursed armour that reduces your health to 1 and can’t be removed.. Or even drink a potion that’s actually poison and kills you instantly… SURPRISE!
Dragon Crystal is a masterful roguelike on the Master System, and about as fun/infuriating as Syobon Action is.
7. Track & Field (Arcade)
Button mashing at it’s 1983 best! I want to be VERY clear that I am picking the Konami arcade original version of this game, played on a cabinet. It’s been ported to an absolute ton of other systems but the one that I always go back to and play over and over and over is the arcade version. Coming from the arcade heyday and in a time of much simpler sports games, Track & Field provided the ultimately challenge: Can you press the buttons faster than you did last time? With a small range of slightly varying sports, it takes only a handful of plays to get a grasp of what you need to do and leaves you with a lifetime of repeating it in an effort to best yourself.
Replay value: The allure of Track & Field for me is the personal challenge, but it’s also a barrel of laughs trying to compete against your loved one, best friend, family member, or complete stranger. The raw adrenaline and frustration that comes from trying to push buttons faster than the other person is hilarious in the first few events. Then watch the competition degrade to sadness when you reach the hammer throw and only one of you has any idea what you’re doing. A much loved classic and one I’ll forever return to in an attempt to break new records.
6. Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)
Not a very well known game, Atom Zombie Smasher might be called a top-down strategy game, but I prefer to call it “this cool game like Risk and Pandemic, but you get different units types, and everything is just square blocks”. For all the graphical work put into menus and icons and design etc, all ‘characters’ in AZS (being the humans, the ZEDs, and your various forces) are nothing but small cubes, all of around 4×4 pixels. This brings the game down to pure strategic gameplay where you attempt to airlift out as many humans as possible before they are consumed by the zed (who you can also kill to help your rescue efforts).
Replay value: AZS has a lot going for it that keeps you going back again and again. This includes the pandemic style spread of infection on the world map, challenging levels with sub challenges (like eradicating the zed from that sector if you can kill them all before sundown), and a varying set of troop classes ranging from mortars to on-foot military, to simple barricades and land mines. All of which mix together to make each level uniquely challenging. Oh, and the actual overall game of trying to outscore the zed infection, is pretty long and hard to win!
5. Duck Tales (NES)
If you’ve ever heard me talking about video games then you knew this was coming. As both a Disney and Nintendo fanboy growing up in the 80’s, AND a wannabe speed runner Duck Tales fits my modus operandi like a glove. While it’s not the most difficult of games, or long, I can’t imagine a time when I couldn’t readily go back to old faithful again and again like a piss head to KFC for Sunday ‘lunch’. It’s a good hearted, fun adventure about a greedy old duck that infiltrates and plunders other civilisations in order to steal their most sacred treasures, in an effort to out-do his arch rival that doesn’t appear until the last 10 seconds of the game to race you up a rope. Not kidding.
Replay value: Speed running and the sheer smug feeling/chase of perfectionism is what draws me back time and time again. I play Duck Tales when I’m bored, when I can’t decide what to play, or when I’m waiting for the wife to do her hair before we go out somewhere. The whole game takes about 11-15 minutes at a nice leisurely pace and is just down right fun. Not very challenging (in the traditional sense) and packed with iconic music that throws you down the nostalgia hallway at every turn, I can very easily imagine myself replaying Duck Tales until my final years are upon me.
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past (SNES)
ALTTP is without a doubt one of my all-time favourite games and heavily linked (get it?!) to wonderful childhood memories. This is most likely why I go back to it over and over, rather than completing later games in the series like BOTW, Twilight Princess, etc. There is just something about the top-down view that I love and the game length is enough to engage you for a few decent gaming sessions without feeling insurmountable to those of us with only a couple of hours a night (at best) to invest in gaming. Being the first Zelda title to really define and bring the iconic land of Hyrule to life, it uses a balance of rudimentary puzzles and a delightful inventory of items to provide a light-hearted adventure (about abduction and imprisonment..) that any ages bracket can enjoy.
Replay value: I love getting through ALTTP time and time again because it’s small enough and easy enough for me to do in only a few sessions, but big enough and complex enough that I can’t quite remember everything that needs to be done in every dungeon or town in order to get through everything the game offers. I think one day I would like to be able to not only speed run it, but know it so intricately that I am able to attempt the randomizer; but until then I’m happy playing through this classic adventure once or twice a year and reliving the memories of doing it for the first time way back when.
3. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (SNES)
Known for it’s difficulty, the Ghost ‘n’ Goblins series has been ported across the arcade and console world to hell and back, but my personal favourite of them all is SNES masterpiece Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. While being fairly brutal the first few (hundred?) times you play the game, you eventually find zen and learn the patterns and do’s and don’ts that bring a lot more joy and fulfillment into the adventure. Some the allure of this game if that once you learn how a particular element works it’s no longer really a threat and so getting through the game is just a matter of conquering one ‘pattern’ after another.
Replay value: I have played this game so many times now that beating it is now considered ‘low / medium’ difficulty and I’m considering learning the intricacies that would allow me to attempt to speed-run it. I just enjoy the adventure all the way along with massively different levels and obstacles, and the fact that it’s not too short or long. You certainly won’t blast through it in 30 mins, but you can complete the game in a single sitting. You also often learn something new each time you play.. For example I learnt the hidden chest locations and how to trigger them long ago, but on the last run through I did (days ago..) I FINALLY locked down a fool-proof way to destroy the 3 red demons in the game that I had previously classed as the hardest enemies.
2. Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Master System)
“But why Monster Land?” I hear you say, “Dragon’s Trap is way better”… well pish posh to you sir! Dragon’s Trap is a phenomenal game, but for me personally I get much more enjoyment out of the shorter Wonder Boy II than it’s character-changing sequel (despite ALSO loving that game). Wonder Boy II has a very particular charm and a little trickery that makes it a fun game to learn. Such as the hidden doors, secret loot, side quests for non-critical items and even the jump mechanic! It’s no puzzler by any means but it possess the right balance of ‘not so obvious’ game elements, adventure, and difficulty to keep me coming back an inordinant amount of times.
Replay value: This is another title that I now run purely for speedrun/completionary purposes, as I mastered everything in the game (except for that buggy hunk of crap stair elevator THING at the end) quite some time ago.. But running a game start to finish four times per night for weeks on end will do that. I love the music, the bosses, the quirks of the game, but most of all I love running it as it’s fun every time through. I also still haven’t achieved my idea of a perfect run yet, because there is an RNG element before the final castle where an enemy can drop the best shield in the game, and if I got that I would finish in about 40 mins with all items maxed out… sadly the only time I’ve received the drop is when I was mucking around and wasn’t following my usual play where I obtain all top level items (bar the shield).Boo hoo for me.
1. Final Fantasy VII (PS1 / PC)
Down to pick number 1 and if there was any doubt in this then you either don’t know me or haven’t seen my Steam stats (and that’s not even accounting for the times I’ve spent playing it all the way through on PS1!). FF7 to me is somewhat of an obsession, and a game that I regularly re-visit even if I don’t play all the way through. In fact I’ve only actually played the game to completion around 8 times… which isn’t a bad effort considering it spans 3 discs and clocks in at a pretty hefty playtime even for a standard play (for the time it was released especially). Speedrunning (which I can’t / don’t / won’t do for this game) even takes 7 and a half hours by the worlds best.
Replay value: The lengthy gameplay and engaging story are what keep me coming back on this one. Playing fast the game can be a challenge, and playing slow and grinding makes it much easier and to an extent more exciting as you then level up your materia and get some more powerful and interesting attacks. The wonderful music and characters always throw me back to the first time playing it, where I fall in love with the storyline all over again, playing slightly different in order to accentuate the role of different characters each time.
From the epic clashes of Cloud and Sephiroth, to the political madness of Shinra Inc., to the obscene and perverted faux pa’s, Final Fantasy VII is my spirit animal and was introduced to me at a time in life when the adventure it offered consumed my mind entirely. The result is an ever-lasting admiration of the game that soothes my soul like an old blanket, or a hot cup of tea with choc chip cookies and a good book. We all connect with different games for different reasons and the strongest bonds come from all elements in life, not ONLY the game itself. So while there are hundreds of magnificent games that I love to play, Final Fantasy VII tops the list of games I can’t stop replaying.