What would have been an otherwise ordinary 90s computer platformer becomes so much more interesting with an injection of unexpected elements and such strongly objective-focused design and an economy instead of the left-to-right movement goals that we typically associate with the genre. Even beyond the novelty of its atypical approach, Flimbo's Quest has solid enemy-focused challenges to keep things interesting. You always need to be on when playing this game because all it takes are three mistakes to end your run. Personally, I find games that reward knowledge to be some of the most interesting ones out there and Flimbo's Quest excels at that for sure.
Ninja Jajamaru-kun: Onigiri Ninpouchou Gold
I’m not going to pretend that Onigiri Ninpouchou is a secretly brilliant game or anything, far from it, but I think it’s very charming and mostly breezy to play, and I think the taste of gamers, at the least the ones you see in the more “hardcore” scenes on Twitter, would actually appreciate a lot of its choices now in retrospect. Its odd approach to 3D game design in a post-Super Mario 64 world probably felt strange and underwhelming at the time, but now, it’s a cute time capsule of alternative takes, an idea of what potentially could have been if we all fixated on Nintendo at least a little bit less than we tend to.
Riot Zone isn't what I'd call a particularly great game, but it's a game that can weaponize being middle of the road in a way that I think is endlessly interesting. By doing everything just fine enough, it's a game that can either serve as a learning opportunity or an easy way to kill an hour while looking at cool graphics and listening to solid music. Riot Zone is a game you play for comfort, because the inherent motions of the beat 'em up bring you joy, because the PC Engine is just that cool.
Empire City: 1931
When you consider its place in the genre, Empire City: 1931 finds itself in something of a complicated situation. It's a strong game compared to its immediate competition at the time, featuring beautiful visuals and clever gameplay that combines frantic search & destroy with rhythmic defense, but its limited environments and foes to deal with make it a game most will likely only sample briefly instead of really mastering. There are eight levels before it loops, but once you've played a few of them, you've effectively seen everything there is to see except the boss. Empire City also finds itself directly superseded by Seibu Kaihatsu's own follow-ups, though Empire City at least has the advantage of being easier to acquire if you're the type to dodge emulation. Still, even with these caveats, I found myself intrigued and engaged by Empire City once I understood what it was asking of me. What was initially a baffling, seemingly impossible test of raw speed within confines that refused to allow for it became a game that demanded constant attention and haste with every single action.
It’s probably obvious from the fact that I haven’t said a single bad thing about this game, but I adored my time with this one! There’s a certain type of RPG that I always cherish, namely ones with bright colors and a strong sense of adventure and camaraderie, and Monstania nails all of those things. Grandia, Skies of Arcadia, and Shining Force are all formative games for me that I absolutely love, so the fact that Monstania gives off the same cozy vibes as those games is one of the best compliments I can throw its way. Whether you want a beginner friendly strategy RPG or a game that reminds you of the best parts of RPGs in the 90s, it’s hard to think of a more concise example than Monstania.
Marko’s Magic Football
This desire from the development team to express the world of Marko through beautiful animation and large characters creates a game that consistently evoked two emotions out of me. When everything was going according to plan, when I was on point with my ball kicks and coming up with clever ways to avoid direct conflict, Marko was a fun time that felt fresh compared to any other platformer I’ve played. Sure, it might not be on the level of Sonic CD or even Wonder Dog, but when Marko works, it works very well! Unfortunately, the other half of my experience was filled with missed jumps, cheap shots from offscreen enemies, and deaths by drowning because I fell from the top of a tall tree after Marko's massive head skimmed something.
Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories
I think Chase has a lot of value on its own merits as a concise, straightforward story that proves you can weave a proper tale of emotion and turnabout regardless of your budget or scope. This game is still so very worthy of being played today that I intentionally left out some of the finer plot details so as to not spoil the entire thing for you! Don't worry about the cliffhanger ending and don't let it control the narrative around the game or your experience with it. Learn to enjoy what you have now before it all turns to dust and becomes nothing more than a distant memory…
I really didn’t expect it, but I think PaTaank is good fun! Pinball rarely does much for me, but the way this game tried so hard to do something different really speaks to me. It’s very much a game that feels like it just wants to be cool and fun without sweating the details too much, but there’s actually more under the hood than I expected, what with all its visual quirks and unproven design choices. They made a pinball game that really works for someone that doesn’t care for pinball, which is no easy task. By injecting loads of personality into it, providing more direct control, and distancing themselves from the hard rules of pinball, they created a game that has no direct peers that I can think of.
Dandy: Zeuon no Fukkatsu
If you’re used to modern RPGs that offer lovely graphics and hours upon hours of exploration and deep battle systems, Dandy here might not do much for you. If you’re the type who likes to go back, though (and really, if you’re here, you probably are, I’d hope), I think you’ll appreciate how Dandy: Zeus no Fukkatsu is an incredibly compact distillation of RPG fundamentals. Hydlide lovers, start taking notes because this one's for you!
NEO AQUARIUM – The King of Crustaceans –
This is a game that's haunted by the same point of friction in every facet of its design: nothing feels necessary and nothing can be relied on. There are so many mechanics and they're all genuinely creative, but it feels like they go to waste because it's all unnecessary in lieu of just doing the same thing over and over again. There's a vision here for a unique, delightful fighting game (of sorts) that dares to be different, an arena fighter that really puts the arena to use, but it's held back by its own mechanical jokes in a way that I can respect, but don't find particularly fun to play.