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#50: Contra

Company: Konami    System: NES

Say it with me, kids: up up down down left right left right B A start. That sequence of button presses -- the first well-known "cheat code" hidden in a game -- guaranteed Contra's enshirnement into the gaming hall of fame.

A minor hit in the arcades, Contra became a phenomenon on the NES, where its' detailed graphics and mix of horizontal, vertical and pseudo-3D levels clearly showed the power of Nintendo's new machine.

The tough-as-nails gameplay (have you actually beat the game without resorting to the code?) also set the gold standard for shooter games for years to come, as evidenced by the fact that a Contra game has graced just about every console and hand-held system since the 8-bit era.


#49: Sinistar

Company: Williams    System: Arcade

"Beware... I live."

Those three words struck fear into many a young arcade-goer in the early 1980's. Sinistar was one of the first games to feature clear digitized speech, which it used to great advantage to inject a personality into the main villain, who would taunt players as he chased them down.

It also featured a revolutionary 49-way joystick that allowed for very fluid control of your ship, which was extremely necessary, as this remains one of the toughest shooters ever created.


#48: International Superstar Soccer 2000

Company: Konami    System: Nintendo 64

While soccer games have certainly gotten flashier over the past few years, none of them can match ISS2K in the realm of just pure fun. An addicting mix of fast-paced gameplay combined with surprisingly deep strategy, this remains one of the gold standards in the sports genre. If you don't think soccer is a "real" sport, I dare you to pick up ISS2K and try to put it down after playing a match. It's that damn good.


#47: Pro Wrestling

Company: Nintendo    System: NES

With colorful characters loosely based on real wrestlers (well, except for The Amazon), excellent graphics and animation for the time, little touches like being able to use steel chairs, and most importantly, the ability to beat your buddies up in the two-player mode, Pro Wrestling quickly became a favorite of gamers during the early days of the NES.


#46: The Bard's Tale III - Thief of Fate

Company: Interplay    System: Apple II

Before RPG's became synonymous with spiky-haired characters and absurdly long cutscenes, Interplay created this gem. With its' detailed character creation system, the player could make their own heroes to undertake an epic quest that thankfully stayed away from the "run and fetch" objectives that were and still are the downfall of many entries in the genre. When you add in some ingenious puzzles and a sly sense of humor, The Bard's Tale III became one of those rare games that turns into an obsession.


#45: The Sims

Company: Maxis    System: Playstation 2

Who knew doing daily chores could be so fun? Well, not really. While The Sims probed you to push your little user-created guy or gal to live a fruitful life, most players were content with just torturing the little buggers -- which often had hilarious results.

The PS2 version gets the nod versus its' PC big brother due to the fact that it showed that modern console players do indeed like games that make you think and don't require the reflexes of a 12-year-old on a Red Bull binge.


#44: Super Mario Kart 64

Company: Nintendo    System: Nintendo 64

While PC gamers had enjoyed it for years, having more than two people playing a console game at once was almost unheard of until this point. With its' four built-in controller ports, the N64 was ready-made for party gaming, and Super Mario Kart 64 was the game that brought multiplayer action to the masses. It was so popular that it spawned a series of knock-offs -- but most any gamer worth their salt will tell you that this game is the perfect representation of the genre.


#43: Aliens

Company: Activision    System: Commodore 64

Most early movie-to-game conversions were simply generic platformers or shooters with graphics that tried to look somewhat like the film they came from. Activision's adaptation of the hit movie Aliens took a much more ambitious tact, and the effort paid off.

The designers went to great lengths to have music and graphics that captured the feel of the film (the full-screen cutscenes were especially impressive for the time), and each of the game's levels -- which take place during key scenes of the film -- had a different play style.

From the initial piloting of the drop ship, to the harrowing chase through the hive to save Newt, to the final brawl with the queen alien, Aliens proved once and for all that just because a game is based on a movie, it doesn't have to suck.


#42: Gauntlet

Company: Atari    System: Arcade

Anyone who enjoys MMORPGs owes a huge debt of gratitude to Atari's 1985 arcade megahit. With four-player gameplay, unique and upgradeable characters, and enough dungeon crawling to satisfy even the most hardcore D&D geek, Gauntlet created the mold for quite possibly the most popular genre in gaming today.


#41: Marvel Vs. Capcom 2

Company: Capcom    System: Arcade

Capcom has long been known as the king of fighting games, and so when Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 -- which would pit some of Capcom's most popular characters versus heroes and villains from the Marvel universe -- hit the arcades, it became of the most popular games of the time.

"Insane" doesn't even begin to describe this team-based brawler. Not only did Capcom thrown in the characters you might expect, they threw in a few curveballs as well. It's possible to pit Little Red Riding Hood versus The Hulk. The gameplay is also over-the-top: combos reaching over a hundred hits are commonplace.

Many fighting game "purists" decry Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 as a mere "button-masher", but sometimes it is just more fun to mash on buttons rather than have to pore over a huge FAQ just to pull off a couple of moves.