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Five Up, Five Down: Down the Drive’s Definitive Video Game Rankings

Introducing the newest offseason feature at DTD. In episode one, Clayton throws some heat about Zelda and Phil shows his PlayStation bias.

We’ve reached the offseason for college basketball and college football. While we will be here for all your Cincinnati Bearcats baseball coverage, we will eventually reach the time in the year where there are no college sports to digest.

Sure, football previews are nice bread crumbs to follow, but there’s simply not enough, leaving more free time than ever before. With that extra spins of the clock, we at Down the Drive know what we’ll be doing. No, not reacquainting ourselves with our friends and families. What an odd suggestion. No, instead, we’ll be ranking anything and everything.

With that written, we present the newest offseason feature from your pals at DTD. Five Up, Five Down will be a weekly post where Clayton and I will lay out the five best (and five worst) offerings in any number of categories. In episode one, we will be diving into the cultural phenomenon known as video games. (But not literally jumping in like Ready Player One. That movie was, well, it wasn’t good).

For this episode, we will be splitting up a bit. Clayton will be handling games before January 1, 2000 and I will be taking on those after. While we would both love to be able to play every game in existence, that’s pretty much impossible, so these will be based only on games we have played. To the rankings! Warning: extremely hot takes await.

Clayton’s Five Up

1. Tecmo Super Bowl (1991)

Tecmo Super Bowl was the first modern sports game. You could play a full season. You could win the Super Bowl. If you had no imagination, you could even do the Pro Bowl. TSB kept full statistics. It had injuries and changing player attributes. It even had 11 guys on the field. And from a data standpoint, this is all you need. Contemporary sports video games have become an unwinnable labyrinth: all drafts and dynasties and negotiating contracts. TSB was a puzzle you could solve on a rainy Saturday morning or in a matter of minutes with auto-skip. There is a reason that TSB has become one of the most popular video games for bar tournaments. TSB’s controls were simple to learn but a pleasure to master over repeated playings. TSB has a simple elegance to its appearance in keeping with the best of Nintendo classics, namely Super Mario Brothers. A person who has captured a few flags with Mario and Luigi can quickly transition those skills to popcorning Patriots defenders with Christian Okoye. TSB is the only video game I’ve never grown sick of playing.

2. Contra (1987)

Thoroughly Manichean, Contra was an antidote to button mashing chaos. Its esoteric codes, 30 extra guys, and pair of photogenic combatants made it possible for dudes in every basement to take the fight to Cobra by land and by sea until Mom said “lights out.”

3. RBI Baseball (1987)

The TSB of baseball video games. RBI Baseball features 10 distinct teams with greatly varying attributes. The colors, music, and animations are pinball vibrant and the players are Eric Cartman shaped. The controls are simple but allow for enough variety in an operator’s performance to keep the game interesting even decades after I first got 10-run ruled by the Twins.

4. NHLPA 93 (1992)

Everyone always talks about NHL 94 as the signature hockey video game. It ain’t. NHLPA 93 is one that saved the universe. The controls were satin smooth, the fighting was gruesome, and the guys names were in it too. NHLPA 93 kept playoff statistics and, if you went with the Blackhawks, Jeremy Roenick was sure to get you about 80 goals.

5. Metal Gear Solid (1998)

It is a game based on a guy named Chet or possibly Snake. I think the main character might be the older brother in Weird Science. It has really good music. Actually, I never played it but my brother sure liked it and he often tells me that I am humming the tunes from it unconsciously.

No word on how Clayton feels about modern Zelda.

Clayton’s Five Down

1. Madden 1999 (1998)

This was the first one with franchise mode. This was just too much. Madden’s franchise mode, which paved the way for similar additions to all of the major sports video game titles, ruined sports video games. Franchise mode turned Madden into a part-time job. Drafting, scouting, negotiating contracts, setting the price of foam fingers at the stadium, training camp. Franchise mode has marginalized the dude who just likes the playing the game and maybe wants to do a season with his favorite team. Now, you are either all in on Madden or an outsider to this universe. I always preferred the college games anyway, but Ed O’Bannon ruined that for everybody.

2. Rampage (1986)

Splitting the difference between Donkey Kong and Grand Theft Auto, Rampage is a button masher in the worse sense. Its nihilism and short-sighted urban planning strategies feel good at first blush, but do not hold up to repeated playing.

3. Call of Duty (2003)

I tried playing the first version of Call of Duty, but me and my fat little fingers could never get my GI from the landing craft to Omaha Beach in one piece.

4. Half-Life (1998)

The whole ugly glasses chic of the 2000s and beyond can be attributed to the guy on the cover of this game.

5. The Legend of Zelda (1986)

A more boringer version of Bentley Bear and the Crystal Castles. At least Bentley Bear had some personality. He had an exciting hat, a bag full of gems and he had plenty of that Dramamine. Zelda is one of those things I lump into an artistic genre that includes Twilight, Stranger Things, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Jazz, Astronomy, Quiche, pork tenderloin, the woods, the lake, camping, sociology, PAC-12 football, craft beer and comic book movies. At your local video store, this section is labeled “Stuff Clayton Don’t Like.”

Editor’s note: Clayton was nearly fired after I saw LOTR and Zelda on this list. Instead he was fined 15 Stanley nickels.

Phil’s Five Up

1. Mass Effect 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

There are only a few games that I have ever replayed more than once. Mass Effect 2 is one of them. In the runup to Mass Effect 3 in 2012, my save file from my first playthrough of ME2 was no longer on my PS3 and I just couldn’t stand the thought of playing the third part of the series without all of my decisions and character arcs coming over. I also just really effing loved playing ME2. The combat is strong but its the characters and that final suicide mission that puts this at the top of the list. Now where is that Mass Effect trilogy remaster Bioware?!

2. Bioshock (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Atmosphere is an underrated aspect of games. When I go virtual, I like to be immersed in a world I can’t be in anywhere else. That is exactly what Bioshock’s Rapture is. I would even go so far as to say I’d be down to explore it in real life, although at the first sight of a drugged up Ayn Rand, I mean Andrew Ryan disciple would cause me to take my chances in the open water. Bioshock’s setting is matched by its awesome first person gameplay, sensational story and moral choices. I can’t hear creaky ‘40s music without thinking back to this one. Granted, Spotify doesn’t often spit out playlists with such tunes. Now would you kindly move onto the next entry?

3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)

Forgive me, but this was my introduction to the MGS series. But, in a way, that was perfect. This is the game that takes place earliest on the winding and often confounding timeline of Big Boss and Solid Snake’s stories. Epic boss fights and a really cool feature that forced you to adjust your camouflage for better infiltration stood out. The battle with The End remains the most tense and rewarding boss battle I’ve ever encountered. Oh, and Solid Snake is the GOAT, even if the Snake in this one is technically Big Boss.

As a side note, Metal Gear Solid 4 is actually my favorite in the series, but I think that has more to do with the the emotional resonance of the story, while MGS3 had the superior boss fights, which are my favorite parts of these games.

4. Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)

Since open world games are just about everywhere now, it takes a lot for a game to separate itself. Horizon did it and did it so well. Its a beautiful world with robot dinosaur beasts after all. The bow-and-arrow combat is done perfectly and is extremely satisfying. Plus the story is enthralling. I won’t spoil anything here, but the world building is excellent and Aloy as a main character is really good. If there’s a game from the current console generation that I would replay start to finish again, its this one.

5. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Some how, some way, in a year where a new MGS game and a new Batman Arkham game came out, this was far and away the best offering. Released in May of 2015, this game may be the best value for your dollar since there are nearly 200 hours of content in an open world absolutely stuffed with things to do. Geralt and Ciri are fantastic characters to play as and they drive forward a story that is different than your run-of-the-mill fantasy romp. CD Projekt Red was the developer of this game and their next one, Cyberpunk 2077, could jump onto this list if it lives up to the hype.

Honorable Mentions: The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, Persona 5, Batman Arkham City, Child of Light, Bloodborne, Ratchet & Clank

Phil’s Five Down

In descending order.

1. Assassin’s Creed 3 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U)

The AC series gets too much flak for my taste. I actually liked Unity and have never really been that disappointed by an entry ... except for this one. The main character, Connor, I liked quite a bit and the game looked beautiful, but the traversal of the larger world was tiresome and the tutorial section seemed like it took up half the game and you were playing as an under-powered child. There were certainly things I liked about this game, but not enough.

2. Max Payne (PS2, Xbox One, PC)

How is this fun?

3. Bound by Flame (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, PC)

I know I played this game but I don’t remember much about it. That’s not a good sign.

4. Van Helsing (PS2, Xbox)

This isn’t that great a movie, but its not the worst. This game is though.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)

There have been good Spiderman games. The Insomniac one coming out this September looks dope. This one was neither dope or good.

Disagree with us? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or via a FanPost. Also, if you want us to rank something specific next week, let us know.