With all the hype of new systems and new AAA titles to go with them, I was getting bandwagoned out. So for a change of pace, I decided to go back in time and list (in no particular order) the top twelve accessible games that most people have either forgotten about or never knew about in the first place. Let’s begin.
Publisher: Lego Media
Yes, Lego tie-ins really do go back that far. Legoland was basically a Lego-skinned Rollercoaster Tycoon. The player plays as a new Legoland assistant park manager who has to rebuild his park after Professor Voltage has accidentally destroyed it with his time machine. Players are tasked with everything from paving roads and setting up trash cans to making sure that the mini-figs enjoy the rides and have enough food to eat when they are done. Along the way, Professor Voltage keeps bringing back new ideas for rides from his trips through time, from a passel of Western attractions including a log flume to a bona fide pirate ship and everything in between. This game functioned as a nice, easy introduction for younger players into the world of sims. Because of its simple point-and-click nature and its fairly straightforward premise (select a building, place it, repeat), the game was very accessible. And while the story was somewhat flimsy, the cast of wacky characters still has the capability to draw players in if they still have a system on which to play this fourteen-year-old game.
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
Publisher: EA Games
Platform: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox
While this may be one of the more well-known titles on this list, it still deserves to be mentioned because in most cases it was overshadowed by the release of the very well-received Two Towers and Return of the King movie-tie-in games. Instead of a hack-and-slash mechanic, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age functioned much like Final Fantasy, giving players a story in which they played as a soldier of Gondor who was sent out to aid Boromir and thus experience everything just behind the characters in Tolkien’s masterwork. For example, one of the first major bosses in the game is the Balrog, whom players help Gandalf defeat, while the rest of the original Fellowship flees from the mines of Moria. Players will gather a party of characters along the way, from the familiar dwarf character, Hadhod (who is basically Gimli) to completely new characters like Idrial (the she-elf who plays out similar to Legolas). The reason The Third Age was so accessible was because it was very much a classic RPG. There were no time constraints and no need for combos. The combat was turn-based, allowing players to play with only the use of a couple of buttons.
Star Gladiator Episode I: Final Crusade
There’s no way around it. Star Gladiator was a blatant Star Wars rip-off. But that’s what made it so good. Instead of the punishing combo systems of games like Street Fighter, Star Gladiator represented an easier style of arcade fighter. In fact, it has often been criticized for being too easy. But as a nine-year-old who was just getting into gaming, I loved this game. I loved being able to beat it. In fact, it was probably the first console game I had ever beaten. Players were treated to a simple, arcade-style fighter with gorgeous graphics, where combos were not necessary and where the cast of intriguing (if familiar) characters battled their way through a traditional ladder-type system that always ended with a climactic battle with the maniacal Bilstein. The other thing that I remember impressing me about Star Gladiator was that it was the first arcade-style fighter I had seen which used weapons. This added a whole new degree of much-needed depth to the game, because not every character had the same basic moves. Overall, Star Gladiator was accessible because of its ease and simplicity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a look for anyone who is into retro PlayStation games.
Publisher: Philips Interactive Media, Inc.
How’s this for obscure? I couldn’t even find a screenshot for this one. But even as an adult I have wasted too much time on this game even to bother mentioning. The premise is simple. The player is one of the four Polo brothers on a quest for wealth. Players can start in a number of cities along the historical route that Marco Polo took, and there’s no winning the game—there’s simply how much money the player can make before the journey comes to an end. When players start the game they are asked how many weeks they want their journey to take, and from then on everything is measured in days. If players want to stock up on pepper, they may have to buy out a merchant one day and then wait three days for him to restock. They could then move out of the city, travel to a place where pepper is in demand, and sell at a profit. The thing that makes this process so interesting is the fact that this game is absolutely oozing history. Along the way, they’ll meet historical characters like Genghis Khan who will ask for certain goods or certain missions to be carried out. The choices players make also impact them. I can remember being shocked as an eight-year-old when my high-scoring play-through came to an abrupt end when my entire caravan got tied in sacks and trampled by a Mongol horde because I refused to drink the goat’s milk the leader had offered me. All of the in-game dialogue is carried out using a real voice actor narrating still photographs of live actors. Because of this, its simple graphics style, and point-and-click nature, I’d recommend Marco Polo to anyone who wants to play a good DOS game.
Publisher: Lego Media
The second Lego game on our list, Lego Creator, is probably most similar to Minecraft’s create mode with a Lego skin and a third-person overhead perspective. It is purely a sandbox. Players can build whatever they want using virtual versions of the world’s most popular toy, from established sets to completely new creations. Once they create them, they can then set buttons and action cues to animate the moving parts of their creations. Want to create a busy highway and then have a five-car pileup? Can do. Want to take over a mini-figure pilot and fly your plane around the city to see what needs finishing? The game can do that too. But if you had my sense of humor, what you did is create massive stacks of solid yellow mini-figs standing on each other’s shoulders with dynamite buttons about every five mini-figures. Press play, hit the detonate button, and all of a sudden it’s raining naked Lego characters. Because of its simple point-and-click nature and its open-world, sandbox feel, Lego Creator would be completely barrier free if it came out today.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Interactive
Twisted Metal for children. That was Bumper Wars. And you know what’s awesome? I got it at a school book fair, at a school which had a very strict zero-tolerance policy towards violence. He he. Players played as an unseen driver who was imprisoned by the evil Zedites and forced into a gladiatorial bumper car game for their amusement. But this ain’t no kiddy ride at the fair. This is a no-holds barred, hit ‘em until they explode or blow ‘em up with rockets driving game that would satisfy most hard core PC gamers today. There were several different cars to choose from and a plethora of different weapons to take into various modes. In fact, it had simpler versions of everything that makes the Twisted Metal games such blockbusters. But its forgiving nature and simple, highly-customizable controls meant that I was able to beat it while still enjoying the challenge. Bumper Wars is a game that any combat racing fan would enjoy, given the chance.
Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds
No, this is not a precursor to the blockbuster first person shooter that everyone keeps moaning they want a third installment for. On the back of its case, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds boasts “Accessible gameplay built upon engine adapted from the popular Age of Empires® series.” As a result, the game plays like Age of Empires, looks like Age of Empires—ok, it’s really just Star Wars: Age of Empires. But it did have a better story than Age of Empires, because it employed more than one voice actor. And instead of being based on history, it was based (loosely) on the Star Wars universe and the events surrounding both trilogies. The game had all the accessibility of the RTS genre and gave players the opportunity to experience it in a Star Wars universe, where instead of building barracks and castles they built Jedi temples and star docks. Although it did play a little bit fast and loose with the story to have fifty Jedi running around slicing up imperial storm troopers, if you’re not a hard core fan boy and you like RTS games, this one is definitely worth a look.
One could make the argument that this game is too well-known to be on the list, but since I’m literally the only person I know that has even heard of the game, I would say it qualifies. THQ’s third person dungeon crawler was as accessible as possible, giving players lots of character customization, an easy-to-see art style, and a control scheme that could be easily executed with a single hand. It had all the features of Diablo II with one added bonus: it took place in a mythological world. Instead of running around slaying zombies and demons, players play as a Perseus-type character tasked with destroying virtually every monster in Greek, Egyptian, and Roman myth. The game features random level generation, an upgradable loot system, and even super-rare loot drops that players only have a miniscule chance of finding. Like Diablo, even though it uses a color-coding system, it was still possible to look at each item individually to determine which item was better, meaning that the color-coding system was simply a redundant convenience.
No excuses, this is an extremely nerdy entry. But I loved this game on the Encarta series of encyclopedias! (That’s right, boys and girls, there really was a time before Wikipedia, when you actually had to install an encyclopedia on your computer.) Mindmaze was a trivia game included in most Encarta software that tasks players with finding their way through an enchanted castle using a point-and-click interface. At each door the player would be faced with a trivia question and four possible answers. The possible points would get lower and lower with every wrong answer until the player either answered correctly or was given the answer by the computer. If the player was given the answer, the player would have to repeat the process with a new question. The task was to navigate through a maze of rooms and eventually find the key to disenchanting the castle. Although the game was too hard for me when I was first introduced to it, I later appreciated its value, as it is the kind of thing you need to do if you want to be really good a Trivial Pursuit.
Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim
Platform: PC, Android, iOS
Another better-known title on this list, Majesty was my first foray into the sim genre. Set in a mythological kingdom, players don’t control any units but they do build the buildings in their kingdom and set what units they want built. Once a unit is complete, it would function autonomously doing whatever it could to help the player’s cause. You could prioritize monsters that needed to be killed or areas of forest that needed to be cleared, but that was the limit of the player’s control. This approach had extremely positive effects on the game’s accessibility. Instead of having to worry about micromanaging individual units, players could simply set priorities and watch actions unfold. It was like SimCity, but better. SimCity didn’t have dragons. Beyond that, the game didn’t have much of a story, so hearing impaired gamers shouldn’t have a problem with it. And the cartoony art style made everything clearly visible, even for those with visual impairments.
Publisher: Lego Media
Ok, last Lego game. I promise. (I can’t help it—these were the games that shaped my childhood!) But how can a game that is designed to teach kids chess be any fun for adults? Simple: character. This game is dripping with character, from the whimsical character of the king who narrates all the chess lessons (explaining the knights, for example, as having BMX bikes that can jump over other pieces), to the individual matches which featured either classic, pirate, or Western-style Lego-themed chess sets. But the best part of this game was the little cut scenes that initiated every time a player captured a piece. Whether it was a pirate pawn mini-fig sneaking up behind a pirate queen and dumping her into an open sea chest or another zany scenario, this game encouraged players to make stupid moves in taking chess pieces just to see how the different combinations would interact. But it also taught good chess lessons along the way. The game is as accessible as the non-digital board game of chess. Point-and-click mechanics with no time limit (unless you wanted one) and an art style that made sure you knew what each piece was and where it could move when you selected it made this game extremely accessible.
Star Trek: Legacy
Platform: PC, Xbox 360
Star Trek: Legacy was the perfect mix of PC flight sim and starship technology. Players were tasked with taking control of ships from all five television series as they battle the Federation’s age old enemy, the Borg. They also take part in historical battles against the Klingon Empire in the Kirk years and against various rouge factions that pop up throughout the game. The best part about this game was the staggering amount of selection that the player has to choose from. There were dozens of Federation, Klingon, Romulan, and Borg ships to choose from, all of which handled a little differently and had unique strengths and weaknesses. The game had a thorough subtitle system, and because of its sparse interstellar background it would be easy for visually impaired players to keep the main ship-to-ship combat in view. When played on PC, the game was even more accessible since the controls were completely remappable. It even gave players a scenario mode in which they could answer the age old question, “Which would win in a fight? Voyager or the Defiant?”