1. Incredible Crisis: Sex on a Ferris Wheel -- for Grandma
In an ancient issue of the now sadly defunct Nintendo Power magazine, Incredible Crisis designer Kenichi Nishi described his approach to games as taking a genre and "breaking it down and rebuilding it again in a unique way." With credits on games like the obscure but charming Chibi-Robo!, as well as the utterly baffling Nintendo-sanctioned Captain Rainbow it's easy to see what he means. Nishi's games always seem to prioritize a manic sense of energy over, you know, making a lick of sense. None more so than 1999's Incredible Crisis.
Mechanically the game isn't all that distinct: its many, crazy vignettes basically boil down to rhythm and mini-games. Tear your eyes away from the scrolling button prompts for a moment, however, and you'll witness a plot that is ever-so-important to the history of video games.
It's Grandma Haruko's birthday, and she wants everyone in her working class family home early to celebrate. Her quartet of neglectful kin have all forgotten, of course, but even so they each attempt to fulfill her wish and make it home on time. That, however, is where things get tricky.
What follows is a series of disasters that sees each member of the family saving UFOs, battling a giant teddy bear and having sex with a stranger in a ferris wheel.
Despite the rather conventional gameplay, the absurdity of Incredible Crisis has gained it a strong cult following. That -- alongside the smooth, cartoonish art style -- means that the game actually holds up pretty well even today. And if you can't track down a copy there are actually arcade versions of the game floating around out there still. Assuming you live in Japan, that is. Or Europe, where Richard Branson actually had a hand in bringing the stand-up edition of Incredible Crisis to befuddled costumers all across the continent.
Now that is a game development story we would like to see a documentary about.
2. PaRappa the Rapper and UmJammer Lammy
PaRappa the Rapper is almost certainly the most recognizable game on this list, and for good reason. Its 2D-and-3D-had-a-baby art style and catchy tunes make it incredibly easy on the eyes and ears even nearly 20 years after its original release.
If you're reading this list, and yet still aren't familiar with the PlayStation classic then we can clue you in. It's about a talking dog with a beanie and poor impulse control who raps his way through everyday life in order to court a humanoid flower. To the player, this translates into a lot of rhythmic pressing of buttons.
PaRappa's totally mundane adventures include learning kung-fu (just like we all did in the 90s), driving lessons, baking a cake, and in the highly coveted ability to cut in line at the bathroom. Its unique world, style, and music have helped make PaRappa the Rapper something of a mascot in nostalgic PlayStation marketing. Which we can thank for the game being as recognizable as it is today.
UmJammer Lammy is PaRappa's indirect, lesser-known (and many would argue better) sequel. It also turns the weirdness of its sister game's anthropomorphized world up to about eleven.
Lammy, the sequel's protagonist, is a lamb so introverted she can barely make it to rehearsal for her band MilkCan on time without having a panic attack. Lammy discovers that to overcome this she simply has to imagine any convenient, nearby object -- a fire fighter's hose, perhaps, or someone else's baby -- as a guitar. Pretending to be onstage gives her the confidence to make it through a much more bizarre series of antics than her predecessor. It also makes for some incredibly trippy hallucinations in an already seemingly drug-addled nightmare world.
Lammy is easily the "weirder" of the two games, but PaRappa gets points for building the shared world first. Sadly, both games are tough to go back and actually play in the 21st century. Modern HDTVs simply have too much input lag for these gems. At the very least, however, you owe it to yourself to watch a sapient onion teach talking animals how to perform violence on YouTube.