Islands are the biggest 'get-out-of-jail-free' cards in videogame design. Firstly, they allow developers to create a defined perimeter without having to explain away invisible walls with forcefields or malaria. It also gives them license to plausibly fill said island with anything from dinosaurs to trifle. It's an island – it can be anything it needs to be.
It was playing Treasure Island Dizzy recently that became the basis for this list. The excitement of an uncharted island to explore may not have changed over the years, but its execution certainly has. Where we used to play on islands of treasure or rainbows, we now face convicts, pimps and ninjas. Both kinds have their merits, but which is best? Let's find out...
Jurassic Park - 1993
Why is it so great?
Michael Crichton's vision of a prehistoric theme park may as well have been designed as the setting for a videogame. It's a shame, really, that the film (and book) came out during gaming's relative infancy. Still, it gave us two of gaming's best-ever 'wow' moments.
Above: The painful realisation that these graphics were still ten years off
The first was a pre-rendered first-person area in the Mega-CD version. Sadly, these visuals cost far too much money to last for an entire game, so the visitor centre was the only place that looked genuinely amazing. Like this, in fact.
'One day', we thought, 'all games will look this good'. But we were brought crashing back to earth with the SNES version of JP, which gave our first proper first person shooting action on a home console:
Quite a come-down, looking at it with today's eyes, but back then, it was one of the most impressive things anyone had ever seen, ever.
Other coolness of note
Almost every console's version of Isla Nublar had something impressive to offer. On Game Gear it was running around in front of a massive diplodocus. On Mega Drive it was the overkill of using the heaviest Tranq rocket on a compy and watching the poor thing disintegrate on impact. Even the Game Boy version had decent egg-collecting gameplay and amazing music.
Above: Aww, it's looking at you! Best shoot it in the face with a rocket
Only really on the Mega Drive version. There's one section where you slide down jungle tree trunks until you realise it's just repeating and jump off. However, if you stay on it for enough repetitions, all the sprites besides Dr Grant disappear, leaving you with no ammo and no enemies. And subsequently 'no fun'.
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball - 2003
As islands go, this is right up there with the best of them. Just look at this list of awesomeness: There's a swimming pool to laze around in, cycle paths, shops, a casino, several sweet hotels, a water slide, jet-ski races around the bay, an on-site radio station, several volleyball courts, a coral reef to swim around and even a beach-side swing for those sunset moments. Seriously, that's one heck of an island Zack's got there.
Above: There it is, in all its glory. But that's a funny-looking mountain...
Other coolness of note:
Oh yeah, the island is full of supremely fit martial arts babes, who like nothing better than doing exercises in front of cameras in their beachwear and trying to knock each other into the pool using nought but their bikini-clad bums.
Above: Zack Island - where it's always Spring Break
Alas, it had to be too good to be true. That 'funny looking mountain' is an active volcano, which has been known to erupt and destroy all of the above. Oh.
Above: You gotta feel sorry for poor Zack. This happens twice