Yes, it’s another one of those posts. No, I was not invited or challenged, deal with it. Yes, I am so old that I have to break this up into multiple parts, but OH WELLLLLLLL! Now on with the self-explanatory show…
These first few entries will be pretty brief since I was busy spending the first few years of the 80’s learning to walk and use a toilet and such. I did have a cousin with an Atari 2600 and a huge pile of games though, so I really did play these early ones, just not in the actual years of their release.
I don’t think I’ve played Berzerk since the early 80’s, but I do remember it as being one of my favorite Atari titles from my cousin’s big haul. There was just something appealing about the mazes full of deadly robots and cool sound effects, despite how laughably simple it was in both appearance and design.
Defender was another one I remember enjoying a lot for an Atari game. Never could get anywhere in the damn game, but being able to fly horizontally in both directions and engage in fast paced combat and rescue missions was pretty advanced for its time.
Joust was another of my Atari favorites. Again, could never finish the damn game (I’m not sure that most of these Atari titles even had endings), but it was always fun to try. Just having to jump on your enemies head, whether you were playing against the computer or a friend, seemed so simple, but was always a lot trickier than it looked.
Ahh. One of my favorite ancient arcade games came out this year. Yes, it’s Sinistar! He always looked so damn cool as he was spitting out catchphrases like “I HUNGER!” while kicking my ass. I never did beat the guy. I should really do that one of these days…
This was a pretty slow year for games apparently. Not a lot of good choices. The best I came up with was King’s Quest, even though this first game in the series was far from the best and I was more of a Space Quest guy. Still, it was an important game as it was arguably the start of a long era of popular Sierra adventure games.
I can never quite remember what the very first game I played was or what year that happened in, but I do remember very clearly the first game I ever owned on the first game system I ever had. Having gone back and played the original Super Mario Bros. not that long ago, I still am of the opinion that it doesn’t hold up as well at all as other, later games in the series, but there’s no denying that it was an incredibly important game not just for me, but the whole gaming world.
It may seem clunky and dated now, but in 1985 it was practically a religious experience being able to play something this advanced in your own home and I’ll never forget that feeling.
Who would have thought that a game with a commercial like THIS would have become such a huge, undying hit? This was the second NES game I ever had it was another one that left quite an impression on me. The Legend of Zelda was the closest thing to an RPG that I’d ever played at this point, and the world was so huge and complicated that it was almost overwhelming. Man, did it take me a long time to finally get to Ganon and beat him, and you know, I never did beat that second quest. Yet another thing to add to the to-do list, I guess.
And then there was Contra, possibly the most perfect game ever made! I’ll never forget Christmas of 1987, where I begged for Contra and was so excited to pull this very clearly NES game shaped present out from under the tree, only to unwrap it and see…Golf. Fucking Golf. Who even had this game? I was traumatized…for about 2 minutes until my dad handed me another present with Contra in it. Whew. Close one.
Contra is easily the best game ever released for the NES, and I’d even go as far as to call it one of the top 5 greatest games of all time. The graphics and sound were mind-blowing for a home system at the time. The large variety of enemies, bosses, and environments were extremely well designed and memorable. The length and pacing of the game is just perfect, it’s short enough to jump into at any time and long enough to still feel fulfilling. It also has one of the best and most iconic soundtracks of all time.
I have long since lost count of how many times I’ve played it. 50? 100? Who knows? I never get tired of it though. I kind of want to play it again right now just thinking about it.
Most people would probably pick Mega Man 2 here, and I do love Mega Man 2, but I had a soft spot for a different Capcom game that year, Bionic Commando. Even though it was a clunkier game than Mega Man 2, there was just something so exciting about swinging around on that bionic arm like Spider-Man to make your way through a large selection of levels filled with nasty enemies, bosses, and deathtraps. I also got a big kick out of exploding Hitler’s head at the end, because even though they changed his name to Master D in the American version, we all fucking knew who that was!
Then the very next year Capcom stole my gaming heart again with the amazing Strider! Looking back on it, it was kind an early, rough form of the now-common Metroidvania formula, with a lot of backtracking, and areas and bosses that were locked behind obstacles that you needed to find certain items to unlock. Like Bionic Commando, it was a bit clunky in retrospect, but it just had such style. Great levels, great enemies, great music, like usual for a Capcom game. I was really hooked on this game as a kid. I memorized the password for the last level for some reason and still remember it today. I even used to write weird little fanfiction adventures that continued the story after the game ended (No I don’t still have them, I’m sure they were horrible).
And then the 16-bit age arrived. I was actually much more of a Genesis kid, since that came out a few years before Super Nintendo so I already had one and had built up a decent sized library, leaving my parents unwilling to buy me another new system again so soon after the last 2. I had to wait a while until they came down in price and then didn’t get too many games for it before the next big thing was already out, but anyway, the point is that even though I was more of a Genesis guy, I still have to give this year to a SNES game because ActRaiser was just that damn good.
Part side-scrolling fantasy action game, part RTS/god simulator, ActRaiser had the best, most unique gameplay of the year. It’s also got another one of the greatest soundtracks in game history.
I’m certain that I didn’t get this game until a few years after it came out, because I clearly remember selling my 3DO and using the money to buy my first PC CD-ROM drive. It was a 2x speed and it cost over $200. That’s some high tech shit. To be fair, it also came with a large pack of CD games, the most notable of which was Wing Commander 2. Thus began my love affairs with space combat sims and Origin games.
I had played the original Wing Commander on Super Nintendo and it was fun, but the sequel improved on the formula in every way, with greatly improved combat mechanics and a very cinematic story for its time. It was just the first of many amazing CD games for PC over the next several years…
But like I said, first there was the 3DO. I was the only one I knew who had one of these things and I have no idea how I managed to talk my dad into getting me one because holy shit were they expensive. It was a pretty cool system while it lasted though. It was like having a PlayStation a few years before PlayStation came out. The best game for it turned out to be Star Control 2 though. The 3DO version was an enhanced version of the PC game of the same name, with full CD audio, complete voiceovers, and some new intro and epilogue movies added.
Anyway, Star Control 2 is kind of like an early version of Mass Effect, with you playing the mysterious captain of a high-powered ship who needs to search the universe for allies and weapons to fight off the evil aliens, the Ur-Quan. There’s a massive universe to explore, filled with a large array of fascinating alien races that you can either befriend or annihilate, which usually involves some highly amusing conversations either way. The arcade-style combat features many interesting alien ships, with many interesting sets of abilities. It also has a planet exploration and resource mining mini-game that’s more fun than it has any right to be (and makes you wonder why Mass Effect could never get that part right)!
It’s just an amazing fucking game. In fact it’s another of my top 5 greatest games of all time! And you know what else? You can download a legally free port of it right now!!!!
Oh look, it’s another of my top 5 greatest games of all time! Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos is the ultimate dungeon crawler, with great visual design, great combat, and most importantly a great, easy to use UI (something a lot of old dungeon crawlers have trouble with). If you have any interest in complex dungeons packed full of awesome enemies, puzzles, traps, weapons, spells, and loot, then you need to play this game!
I cannot state enough how huge the variety of content is or how high quality it is. Soooo many amazing levels and enemies, and sooooo many different ways to survive/kill them all! Just a truly brilliant classic game.
Also an honorable mention must go to…
It can’t beat Lands of Lore, but it can’t go unmentioned either. It’s just too great and important of a game, so much so that people are still making mods for it to this day. While it was Wolfenstein 3D that originally pulled me into PC gaming, it was Doom that appeared to chew Wolfenstein up and spit it out. While there were many valiant efforts to be the next big FPS game, like Heretic, Rise of the Triad, and Duke Nukem 3D, nothing quite managed to top the brutal simplicity of Doom. It set the standard for the genre for most of the 90’s until giants like Quake 2 and Half-Life finally entered the scene (but more on those later…).
Speaking of Heretic…it was basically just a fantasy version of Doom that used the same engine, but Raven Software put so much effort into it that it didn’t feel like a mere mod, no this was a completely different game and it came awfully close to being just as good as Doom itself. Heretic spawned a few impressive sequels like Hexen and Hexen 2, but then the series died down after Heretic 2 decided to become a 3rd-person shooter for some reason and didn’t do very well. Heretic seems to be the last major shooter from back in those old days that hasn’t been relaunched, and I’ll never understand why, because it was a damn good game.
Another amazing, and criminally underrated, game that came out in the CD-ROM era was Crusader – No Remorse. This game took an unusual approach to action, putting you in an isometric view that looked like it belonged in an RPG, but somehow it really worked here. Complex level design, a large variety of enemies and weapons, and destructible environments made this offbeat action game a huge surprise hit for me. It also had a lot of laughably bad FMV cutscenes, because it was the 90’s so of course it did. High quality, but risky, genre hybrid games like this were what made Origin a legend of gaming back in the day. If you don’t already know, they used to be a huge PC game development company before EA swallowed them whole and oddly enough, shut them down because they didn’t make good enough online-only games for them. Fucking EA.
Well, I think that’s enough for this time. Stay tuned for the next part coming next week, if you’re into that sort of thing…