As the new consoles descend upon us next month, I find myself looking back more often than forward to the coming generation. Maybe it’s some dorky version of a mid-life crisis? With new hardware, games, online features, and controllers; it can be tough to let go of all those fond memories. When you think about it, gamers spend YEARS, several at that, interfacing with a specific controller for a specific system. This nerd-intimacy shouldn’t be underestimated. With that, here are a couple of games from the bygone years that shaped my taste in gaming today.
(Not explanation needed)
This was perhaps one of the fewest titles ever that sold me on box art alone. Regardless of box art, I was glad it turned out to be a great game too. Contra really made me feel like an unstoppable commando. Throw in a millions explosions and swarms of aliens and you’ve got yourself an 8-bit action masterpiece. Many people have discussions about their favorite weapon, but for me it was the Spread gun or nothing. Screw that crappy Laser or the Corkscrew gun. I want either the Spread gun or the default white pellets. It’s the only way you can survive the game without using the Konami code.
1. Battletoads and Double Dragon
In the early 90s, Battletoads Double Dragon was the ultimate crossover at the time. There are crossovers left and right now, but BTDD was the biggest piece of fan service for any side-scrolling beat-em up aficionado. There was no other. It did come out on the SNES and Genesis; but as a kid with only a NES at the time, the 8-bit graphics still held up very well. It had everything! Intergalactic fist-morphing toads, weapon elements from the Double Dragon series, the cycle sequences from Battletoads, side-scrolling shooting, on top of fighting your way to every boss from BOTH series!
3. Street Fighter II: Turbo
My love of fighting games all started here. The SNES controller was perfect to the arcade configuration. Even to this day, whenever I play a Street Fighter game I maintain the buttons the same way I do on the SNES – Light and Medium on the face and Heavy on the shoulders. SF2T was the perfect arcade port for the perfect 2D fighting controller. This was my personal golden era of Street fighter.
Every room is a piece of exploration, every discovery a puzzle, every puzzle an action sequence. The precursor to the term “Metroidvania”, Super Metroid is one of the best 2D action platformers ever created. The world of Zebes was brought to life in colorful 16-bit glory. The sense of discovery I felt in my initial playthrough of Super Metroid has remained unmatched to this day. Nintendo constantly gave players a carrot at the end of the stick. The “level” design told the story through pure gameplay, new powerups, and a new suit kept me chipping away at my save file.
I’m going to leave this here:
Golden Axe was one of the first Genesis games I lost sleep over. Simultaneously, my grades in elementary school started taking a hit. It added a few new elements to the beat-em up genre, a spell system, mounted creatures with special attacks, and 3 characters that played somewhat differently. It used all of the Genesis’ 3 glorious buttons; attack, jump, and spell. That extra button really mixed things up.
Vectorman was Sega’s answer to Mega Man. The spherical protagonist was one of the more graphically intense player models of the era. Every time something blew up the screen would shake absurdly. Boss fights sold games during the 16-bit era and Vectorman was no exception. It had you shooting down fighter jets in the first level. It was totally rad. Yep, rad
Sonic and Knuckles was a game and concept all in one. You could play Sonic and Knuckles standalone, which was a great game in it’s own right. OR, you could connect previous Sonic titles onto the cartridge and play as the new title protagonist. It was an expansion and DLC on consoles years before it was taken to the degree it is at now. Not only that, but it was the best damn Sonic title yet.
3D fighting games carried some form of mystique in the mid-90’s. We all knew where 3D was headed. To see 2 giant polygonal martial artists fighting on screen was nearly sensory overload. I didn’t understand the (now) common understanding of side-stepping – the idea of background AND foreground combat. As a hardcore Street Fighter fan, I had to admit I was a little jealous. Can’t beat em? Join em. I got a Saturn.
Addictive on-rails shooting, cinematic story-telling, RPG elements. You’re crazy Sega! They gave me what I didn’t know I wanted. I’ve never owned it, but I rented the hell out of this title from the local Blockbuster constantly. Currently, going for over $500 on ebay, it is clear that there is a passionate fan base surrounding the Panzer series. Panzer Dragoon Orta released on the original Xbox and Crimson Dragon is set to release on the Xbox One as a “spiritual successor”. They already have my money.
Virtua Cop cultivated my unhealthy obsession with light gun games. Yes, it was highly scripted. Yes, the visuals were kinda bland; even for it’s time. But if you had a light gun for your Saturn it was because of Virtua Cop. I use to go into 2 player mode holding both light guns like a proper badass.
Zombies, zombies, zombies. I thought Resident Evil 2 was the pinnacle of the franchise. The memorable beginning set the tone for the rest of the game. It had a pitch-perfect sense of action and suspense. While ammo and supplies were scarce, it was never debilitating. It gave you head space to take down the undead hordes and it felt like the developers were taking care of you. RE1 was revolutionary and genre-defining, RE2 fine-tuned it’s previous masterpiece with better pacing and thrills. Plus, Claire and Leon were much more likeable than Jill and Chris.
I remember the Volume 8 demo disc that came with my PS1. It had a little title called Metal Gear Solid on it. I recall trying it out and got something I wasn’t expecting. The initial sneaking point had credits popping up on screen as I continued my gameplay. This gave the game a more movie-like feel. At the time, it was strange having movie elements mix in with gameplay, but I was hooked ever since. As Liquid’s Hind took off and my Dualshock came to life, I knew I had to have it. Three console generations later I’m still awaiting the next title in the ongoing series.
Everyone should play this game. 3 Discs to rule them all. I’ll leave it at that because this horse has been beaten to death.
I don’t normally like flight games and the original Star Fox didn’t strike my fancy (Mode 7 and all). But Star Fox 64’s included Rumble Pack really immersed me in the flight combat. Some levels were linear, but there were levels that opened up the battlefield to player freedom. The “All-Range” mode allowed players to navigate a 3D battlefield to take down other ace pilots. There was even a ballin’ cockpit view for the purists, one that I used in conjunction with the Rumble Pack to put myself in the pilot’s seat. I still take this title for a spin via the Virtual Console.
It was the reason you bought more controllers than you normally would. It was the reason you walked around the neighborhood with N64 controllers hanging from your neck. You wanted to get together with 3 other friends and smash them into oblivion. At first, everyone was a little reluctant when it was known that Nintendo was making a fighting game. It didn’t take much convincing before everyone was on board with Nintendo’s grand gesture of fan service. The series has evolved since into a formidable competitive fighting space. I’m already looking forward to the next addition of Smash on the Wii U.
No other game on the N64 was held in higher regard. Zelda not only survived the jump from 2D to 3D, but helped define 3D action (dare I say RPGs?) as well. Z-targeting removed any clumsy sword wielding and surprisingly the “auto-jump” feature lessened a lot of frustration. The scope of the story spanned years that led to ongoing discussions concerning the Zelda series’ timeline. No other game on the N64 has created more of a conversation. Gold cartridge. Gold cartridge. Gold cartridge!