Q: Really? An entire decade?
A: Consider this: If I focused on individual years, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire would be my game of ’96 essentially by default. The only other ’96 games in my library — Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu and Sakura Taisen — are reasonably recent purchases that I’ve barely touched. (In the case of Sakura Taisen, I don’t even have a Sega Saturn to play it on.)
Most of the decade would follow a similar pattern. 1993? Star Fox, because the biggest competition is Super Off Road: The Baja and *sigh* The Incredible Crash Dummies. 1990? ActRaiser, based entirely off the limited amount of time I spent with the Wii Virtual Console version. The competition? Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi and the Japanese version of Dragon Quest IV, neither of which I’ve played yet.
This won’t change anytime soon, either. Not until I drop recent releases like Uncharted 4 and Tokyo Mirage Sessions and focus on old-school games.
Q: No Symphony of the Night? No Metal Gear Solid? No Star Fox, Final Fantasy III (VI), or Super Mario 64? Not even GoldenEye 007?
A: Nope, nope, nope. In a few cases, I just haven’t spent enough time with the big names (Mario 64, Castlevania: SotN) to add them to any lists. Others, like Metal Gear Solid, I didn’t enjoy enough as the rest of the world. And I don’t even want to replay GoldenEye. Nothing about that game makes me think it’s aged well, from the pre-Halo controls to the faces plastered onto the heads.
I jumped into the original Half-Life after Halo: Combat Evolved, Call of Duty 2, and Half-Life 2, so I already experienced where the first-person shooter genre was headed before playing Valve’s landmark debut. Half-Life makes a more modest impression than it did almost two decades ago, but it aged fairly well. The graphics naturally took a hit (Black Mesa perfected cloning, right?) and the story is inconsequential , but moving through an adventure with almost no off-screen leaps in time and/or location is still novel.
Available Where? Steam, of course. Half-Life comes in two flavors: regular and Source. The former is the original Half-Life, while the latter is Half-Life spruced up with aspects introduced in Half-Life 2. Such improvements include object physics and more realistic water.
After being a temporary power-up in Mega Man X3, Zero debuts as a full character in the first original Mega Man X game for PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Capcom used the more powerful hardware and CD medium to not only create larger, more detailed sprites, but add animated cutscenes and mediocre voice acting (as per the course for this period of gaming). X is joined by Zero, who gains sword techniques from defeated bosses, but otherwise X4 plays largely the same as previous games. Unfortunately, the “X” series only went downhill from here.
Available Where? There’s always the Mega Man X Collection on GameCube and PlayStation 2, but the more modern solution is buying X4 on PlayStation Network for PS3 and Vita.
After the oddity that was Super Mario Land, Nintendo R&D1 returned a few years later with a somewhat more conventional Mario game. I mean, if scaling a massive replica of Mario created by LEGO-like blocks is conventional. Our plumber hero is also swallowed by a huge turtle and sent into space 15 years before Super Mario Galaxy before charging into his castle (Mario owning a castle seems out-of-character, but whatever) to take on Wario. By the way, this marks the first appearance of Mario’s fatter, greedier, and more disgusting doppelganger.
Available Where? Nintendo tossed both Mario Land games on 3DS Virtual Console, so they’re easy to find.
Few Star Wars games felt as authentic to the original film trilogy than the Rogue Squadron series, but before Factor 5 (RIP) created GameCube best launch game with Rogue Leader, they created Star Wars: Rogue Squadron on Nintendo 64 and PC. The talented studio deftly made Nintendo’s 64-bit console sing with great visuals (thanks in part to N64’s Expansion Pack, which upped the resolution) and crisp audio. Everything about the game felt right, making Rogue Squadron one of a few third-party games on N64 that deserves to stand proud alongside Nintendo’s own efforts.
Available Where? There were plans to re-release the Rogue Squadron trilogy on Wii, but that never came to pass, leaving us with two options: Steam or Good Old Games (GOG). In both places, the game has the subtitle Rogue Squadron 3D.
I’d be interested in hearing public opinion of Final Fantasy VII had it not been a mainstream success that made RPGs cool (for a time, anyway). Would the game be called an ambitious-but-flawed adventure? Overall good, if not great? That’s where I’m at. VII isn’t the best RPG, much less the best Final Fantasy, but it’s a fun game. Unfortunately, the use of then-modern technology to beef up its presentation means that every year makes the game less impressive. I mean, this pre-rendered backgrounds? Yikes!
Available Where? PlayStation Network, for one, playable on PS3 and Vita, although the HD port on Steam and PlayStation 4 may be a better option. There’s also the upcoming, episodic (for lack of a better word) remake, but that looks to alter the original significantly.
Freed from the shackles of being a Mario game, Wario Land allowed Nintendo R&D1 the opportunity to head into a bit of a different direction for the Mario Land series. Wario still changes with power-ups and collects coins, but jumping on enemies only stuns, allowing our anti-hero to snatch them up. Obviously, that’s not exactly like Super Mario Bros. 2, but similar while giving Wario Land its own identity within the growing Mario universe. And it’s an identity centered around greed.
Available Where? As with the two Mario Land games, Wario Land is available on 3DS Virtual Console.
Ocarina of Time hasn’t aged gracefully, and I’m far from the first to say that. The world doesn’t feel as large or alive (the handful of pre-rendered backgrounds are atrocious), and the combat is more simple than later installments, but it’s still a great adventure. Dungeons — the meat of any Zelda game — remain a joy, while aspects of the world retains the whimsy that characterizes most games in the series. Ocarina of Time lost a fair amount of its luster as the excitement around a 3D Zelda forever vanished, but I’d happily recommend it. I’d recommend the 3DS remake more, though.
Excluding the aforementioned 3DS remake, Ocarina of Time is available on Wii and (in HD) Wii U. If you’re feeling retro, Ocarina is also on GameCube via the Ocarina of Time Master Quest (a pre-order bonus for The Wind Waker) and a Zelda compilation bundled with the console.
There was a time when this game would’ve been ranked much higher, but playing Mario Kart 8 made me realize just how damn slippery Super Mario Kart is. There’s an adjustment period, at least for me, to get used to this SNES classic. Of course, there’s plenty to enjoy once adjusted to racing in Mode 7, including memorable tracks, almost the entirety of battle mode, and the inclusion of the feather.
Available Where? It’s not difficult to find a way to play the original Super Mario Kart with Virtual Console releases on Wii and Wii U, along with 3DS. Every track is also unlockable in Mario Kart: Super Circuit for GBA, also on Wii U VC.
Wario did what Mario could only dream of: conquer death. There’s no shrinking to a smaller form when hit, but instead Wario loses coins. There’s also no power-ups. Wario changes when hit by specific enemies or environmental elements. He grows fat after eating a cake, allowing him to crash through certain floor blocks. Zombies turn Wario into an undead, weights squish him, and bubbles float him past currents. There’s a bunch of secrets (including multiple alternate paths) and creativity on display.
Available Where? Once more, 3DS Virtual Console has Wario Land II. That’s also where you’ll find the third Wario Land, while the fourth game is on the Wii U.
You kids with your classic Blue Bomber. I grew up with the original Mega Man X, a game just challenging enough that I could beat the eight Maverick robots, but couldn’t defeat Sigma until years later. Mega Man X doesn’t change up too much of the regular Mega Man gameplay — dashing instead of sliding, climbing walls, upgrades), but introduces a future long after Mega Man that felt dark and edge when you’re 13. Still an awesome game.
Available Where? Outside of Mega Man X Collection for GameCube and PlayStation 2, Mega Man X hit Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Consoles. PSP remake Mega Man Maverick Hunter X is also available, which can be purchased on PlayStation Network and transferred to Vita.
The theme park simulator that prompted a whole generation to drown hundreds of thousands of guests by deleting the path under their feet and dropping them into water. Outside of a somewhat frustrating camera, RollerCoaster Tycoon is damn near perfect. The number of options at the player’s control is impressive, even allowing the god-like ability to hear a specific guest’s thoughts. The only notable improvement from sequels that’s missing here is being able to ride coasters.
Available Where? If you have a vendetta against keyboard and mouse, RollerCoaster Tycoon was ported to the original Xbox. Sane people should head to Steam or Good Old Games (GOG).
As one of the greatest games ever, Super Mario World needs little introduction. It’s an incredible platformer filled with wonderful levels and tons of secrets. It’s our introduction to Yoshi, a great companion that everyone happily kills off to reach that higher platformer. I’m more than a little biased towards Mario World, though, as this is the first game I ever owned. Still one of my favorites, too.
Available Where? Unsurprisingly, Mario’s SNES debut isn’t scarce. Versions of Super Mario All-Stars (SNES carts, not the Wii version) contain World, and it was later ported to GBA. Virtual Console releases include Wii (SNES version), Wii U (SNES and GBA versions), and 3DS (SNES version).
Kids might point to F-Zero GX as the standard for Nintendo’s long-ignored racing franchise, but F-Zero X will always be my favorite. (And I write “always” because it doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting a new game anytime soon.) The courses are varied and attacking competitors is a more viable option. F-Zero X even includes a “death race” mode, placing racers on a simple track and tasks the player with destroying the others are quickly as possible.
Available Where? F-Zero X is available on Wii’s Virtual Console, but hasn’t graced the Wii U. Maybe the Wii U can’t handle such speeds in HD? (3DS couldn’t apparently handle SNES games until New 3DS, so who knows.)
Back when I couldn’t be more of a Pokémon fan, I purchased a book designed for playing the Japanese versions of Gold and Silver (not yet available in English), so I imported Gold and began my new Pokémon. I couldn’t understand a word, but it still felt cool to be playing it before most of the country. It helps that Gold/Silver improved on or added plenty of additional content and features, including real-time day/night cycle, genders, breeding, and 100 new Pokémon. I was obsessed.
Available Where? The Virtual Console releases of Red, Blue, and Yellow is a cause for hope that Nintendo will re-release Gold, Silver, and Crystal. For the more impatient among us, Game Freak remade Gold/Silver for DS as HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Say hello to my favorite game ever, a masterfully created platformer that strayed from many Mario conventions to create something unique and inventive. It’s full of clever ideas, few repeated later, such as the fuss balls in the level “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy”. The crayon drawing aesthetic remains gorgeous two decades later, and the soundtrack is a regular resident of my iPod. Put simply, it’s a classic.
Available Where? Yoshi’s Island was ported to GBA, although aspects were diminished in the process, which was later brought to Wii U Virtual Console. Mysteriously, the SNES version has never been made available on modern consoles.