10 Games that Shaped the Modern Console Scene (with Videos!)
As surely as spring follows winter, the rumblings of a new generation of video game consoles are once more upon us. To make sense of the future, however, we must first understand the past. Let us therefore take a break from trying to make sense of the Wii U and look back at the games of earlier console generations that shaped the scene we know and love today.
10. Super Mario Bros (1985, Nintendo Entertainment System)
There's a reason why this game established Nintendo's portly plumber as his generation's Mickey Mouse and single-handedly reinvigorated the North American video game industry after it slumped badly in the early 80s. In contrast to the innumerable Pong variations that soured players on earlier consoles like the Atari 2600, the NES and Super Mario Bros invited them to immerse themselves in a vividly realized world that encouraged exploration via its secret shortcuts and hidden power-ups. It ain't exactly Skyrim, but in its day the Mushroom Kingdom was by far the most richly-realized world in gaming.
9. Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega Genesis)
Sonic may have fallen on hard times in this brave new millennium of ours, but back in the early 90s SEGA's second attempt to craft a mascot to rival Mario — poor Alex Kidd never really found his footing — became a bona fide gaming superstar overnight. The secret of the game's success lay in SEGA's decision to funnel the processing power of its Genesis console toward realizing its protagonists' incredible speed. Where Super Mario Bros. players had to carefully consider the timing of their every move to be successful, visitors to Sonic's world were encouraged to throw caution to the wind and indulge their inner Evil Knievel. Without Sonic there would be no SSX. Adrenaline-seeking gamers everywhere owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the loop-the-looping erinaceid.
8. Mortal Kombat (1993, Sega Genesis)
Let me preface by saying that I was always more of a Street Fighter guy myself. However, the cultural impact of Midway's rival fighting franchise just can't be overlooked. Both series brought the competitive spirit of the arcade scene, which was once a thing that existed, to home consoles. Only Mortal Kombat featured the thrillingly over-the-top fatality moves that pissed off mom and dad — not to mention Joe Liberman and Tipper Gore — and broke dubious ground in the field of console warfare via their omission form the Super Nintendo version of the game. If you wanted to see Sub-Zero rip out Liu Kang's spine you had to be playing the game on a Genesis, a major feather in SEGA's cap at the time.
7. Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64)
Yup, Mario gets two games on this list. Can you really begrudge him it? The Nintendo 64 may have been an eccentric piece of hardware in many ways, but there's no denying the impact its flagship game had upon release. Like Super Mario Bros. just over a decade earlier, Super Mario 64 represented a quantum leap in the immersive power of gaming. Mario was no longer confined to two dimensions like a comic strip character, but free to explore a 3D world just as packed with character as his flatter travails had been. Guiding the mustachioed wonder through a fully realized virtual space was a revelation at the time, and just as SMB drew the blueprint for every subsequent platformer of the 8- and 16-bit eras, so too has every 3D platformer drawn extensively from Super Mario 64's schematics.
6. Final Fantasy VII (1997, Playstation)
****15-YEAR-OLD SPOILER ALERT***** Sephiroth kills Aeris roughly a third of the way through Final Fantasy VII. These days us artsy-fartsy types love to wax philosophically about the narrative capabilities of games, but a decade and a half ago, the blunt-force trauma of the sudden and, no matter what your buddy might have tried to convince you, permanent death of a party member convinced many gamers of the medium's potential for emotionally charged storytelling. That one-winged bastard offed the girl you'd spent the last 15 hours falling for! Unless you were more of a Tifa guy... or girl. But I digress. While the games pre-rendered backgrounds and LEGO-esque character models may not seem quite as immersive by today's standards, FF VII still stands as the long-running series' high watermark for many fans and for good reason.
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