|For he's a jolly good platform.|
Quintet / Enix, 1995
This RPG was exported from Japan a bit late, so I don't blame you if you don't remember it - so late that like many SNES games that weren't supported by a huge promotional budget or fanbase set by a predecessor, it wasn't released in the U.S. at all. Terranigma was never too beautiful to watch, either, but personally, I think this action-oriented RPG obviously influenced by Zelda, and conceived by the creators of ActRaiser had more attraction to it that the critically acclaimed Secret of Mana, which I have always thought to garner in so much praise just because it was a Square game released at a capital time.
One of the most curious things about the Super Nintendo was that many of its greatest games were released within its first year on the market. Today, launch titles don't stand for much, not anymore; the big wigs want to concentrate on the sales of the platforms on the wing of their technical values, not the games. Well, the Japanese release of the Super Famicom coincided with the release of Super Mario World and another, whole new game called F-Zero - a revolutionary futuristic racing title that went on to influence Sony's WipEout series, and took every graphical advantage of the SNES' new Mode 7 chip. I would imagine the plan was more or less to make a technical demo, surely enjoyed by a small audience and admired by everyone else for its graphics, but F-Zero turned out quite the hit.
Quintet / Enix, 1990
Due to its very sensitive theme considering the times and Nintendo of America's policies, ActRaiser could've easily been exclusively released in Japan. However, I guess non-Japanese testers let the game pass with such flying colours that liberties had to be taken to make the game available in both the U.S. and Europe. It would be nice to know how stupid Nintendo perceived players to be, since no false translations can hide the game's religious tone. I'm not a religious person myself, far from it, but I've got to admit that playing God and fighting satanic hordes in ActRaiser is damn fun, and we get to do some city building simulation in the between of our sweaty battles using the form of an ancient warrior. The cross between a straightforward action game and a city sim, of course, makes ActRaiser one of the most innovative games on any platform, ever. Too bad the sequel sucked ass; ActRaiser could've been a great franchise, and today, less retarded restrictions would probably make it feel a whole lot more authentic.
Shiny Entertainment / Playmates Interactive Entertainment / Virgin Interactive, 1995
The first one drove you crazy, the second arrived to drive you downright insane. Still, you couldn't get enough of Earthworm Jim's surreal humour that lifted the use of slapstick in video games to whole new levels. With Earthworm Jim 2, the developers corrected people's false idea about them being somewhat normal human beings by raising the bar of completely irreverent humour in a genuinely fun, but admittedly furiously difficult action-oriented platformer. You just had to see each twist and turn, as hard as the road might've been. I've always hated cows for no apparent reason, but Earthworm Jim 2 prompted me to have a little more sympathy for them. A somewhat underrated classic, this one.
Blizzard Entertainment / Interplay, 1994
Speaking of underrated classics. Before conquering the whole world of online role-playing with games like Diablo and especially World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment created two games which many consider Super Nintendo's finest: The Lost Vikings, and Rock 'n' Roll Racing (which was very close to make it to this list). On their heels, came Blackthorne, also known as Blackhawk. Praised by many critics, the game didn't sell too well, for one reason or another, and never got a sequel of any sort. To me, the story of a young warrior come to reclaim his throne on a planet infested by aliens, armed with a custom-made broken shotgun, is a memory that never fades, one of the reasons being that Kyle made using a shotgun look so cool that shotgun has remained my weapon of choice in just about every game that has come after it. Blackthorne easily whipped the asses of many cinematic platformers of its time, like Flashback and Out of This World, due to its complex, yet a lot more comfortable control scheme, it just got the short end of the stick when it came to sales. Too bad.
Electronic Arts / EA Sports, 1993
19 years, the equal amount of games, and NHL '94 still stands as arguably the most entertaining game of them all. Well, maybe not if I'd plug the game in now and take it for a spin - I'd probably turn to NHL 11 in no time. NHL '94, however, remains the foundation of the actual NHL series; it was the third game, but with it, EA Sports created a standard they have at least tried to live up to every single year. The PS2 version of NHL 06 included NHL '94 of all games, with an updated roster, and even in 11, there's a choice to switch the button scheme to match that of '94. That should give some sort of an idea of the impact this game made among sports fans. Me and a few friends used to play the shit out of this game, when it came as a freebie along with my SNES. Of course, we also cursed the hell out of each other and our douche techniques. Good times.
Rare / Nintendo, 1994
Shigeru Miyamoto's firstborn was sold to the British to exploit, much to Mr. Mario's dismay, and this is what we got: the most technically advanced game anyone had seen or expected to see emerge in the next three or four years. A smoother-than-a-buttered-snatch platformer with an absolutely killer soundtrack - which was bundled with the game on CD in some countries - monkeys, pirates and great humour. What could go wrong? Nothing, back in '94. When its phenomenal sequel came out, Donkey Kong Country's true face was shown. It was kind of a simple and generic game, not too different from a bulk of platformers that came even before it, it just sounded and looked a lot better. However, it was also so fun to play in its time that it still remains a classic, even with all the flaws that were uncovered not too long into its release. And yes, it is still fun to play. And, it has stolen so many hours of my life and given them so much meaning, that I would feel guilty for not including it in the Top 15.
Even if the official English translation of the game (even renamed Final Fantasy II in North America to create some well-known confusion) is a watered-down, ridiculous bundle of crap full of grammatical and contextual errors, Final Fantasy IV is still a landmark game that rebooted the Final Fantasy franchise in the 16-bit generation, with incredible gameplay and importance of storytelling that remained in the series for the longest time. Also, it's absolutely worthy to note Nobuo Uematsu's revolutionary soundtrack, that made Cecil Harvey's decision to abandon his old life as a dark knight to become a Paladin, and save the world from a Lunarian invasion, feel so much more epic and dramatic. Yes, epic and dramatic even in spite of the bad English script. I just can't emphasize it enough.
The most popular of all Mario's sidesteps from the platform genre is definitely Super Mario Kart, a go-kart racing game based on the Mario universe, and starring everyone's favourite characters. The first game is still considered by many purists the only true Mario Kart; while that's far from the truth in my opinion, it is still almost as entertaining as it was when it came out. Its technical accomplishments should not be disregarded, either. The game actually ran on the original Mode 7 engine so smoothly that Nintendo found it very challenging to convert it into a Wii Virtual Console game. Imagine that.
Intelligent Systems / Nintendo, 1996
The most annoying thing about this game is not its overflowing level of syrup and cuteness, it's the way Nintendo expected it to sell more if they named it after Tetris - although it has nothing to do with Tetris at all, except for the fact that it's a puzzle game. Since it came out so late, it didn't sell too well (even with a legendary title to support it), but it was praised by many critics and I personally consider it to be the best puzzle game that came after... well, Tetris. Based on a Japanese game called Panel de Pon, Tetris Attack is actually a Mario-related game, which continued the tradition of puzzle games starring characters from the Mario universe; in this case Yoshi for the third time. It looks pink and sounds irritating, but plays out like a dream. Begin playing, any mode, and you'll be hooked in no time.
Capcom / Nintendo, 1993
One of the best, and of course, earliest examples of how a reboot can truly help a dying franchise. Mega Man X spun off from one of the most popular series' of 8-bit games ever created, and in my honest opinion, became the cornerstone of the franchise. It introduced a whole new, interesting scheme that focused a bit more on telling a sci-fi story, and the ability to really upgrade your new incarnation of the Blue Bomber with tons of hidden items besides the usual weapons inherited from bosses. It's too bad the X series quickly went down the same repetitive road as the original brand of Mega Man games, but the first game is still an incredible action platformer with some equally incredible music, that not only stood up to the standards set by Mega Man 2 and 3, but created whole new ones.
Intelligent Systems / Nintendo, 1991
In 1989, Will Wright created a home computer game called SimCity, in which players could just lay back and create their own cities from scratch. Of course, the price we all had to pay was to take care of the citizens' wellbeing all throughout the year, help them cope with different natural disasters and the price of taxes. SimCity was a revolutionary title that no one ever believed to work on a platform like the SNES. SimCity was definitely not a port, it was Nintendo's very own version of the home computer classic, that became a classic on its own and was never even remotely compared to the original game. This was one console game which you could manage all by yourself, just the way you wanted, and moreover, just lay back and build your empire at your own pace.
An immortal classic, a bad game with great music, a good game with notoriously high difficulty... how to return to the glory and balance of the first one? Well, the first step is to remake the first game. Then, add in the greatest musical pieces in the whole series, including the best tunes of the second game. Take the difficulty of the third game, tone it down slightly so the game wouldn't border on impossible. Decorate the cake with some Mode 7 graphics and all-around awesome, minor but useful new gameplay features, and you've got Super Castlevania IV - a most definite cornerstone of the Castlevania franchise and a game that symbolizes everything it used to stand for at its best, before Symphony of the Night changed the formula radically, in better and worse.
Rare / Nintendo, 1995
Just a year prior, Rare and Nintendo collaborated to make the most technically advanced platformer ever seen... and they blew the top off it with Donkey Kong Country 2. Even today, the graphics are breathtaking, the music - if possible - is even better than that of the first game, and the gameplay - again, if possible - is even more smooth and leaves no good reason for the player to blame the game if something goes terribly wrong. Something will most definitely go terribly wrong, since Donkey Kong Country 2 is one of the most difficult games on the SNES. That fact, of course, just enhances the attraction in this case.
My first time with the first SNES game ever created was almost just as relevant as many other first times in my life... almost *makes a mile wide smile with an obvious hint of arrogance*. While us Europeans were just getting used to the fresh-out-of-the-oven Super Mario Bros. 3, the Japanese were already enjoying the hell out of an enhanced version of arguably the greatest 8-bit game ever made. Super Mario World remained one of the greatest and constantly enchanting games for the SNES right up until the end of the console's commercial lifespan. Today, its greatness has perhaps even more meaning to me than it ever had, as I watch how Mario fanboys are drooling, crapping and dying over the Super Mario Galaxy games, which in my honest opinion, are some of the most overrated games the world has ever seen. Every time I make this statement, people are saying "oh, you just hate Mario". DEAD WRONG. I was a Mario fan once, and still am to some extent, because of games like Super Mario World. Know the best part about it? It got a sequel.
Intelligent Systems / Nintendo, 1994
Here's one game that I never expected anything out of. I never liked the original Metroid, I had never played Metroid II because I didn't have access to a Game Boy, and skipping ahead just a bit, I hate Metroid Prime. Then again, Super Metroid is like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, in 2D and set in outer space; I never liked any Zelda games a whole lot besides A Link to the Past, either. Super Metroid is one captivating experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. Although there's no dialogue or narrative besides Samus' famous monologue in the beginning, the game was one of the first games I ever played that told a genuinely gripping visual story, and supported a great gameplay experience with the smoothest flowing action ever seen. The excessive amount of backtracking to get the tons of items hidden on Planet Zebes by using your upgrades to your advantage is the game's greatest flaw, but it's also one of the things that makes the game the experience it is, in some twisted way. Nevertheless, Super Metroid is one of the best action games ever made.
Five years of sidestepping into other genres on major consoles Nintendo put Mario back in his place on Yoshi's back, although in a less traditional way - this time, Mario was a helpless infant, who Yoshi was implored to take back to his brother, and ultimately his parents, across pastel-coloured plains that were much more difficult to get by than they looked. Ironically with Mario's founding father Miyamoto out of the actual designers' way creating Super Mario 64, Nintendo was able to pull off one of the most unique and best Mario titles ever. Yeah, Mario's constant cry for help was murder to the ears and the cuteness of the graphical design might've hurt your eyes to some extent, but the game was and still is a technical marvel, and a one of a kind gameplay experience.
As I already mentioned, I never had any special love for the Zelda series. Especially the much acclaimed Ocarina of Time is, in my opinion, one of the most overrated games ever released. The first Zelda game was actually the first game I ever experienced on the NES; of course I liked it back then, just like any other game. Especially the golden cartridge was fancy to look at. As a player, I didn't understand what the fuss was all about. I guess buying A Link to the Past (or Zelda III, if you prefer) was my brother's idea, since he liked both of the NES titles. To my surprise, it was a great game, and still stands as one of the 16-bit monster's finest roars, and one of the most replayable games of its type as well. No Zelda game that has been released since gives off the same warm feeling. This is, of course, a wholly personal issue, it seems.
On the heels of the success of Final Fantasy VI, Square took a little time off from their favourite son, to work on a mixture of Final Fantasy leftovers and a whole new, vast concept built around the myth of time travel. The result was the epic known as Chrono Trigger. Focused on a group of unlikely allies come together across time to fight an ancient evil that destroyed the world in 1999, and developed by Square's "Dream Team" comprised of their finest, Chrono Trigger was a shock to critics and gamers alike. No one had ever seen time travel taken on as extensively in a video game, much less an RPG. To some (quite deranged) hardcore fans of Final Fantasy, the game might lack unusual and surreal elements made standard by Square's flagship and therefore be somewhat of a weak link in Square's catalogue, but all of us others love the game. There's not a game quite like Chrono Trigger out there.
Well, what game do we have here? All who have read this blog should've known by now that without a doubt, in my mind, Final Fantasy VI is the greatest 16-bit game we have had the chance to play. Actually, us Europeans DIDN'T have an official, law-abiding chance to play it for the longest time, before Square and Nintendo brought us the very welcome Final Fantasy Advance series. I was many steps ahead of the Advance - I first played the game on an emulator in 2001, and immediately fell in love with it, and it wasn't too long until I got a genuine copy of the slightly enhanced version of the game for the PlayStation. Final Fantasy VI was the last and best game of the godlike franchise's 16-bit generation, the perfect combination of every concept created for an RPG before it, and... well, I'll just say, it's too bad they don't make Final Fantasies like this anymore. The next installment in the franchise turned out the very best, but that's a whole different story I'll get to when I congratulate the PlayStation on its 20th birthday in 2015. :)