Everybody, you’re looking at one of the best years of all time as it was a year of groundbreaking success. Disney has never been so rich, it had some of the best Summer olympics ever (Kurt Angle won a gold medal with a broken neck), Bill Clinton signs the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments, and the video game releases that forever changed the gaming industry. This was the year where the Sega Saturn released great titles, the 16-bit era was at its end (good bye Genesis and Super Nintendo), and the highly anticipated Nintendo 64 was finally released. Making a list of the ten of my favorite years is one of the hardest list I’ve ever have to come up with, but I did my very best to rank them all down because these titles have left an impression that never once faded away.
Number 10. – Duke Nukem 3D
This is the last Doom-clone that I consider to be the best of its kind. I haven’t had this much fun with this title since Doom was released and it’s odd because it didn’t do anything revolutionary in the first-person shooter department; it played exactly like Doom. But it managed to make it on the list because the journey from start to finish was some of the some of the most surprising and exciting that I ever seen in the genre as a whole. It’s amazing to see that Duke Nukem jumped from simple platformer to this level awesomeness is really remarkable. This game just has so much violence, adult content, more than enough puzzles, and a lot of things to find and destroy. If it wasn’t for Duke Nukem’s redesign to this stereotypical action movie persona, I really doubt that this game would be as famous than it is now. All of us fans, would really wish to have Duke’s manly voice and it left a huge impression on us today.
Number 9. – Resident Evil
Though Alone in the Dark started the Survival Horror genre, Resident Evil was sent out to expand on what Alone in the Dark started and made it truly horrifying. Now, in today’s standards, this game is perhaps the cheesiest game you’ll ever play because of its poorly done voice acting, but you have to remember how frightening it was to see back in 1996. Either playing as Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, you’re bound to see all of your nightmares in the haunted mansion that you’ve ended up in. Zombies, zombie dogs mutants, giant spiders, and so much more! It’s guaranteed to make gamers jump in fright and the fans who played this game when it came out still talk about the dog jumping through the window to this day.
Number 8. – The Neverhood
This is perhaps one of the most underrated point-and-click adventure game of all time! I never seen so much effort and creativity displayed in a singular game that makes it worth coming back, time and time again. You play as Clayman and you’re put in this world of clay of Neverhood where you don’t know where you are and how you got there, so it’s best if you’re left to find out all of the mystery of this world. The Neverhood’s biggest appeal is it’s just so damn witty and light hearted. It has more backstory than any other game I can think of where they give the player so much to learn from the Neverhood. Most impressively this game is entirely created out of clay. Sure, outside of Clayfighter, this is the very game that does it well and the creators of Earthworm Jim could ever be this inventive. Even if you’re not a fan of adventure games, you have to see for yourself why claymation is so special for movies, television programs, and especially video games (which we don’t have enough of).
Number 7. – NiGHTS into Dreams
Magical! Purely magical! This is one of the many reasons why I really miss Sega being so good in making games because their sense of wonder couldn’t be compared. It’s really nice to see what else could Sonic Team do out side of the franchise because Sega needs more recognizable titles. As for what it did for the Sega Saturn, I was amazed that this game really pushed the limits of the system that we don’t mind if there isn’t a proper Sonic title in the system’s library. Nights into Dream is so different and revolutionary that it’s still unidentified to what genre it belongs to. I never felt so addicted to go on-rails and collect so many collectables just to get to another level because the very atmosphere is purely wonderful to witness. Every time I play or think of Nights into Dreams, I always feel like a child; little games out there could do the same thing for me
Number 6. – Quake
A lot of people would like to see this game as Doom 3 at the time, but Quake is when ID soft made first-person shooters, not only in a groundbreaking level, but also became part of our gaming culture that still remains. This was the first time ever that the genre was in full 3D that would forever destroy the stupid “Doom-clone” term that has been given to every first-person shooter in existence. Never have anyone could imagine that 3D graphics could ever be this fast, this brutal, and this advanced when it comes to the quake engine. The weapon variety, the detailed environments, and the high amount of violence just made it so fun. In fact, Quake is the PC classic that made online multiplayer to be this competitive at the point where it is held in tournaments like Quakecon. Very little games out there (like Starcraft and Street Fighter II) could ever have famous tournaments and event in just on one singular game. Though I still have a problem with environments being so dark, however this title really changed the gaming industry!
Number 5. – Killer Instinct 2 & Killer Instinct Gold
Killer Instinct really gave us a huge impression that fighting games can be something else besides Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter and a sequel was highly anticipated. There’s no doubt in my mind that Killer Instinct 2 had some of the best graphics of the 1990s as well as fun and fast-paced gameplay. I never could imagine anything could ever look and play better than the original Killer Instinct; every character, background detail, the awesome music, and animation is so damn crisp and mesmerizing to watch. Though they removed Riptor and Cinder from the roster, we also got the mighty Tusk, Kim Wu, and Maya who are introduced to the series and they were awesome. I remember seeing this game in the arcades for the first time and I was simply blown away with all the things you can do in this very fighting game. Though Killer Instinct failed to be released on the Nintendo 64, Rareware did manage to set out Killer Instinct Gold as a launch title. That also failed to meet expectations for many who were anticipated for the “Nintendo Ultra 64” in 1995 because this port suffered some graphical downgrades and the endings for each character do not change (as they would in the Arcade version) due to the memory limitations of the Nintendo 64 cartridge. Other than that, Killer Instinct Gold remains faithful to the original Killer Instinct 2 and expanded on it. It included team battle, team eliminations, training and advanced training, and tons of unlockables that the arcade didn’t include. Though Killer Instinct Gold didn’t do a service for many Killer Instinct fans, however I never had as much fun with a fighting game as I did with Killer Instinct Gold at home. Now we just need to wait for the arcade ports of KI and KI2 to finally be released for home consoles because we’ve been waiting for decades for it.
Number 4. – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Kirby Super Star, & Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble!
To even prove that 1996 was an awesome year in gaming, we have a tie spot; three Super Nintendo games! I honestly couldn’t tell you which of the three is the best because they were the final breath of the Super Nintendo before the Nintendo 64 became the new focus for the Nintendo industry and (wow!) they were some of the best last titles any system could ever have in its library. Let’s discuss about each of them, shall we?
For Super Mario RPG, this is proof that almost any game series can jump-shift into an RPG if its done right. It’s definitely one of the RPG’s for the system for the reason that it gave us more than we all expected; it did things that the franchise never have done before. It has some of the most fun and engaging turn-based combat that was re-used from the Square titles and remained so many elements seen from the franchise like platforming. This is the very first platformer RPG of the genre and what an accomplishment this has been! It remained faithful to almost everything about Mario by giving us enemy varieties from the past games and the humor uprose to an amusing level. Not to mention the characters that you get on your team like Princess Peach, Bowser (first time ever that he sided with Mario), and the lovable Geno & Mallow, who we will never see ever again. This jump from a platformer to the RPG genre was not a gimmick, it was a successful experiment that left us all still talking about it still to this day! It’s amazing to see that the Mario series started with the Super Nintendo (Super Mario World) and ended with the Super Nintendo with this classic.
For Kirby Super Star, we’re talking about 8 games into one! This was just as great as to having Super Mario All-Stars where they remade the Super Mario Bros. Trilogy (plus Super Mario World included). The whole Kirby franchise never look this great because the animation quality is top-notch and it was more fast-paced & exciting than any Kirby game since and after. Everything that was seen in the past games was upgraded to a whole new level. I was vaguely impressed with the many transformations and how heavily action-packed the whole game is. And to even increase the fun factor, Super Star offered a two player co-op and it made everything so much fun! No doubt this is THE best Kirby game ever made and since then, there hasn’t been another game from the franchise that ever came close to the amount of fun that this game has offered to its players and it was a perfect way to end the Super Nintendo
And finally Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble, I was expecting Donkey Kong and Dixie Kong to finally work together and have Diddy’s turn to get rescued. Disappointedly, this is another installment of the DKC series where we did not get a chance to play as Donkey Kong, instead Diddy and DK were replaced with Kiddy Kong. Though this is probably the weakest of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, it’s still a great title nonetheless. I love the comforting atmosphere where the adventure journeys to lakes, factories, and other camp-like environments that I don’t see in that many video games. Not to mention, this game has adventure-elements where whenever you complete a level, it’s up to the player to actually travel in the map world to whatever level they want to play next. This time around, this game is both the easiest and hardest of the series. If you’re going to play this game like a normal platformer, it’s going to be simple for veterans of the genre, but if you’re planning to collect everything and get a 100% completion, you’re in for a challenge with so many bonus levels and mini games that serves as an expansive experience. Donkey Kong Country 3 really did a great service to us fans of Donkey Kong Country and it did so much for the Super Nintendo than anyone can imagine.
This is why I love these three titles did because they so much for simply giving us Super Nintendo owners great games before it was no longer on store shelves. It felt like a thank you not from Nintendo for saving them from the loosing in the video game market and that’s one of the many reasons why the Super Nintendo is debatable as the best video game home console of all time!
Number 3. – Guardian Heroes
If there had to be one game that was more fun than all three of those games (make that 10 for Kirby Super Star) it had to be Guardian Heroes. Initially, Guardian Heroes seems like any other mindless beat ‘um up. However, when you realize that Guardian Heroes is really a fighting game on a much larger scale, the experience is greatly enhanced. To sum up the gameplay of Guardian Heroes, you take your old-school arcade beatemup like Streets of Rage games, combine the fighting moves of Street Fighter 2, and add RPG-elements like leveling up. It’s the perfect example of a hybrid game and oozes Treasure’s trademark creativity. The fighting area in Guardian Heroes is divided into three horizontal plains (similar to old-school Fatal fury games) and it’s used to dodge enemy attacks or to fight in a desired plain. You can combine these basic attacks with the control moves to make special attacks and mix them all up with RPG elements really help add a lot of depth the game and keep it from being repetitious. And to keep it from being just another beat’em up, the AI in Guardian Heroes is much higher than your standard brawler. The computer characters actually play quite well and your opponents will actually put up a good fight. In addition to the standard Story Mode, you also have Versus Mode which allows up to 6 players can join in a large battle. You can fight in teams or have single elimination, choosing 9 stages to fight in. There are many characters to choose from and you can select any character you have beaten in Story Mode in addition to the heroes. The cast can be as high as 45 characters. You also have the option to make the additional characters human or CPU controlled. Up to six humans can participate in these chaotic brawls, but even the CPU characters play skillfully due to the superb AI. You can also alter many parameters before the fights, such as characters’ strength, defense, level, etc, and even select the stage. For those who says that the Nintendo 64 was the only console in the 1990′s that was built for multiplayer fun, couldn’t be anymore wrong until they play Guardian Heroes. Guardian Heroes is a very well-rounded title and adapts various concepts from many successful games to create a phenomenal hybrid gaming experience. Guardian Heroes is one of the best examples of a high-quality game developed by Treasure in addition to being, if not the best Sega Saturn game, then the most fun console exclusive of all time!
Number 2. – Panzer Dragoon II Zwei
In order to make one of the best sequels ever made, you have to take everything from the original, fix all of its flaws, expand everything, and give us more than what we’re expecting. And that’s what Panzer Dragoon II Zwei exactly did. Never have dragon riding ever felt so glorifying because the adventure, magic, and action you can do in this game is so mind-blowing. Targeting and attacking enemies was so damn simple that it started to increase the replay value. Not only that but when you play the game again, chances are it’s going to change the experience a bit where you’ll say to yourself “I don’t remember that” thanks to the alternative paths and decisions that this game takes. Not to mention, that the game rewards the player in remaining alive and destroying so many enemies humanly possible because your Dragon evolves into a better looking dragon, depending on the player performance. No doubt, this is my favorite on-rails shooter game of all time! It’s another reason why I say Panzer Dragoon is Sega’s best video game series ever! Go ahead and play Panzer Dragoon II and see how many more replays you’re going to give this game after your first playthrough.
Number 1. – Super Mario 64
Sure, most of my number 1 picks in my other lists are probably predictable because everyone else did it as well, but that’s because its a fact. And no other game is more fact as the best video game of 1996 than Super Mario 64. It’s simply because this is the best 2D video game franchise to jump shift into full 3D. It was so revolutionary that it set the standards of how we play and interacted in video games today. It took a long mile step in making Mario to be able to do acrobatics when he jumps, leaps, and do so many tricks, it was all fun to toy with as well platform. Also, being able to go anywhere on foot and have the physics and logic to go on any environment; underwater, up the hill, standing on snow, on slippery ice, it all felt very real. Not to mention that you have some of the finest levels and missions that any game could offer when trying to collect any Stars, which is of course the main objective of the game. I can easily say that every aspect of the game is very appealing because the animation quality is fast, everything is a wonderful sight to see, accomplishing a mission is always fun, and all objects are high detailed. Not only that, but exploring the castle and finding all of the secret, it’ just created such an everlasting impression on all of us that it became timeless. For all the reasons I’ve stated, it never lost an ounce of appeal since. Level design-wise, I find myself seeing other 3D platformers out there that are better, but gameplay-wise it can’t be compared. This is a landmark in the history of gaming; it changed how games are made, played, and enjoyed.
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