By TheKidNixon 4 Comments
Sorry this is a bit late. I have had my list ready, but was busy with some holiday.
Anyway, for those that don't know the deal: I am going through every year I have been alive and declaring my choice for GOTY. There are a few other rules, but they would be redundant. You can check them out (along with the first batch of "winners") over yonder.
So lets go on with the list, starting with a miniature revolution:
The importance and greatness of Tetris breaks down into three very important aspects. First, the game mastered the genre of puzzle game. While titles that tickled the brain had existed before, Tetris provided a template for all followers. Its "simple to learn, difficult to master" design concept inspired countless imitators. The beauty of Tetris then is not from the complexity, but from the obvious simplicity. The objective is fairly self-evident, and the joy of mastering it provides it own reward. The second importance of Tetris is that the game provided a platform for mobile games to thrive. While Tetris had already existed for three years before it came pre-packed with every Game Boy sold, it wasn't until this incarnation that the game "clicked" as an international sensation. Its perfected bite-sized gameplay proved a suitable companion to the on-the-go philosophy of portable gaming. Finally, Tetris reminded that video games could very well have something for everyone. Decidely light on narrative or rewards beyond high-score obsession, it is probably the most widely played and recognized game in existence, even beyond Mario. The ability for the game to be groked by nearly everyone allows it to enjoy a wide, diverse fan base. Claims that Tetris ended the Cold War are hopelessly hyperbolic, but the cultural unity of a game designed in Soviet Russia becoming a sensation in America proved a universal appeal, allowing the game ot garner a reputation outside of the usual hall of gamers.
While (the intentionally unlisted) American Super Mario Bros. 2 provided a distinctly different take on how Mario games could play, it didn't have the charm of the original. So with the third installment of the series, Nintendo returned to basics and provided a game that excelled over its predecessors by leaps and bounds. While Mario games had always been one of the most masterfully crafted games in terms of art design, SMB3 pushed the limits of the by-now aged hardware, with colorful and inventive enemies. The three-tier power levels was shifted, to allow for the top tier to be split into several optional varieties, or "suits. Certain suits even were specifically useful only in certain levels, providing an admittedly shallow element of strategy to the precise platformer. The whole package provided a fitting swan song and book end to the dominant gaming system of the last four years; with the release of the Super Nintendo in America the year after, the landscape was about to change.
A quick disclaimer: I know that a lot of great games came out in 1991 in America. And I could understand any list that would put any of those games over a Castlevania game that, in all reality, isn't all that different from its predecessors. In fact, the game is somewhat retrograde to the previous installments, which began introducing RPG elements that would eventually boil over into the masterpiece Symphony of the Night. The game really amounts to the little more than a gussed up reimagining of the original title. But this is ultimately my list, and the game that came out that year that had the most profound effect one me is Super Castlevania IV. The game visually alone provided incentive for upgrading to a new geneartion of consoles, as well as the amount of twisting and turning the environment was subject to. For the first time, Dracula's castle felt like a living, breathing environment that was itself an enemy; common touchstones, such as the clockwork sequence, were given new life and excitement. Super Castlevania IV was the last truly great game of the series to follow the original's template, but it recreated it so perfectly that it would be hard to imagine the series continuing on this path and ever truly getting much better. Yes, 1991 is a very important and prolific year in gaming, and yes, there are several games that probably deserve a much more historical nod for innovating and pushing the genre forward. But the most undeniable fun I had in 1991 was undeniable taken from this title. And that has to be worth something.
If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Street Fighter II might be the most flattered game of all time. And yet what all of the countless clones and challengers miss from the master is the balance and zen-like flow of play. Capcom's groundbreaking fighter has a very specific flow and rhythm to it, and that rhythm can change depending on who you play. According to legend, the idea of combos came as a surprise to the game's designers when it was discovered in the QA process that you could string certain attacks together for additional damage. The rock-paper-scissors quality and payback mechanics provide the game a level of depth that rewards dedicated play, and has created a long-standing competitive culture. The amount of enjoyment to be found in this game is still being explored and refined, and the DNA of the original is still very much the blueprint for almost every follower, including baby brother Street Fighter IV.
There are few games that can be as easily summed up in one word as Gunstar can: frantic. The game constantly keeps pushing you forward, through and past waves of deadly enemies until you reach its superb boss battles. The speed of the game makes it difficult to fully enjoy the lushly created environments, the customizable weapon scheme and the twitch skills needed to traverse the trickier later levels. Of course, the real striking moments come in the multiple-stage boss battles, visually and mechanically striking and jaw-dropping. Treasures tenacity to push the Genesis hardware as hard as they did impresses, especially considering this was their first foray into game design. And while they have gone on to make fantastic (and still frantic) games, nothing has quite captured the kinetic energy of the original.
That brings us to an end for this installment. Next week, we move into the age of the polygon, but only after taking a pit-stop in my favorite game ever made. See you next Thursday morning for 1994-1998