Historical context: A good year for shitty console releases. Atari tries desperately to prove that they’re still relevant by releasing the 64-bit monstrosity known as the Jaguar. For reference, the Genesis and the SNES were 16-bit and the Playstation (which hadn’t even been released yet) was 32-bit. What does this mean? Fucking nothing. Another case of a game company rushing underdeveloped technology to market. It looked like absolute shit and none of the games were good. Also, Panasonic releases the CD-based 3DO. I know very little about the 3DO except that no one bought it due to it being ridiculously fucking expensive. I guess it was kind of like the Sega CD, but slightly better. Nintendo and Sega are still the top dogs, but a new generation of consoles is not far away.
5. Star Fox (SNES - Nintendo)
In 1993 Star Fox was a technological marvel. A SNES game that had 3D graphics? I mean, Jesus Christ. And you didn’t even have to buy a shitty peripheral like the Sega CD. The key was a special chip in the cartridge called the Super FX. I guess it really boosted the SNES’s graphical capability to the point where a 3D game could look even halfway presentable. While it hasn’t aged that well, Star Fox was so great at the time that it seems shitty to leave it off the list. I remember delving into this world of anthropomorphic creatures, getting in Fox McCloud’s R-Wing and fighting an evil gorilla wizard. It felt like fucking Star Wars. No, I didn’t care that I was a fox and the rest of my squadron was a frog, a rabbit and a falcon. I cared that I was flying through space, dog fighting robot space ships in what was, for its time, a really fucking immersive environment. If I want to play Star Fox today, I will usually jump straight to the Nintendo 64 sequel, but the original stands as a great example of gaming technology being used to make a really good game rather than just seeming to exist for its own sake.
4. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES - LucasArts)
Before LucasArts was a factory for churning out Star Wars related media, they made creative original games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors. In ZAMN, you play as a chick or a little dude (wearing old school 3D specs) running around suburbia, rescuing oblivious bystanders from a horror apocalypse. In addition to your average run of the mill zombies, there are plenty of other monsters taken from the pages of the horror classics. You’ve got your 7 foot tall chainsaw guy with a ski mask, killer babies wielding axes, killer plants and so on. The game is very much a love song to the exemplars of the B-Horror genre. There’s also some commentary on suburban life and consumerism tucked away in there. The people you’re rescuing are too busy hanging out at the mall and having backyard barbecues to notice the end of the world happening around them. If you don’t rescue them, they will allow themselves to be killed out of stupidity or perhaps apathy. ZAMN uses zombies and other horror elements for clever purposes, and really captures (for the purposes of parody, at least) the feeling of old monster movies. It’s also just damn fun to play. There are loads of weapons to collect, as well as vials of a mysterious formula that can turn you into Mr. Hyde-like monster. The level design is clever and maze-like while staying true to the setting. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is an all-around awesome and funny little game, especially if you are a horror dork.
3. Mega Man X (SNES - Capcom)
Oh shit it’s Mega Man fucking X. Since 1987, Capcom had been releasing a Mega Man game almost every year for the NES. Starting with Mega Man 4, all of them were terrible. So in 1993 (the same year as Mega Man 6), Capcom decides “well shit. Let’s make a different Mega Man game that doesn’t suck.” And they did. Mega Man X is the first in the “X” series (while the original numbered series is usually called the “classic” series). It takes place about a century later, uses a different character, utilizes some new gameplay mechanics and level design ideas, has any semblance of a real story, and just generally kicks all sorts of ass. This is certainly my favorite of the X series, and arguably better than even the best of the classic series (though it’s difficult to compare). Mega Man X was Capcom proving that they could take what was becoming a really stale idea and make it work again. Before making it stale again. I think there ended up being 8 Mega Man X games, and none of them really added anything to what was established in this one. But for a shining moment, Mega Man was awesome again. This game is rad to the max, homie. I am a cool guy for saying that in such a way.
2. Myst (PC - Cyan)
When Myst came out, it sold enormously well. I remember not really being able to figure out why. While it looked amazing, it seemed really boring. I wandered around the island for about 15 minutes, was confused about why nothing attacked me and then I lost interest. I mean, I was six. Years later, I tried playing it again. I realized then that Myst was a really fucking great game. Yes, it looks great. Even today, I still find the visual design and overall quality of the graphics to be fantastic. And yes, the puzzles are clever and really challenging. I did beat this game, but I don’t really know how. Sometimes the solution to whatever I was trying to do was so opaque that even my fully functional adult brain had trouble figuring the shit out. But the main reason Myst is fantastic is because it is such an alluring mystery. You wake up on a small island. There is an observatory, a library, a rocket, a half-sunken ship, a picturesque garden pathway, a tall forest and a clock tower on its own little island a few yards off shore. It’s unclear how you got here. Obviously, this place was inhabited at some point, but it is eerily empty now. As you explore and find your way into the little nooks and crannies of the island, you start to piece things together. Some books. A fire. Two sons, both claiming the other to be guilty of the same crime. A curiously absent father. You start to gain access to other small worlds through portals within hidden books. As you go along, you must try to discover which of the two sons to side with. Or is there a third choice? Until the very end, you are never in the physical presence of another human being, creating a striking sense of isolation. Exploring these empty worlds and seeing the evidence of perhaps terrible events long past, with nothing but the diegetic sounds of the environments (and the occasional appearance of an ambient music track) is incredibly powerful and sinister. I’ve played a few other puzzle/adventure games, and the only ones that were nearly as engrossing or enticing were its sequels. Myst is unique, complex, rewarding and unforgettable.
1. Doom (PC - iD)
Do I have to explain Doom? D fucking oom. It took first person shooters to a whole new level. And it is badass. Space marine on Mars single handedly takes on the entire forces of Hell when a routine portal opening goes wrong. The plot gets no more complicated than that. It doesn’t need to. It would get in the way of the uninterrupted slaughter of zombies and horrible fuckbeasts. What Doom was able to achieve that Wolfenstein 3D essentially couldn’t was a sense of atmosphere. The upgrade to the game engine meant that (fairly primitive) lighting effects and other mood-altering devices could be utilized, drawing you in and occasionally scaring the shit out of you. And yes, Doom was the first video game to actually scare me. Like the aforementioned Myst, Doom is very much about isolation. You are the only living human in the entire game. Occasionally you run across the mutilated corpses of people who look just like you. But that’s it. It’s just you and the monsters. No dialogue. Just your gunfire, the music, and the distant grunts of demons and twisted creatures that could be lurking around any corner. And it wasn’t just background noise. Every sound was attached to a monster. If you heard something out of place, there was sure to be something nearby. And that something was going to fuck you if you didn’t fuck it first. Doom was an incredible achievement for its time and it still holds up today. None of those damn young people games you like would exist without Doom. You fucking whipper snappers.