I recently turned thirty.
And I’m here to use my old man wisdom and finely-tuned Nintendo platforming chops to instruct you about the best console and computer games of my lifetime. These aren’t necessarily “desert island” games, but they defined genres, set bars, saved SEGA, ushered in console wars, and changed everything that came after them.
Welcome to the continuing adventures of the world’s dorkiest superhero. I’m Daniel Rodrigues-Martin, and this is THIRTY YEARS OF GAMING.
Super Mario World (SNES)
Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC/XBOX)
Telltale’s The Walking Dead (PC, CONSOLES, YOUR STINKING PHONE IF YOU WANT)
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 by BY SONIC TEAM (SEGA GENESIS)
First Released: November 24, 1992
Sonic 2 was a commercial success following its 1992 release, selling six million units and being beaten out in Genesis game sales only by its predecessor, Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), which had previously helped the Genesis top the SNES in units moved—Nintendo’s first console sales defeat since 1985. Sonic cemented the Genesis as a competitor against the SNES in the early and mid 1990s. It spawned a number of clones (Accolade’s ill-executed Bubsy, for example) as well as two television series in which Sonic was voiced by 90’s sitcom icon Jaleel White. (Yes, that Jaleel White.) Sonic ushered in the Nintendo-SEGA 1990s Console War.
The Plot: After being foiled by Sonic the Hedgehog several years prior, Dr. Robotnik is at it again. He imprisons little bunnies and birds in robotic shells in his quest to collect the Chaos Emeralds and conquer Planet Mobius. With the loyal Tails hot on his heels, Sonic blasts through twelve zones to put Robotnik out of business for good.
The Good: Sonic 2 easily has the sharpest graphics of any of the Sonic Genesis games. The diverse locales of the game (everything from Amazonian aquatic ruins, a Las-Vegas-style casino city and rustic “American” mountains, to a not-so-subtle homage to Star Wars) give the player the sense of constant forward motion. What is arguably the best soundtrack of the Genesis Sonics (I’ll admit Sonic 3D Blast is close) sets the tone of each level, and the revamped level design truly set Sonic 2 apart from its immediate predecessor and the Mario games it was competing against. Whereas Mario is a platformer in the truest sense of the term, Sonic needed to play up the notion of whizzing through the world at high speed (Game Theory’s MatPat has proven that he wasn’t actually so quick, though) and the revamped level design believably weaved this illusion for players.
The introduction of Tails in Sonic 2 allowed two players (SEE: me and my younger brother) to dive into the action and work in tandem against Robotnik’s schemes. It also opened up a competitive two-player race mode, which, while plagued with slowdown, was a lot of fun, and was still more than anything the turn-swapping Mario series had done up to that point.
The Bad and Ugly: Good luck trying to collect enough rings in the special stages with frigging Tails running into bombs all the time. UNRELATED: Dr. Robotnik literally runs faster than Sonic? UNACCEPTABLE.
Why Everyone Should Play It: SEGA didn’t re-release it in HD for no good reason. It’s still challenging and still fun, plus, now you can save. That’s more than I had in 1993.
CHRONO TRIGGER by SQUARESOFT (SNES)
First Released: March 11, 1995
Chrono Trigger has been reviewed on GeeksUnderGrace.com here.
Conceived by a “dreamteam” of Japanese game developers (Hironobu Sakaguchi [Final Fantasy], Yuji Horii [Dragon Quest], Akira Toriyma [Dragon Ball] and scored by two legendary game composers (Yasunori Mitsuda [Chrono Cross], Nobuo Uematsu [Final Fantasy]) Squaresoft’s Chrono Trigger cemented, from its inception, its role as a legendary SNES title and JRPG.
The Plot: Silent protagonist Crono of Guardia Kingdom meets Marle at the Millennial Fair. She tags along with him to his friend Lucca’s demonstration of teleportation technology. Marle volunteers to try the tech and mysteriously vanishes into a portal. Crono dives in after her and soon realizes he’s fallen backward through time to the year 600. Thus begins a time-traveling Epic wherein seven (or six depending on the choices you make) friends from across the breadth of time and space unite to battle against a Lovecraftian Death Gigas called Lavos. Love, philosophy, vengeance, quantum physics, adventure, theology, and feels ensue.
The Good: Perfection. Chrono Trigger adapted well-worn facets of JRPGs of the day (Active-time battle), tweaked them, and integrated them into its gameplay engine. What this looks like is enemies who ambush you on the game map instead of randomly warping you into a premade “battle field” (ala Final Fantasy) and battle techniques relying on an MP system that include single-character attacks, double-character attacks, and awesome three-character attacks. Altogether, it amounted to a familiar yet unique gameplay experience on top of one of the most intriguing plots in a video game.
Mitsuda’s and Uematsu’s official soundtrack is still one of the best things in all gaming. It has been remade by fans countless times.
The graphics still look great, and the use of 3D for magical spells created a sense of the “otherworldly” nature of magic.
The Bad and Ugly: Some things are beyond negative criticism.
Why Everyone Should Play It: Because it symbolized the zenith of the technical power of the SNES and represented the very best of what the 2D JRPG could have been in 1995. It is one of the best RPGs of all time, one of the best SNES games of all time, and one of the best games of all time. This is the first game I ever stayed up all night playing.