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40 Years, 40 Games: 1987-1996

40 Years, 40 Games: 1987-1996 - Article

by Evan Norris , posted on 21 December 2016 / 11,248 Views

Welcome to Part II of '40 Years, 40 Games'. This is a four-part series detailing what I consider to be the very best game of every year between 1977 and 2016. Check out Part I, 1977-1986, here.


The Legend of Zelda (NES)

The Legend of Zelda

Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto had done amazing things for the medium with Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., but his work with The Legend of Zelda was truly earth-shattering. Although games like Ultima had broken ground on home computers several years earlier, it was The Legend of Zelda that turned the console industry on its head with revolutionary non-linear gameplay. Using a lithium battery to save game progress, Zelda offered console owners unprecedented freedom of choice and time.


River Raid II (Atari 2600)

River Raid 2

Released long after the Atari 2600 had begun its decline in popularity, River Raid II is a hidden gem in the 2600 library. More challenging and technical than its predecessor, River Raid II adds several variables to the mix, including altitude adjustments, mid-air refueling, and aircraft carrier landings. It makes for a steeper learning curve, but also for gameplay far more tactical than the original River Raid.


Cobra Triangle (NES)

Cobra Triangle

The second title from Ultimate Play the Game/Rare on this list, Cobra Triangle is an isometric boat racing/combat game with amazing level diversity. Similar in appearance and control to Rare's earlier R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle blows that game out of the water (no pun intended) in terms of mission design. Throughout Cobra Triangle, players are tasked with winning races, defusing mines, saving swimmers, and even fighting sea monsters.


Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

Super Mario Bros. 3

Although the Super Mario franchise had veered slightly off the road with Super Mario Bros. 2, it returned to form with Super Mario Bros. 3, arguably the best NES game ever made. Designed with the same platform elements typical of its predecessors, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced several additions, including mini-games, many new power-ups, and an overland map that allows players to select which levels to play and which to bypass.


Super Mario World (SNES)

Super Mario World

Like its immediate forerunners on the NES, Super Mario World is a platform game that demands its players jump, run, duck, and swim to survive hazards and enemies in each level. It retains the overland map of Super Mario Bros. 3, but makes the game world and the levels within that world much larger, more graphically detailed, and more diverse; ghost houses, fortresses, and castles dot the landscape. Super Mario World marks the first appearance of Yoshi, who would become one of Nintendo’s most famous mascots.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

A Link to the Past

A Link to the Past is the quintessential Zelda experience. It established many of the items, enemies, and tropes that appear in almost every Zelda game. The Master Sword, for example, first appears in A Link to the Past. The game also introduced to the series the idea of parallel or alternate dimensions, across which the hero can travel. This added a new layer to puzzle-solving in The Legend of Zelda. Items and portals that appear in one universe may be manipulated to produce effects in a parallel universe.


Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention (Genesis)

Shining Force

Whatever The Legacy of Great Intention means, it's a terrific game, an influential turn-based strategy RPG, and one of the very best Sega Genesis titles. Players control a silent protagonist as he recruits a small army of fighters to push back against the evil Darksol. Battles in Shining Force take place in square grids, on which players move units strategically to outflank and overcome opponents. There are over two dozen unique and colorful characters to recruit in the game, all of whom can be promoted to a higher class.


Final Fantasy III (SNES) 

Final Fantasy III

Many point to Final Fantasy VII as the ultimate Final Fantasy experience, but its older brother is a more complete game, and a better one. Epic in size and in scope, Final Fantasy III (Final Fantasy VI in Japan) features over a dozen playable characters, all of whom carry significant emotional baggage and who endure trials that range from rafting across raging rapids to, quite literally, the end of the world. There are several unique events in the game, including an opera, a dinner party, and a number of multi-party battles. 


Chrono Trigger (SNES)

Chrono Trigger

One of the most unique RPGs of the fourth generation, Chrono Trigger is an exceptional game with a deep combat system, unique characters, and a bewitching soundtrack. The combat system, with its "tech" attacks, double and triple techniques, and area-of-effect attacks (all of them gorgeously animated, by the way), is particularly impressive. Although it's relatively short for a role-playing game, the inclusion of multiple endings affords Chrono Trigger high replay value.


Super Mario 64 (N64) 

Super Mario 64

The finest example of the great migration from two-dimensional sprites to three-dimensional polygons, Super Mario 64 gave the platform genre unprecedented freedom of movement. It also introduced a revolutionary camera system that allowed players to manipulate the camera angles in the game. Super Mario 64 left a lasting impression on 3D platformers and 3D action games in general, inspiring titles like GoldenEye 007, Grand Theft Auto III, and Kingdom Hearts.


Check in next time for 1997-2006!

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chakkra (on 23 December 2016)

How can you make a list of most iconic games and not mention Doom, Quake, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter?

  • +2
loy310 chakkra (on 26 December 2016)

Cause this is a Nintendo fan

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Zkuq (on 22 December 2016)

No Doom?

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roadkillers (on 22 December 2016)

Well VGcharts, thanks for my Brick Wall of text :/

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Shadow1980 roadkillers (on 22 December 2016)

Yeah. I don't think comments for articles can be broken into multiple paragraphs, unfortunately. Doesn't really lend itself to long posts.

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antigin (on 25 December 2016)

Shining Force over Doom? Really?

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Shadow1980 (on 22 December 2016)

Definitely not even close to my first choices for 1988, 1989, and 1993. For 1988 I would have nominated Super Mario Bros. 2, Contra, Blaster Master, Life Force, and Zelda II. For 1989 I would have nominated Mega Man 2, Ninja Gaiden, Dragon Quest, DuckTales, and Faxanadu. For 1993, I would have nominated Secret of Mana, Star Fox, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Doom, and Mortal Kombat II.

  • +1
shikamaru317 (on 22 December 2016)

No Sonic games, boo!!! Sonic 1, 2, 3, Knuckles, and CD were all fantastic games, at least one of them deserved to be in this section.

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roadkillers (on 22 December 2016)

I would say 1994 would be Aladdin for me. Loved Mario 64 and I can honestly say that this game was fantastic because it was pre-internet 'everyone knows everything'. The game came out and I was trying to get all the stars (I was 6ish when I played).

Then the internet came out (for me at least in 1998) and I was 9ish. I would dial my ass up (sucked) and look on the big cheat site which was CheatCC (Cheat Code Central). At that time the cheat site was all user ran so everything put in was user made, and there were no thumbs up or down. There were so many secret stars it was unbelievable.

There were so many BS cheats on that site it was unbelievable. i had to have spent 30-50 hours of my life trying to get stars that did not exist. For example there was a concrete star in the basement by all of the boos. Well to get this star you had to (number 1) kill all the boos without grabbing the blue coin (number 2) Do a flip off each tree (number 3) run around the star 100 times (number 4) butt slam on the star and this all had to be done "really fast".

The crazy thing at the time was that magazines would pick up on some of these asking the community to help them "unlock luigi" or a bunch of other things that did not exist. To me none of these are out of the realm of possibility in Mario 64 because they had some of the legit weirdest stars. There was one where you would jump in a cannon and shoot at the corner of a brick wall and break it. No indication that you needed to do this except that the cannon opened up and the name of the star.

Legit thought, same thing would happen to another title that came out in 1996 "Pokemon". There were so many BS things you could do in the game that you really couldn't it was crazy. Everyone believed them! That was because there was so much weird shit hidden in the game. There was MissingNo., there was MewTwo, there was Mew, you had to trade to evolve, Pokemon wouldn't attack sometimes (because they were high levels), Brock was in the game (TV show), Misty was in the game (TV show), the damn talking Meowth was in the game (couldn't talk in game), and there were secrets everywhere.

Everyone was willing to believe anything, ANYTHING to collect and be the best. Even though most of the claims came to be wrong, that didn't stop us when Gold and Silver came out. There were just as many BS online that people believed. I spent 20 hours trying to catch all the Alphabet Pokemon IN ORDER just so I can unlock the chance to face Celebi. That's not a real thing VGChartz.

Anyways the moral of the Story is, thanks for making a 24 year old feel old and wasted his life (of course I don't feel way young children, I enjoyed my Pokemon and Mario adventures. Seriously though go outside whenever you can!!!!!! You wont get this in the future).

  • +1
Xeon (on 22 December 2016)

This is the period where I started gaming! So many fond memories. Terrific choices. Looking forward to seeing the rest!

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hunter_alien Xeon (on 22 December 2016)

Same here :-) I think I first played a game back in 93 or 94. And it was Tetris. Man, if I knew back than just what a huge impact will it have on my life :-P

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Cerebralbore101 (on 24 December 2016)

A very good list. I think River City Ransom, and Ninja Gaiden deserve to be in the 88, and 89 spots.

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willians1900 (on 22 December 2016)

Chrono Trigger Best game all time!

  • 0
BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)

preparing torches and pitchforks for the next article
1990-2000 was so damn good, the amount of great stuff coming was just incredible.

  • 0
roadkillers BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)

Exactly, if Half-Life 2 doesn't win 2004 I will... I mean if Halo 2 doesn't win 2004 I will... wait San Andreas came out, if San Andreas doesn't win... Fucking Metroid Prime doesn't win the list is shit.

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roadkillers BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)


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Veknoid_Outcast BraLoD (on 22 December 2016)

LOL, you guys are cracking me up :D 2004 was a really painful year to pick. I can promise you, though, that one of those games you mentioned won ;-)

  • 0
snyps (on 21 December 2016)

The Magic Sword is such a fond memory. And that transition to 3D. The Golden Age.

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