2000 may not be a new millennium, but we can with certainty bid "adieu " to the Nineties.
It was a good decade for video games. In the early Eighties, Atari crashed the market; a few years later, Nintendo saved it, and by the Nineties, the business was in full swing. Ten years ago marked the beginning of the end for the 8-bit era, while just a few months ago, we welcomed (with open arms) the first of a 128-bit generation of game consoles.
Since this is a time of reflection, I'd like to highlight the ten best Nintendo games and game series of the last ten years, in no particular order.
The Legend of Zelda is perhaps most responsible for introducing people to the fantasy world of video games. On the Super Nintendo, " A Link to the Past " had a colorful setting, deep storyline, and developed characters. And with two identical yet opposite worlds to explore, just when you think the journey is done, it's only just beginning. " The Ocarina of Time, " released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64, surpassed all expectations, with a fantastic world that could come only from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto.
As far as role-playing games (RPGs) go, Dragon Warrior IV for the NES – the last Dragon Warrior to be seen in America — is a masterpiece. In each of its five chapters, players take control of completely new characters and lead them through their story. With the fifth and final chapter, the Hero is finally introduced, and all the plots and actors from previous chapters are deftly woven together. It has the best storyline of almost any RPG and many hours of play.
Another RPG masterpiece, and the first RPG for the Super NES, is Final Fantasy II, from Squaresoft. Its storyline built steadily, following the story of Cecil, the fallen Dark Knight, as he learned the truth of his country and his parentage — discoveries which took players to far-away continents, below the crust of the Earth, and to the distant Moon, in a quest to save the world. A colorful cast of characters made this tale memorable for all time. (Final Fantasy VII, for the PlayStation, redefined " cinematic gameplay " with its jaw-dropping graphics during both battles and story scenes.)
F-Zero was one of the original launch titles for the Super Nintendo, and thus Nintendo's first 16-bit racing title. It introduced many factors previously unknown (or uncommon) to the genre, such as Mode 7 graphics (scaling & rotating), a new level of speed, and a realistic, futuristic setting. A Nintendo 64 sequel forsook graphic detail in favor of speed, a trade-off chastised by few but admired by many.
A racing title starring characters from the cast of Nintendo's Mario games, Super Mario Kart was the ultimate competitive title. Although the various racing modes were fun, it was the Battle Mode that gave the game its replay value. The weapons and arenas were perfectly balanced to create hours of play, in which players could execute incredible moves and recover from near-death in battles which could last anywhere from a minute to an hour. And, for a short time, this game was available for national play over the XBAND modem network.
Capcom's Super Street Fighter II, for the Super NES, was the best 16-bit incarnation of the series that practically gave birth to the fighting genre. It had sixteen well-balanced characters and a easy-to-learn, lifetime-to-master style of gameplay, making it a game for all skill levels. The tricks one could pull to beat the competition were innumerable — you never knew what could happen next. This game was also playable via XBAND.
The best multiplayer games aren't always racers or fighters. One of the best party games of all time is a first-person-perspective shooter in the vein of DOOM: Goldeneye, based on Pierce Brosnan's first James Bond movie. The real fun is in the game's multiplayer mode. The ultimate thrill: four players planting proximity mines in the bathroom stalls, hiding in the shadows of the caves with their AK147's ready, and raining rockets and grenades from balconies, in a variety of modes – free-for-all, teams, one-shot-kills, or even Capture the Flag.
James Bond isn't the only icon that won't go away. Although technically a game of the Eighties, where would we be today without Tetris? " From Russia with love " came the game that launched a thousand Game Boys. With a packed-in game that ensured long, sleepless nights of " just one more game, " Game Boy not only captured the handheld market — it *is* the handheld market.
On a darker note, blood-sucking bats have invaded practically every game system in the last ten years. The Castlevania series detail the fight of generations of Belmonts — Simon, Trevor, Richter — against the timeless Dracula. The NES games had branching paths, which increased player interaction and replay value; on the Super NES, Simon could whip in any direction, swing ala Indiana Jones, all accompanied by marvelous music and graphics. (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, released for the PlayStation in 1997, introduced a new level of exploration as Alucard, Dracula's half-vampire son, took up the whip.)
Mario has witnessed the launch of every Nintendo game system, and helped sell more than his fair share. On the Super NES, the Italian plumber could fly, revisit old worlds, and, with the help of his dinosaur mount, Yoshi, continue kicking Koopa tail. The Nintendo 64 showed the world how 3D gaming could be done with Super Mario 64, a game with almost no limits on action, and which has been cloned (sometimes well, but mostly not) repeatedly.
Where will we be in another ten years? A new generation of consoles is about to be born, yet will probably die and be replaced again before we arrive in the Terrific Tens (that is, the 2010's). Nintendo, whose games have always been of the highest quality, can be sure to succeed with the above staple of characters, if they're only smart enough to use them.
This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 10-Jan-00