People have very different views on the 1990’s. Some remember it with the kind of fondness that you can only get from growing up in a more optimistic age, while others cringe at the very thought of Brit-pop and curtained hair. Personally I prefer to think of the nineties as a ten-year, acid-fuelled rave; where everyone got so drunk they were no longer responsible for their own actions. However for all of the things we’d rather forget or chalk up to the intemperance of a ten-year millennium party, you have to admit that it was a fantastic age for gaming.
In the midst of all this, the consoles of the day made full use of the latest technologies offered. Some were more successful than others. Some were simply luckier than others. However no matter the generation or who their main competitors were, the nineties gave us some timeless examples of what makes this decade so great for gamers. The following are just a few of our favourite gaming machines of the day.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
During a time when Nintendo were in the midst of developing the N64, the good fellows at Rare were working on one final Mario game for the SNES. When this was demonstrated to Nintendo they were simultaneously awestruck and horrified to find just how good the game looked. Due to the fear that releasing a game that seemed so advanced but still ran smoothly on the aging system might convince gamers that there was no point in buying an N64, Nintendo insisted that Rare go back to the drawing board and come up with an original game, and not a Mario title. Because of this there was not another Mario console release until Super Mario 64; but on the other hand, the move resulted in Rare coming back with Donkey Kong Country... So it all worked out rather well in the end apparently.
Neo Geo - Advanced Entertainment System
I was fortunate, not too long ago to experience a Neo Geo firsthand and I must say it is some of the best fun I have ever had while gaming. It is a console that is best for events. Times when you can have a pack of friends round and indulge in tournaments of arcade classics. You will easily find yourself in beat’em ups frantically button bashing your way to victory, but the game will always make it look like every move is intentionally smooth and flawless. The one recommendation I will make is to try not to have too many fights over who gets to play the winner…
In many ways the N64 can be considered the end of an era in its own right. It was after all the final console to use ROM cartridges. Simultaneously however it was the first ever console to include an analogue stick on its joypad, and also the first to include a rumble feature. Its controls even included an index finger trigger, a feature which was clearly designed to give first person shooters an additional sense of realism; and which became of particular use with exclusive titles such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. In fact the platform itself was awash with classic titles, from the previously mentioned Mario 64, to Ocarina of Time, and even the adult themes of Conker's Bad Fur Day. There were of course plenty of mediocre titles and even the odd bad one; (we still speak of Superman 64 with hushed tones) but nevertheless at a time when gaming was beginning to take itself so seriously it was a pleasant experience to play on a console which had a more balanced approach. Nintendo designed the 64 with their usual childlike innocence at its core but for the first time they also ensured that there would be an assortment of more mature possibilities for their older fans. Today the N64 continues to stand as a curtain call for the Cartridge Era, but if it was up to me I would still ask for one last encore.
Sony saw its fair share of controversy with the PlayStation, with games like Grand Theft Auto and Duke Nukem 3D bringing fears of rampaging psychopathic teenagers coming to the minds of many conservative onlookers. If anything though, this only fuelled the punk-esque nature of the system. PlayStation did for the nineties what Rock ‘n’ Roll did for the fifties and brought about a new teen revolution that persisted to the modern day. As I mentioned at the start, the nineties saw new and different genres which we now take for granted, and it was largely the PlayStation that saw their arrival. Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Command & Conquer and Grand Theft Auto are but a few of the classic titles that have since become massive modern day franchises. At this stage, is it even possible to imagine the games industry without these common staples?
1999 saw the release of the Dreamcast to a somewhat lukewarm response. Its first day sales were fairly impressive but it was clear that consumers were awaiting the PS2 that would come a year later. Despite some hopes that Sony’s early production problems might improve Sega’s failing sales, it did not take long before the decision was made to discontinue the console after only a couple of years. Despite this however, there is no doubt in my mind that the Dreamcast is one of the best consoles ever conceived. It was the first console to introduce an inbuilt modem, with Sega clearly thinking ahead to the future; while its controller features a much more comfortable design to most of its competitors. In terms of its library of games there is nothing quite as edgy as what you would find on a Sony console, but nevertheless it features an assortment of fun titles that offer an arcade level of gameplay such as Crazy Taxi, or even others such as Shenmue which can be characterised as an experience in of itself.
While most people look at the Dreamcast as a low point for Sega, I believe it is better to look on it as their final great high. If Sony gave us the tone of gaming for the new millennium then Sega gave us the first example of the tools with which we would be playing on. It is only a shame that we could not have lived with it a little longer.
Old rivalries come and go, but the console war continues...
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