A few decades ago, the world of gaming was a drastically different place. Times were simpler- no one knew just what the medium was capable of. Because of this, companies were far more free to experiment with new ideas, and games that exploited these new ideas were revolutionary. They were the games that introduced the world to video games as a whole, the foothold for an industry that has grown to massive proportions today. These are old-school games- the ones that we all remember from our childhood.
Do you remember these games? I’m sure you do- whether it was a game of Mario Party with friends, catching the first 151 Pokemon, or enjoying the open-world shenanigans of Banjo and Kazooie, I find that many people hold these memories dear. And of course, the same goes with me. I’ve loved many games like this, and they made up a huge part of my childhood- and in many cases, they’ve stuck with me even to this day.
So, today, I’ll talk about five of the old-school games that have stuck around in my mind. These are the ones I’ve had great memories with, and games that I’m sure have been a huge part of the lives of others as well. They introduced new ideas to me, about how the world of gaming worked, and have given me a love for gaming as a whole. Also, for the purposes of this list, I will be talking more about the 1990s era- retro arcade games, the absolute originals, will be saved for another time. That being said, let’s get to it!
1. Super Mario World (SNES, 1990)
A classic, considered by many people as one of, if not the best Mario games of all time, this game in my opinion is the epitome, the best example of the standard 2D Platformer. Providing set challenges to overcome, and fun, intuitive gameplay, Super Mario World refined, and in my opinion, came damn near close to perfecting the genre that its predecessors created.
Obviously, you play as Mario, to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil King Bowser. It’s a simple objective, and is all the game needs, especially when in this case, the gameplay is truly what matters. Jumping through levels, stomping Koopas and Goombas alike, and flying using the Cape Feather, Super Mario World was undoubtedly some of the most raw fun I’ve personally had with an old-school video game.
Beyond that, it’s given me a huge appreciation for straight up game design. I mean. This game was SO well designed, from the music, to the controls, to the levels, everything was so good. The challenges were tough, but not unbeatable- and with so many different levels to go through, so many different paths to take, the replay value was insane! Especially considering the challenge levels after the main story. Speaking of: one of these days, I’ll get through it again, and beat that stupid Special World.
2. Pokemon Silver/Gold/Crystal (Game Boy Color, 1999)
Okay, I had to include some Pokemon games here somewhere, right?
Pokemon Silver was actually my second Pokemon game- Yellow was the first- but it was the first one I distinctly remember playing. Introducing a day and night system, one hundred new Pokemon, and given a whole new region to explore, Silver was a game I simply wouldn’t put down as a kid. Add on top of this new content, the ability to go back to Kanto from the first game? Man, you had me sold. This Pokemon game was the first to instill in me a love for the adventure in a video game. It gave a genuine sense of growth, one that only improved with future games in the series, but Silver was the game that started it all for me.
Mind you, Gold and Silver do have drastically improved remakes, but that doesn’t take away in my mind from the huge impact and fun of the original games. They were still great for what they were, so I’ve definitely got to mention them as some of my favorite old-school games.
3. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Kirby, with his new friend Ribbon the Fairy, have to collect The Crystal Shards in order to defeat their enigmatic foe, Dark Matter. This quest, to collect all 100 shards, took exploration, experimentation, and a lot of time. But man, it kept you coming back for more every time.
Floating into 3D for the first time, Kirby’s stand out N64 game hits a lot of soft spots for me. The colorful world that The Crystal Shards showed drew me in, and the humor of the cutscenes were something to appreciate. Also, copying abilities, actually combining them to form new ones, and battling across six different worlds provided huge amounts of variety to the game, that were, simply put, extremely enjoyable. Compound this with minigames that were extremely addicting, and I can say Kirby 64 was a great childhood memory. I just wish that they kept the combining mechanic in other games of the series.
4. Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64, 1999)
Here, we get into the game that sparked a gaming passion that continues even to this day: competition. Super Smash Bros. in my life has been that one party game- the one my friends and I would take out when we just wanted to have a good time. Of course, this became more and more true as the years went on, but it all started with this one, the original Super Smash Bros.
The mechanics weren’t quite as refined or streamlined as later games in the series, but the original Super Smash Bros was hugely innovative for its time. Compared to games like Street Fighter, the original Smash was something huge- it was simple. You didn’t need to memorize complicated combos, all you needed to know were the basic movements and attacks, and you were able to play with your friends. However, there was, and still is, so much potential to improve, to get better, that young me was obsessed with the game- I wanted to win, but it was also so much fun just to play with friends!
Combine that with an all-star cast of Nintendo’s greatest, colorful, dynamic scenery, and multiple modes to choose from, and you can bet that Super Smash Bros was one of those games that sucked up countless hours. From the first game, a personal affinity to the Smash Bros series was born, an affinity that continues to this day. After all, we E-Sports now.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Many people seem to consider Majora’s Mask’s predecessor, Ocarina of Time, to be the first great adventure game, a story of epic proportions that revolutionized the world of gaming. Majora’s Mask was just the clone- the dark sheep, the game that Nintendo wanted to experiment with. However, this particular Zelda entry did a lot more than that, for a lot of people.
This comparison has been made before, but Ocarina of Time can be likened to the epic story, the classic struggle of good and evil, of the hero’s quest, while Majora’s Mask is the story that comes after that- the ambiguous, darker story, where good and evil are not so clear, and the hero might not receive such a happy ending. Majora’s Mask, starring Link, and set in the strange land of Termina, a world threatened with annihilation, is a very, very, very powerful game. It was very mature for its time- telling stories through gameplay, expressing concepts that were rather complex, and ultimately intriguing many, many people.
Majora’s Mask tried something different, and succeeded in conveying very thematically deep ideas in a way never before seen. Carrying over the great gameplay mechanics of Ocarina of Time, and introducing the new mask items to boot, Majora’s Mask added on to the already fun Ocarina of Time, and added new concepts that made the game, in my eyes, absolutely one of the best old-school games of all time.