Tomb Raider (SegaSaturn, PSone, PC) | The Lost Valley
We knew Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking game ten minutes after we first donned Lara's oddly out-of-season khaki shorts. But it was the player's entrance to the Lost Valley that we'll remember above any other level in the game. Exploring a massive cave complex, we slid down from a ledge we couldn’t climb back up, and heard footsteps. Having already killed a bear and enough wolves to make a very cozy coat, we grabbed our pistols and got ready for anything... except for the velociraptor that came trotting around the corner.
But as everyone knows, that wasn't the best part. No, the best part was entering into the lush junglescape seconds later and coming face to scaly, teeth-the-size-of-bananas-filled face with a lumbering Tyrannosaurus Rex, nature's finest human-eating machine. The next 30 seconds are blurry for most gamers, and typically involve wonder, excitement, panic, and (if you're lucky) a small cave just big enough for Lara to slip into. And possibly several reloads of the previous checkpoint.
Twisted Metal 2 (PSone, PC) | Paris: Monumental Disaster
What could possibly be more fun than pretending to utterly demolish national landmarks? Nothing, that's what, so stop trying to come up with answers. Aside from being one of the best car-combat games ever made, Twisted Metal 2 is notable for enabling players to go berserk in a mockup of Paris, complete with a near-life-size Eiffel Tower and a dull-looking gallery that's probably supposed to be the Louvre. Better still, you can blow them all to hell - but for the most spectacular demolition, place a remote-triggered bomb (conveniently located on the Eiffel Tower's observation deck) anywhere on the tower. Trigger it once you're within safe viewing distance, and the Eiffel Tower will be torn apart, leaving the once-pristine city littered with smoldering steel wreckage (that conveniently bridges the gaps between certain buildings).
Sure, the original looks a little hokey now (it's since been remade on PSP and PS2 in Twisted Metal: Head On and TM:HO: Extra Twisted Edition, respectively), with its pastel-colored row houses and jaggy tower, but in 1996, Twisted Metal 2's Parisian arena of death offered us something we'd never seen or done before, and the fact that we could actually do it left us a little shocked. Shocked at how awesome games could be.