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ClassicRadar: The ten greatest years in videogame history

This month marks the five-year anniversary of GamesRadar, and to celebrate, we’re bringing back some of our favorite past features. This was one of our very first, originally posting way back in July 2006. Would you add 2007, 2008, 2009 or 2010 to the list? How will 2011 compare? Before you complain that we missed an earlier year, though, be sure to read our follow-up, in which we pick the next five greatest years in videogame history.

How did we decide the 10 greatest years in videogame history? First step: We made a huge list of the best titles from the past four decades and taped it to the wall. Second step: We fought. Viciously. For days. Literally.

We also considered each year as a whole, looking at how many great games came out, just how great each was, and how they play today. We focused on the US market – only one Japanese import is mentioned – and if a game appeared on multiple systems or spawned sequels, we gave the first, best-known, most influential or highest quality version more weight.

Our final results shocked even us…


1980

Granted, 1980 wasn't the birth of video games, but it was when the baby started making some serious noise. Arcades were becoming social centers, muscling out pinball machines a quarter at a time. And when you read the all-time, all-star roster, it's easy to see why. Centipede, Defender, Battlezone, Tempest, Berzerk, Missile Command, Warlords, Phoenix, Star Castle - even the first sequels: Asteroids Deluxe and the head-to-head Space Invaders II. They're all seminal, and they all came out in a 12-month span, only to be swallowed up by video gaming's first legitimate pop-culture phenomenon, Pac-Man. What's more interesting is that each of those games looks, feels and plays completely differently. It was a time of great creativity and innovation, and these games remain among the most popular, playable, and inspirational games ever, even today. Looking at the class of 1980 is like looking at gaming's DNA.

Home consoles started enjoying serious success this year too, with the Atari 2600 hosting Adventure plus the home versions of arcade hits Night Driver, Video Pinball and the January release of the monster system-seller, Space Invaders. Imagine - the ability to play your favorite coin-operated games in the privacy of your own home, on your TV! That concept might just catch on.

Of course, if you had one of those fancy, expensive TRS-80 "home computers," you were probably "standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door." (There was a small mailbox there, too.) That was all the info that adventurers in Zork were given at the outset of their epic journey; the rest of the details were described in text and filled in by the imagination of the player. Another fan of adventure games, Richard Garriott, started selling homemade copies of a dungeon crawler named Akalabeth: World of Doom at the ComputerLand store where he worked. Realizing he could improve it and add graphics, he set out writing his next game: Ultima.

Meanwhile, in faraway Japan, a little company named Nintendo created the Game & Watch, a series of LCD timepieces that also played action games. With a folding design that offered twin, stacked screens, the company's first handheld machines wound up inspiring the look and functionality of the Nintendo DS some 25 years later.


1982

Arcades were blazing with innovation in 1982, but home systems were starting to come into their own as well. You could satiate your cravings for arcade action with future classics like BurgerTime (would you believe "Mr. Egg" was a copyrighted name?). You could mine for dragons and killer balloons in Dig Dug, stab armored knights off of ostriches in Joust, or shoot the hell out of the mechanized sensory overload that was Robotron: 2084. Isometric shooter Zaxxon amazed people with its graphics, and Tron taught us to fear spiders - though we dreaded Sinistar's roaring, "I hunger!" even more. 

In the living room, the Atari 2600 VCS, was at its peak. There was the jungle adventure Pitfall!, gorgeous Space Invaders knock-off Demon Attack (also on Intellivision), the tense, robots-in-a-maze shooter Berzerk, the "Heart of Darkness"-style vertical shooter River Raid. If those weren't weird enough, Megamania found you blasting away at hamburgers and spare tires, and the uncanny Yars' Revenge actually made being a cyborg fly in outer space seem cool. Dot-muncher Ms. Pac-man made up for the mess that was the 2600 version of Pac-man, Finally, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial may have sucked so badly it became legendary, but many of us played the crap out of it anyhow.

The Mattel Intellivision had made its living showing off its sports games, but Advanced Dungeons & Dragons gave fantasy gamers a reason to rejoice. The experimental Vectrex, with its self-contained screen and line-based vector graphics, did its best with decent arcade ports of Berzerk, Rip Off, and Scramble, and the Colecovision arrived on the scene with nearly perfect versions of arcade hits Donkey Kong and Venture. Atari's 5200 system released some strong arcade ports as well.

Personal computers even snuck in a few hits, with the Commodore 64 donning the graphical adventure The Mask of the Sun - sorry, Raoul - and feeling the vengeance of Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress.

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46 comments

  • Genericpenisjoketista - March 30, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    I don't know if I would call these the "best' years. Maybe the most influential, yes, but some of these games (while very influential and having strong legacies) were pretty bad.
  • RideZeLitenin - March 30, 2011 1:56 a.m.

    Great read. Love all the nice screenscots
  • Imthedoctor - March 29, 2011 2:34 a.m.

    07 definitely. 05 is worthy of it though, didn't one of the ratchet and clank games come out then? i know there was a year when sly cooper and ratchet had a big year, can't remember which though :/
  • RavenGunslinger - March 29, 2011 2:22 a.m.

    Oh man I just got a hard case of nostalgia.
  • ObliqueZombie - March 29, 2011 12:02 a.m.

    Though not finished, I think 2011 is looking to be a huge contender for "most important/best years in gaming." As soon as you said Star Wars Battlefront 2, I immediately agreed with 2005 being the most important (thus far), yet was immediately depressed... playing both Battlefronts were some of the fondest memories of my gaming life, and goddammit, I'd be willing to pay $100 down to play another Battlefront.
  • NightCrawler_358 - March 28, 2011 11:13 p.m.

    1998 and 2001 are definitely the best in my books. Now, I like 2007, and so far, 2011 will definitely be in my top ten years. That is, if most of the games don't get delayed.
  • Silentboy - March 28, 2011 10 p.m.

    Its good to know that a lot of other people thought 2007 was a good year in gaming.
  • Revanjd - March 28, 2011 9:18 p.m.

    Wow! When you take a look back at games from the 90's, you realize how freaking crappy games are these days. No originality, no imagination, no nothing! Heck, they don't even make adventure games anymore. All we're getting now is one freaking CoD game after another. Or games that want to be Just like CoD. I guess gamers today are too "adult" or too "cool" to be playing games like Donkey Kong, Zelda or Mario these days, and would rather be camping out like a little b*tch in CoD match. The gamers of today... :S
  • BaraChat - March 28, 2011 12:21 p.m.

    Best current-gen year is most likely 2007, as many people pointed out. Although 2009 was pretty good as well, at least for me. 2011 has started off strong, and has the firepower (Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3, Last Guardian, Crysis 2, Deux Ex, Duke Nukem, LBP2, 3DS, Portal 2, Gears 3, Zelda : Skyward Sword, inFamous 2, Skyrim, LA Noire, Rage, Battlefield 3, Brink and, obviously, The Conduit 2. Scratch that last one, and 2011 might be great indeed. Overall, 1998 still takes the cake.
  • yonderTheGreat - March 28, 2011 10:01 a.m.

    Lol... Childish? The list includes 2005. There's no stated cut-off. I appreciate the "don't live in the moment" concept but c'mon, nearly everyone agrees that 2007 will go down in VG history. It was in 2008 that I started to tell people "hey, 1998-2001 isn't necessarily the height of videogaming. Just look around!"
  • philipshaw - March 28, 2011 8:38 a.m.

    I would have 2008 for original games from EA like Dead Space and Mirror's Edge. 2011 is looking great already with the 3DS just coming out and Sony having an already strong exclusive line-up
  • chicgoods39 - March 28, 2011 5:04 a.m.

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  • Fusionmix - March 28, 2011 3:58 a.m.

    Oi, no Morrowind or Descent? And no love for the NES? Aside from that, I'd have to agree. More of my favourite games have come from 1998 than from any other year (BG, MGS, HL1...)
  • FVDub - March 28, 2011 2:04 a.m.

    It seems like 2003 is always left out of the "best year ever" discussion, which is a shame. There were some incredible games released then, especially on the GBA. A quick list: The Wind Waker, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Beyond Good and Evil, KOToR, Soul Calibur 2, Call of Duty, Wario Ware Inc., Mario Kart: Double Dash, Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, GTA: Vice City, Mario And Luigi, Fire Emblem, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Viewtiful Joe, Rise of Nations, F-Zero GX, Advanced Wars 2, Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire (which gave us Mudkip, the best Pokemon ever). And it was the year of the N-Gage! What's not to like there?
  • DeathbyFira - March 28, 2011 12:03 a.m.

    omg when Sukioden 2 came out my life chaged i have played rpgs but that and that one still to this day is my favorite game of all time and Crono trigger lol and my fav year has so got to be 1993 everygame you mentioned i have pretty much played , still own and has crafted me into a die hard gamer thanks games radar this article truely was awesome indeed
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 27, 2011 8:34 p.m.

    I liked 2001 the best, there was just so much goodness that year.
  • chriszewski - March 27, 2011 6:41 p.m.

    I was a big PC gamer back in the 80's and 90's so seeing the likes of Privateer, and Westwood's Blade Runner after so long brought back some fond memories. P.S. When are we gonna see Volition's revival of the space sim genre? Freespace 2, IMveryHO, was the pinnacle of sci-fi space combat. I like Saint's Row and Red Faction just as much as everyone else, but c'mon Volition!
  • marcofarlio - March 27, 2011 6:29 p.m.

    I presonally think the list shouldn't have gone past 2001. It's only 10 years or so after that a year can be looked at as "great". 1991 up until 2001 obviuosly had huge differences in looks and gameplay from start to finish, developers and publishers getting to grips with new technology and fan base. I doubt 2011 - 2021 will have a dramatic change as people expect technology to fly now a days (ie speaking to turn you Xbox 1080 on)but who knows!
  • GodofPS314 - March 27, 2011 4:22 p.m.

    I am so glad you included Pikmin in this! @HitmanSB07 It isn't a list of best years, it is a list of most important years. So you could have years like 2008 that were amazing, but they weren't revolutionizing anything.
  • presc1ence - March 27, 2011 2:17 p.m.

    I take it, it is all going on U.S sales and stuff? Several of these games were not the best of their series (un jammer better than parappa? WTF!) Good article, I just guess it not aimed at the audience outside the U.S.

Showing 1-20 of 46 comments

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