Ghosts of Christmas past
The holiday season has begun again, but in the midst a buying gifts and planning travel, dont you long to relive that once-a-year magic of your youth? Back then Santa was real and the anticipation of a new video game under the tree could literally cause you to lose sleep. How great would that be to relive that?
Well, weve done our best to bring those holiday moments back to you. Not just one Christmas, but virtually every Christmas US gamers saw--from the long ago 1980s all the way through to the best-selling holiday games of the 2000s. And remember, these aren't the best games of each year, just the ones people got the most for the holidays.
The Atari 2600 was still going strong, thanks in particular to Activision a.k.a. the first ever independent developer in console history. But the 2600 had a fierce new challenger in Intellivision, which promised multifunctionality for the the whole family. Meanwhile, Zork was in floppy drives nationwide--whether the PC owner paid for the text adventure or pirated it.
The 2600 saw some of its most popular games ever in Yars Revenge and Kaboom! At the same time, PC games were getting increasingly complex in desirable hits like Castle Wolfenstein and Wizardry. The Commodore VIC-20 brought cutting edge tech into the living room, while K.C. Munchkin for the Odyssey ripped off Pac-Man so well that every kid wanted it under the Christmas tree.
As the 2600s challengers kept falling to the wayside, games like Pitfall were instant classics, arcade ports like Pac-Man sold well even when they played horribly, and Empire Strikes Back showed that movie tie-ins will always sell. Kids looking for something better than dated Atari tech were getting the ColecoVision, despite George Plimptons insistence that choose Intellivision instead.
As the Great Video Game Crash was causing a massive crater in the industry, there were still a few games on kids wish lists. That included ports of the Star Wars arcade game and Robotron, while M.U.L.E. was entertaining the more statistically-minded youngsters. Meanwhile, Nintendo was launching its early portables in the US with Game & Watch; the Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. models did particularly well.
Console games were basically dead at this time in the US, though Atari was pushing cheap 2600s as hard as they could. Santas elves were done making cartridges for the time being. With games out of vogue, if kids wanted any badass digital entertainment for the holidays, it likely came in the form of early PC hits like Elite.
Nintendo proved the console markets death was falsely reported via rebranding its Famicom system for the west. America fell hard for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the packed in Super Mario Bros. became a phenomenon of its own. And dont forget that ROB, the NESs toy partner, also deserves some of the credit for making the NES feature on kids letters to Santa.
The NES was now firmly in control of the USs gaming holidays. And its easy to see why with classics like The Legend of Zelda premiering on the system (its really rad) alongside Capcom arcade hits like Ghosts n Goblins and 1942. As the NES controlled the living room, Sierra was winning over PC gamers with its newest adventure game, Space Quest.
Americas love affair with the NES was in full swing, no matter how many competitors tried to grab the attention of kids during the holidays. The gimmicky Power Pad looked great in the commercials, while icons like Metroid and Castlevania caught on with gamers along with sportier titles like Punch-Out, Pro Wrestling, and Double Dribble. If US children asked for a game during this Christmas, 99 times out of 100 it was on the NES.
Super Mario Bros. 2 and Legend of Zelda II were massive sequels, though also hard to come by thanks to Nintendos famous chip shortages. Contra and Double Dragon were also in demand, while nerdier kids were asking for RPGs like Pool of Radiance and Phantasy Star (if they actually had Segas Master System in the US). Lastly, PC fans were clamoring for Maniac Mansion, LucasArts beloved, early foray into comedic adventure games.
The Ninja Turtles were inescapable in all forms this holiday season, and that included the NES. But kids reading early video game magazines asked for the much better Mega Man 2, still the best-selling entry in the franchise. SimCity was creating an entire genre on PCs, but casual fans were enraptured by Tetris and the Game Boy--Super Mario Land didnt do bad either. Yet kids also were itching for something new in consoles, so if you could convince Santa to pay up, you entered the 16-bit era with the Genesis or Turbo-GrafX.
Even with flashy 16-bit consoles doing well, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a massive hit this Christmas, racking up the highest sales of any NES game ever. As Nintendo introduced Final Fantasy to America, kids preferred the radical (but near-unusable) Power Glove, while Bonk was getting a heavy push as Turbo-GrafXs mascot while the Genesis struggled to find a character that would connect with people. And discerning PC fans wanted Kings Quest V and Wing Commander in their stockings/disk drives.
The console wars truly began this Christmas. Nintendo finally launched its 16-bit SNES in the US, and pack-in Super Mario World was hard to beat as an X-Mas present, but thanks to Sonic the Hedgehog, the Genesis became the cool toy for American kids that had outgrown Nintendo. Sonic vs. Mario became a heated debate on playgrounds, with kids picking sides when telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas. Sega fans could also get the fancier (put battery-devouring) Game Gear handheld, while the more mature PC gamers opted out of that battle with the engrossing Civilization.
SNES owners were begging moms and dads for Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart, amd Street Fighter II. Sonic 2 was the game to get on Genesis, and it launched with a massive ad campaign and international launch on Sonic 2s day, November 24. Sonic had the eco-friendly Ecco the dolphin to keep him company, and LucasArts impressed PC fans with an adventure game continuation of the Indiana Jones franchise.
Myst was the definitive game to show off your PCs pricey CD ROM drive to your jealous friends. As the Sega CD launched with memorable RPG Lunar (and little else of note) and kids were playing Disneys Aladdin on SNES and Genesis, X-Mas gifts were getting bloodier. Teens that grew up with Mario now wanted the gore and violence of Doom and Mortal Kombat, each becoming massive hits. Meanwhile, the Atari Jaguar was offering 64-bit graphics to people fooled by their advertisements.
Sonic & Knuckles became the ultimate in Genesis awesomeness this year, Donkey Kong Country showed the promise of 3D graphics on the SNES, and Earthworm Jim was played by kids on both systems. NBA Jam and Final Fantasy III topped the respective wish list of sports and RPG gamers, and Wing Commander III reinvigorated the space shooter with CD ROM power and (now laughable) cutscenes starring Mark Hamill.
Nintendo stuck with 16-bit in 95 thanks to games like Chrono Trigger, and the companys Virtual Boy fascinated futurists who didnt mind headaches. However, Sega and upstart Sony were pulling gamers into next-gen this holiday season. Games like Virtua Fighter and Ridge Racer were top launch game gifts on the Saturn and PSX respectively. On PC, players were introduced to Warcraft, not realizing the franchise would own their lives for years to come.
The Nintendo 64 entered the next generation and brought the goods with Super Mario 64, but little else aside from a glitzy Star Wars game. PlayStation got its own mascot in Crash Bandicoot, but most teen boys wanted to spend the holidays with Lara Croft for some reason. And Command & Conquer Red Alert further established the RTS as the most popular genre on the PC.
GoldenEye 007 and Diddy Kong Racing were the most wanted N64 games thanks to the addictive quality of four player competition. Final Fantasy VII shocked everyone by making Japanese RPGs huge in the US, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night proved 2D games could keep up with polygons. And for PC gamers with lots of free time, no gift was better received than Ultima Online and Fallout.
1998s Christmas trees hosted some of the most important (and popular) games of all time. Half-Life, Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear Solid were all hot gifts that year, each changing the medium in their own way. Meanwhile, younger gamers were begging for Spyro and the Game Boy Color, which finally ditched the green graphics of old.
1999 was Segas last big console push with the Dreamcast, having a great launch with Soul Caliber at the forefront. Sony loyalists missed out, but were perfectly fine with Final Fantasy VIIIs gorgeous cutscenes and love story. Tony Hawk was teaching teen gamers how to ollie, and Pokemon Yellow were just one part of the growing pocket monster hysteria. Santa got to know Pikachu very well that year.
Welcome to X-Mas in the new millenium. If you could find one, the PlayStation 2 was an amazing gift to get--even if the launch games sucked. But backwards compatibility meant you could enjoy the hyper nostalgic Final Fantasy IX all while Nintendo fans were soaking up Majoras Mask and Pokemon Gold/Silver. Lastly, Sega fans got to enjoy one last X-Mas with the Dreamcast with unforgettable gems like Jet Grind Radio and Shenmue.
Microsoft and Nintendo launched new systems this holiday season as a new console war commenced. Xbox adopters wanted Halo and little else, and Nintendo fans of all ages wanted Smash Bros. Melee next to their new GameCube on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, the PS2 had an incredible selection of gifts like Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear Solid 2, though Grand Theft Auto III shocked everyone by becoming the hottest gaming present this X-Mas.
This year saw Animal Crossing and Metroid Prime as GameCubes coolest mini-discs, Ratchet & Clank joining the mascot competition, Kingdom Hearts somehow becoming an international hit, and Battlefield 1942 transforming the online shooting for PC owners. And yet it was GTA that won Christmas again, this time with Vice City selling even better than III.
The GameCube had Viewtiful Joe, Mario Kart: Double Dash, and little else. Xbox fans were happy to finally get Madden on Microsofts console. Jak II energized Sonys other PS2 mascot. As all this was going on, Simpsons Hit & Run and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic became top sellers by being remarkably good TV and movie tie-ins.
The PC entered a new golden age this year. Half-Life 2 finally came out (along with a small service called Steam), The Sims 2 sent droves back to their virtual dollhouses, and World of Warcraft was just getting its first million subscribers. Consoles were doing great as well, with Halo 2 and Xbox Live a particular must have for US players. And by this point Santa must have been getting tired of delivering GTA, because San Andreas was the most popular entry yet.
The PSP was Sonys introduction to the handheld universe, and Liberty City Stories was a must have for that fall. The DS got its overdue killer app in Nintendogs, which brought many new casual folks to the system. On the console side of things, the brand new 360 was hard to get, but if Santa could find one, giftees wanted to play Call of Duty 2. And the PS2 was getting older, but the success of Guitar Hero this Christmas would keep it going a little longer.
The 360 came into its own with the first entry in the Gears of War trilogy, while the PS3 and Resistance were wanted by holiday shoppers with lots of money and a love for Sony. But Nintendo won this X-Mas with ease. The Wii was an immediate hit and nearly impossible to find all winter long, and the DS Lite made the handheld even more of a massive hit.
People were still just using it for Wii Sports, but Super Mario Galaxy was a title embraced by millions of casual and hardcore players alike. BioShock and Assassins Creed began franchises that would dominate the rest of the console generation. 360 fans all wanted Santa to bring Halo 3 down their chimney, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare ended up as an even bigger mainstream success. Lastly, Rock Band took music games to another level, making it a hit at thousands of New Years parties.
The Wii was still a hot commodity in the US this year, selling to pretty much anyone that could get their hands on it. Nintendo fans were still soaking in Smash Bros. Brawls nostalgic action, but Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit were selling to the millions of casual owners out there. Assassins Creed 2 and CoD: World at War continued both of those franchises holiday dominance, but GTA IV was still a hot gift many months after its launch. And PC gamers bought Spore, the game that promised to change gaming forever--were still waiting for that to happen.
Seriously, the Wii could not be stopped at the end of the decade, with millions more buying the system during the holidays thanks to the continued popularity of Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii--New Super Mario Bros. Wii was no slouch either. The PS3 was reborn with a slimmer look, so the cheaper system and Uncharted 2 became a powerful holiday combo. And Santas sack had no shortage of shooters with both Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2 continuing to dominate November/December sales charts.
Boy, things were really predictable for Santa this year. Call of Duty and Halo sequels were still crazy popular with young men, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wii Fit Plus kept making Nintendo rich, and another Assassins Creed game was big on 360, PS3, and PC. Though the gifts werent all obvious, as Just Dance 2 became a surprising favorite of children worldwide.
Just Dance was even bigger this year--even Pres. Obama was buying it for his kids. As that went on, Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 fought a bloody war for holiday shoppers, Batmans second Arkham adventure brought the Dark Knight some X-Mas cheer, and Skyrim was a must-have for anyone that needed to escape into a fantasy world during the X-Mas break. Finally, after a rocky start, Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land made the 3DS a Christmas favorite.
Halo 4 and Black Ops 2 once more filled the holidays with explosions and gunfire, and Assassins Creed III got the series high sales (though not much critical acclaim). Kids and their parents were playing all they could of Just Dance 4 and Lego Batman 2. And Nintendo diehards had to have a Wii U just as the rest of America had trouble differentiating it from the Wii.
What 2013 games will make people nostalgic in 2038? How will you look back on this holiday season? And do you remember any of the ones we mentioned? Let us know in the comments!