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Landmarks of gaming: 1980 - 2011

1987: Metal Gear

The game: The 2D, narratively-coherent prequel to the premiere tactical-espionage-action saga of our day may have a limited palette, but the beginnings can already be seen of a series at once brilliant, challenging and deeply frustrating.

Significance: More noteworthy than starting a legendary franchise (Castlevania, Contra and Zelda also saw 1987 launches) is how Hideo Kojima's game took cues not just from fiction, but current events of '87 – next to whose absurdity, 2011 seems restrained.


1988: Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja

The game: Besides setting a popular standard for subsequent leaders, Ronald Reagan was the Princess Toadstool of late-80s action games, abducted laughably regularly. Data East's is the “kidnapped President” title history remembers best.

Significance: Capturing the glorious trashiness of greasy 1980s arcades, Bad Dudes plays rough not only with '80s culture but with that of games themselves. When Data East's own Karnov guested as a boss, games' strip-mining of their own past had begun.


1989: Sim City/Tetris

The games: The titles – one simulating American urbanism, the other abstract Soviet puzzling – seem like polar opposites. Both, though, showed a growing audience that compelling play wasn't rooted in pyrotechnics or a high body count.

Significance: The Genesis and TG-16 launched in '89, offering vast improvements on more of the same. But new players won over by Tetris and Sim City's fresh promise ensured a far greater future for the low-powered Game Boy and trusty old PC.


1990: Super Mario Bros 3

The game: Immediate, varied, challenging and immune to aging – as replayable today as it ever was – there simply isn't a compelling argument for Mario 3 not being the best video game ever made.

Significance: Gaming's first bona-fide blockbuster, doing for the medium what Jaws and Star Wars did for movies and the Beatles did for pop music. Whether that means “causing a revolution” or “sending in the clones” depends on how curmudgeonly you're feeling at the time.


1991: Battletoads

The game: Smarmy Ninja Turtle parodies (a description fitting every teen-oriented property launched in '91) headline the game that defines the term “Nintendo Hard.”

Significance: Affectionate (possibly even intentional) satire of the mascot-based arms race that dominated gaming in the early '90s. In an era of self-obsessed white people grooving to awful MTV hip-hop, nothing mattered more than getting your streetwise for-the-kidz character's shoes just the right shade of red. People died over this shit.


1992: Mortal Kombat

The game: Plays like Fatal Fury in trainer-pants; looks like it was designed by a hung-over Rob Liefeld; never, ever stops yelling at you. The perfect addition to a beer-fueled retro-gaming evening, then.

Significance: '91 had seen Street Fighter 2 jump-start the genre, but it was the slick, shallow and shameless MK that took the fight for three-round dominance to TV and the cover of Time – and introduced the “finishing move” into the repertoire of countless lazy designers.


1993: Doom

The game: It's not like there weren't FPSes, LANs or level-editors before Doom –  but apparently, only Messrs. Carmack and Romero realized just how much those things mattered. In hindsight, the rest of us were tremendous idiots.

Significance: Brilliant? Definitely. Also pornographically violent, caveman-dumb, insultingly generic, and not even real 3D. Graphically, we were too impressed to care; against a backdrop of the Waco siege, first WTC bombing and Bobbitt trial – Google that, kiddies – the other issues seemed not just trifling, but in keeping with the spirit of the day.

44 comments

  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - September 12, 2011 1:18 p.m.

    I would have said Halo 2 for 2004, as it was the first huge online multiplayer game on a console.
  • carrotsauce33 - August 17, 2011 1:44 a.m.

    No Uncharted? Or Mass Effect? I also was surprised to see Bioshock wasn't on there either! Kick Farmville out and replace it with one of the latter. Or, if they don't fit in the timeline, one of their sequels. I know Mass Effect didn't come out in 2009 but Bioshock 2 or Uncharted did. And didn't AC 2 come out in 2009?
  • 435 - August 16, 2011 6:44 p.m.

    1991... Battletoads? Yeah, someone never had a Genesis. There was this little game called Sonic: The Hedgehog which came out that year, too. You know, starring that plucky blue character that ran really fast and punched Nintendo in the face for a few years.
  • glane88 - August 15, 2011 11:46 p.m.

    I agree with this list very much. It takes some giant balls to give the nod to Mario & Sonic instead of COD4, and it takes the spot rightfully so. Mario and Sonic have been franchise rivals since Sonic was born; the fact that they were featured in a game together vastly outweighs the historical significance of CoD4. It's landmarks of gaming, not what was most popular in gaming that year. I'm also fine with something like BioShock not being included. Sure, it was immensely popular, started a franchise, but nothing about it screams that it's a landmark in the history of gaming.
  • miningguyx360 - August 14, 2011 10:20 p.m.

    Some of this is really off IMO
  • Tomgoulter - August 14, 2011 9:20 p.m.

    Thanks for all your suggestions - some very good points made as to the exclusion of Street Fighter II (which, for the record, is one of your author's favorite games ever). To those wondering about 2011, I'd personally have picked Modern Warfare 3 for this slot. Not because I imagine it definitely being better than Battlefield 3 (or Gears 3, or LA Noire, or Portal 2, or...) but because the amount of conflict that game signifies -- global, commercial, legal, corporate -- and the series' willfully ambiguous relationship to technomilitarism and geopolitics are the most typical of our time any game has managed. And yes, Jaws Unleashed was a joke.
  • Hobojedi - August 14, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    I could complain, but I'm satisfied with Doom making the list.
  • r.c.leclaire - August 14, 2011 6:53 p.m.

    Very interesting article. Good read but some curious selections.
  • JBizFoShiz - August 14, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    As far as 2011 is concerned, there are SO many good games this year. Personally, keeping in theme with the article, my pick goes to Bulletstorm. In terms of media coverage on gaming's evil nature (hi Fox!), the resurgence of the worried-about-nothing conservative parents (hi Dead Space 2 ad campaign!), I think those owe a lot to Bulletstorm!* *Not calling it the best game of the year. Calm down. Make this list in 10 years, and Modern Warfare 2 will be on here for 2010. Fact. I don't like MW2, but you can't deny its impact on the mainstream - for better or worse.
  • JBizFoShiz - August 14, 2011 6:42 p.m.

    PEOPLE! Calm down. These are NOT GR's picks for the best game of each year - but the games that represented each year! Whether that be through the media, through critics' reviews, through the public response. In 2005, was there ANY game that was talked about/vilified more than San Andreas? 2004's EA-Madden exclusivity deal was HUGE and killed the NFL2K series, Blitz, and destroyed any and all future NFL games not called Madden. LOTS of great games didn't make the list (I see nobody mentioning the original Sonic the Hedgehog as Sega challenged Nintendo's control), but this list does a good job letting people know just WHAT was up during the last 30 years of gaming, especially people who know nothing of gaming!! That said, no Dreamcast game making the list makes me frowny face. I would personally rank Sonic Adventure above Everquest (1999) as that was THE Dreamcast game to make a real impact, and introduce the next generation of 128-bit graphics before the PS2. The Dreamcast itself could have been a gaming landmark.
  • nai1210 - August 14, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    seriously Jaws:Unleashed,you like that game?,and it had no impact or importence in video game history it was a piece of shit being flogged at full price,this list is poor overall some of the games on here don't define it's place in video game history,nor it's year or genre,think i'll re-read the start of the article to see what your point was,but i thought it was games that defined the year which they where release?p.s all donkey kong country games where piss poor at the time,sure they looked nice,but had no charm or gameplay to get excited about no wonder Miyamota dissed it,Rare made good games for the spectrum but I have only ever enjoyed one game from them since that time and that would be Goldeneye and yep I have played a lot of there games since the speccy days and find them overrated and annoying looking at you snake rattle n roll and rc pro am in particullar
  • oldschoolgamer - August 13, 2011 11:59 p.m.

    landmarks of gaming, and no myst, tombraider, age of empires, mechwarrior, diablo, starcraft, castel wolfenstien, gauntlet, Yet pokemon made the list.. Rollseyes, you things went bad after packman..
  • dragonchilde - August 13, 2011 10:06 p.m.

    Everquest landmark? Hardly. Ultima Online predated it by two years, and still goes today. Everquest didn't (doesn't) have the depth.
  • lemur - August 13, 2011 8:42 p.m.

    I think half-life was more of a landmark than pokemon.
  • AleeR - August 13, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    Honestly, I think 2010 is probably still too soon to tell what games really reflect what we were thinking then ( I think a few years of perspective is needed). Going back further, I think a big head scratcher was the omission of Street Fighter II in '91. I realize Battletoads encompassed the TMNT parodies, but SFII revived the arcade culture, and esentially defined the genre that would rule for years. Mortal Kombat's true contribution came in 93, not at the release of the arcade, but the Genesis and SNES ports.
  • RicePuddingUK - August 13, 2011 3:02 p.m.

    You know 2004 was a bad year for games when MADDEN is the best one
  • Gnilres - August 13, 2011 2:27 p.m.

    Where's 2011?
  • avantguardian - August 13, 2011 8:52 a.m.

    @nightcrawler_358: it would seem a basic understanding of the article would be required to feel like commenting would be necessary, yeah? its strange that people would take something with objectivity in mind personally. just because a game isn't on the list doesn't mean it isn't "good" enough;) also, i feel sorry for other blocky turd/penis hybrids. it seems one bad apple has spoiled the proverbial barrel...
  • Roentgen - August 13, 2011 8:32 a.m.

    Where was Alone in the Dark for 1992? It created an entire genre overnight and is one of the most beloved survival horror games of all time.
  • quincytheodore - August 13, 2011 6 a.m.

    Wha...? No MGS 1, RE4, Bioshock? Those gotta be some sort of landmark in gameplay or narrative. And Portal? You know the game you dubbed No.1 on Top 100? Whyyy...

Showing 1-20 of 44 comments

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