Landmarks of gaming: 1980 - 2011

1994: Donkey Kong Country

Above: The game famously dissed (and apologized to) by Shigeru Miyamoto himself

The game: Platformer starring loveable animal mascots distinguishes itself with a snazzy CG look and (we often forget) uncommonly fine-tuned gameplay.

Significance: Giddy over movie CGI and powerful future-consoles (in the Nintendo-proclaimed “Year of the Cartridge,” Sony had the nerve to launch the PSX), '94 was crazy for anything that looked the least bit computer-generated. Deep down, we knew this was just pre-rendered business as usual – but we could dream, right?

1995: Marvel Super Heroes

The game: In an age when every other game had two fighters, health bars up top and a shitload of buttons, here was... another one. This time with comic characters!

Significance: The increasing complexity of fighting games saw move-lists and FAQs command heavy Internet traffic. Guides to MSH were among the first docs added to the immediately-popular Video Game FAQ Archive, later GameFAQs. Great for players, but a troubling early indicator for print media – particularly games mags.

1996: Ripper

Above: A pre-Cowbell Walken enjoys an overabundance of credibility

The game: Christopher Walken, Paul Giamatti and John Rhys-Davies star in cyberpunk “interactive movie” that not only took up six CDs, but had the gall to turn this into a box-front boast.

Significance: The multimedia boom brought games out of the pixellated ghetto – Resident Evil's rendered graphics and Trent Reznor's Quake soundtrack, for instance – but Ripper typified a rush of titles, bloated and light on actual gameplay, that had many feeling like progress wasn't worth it.

1997: Wipeout XL

The game: Gaming forays into undergrounds like hip-hop and grunge had hitherto rested on a timeline between ham-fisted and mortifying. The rave scene proved a better fit: XL stylishly blended the neon euphoria of electronica with games' sci-fi futurism.

Significance: Games were on CDs! Music was on CDs! Music is cool, and now games had no reason not to be cool either! Not bad for a medium that, four years prior, had been using “MIDIfied dad-rock” as a selling point.

1998: Pokemon Red/Pokemon Blue

The games: Released in gaming's Best Year Ever (Ocarina! Half-Life! MGS! Starcraft! Tekken 3! Resi 2! Thief! Baldur's Gate!), Pokemon proved a lifesaver not just for the relevance-hemorrhaging Nintendo, but portable gaming as a whole.

Significance: Anime fandom had long occupied a comfortable niche in the gaming world, but the Pokemon phenomenon brought Japanophilia to mainstream players –  and, via the equally huge cartoon, to kids who'd never even touched a Game Boy.

1999: EverQuest

The game: Massively multiplayer pointy-ear extravaganza in which you could go online, meet your friends, hold marriages, even play some D&D if you wanted.

Significance: With the Internet having gone from “curiosity,” through “buzzword,” to arrive at “essential,” gaming was a good sign of where things were headed. The Counter-Strike mod for Half-Life hinted at a future of user-generated invention, but in '99, if you weren't hooked on Evercrack, you probably didn't have a modem.

2000: Perfect Dark

The game: Story-based FPS with a cache of lovingly-catalogued weapons and huge-ass multiplayer mode that proved so taxing for increasingly outdated late-90s hardware that you needed to buy a clunky bolt-on just to play it. Welcome to 2000!

Significance: Sassy yet approachable anti-hero stars in convoluted sci-fi plot involving evil corporations, global conspiracy, Area 51, and the gray aliens whose image graced the walls of many a pot-scented dorm room. Again: welcome to 2000!

2001: Super Mario Advance

The game: Well, it's Mario 2, isn't it? A few tweaks, but Mario 2 nonetheless.

Significance: GTA3 provided the opportunity to do anything except obey the law, and The Sims let you be anything except interesting. But the burgeoning emulation scene was worrying publishers by offering a whole other degree of freedom. Nintendo's wise response: if people want to play the old games, give them a legitimate means of doing so. Retrogaming as we know it had begun in earnest.


  • 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...

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