As time goes by
We hear it almost every year as we prepare to flip the calendar on New Years Eve: was this the greatest year in the history of gaming? The answer, as you may have already guessed, is no. We mean, really, you thought that year was the best? Sure, it may have had a decent amount of good games scattered about its calendar, maybe even a couple of great ones, but does it have what it takes to beat the best, most relentless years weve ever seen?
Your first inclination may be to say that the best years were in the 70s or 80s, but it wasnt until the 90s that the releases really started overlapping to create the onslaught of games we now experience several months a year. Join us as we take a look back at the seven most ridiculous years the gaming industry has ever seen.
Holiday 2011 will forever be known as the season that brought gamers to their knees with an unrelenting onslaught of high-profile releases--most of which were insane sequels. If you were able to keep up you had the chance to play Arkham City, Skyrim, Resistance 3, Saints Row: The Third, Modern Warfare 3, Super Mario 3D Land, Dark Souls, Zelda: Skyward Sword, Assassins Creed: Revelations, Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception, Mario Kart 7, Rayman Origins, Kirbys Return to Dreamland, Jetpack Joyride, and Skylanders: Spyros Adventure. And thats was just from September on!
Even before the holiday months, several outstanding titles hit retailers. From Game of the Year contenders like Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, to categorical leaders like LittleBigPlanet 2, Infamous 2, Mortal Kombat, L.A. Noire, and Child of Eden, there was no shortage of games to go around. Round it all out with Dead Space 2 and The Witcher 2, and 2011 was just stupidly ridiculous to the point that well even look the other way on the fact that it also brought us Duke Nukem Forever.
1994 didnt bring the constant assault that other years on this list did, but the games that hit shelves continue to blow players away to this day. Super Metroid, which not only blazed the trail for all successive 2D action-adventure games, but is also considered to be one of the best games ever, is the headliner here, but Segas Blue Blur had a big year as well with Sonic 3. Doom II gave us new meaning to hell on earth and X-COM: UFO Defense gave us one of the best games of the year.
But that's not all! Final Fantasy VI came out in the US (as Final Fantasy III), continuing the franchises numbering confusion, and Donkey Kong Country gave us classic banana-grabbing, tag-team mania--wait, that came out wrong. Add to the mix Killer Instinct, Warcraft, Tekken, and Marathon, and 1994s concentration of superb releases is difficult to match, but there were years that beat it by just bringing out more.
1997 saw some of the most critically lauded games of all-time release, but it also launched several of the biggest franchises the industry has seen. One of the greatest action-RPGs of all-time in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night hit, but be honest, you were probably too busy playing killing your friends in GoldenEye 007 and Star Fox 64, or dropping your jaw at the then-gorgeous character models in Final Fantasy VII to notice. Yeah, those were all in the same year.
Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo both have their origins in 1997, and players saw highly anticipated sequels in games like Street Fighter III, Tomb Raider II, Worms 2, X-COM: Apocalypse, and the arcade version of Tekken 3. Fans of professional wrestling enjoyed the superb WCW vs. nWo: World Tour and Diddy Kong showed Mario that he wasn't the only one with racing chops.
1996 was not just the year that gamers could finally pick up the Nintendo 64; it also saw two established franchises go through major transformations. Everyones favorite portly plumber went from 2D to 3D (and showed off his appreciation of fine art along the way) with Super Mario 64, and the foul-mouthed, babe-loving King followed suit with the cult-classic FPS, Duke Nukem 3D.
1996 launched several new franchises as well. Zombie dogs scared the crap out of us with Resident Evil, Sony fooled everyone into thinking it had a gaming mascot in Crash Bandicoot, future female protagonists got their unintentionally-busty prototype through Tomb Raider, the FPS genre took another massive step forward with Quake, and the lootfest began with Diablo. If that wasnt enough, Mario Kart 64 released in Japan, while U.S. players got to play Final Doom, Star Ocean, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, Tekken 2, Nights into Dreams..., Command & Conquer: Red Alert, and Donkey Kong Country 3.
Whether youre talking about Half-Life 2, a first-person shooter that revolutionized its genre, Halo 2, the game that helped usher in a new age of online console play, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the critically acclaimed sandbox title from Rockstar that likely quadrupled sales of hot coffee amongst gamers, 2004 was a pivotal year for the industry thanks to its multitude of important releases. Social lives were laid to waste with World of Warcraft, Nintendo released its money-printing DS, and shooting fans were able to scratch their itchy trigger fingers with Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2004, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Counter-Strike: Source, Doom III, and Metroid Prime 2.
Adrenaline junkies netted themselves Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, Burnout 3: Takedown, Fable, Need for Speed Underground 2, and Knights of the Old Republic II. Also barraging players this year were Final Fantasy XI, The Sims 2, Pikmin 2, and the nostalgia-laden Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen. Ah, memories.
Gaming hadn't seen a year like 2007 in over a decade. Whereas the industry had become sequel-obsessed in the past few years, 2007 launched franchises left and right. Assassins Creed, Modern Warfare, Portal, Dirt, The Witcher, Peggle, BioShock, Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band, and Crysis all got their starts that year, and even the sequels on that list totally reinvented their franchises.
For those looking for real sequels, however, 2007 came prepared. It was the year that God of War II saw the bloody return of Kratos and two iconic, first-party sci-fi FPS trilogies came to closes. The Metroid Prime trilogy saw its conclusion and players were invited to Finish the Fight with Halo 3 (that fight has since resumed, apparently). Pokemon piled even more monsters on its roster through Diamond/Pearl, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn continued one of Nintendos most underappreciated franchises, and Forza 2 helped Microsoft make the race with the Sonys Gran Turismo series that much tighter. Top it off with Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and 2007 was just absolutely insane.
Between Pokemon Red/Blue, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario Party, Banjo-Kazooie, and F-Zero X, 1998 was a phenomenal year for Nintendo--but the rest of the industry didnt go down without a fight. Blizzard released StarCraft, a game that not only turned the RTS genre on its head, but laid the foundation for the eSports phenomenon. Metal Gear Solid made hiding in boxes cool, and Half-Life made every gamer want to go buy a crowbar--just in case.
The Fallout and Resident Evil series each received their first sequels, while Need for Speed began a new sub-franchise with its third entry, Hot Pursuit. Dance Dance Revolution had arcade-dwellers awkwardly stomping in public across Japan, Baldurs Gate released to become a fan favorite, while Panzer Dragoon Saga, Tom Clancys Rainbow Six, Spyro the Dragon, and Parasite Eve also hit shelves in 1998. Games from this year didnt just keep players coming back for more; they established franchises, defined genres, and changed the course of gaming forever.
What about 2013?
With 2013 already possessing a strong lineup of games, both in the past and future, it may very well secure its place somewhere on this list. Unfortunately, history is working against it, as years that see a new generation of consoles launch tend to be weaker as developers begin to focus efforts on future releases and launch windows typically hosting titles that are more exploratory in nature. Obviously well know a lot more once Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch, but until then, 2013 stands on the outside looking in.