E3 First Class
A lot can happen in twenty years. Names are added to and scratched off the world map, what were once clusters of cells are buying R-rated movie tickets, and everyone laughs at what they so misguidedly thought was the height of fashion. That goes double for technology, which has developed so fast since the late 20th century that VCRs and CD players are treated like the works of an ancient, forgotten race.
Yet, that also makes the things that stay the same stand out even more. For proof, look no further than what was shown at that year's biggest gaming event: E3 1995, the very first first of its kind, showcasing the best of what the industry had on offer. As E3's 20th anniversary draws near, let's look back and appreciate the games that built the event's foundation. And, of course, poke fun at what we all thought was cool in the 90s. So much neon.
The one with Batman
Apparently we just can't get enough of Bats. This E3, we'll get to see this rich old curmudgeon cleaning up Gotham's mean streets in Arkham Knight (and winging off bat puns in Lego Dimensions), and back in 1995 it was no different. The very first E3 saw the premiere of Acclaim Entertainment's Batman Forever, coinciding with the release of the film of the same name, somehow starring Val Kilmer.
Acclaim pulled out all the stops to make their version of the Bat look poppin' fresh, even parking a life-sized Batmobile replica right alongside their booth (and doesn't that sound familiar). The movie didn't turn out that great, but Acclaim still got to kick off a longstanding E3 tradition of glorious over-accessorizing, so I'd say it was all worth it.
The one with killer dance moves
During the year of E3's birth, arcades weren't yet on the video game equivalent of the endangered species list, and the hot new thing was console ports of arcade fighting games. You could finally play at home without converting your life savings (or entire allowance) to quarters to feed your habit. Killer Instinct was Nintendo's big showing on that front, set for release on the SNES and Game Boy, and what better way to show off a cutting-edge brawler than with an elaborate dance number in front of an animatronic panther head?
There were clips of the actual game now and again, but it was really all about the choreography. Sadly, not a single dancer came out sporting a panther costume, which feels like a missed opportunity.
The one that came with a movie
Not to be outdone by Killer Instinct's choreography, Mortal Kombat 3 premiered at E3 1995 with an entourage of cosplayers battling it out for the audience's entertainment. Though the fighting looked a whole lot more like KI's dance number than was probably intended (Kung Lao definitely throws his hat off like he's about to go into his male revue routine), it still got audiences pumped for the game's console port, which was scheduled to be released on Genesis, SNES, and PlayStation later that year.
Parent company Williams Entertainment also promised a huge focus on the MK series with a movie to go along with the game. Yes, the original Mortal Kombat movie. Stings right in the age.
The one with amazing hair
"DKC2: Diddy Kong's Quest will blow you away" might sound quaint twenty years later, but it was both a serious response to the game's presentation at E3, and the consensus. Described as the "hot new Super NES sequel to one of [Nintendo's] most impressive titles ever," by Electronic Gaming Monthly, Donkey Kong Country 2 was such an impressive evolution that it ended up on basically every Best of E3 list worth its bananas.
For their part, the experts at Nintendo Power claimed "the next generation games from Sony and Sega didn't even measure up to the quality of Nintendo's Super NES duo of Killer Instinct and Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong's Quest," and they were particularly impressed with the game's "life-like hair."
The one that gives people splitting headaches
Probably one of the saddest things about the first E3 in hindsight, Nintendo chose to delay the reveal of the N64 and instead threw its considerable weight behind a most dastardly device: the Virtual Boy. Among the games available for demo was Mario Tennis, which was apparently as much fun as you can expect to have playing regular tennis while hunched over and at the mercy of a splitting headache.
Though Nintendo wasn't the only company showing off its VR capabilities (Atari let players test out a silly-looking peripheral of its own) the Virtual Boy stood out as the show's biggest trainwreck and production was ended less than six months after launch. Miraculously, Mario Tennis survived to become a successful N64 franchise, so it wasn't all bad. Mostly, but not all.
The one that comes with pizza
In its roundup coverage of the show, Game Zero Magazine highlighted a certain "24Mb beginners level text-menu-based strategy RPG," and in particular noted the game's "modern day settings with a little bit of science fiction and on-demand pizza delivery." That game was Earthbound, which got a tidy bit of space at Nintendo's booth in the form of a banner and a few digital clips on display. It also got bits of exposure in expo writeups, including an ad in EGM that lauded the game as - and I am not making this up - "the first Role-Playing Game with B.O."
Overall it didn't get nearly the attention allotted to the star of Nintendo's show, the Virtual Boy, but I think we all know who comes out on top in that contest.
The one with dragon-based warfare
One of the headlining games in Sega's new age drug trip of a console announcement, Panzer Dragoon was one of the few Saturn titles available at the time of the console's surprise launch ... on the day of the conference, a full four-months ahead of schedule.
While that didn't work out so well for Sega (the Saturn's lackluster sales can be directly linked to how much that announcement pissed off and/or confused retailers), Panzer Dragoon's 3D graphics and apocalyptic storyline made it a beloved classic that's still remembered decades later. It's even more memorable than the tutu-clad Hells Angels member who announced it.
The one that does NOT star the Terminator
Acclaim's other big movie-based game after Batman Forever, Judge Dredd hasn't aged nearly as well in the public eye, and I can count on one hand the people I know who remember it. But at the time, Dredd was a big deal, and not just because of its gritty, Terminator knock-off protagonist and the fact that you could arrest bad guys instead of killing them. It was also a battleground for Sega and Nintendo, since Dredd would be appearing on both the Genesis and the SNES within weeks of being shown E3.
Acclaim pushed both at the event, with Batman and Dredd frontlining the game selection at its booth, but the SNES version was ultimately dubbed superior due to better graphics and handling. Man, that hit Sega right in the slogan.
The one that kept up with the competition
A launch title for the new system being put out by the greenhorns over at Sony, futuristic racer WipeOut had to face tough competition in order to get noticed at the show, particularly from Sega's Daytona USA and PlayStation's other racing game, Ridge Racer.
However, WipeOut still stood out enough to get decent attention from the press, with GamePro highlighting it as one of the best games at the show due largely to its incredible graphics: "WipeOut wowed 'em at E3 The animation here will pop at 30 frames per second. That's pretty fast, and the driving perspective in the E3 demo was so awesome, it was almost startling." Startling!
The one that will never die
As much as we might grumble when yet another HD remaster is announced, it's worth remembering that the phenomenon isn't new. E3 1995 was full of games making their way to new consoles long after players had already seen them, and not just because fitting an arcade cabinet in your bedroom is tricky. One notable example from that first show is Doom, which got a spot on the floor to advertise its long-awaited release on the SNES (and the PlayStation, but that was a whole two months later).
This was the first console port to feature all of the secret levels present in the PC version, and a remote two-player mode with the use of the system's XBAND modem, the great granddaddy of online gaming.
The one with the bug
I'm going to guess about 77 percent of you have either never seen Bug! before or have no memory of it if you did. There's a very good reason for that: released as a Sega Saturn launch title and system exclusive, it was only on the market for three years before Sega pulled the plug on Saturn in North America in 1998. That means Bug! is at best a fuzzy memory now, but E3 1995 was abuzz with info about this little insect.
Bug! was interesting in that it was effectively the first 2.5 platformer, using a mostly 2D landscape but letting its titular character move to the background and foreground as required. EGM was so impressed with the game's "fully animated 3-D character for the Sega Saturn" that it landed on the magazine's Best of E3 list. And there it remains, like a relic adorned with a language no longer spoken by man.
The other one with the bug
Earthworm Jim 2 wormed its way onto the show floor in 1995, though Dave Perry (founder of the game's developer, Shiny) insisted they weren't even trying this time around. "We didn't get to show the best parts of Earthworm Jim 2 at the show, but you'll be absolutely amazed. We have some 3-D effects that look even better than Donkey Kong Country."
That's some serious shade being thrown there, and though Jim still got less floor space than Donkey Kong Country 2 (Nintendo returning the burn, it seems), EJ2 was still highlighted as one of Nintendo Power and GamePro's favorite games of the show. The folks at GamePro in particular focused on Jim's "five new guns and a few snotty items, such as the Snott Swing and the Snott Parachute" as the best part of the game.
The one with an under-appreciated bloodsucker
At an event where 3D graphics and platforming mechanics translated to instant money, Legacy of Kain had a lot of ground to make up as one of the few 2D games at the show. Plus, it was an adventure RPG (a genre mainstream western gaming looked at sideways until FF7 crashed into the surface of the planet during E3 1996), wouldn't come out for another year, and was exclusive to PlayStation, a system no one had even laid eyes on yet.
That all resulted in Kain getting only a little space at the Sony booth that nobody bothered to photograph for posterity. However, it did get noticed by Die Hard Game Fan Magazine, who listed it as one of their best games of the show. "We thank Die Hard for this and many things," said Silicon Knights in their then-official FAQ. "They were one of the few magazines to have given Silicon Knights any credit. This means a lot to us and we are eternally grateful for all of those magazines who gave credit where credit was deserved."
The one that played the field
Back in 1995, Ubisoft was still two words and the company was just premiering what Diehard Game Fan Magazine described as the "first cross platform mainstream character for the next generation consoles", a funny-looking fellah named Rayman. At the time, Rayman the game was in the unique position of being developed for the Atari Jaguar, the PlayStation, and Sega Saturn simultaneously.
Both the Atari and PlayStation versions were available on the show floor (along with at least one overly enthusiastic mascot), and showed so well that Game Fan claimed "Rayman is headed for platforming notoriety right up there with the best of them." Given that the guy is still around to this day, Id say that worked out.
The one that traded blows with a celebrity
So, here's a picture of Michael Jackson playing Tekken. It might be a bit hard to tell, but that is definitely Marshall Law from the first Tekken, and it looks like the King of Pop just lost to him by a slim margin.
He's also playing the game on its original platform, the good 'ol arcade cabinet, but Tekken was actually there as part of a promo for its upcoming PlayStation port. It had a decent showing, but was ultimately overshadowed in dollars and attention by the sexier Mortal Kombat 3 and Killer Instinct. I guess some things never change. Emphasis on some.