Kaiju Pop’s 2016 Game of 2006: Wii Sports

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The legend goes that Nintendo designed its consoles in the 1990s with their launch title in mind, not the other way around. The thinking goes that the vision Miyamoto and company had for Super Mario World and Mario 64 led directly to the SNES and N64 being designed to suit.

The Wii seemed designed so specifically for Wii Sports that so many of the broad audience that bought Nintendo’s new system didn’t even bother buying another game. To millions, Wii was the Wii Sports machine, and more specifically, it was built for bowling. The sporting theme to its motion controlled minigames automatically drove many up and out of the couch, despite the fact that stock Wii controllers didn’t care whether you were up and at ’em or barely consciously flicking the wrist. Nintendo’s game design then, trumped the reasonably weak technology.

True, boxing was a ‘try it twice’ exercise in flailing and tennis was a pedestrian affair, but its other sports were exactly what Nintendo had in mind for the Wii. They were friendly, accessible, novel and charming, yet with their well designed challenges, also filled with classic Nintendo charm. Wii Sports, deservedly became a cultural phenomenon over the ensuing months and years, and arguably never before or since has one game’s legacy overtaken that of its host platform.

Runner-Up: Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops

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The PSP launched with the brief of putting near PS2 performance in the pocket. In the early years of the system’s life, that would mean ill advised direct ports of larger console games that weren’t built with shorter play sessions in mind (load times being one issue of many).

MGS: PO was a real demonstration of how to take a console experience portable. Its missions were snappy and short, the small spaces you played in not only being the best fit for some humble hardware but meaning slow paced stealth gameplay could fit with gaming on the go.

It didn’t skimp on the insane Hideo Kojima story flair, didn’t skimp on the well tuned boss fights or stealth tension.

Kaiju Pop’s 2016 Game of 1996: Super Mario 64

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It couldn’t be anything else. 1996 was a year of exploration for many. 3D had now been brought to the masses, and developers were still finding their feet in this mysterious new dimension. Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, um, Bubsy 3D, all managed to become gaming culture touchstones in their own way, of course. All struggled, but the medium at large would benefit from lessons learned to get to where it is today.

Nintendo, though, got pretty much everything right from the outset. Not only was Super Mario 64 a superb advertisement of what its new host hardware was capable of, not only did it expertly transpose an iconic 2D mascot into a polygonal world, it wrote the rule books of how to make 3D games.

Stodgy tank like motion, and the staccato walk, stop, turn, walk cycle was absent, in its place direct and effortless control using the N64’s analogue stick. SM64’s camera, limited as you’d expect it to be with the four way C buttons controlling it instead of the second stick we have now, presented a near perfect view of the world. Heck, it even offered a kayfabe explanation of just who was filming all this stuff anyway; a now reformed Lakitu offering the stage play of Super Mario Bros. 3 for the televisual age.

Yet it was design that shone, an array of deceptively small 3D spaces crammed so chock full of magic that they felt like massive worlds to discover. Racing penguins while sliding on his bum, or taking flight through the clouds, it felt like a wonderful land of possibilities, and a new age for video games.

Runner-up: NiGHTS Into Dreams

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There’s a personal bias in this choice. Arguably Quake did for the first person shooter in 3D what SM 64 did for the platformer. Diablo too would leave its mark over the next twenty years. Yet for this writer, NiGHTS was the feel good game of 1996.

While it adopted a 2.5 D approach of 2D flight across 3D landscapes, it embraced the nature of polygonal graphics at the time, especially on Saturn. Everything still felt somewhat abstracted in 3D space, and setting the game in a dream land made sense. It was the game’s sense of joyful playfulness though that shone through. The flight of NiGHTS over abstract landscapes felt satisfying and uplifting, while its soundtrack was pure came sugar in audible form. It’s just impossible to play NiGHTS and leave in a bad mood.

Kaiju Pop’s 2016 Game of 1986: Metroid

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1986 was a stellar year for the Famicom/NES. If the prior year and Super Mario Bros. showed the pinnacle of what Nintendo’s 8 bit hardware could do unassisted, it was in 1986 that the system was expanded, and showed the legs that would keep it strong into the 1990s. The Famicom Disk System boosted the base capabilities of the system both graphically and sonically, but even these upgrades would mostly find their way onto cheaper cartridge components in later years. That would mean eventual NES cartridge variants of FDS flagship titles, the biggest being The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.

Both games offered a broader, deeper experience than base Famicom games; helped by larger capacity on floppy disc and the ability to save. Metroid in particular offered a break from Nintendo tradition up to this point, and even now feels like an anomalous franchise.

Yes, Nintendo had dipped into satanism with Devil World, though this was a campy PacMan clone, still broadly in keeping with lift cartoonishness. Metroid was a dark affair, highly influenced by Ridley Scott and HR Giger. It was as atmospherically powerful a video game as had ever been released up to this point, dripping with an ominous dread, with a minimal soundtrack and a storyline touching on biological warfare. It certainly wasn’t another Mario.

Yet Gunpei Yokoi infused Metroid with all Nintendo’s design flair nonetheless. Earning new abilities and backtracking through vast feeling interconnected spaces formed the basis of an entirely new genre and a landmark game.

Runner-up: Outrun

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While the mid 90s saw the polygonal revolution, the mid 1980s saw a different approach to try and replicate 3D in a game. Polygon graphics were rare, but vectors and wireframes created some of that illusion. On home computers at the time, isometric view points were a popular way to present worlds. The leader in pseudo 3D though, was in the arcades, and its name was Sega.

The super scaler technology had been introduced in the form of Space Harrier, but Outrun was arguably its crowning glory. This cross country racing game was a technical marvel, scenery whooshing by your Ferrari at high speed, and all sprites that scaled smoothly from small items in the background to gradually grow larger as you passed by them. Prior games, and indeed the swathe of home conversions of Outrun had to make do with drawing individual sprites at different layers of detail to simulate them getting close to you. It was resource intensive and jerky, but in the arcades Outrun was a joy.

Much like NiGHTS ten years later, Outrun was also just a feel good game. Its soundtrack, the legendary Magical Sound Shower front and center, was soothing. Its skies created and defined the ‘Sega blue’ that fans would point to as an example of the happy go lucky magic of the company for years. It was a coin guzzler, sure, but it made sure you were happy paying up in this pinnacle of arcade excess.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)