Inspired by Games Radar’s article The greatest game on every platform I decided to put together my own list choosing a class of hardware at a time. In today’s installment I’ve chosen the consoles from the 4th Generation (according to Wikipedia)…
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
In comparison to its younger brother the SNES had a wonderful design, where as the NES looked like a cheap lunchbox with the coloured buttons and curvy design the SNES tells you immediately: “this is going to be fun” – and fun it was. I didn’t own a SNES myself but I borrowed one for a time and had plenty of play-time on what most people regard as the classics, and two out of my three games here are all time classics irrespective of platform.
Probably the most obvious choice and a defining moment for the genre, the console and perhaps the era is 2D fighting legend Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition. There were a few versions of Street Fighter released on the SNES and whilst I feel justified in combining them into one for the sake of simplicity it’s the Turbo Edition that stood out for me, never before had we seen such a fast-paced twitchy fighting game packed with special moves and combos – it was a joy to behold but a real labour of love to master.
Another clear stand-out game is Super Mario Kart, oddly I stand out as being one of the small minority of gamers who has never particularly liked the Mario Kart games but I still recognise it for the landmark it is and I am well aware of how popular the game remains up to this day (with DS and Wii versions selling like hot-cakes). The game made good use of the common SNES graphical trick of rotating a 2D plane to give a 3D look and feel (known as Mode 7) and it pretty-much fooled everyone causing the work to fall in love with the game and the console.
Lastly is another Mode 7 masterpiece – Pilotwings. Whilst it never really provided the ‘thrills and spills’ of more action-packed genres this parachute, gliding qnd flying simulator really opened peoples eyes to what you could do with the simplest of 3D implementations. Even when I re-play the game today I still get that sense of airy lightness that the game gives off in a combination of perfect graphics and sound.
Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Alongside the SNES, Sega’s Megadrive (or Genesis in the US) was one of the significant era-defining consoles in video gaming history, between the two consoles they’re responsible for turning a generation of kids into gamers and despite the potential fanboy-vs-fanboy flamewar fallout I’d put them both on a par for their impact on and input to the video gaming world. Always much more drab than the SNES, the Megadrive and Megadrive II were compact little black units that didn’t really ooze fun but provided me with some of my most fun gaming experiences.
It’s inevitable that I’m going to mention the Megadrive’s flagship game: Sonic the Hedgehog, a game I must of completed more than twenty times and I honestly don’t think that there is a more perfect example of a platform game out there. Whilst also available on the Master System it’s the 16-bit graphics and sound that really allowed Sega to pull off one of the platform’s first truly cartoon-like games, bettered in graphical style only by the Disney games: Castle of Illusion, World of Illusion and Fantasia.
It’s difficult to stop myself from rambling on and on about Megadrive games but I’ll try to limit myself to a few more titles that I believe either defined a genre or brought about a new change in direction for gaming. My stand-out game here is Desert Strike, a top-down isometric combat helicopter sim. that required the user not only to get to grips with a bizarre control method but also added a degree of mission planning and forethought by forcing the player to think about fuel, ammo and hostage rescue whilst trying to complete the missions handed out.
One genre that really seemed to take off in the 4th generation of consoles and I think particularly on the Megadrive was sports titles, one clearly landmark title was EA’s FIFA International Soccer – the game that started one of gaming’s most successful series. Whilst also available on the Master System again it was really took 16-bit graphics and speed to get the genre going with the followup game FIFA Soccer 95 being a Megadrive exclusive and other franchises throwing their hats into the ring such as NBA Jam, Madden NFL, NHL Hockey, NHLPA Hockey, PGA Tour Golf and so on.
Other honourable mentions go to sideways-scrolling beat-em-ups Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage II, classic 2D fighting game Mortal Kombat, mini-racer Micro Machines and the weirdo sandbox title Toejam and Earl.
Sega Add-ons: Mega-CD & 32X
One of Sega’s biggest problems and I think a major contributor to its eventual downfall is that they were always high on their on supply, they believed in their grand vision just a little too much. This attitude led them to fragment the market by releasing the Sega-CD and later the 32X, add-ons that few people understood and which never really received enough attention from developers to build up a good library of titles.
The Mega-CD was unit that fit either underneath the original Megadrive or alongside the Megadrive II holding the main console in a sort of cradle, it provided a CD-ROM drive which would naturally allow much higher volumes of data to be stored alongside real CD-quality sounds, Full Motion Video (which was mainly grainy and pointless) and some additional graphics horsepower. The problem was that most games of the era didn’t really need that and consequently most titles released seemed to be much more like technology showcases than decent playable games (Night Trap I’m looking at you). This time I’m not going to pick a ‘best game’ out of the pile I’ve got because I honestly don’t believe that any of them rate higher than the standard Megadrive titles.
The 32X was a strange beast indeed, meant to up the power of the Megadrive to a 32-bit level it was a mushroom-like lump that was attached directly to the cartridge bay of the main console and in turn took specially designed cartridges itself, there were never really many games available for the 32X and I imagine the whole project lost a lot of money for Sega. Still, some titles really showed off a level of power beyond that of any other equivalent on the standard 4th gen. consoles, found Virtua Racing Deluxe and Doom to be two of the best available.