As someone who grew up in the UK in the ’90s and early 2000s, I have many fond memories of gaming at the frontiers of technology with the emergence of the first 3D games. Gaming in the 90’s included the transition from the 2D ‘perfection’ of the 16-bit era to crude, angular, early 3D games on the PS1 and N64 was a rough one, and many developers found it hard to polish early 3D games into accessible fun experiences. Many early 3D platformers didn’t quite nail the camera system and movement, that is until Super Mario 64 in 1996. Since then the quality of 3D games greatly increased by a wide variety of developers but it was Nintendo that innovated both with the analog stick, with camera control in Super Mario 64, and with the z-targeting system in Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Of course, not every great gaming experience of the time was linked to 3D gaming. I was part of the hysteria that engulfed the western world at the time of the original Pokemon games around 1998-2000. Of course, these were 8-bit Game Boy games. I would like to take us back to a simpler time from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s, and describe what it was like to be gaming at this time.
A Gaming Golden Age?
I’ve got to start with the console that basically brought me up between the ages of 7-12. The N64. This beast was powerful for the time but lacked the depth of quality games that the PS1 enjoyed. Goldeneye, Turok, Mario Kart 64, and F-Zero X were great multiplayer games and were best enjoyed high on fizzy drinks in the middle of the night. F-Zero X was especially good for this purpose. The speed and the music were amazing, and in my opinion, it was slightly easier than F-Zero GX on the Gamecube which made it more accessible and hence enjoyable with friends. Goldeneye was another game that miraculously pulled off a great experience on early 3D hardware. The reactions enemy soldiers made to getting shot were just so satisfying, and their movements were realistic.
A key part of the late 90s/early 2000s, for many, was the Game Boy/ Game Boy Colour. The system had already been out for over half a decade, but there was excitement as Pokemon Red and Blue were about to release. Coupled with Pokémon’s anime, it would take the world by storm and foster obsession in 10 year old’s everywhere. The gameplay was addictive, the characters and monsters were appealing, and the game was quite easy which meant it had a low bar of entry compared to most contemporary RPGs. This meant that around the year 1999 it was the talk of the playground and everyone was comparing which level their Venasaur or Pidgeot was (and probably lying half the time).
It was an exciting time and Pokemon Stadium on the N64 was a great expansion of this. The mini-games in particular were especially addictive.
Early 3D Gaming
Whilst, as you can tell from what I’ve written, I was and am a keen Nintendo fan, many people that I knew owned the PS1 and I have some experience with the console. Because of the media, it used in the form of CDs it had much better cut-scene and soundtrack potential so was home to some of the best RPGs of the era. However, as I lived in Europe and a lot of them were never released here, most people I knew didn’t get to play them. What I mainly remember of the PS1 was Spyro, and at the time I thought it was a poor man’s Mario 64. But, to give credit, it’s a solid platformer with great use of color and sound.
In regards to the Sega Saturn, I didn’t know anyone that had one, but I wish I had experienced Grandia and Panzer Dragoon back in the day. I played Grandia on the Switch and absolutely loved its vibe. It really was a classic, polished JRPG.
Gaming in the 90’s: Blast from the past
Of course, back then in the mid-’90s, the N64 wasn’t out yet, and I and others were playing previous generation consoles, mainly the Megadrive and SNES. I had a Megadrive, it was my introduction to gaming, and although I sucked at playing games because of my age this early on, I have fond memories of Golden Axe, Sonic, and Vectorman on our old CRT tv.
Golden Axe especially because it was an arcade port, and the novelty of playing arcade games at home was really worth something back then. Also, I really can’t talk about the 16-bit generation without talking about Street Fighter 2. This was a phenomenon, and definitely the coolest videogame experience you could have had in the ’90s. It was and still is so iconic. The music and the colors really popped, and the vibe was amazing. I still play SF2 on my Wii today. (since I have it legit downloaded onto there).
Better 3D Models and Better Framerate
Looking toward the end of the era, the hype around the PS2 was huge. I remember when it was released it was sold out everywhere. The fact that it was also a DVD player was a big incentive for everyone to pick one up. I never did though, but I did purchase a Gamecube with Luigi’s Mansion and Burnout in 2002. The graphics of Luigi’s Mansion were really impressive for the time, and Burnout was super addictive. I think these were the only two games I owned for the system for the first 6 months that I had a Gamecube.
Then I remember the hype for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The graphics seemed photo realistic at the time. To this day I think LOTR TTT is one of the most underrated Gamecube games. Going in time a bit, the Dreamcast was also heavily hyped. It’s such a shame that after two years that console was discontinued. It had so much potential and was a powerful machine.
Well, that’s it for my recap of the late 90’s early 2000s in gaming. I really miss those times as many of us were still kids, had nothing really to worry about, and had a multitude of great, original games to enjoy. Even now I feel that about 15% of games that are released are remastered from that era. Let us know your thoughts on this magnificent era of gaming on Twitter!