Video games were in full swing in 1996. Players had several console options to choose from and new games debuted often, even though the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was discontinued in ’95. Thankfully, one year later, Nintendo introduced its newest model to the masses, a system that would revolutionize modern gaming: the Nintendo 64.
Yes, the N64 turns 20 years old this year. Originally released in Japan, the N64 officially debuted to the U.S. on Sept. 29, heavily competing with Sony’s PlayStation. The N64 utilized early versions of 3D gameplay, which paved the way for future consoles. (Of course, other consoles were experimenting with this new format as well.) Players got a better “view” of the game and could look at it from different angles, instead of just the side-scrolling format seen with past video games. And the games themselves became more complex, with more backstory and character development.
It wasn’t just the N64, though. Several famous video game series began in ’96, with some still continuing to this day. While not all the games included on this list are directly responsible for the advancement of gaming as we know it today, they still helped shape the industry. Plus, they were just really, really fun to play.
The survival horror game that started the immensely popular franchise began 20 years ago this March. It had it all: a creepy mansion, zombies, 3D characters and plenty of puzzles that made for one stellar game.
“Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars”Nintendo
Although the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) slowly running out of steam in ’96, a few special games succeeded, despite the competition with newer consoles. Even though the main antagonist was named “Smithy” — aka the lamest bad guy moniker ever — the game was still entertaining to play, and had an unusual cast of characters.
“Quake”id Software / GT Interactive
This first-person shooter game featured music by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. That alone made it badass, but it’s also known for being a follow-up of sorts to id Software’s “Doom” series. “Quake” helped jumpstart the online multiplayer experience, using ’90s computers connected to a server. To all of you who play online with friends, it all had to start somewhere — and that somewhere was “Quake.”
“Crash Bandicoot”Sony Computer Entertainment / Universal Interactive Studios
Was the video game world ever really the same after it met Crash Bandicoot, Doctor Neo Cortex and Aku Aku? The short answer: No. We thought the “Looney Tunes”character Tasmanian Devil would be the only cartoon who could pull off a tornado spin, but Crash, um, crashed, that notion faster than it took that crate to break.
“Super Mario 64”Nintendo
For the first time, Mario, Bowser, Toad and Peach were in real 3D, which was definitely different from the side-scrolling format of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario World.” (Although, you can argue “Super Mario RPG” was in 3D as well, but put the two games side by side, and you’ll see the difference.) The game was tediously difficult to fully complete. You could get away with winning the game and defeating Bowser by only possessing 70 power stars, but the game wasn’t ~truly~ beaten until you nabbed all 120 stars.
“Pajama Sam: No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside”Humongous Entertainment
The very first game in the Pajama Sam franchise, this computer game was probably super popular during your elementary school days. This point-and-click game was simple enough, but its iconography was what kept kids wanting more.
“Mortal Kombat Trilogy”Midway Games
Updating the already-popular arcade game “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3,” this game added new characters, the “Agressor” bar and a finishing movie called Brutality.
“Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland”Dreamworks Interactive
When you weren’t reading R.L. Stine’s popular book series or watching the TV show, you were probably playing this bad boy. After your character was unwillingly dragged back into Horrorland, you had to dodge monsters and ghouls and save your friends. Oh, and “The Santa Clause” kid Eric Lloyd and Jeff Goldblum were featured in the game. If that doesn’t say ’90s, I don’t know what does.
“Tomb Raider”Eidos Interactive
Before Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in the movie, the first game in the series dropped in the U.S. on Nov. 14, 1996. The 3D game was jam-packed with puzzles, trick jumps and all around female badassery.
“Sonic 3D Blast”Sega / Traveller's Tales
Like with “Super Mario 64,” this game marked Sonic’s first major change from side-scrolling 2D platforms to 3D. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see Dr. Robotnik in an early form of 3D?!
“Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!”Nintendo
While not nearly as entertaining as “Donkey Kong Country” and “Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest” (in my opinion), the threequel game made Dixie Kong the star and her partner a bumbling bb. So, it was nice to have a female lead the game. Plus, that hair twirl, though.
Released in North America on the last night of 1996, this game literally put players thorough Hell. Originally released as a computer game, players had to maneuver the protagonist using the mouse and keyboard getup. TBH, with all the angels, demons and mayhem in the game, it kind of reminds me of “Supernatural.” Kind of.
“Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire”LucasArts / Nintendo
One of the first games made for Nintendo 64, this third-person shooter worked as a connecting story between Episodes V and VI. Gamers played as Dash Rendar, and assisted Luke Skywalker in saving Princess Leia (yet again). The game became immensely popular, because it’s “Star Wars.” Duh.