The gaming world of today is cluttered with an endless maze of genres, sub-genres, cross-over genres and even sub-cross-over genres. There is literally a game for everyone and anyone. By now there is probably even a genre for games that aren’t games… probably not, but you get what I’m saying (They’re called interactive movies now – see Beyond: Two Souls – Ed).
But none of these genres would exist if certain gaming titles hadn’t come along to revolutionise the industry and make their mark as the so-called “ancestors” of the gaming world.
So in this list we want to explore five titles that we feel have left lasting marks on the history of gaming and shaped the future of our most beloved past time.
Now before we jump in, this list is not the definitive final say on the matter. Rather see it as the starting point of a discussion. Which games do you think have defined their genre?
Platformer – Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. is a legend among games and has turned the Mario franchise into a household name, even among those who don’t even have the faintest idea of what a video game is (P.S. this is a completely unverifiable fact).
This game boasts an almost omnipotent prominence and, I dare say, is the sole reason that the games industry enjoys the success it does today. With its release in 1985 it resurrected the crashing American game market in the dark post-Atari era, going on to be hailed as “The Greatest Game of All Time” by IGN back in 05. Over the three decades following its release it became the best-selling game on a single platform, until it was overtaken by Wii Sports (say what now?)
You play as Mario, an Italian plumber that must travel through the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach from the evil clutches of the turtle dragon, Bowser, the main antagonist of the franchise (only Nintendo can think up a scenario like this).
The game’s developers, Nintendo R&D4, put strong focus on player controls and level design, two aspects that has become synonymous with Nintendo games. It was also the first platform game to introduce the then-innovative concept of side-scrolling. Games before Super Mario Bros., such as Donkey Kong and the Mario Bros. games, had the characters running and jumping around on a single static screen. Side-scrolling allowed the player, as they started nearing the edge of the screen, to reveal more of the level and set the stage for the future.
This innovation and the strong focus on controls and level design combined with a simple yet powerful story lead by an unlikely hero is the recipe that I think lead to this game’s astonishing success.
Versus Fighters – Street Fighter II
Most young gamers won’t realise the significance of Street Fighter II’s impact on fighting games. Compared to today’s standards it might look severely outdated but with its release back in 1987, it was one of the best looking games around and it single-handedly revolutionised the future of the versus genre.
The original Street Fighter had only one punch and one kick button, featured only 3 special moves and provided the player with only two characters (which were basically just palette switches of the same sprite). But with the release of its successor four years later (1991), the franchise became a whole other beast.
It presented a roster of eight vivid characters, each with their own unique and distinctive fighting styles and it added a drastically evolved move set. It also introduced many new and innovative features that can be seen in all fighters today such as health bars at the top of the screen, grappling moves, combo strings and best-of-three matches.
Street Fighter II has been regularly hailed as the pioneer of the fighter genre and has given birth to one of the greatest franchises in the history of gaming.
First Person Shooter – Wolfenstein 3D
It was first released in 1992 as a “shareware” game, meaning players could play the game for free before they decided to invest any money in it. Back then this was a popular method for smaller developers to showcase their creations and gain attention from consumers. The game quickly garnered much support and recognition from fans and other developers alike and a commercial release soon followed.
Wolfenstein 3D was the first game to truly combine action-filled, fast paced game play with an elaborate and immersive in-game environment. The game puts you in the shoes of American soldier William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, who has to escape the large Nazi prison known as Caste Wolfenstein. The game’s excessive violence is a characteristic that set it apart from other games of its time (you were killing Nazis, so it was fine).
The game was banned in Germany though as the use of any Nazi related symbolism, which was rife in Wolfenstein 3D, is deemed a federal offence in the country even to this day.
Many other first person shooters followed such as Doom and Quake, both oh which have also been praised as defining the FPS genre.
But since its inception, the Wolfenstein franchise has steadily released many engrossing new titles through the years (including the recently released and critically acclaimed The New Order) and has firmly cemented itself as both the birth of the genre and one of the most bad-ass shooters around.
Sport – FIFA Franchise
This is the only entry on this that I had no trouble choosing. The FIFA franchise has acquired such a prolific status in the world of gaming that it dwarfs any other title in the sports genre. Its superiority is unquestionable and there is no other sports game that can even dare to rival its greatness.
FIFA international Soccer was the first title in the series released back in 1993. It moved away from the usual top-down/bird’s eye view used by other football games (Kick Off, European Club Soccer, Sensible Soccer), rather presenting the game from an isometric viewpoint. It only boasted national teams and didn’t feature any names of real life players.
Nevertheless, it rapidly climbed its way to the top of the UK charts (you know how they love their football), replacing Street Fighter II Special Championship Edition in the No.1 spot and staying there for the next six months.
Since then it has not only become the reigning champion of sport games (We’re not going to get into the great FIFA–Pro Evolution Soccer War, circa 2000) but is one of the highest selling franchises of all time, selling over 100 million copies worldwide.
Real Time Strategy – Dune II
You would be amazed to know how much Dune II (1992) contributed to the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre, including being credited with establishing it as an actual genre (its creator, Brett Terry, coined the term to market Dune II).
The game is littered with innovations that would in the future become the archetype for any RTS game that followed. It was the first game that enabled the player to take control of military units and move them around via the mouse, the first game to introduce a mini map with fog of war, the first game to use simple base and unit construction, the first game that provided the choice of different factions that each have their own unique units and buildings, the first game to use resource gathering to fund unit construction and the first game to introduce a technology tree.
These are only a few on the long list of firsts that Dune II has credited to its name. These aspects have also been thoroughly praised by the gaming world at large.
In addition to receiving a plethora of high ranking review scores, Amiga Power Magazine ranked it as the 11th best game of all time in 1996, GameSpy entered it in its hall of fame in 2004 and Time Magazine listed as one of the 100 Best video games of all time in 2012.
Long story short – There is simply no other RTS game that can contend with Dune II and the mark it left on the gaming industry.