Back in 1995, the video games industry was continuing on its path of maturation. Rising from the back rooms of trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show, the dedicated video game expo E3 was established, and it would soon to go on to assist in cultivating the industry for many years to come.
The year also marked the downfall of the monumental Nintendo versus Sega console war, as Sega’s Saturn was rushed out in North America and flopped miserably. Meanwhile, Sony thrust themselves bravely forward with the release of the PlayStation. Elsewhere, Nintendo broke their silence by releasing the specifications for the Nintendo Ultra 64 (later dropping the Ultra).
In terms of games, the 16-bit era started to reach its climax as 3D games took their first steps, leaving console gamers facing a hardware transition. For PC gamers, meanwhile, the usual gradual evolution continued. The games that came out in 1995 truly reflect the position of the industry, and echo the trends that we tend to experience between console generations. Twenty years on, we take a look back at some of the best games of 1995:
1. Discworld (PC, February 17)
It’s a rarity in modern gaming that titles are based directly off books, but 1995 saw both the release of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and Discworld. While both were good games, Discworld makes this list because the title was, by all accounts, acknowledged as a superior title.
For those not familiar with the series, Discworld is a fantasy-comedy series authored by Terry Pratchett, with the particular book used for its video game adaptation being, for the most part, Guards Guards.
Pratchett’s fantastical, erratic world lends itself effectively to an interactive environment, and the point-and-click adventure is complemented by inspired hand-drawn graphics, a witty script, and impressive voice acting from the likes of Eric Idle.
The plot features a foul secret order who conjure up a destructive dragon that, in typical fashion, is used to destroy the city. It falls to the incompetent wizard Rincewind to stop it. Unfortunately, for many players, this turned out to be quite an impossible task, and Discworld – in a genre that’s noted for its difficulty – is popularly cited as one of the most challenging games ever made.
2. Full Throttle (PC, April 30)
Tim Schafer, already an established figure in the industry due to The Secret of Monkey Island, released another title under Lucas Arts in 1995. The point-and-click adventure Full Throttle told the story of Ben, the leader of the biker gang, Polecats, who were one of toughest gangs out on the road. It’s all set in a world where hover vehicles are the norm, while rubber-burning transport is ancient.
The gameplay elements, while not groundbreaking, are solid and challenging, and contain the usual Monkey Island-esque puzzle elements that involve the seeking and using of specific items at the right time. It also contains some action sequences that require quick reaction times, but these parts seem unusual in a game which focuses for the most part on wits. What did help the title stand out was its strong acquisition of notable voice actors; Mark Hamill was the stand-out as he lent his distinct voice to the main antagonist.
Full Throttle was another smart title by Schafer, this time giving us a cleverly funny view of the motor enthusiast community. To this day, Full Throttle still has a cult following, and there are likely many people hoping to see a more accessible release. But, for the moment, we’ll have to happily settle for Schafer’s Grim Fandango Remastered, a title many have been eagerly anticipating.
3. Phantasmagoria (PC, July 31)
When thinking of interactive movies, our minds may immediately jump to the hilarious-yet-controversial Night Trap. Surprisingly, there were actually some non-half-baked interactive movies; Phantasmagoria being one such title.
The title is a psychological horror, point-and-click game, designed by writer and co-founder of Sierra On-Line, Roberta Williams. The story, in a fashion typical of a Stephen King novel, revolves around the paperback writer Adrienne Delaney and her husband. Of course, they decide to move into a creepy house previously owned by a famous magician, and also have the mandatory horror film pet, in this case a cat rudely named Spaz.
The game involves seven different chapters in which you must explore, discover, and solve puzzles in an ever-changing haunted house. It was and remains terrifying, has a compelling story, a beautifully computer generated world, and a fully orchestrated soundtrack.
It was followed up by a sequel, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, and although Roberta Williams was asked by Sierra to produce a third game in the series, no further titles were released. In a recent interview, Williams referred to Phantasmagoria as being the most representative of her game design career.
4. Chrono Trigger (SNES, August 22)
Chrono Trigger, a Japanese RPG developed by Square, is widely considered as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. It had a development team comprised of the same minds behind the popular Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, which earned them the nickname of ‘The Dream Team’.
Some of the game’s strong points include its multiple (13) endings, story, music (scored by legendary Final Fantasy composers Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda), battle system, and detailed graphics. It transformed many of the staple aspects of JRPGs, such as turn-based battles, while removing others, such as the random enemy encounters, entirely. One particularly strong trait of the title is the use of time travel, which is not only an important part of the story, but also impacts the gameplay.
Looking back, despite its strong legacy, Chrono Trigger never managed to solidify itself as a franchise; its sole sequel being the underwhelming Chrono Cross on the PS1. The game received numerous ports and is accessible in North America and Japan through the PSN store. Oddly enough, however, the only European console release of the title was on the Nintendo DS in 2009. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the game is a classic.
5. Command and Conquer (PC, August 31)
As opposed to the previous game on this list, Command and Conquer – a futuristic war-based real-time strategy game – went onto spawn a very successful franchise, which would soon become one of the most recognisable names in the RTS genre. It all began humbly with the original game, which was developed by Westwood Studios.
The plot involves a head to head war, as two forces battle for global domination. In one corner, we’ve got the peacekeeping Global Defense Initiative, while in the other we’ve got the cult-like dogged terrorism group known as the Brotherhood of Nod. What they compete for is the craved resource, Tiberium.
The typical mission is classic of an RTS; set up your base, raise funds (by gathering Tiberium), and train up your military force. There are a large range of missions which provide plenty of replayability, and a multiplayer mode that accommodates up to four players (a rarity that was welcomed at the time). Another stand-out aspect of Command and Conquer was the live-action, full motion video cutscenes; a storytelling technique that would become a trademark of the series.
Critically and financially successful, the title received ports across numerous home consoles in the years to come, and spawned an enormity of sequels, with the most recent being Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances in 2012. However, since then, the series has gone eerily quiet, with the latest game announced being a now-cancelled free-to-play title.
6. Rayman (PS1, September 1)
Long before Ubisoft managed to piss off of their fans with Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the company was best known for producing the Rayman franchise. The side-scrolling platform game was originally designed for the Atari Jaguar, but also saw a release on the fledgling PlayStation at about the same time.
In comparison to the other edgier PS1 titles, such as Tekken and Wipeout, Rayman appears as a much more light-hearted game, and stands out due to its vibrant, 2D design on a console in which 3D graphics were seen as of the utmost importance. The gameplay is simple, involving gradually gaining new abilities as you progress, defeating enemies and facing bosses. It was never a truly earth-shattering title.
Nevertheless, Rayman was commended for its clever design. The game featured broad, twisted environments to run, jump, and climb through, hooks to daringly swing across, and skies that required dexterous navigation. Ubisoft helped the franchise to keep its head above water with constant releases, and although many of them were blatantly milking a cash cow, the series eventually received its best title just recently, in the form of Rayman Legends.
7. Wipeout (PS1, September 29)
Set in the year 2052, Wipeout is a futuristic racing game, published and developed by Psygnosis. It was touted as one of the first leaps into next gen, and received a particularly strong reception upon its release on the PS1. Sony had beaten Nintendo to the punch, as it wasn’t until 1998 that the latter’s rival futuristic racer F-Zero made the transition to 3D.
In the title, you quickly weave and race, making calculated use of weapons and traversing a variety of heavily detailed tracks. The speed was wondrous to behold, the graphics were a remarkable leap from the previous generation, and it was all accompanied with a suitably trippy techno soundtrack.
It did receive some criticism, with some pointing to poor vehicle manoeuvring and a lack of in-race competitors, but this did little to taint the legacy it left behind. Psygnosis went on to develop several sequels, and the latest we’ve seen from the franchise is Wipeout 2048, which made its way to the PS Vita in 2012. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of a home console release for the franchise; Sony Liverpool had been working on a title for the PlayStation 4 before the studio was closed down on August 22, 2012.
8. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES, October 4)
If there was a swan song for 16-bit Mario games, and perhaps even 16-bit platformers in general, it was Yoshi’s Island; a game that not only was a joy to play, but also stunningly charming to look at.
The game’s producer, industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto, was ordered to move the visuals in the direction of the recently-released Donkey Kong Country (which supported pre-rendered graphics), and he responded by creating an art style that looked like it had been drawn by crayons or felt tip pens.
An environment was moulded that felt like a stroll through a beautiful children’s book, and this perfectly matched the story of a small army of multi-hued Yoshis’ noble task of carrying the young mascot Mario home. Puffs of smoke trail tossed eggs, sounds chirp and ring as colourful climbable sunflowers spring to the air; it is a magnificently varying world that shows off the uncompromising innovation of the minds at Nintendo.
Yoshi’s Island was one of the later releases for the Super Nintendo, coming out even after the PlayStation’s Western release. However, the game wasn’t lost in the transition and its legacy is marked by its sequels and its popular re-release on the Game Boy Advance. Even now, 20 years later, Nintendo have taken another stab at a Yoshi game with the charming Woolly World.
9. Tekken (PS1, November 7)
In 1995, Virtua Fighter was the reigning champion of 3D fighters, and while Tekken (first released in arcades the previous year) couldn’t match the majesty of Virtua Fighter 2’s graphics, it did manage to trump it in other areas: most notably, it ran at a smooth 60 frames per second.
What it also had was an interesting deviation between characters, ranging from Law’s devastating somersaults to Yoshimitsu’s slithering sword attacks. In terms of gameplay, each character has long, string-like combos that require precise button presses along with expert timing.
Undoubtedly, the Tekken series helped Sony to secure a foothold in the fighting game market, and in 2015, with Sony trying harder than ever to establish their PS4 console as the number one choice for fighters (namely the exclusivity of Street Fighter V), Tekken 7 will undoubtedly be a part of this strategy.
10. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest (SNES, November 20)
Nintendo have always played host to crème de la crème platformers, and 1995 saw a sequel to one of the seminal games on the SNES. By managing to creatively improve on its predecessor, Donkey Kong Country 2 continued the fight for two dimensions, despite the growing trend towards three.
The game’s levels vary greatly, with environmental effects, such as fog and rain, used more potently. The developers toyed with the mechanics more often, and to top it off, we were given two characters that were differentiated by more than the fact that they looked physically different.
In the story, Diddy’s buddy Donkey has been kidnapped, so it now falls on him and his girlfriend Dixie to go on a rescue mission. While the differences are as subtle as the fact that Dixie can glide and Diddy can throw objects faster, it’s these little variations that affect outcomes massively due to the necessary preciseness of movement.
DKC 2 was yet another strong platformer released for the SNES at a time when the other major players continued jumping ship to new consoles, and it helped to staple the fact that the series was around for the long haul. With the recent release of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U, this doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.
Well there you have it, our top ten classic games that will turn 20 this year; some that have become a distant memory, but many that are still huge spheres of influence in the games industry, and outside.
Pratchett’s series of books still soar with popularity, Nintendo still reliably produce some of the best quality games, Schafer is still a massive (and active) name in the industry, and we still look at Chrono Trigger and wonder why Square are putting so much effort into Final Fantasy.
Despite the distance gaming has come, it’s undeniable that the industry was showing strong signs of its gargantuan future back in 1995. By the end of the decade, video games would be more profitable than both the movie and music industries, and it continues to go from strength to strength today. Let’s hope that this trend continues in the future.