I was raised by sports and video games. Our generation may be known as the generation that was raised by television, but I was always a bit more active as a child whether I was sitting on the couch or not. Outside of Little League, my summers after my mom went back to work consisted of video games until lunch and then neighborhood sports until dinner.
Before girls existed, when we weren’t playing sports and video games, we were talking about sports and video games, and we somehow managed to do the latter without coming close to the zero-friends, locked inside a stereotype in which the media tried to portray “gamers.” So, what were the best games our generation played together, competed over, and talked about? It starts somewhere you wouldn’t expect.
10. Roller Coaster Tycoon (1999)
I’ll be honest, this game was a gift given to my sister. She messed with it some, but I guarantee I played it more. My sister was always a great way to excuse playing games I didn’t want to waste MY Christmas and birthday presents on, culminating in when I got her to buy herself a Xbox with her own money, only to never play it. I didn’t care about playing the park simulator in Roller Coaster Tycoon, but you better believe I built roller coasters still unmatched in reality and unable to be ridden with my motion sickness.
9. Super Mario World (1995)
While I played my uncle’s original Nintendo and rocked a GameBoy and Sega GameGear, my parents weren’t big on video games in the generation before Playstation and N64 came out, so I had to get my fix elsewhere. Luckily the family on the corner had a Super Nintendo and Super Mario World, still to date my favorite Mario game. You had to work together to beat the ridiculously long game, one person playing as Mario and the other as Luigi, but unlike games of the day where you simply passed the controller, Super Mario World was created with cooperative play in mind. We spent hours and hours trying to beat Bowser and Special World alike.
8. MarioKart 64 (1997)
Mario Kart 64 is an odd one, because I think I played it at 20 and 21 as much as I did at 10 and 11. The Super Nintendo version was fun, but Nintendo 64, with its 4 controllers and 3D graphics, made Mario Kart 64 legendary. Racing your friends was cool enough, but hitting that guy in the lead was a shell only to zoom past him for the win was as exhilarating as hitting a Little League homerun. The victory and self-righteousness achieved in pissing that guy in your neighborhood off to the extent that he spiked the controller, only to be able to lecture him about spiking the controller after, was a moment I will cherish forever.
7. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)
It might not be the original and it might be on one of the most disappointing consoles (GameCube) of all time, but Super Smash Bros. Melee was the pinnacle of the series and I’ll Falcon Punch you if you disagree. You’ll also catch a puuuuuunch if you try to convince me that the Mario Kart series was better as a kid just because you like it more now. We had some fun throwing shells growing up, but we bracketed out entire tournaments of Smash Brothers and those bragging rights and character choices are still reminisced today. (Roy forever.) The concept of taking a bunch of famed characters and making them all fight for no apparent reasons really spoke to me as a young boy in ways that the coherent plots of movies and books never could.
6. Pokémon Red & Blue (1998)
Oh, Pokémon. Before the corny TV show, the obsessive-compulsive card collecting, and the mania that swept the nation before the inevitable backlash, there was a damn solid game more complex in its structure than any of us even knew at the time. But just beating this RPG wasn’t enough. No. You had to collect all of the characters as well. Some of those characters were only available on another version of the game, forcing you not only to trade with your younger brother and neighborhood friends but also to make sure that you didn’t all get the same version in the first place. Further, you could connect your GameBoy to a friend’s GameBoy with a cord and have your monsters fight their monsters, Michael Vick-style. I had all 151 back then, boys and girls. I caught them all and you bet your ass I let my crew know it.
5. Resident Evil (1996)
The Sony PlayStation hit American shores in September 1995 to a strong launch, but the PlayStation MADE IT in March of the next year with the release of Resident Evil. Creating the entire survival horror genre, Resident Evil was also pants-shittingly scary. The zombie dogs crashing through the window still haunts my dreams. While games were M for Mature before it came out, Resident Evil’s twisted plot, terror, and gore made it one of the first games to show that video games were not simply a hobby for children. Even though my mom wouldn’t let me grab a Teen-rated game until I was actually a teenager, we all played this adult game as children thanks to the one family whose parents didn’t care, and we still aren’t right to this day because of it.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Thought of by some as the greatest video game of all time, Ocarina of Time redefined what an adventure game should be with terrifically detailed characters and dungeons for the time. On top of that there was a time traveling aspect where you had to play as both a child and an adult, and I couldn’t have thought of a better metaphor for 11-year-old me. It also was loved by a lot of girls I knew, which was a new and mysterious phenomenon timed perfectly with my oncoming puberty. My one buddy’s sister, my sister’s best friend, beat the freaking water temple before all of us, and for the first time it was cool, not infuriating. So, why is it only number 4 for me? Navi. Seriously, the absolute most annoying character I can remember. HEY! LISTEN!
3. Metal Gear Solid (1998)
It’s hard to imagine now, in the era of the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, the Mass Effect series, and the Halo games, but there was a time when gaming was neither epic nor cinematic. Mario was a plumber who fought turtles and mushrooms to save a princess from a turtle. Sonic was a hedgehog that ran so fast he spun and collected rings. Solid Snake however was a spy wrapped up in a national conspiracy in a game that exposed me to genetic engineering, corruption, torture, death, and super weapons when I was 11. The plot was mind blowing, and the stealth gameplay, against the guns blazing approach that was the standard in the industry, transfixed me. Metal Gear Solid was like playing that R-rated movie you weren’t allowed you watch, and when you’re 11, there’s nothing cooler than spies and R-rated movies.
2. Final Fantasy VII (1998)
When it comes to the role-playing genre, there are few games more argued over than Final Fantasy VII. For many, this was their first taste of both the Final Fantasy series or RPGs. Final Fantasy VII allowed Japanese RPGs to be cool for a moment, which is all important as a kid, making my behind closed doors interest in them mainstream among my friends. Oh, and they killed a main character, Game of Thrones-style, before the game even really got going. Is it the best Final Fantasy all time? Arguably. Is it my personal favorite? No. But there is absolutely no denying that it was a game-changer.
1. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
In 1995, GoldenEye made Bond relevant again. In 1997 on the Nintendo 64, GoldenEye 007 made Bond cool. GoldenEye redefined the first person shooter genre, directly leading to the Halos and Call of Duties of later generations, and over a decade and a half later GoldenEye remains the only solid game based off a movie…ever. More important than both of those, however, are the endless memories of killing your friends with knives and karate chops and remote mines as they sat next to you in the living room. If you hit your buddy with a sniper, you might get hit in the arm with a fist. Kids these days don’t even know what that life is about.