Tuesday Top Ten: Video Games Published in 1997

Well, it’s that time again, friends—time for another Tuesday Top Ten!  Every week, we go through the top ten something-or-anothers related to our hobby, and this week is no different.  This week, we’re counting down the top ten video games published in ‘Ninety-Seven.

As I’ve said before, the ‘Nineties was arguably the best decade for gamers.  The ‘Eighties were all about figuring out how playing video games at home could actually work, and by the ‘Nineties developers and gamers alike had become comfortable with the idea.  So comfortable, in fact, that we went past just seeing how the concept could work, to seeing just how far we could go.

That’s not to say the decade was perfect, or that every problem was ironed out; a few things—like difficulty versus challenge—wouldn’t really be settled until the ‘Aughts, but the ‘Nineties, for us, were mostly about limitless exploration.

Now the usual disclaimer: Where possible, I’ve included Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play examples, and other such videos.  Some, many, or all will be infused with vulgarity and/or profanity, so know that before you start clicking with wild abandon, you reckless clicker, you.

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s party!

10. Beast Wars
The cartoon was an odd-ball in Transformers history.  first it was canon, then it wasn’t, then it was but an alternate time-line, then it was earlier in the “main” time-line—it went back and forth a good bit for the relatively short life-span of the initial cartoon.  Looking back from an age where everything that could be licensed has been, it’s no surprise that there was a video game based on it.

The game itself wasn’t the best, but it tried.  That’s the important thing—it tried to keep to the spirit of the cartoon yet give the player something interesting.  Certain elements of the source—in just one case, the presence of a lethal radiation that necessitated the need for an alternate form in the first place—couldn’t have been anywhere near easy to implement in a workable way, and it actually came out somewhat decently.  Similar to the cartoon, the characters couldn’t stay in their robot forms very long, though they had to switch to them for combat.  All in all, it was a great attempt at trying to be something other than just a tossed-off bit of licensed drivel.

09. LEGO Island
These days, LEGOs are usually designed around one set or set-type, barely able to be used with any other.  Back in “the day”, though, kids had little but buckets of what’s now called a “starter set“.  These days, you can find a dozen different video games that have undergone the LEGO treatment—everyone from Indiana Jones to Batman to Darth Vader have been transformed into a little yellow mini-figure.  Back in the late ‘Nineties, however, they were just getting started in the video game world.

Enter LEGO Island, which was a surprisingly in-depth game for being ostensibly geared toward younger players.  The player was given a sizeable island to explore, where they could make all kinds of vehicles and whatever else—but there was even a loose plot if the player wanted it.  If the player did a few certain things, they would help a criminal escape from jail, then have to get him back in before he destroyed the island.  It was a surprisingly complex game that offered a lot of freedom.

The best game-play footage I’ve found is the first part of a series that was never completed.  Still, it shows off the game well enough, I think, and can be found here.

08. Streets of Sim City
The SimCity series has always been pretty popular, and for good reason.  You were handed a city and told to—well, do whatever the heck you darn well pleased with it.  There were many tie-ins, though none really as popular as the crazy-popular Sims franchise.  One of the lesser-known tie-ins that was more interesting than its popularity—or, rather, the lack thereof—might let the player believe is Streets of SimCity.

The concept was a deceptively simple one—take any city in SimCity 2000 and—drive through it.  One could customize their cars a little, but the real fun was just driving around and occasionally getting into races.  The controls were a little too-tight for the ninety-degree turns that were every corner, and the cars were light enough to let them catch some serious air from the slightest bump, but there was a surprisingly deep nature to the racing.  You could get an assortment of pick-ups that were littered around, to make the racing even more intense.

Some game-play footage of a race on a city specifically designed for racing can be found here.

07. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
It might surprise some gamers, but the character of Turok first appeared in a comic book—that debuted in ‘Fifty-Four.  The game itself stood rather well on its own.  It was a first-person shooter that used a few elements which were, even for the time, a bit trite, but twisted them into new and different things.

The aural side made for a better sense of immersion by making the ambient sounds fit just right; background noises abound, but all “fit”, and none are too overwhelming.  Hand-in-hand with that was the control scheme.  While a bit awkward, once the player got used to them they would really feel like they were taking down their enemies.

An informational Let’s Play is right over here.

06. Need for Speed II
With only a few exceptions, the Need for Speed franchise has always been received well.  From the get-go, it offered a lot of cars, interesting settings, and more.

Need for Speed II was easy to get into; like other car-centered games, you selected your car, the type of transmission, so on and so forth, and you had to be first across the finish line.  Nothing too outrageous.

What kept the player involved was, for one thing, the driving mechanics.  It was close to a “driving sim” game; the controls took some getting used to, but they felt closer to driving a real car.  It wasn’t a perfect analog, of course, but it was closer than most other games at the time could claim.  Speaking of, you had eight “super cars”, from a Ferrari, to a McLarren, to a Jaguar, and much more.  It looked great, handled better, and helped build the franchise into the juggernaut it is today.

05. Bloody Roar
At first glance, the arcade version of Bloody Roar looked like nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the other one-on-one fighting games of the time.  It was more than that, but it took the title coming to the PlayStation, complete with a few tweaks and additions, for the differences to really shine through.

The most obvious difference is the “beast form”.  Each character could transform into a half-beast/half-human creature.  Yugo, ostensibly the protagonist, became a wolf-like creature, but there was also the woman who became a boar-creature, the man who became a lion-creature, and a good few more besides.  Like pretty much every other fighting game, they had their own stories, their own “reason” for going head-to-head—but the plot wasn’t what made the franchise popular (though it would never come close to toppling Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, it did earn a respectable following)—it was the fighting.

The fighting itself was easy enough to learn, and mastering the system was more a matter of spending just a little bit of time learning it.  There was also more to the beast forms than just different moves—they hit a little harder, and did the normal moves a touch faster.  It all helped make the game something different yet enjoyable.

There’s a play-through of it right over here.

04. Star Fox 64
If you really want to start a fight amongst gamers, tell one that Shigeru Miyamoto was nothing but a piker.  Even gamers who aren’t necessarily fans of Nintendo consoles would have to admit that Miyamoto is the undisputed father of Nintendo gaming.  Between Mario and Link, pretty much everything he touched turned to gold.  When gamers found out he would be behind Star Fox 64, expectations soared.

As came as a surprise to absolutely no one, Star Fox delivered on the promises inherent in Miyamoto’s association with the title—and delivered in spades.  There was a decent tutorial level to let the player get used to the controls, and when they did, they were in for a fantastic ride.  The game looked great and played fantastically.  The plot was a little iffy, but it worked well enough (and all things considered, it was head-and-shoulders above “a plumber finds himself in a weird land of ambulatory mushrooms…”, so) and was enjoyable to go through.

A rather humorous Let’s Play, made better by it being “blind” (where the player has no experience with the game before making the Let’s Play of it), can be found here.

03. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Amongst other things, the ‘Nineties were a time of odd games.  As developers played around with the medium, as gamers eagerly dove into whatever weird creation they came out with, that decade saw more odd-ball games than any other.  Fittingly enough, one of them had that oddness in the title.

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee deserved the repeat of the term “odd”.  The plot was pretty straightforward—you took control of a slave, Abe, as he fought for the freedom of himself and his brethren.  The oddness starts to slip in as Abe has to use a limited and, well, odd set of linguistics skills to herd his fellows through levels looking like they were designed by Salvador Dali and avoiding enemies looking like they were thought up by H.R. Giger on a good day.

The enemies were more varied than most other games could even boast; each species had to be approached in a different fashion, which were usually dependent on a few variables, such as whether you found them alone or in groups, whether they like each other or not, and so on.  It also deviated from what was expected by the lack of a real scoring system—your “goal” was really to just stay alive and rescue your comrades.  Then you had the puzzles; they actually required some thought, but weren’t mean-spirited in design.  The average kid gamer could actually be expected to figure them out with a good bit of mental exertion, but not so much as to make the player frustrated.  It was, simply, a great title.

A nicely informational Let’s Play can be found right here.

02. GoldenEye 007
You know this one.  Everyone knows it.  When people talk about first-person shooters, especially for the Nintendo 64, GoldenEye invariably comes up somewhere along the way.  It’s still played, to this day, and for good reason.  If you’re one of the five known gamers who’s never even seen a video or heard a discussion about the game, if one only takes a cursory glance at the title, it might be hard to see what made it so popular.  Even with a mentality of judging it by the standards of the era, it can seem like just another first-person shooter, in an era pretty much rife with them.

The artificial intelligence was actually pretty decent, though it wasn’t stellar.  Where it shone, though, was in the level design and the controls.  The levels not only looked very good for the time, they were designed to let the player have enough cover if they took just a moment or two to think things through, and the controls were similar to other first-person shooters, but they were much more user-friendly.  They were a help to the player, instead of a hindrance.  The plot was surprisingly close to the film it was based on, and it held together surprisingly well for someone who hadn’t seen it.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

01. Final Fantasy VII
In our Final Fantasy article series, we went over the series as a whole, and in our article on Final Fantasy VII we went into how much of a controversy it can still be for the fan-base, but also how much it’s done for the series—and games in general.

It’s really hard to understate just what it did—it wasn’t the revolutionary angelic gift of the gods or anything, of course, but it showed other developers, as well as gamers, that there were different ways to make a video game.  Boundaries could be pushed, or ignored completely, and the titles would still sell.

A more informational Let’s Play can be found here.


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