Tuesday Top Ten: Video Games Published in 1994

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 Nineteen Ninety-Four.

As I’ve said numerous times, the Nineties were good to gamers, arguably the best decade in our hobby.  A ton of great games, and even many of the games that weren’t so good were attempts at honest innovation, making it hard to really dismiss the games themselves.

Now, for this year, specifically, quite a few good games came out, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down the list to just ten.  These games at least provided something interesting, but many started or furthered some aspect of gaming that can still be found today.

Now for the usual disclaimer: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as that clicking-finger itches.

With that out of the way, let’s go!

10. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Back in the early ‘Nineties, Spider-Man appeared in a slew of comic book titles.  You had Web of Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, The spectacular Spider-Man, The Sensational Spider-Man, the adjective-less Spider-Man, and more.  One of the primary effects of having so many different titles was making fans tear their hair out by trying to figure out what line had the kind of stories they wanted to see the wall-crawler appear in.

It also made collecting series a bit of a hunt-and-seek endeavor, such as the Maximum Carnage series.  Fourteen issues spread all over the various web-head-related titles told the tale of Cletus Kasady, a psycho who became the deadly creature known as Carnage.  Generally, the reception was good, so it wasn’t a surprise that a video game based on it would be made.

Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage was at first glance a normal beat-’em-up, where you cleared sections of the levels before moving on, each section containing waves of enemies for the player to smack.  Where it became interesting wasn’t just that you could choose to play as Spider-Man or Venom, but also just how different they were.  Their moves were a little different, which had to be taken into account, they had different levels, and the storyline was subtly different depending on who the player was controlling.  It made what could have been a simple beat-’em-up much more interesting and worth it to play through more than once.

A humorous and informational Let’s Play of it can be found here.

09. SimCity 2000
These days, sim/management games tend to revolve around the Sims franchise, but before managing an individual’s life, we managed entire cities.  While the first one was popular enough in its own right, it was SimCity 2000 that really exploded onto the scene.  So popular it is, there are still updates and patches on E.A.’s official servers, and that’s not counting the numerous fan-made downloads one can still find through only a few moments’ use of a search engine.

While the first one was fun for what it was, this one gave the gamers many more options.  For one thing, there were more tools—now you could have different levels of terrain, you could add more transportation types, and the handling of finances was tweaked to become more intricate.  Then you had humorous things like the newspapers; every once in a while, the player would receive a newspaper, which was usually filled with humorous nonsense, but also occasionally had relevant items such as disasters or new technological discoveries.

A humorous and informational Let’s Play can be found here.

08. Shadowrun
Based on the rather popular and long-running pen-and-paper role-playing game of the same name, the Genesis version saw the player choose one of three character archetypes—the straight-up warrior called a Street Samurai, the magic-using Shaman, or the hacker equivalent of a Decker.  The plot was somewhat straightforward—the protagonist comes to the city to find out who killed his brother.  Naturally, this isn’t easy.

There were tons of side-tasks to complete, but one of the more interesting aspects of the game was the ability to customize the character’s skill-set.  You can have the character stay, say, a straight damage-dealer, or have them also learn some Decker skills.  There were many ways to build the character almost however one wanted, which of course affected game play as well.  You could be the sneak who surreptitiously entered buildings by disarming the alarms, or the tank who ran in and dared every enemy to come get you.

It wasn’t perfect, of course, either.  Some of the skills weren’t as fully-developed, making them—not quite useless, but not as useful as they were meant to be.  Still, it was a very good R.P.G. title, for gamers wanting something different than a high-fantasy setting.

A humorous Let’s Play of it can be found here.

07. Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed
The one that started it all, the 3DO version came out this year, with versions for the other consoles to appear the following years.

One can see a lot of elements that would become staples of later titles in the series—the player raced along the coast, in the city, and so on, as well as the traditional closed circuits.  There were also police chases, began if the police caught the player racing.  One of the biggest things, though, was the attention to detail in the physics.  While later titles would go in a more arcade-y direction, this title was all about realism.  The cars all handled how one would expect their real-world counterparts to handle, which was rather new at the time.  The graphics weren’t anything to sneeze at, either, though they were admittedly not one of the top selling points.  On the other hand, this was back when graphics were hardly really a selling point in the first place.

On the whole, seeing the new things it did, the old things it refined, it’s easy to see why the franchise became as popular as it did.

Some game play videos can be found here.

06. The Lion King
If you were a kid then or have kids now, chances are good you saw the movie, so you know the story.  You probably also know the allegations that Disney allegedly ripped off the story from old—and then-current—television shows.

The game followed the plot pretty closely, following Simba as he grows from a cub into an adult.  The game was beautifully-designed, too—the first level is essentially Simba just playing around, and you get that distinct feeling.  It’s fun.  It’s just fun to run around, climb on this or that.  The second level was designed by evil programmers who hate children and fun, but after that the game got back on the fun-track.

At least for a while.  When cub-Simba becomes adult-Simba, the game takes an interesting turn.  That’s not necessarily “good”, mind, but “interesting”.  The cub levels are all about fun and exploration as Simba rolls this way and that.  The adult levels are more about brutality and clawing the ever-loving heck out of animals that stand in your way.  It started out a exploratory platformer and ends up closer to a platforming beat-’em-up.  Still, it was an undoubtedly fun game.  Each level was a bit on the short side, but that actually worked in its favor.  You weren’t really allowed to get bored of a level (except for the second, but that’s neither here nor there), ensuring the fun kept going.

An informational Let’s Play can be found right here

05. Earthworm Jim
This one has cropped up quite a few times on this site, most recently in last week’s Tuesday Top Ten.  As has been said, here, plenty of times, the little worm had a big impact on gamers—there are still fan sites maintained even now.

The reason for the popularity is actually easy to see—the game’s nonsensical sense of humor was a large part; it didn’t take itself seriously.  It asked the gamer to laugh and have a good time, to just relax and have fun.  To that end, while it was technically violent, it was never brutal.  Enemies were cartoon-ish caricatures in the first place, and when they “died” they went out in humorous explosive poofs.  It was simply fun and offered a good time to the gamer.

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

04. Donkey Kong Country
Considered one of the top platformers of the S.N.E.S. for a good reason, Donkey Kong Country primarily focused on the concept of teamwork.  Many games offered some form of multi-player, where numerous players could both fire at the enemies and such similar.  Donkey Kong Country gave two characters to a single player to control, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The player could switch between Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong with ease, making it easier to take on the challenges and puzzles in the game.  It was an easy-seeming set-up—Diddy was about speed and agility, Donkey about strength and fighting.  It seems easy, look at a problem, see whether it should be smashed or dodged, and go from there.  However, some of the challenges weren’t obvious; some you almost had to know they existed before you could even deal with them.

The game play was somewhat non-linear, with bosses requiring different approaches to defeat, though there was also a considerably steep curve to the difficulty level over all.  Still, it was a darn fine game—and it’s even been suggested that it saved the S.N.E.S.  As we know from our on-going discussion on SEGA, at this time the Genesis had come to dominate the North American and European markets, so that suggestion is very likely true, or at least close to the truth.  Not bad for what started out as an abused pet who basically sought revenge.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

03. Samurai Shodown II
Street Fighter was a popular series.  So popular, it inspired quite a few clones, some of which went on to become popular in their own right, like Mortal Kombat.  Some were less direct clones of Street Fighter, and more “inspired” by it, such as the first Samurai Shodown.  Like other one-on-one fighting games, you picked a character and beat the ever-loving heck out of opponents in sequential matches.  You had combos and special moves, and—that’s about where it stops being closely similar to Street Fighter.

This was done primarily through one mechanic—swords.  I know, I know—it seems too simple, right?  Like there’s no way in heck the addition of swords would matter much, especially since other fighting games not only had swords as well, but maces, guns, and whatever else.  The difference is the insane depth of detail poured into that mechanic.

So your character’s sword gets flicked out of your hands—well, you’d better get it back, as blocking your enemy’s sword with your arm is about as good of an idea as it seems to be.  However, that doesn’t mean you’re totally helpless—if you’re quick, you can catch your enemy’s sword between your palms (like in pretty much every chop-socky flick with a sword-fighter in it that you’ve ever seen) and show them that you’re not helpless just because you lost your sword.

The sequel had that—and more.  A lot of movement options were added, giving more of a strategic element to the game, and on top of that you now had the ability to actually completely destroy your enemy’s weapon.  There’s also a random item-throwing-guy who tosses things into the ring without really specifically helping or hindering the player, and he might toss the character a new sword—but that’s only “might”.  It’s also quite likely they’ll have to spend the rest of the battle bare-handed.

Naturally, the enemies can pull off all those moves on the player’s character, too.  That made it fun and, like its predecessor, stand out quite well from the crowd of fighting games.  It’s almost a shame the series didn’t get the fame it deserved and stood alongside Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat—but it’s available on the X-Box Live Arcade, so there’s a chance it will pick up “cult hit” status.

02. Sonic & Knuckles
This game also popped up on last week’s Tuesday Top Ten, where it took the number-three spot in our list of top Genesis/Mega Drive games.  The reason it scored so highly then and now is, as we discussed last week, it was arguably the pinnacle of the Sonic series.

One of the reasons for this was the lock-on technology, which, aside from completely changing the way we looked at the previous two titles, showed us a glimpse of what the future could be like.  Would we see more games featuring that?  Imagine what could have been—imagine locking a Street Fighter game in and kicking M. Bison’s tuchus as Knuckles, or locking Streets of Rage in and zipping about as Sonic.  Imagine if other games did that—Vectorman in Mortal Kombat, Scorpion in Vectorman.

Unfortunately the idea didn’t really catch on, as much because the medium was moving to disc-based media as much as anything else, but for just a few, brief moments, the future looked full of countless possibilities.

A play-through as Sonic can be found here, while Knuckle’s side can be seen here.

01. Ecco: The Tides of Time
The first Ecco the Dolphin took last week’s number one spot for a reason—it was new, it was innovative, it was different, it was expansive—it was fun.  That’s a lot for a sequel to live up to.  Even though there was nothing else to compare the original to, by dint of being a sequel anything that came afterward would be compared to the first.  Ecco: The Tides of Time not only managed to live up to the standards set by its predecessor, but it surpassed most of them.

Where the first game’s story revolved around history repeating itself, the sequel’s revolved around the future.  That’s actually a pretty bold step, especially how it was initially presented to the player.  Ecco is swimming around, enjoying himself and having his pod back—and strange creatures start showing up.  Then a dolphin from the future shows up and says that Ecco has to go back with her—back to the future!

Seriously, though, she says Ecco has to go to the future, which, as a plot-point teetered on being corny as heck—but swiftly pulled back from that edge.  It actually works, especially once the player sees the dark, apocalyptic future waiting if Ecco doesn’t succeed.  The story became haunting—aided by the imagery, music, and sounds, all of which were even better than the original game, if such can be believed.  It made swimming in the sea almost fearful, where once it had been a true joy.  It also told a tale of a dark future avoiding through dedication.  It was just as fun as its predecessor without being a copy of it.  It tried new things, did some things differently.  Over all, it was quite a worthy sequel, deftly and gracefully dancing away from the dreaded sequelitis.

An informational Let’s Play can be found right here.


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