5 – SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (1991) – SEGA
In 1990, the SNES was released in Japan. Two years earlier, SEGA had released the Mega Drive console, and had achieved a fair slice of the market. Faced with the competition from Nintendo’s new toy however (bundled with Super Mario World no less – and if you have been reading these articles then you will know what an impact a bundled Mario game could have), SEGA had to find a new killer app. The answer was to be found by offering a new game bundled with the Mega Drive, featuring a mascot who epitomised everything Mario wasn’t – he had to be cool, radical, and most of all, fast. The answer was Sonic The Hedgehog.
Released in 1991, the gamble paid off. Consumers were wowed by the speed of the game, the groundbreaking momentum physics, the impressive colourful graphics and the catchy soundtrack. Most of all, the hero of the piece captured the imagination. Sonic was brimming with attitude, tapping his foot impatiently when not moving and aiming to show that “SEGA do what Nintendo’nt”. During the 1991 Christmas season, the Mega Drive (known as the Genesis in the Western world) outsold the SNES by almost 2 to 1, and had 65% of the North American market by mid 1992 – almost all of which was attributable to Sonic. The significance of this game is that it helped to start off the console wars between SEGA and Nintendo, which led to some of the best games ever made being created as the two companies looked to outdo each other, and set the base for further wars to be fought in the future between Sony/Nintendo and Microsoft/Sony respectively. It also marked the high point for SEGA, before the company started to slip out of the public focus over the next decade.
6 – DOOM (1993) – ID SOFTWARE
You may have heard of this one – if you have ever played a first person shooter and enjoyed a second of it, then you owe a great deal to Doom, the game that popularised the genre and is commonly cited as one of the greatest games ever made.
Before I start, let’s clear up the argument once and for all – Wolfenstein 3D (1992) is the rightful origin of first person shooters. However, it would be Doom that raised the bar. Pitting a nameless space marine against the demons of hell, Doom introduced dynamic 3D levels enhanced by improved levels of lighting, textures and sounds, and via the use of ‘WAD’ files was able to feature custom content, leading to the first game modding communities. The game is also well remembered for its high levels of gore and violence (blamed in part for influencing the Columbine High School shootings in 1999), and the wide range of weapons the player could utilise, including the now legendary BFG 9000. Doom also helped to popularise the idea of power ups in games, and allowed something called a ‘deathmatch’ if people could connect their PC’s via phone lines…I think that mode may have been used once or twice in recent first person shooters.
The fact that the phrase ‘Doom clones’ existed well into the latter part of the decade should be a testament to the popularity and quality of Doom: few games could match its popularity (fun fact: in 1995 apparently more computers had Doom installed than the Windows 95 operating system), and it wasn’t until an intrepid British company made a game based on a popular film (which you’ll see at a later point in this list) that FPS’s could finally break out of Doom’s shadow. A true trailblazer in every sense of the phrase.