This Month in Video Game History: May

First-person shooters, Sega-related heartbreak, GTA PC delays, and out-of-place cleavage: Sometimes video gaming’s past sounds a lot like video gaming’s present…

May 1987Castlevania is released for the NES, marking the first installment in one of gaming’s all-time most prolific properties. To date, there have been over 20 unique installments to the Castlevania franchise, with nearly 10 more remakes and enhanced editions. Interestingly, while every game in the series released in the U.S. has carried the title of “Castlevania”, in Japan and in other parts of the world it has gone by a variety of completely different names, including Devil’s Castle Dracula, Haunted Castle, and Vampire Killer. Even more strange is that in Japan, after 15 years of the series primarily being known as Devil’s Castle Dracula or just Dracula, the series briefly adopted the Western title of Castlevania for several installments before returning to its former series title for subsequent releases.

May 5, 1992
– In one of gaming’s earliest examples of rebooting a franchise, id Software reinvents the early 80’s action/adventure/stealth Wolfenstein games as Wolfenstein 3D, a pioneering first-person shooter. Though not technically the first FPS, it is the one established the basic elements that would come to define the genre for many years to come. So we have id to “thank” for both first-person shooters and reboots.

May 3, 1994 – Speaking of genre-defining first person shooters, Unreal was released in May…1998. Four years earlier, eventual Unreal and Gears of War developer Epic (then EpicMega Games) were still making games in two dimensions and put out the side-scrolling action/platformer Jazz Jackrabbit. Their peers over at id also took a similar trajectory, making a name for themselves with the 2D platformer Commander Keen before achieving blockbuster success in the FPS space.

May 11-16, 1995 – The first Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) is held in Los Angeles. That particular E3 was all about the looming 32/64 bit console wars, but it was also the place where the ill-fated Virtual Boy and Neo-Geo CD were both announced. However, perhaps the most infamous distinction held by that year’s expo is…

May 11, 1995
– Sega shocks everyone by announcing that their upcoming Saturn console, previously planned for launch that Fall, is to be released…right now! The system literally went on sale that very day at select stores across the country. While the move was intended to get a head start on Sony’s PlayStation console, it proved a disastrous decision. Stores quickly sold out of the initial 30,000 units with no more planned for months, retailers left out of the deal felt betrayed (with KB Toys refusing to ever stock the system out of retaliation), and only 6 titles were ready for launch, with killer app Virtua Fighter suffering some minor technical issues as a result of the rushed launch. In the end, the head start didn’t do the Saturn any favors, and it was beaten decisively by the PlayStation, selling less than 10 million units in its entire lifespan.

May 1996 – With these crazy new things called “websites” starting to catch on, two game-based ones drive onto the Information Superhighway: GameSpot and GameFAQs. Remarkably, both still operate to this day, seeing countless contemporaries come and go in the subsequent 19 years.

May 1998 – The first Interactive Achivement Awards are held during E3. Game of the Year honors go to Goldeneye (over Final Fantasy VII, which is pretty absurd if you ask me – though they also gave Diddy Kong Racing the title of best racing game over Gran Turismo so clearly they didn’t know what the hell they were doing). Shigeru Miyamoto is the organization’s first inductee into their Hall of Fame, because of course he would be.

May 31, 1999Ape Escape is released for PlayStation, and is the first title ever to require the Dual Analog/DualShock controller as it made extensive use of both analog sticks in a number of creative ways. While most games released after the introduction of the Dual Shock made significant use of its dual analog capabilities and played significantly better with the controller, Ape Escape would remain the only game to ever actually require it in order to play at all.

May 22, 2000 – Another May, another landmark first person shooter makes its debut. This time, it is Rare’s long-awaited spiritual successor to Goldeneye, Perfect Dark. It would be one of the N64’s last blockbusters, one of Rare’s final games for Nintendo, the first and last good Perfect Dark game, and the final game by most of the talent behind Rare’s FPSes before they would leave to form developer Free Radical (the company behind PS2 launch title TimeSplitters).

May 21, 2001 – Re-read the first sentence in the previous entry. Red Faction is released for PlayStation 2, and helps to demonstrate the power of the young console with its impressive Geo-Mod engine that allows for real-time deformation and destruction of much of the game’s architecture and terrain. Most of us figured that deformable/destructible environments were soon to become the standard in video games after we played Red Faction, yet here we are 14 years later and some games don’t even feature breakable glass windows let alone destructible walls of any kind.

May 2002Grand Theft Auto III finally comes to PC after 7 months as a console exclusive, and that was considered an extremely long wait by PC fans at the time. If they only knew what the future held for them and waiting on GTA games…

May 26, 2003
WarioWare, Inc: Mega Microgame$ is released for the Game Boy Advance, launching a new franchise that has since become a staple for every new Nintendo platform, even moreso than a new Mario title.

May 2003 – The 3DO Company announces its bankruptcy. Yep, they managed to survive until 2003, thanks to the baffling popularity of those terrible Army Men games.

Yep, in the 90’s even a game about little plastic green army men found a way to include big boobs. Stay classy, video games!