By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
Last year, I shined a spotlight on the games that were going to be turning 25 in 2016 and probably weren’t going to be as celebrated as the 25th birthday of bigger games like Street Fighter II and Sonic the Hedgehog. And I was right. So I decided to do the same thing again this year, and bring some attention to the games that will be getting a 25th candle on their cake in 2017 but will likely be overshadowed by the attention given to the milestones of Super Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat, Sonic 2, and Wolfenstein 3D, among others.
Alone in the Dark
The video game industry tends to forget the games that truly do something first, and instead chooses to only remember the first game to massively popularize something. This is why Super Mario Bros. is often called the first platform game, Wolfenstein 3D is often called the first FPS, and Ultima Online is often called the first non-text MMORPG, none of which are accurate statements. Such is the case with Alone in the Dark, the true pioneer of survival horror video games and horror games with dramatic static camera angles, which was all but forgotten when Resident Evil hit four years later. While the series has floundered in its attempts to reinvent itself for a modern audience, the Alone in the Dark franchise still deserves to be celebrated this year for its contributions to the genre and the fact that Resident Evil never would’ve existed without it. I for one wouldn’t be opposed to a from-the-ground-up remake of the first game with the same care that went into the Resident Evil 1 remake.
The Amiga’s answer to Mario and Sonic, Zool obviously didn’t have the reach of the plumber and the hedgehog–especially in the U.S.–but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a solid game. Ports to more mainstream consoles like the Genesis helped to expose more people to the magical black ninja, but the game was often overlooked, getting lost in the shuffle of a sea of mediocre mascot platformers on 16-bit consoles. Follow-up Zool 2 was another solid–and another underappreciated–platform adventure, being even more overlooked in the parts of the world where the Amiga didn’t have a foothold because its sole console appearance was on the low-selling Jaguar. Unfortunately, both games have been unfairly lost to time. The 25th anniversary of the first game would be the perfect excuse to at least bring these two titles to some modern digital storefronts so more people can experience and enjoy the underrated and short-lived Zool series.
Kirby’s Dream Land
If Nintendo was planning a big to-do for Kirby’s 25th anniversary, we likely would’ve heard about it by now. Between that and the fact that the pink puff’s 15th anniversary was already commemorated with a Wii compilation, Kirby’s 25th anniversary looks like it’ll be treated with as much reverence as Metroid‘s 30th (which was all but unacknowledged last year save for a divisive multiplayer-focused 3DS shooter). To be fair, Kirby is still a very active character and franchise, and we seldom go more than a year or two without a new Kirby game. Still, 25 years is a big deal, and the 15th anniversary collection had some glaring omissions (not to mention that it’s only playable on a console that is now two generations old and isn’t compatible with the Switch). At the very least, we should get a second compilation that includes some of the newer games (such as the two great Kirby games for Wii) and the more niche games that were missing from the last one (Kirby’s Dream Course and Kirby’s Pinball Land come to mind).
Sega’s “Virtua” games were meant to showcase the then-groundbreaking use of polygonal 3D graphics, and the two main showpieces of that branding were Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. And while Virtua Fighter eventually evolved into a full-fledged franchise that survived well beyond the days when 3D games were built from plain, blocky polygons, Virtua Racing largely remained a one-off, experimental title, soon left in the dust of Sega’s other racing franchises. Technically, there remains only one core Virtua Racing game, with only enhanced ports existing as home releases. With new games like Racing Apex clearly capitalizing on nostalgia for Virtua Racing, it seems like the perfect time to recognize the game for its 25th anniversary. Whether that means a shiny HD remaster of the arcade original, or a whole new game in the style of the modern OutRun sequels, Virtua Racing deserves to be appreciated as more than just a glorified early tech demo for Sega’s Model 1 board. While I’m still not fully sold on the long-term viability of virtual reality, “VR in VR” sounds like something I’d definitely be on board to try.
Little Samson is most noteworthy these days for how rare and expensive it is, which is unfair as it should be just as recognized for its quality. One of the last credited games of Akira Kitamura, the unsung guiding force of the early Mega Man games, Samson is an absolute triumph in 8-bit action game design. The game wouldn’t currently be fetching four figures if it was easy to get a hold of, and while that fact makes the lucky few who own a copy very happy, being so rare and obscure isn’t the legacy this game deserves. The 25th anniversary of this remarkable game is as good a time as any for Taito to finally release it for Virtual Console or some other similar retro games marketplace, so that more than just people with deep pockets can play, enjoy, and legally support it. Even though Taito hasn’t done one of its “Old and New” games in awhile, Little Samson would be a great candidate for it, with a package that contains both the untouched original and some sort of enhanced version of it. If nothing else, Little Samson at least deserves to finally be recognized on its own merits, and not just for its high value in the collector market.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
For years, most of the great adventure games of the 90s were kind of stuck in limbo, only playable to those who had the patience to get DOSBox or some other similar program working to run games that were made for long obsolete operating systems. Things have gotten better in recent years, with remasters of classics like Broken Sword, The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango finally reviving some of the genre’s best games for modern audiences/devices. Meanwhile, the amazing Fate of Atlantis is so underappreciated that it got the “honor” of being tucked away as an unlockable in the terrible Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings for Wii (and it’s not just selectable from the start, either–you actually have to suffer through some of that game to earn it). Fate of Atlantis absolutely deserves a full-on remaster like some of its peers have gotten, and this is the year to do it, especially with a new Indiana Jones movie also in the pipeline. Sadly, it being a licensed game that now belongs to Disney makes that a much trickier proposition, but here’s hoping, anyway. It’s nice and all that it’s on Steam and GoG, but it really deserves the nice HD spit-shine that did wonders for some of its contemporaries and made them more appreciated by modern gamers.
And finally, here is a short list of some of the other notable games turning 25 in 2017 whose birthdays probably won’t be getting huge coverage anywhere:
- Eccco the Dolphin
- Star Control II
- Dune II (often considered one of the main progenitors of modern RTSs)
- Art of Fighting
- Night Trap
- Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (first ever 1st-person RPG to use real-time 3D visuals)
- Championship Manager
- Mr. Gimmick!
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (first appearance of Wario, also making 2017 his 25th anniversary as well, another potential birthday celebration that is looking unlikely)
- Lunar: The Silver Star
- Flashback: The Quest for Identity
Do you know of any other important 1992 releases that should be celebrated this year? Tell us about them below!