Nostalgia is a very powerful thing. Recently, I got into a debate with coworkers about video games and it led into what we played as kids. Actually, more specifically, it led into why the childhood games you played weren’t as cool as the ones I played and because of that, you’re stupid. There was a wide range of answers and heated debates because we all connected with such different games and even different consoles. We get so passionate about our childhood that it usually results in us defending or championing our obsessions or habits because its what shaped us as kids or even got us through those times. It got us thinking here at Grizzly Bomb; we have different demographics represented amongst our writers and it’d be interesting to see what worlds we were obsessed with as kids. There will always be debates on what video games were great as kids and the stories that accompany them were always entertaining to say the least. We all grew up within a ten year time period so it was fun to see some of the answers and their explanations, especially on games once forgotten or even games that came out only a few years ago. It is a wide ranging list that also includes some perennial favorites that inhabits a lot of lists. So let’s get to it: Our favorite childhood video games!
Being a gaming fanatic back in my heyday (admittedly, I wish I gamed more now but alas, real life gets in the way), it was hard to think about narrowing it down to just 5 games that reminded me of my childhood. I decided to go based off of nostalgia because picking 5 games in the hundreds (seriously) that I’ve played or owned is just too impossible. I have certain memories that stick with me so I’m gonna be working off of those. In case you wanted to know what else I played (and loved) during my formative years, I’ll give you a brief glimpse of what didn’t make my main list: River City Ransom (NES), Battletoads (NES), Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES), Double Dragon II (NES), Final Fantasy III (SNES), Metroid (NES), Startropics (NES), Marble Madness (NES), Bionic Commando (NES), Mario Kart 64 (N64), Warcraft II (PC), Command & Conquer: Red Alert (PC), Mechwarrior 2 (PC), Castlevania III (NES), Master Blaster (NES), Bomberman (NES), Super Mario 64 (N64), The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (N64), Killer Instinct (Arcade), X-Men (Arcade), SimCity (PC/SNES), Civilization II (PC), Forgotten Worlds (Genesis), Super Metroid (SNES), Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1), DDR (Arcade), Mortal Kombat (Arcade), Street Fighter II (Arcade), Earthworm Jim (SNES), Tecmo Bowl (NES), Blades of Steel (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), NBA Jam (Arcade), Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES), Top Gear (SNES), Star Fox (SNES), Quake II (PC), Mega Man X (SNES), Secret of Mana (SNES), Wing Commander (PC/SNES), Ninja Gaiden (NES), Alien vs Predator (Arcade), Die Hard Trilogy (PS1), Super Mario RPG (SNES), Half-Life (PC)…
Yeah, I played a lot and probably am responsible for staff bonuses at arcades. Admittedly, about 30% of those came through surfing through lists on the web but 70% of that? All memory. Yes, your assumption is correct, I had no social life with the opposite sex back in the day. Anyway, here are my five favorites in no particular order:
Super Mario Bros. 3 – NES
The reason I chose this was I remember going to the Roseville, Michigan Toys R Us (about 40 minutes away from where I lived) with my whole family and getting there at opening for the first day it came out. I talked about it nonstop when it was coming out because it was in Nintendo Power magazine constantly and it was also featured in the movie The Wizard (which was awesome as a 6 year old, as a 29 year old? Uhh…) so naturally, first day it came out, I made my whole family drive out so I could get one game. I remember begging my dad for him to drive home faster so I pop the game in. Finally got home, put it into the NES, and it was a blur of excellence and brilliance that was defined by the fact I could make Mario fly with just a raccoon tail and ears. But let’s not forget what a brilliant game it was and how at that time, every Mario game was a different experience. The games never felt like sequels to me. The first was far different from the second one (underrated in its own right) and those weren’t similar to the third game. The similarity was that it was Mario and that was more than enough for me. Bonus points because it had awesome suits.
Final Fantasy II – SNES
I have to give a shout to one of my best friends, Mike Coury, who resides now in China and is basically responsible for my love of RPGs. I met him in 2nd grade and we would always go to his parents’ house and he’d show off some random game I’d never heard of. From Marble Madness, to Golgo 13 (which, looking back now, was very inappropriate for 7 year olds), to Final Fantasy. This led into his showing me Final Fantasy II (technically FFIV but for actual title purposes, I’ll refer to the US release name) which we rented from the local video store and started our tradition of walking to the video store, renting the game (remember when buying RPGs were like, 70 bucks? Ridiculous…although I remember dropping 90 bucks to buy Super Street Fighter II for the SNES…but that’s another extortion story for another day), buying a 24 pack of Mountain Dew, and then non stop gaming until the next morning. We played the living crap out of that game. While the original Final Fantasy started the RPG love, this game sealed it with the story of Cecil trying to find redemption in the world of betrayal and deceit. This really introduced me to what games should be – total experiences that immerse the player into another world and getting sucked into the twists and turns as your navigate the storyline. No other game at that time had characters that you were emotionally involved with and were rooting for. This wasn’t a save the princess game. You got to see the motivations on why they needed to get from point A to point B. To get that sort of exposure to an excellent game at such an early age made me a bit of a gaming snob but it raised my expectations on what a game should be and how it needed to captivate the player. To this day, I’ll play through the game once a year on GBA. The moment they release it for iPad, I will probably be worthless for the next week. It’s probably also the reason that in any game I play, I MUST be a Paladin if it’s ever an option. True story.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – SNES
I actually had a debate between this and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time between which one to include and I decided that while I believe that Ocarina was the better game (I already got into an argument with my coworker about this), A Link to the Past had a bigger impact on my childhood. This game was always talked about at the lunch table about how you got past certain parts, how’d you find all the heart containers, how the hell did you beat Ganon, and it just reminds me of elementary school comparing notes with everyone. Even discussing how the parallel worlds work and how annoying it was to be a friggin’ bunny with no weapons. I also remember getting the Master Sword and it being the defining moment of my gaming life because I felt so proud that I passed through the trials and now had the weapon to defeat all evil. Also, the game was hard at times and not frustrating (damn you Water Temple in Ocarina) so it felt like a consistently awesome gaming experience.
Chrono Trigger – SNES
I get into debates about this game constantly because it’s between this and Final Fantasy Tactics being my favorite game of all time. I will say this, it is the game I played the most ever. I know for a fact that I have played through and beaten it probably about 30 times. Granted, some of those times were just the quick warp to the end boss with the magic that is New Game + but most of the time, I went through because this was the best game of its time. There were no other games that had multiple endings and that gave control to the player as to what to do with characters and their paths to follow. It was so non-linear that the freedom was a refreshing bit of genius. I wanted to get every single ending because it intrigued me that one simple decision could influence a whole branching of a story and change the course of history. With time travel, combo moves, the good Squaresoft name…this was simply THE game to play. Hell, I don’t even know where my copy is because it has been passed around friends for the last decade to where it’s a running joke at this point. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Goldeneye 007 – Nintendo 64
This was THE game to play in high school. I played this with Dr. Kronner and Busta Timbo amongst other friends almost every Friday or Saturday night at someone’s house and it was the definition of how multi-player game needed to be executed in the 90s. There had never been an FPS shooter on a gaming console that could deliver on the multiplayer (or single player for that matter) level until this game. The betrayals between friends, the facility with proximity mines, the bastard that always uses Oddjob while crouched (you know who you are), the golden gun, paintball mode…no joke, this was the defining game of my high school years. It was also the game that got us in trouble with everyone’s parents because we’d be playing at 3am and someone would come downstairs and yell at us for being too loud. We couldn’t help it. There was something about the joy of seeing friends backstab each other with fake alliances because they saw them as a threat.
1. Legend of Zelda (NES)
This is the game that made me play video games, and the game that, to this day, I’ve beaten the most times. The music remains the best NES soundtrack ever, Link was a baller, and the cartridge was frickin’ gold. Boom. It occupied countless hours spent burning random bushes looking for secret shit, and eventually being rewarded for my efforts. Fighting to trade out my wooden sword and boomerang for magic and silver options, playing the dungeons out of order, and gambling away hard earned rubies like my degenerate uncle who lives at the dog track – it was excellent. Still my favorite Zelda game ever.
2. Gunsmoke (NES)
Oh Gunsmoke. A classic Nintendo game where your ammo never runs out, so there is never a reason to stop shooting. While I historically didn’t like games where the screen scrolled itself and forces you to move at its pace rather than your own, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get enough of this one. That’s not to say I ever actually got good at it. Nope, just years of futility as I could only get to the 3rd stage before I ran out of horses to
sacrifice hide behind tragically lose. Anyhow, if you’ve got a working NES or (more likely) an emulator, and you enjoy shooting dudes while wearing a cowboy hat, this is the game for you.
3. NHL ’97 (SNES)
While I never really got great at Gunsmoke, my ability at Super Nintendo’s NHL ’97 is as close to complete and utter dominance as any 14 year-old kid can possibly possess. Playing seasons on the hardest setting, finishing 82-0 every time, and with Steve Yzerman often averaging 400-500 goals per campaign. Don’t respect beating up on the computer? That’s fine – I would also play ‘dollar a game’ with friends and family, spotting them their choice; Either I win by more than 10 goals, or I play the whole game with no goalie. The fools, they always chose that I go goalie-less, which meant I got Sergei Fedorov as a 6th skater instead. In 1998, I have no doubt that I could’ve played the game’s designers at EA Sports and won. Extra Points for crushing the Colorado Avalanche back then…
4. Goldeneye (N64)
The first truly great 4 player game for the home console. For the kids reading this, in love with Call or Duty or Halo – this is where it really started. One of the rare times where a movie was made into a video game and it didn’t blow. I’d like to think I was pretty sweet at this game, but truth is we played it so much that we were all great at it. A few years ago I bought a used N64, four controllers, and this game. No others. Be it the illegal Oddjob or the useless Jaws, this
5. WCW/NWO: Revenge (N64)
‘Dr. Kronner’ – This is where it came from. When I was about 16 or so and we realized that we could change names and alter Jim Neidhart in WCW/NWO: Revenge to look just like our Biology teacher Mr. Eberhard – we became obsessed with the game. We altered near all of the 63 wrestlers in the game, and each of us had our own character as well. Below was mine – Dr. Kronner (Dr. Frank) putting C Tan’s jobber (AKI Man) in a world of hurt. Disco Inferno also became ‘Busta Timbo’, so 3 of the current staff were in on this…and now I really want to play it again. Our main choice of gameplay was the 40-Man Royal Rumble, just so we could see who’s shitty character could last the longest.
Holy shit, this game was my boy. It’s about an alien, who looks like a gargoyle, named ‘Bert’, that comes to Earth because his planet is overrun with monsters in need of vanquishing. So instead of getting a cop, or the Army, or Arnold Schwarzenegger – he recruits a 10 year old kid with a baseball bat. So…that’s good decision making there. You are the kid, obviously, and you fly with Bert to his planet and rather than the two of you working together to defeat an entire effing planet of monsters, you instead are on your own, unless you find a pill (drugs) that temporarily transforms you into Bert, who can fly and shoot death from his mouth…you know as opposed to being a kid with a bat…the music was pretty sweet though.
This guy is annoying, but he brings up some valid points…
– NES: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman, Contra, Dragon Warrior, Jaws
– SNES: NBA Jam: TE, Indiana Jones, Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball
– PlayStation: NFL Gameday 2000, Final Fantasy VII, Twisted Metal II
1. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega Genesis
The very first game I ever beat! As a young lass with a Sega Genesis, my dad and cousin showed me all of the sweet hidden free lives and hidden coins in this game. I can still beat this game in a handful of hours. The only thing I hate: the drowning music in the Labrynth Zone.
2. Super Mario 64 – Nintendo 64
The amount which I played this game…. I am shocked that I did so well in school. Jumping (or in most cases, doing back-flips) into pictures was the coolest shit I’d ever done at that age. I was addicted to this game.
3. Diablo – PC
I got into this game because it was summer and I had bought some summer workbooks to keep my mind fresh (shut up), and finished them the first week. My mom told me to find something relaxing to do. My dad played Diablo, so I thought I would try it. I believe I was 10 or 11 when I began my love for this horror, action-RPG series. I was a money-hungry Rogue for the remainder of that summer.
4. Golden Axe – Sega Genesis
I mostly started playing this because I got to be Tyris Flare… a sexy redhead. In Golden Axe, I got my first taste of riding dragons, kicking little guys for bags full of mana/food, and kicking ass while doing back-flips. The worst part: Continuously falling off of the cliff and losing lives.
5. Starcraft – PC
My cousin taught me how to play Starcraft when I was 11. I got addicted very quickly! Starcraft was my first RTS that I was truly super into. Although time consuming, I let my nerd flag fly.
– Sega Genesis: Shining in the Darkness
Pokémon Red – Gameboy Color
Pokémon Red for Gameboy Color is easily my favorite childhood video game with being handheld AND in color…get out! I took this everywhere and completed it at least 5 times, and still play it sometimes for “sentimental reasons”. Funny story that goes with this (actually laughing as I write this), when I first got the Pokémon game, I didn’t know how to save the game and so I just kept restarting the game after I turned the game on…
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider II – PlayStation
That was one of the first games I played on a console and it was great. Adventure, action and endless fun (giant boobs didn’t hurt either). I drowned constantly in this game partly because I sucked but also partly because it was funny.
Rome: Total War – PC
Not exactly something most kids would have played but I did and I still consider it to be my favorite PC game to date (can’t wait for the Rome 2 which totally has been announced). I was only 11 when it came out so it still counts as a childhood video game. Brilliant graphics, and so massively immersed into the Roman world that you felt like a general crushing your enemies (I was a weird child).
Pokémon Stadium – Nintendo 64
I didn’t know anyone who didn’t get this game and console (didn’t keep it for a great deal of time). Still, this game was really fun and I remember the sheer amount of different styles of games you could play on it, like a Pokémon Olympics. It was the first of its type I had ever played and probably would still find it fun.
1. Mario Kart – Super Nintendo
I played this first on the SNES as Super Mario Kart at a friend’s house on vacation and was immediately sure I’d have to own it for the rest of my life. When N64 was released, I bought the system and of course Mario Kart 64. I was able to get my sisters to play video games with me because of this game and to this day, when we get together and we have access to a CRT TV (what’s that?) and N64, we’ll dig out our old copy of Mario Kart and race away. Ah, nostalgia. I think the appeal of the game is its ability to draw in players of all ages, preferences, and skills. Its replay value is almost never-ending, as well.
2. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron – Nintendo 64
3. Halo -Xbox
4. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
5. Oregon Trail
1. Sonic The Hedgehog – Sega Genesis
I spent HOURS on those damn water levels trying to find the goddamn air bubbles. That shit was maddeningly hard. I was obsessed with beating it faster and faster, and learning the patterns of each level until I mastered them. Great game.
2. Golden Axe – Sega Genesis/Arcade
This game was one I loved playing with friends. I’ve bought it on XBL recently and realized it was WAY shorter than I remember it being, but somehow in my head as a child, it was epically long, and the implied story to me was really awesome. Riding on giant eagles, swimming across oceans on turtles…to only find out that THE GAME ENDED WITH THE CHARACTERS ESCAPING INTO REAL LIFE, HOLY SHIT. Loved it.
I hated when these little bastards took my potions…friggin’ kleptos…
3. Altered Beast -Arcade
This is a game I only played at the arcade. Back when there were arcades. I must have put hundreds of dollars into it because the idea of transforming into a bear was one that never got old for me. I also became enraptured by the story, and to this day, I swear it ended with all of the main characters taking off their costumes, and revealing the whole thing was a play, but when I searched for that ending I could not find it online. Regardless, I remember that ending being a shock, even if I hallucinated it.
4. Metal Gear Solid – PlayStation
This was the first game to truly make me think and question everything around me. I remember playing it and be gobsmacked by its ending revelations, and the last line spoken hit me like a punch to the gut. I played it so much, I used to be able to speed run the game in 3 hours flat. Cutscenes skipped of course.
5. Goldeneye 64 – Nintendo 64
This game was the staple of my weekend sleepovers at mine and other friends’ houses. Lots of rules were made, “no picking Oddjob and crouching”, because he was so small that he was hard to hit, and thus “cheap”. Or a ban on certain types of weapons since they were unfair. I just remember playing the multi-player over and over, and being transfixed by the single player game. I also remember being stuck on that train level and having NO CLUE how to get into the train, until my friend suggested I try pressing the “open door” button to open the door to the train. I was stupid sometimes back then. Either way though, I loved that game. Still do.
I grew up playing video games, primarily on the PS1. The days when my dad and I would spend Sunday afternoons playing video games were just awesome, and these memories bring up a whole lot of nostalgia. I guess what they say is true. When you’re a kid, you want to be an adult; when you’re all grown up, you want to return to being a child. Childhood is just so much simpler – grades and video games.
Enough with the reminiscing. On to the honorable mentions. (Note that I didn’t start playing Metal Gear Solid until my teenage years. Therefore, the series is not included.)
Twisted Metal 2 – The pioneer in vehicular combat games. The story is absolutely insane. I still remember picking the monster truck every time.
Vigilante 8 – Picture a Twisted Metal game set in the 70s with less crazy. They have some of the most insane car battles ever. A remake was released for Xbox 360.
Syphon Filter 2 – If memory serves me right, this is the first game I have ever beaten. It will forever hold a place in my heart.
Superman 64 – Gotcha!! I never owned an N64. (Editor’s Note: I personally would’ve reprimanded him for this. Like make him draft Alex Smith as his 1st round pick in Fantasy Football.)
Roller Coaster Tycoon – When I was a kid, I used to love going to theme parks. Hell, I still get excited nowadays about going to theme parks. However, with my parents working all the time, it was simply impossible for them to take me out often. This is when RCT comes in. It gave me a chance to build my own theme park. It’s about as good as a substitution can get.
5. Grand Theft Auto 2 – PS1
In case some of you out there don’t know, Grand Theft Auto started off with a top down view. The game isn’t particularly amazing. The missions are pretty hard. Driving isn’t much fun. It’s open-world, and navigation is a pain in the ass. The story? Who cares about the story?
What makes it so memorable then? The soundtrack.
Believe it or not, GTA2 features quite a number of songs in the 800MB-CD era. Some of those tracks are downright awesomeness. Take a look at the lyrics to one of its songs:
Jesus my savior
My favorite flavor
I prefer God to my kids
God bless all the universe
Krishna bells are in
Stop, look down on stolen cars
This is just a sin
That’s as catchy as it can be. As for my favorite track:
In case you haven’t heard, Rockstar Games released GTA2 on PC as a free download a few years back.
4. Driver 2 – PS1
Driver 2 is far from the greatest game ever. It was, however, very ambitious for its time. It pushed the PS1 hardware to its limits. Unlike Driver 1, you can actually get off your car this time round. Well, you can’t do much when you’re on foot, but you still can hijack cars. I used to spend hours upon hours on just exploring the 4 cities (Chicago, Las Vegas, Havana, Rio) in the game. They all felt distinct and colorful. The car damage looks good for its time as well.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from a horrible frame rate and frequent lags. And as you may notice, the draw distance is pathetic. Given that the game was indeed pushing the PS1 to its limits, these drawbacks were inevitable.
3. Crash Bandicoot 3 – PS1
Say what you want but Sony does have great IP’s. Crash Bandicoot, before it became mediocre under Activision, was a whole lot of fun. Crash Bandicoot 3’s light-toned storyline and fantastic level designs are what set this game apart from other platformers. And check out the death animations.
Tell me that is not funny.
In addition, the boss fights felt very distinct and were a whole lot of fun to play. They were also very challenging. As a matter of fact, I didn’t beat the game until sometime last year.
By the way, the guys behind the Crash Bandicoot series in PS1 are now the guys behind the great Uncharted series.
2. Need for Speed: High Stakes – PS1
The decision between 2nd place and 1st place was incredibly tough. NFS fell to the 2nd place by a very small margin.
If you’ve read my piece on Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012, you will know that High Stakes is my favorite NFS of all time. There are so many reasons to that. The graphics are incredibly well-done. You can actually see the interior if you pay enough attention. There is no racing game out there that managed to find a better balance between arcade and simulation than High Stakes. The environments are simply gorgeous. Ever dreamed of driving a purple Lamborghini Diablo in the German country side at dawn? The game can make this dream come true.
Speaking of which, I would kill for a Lamborghini Diablo.
Anyway, the police chases in High Stakes are much more challenging than the current generation of Need for Speed. In order to arrest a criminal, you have to actually stop him/her, rather than ramming the driver into submission. It is, to my knowledge, one of the first games which implemented tactical options, such as road blocks or spike strips, in police chases.
1. Syphon Filter 3 – PS1
Say what you will but I am a sucker for corny storylines and Syphon Filter 3 takes the cake when it comes to that. Honestly, I don’t remember the storyline. All I remember about the plot is that my favorite character of the entire series faked her death in the second game and returned in this game. In a nutshell, Syphon Filter 3 is a very generic third person shooter. It was nothing transcendental like Goldeneye. Hell, the game play is exactly identical to the first two entries of the franchise, but to a 10-year-old kid, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s fun. I have no idea why I awarded this game the first place. I guess it’s just nostalgia.
Anyway, the franchise would go on to enjoy success on PSP. Its most recent game was released a few years ago, with rumors of a potential sequel arising every single year.
1. Twisted Metal 2 – PS1
This ultimate battle royale of automotive destruction was the main reason I picked up a PlayStation controller as a kid. I remember sitting in the basement for hours with Doc Kronner (I believe he preferred ‘Shadow’, the very purple hearse) using cheat after cheat to run through the campaigns and defeat the nefarious Calypso. This is certainly a case where it wasn’t the destination—rather the journey—that made the game, as the congratulatory winning clips were simply ignored after one viewing. We knew all the cheats, specials, and Easter Eggs that could be found. I’m pretty sure I could put in the code for Minion right now. My preferred vehicle: Spectre (found only in the second of the TM series)
I might have to get my PS1 out now and try playing…
2. Super Mario Bros. 3 – NES
This is the quintessential video game of the nineties. Sure it was the third (and the other two were great FYI), but it was the game that set the standard for re-playability. Though I still don’t know why a raccoon tail can give you the gift of flight. Crazy Japanese…
3. Golden Eye 007 – N64
This was the party game of my early high school years. In between bad horror movies and all-out brawls hopped up on Jolt Cola, an understanding of alliances and revenge was born.
While maintaining the ban on using Oddjob, 007 was the path upon which I learned my friends’ strengths and weaknesses – for example, levels and depths of trust and rage.
4. Command and Conquer (PC)
This is a game that I kept going back to, even though I admittedly was not adept at the strategy involved. I enjoyed the freedom that came with building bases in my own way and completing missions in the style that worked with my brain, as opposed to many games that have a path that you must follow in order to accomplish the end-game. Also, when I wanted an ego boost I could turn the difficulty on easy and start with a million dollars to completely annihilate my opposition. I really did suck at this game.
5. Dragon Warrior (Nintendo)
I doubt many with put this on their list of top five, and really, I’m not sure why I enjoyed it so much as a child. A classic premise (warrior charged with saving the kingdom and rescuing a princess) starts you on the journey to gain experience and money with which to buy more sophisticated and powerful abilities and gear.