Why 1993 was the Best Year in Gaming

Adventure time!

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Sam & Max Hit the Road
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Which year was the best in video game history? Which 12 month period had the biggest releases and the most influential games? Join us over the next few days as we look back in time at five of the most outstanding years in games. Today, we look at the great year that was 1993.

Back in '93, arcades were still a pretty big deal, Jurassic Park confirmed that dinosaurs were real, and some of the most memorable franchises in video gaming were born. Console makers were racing to try and bring the arcade experience home with machines like the 3DO, the Atari Jaguar, and the Amiga CD32, but in the end, it was the experiences that mattered most. It's a lesson that still plays out today: it's not about what machine can push out the most pixels, it's about how good the games are.

I wasted a lot of quarters back in '93 playing the newly released Mortal Kombat II, Samurai Shodown, and Ridge Racer. But the PC and Nintendo games of that year are what stood out the most and still stand the test of time.


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Doom | id Software

Doom wasn't the first FPS, but it was the game that defined that genre. For years after its release, other FPS were just called "Doom clones," and with good reason: more realistic than any other shooter, Doom had stages with elevation, maze-like rooms to explore, and a crazy assortment of weapons to play around with. Who can forget the first time they unlocked the power of the BFG?

But best of all, the first episode was free. Distributed via shareware, most people experienced the blockbuster shooter by borrowing it from their friends and never paying a thing. This ensured that if you had a computer in the '90s, you were playing Doom. Although other games have supplanted the series, Doom's heavy metal soundtrack, hellish beasts, and over-the-top violence still influence games of all types today.


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Sam & Max Hit the Road | LucasArts

Humor in games is hard. There are plenty of examples of excellent adventure games with dark, murder-mystery plot lines to explore, like the memorable Gabriel Knight series (which also debuted in '93). But an honestly funny game like Sam & Max Hit the Road is rare even today.

The game's dog and "rabbity thing" protagonists had pitch perfect voice actors. The jazzy soundtrack still sounds great today. But most importantly, the game just understood comic timing. With laugh-out-loud moments and appealing, comic book-style graphics, Hit the Road remains among the best of LucasArts' adventure games.


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Star Fox | Nintendo

The Super Nintendo wasn't the most powerful machine on the market in '93, but that didn't mean Nintendo was slacking off in trying to get as much out of the hardware as they could. The best example of that in was Star Fox. The first game to use Nintendo's Super FX chip, the cartridge came packed with extra computational power that made it possible to render a 3D polygonal world like nothing we'd seen before on a console.

Multiple paths through the game's stages to complete and lots of easter eggs ensured that Star Fox would be a game you could keep coming back to, and the series is now one Nintendo's flagship franchises. But most important for the time, it showed that even back then, Nintendo was able to innovate technologically and creatively in the face of much more powerful competition.


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Myst | Cyan

Traditional point-and-click adventure games seemed at their peak in '93, but Myst was a glimpse at the genre's future. Instead of tons of menus, inventories to manage, and people to interact with, Myst presented you with a realistic island world, and simply said, "Explore."

The ground-breaking graphics (for the time) and the game's infamously obtuse puzzles ensured that you were sucked into the adventure and stayed there for a very long time. I don't think I ever walked into a school library during that time, or a good many years after, without seeing someone diligently trying to unravel the mysteries of Myst.


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Day of the Tentacle | LucasArts

It's no coincidence that two LucasArts adventures ended up on this list; just like Sam & Max, Day of the Tentacle proved that games could nail comedy just as well as movies, TV, and...comedians. Helmed by Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, Day of the Tentacle is a sequel to Maniac Mansion that employs the same ridiculous scenarios and storytelling, but eschews the constant character swapping for a more streamlined adventure.

Day of the Tentacle is finally getting a re-release in 2015; an excellent chance to try out the game's uproarious story in case you missed it the first time around.


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Syndicate | Bullfrog

While most games had you playing as the good guy, Syndicate disrupted your expectations. You were a gang overlord trying to take over a dystopian version of our world full of drugs, violence, and cyborgs. The strategic action and isometric view were an extension of popular god games of the time, which is only natural because Syndicate was produced by legendary developer Peter Molyneux. The Syndicate series may not have endured, but its the tone clearly influenced other great franchises like Fallout that came after.


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The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening | Nintendo

It's not often that a handheld entry in a franchise can be compared in quality to its console brethren, but Link's Awakening on Game Boy was and is one of the best entries in the series. While it started out as an experiment to bring A Link to the Past to Game Boy, it eventually morphed into its own quirky tale. Without any of the regular trappings of the series, no Ganon to fight or Triforce to collect, players got to explore a world that felt unique while still familiar.

Link's Awakening is a curious side story in the Zelda canon, and also one of the few times that other Nintendo characters crossed-over into Link's adventures. But the success of the game led to a long line of standalone, portable adventures for Link that might not have ever happened without this first experiment.


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Star Wars: X-Wing | LucasArts

Games based on movies tend to be terrible, soulless experiences that make you dislike the game's creators, the movie it was based on, and life in general. But every now and then a movie-based game that's amazing on its own merit comes along to restores your faith in humanity. In 1993, that game was Star Wars: X-Wing.

The thrill of being a pilot for the Rebel Alliance and taking part in events on the periphery of the movies provided a better framework than trying to re-enact the movies scence-for-scene ever could. And while later Rogue Squadron games would put a more arcade-y spin on a similar formula, it's impossible to beat the thrill of sitting in a first-person cockpit and engaging in interstellar dogfights with a thrilling John Williams score to push you on to each new chapter.

Do you think 1993 was the best year for games? Did we miss any other outstanding games released that year? Sound off in the comments below! And don't forget to come back over the next few days for more Best Year in Gaming features.

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