Remembering 1999: The Games That Turn 20 This Year
In The Year 1999
Throughout the final year of the 20th century, there was an incredible amount of anticipation for what was to come in the approaching new millennium. However, 1999 was an interesting period in its own right, and closed the book on the '90s-era of gaming in a strong way. With the Sega Dreamcast making a solid debut, the PC offering more engaging online experiences, and the Sony PlayStation finishing up its period of dominance prior to the launch of the PS2, 1999 was a remarkable year full of games we still remember to this day.
In this feature, GameSpot is taking a look back on the games that closed out the '90s and helped set the tone for the decades that followed. Whether it was the launch of Super Smash Bros. on N64, the rise of psychological horror games with Silent Hill, or two of the Dreamcast's finest launch titles with Sonic Adventure and SoulCalibur--1999 ended up being a stellar finale for gaming in the '90s.
In order of their respective western releases, here are our picks for the games that made 1999 a year to remember. If you want to see our previous roundups focusing on other fantastic years in gaming, be sure to check out our features below.
Silent Hill | January 31, 1999
Silent Hill was the very first game I owned for the PlayStation, and it really opened the door to my appreciation of both survival horror games and horror media in general. I had been a PC and Nintendo kid up until then and played the Windows version of Resident Evil (it was fine), but Silent Hill was the game that actually put me on edge by just being in the game. It focused on psychological horror by creating an ever-present sense of dread with its thick fog, the simple but compelling mystery of a lost daughter, and the first few hints that something about this place was really messed up.
I loved the idea that the protagonist, Harry, was an everyman. He didn't have the skills to aim and shoot a gun properly, and the melee combat mechanics always felt desperate and sloppy in a good way. The fog and darkness meant that you couldn't see more than a few feet ahead of you at any point so it was almost impossible to preempt where things were coming from. You had a portable radio, which would start emitting loud static every time a monster was somewhere nearby, and that sound always filled me with a deep sense of dread. It wore its influences on its sleeve (I immediately sought out Stephen King's short story The Mist not long after), and no other horror game has really had the same impact on me since. I'll always remember the telephone in the classroom scene.
Its visuals and control scheme hold it back from being a great game to go back and revisit, though. Silent Hill 2 fares better and is similarly great, but it's not quite the same. And though the remake, Shattered Memories, was really enjoyable (penned by Her Story's Sam Barlow!) the lack of desperate combat also removes a big part of the original's charm. Silent Hill has generally been on a downward trajectory for the past 15 or so (thanks Konami), but to me, Silent Hill 1 will always be my favourite survival horror series. | Edmond Tran
Mario Party | February 8, 1999
Mario Party is the only Nintendo game where you can compete as Mario characters in an endless runner skateboard race, play 2v2 basketball with a Bomb-omb, and survive an intense game of jump rope with a Podoboo, all for a chance to become the “Super Star.” It's just as silly as it sounds and that's a good thing. The quirkiness is part of what made the multiplayer N64 game such a success and a long-time staple for every Nintendo console since. Seriously, Nintendo went on to make a dozen more of them, though none are quite as good as the original.
Up until Mario Party, all of the games I had for my Nintendo 64 were single player. It was this game that opened up the wonderful world of party games and couch co-op to me. Granted, at the time all console multiplayer games were local, but it was this style of game that would pave the way for my obsession with titles like Sportsfriends, Castle Crashers, and the Jackbox TV games.
My cousins and I were entertained for hours as we battled each other in mini-games like Bumper Balls, Bobsled Run, Hot Bomb-omb, and my favourite, Face Lift. Face Lift was a clone of the Super Mario 64 start screen--the one where you could stretch Mario's face--except the Mario Party mini game version had players replicating a distorted version of Bowser's face with the closest match winning the gold. Most of the challenges in Mario Party were mechanically simple and involved intense button mashing and joystick twirling, and I feel bad for my poor old controllers just thinking about it. But I'll always have a soft spot for Mario Party and the bonding times I had with my friends and family. | Samantha Leichtamer
Final Fantasy VIII | February 11, 1999
Like many, Final Fantasy VII was my gateway into the larger world of the JRPG sub-genre. There really wasn't anything like it, and getting to experience such an involved role-playing game on the original PlayStation at a young age was truly a defining moment for me. With that said, I came in after the fact and was already late to the discussion (both in-person and online) about the nuances of Aeris' final scene in Disc 1 or why Cait Sith was the worst character in the game. People were already anticipating the release of Final Fantasy VIII, and I was looking forward to being right there with them when it launched.
Final Fantasy VIII, as many would find out, was very different from its predecessor. While some of these changes would be for the best, such as ditching the boxy and distracting early polygonal-era character designs for more realistic and proportioned looks, FF VIII introduced revisions that may have bucked too many trends for comfort--such as level-scaling and the peculiar magic system that turned spells into stat boosters. I had a hard time getting a handle of the game myself, but there was just something about the course of events that Squall and his friends get caught up in that spoke to me. I wanted to stick with it, and in the end, I was glad that I did. This unfortunately put me at odds with my friends, most of whom thought "the other game" was better.
20 years later, I can firmly say that I'm in the camp that loved this game. Though its story may be a bit too high-concept for its own good--it dealt with an overly angsty main character and military academy friends being manipulated by time-traveling witches, forming a larger conspiracy that defies time and space--there was something special about how it all came together and how it sold most of its strange twists with earnestness. Truth be told, I'm still a bit hazy on the finer details of the plot, but I can't deny that it made me feel for the characters during some key moments, more so than many of the big twists in VII. Watching Squall go through his arc, and learn to grow in the process, was nice to see. If those aren't the hallmarks of a good Final Fantasy game, most of which signify growth, then I don't know what is. | Alessandro Fillari
Syphon Filter | February 17, 1999
Back in 1999, Syphon Filter was a demo disc all-star--one of those immensely enjoyable and replayable games you'd have fun playing for 20 minutes before getting kicked back to the main menu. Syphon Filter was a demo I was particularly fond of, and one where I was fortunate enough to turn my enthusiasm into a copy of the full game.
For an 11-year-old kid who loved The X-Files and its world of government conspiracies, Syphon Filter's story deeply appealed to me, what with its shadowy government agency and characters, including a brazen copy of the X-Files bad guy, The Smoking Man.
But beyond all that, it provides a brand of stealth action that, as an impatient kid, I found far more approachable than Metal Gear Solid's more deliberate pace. While at times you have to sneak around, going guns-blazing is often a viable (and more entertaining) approach. The control scheme by today's standards is obtuse, but at the time it felt impressive that you could have so many tools at your disposal. Aiming was made easy with the combination of a lock-on option and optional first-person view, but the roll to evade enemy attacks is still delightfully dramatic.
The true highlight in combat, as anyone who has played Syphon Filter can tell you, is the taser. This can be used at long distances and triggers a cinematic camera view near the target. Hold the button for long enough, and the enemy bursts into flames. Even 20 years later, I still clearly remember spending hours on the first level putting the taser to good use against enemies pouring over the brick wall at the end of the street you start on.
Syphon Filter's stealth segments in particular hold up poorly today, but the combat--and the taser--are still a fun throwback to the early days of 3D stealth-action games. | Chris Pereira
Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter | February 23, 1999
Street Fighter and Marvel Comics defined my childhood and teenage years, so imagine my excitement when both franchises came together in an all-star fighting game. What immediately struck me about the game, and what keeps me coming back to it regularly, is how it reciprocated more adoration of both worlds and excitement for their meeting.
The attract screen for Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter was a high-energy promo talking up how extraordinary it was that the two worlds were colliding in a video game. "Are you ready True Believers? Capcom and Marvel have joined forces once again to bring you … It's Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter!"
The Japanese developer wasn't afraid to fill the game with pomp and bombast to show how exciting this was, with bright, colorful logos streaking across the screen, intercut with images of characters in fighting poses while lightning pulsates behind them. And all of this was back by an upbeat, synth-heavy soundtrack--even scrolling through menu items resulted in a sound effect that seemed to be designed to drown out everyone and everything in a busy arcade--when Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter was being played, everyone around you knew it.
That over the top style and attitude was represented in its gameplay too. It was fast and loose, with the camera following fighters up into the air as they launched themselves upwards with absurdly high jumps, and then snapped back down as an opponent was slammed into the ground. It encouraging players to find and master ridiculous combos where multiple characters would jump in and out, launching fireballs and laser beams that filled the screen. It moved at a pace that I hadn't experienced in a fighting game before, to the point where I really struggled to get to grips with actually being good at it. Regardless, the sheer joy of playing, seeing, and hearing it meant I just kept coming back, and before long it clicked into place and I was playing competitively in my small circle of friends. Capcom was clearly as excited that Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter existed as I was, and it really showed. | Tamoor Hussain
Heroes of Might & Magic III | February 28, 1999
Even though it's been out for 20 years, in my mind there's no strategy game in the same league as Heroes of Might & Magic III. The game launched when I was eight and it's not an exaggeration to say I spent thousands of hours of my childhood playing solo maps, teaming up with my brother and dad over LAN, and designing maps from scratch. Heroes III is my perfect desert island game. It's packed full of content even before you factor in the meaty expansions. Every map requires a different strategy for army building and every town type calls for a varying tactical approach for each turn-based combat engagement. For me, this is the perfect "just one more turn" game and the orchestral soundtrack that has specific pieces of music for each town and land type is iconic.
I still return to Heroes III at least annually. Its town types are delightfully varied and the steady process of graduating from humble beginnings to a skilled-up badass leading a massive army with a thriving town is satisfying every time. Heroes III has dozens of hours of fantasy campaigns, a large handful of maps, and infinite replayability. An HD remake was released in 2015 but it doesn't include the expansions due to lost source code so I'd recommend playing the Complete Edition instead as that has far more content included. Heroes III is a masterclass in strategy gaming where every element is memorable and exciting no matter how many times you return to it. | Jess McDonell
Roller Coaster Tycoon | March 31, 1999
When I was younger, I started to absolutely love roller coasters. There was a Six Flags near where I grew up, so my friends and I would go there every week to hang out over the summer. Roller Coaster Tycoon coincidentally released around the same time, and it became one of the few sim games I absolutely fell in love with.
While I didn't quite understand the mechanics at first, it was surprisingly fun managing a budget while trying to build up a theme park from scratch, or sometimes saving a theme park that was losing money depending on the mission. But while that was all fun to do, when I finally discovered how to properly make roller coasters, the game was suddenly taken to an all new height.
I would excitedly build together different dream coasters and show them off to friends, trying my best to create cool themes for them and customize them to be something extraordinary -- a true attraction someone would come to my virtual park for! Within the roller coaster customization, players had to manage the G-Forces to ensure riders would actually enjoy the ride and flock to it. And, while I still don't quite understand how the “excitement rating” for a ride was calculated, it was still fun to try and make something that would hit the peak of this.
And of course, it's also fun to be the devil. I can't say how many virtual theme park denizens I murdered by forcing them them to ride and fly off incomplete tracks, or how many instantly vomited from the insane G-Forces I put them through. I may have also built a roller coaster track that went to peak height, plummeted straight down, then shot off a ramp -- don't worry, it flew into a pond so everyone survived… until they all drowned. Why can't anyone swim in this game?! | Dave Klein
Super Smash Bros. | April 26, 1999
Super Smash Bros. is easily my favorite fighting game series, and that's largely in part to the influence the Nintendo 64 version had on my life. I'll never forget when I first saw the commercial for the game where Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and Pikachu were holding hands, skipping along to the tune of “Happy Together” by The Turtles. Next thing you know, an all-out brawl happens, and that's when I knew I had to have it. Fast forward to Christmas that year: My parents bought my brother and me an N64 accompanied by a copy of Super Smash Bros. We couldn't believe that we got to beat each other up as our favorite Nintendo characters, and we ended up staying up all night trying out each character and playing the fun mini-games, like Target Practice.
For such a novelty of an idea, the gameplay was surprisingly more precise than I think anyone expected. This could've easily been a throwaway game with shoddy mechanics, but Nintendo went all out with it. The game was accessible for beginners but had enough depth so competitive players could take it another level. From quick damage-building combos to intense ledge guarding battles, the game was much more than it appeared to be on the surface. While Super Smash Bros. feels slow now, especially when compared to the series' following versions, it felt extremely fluid back then and was truly a unique experience for that time.
The series has evolved significantly over the years. Melee introduced a much faster speed and became the most popular competitive version of the game. Brawl introduced new characters, including some no one could have ever imagined, like Snake. The Wii U and 3DS versions somehow expanded the roster even further and enhanced the gameplay to another level (and thankfully got rid of the annoying tripping mechanic from Brawl). Lastly, Ultimate truly is the ultimate version, featuring the most expansive roster yet as well as a return to a faster pace. While each subsequent game in the series has improved upon the original in one way or another, the N64 one was the first, and for that it will forever hold a special place in my heart. | Gajan Kulasingham
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike | May 12, 1999
I've enjoyed fighting games as a casual competitor for the last 25 years, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike has remained a personal favorite ever since I discovered it in 1999. I first played it at an arcade tucked away in a Go-Kart/Mini-Golf park, flanked by prize redemption machines that were clearly the main draw for other quarter-packing patrons. I knew of the game thanks to magazines, but still images and brief descriptions couldn't prepare me for the feeling of actually playing it.
Characters move with surprising fluidity, with detailed animations bringing their oddball quirks to life--even idle animations like Q's subtle twitches and Elena's flamboyant capoeira flourishes go a long way to communicate their personalities. Of course, the range of fighting styles is the big selling point. Players weaned on Street Fighter II or any of the Alpha games could easily pick up and play the game--as I was more or less able to at the time--but new fighters like the shriveled Oro and the versatile Ibuki signposted exciting new paths of study ripe for exploration.
The parry system in the game was mostly the same as it was in previous iterations of Street Fighter III, albeit with some small changes for high-level players, but it was totally new to me. It's tough to master and is, in many ways, Street Fighter III's defining mechanic. It's the crux of one of the competitive fighting game community's most memorable fights, the so called 'Evo Moment 37', where now-famous Daigo Umehara parried 15 hits in a row during Chun Li's super attack, defeating his opponent in the final round with only a sliver of his own health remaining in the end. Even if you don't understand or love fighting games, it's a sight to behold.
Third Strike is the version of Street Fighter III that receives the most love today, and thankfully, it continues to be ported to new consoles, hitting almost every system launched since the Dreamcast. It may be 20 years old, but still stands as one of the best fighting games around, as far as I'm concerned. | Peter Brown
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete | May 28, 1999
Working Designs is no longer around, but in its heyday it was an exciting publisher to follow if you had a taste for Japanese games, especially RPGs. Led by its outspoken leader, Vic Ireland, WD had a reputation for taking unlikely candidates for English localization and sprucing them up both in-game and with elaborate packaging and special editions. Think foil packaging, fancy pack-ins like hefty medallions, small hardcover artbooks, and cloth maps. These things are commonplace in special editions today, but they were exceedingly rare in the '90s. My first Working Designs game, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, still stands out as one of my most memorable game purchases.
Yes, I was partially taken in by the accoutrements, but Silver Star Story was also a game that, at the time, felt like the fulfillment of a dream years in the making. The first game debuted in 1993 on Sega CD, an expensive Sega Genesis add-on that was far beyond my double-digit purchasing power. I watched it from afar during my formative years as a console RPG fan, marveling at its bright anime visuals and the animated, voiced cutscenes. When the game was enhanced for its PlayStation release, all of those aspects were redone and elevated to be even more impressive. When I finally had the chance to embark on the heroic adventure, I was thrilled to find that the new version actually lived up to my wildest assumptions of the original Sega CD release.
Silver Star Story is a cultural touchstone for folks like me. It's not an amazing game, but it was impressive at the time, and its technical and artistic qualities helped keep the flame of 2D gaming alive at a time when publishers seemed dead set on burying pixels in favor of primitive 3D graphics. | Peter Brown
Ape Escape | May 31, 1999
Ape Escape is one of those intriguing gems in gaming history that many look back at fondly--and for good reason. It was set a part in its ways, offering a control style using the PS1's new at the time DualShock Analog controller that was quite unlike any of its contemporaries. But as a child, I didn't know anything about this. All I cared about was that it was a platformer and that you chased apes around with a beam saber/club. It was certainly Ape Escape's charm that won my heart and not its technical innovations.
My eyes lit up upon seeing the game's cover art at my local BlockBuster. I was instantly captivated by its spiky-haired protagonist and the army of adorable helmet-wearing apes on the cover. I regrettably chose to rent another game that day, but I would eventually get my hands on Ape Escape the following Christmas.
Ape Escape was probably the most demanding game I ever played as a kid. The aforementioned DualShock's analog controls were a lot to wrap my head around, putting my fine motor skills to the test. One stick controlled movement while the other controlled the direction in which you swung its weapons and gadgets. Compared to the more traditional platformers I was used to, Ape Escape's offered a level of difficulty I had yet to experience.
But this was a challenge I was more than willing to overcome, as I couldn't help but be enamored by the game's varied collection of stages, platforming challenges, and stealth action. The time-travelling premise was a joy that kept me set on progressing no matter the trial or tribulation. One moment I'd be fighting against a T-Rex amid a raging volcano, while another I'd be sneaking up on apes on the Great Wall of China. And even when it was through, the game's avenues for completing it 100% kept me coming back for more.
To this day Ape Escape continues to be one of my all-time favorites. The game still retains a lot of the charm that infatuated me all those years ago. Not to mention I'll always remember its part in helping me grasp complex control schemes as a child. If you haven't played this one already, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. | Matt Espineli
Counter-Strike | June 19, 1999
Of all the mods that came from Half-Life, Counter-Strike is without a doubt the most prominent. The multiplayer-only FPS spawned a competitive scene like no other shooter, and continues going strong with the latest iteration in Global Offensive. But the reason it's stood the test of time is because of its precise, tactical, and rewarding gameplay.
There's such a specific way to play Counter-Strike on any sort of competitive level, and I spent so much time and effort learning the optimal spots to toss grenades, best angles to engage in firefights, how to handle each gun's recoil pattern, and even what gear to buy each round in relation to a match's situation. The loop of having two sides fighting over bomb sites in the timeless demolition mode (denoted from the "de_" prefix of map names) is fast, and punishing. Sitting out large portions of rounds from dying early tested my patience, but by the same token, it made kills and wins that much more satisfying.
That aspect of Counter-Strike isn't exactly beginner-friendly, even in the CAL-O matches that I'd get organized over IRC, which is why the variety of custom servers was so important. Many of these servers acted as different game modes, like Surf maps that were designed in a way to launch yourself across huge maps by exploiting the movement system against specific geometry; or the original Gungame mod that introduced me to the thrill of racing others to get kills with every weapon possible.
Counter-Strike was whatever its players made of it. There wasn't built-in matchmaking, so the competitive scene thrived from the effort of the playerbase to organize fair matches. Strategies and tactical considerations spawned from an intense level of experimentation and smarts of its players. And all those wild mods found within dedicated servers came from the imagination and execution of those who wanted to make a great game even better.
Valve swooped up the team behind the original mod and brought an official release in 2000. And in 2003, Counter-Strike's version 1.6 served as a major attraction for the launch of Steam. But on a personal level, there's no other FPS that has brought me as much triumph and despair simultaneously. | Michael Higham
Driver | June 30, 1999
I was instantly won over by the conceit of Driver, which lets you drive anywhere in the game's world. By the time of its release, we already had games like Grand Theft Auto where you could freely explore, but GTA still used the classic top-down perspective. Driver is a game that looked like the Need for Speed and Gran Turismo games I spent so much time enjoying, but one where the roads you could see off to the side of your current route weren't just there for show--you could actually drive on them as you wished. Better yet, Driver presented a series of real-world cities--Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York--to explore. The novelty of such approximations was deeply appealing to me as a kid growing up in Connecticut who didn't travel much. Hey, the roads are weirdly steep! That's just like the real San Francisco!
That novelty aside, the driving in Driver was slick, and it's still satisfying today, letting you expertly weave in and out of traffic. It hits a sweet spot of feeling realistic without slipping into the extremes of Gran Turismo-style simulations. With separate inputs for acceleration and burnouts, you have a level of control over how your car moves that you still don't in many other games, letting you pull off smooth 180s and other maneuvers to help you escape the cops.
Driver certainly had its faults, largely on the technical side. It was pushing boundaries, but with the PS1's limited hardware, compromises had to be made. Most striking were the awful draw distances and severe pop-in, but it wasn't until Driver 2 that roads featured curved turns. And interactions with police, your chief concern outside of time limits during missions, are exceedingly simple, as they simply try to smash you to bits.
And yet, while the novelty of exploring an open world in a car is not what it once was, the simplicity of Driver makes it something I still can appreciate today. Technical troubles aside, playing cat and mouse with the police remains entertaining two decades later. | Chris Pereira
System Shock 2 | August 11, 1999
While the lineage of modern immersive sims can be traced as far back as Ultima Underworld in 1992, Looking Glass Studios evolved the genre with the System Shock series. System Shock 2 in particular so closely resembles what we see today in similar games: an FPS-RPG hybrid that lets you spec a character for different abilities as you scour an environment for items and unravel a story full of twists and turns.
System Shock 2 was absolutely terrifying and often unpredictable, with deformed humans on the prowl and environmental hazards strewn about the confined space of a desolate space station. It tapped into a type of horror that I didn't quite get from early Resident Evil and Silent Hill in that it was a first-person experience that instilled a constant state of panic in an environment that you can influence. Also, the chilling threat of the rogue AI SHODAN made for an unforgettable villain. Outside of nailing its unnerving atmosphere, the game featured a fairly complex web of RPG elements that let you build a character to a specific play style. Despite these abilities and character progression, I never felt quite powerful enough, which was key to keeping up the tension.
Maybe it was a factor of being fairly young when I first played it and that it was still early in my understanding of the complexities of western RPGs, but System Shock 2 turned out to be overwhelming and challenging. Not only was it an incredibly unique and enrapturing game, it set the tone for some of my favorite games that would soon follow. I still hold the original Deus Ex as one of my favorite games of all time, and BioShock remains in the modern gaming zeitgeist, but I can't help but remember the impact of System Shock 2 and how its DNA lives on in so many other games. | Michael Higham
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver | August 16, 1999
The moment I first saw Soul Reaver is crystallized in my mind. I was leaving a cousin's house and, as I said my goodbyes, he turned on his PlayStation. A few moments later a narration over an intro sequence began, "Kain is deified," a booming voice said. "The clans tell tales of him, few know the truth. He was mortal once, as were we all. However, his contempt for humanity drove him to create me and my brethren..."
In strolled Raziel, a visually striking character; pale white of skin with obsidian hair curtaining his chiseled David Bowie-like face. A distinctive red sash was draped over his right arm, and a confident swagger carried him across an arcane throne room. Raziel was the first-born of his vampire clan and kneeled before his creator, Kain. I was transfixed by him and the world that Soul Reaver had established in mere seconds.
I continued to watch as Raziel was branded a traitor and cast out by his sire, thrown into a lake to burn, but born again after an eternity as an otherworldly wraith. "Raziel, you are worthy…" a mysterious voice from beyond said. By the time the intro was over I was completely invested, I needed to see what happened next.
Soul Reaver had an impressive shifting gimmick that allowed Raziel to move been the material and spectral realms, which shapeshifted the environment and provided different puzzle, platforming, and combat opportunities. But story was the star of Soul Reaver for me. Co-written by Amy Hennig, who would go on to write Uncharted games at Naughty Dog, Soul Reaver was built on the foundation of the Legacy of Kain series, which it referenced frequently. This history, how it shaped Kain as a villain and Raziel as a hero, was absolutely fascinating. The world of vampires had changed considerably since Raziel was condemned, so learning about what it was like from him and seeing what it had become alongside him, was incredibly compelling.
It's a cliche at this point to call games with a strong sense of place "Souls-likes," referencing From Software's Dark Souls and Bloodborne titles. However, to me, that DNA stretches back farther to The Legacy of Kain. To me, those kinds of games are Reaver-likes | Tamoor Hussain
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater | August 31, 1999
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was so much more than a video game; it was a cultural phenomenon. It was buying your first skateboard and spending all day in a car park trying to do an ollie. It was knowing all the words to Superman by Goldfinger and downloading the Dead Kennedys discography on LimeWire. It was baggy jeans, DC Shoes, and a canvas belt hanging down to your knees. It was parents looking bewildered as their kids found identity and friends in an extreme sport gone mainstream, thanks to Activision, Neversoft, and the best skateboarder in the world.
It helps, then, that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was a great skateboarding game, and there had been few before it. My brother and I first discovered the game on the life changing demo disc included with issue 49 of Official UK PlayStation Magazine. We took turns at the Chicago level, which--with no prior skateboarding knowledge--was just two minutes of random ollying. Still, something about the game clicked, and we put our Christmas vouchers together later that year to buy the full game.
It was like nothing I had played before, and it helped me fit in during those awkward teenage years. The snap of your skateboard against the low res concrete. The soundtrack filled with pop-punk and hip hop that became the backing track to the next few years of our lives. Learning what a ‘kickflip' was and then going outside with your mates to practice it in real life (I still can't kickflip all these years later). Neversoft had found a winning formula, so it's no surprise the franchise exploded like it did.
It's a shame that the series has declined so rapidly since the mid-2000s, in a similar fashion to my mate Dan who decided to skateboard down a big hill in Guildford. It didn't end well for him (don't worry, he lived), and sadly it hasn't been a smooth ride for the Tony Hawk's video game franchise either. Still, I will always think back fondly to the times I had with that original game and how instrumental it was to some of my happiest memories. | Will Potter
Sonic Adventure | September 9, 1999
Are you familiar with the phrase “cognitive dissonance”? I'm not. I had to look it up to make sure I was using it correctly. Essentially, it's when someone is holding onto two ideas that contradict each other. In this case, it's my concurrent belief that Sonic Adventure is both a good game, and a bad one. To be fair, there's some context to take into consideration.For example, it's not Sonic's fault that the “dudes with 'tudes” archetype of heroes didn't last past the 90's. It's also not Sonic's fault that all of a sudden, gamers collectively agreed the quality of voice acting must outgrow its endearing incompetence. Lastly, it's not Sonic's fault that falling through a level's geometry through no fault of your own became unforgivable post the apex platformer of the time, Super Mario 64 (Sonic '06 is definitely Sonic's fault, however). The fault is in just how many of these dated elements Sonic Adventure chose to incorporate in the first place.
While Sonic Adventure in its simplicity and charm will always have a place in my heart, in 1998, it teetered on the edge between a new age of games, and the old. It exemplified so much of what the series had always been, what I had grown up with, but its rushed release came at a time that left it clutching a sprained ankle near the starting line of where games could go--an unfortunate fate the Dreamcast fell to years later. After the excitement of launch died down, developers and gamers everywhere took note that Sonic would never be able to rely on his speed alone again, but like Sonic Adventure itself, he's sometimes fast enough to occasionally catch up in the rear view of my mind's eye, just close enough to wave. | Nicolas Sherman
Soul Calibur | September 9, 1999
Namco's Soul Calibur was the first 3D fighting game that I really loved. Yes, I had played all the Tekken games and a fair amount of Virtua Fighter. Both were enjoyable, deep, and rewarding fighters, but I just never took to them--they always felt off; a little sluggish in the way they moved and restrained in the degree of movement I had available to me. But Soul Calibur changed all that with its eight-way directional movement system.
From the first moment I played it on Dreamcast, I knew that it was a cut above the other 3D fighting for me. Not just because it felt faster and more fluid than its contemporaries, but because the cast of characters presented wildly divergent gameplay opportunities. Soul Calibur has one of the strongest cast of any fighting game series and I remember being so excited to see that everyone had a different weapon, which meant they moved in strange, unfamiliar ways. Aspects of their design such as reach, combo potential, and strength were all also wildly different, giving me plenty to sink my teeth into.
It looked like a game that surely could not be balanced, and in a lot of ways it wasn't. And, in many ways, that made it is what made it outrageously fun. Finding characters that I liked, experimenting with them, taking into account things like physics, weight, speed, and factoring that into how I could quickly and ruthlessly launch my opponent out of the ring became an obsession. I can't even estimate how long I spent playing Soul Calibur because where it started and where it ended is a blur, and remains that way since I still fire it up and play a few rounds now and then.
Soul Calibur is a series that, because of this game in particular, I hold very near and dear. Its had its ups and downs, but I just cannot quit it, and memories of playing the original are a big part of why. It'd be like losing touch with a childhood friend. | Tamoor Hussain
Crash Team Racing | September 30, 1999
Like many kids growing up, I sure wished I had a Nintendo 64. Oh sure, I had a Playstation and was able to play games like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Rayman, but did they make up for the feeling of showing up to a sleepover and getting demolished in Super Smash Bros or Mario Kart 64? I mean, yeah, they probably did, those games rock, but at the risk of destroying my own argument before it begins, surely there's sentiment in being the only kid in the neighborhood who didn't know when and where to save my mushrooms for shortcuts, haunting those sleepless sleepovers.
When Naughty Dog sensed the collective anguish of wannabe PS1 kart fans and released Crash Team Racing to the acclaim of Bandicoot fans everywhere, it became (and still is) one of my favorite games. However, while I, and many others were drawn in by the simple charm of Crash and co., we became hooked because of something more—a real skill ceiling.
It's well known that in Mario Kart, a couple of lucky items can send you from the back of the pack to the front of the lump in seconds (or vice-versa). Crash Team Racing wasn't like that. If you were better than your friends and took advantage of its mechanics, you would win. CTRs ingenious approach to drifting allowed you to stack boosts from “powerslides” (unlike in Mario Kart) so you could carry an acceleration that (if you were a badass) would last from the beginning of the race to the finish line. Not only that, every shortcut in the game was accessible without the use of petty mushrooms if you properly planned out your powerslides. If only I could've afforded a multi-tap so I could play with more than two people. | Nicolas Sherman
Jet Force Gemini | October 11, 1999
When people think of developer Rare during the N64-era, the games they likely gravitate to are the likes of Banjo-Kazooie or Goldeneye. While those are certainly great games, I have particularly fond memories of the developer's lesser-known shooter, Jet Force Gemini. I first saw it on a videogame television show, which gave it a fairly positive review. A friend ended up getting the game, but he had stopped playing not long after. He loaned me his copy and said "it gets really hard fast."
Essentially, Jet Force Gemini is Rare's take on hard-Sci-Fi films like Starship Troopers or Aliens, but simultaneously carries the same tone from afterschool 80s cartoons like G-Force or GI Joe. It's totally a Rare type of game, and many of the hallmarks of the developer--cartoony artstyle, responsive gameplay, and strange pop culture references--are on full display. I first got into Jet Force Gemini because of my love for sci-fi and Rare games in general, but what I remember most about the game is that it's honestly the first time where I felt overwhelmed by how difficult it was.
It was all too easy to get sniped by an alien bug hiding out in a tall tree, or even miss a platform when trying to get a handle of the new jet-pack upgrade. And honestly, I really liked the game for that. Before playing JFG, I would easily get frustrated with games--even for simple challenges. But there was just something about this game's style and gameplay that kept me coming back and sticking with it. It's especially interesting getting to play the game again now that it's a part of the Rare Replay collection on Xbox One. Though certain elements of the game haven't aged all that well, particularly its controls (which I still blame for many deaths back in the day), there was something really special about re-experiencing Rare's lesser-known game--which I still believe is one of their finest games of the N64 era. | Alessandro Fillari
Grand Theft Auto 2 | October 22, 1999
Grand Theft Auto III is what kickstarted GTA's massive success, but there was a lot to like before the series went 3D. Where the original GTA established the basic formula of wreaking mayhem in an open-world city, it was GTA 2 that so much of its personality and so many of its signature features were introduced.
GTA 2 was where we first got the series' various side missions and hidden secrets (like tokens and special vehicles). You can jump in a taxi and actually drive around, making money as a taxi driver. Mundane as it might sound in 2019, I was so taken with being able to jump into this sort of spur-of-the-moment, extraneous activity, rather than whatever the next story mission dictated. I wasn't just making my own fun by picking passengers up; the game was recognizing and offering some loose framework for it.
The world also felt alive. You were not only transporting random NPCs with a taxi, but you were choosing which of three gangs to ally with, a decision that would have consequences. Working with one group, like Zaibatsu (the only correct choice, obviously), doesn't just lock you out of missions with another, but also invokes aggression on the part of their rivals. This provides a sense that you were part of a functioning, reactive world.
On paper, GTA 2 has been thoroughly outclassed by Rockstar's subsequent entries in the series, but there's still a delightful simplicity to the core of GTA 2 that makes it still fun to play today. | Chris Pereira
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis | November 11, 1999
It sometimes shocks me that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis launched only a mere year after the critically acclaimed Resident Evil 2. Admittedly, none of the zeitgeist really informed my opinion of this genuinely terrifying follow-up. I ended up playing it some four years after its release, right around the time you started to see used copies of its GameCube version priced at $60 and above--likely rarity for rarity's sake, I presume. It was an odd time to be sure, but those years were a golden age for a growing survivor horror fan such as myself, who could pick up RE3 for a mere $6 from the discount bin.
I fell in love with RE3 right away. Quality-of-life improvements such as the 180-degree turn and the ability to craft ammunition were welcome ways to freshen up the well-established formula. In addition, the choose-your-own-adventure-type moments gave the game a narrative dynamism that kept you on your toes.
But let's not forget the game's namesake: the hulking monstrosity of a bioweapon whose appearance in old RE 3 GamePro ads would legitimately give me nightmares. The Nemesis' ability to chase you across rooms kept me on edge, and its menacing snarling of the word "S.T.A.R.S." still sends shivers down my spine. I'll always remember protagonist Jill Valentine's hokey action-film bravado during the final encounter against Nemesis: "You want S.T.A.R.S.? I'll give you S.T.A.R.S.!" How empowering it was to overcome constant tribulations and then hear that line spoken with brash confidence as you unloaded Magnum clip.
Admittedly, this was another part of why I loved RE 3 so much at the time. I used to want nothing to do with survival horror games as a child, but here I was, a young pre-teen, taking on the Nemesis, skillfully evading its attacks and defeating its myriad forms. In a way, I had come full circle and for the first time in my life, I was enjoying games outside my comfort zone. RE 3 will always be one of my favorite games in the series. While its rough pacing issues only seem worse as the years go by, I know there will always exist a part of me that'll play it again and again--if only to be reminded of what beating it represented to me. | Matt Espineli
The Longest Journey | November 19, 1999
The Longest Journey hit shelves back in the century when people used to visit brick and mortar stores to buy video games in large cardboard boxes. Very occasionally my Dad would let my brother and I get a new game from the store and I would always, always judge a game by its cover. The Longest Journey had a woman on the cover which was already an exciting rarity, but it was also an adventure game on PC and that suited me perfectly.
The game's protagonist April undergoes a fascinating coming-of-age story that is embedded in a larger fantasy narrative which includes multiple worlds, creatures, magic, and sci-fi elements. The puzzles are well-balanced in difficulty and creativity, and the world is littered with colourful, memorable characters. The game environments are all beautifully hand-drawn in 2D despite the 3D characters which has helped the graphics stand the test of time. Leaving April's story behind upon hitting the credits feels like finishing the last page of a beloved book every time I play it, so I like to return often. It's one of the best fantasy stories ever written in my mind, and certainly worth experiencing even if your first time is in 2019. | Jess McDonell
Donkey Kong 64 | November 24, 1999
One of the first games I received with my Super Nintendo was a cool little platformer called Donkey Kong Country 2. From the moment I booted it up I knew I was playing something special. Everything from the rad 3D-styled characters to the amazing David Wise soundtrack (which slaps so hard I still listen to it to this day) all helped make DKC2 my favorite platformer of all time. I was completely on board with anything that had to do with the Kongs and their banana hoard, 3D cartoon musical series included. So when I saw the first images of a true 3D Donkey Kong game coming to the N64 in an issue of Nintendo Power, you better believe I got hyped. I am gonna be real here for a second--it has taken almost all of my willpower to avoid just writing out the lyrics to the DK rap in all capital letters, but hey, this is only the first paragraph, anything can happen.
I remember receiving Donkey Kong 64 as an early Christmas gift a little after it came out. I had to find the hidden ornament on our Christmas tree--it was an odd tradition my father would keep going through the years, and I remember this year particularly well since he basically pointed out not only where the ornament was but also what present I should open first. Presumably this was to get me to stop talking about the game because it had taken over my life ever since I first saw it, and he may have grown tired of me by that point. In all honesty, I couldn't really remember any other gifts I got because by the time Christmas actually came around, I was almost too busy still collecting five different flavors of bananas and coins to come out and open any other presents up.
It being the first game on the Nintendo 64 to require the Expansion Pak, I knew I was in for a huge adventure. Just the idea of a Donkey Kong game making the Mario 64 jump into 3D was enough to sell me, but my love and enjoyment for DK 64 went way beyond just that. There were so many things to collect and unlock in a huge, varied set of worlds all accompanied by those sweet, sweet Grant Kirkhope jamz (the z is necessary). It was truly the perfect game to help fill the Banjo-Kazooie-sized hole in my heart. Admittedly, maybe there may have been too many things to collect, but I still had a blast from beginning to end, including the amazing fight against everyone's favorite thicc scaly boy, King K. Rool.
We are still getting great Donkey Kong 2D platformer games, but there is still a part of me that misses the collectathon open-world 3D Donkey Kong I loved on the Nintendo 64. Maybe it's time to give Funky Kong the spotlight in his own game? | Ben Janca
Unreal Tournament | November 30, 1999
These days I only occasionally dabble in multiplayer shooters, but as a teen in 1999 I had a lot more free time, and a lot that was used by playing Unreal Tournament on bad dial-up. Quake III Arena came out around the same time, and I had enjoyed Quake II before it, but this is what my friends were playing so my allegiance was forever sealed, and I'll forever maintain that Unreal Tournament is one the best multiplayer shooters ever made. It was fast, exciting, and had fantastic weapons. My god, the weapons! You had bio rifle which just sputtered goo everywhere (it's better than it sounds), the shock rifle whose secondary fire sent out an orb which you could detonate with the primary fire; the Ripper, which shot out ricocheting sawblades; the flak cannon, which remains one of the most satisfying shotgun-style weapons ever.
And the maps! Well, okay. I don't exactly remember a lot of the maps. I think they were all pretty good? But one in particular has stayed with me until this day: Facing. Worlds. Two towers on either side of a long asteroid flying through space, where the Earth is right there, enormous, and in your face. Playing Capture The Flag on Facing Worlds with shock and sniper rifles is so good it's the only example I'll pull out if you ask me about favorite multiplayer maps of all time (I guess de_dust is pretty good too).
You can still buy and play the original Unreal Tournament on Steam, and its relative simplicity is kinda nice in this day and age. Epic Games was in the process of making a brand new entry in the series, up until they moved all their resources to Fortnite at the end of last year. Oh well, you can bet I'll be telling my grandchildren about Facing Worlds in another 20 years time. | Edmond Tran