games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Games of 1996 – Super Mario 64, Tomb Raider, More

September 26, 2017 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Super Mario 64

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. I’m talking about the year 1996 here, which was an interesting change for the industry. The 16 bit era was on its way out, and 32 bit, and 64 bit era was starting to gear up. Also, with the SNES Classic coming out this week, it’s a good bit of coincidence since 1996 was kind of the last big year for the SNES. There were a lot of good games in 1996, so narrowing this list was a tad hard. If I had to pick an honorary 9th game it would be Mega Man X3, but that’s just me. Let’s begin:

#8: Twisted Metal 2

Twisted Metal 2 is by far a better game than Twisted Metal 1. It looks better, plays faster, has more weapons, etc. Also, there are some limited destructible environments, which can lead to alternate areas of the arenas. It’s relatively low on this list simply because 1996 was a damn good year, and also because it was iterative and not completely new, but Twisted Metal 2 is still the best of the franchise.

#7: Suikoden

At least one, possibly two, other Suikoden games will make these lists in the next few weeks, but I figured I’d start off with the first one. Suikoden 1 may seem primitive by today’s standards, but it had some really interesting gameplay for its day, combining typical JRPG battles, one on one duels and a strategy game into one cohesive package. It also introduced the 108 Stars of Destiny system, allowing the player to recruit up to 108 characters to use, some in battle, and some in the base that you upgrade with additional characters. The weak point is the story, which while not bad, isn’t the highlight of the game. Still, it started one of the best RPG franchises of the past 20 years, easily.

#6: Tomb Raider

I have a real love/hate relationship with the original Tomb Raider game. On the plus side, it was one of the first real 3D games on the Saturn and PS1 where you had complete control of your movement. It also introduced a non-typical hero who has remained one of the biggest icons in gaming, and the core (pardon the pun) loop of exploring was fun. On the negative side though, Lara’s grid-based movements sucked even then, and got worse with time, and the game was too preoccupied with cheap deaths and no navigation, which made for a fairly frustrating experience. Still, I have it on here for the importance to gaming, overall.

#5: Crash Banicoot

Every console needs a mascot, Nintendo has Mario, Sega has Sonic, the 3D0 had Gex and Sony had Crash Bandicoot. This is akin to Tomb Raider, but Crash Bandicoot was able to do things on the PlayStation 1 that just wasn’t realized up to that point. While Crash himself is 3D, the levels are highly linear and occasionally break into 2.5D territory when you deal with some of the side-scrolling levels. I don’t have a great love of the original Crash game, 2 or 3 were better, but it was a good first step in getting 3D gaming onto the PS1.

#4: Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo

The name alone makes this game kind of hilarious, it’s such a pun of the endless releases that Street Fighter 2 went through over the years. The game is kind of a Puyo Puyo clone, but one that makes more sense to me. You have to arrange like-colored blocks together, then drop a power gem to get rid of them. You can create combos by having a different power gems drop once the initial one disappears. Alongside the puzzle game, various Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters “fight” on screen, in chibi-form, with characters doing special and super attacks based on the size of your combo.

#3: Resident Evil

While there were horror games (with some survival gameplay) before Resident Evil, none of them broke through the mainstream like Resident Evil did. It was a great introduction on what the PS1 was capable of delivering: a huge environment to explore, tons of atmosphere, creepy enemies, voice acting (campy or not), and just the experience of playing a new type of game. While it may seem tame by today’s standards, Resident Evil really made you feel like you were playing a horror movie, only it was interactive. It’s a shame none of the Resident Evil films managed to evoke this horror response in audiences. Resident Evil has been overshadowed by its successors, but its first game is still a great title to play.

#2: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

This game and Donkey Kong Country 3 were two of the last big games to come out for the SNES. But while one is like someone took a dump in a cartridge and boxed it for consumers, the other is a RPG that Nintendo has still failed to replicate. Mario RPG had a great turn-based battle system that required player inputs to survive, both in offense and defense, which adds immersion to it all. You feel like you are an active participant in the battles, because guess what, you are. Add to this a non-conventional storyline where you can have Toadstool and Bowser as party companions to stop an even greater force than Mario can contend with, and some superb isometric graphics, and you can see how Square and Nintendo left the SNES on a true high note.

#1: Super Mario 64

Games like Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, even Resident Evil may be 3D games and each was profound in their own ways, but none of them can hold a candle to Mario 64 in just how important it truly was. Super Mario 64 was a game that not only made the N64 a viable platform, it showed off how a previously 2D game franchise could be taken into a 3D space and excel at it. Note: Sega still hasn’t learned to do this with Sonic in the past 20 years. Every world was unique and had its own hook, from the high altitude dangers of Whomp’s Fortress, to the languid pace of Shifting Sand Land, to the size change mechanic of Tiny-Huge Island, each world is distinctive and memorable. Also, the camera control in this game was great, especially when you consider the N64 didn’t have a second analog stick to help. The game is able to keep track of the action, almost all of the time, which is impressive, since most 3D platformers now can’t even get that right.

For comments, list which games of 1996 you like and why.

Next Issue
Top 8 Games of 1997

article topics :

The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison