Put simply, here’s a list of the 7 best years in gaming. To compile the list, we looked at the popularity of the titles released during that year, how much fun they were to play, the experience as an overall package and how much of an impact those games had on the videogame industry. For each year we will list ‘Big Hitters’ which we adjudge to have had a big impact on the industry (for the better, of course), and we list the ‘Supporting Cast’ which we have assessed to be games that were remarkable in their own right and added high levels of quality to your gaming options.
As we are judging based on the quality of the games available, it’s important to assess the impact of the titles on the gaming scene as a retrospective view as well as their immediate fun during their release year. For that reason, we will not include any years from the current generation of consoles – 2014 – 2019. So, effectively we are looking at the years 1972-2013.
In addition, each game mentioned will be listed according to the year it was first released, regardless of the country it was released in, e.g. there may be a couple of games that were released in North America towards the end of one year, whereas the same games may have released in the first quarter of the next year in Europe.
Now that we’ve set the scene, here we go!….
Big Hitters = Pokemon Diamond / Pearl; Halo 3; Portal
Supporting Cast = Super Mario Galaxy; God of War II; Bioshock; Metroid Prime 3: Corruption; The Witcher; Assassin’s Creed; Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
2007 had a large number of quality titles spread across each major platform. The incredible success of the PlayStation 2 meant that the PlayStation 3 was only just getting going, but a host of good quality games were already rolling out onto the system. When Sony and Microsoft (and of course the PC) were leaving Nintendo behind in terms of power, the Wii acquired some inventive and cleverly made titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3. However, the Xbox had staked its claim in the console market and laid down the much loved Halo 3 as a powerful statement.
Big Hitters = Resident Evil 4; Shadow of the Colossus; Civilisation IV
Supporting Cast = God of War; Guitar Hero; Mario Kart DS; Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance; Dragon Quest VIII
In terms of sheer variation, 2005 was a brilliant year. The wonderfully quirky GameCube showed its underrated power with the survival horror excellence of Resident Evil 4, whilst the PlayStation 2 proved it was capable of epic titles not even dreamt about in the previous generation – Shadow of the Colossus was a fine example of this. Meanwhile, the Nintendo DS got its wheels in motion with the hugely popular Mario Kart DS.
Big Hitters = Halo; Grand Theft Auto 3; Metal Gear Solid 2
Supporting Cast = Advance Wars; Gran Turismo 3; Silent Hill 2; Super Smash Bros. Melee; Ikaruga
Once developers were beginning to master the use of 3D in videogames, the next generation of consoles came along to give them a bit of extra horsepower to play around with. Although Microsoft’s Xbox arrived late in the year, gamers also had the PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC and the DS to enjoy in addition to a number of fantastic titles. Grand Theft Auto took the series for its first 3D venture and this had a significant impact on how future developers made their games. Metal Gear Solid was making its second outing on Sony’s consoles and made massive strides in what a gaming experience could be. In the meantime, Silent Hill 2 was scaring the sense out of people up and down the country whilst Super Smash Bros. was delighting an already hardcore fan-base with its mix of fun with tactical mastery.
Big Hitters = Minecraft; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; Dark Souls
Supporting Cast = Portal 2; Batman; Arkham City; LA Noire; The Witcher 2; The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword; Uncharted 3
2011 marked a notable change in gaming experiences. Titles like Skyrim and Dark Souls would push genres further than ever and inspire a host of developers in future years. Minecraft produced an addictive experience that would last for years to come (it’s still not showing any signs of slowing now!) and games like Arkham City and Uncharted 3 would display movie-like experiences that consumed gamers with their excellently crafted worlds. This is before we even consider the artistic brilliance of games like Skyward Sword and Portal 2.
Big Hitters = Final Fantasy VII; Goldeneye 007; Gran Turismo
Supporting Cast = Tekken 3; Lylat Wars; Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; Panzer Dragoon Saga
It’s at this part in the list where you’ll notice a little trend. However, the videogame scene was going through a revolution in terms what each system and title could offer the consumer. Final Fantasy VII evoked such emotion from players that it remains a firm favourite to this day, whilst Goldeneye produced countless amazing experiences, both in single player and multiplayer modes. All the while, Sony had gained a highly noteworthy franchise with the first entry of the Gran Turismo series. This was one of the first console driving simulations to feel realistic to the player and provide an engrossing play-through at the same time. To prove that 2D adventure still had its place after the 3D transition, Castlevania had what many fans view as the pinnacle of the series in Symphony of the Night.
Big Hitters = Resident Evil; Super Mario 64; Quake
Supporting Cast = Pokemon Red and Blue; Super Mario RPG; Duke Nukem 3D; Donkey Kong Country 3; Diablo; Super Mario Kart 64
From 1997, we take a step back 1 year and go to 1996. Let’s remind ourselves here that 1996 was the year that gave us the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 (at least in the USA and Japan, Europe had to wait a few more months) whilst the PC got Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, and the Game Boy got the first instalments of the Pokemon series. At first glance, it may not seem that this year had as many titles as its competitors, however, the impact of some of these games was incredible. Super Mario 64 is one of the most revolutionary games ever made, whilst Resident Evil put survival horror on the map and Quake perfectly evolved the first person shooter for the masses. As the next generation of consoles were kicking in, the Super Nintendo refused to die quietly and was producing top titles such as Donkey Kong Country 3 and Super Mario RPG. As the icing on the cake – in Japan at least – Mario Kart 64 provided one of the most beloved multiplayer games of all time.
Big Hitters = The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; Metal Gear Solid; Half Life
Supporting Cast = Banjo Kazooie; Resident Evil 2; StarCraft; Star Wars: Rogue Squadron; F-Zero X; Fallout 2
1998 was a truly groundbreaking year in gaming. Firstly, the highest scoring Metacritic game of all time was released – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (a score of 99 as of today). Secondly, games like Metal Gear Solid and Half Life were the first instalments (I’m not including Metal Gear on the NES) of hugely popular and widely acclaimed series released across the PlayStation and PC. When you put stellar titles like Banjo Kazooie and Resident Evil 2 into the mix then the year is already a great one irrespective of the other quality releases. Aside from the listed titles, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were released on the PlayStation, Rainbow Six, Age of Empires and Grim Fandango were released on PC, Pokemon Yellow was released on the Game Boy, 1080 Snowboarding, Turok 2 and Mario Party were released on the N64. What really sets 1998 apart is the quality of the transition to the 3D era. Whilst many gamers were excited about what 3D could bring to their system, many games across other time periods fell short of delivering on an enjoyable experience. Not only did many of the listed titles deliver on a fun gameplay, but they also brought depth of character, storytelling and unparalleled freedom to their design. As the transition to 3D is only something we’ll see once in gaming, this also makes 1998 rather special and we were lucky to have had a plethora of incredible games to leave their mark on this transition.