My newest book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998, is now on Kickstarter, and I’m super excited that Chris “The Irate Gamer” Bores agreed to write the foreword! He did an amazing job putting the era in perspective, providing some great memories, and preparing gamers to dig into the book and check out the best of the best from an incredible decade of gaming. Here’s Chris’s foreword in its entirety, for your reading pleasure. Thanks for checking it out!
FOREWORD to The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998 by CHRIS BORES:
Video gaming from 1988 to 1998 was an incredible time in the evolution of home consoles. The previous decade molded and popularized the medium with hit after hit, including such seminal titles as Pitfall! for the Atari 2600, Major League Baseball for the Intellivision, and Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but the period this book covers is my favorite era.
While the NES was test marketed in 1985 and released across the country in 1986, it really began picking up steam in 1987. By 1988, things went into overdrive as references to the console and its games began working their way into the pop culture landscape at large. My first memory of this was in 1989 while I was watching an episode of Doogie Howser. During the show, a new patient at the hospital wouldn’t talk to anyone. The only thing that got the kid to open up was when Doctor Doogie began speaking with him about The Legend of Zelda.
Beginning in 1987, I dressed up as Mario for Halloween several years in a row. That first year, nobody knew who I was. The next year, people one after the other said, “Hey, it’s Mario!”
Indeed, America was primed and ready for a new, post-Crash invasion of electronic entertainment. From sitcoms to films to MAD magazine and beyond, NES references sprung up everywhere. Networks began airing a host of cartoons, including Captain N: The Game Master, The Power Team, and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, the last of which also included live action segments.
Boxes of Nintendo Cereal System, featuring fruit-flavored Marios and berry-flavored Links, lined super market cereal aisles while Panini produced Super Mario stickers and McDonald’s included Super Mario Bros. toys with their Happy Meals. One highlight of the NES craze was the 1989 feature film The Wizard, which featured a Super Mario Bros. 3 competition before the game was even released. (The less said about the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, the better.)
After the above-referenced Great Video Game Crash of 1983, gaming magazines largely vanished, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from launching Nintendo Fun Club News in 1987. The magazine featured hints, tricks, and, of course, news. The mag was such a success that Nintendo cancelled it in 1988 and began publishing the thicker, more elaborate Nintendo Power, which began as a bi-monthly publication and then quickly changed to a monthly format. I read and re-read those magazines cover to cover until the dang things practically fell apart—I wanted to know every detail about the games I loved and then some!
As gaming entered the 1990s, the 16-bit Sega Genesis (1989) and Super Nintendo (1991) juggernauts battled it out for supremacy in the marketplace, resulting in the famed Console Wars. Systems like the 3DO, Neo Geo, and TurboGrafx-16 tried to compete with Sega and Nintendo, but they lagged far behind. Growing up, I had no idea Sega existed (no one I knew had a Master System) until the 1991 release of Sonic the Hedgehog, the company’s faster, edgier answer to Mario.
My uncle had a Genesis, and I went over to his house to play it. I remember looking at the controller and thinking, “Three buttons? What do I need a third button for?” I liked Sonic the Hedgehog, but I was especially enamored with 1992’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2—talk about a game-changer! That holiday season, Sonic and his new sidekick Tails successfully lured me away from the clutches of Nintendo. I was now a Sega fan. The graphics and unique “dash at ’em” gameplay was revolutionary, especially when it came to the fun 3D bonus rounds.
Seemingly overnight, the blue hedgehog spun his way into the hearts of gamer kids everywhere. Soon he had his own daily cartoon, a Saturday morning cartoon, a comic book series published by Archie, Happy Meal toys, and much more. Then when Sonic & Knuckles (1994) came out and featured the whole backwards compatibility thing, that really blew my mind. Plugging Sonic the Hedgehog 2 into the top of the game to unlock a hidden character was a fascinating concept—I haven’t seen anything like it before or since.
Sega released some really great games during this time, including such classics as Ecco the Dolphin, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage. Their downfall was when they followed up the Genesis with the Sega CD, which was ahead of its time but had too many cringy full-motion video titles, and the Sega 32X, which was a plug-in Genesis upgrade whose games didn’t seem all that advanced over what we were already playing on the console. And don’t get me started on the botched surprise launch of the Sega Saturn.
Once Sega began sinking, I jumped back over to the Super Nintendo, with its incredible library of games, including Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox, and Super Mario World.
When the Nintendo 64 was released in 1996, I didn’t join that bandwagon. The console came out at a time when the SNES was still being pushed to its limits, and hit titles were still being released. I always felt like the N64 came out a little too early (even though it was originally slated for release by Christmas of 1995). Even third-party developers for the N64 seemed to be going through this weird “growing pains” phase by cranking out a constant stream of games that operated on a similar premise: create a 3D environment and have their characters run around it in Super Mario 64 fashion. To me, this formula quickly grew old.
Super Mario 64 changed the industry, creating a new genre—the 3D platformer—in the process, but not in a way that I wanted. As a kid who grew up on 2D games, I was completely turned off by the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation. I was pulled in the direction of PC games because hit titles like Diablo were more to my liking. By sticking to that comfortable 2D landscape, it gave me a nice respite from all the 3D games that kept pounding the console market over the next decade and into the 2000s. I’m sure this is appalling to many of you reading this, but hey, that’s okay. There are plenty of 3D games in this book, and I’m sure they are quality titles, but they’re just not my cup of tea.
I’m honored that Brett asked me to write the foreword to this book because most of my favorite games of all time are from this era (3D titles notwithstanding). While Dig Dug, Q*bert, Peter Pepper, and Dirk the Daring certainly hold a special place in my heart, so do Mario, Sonic, The Blue Bomber, and Simon Belmont, to name just a few.
I’m sure it was quite the feat to boil down the entire decade into just 100 great titles, but I think I speak for gamers everywhere when I say that the effort is greatly appreciated by anyone who grew up during that era.
~ Chris Bores
Retro gaming expert Chris Bores, aka The Irate Gamer, has been seen on Atari: Game Over, Hardcore Pawn, truTV, and the Travel Channel, and he’s been heard on Coast to Coast AM. In 2010, he held the honor of “YouTube’s 55th Most Subscribed Channel.” Chris is the author of Ghost Hunting 2.0. (2015), a best-selling book on the paranormal.