90's Kid Presents: The Top 16 Greatest Video Games of the Late 90s (Part 1) | Fanboys Anonymous
The late 1990s were a magical time for video games. We started 1995 coming out of the 16-bit golden age of gaming and ended 1999 with the start of the next generation of gaming. From the SNES to the Playstation and all the way to the Sega Dreamcast, never before has the industry moved along so quickly  in such as short space of time. Video games grew out of the "kid stuff" of the early 90s and into an industry that engulfed all age groups. We morphed from 2D side scrolling sprites all the way to fully realized 3D landscapes. Everything was bigger and better.

So here I am today, about to whittle down a time spanning three console generations (including PC) into 16 of what I consider to be the best of the best. There's a lot to choose from, and a lot of favorites are off this list right from jump street. I am basing this on my own gaming habits and knowledge; I can't in all fairness put a game on this list that I didn't play, and others just did nothing for me. This list might divide people, but I come to back up my thoughts over the next 4 weeks. So without further ado, here are my top 16 greatest games of the late 90s.

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16. Diddy Kong Racing: Nothing brings people closer together like a kart racer. Since the arrival of Super Mario Kart on the SNES, kart racers have become one of the quintessentials for any party (right up there with a good fighting game and good music peripheral game). In the late 90s everyone was seemingly dipping their toes into the kart racing pool. I could have gone with Mario Kart 64, the grand-daddy of the modern kart racer, or I could have chosen the more graphically polished and tighter-controlled Crash Team Racing, but I chose the middle of the two, 1997's Diddy Kong Racing (DKR). Developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64, this game took the gameplay of Mario Kart 64 and evolved as much of it as it could. The biggest evolution was having a story mode in which you are guided by a Middle Eastern elephant genie to save a small island of creatures from the wrath of an evil space pig. Seems legit. From there, you travel across different themed areas (from prehistoric times to a snowy mountain land to a small medieval village), race other characters new to the Donkey Kong universe (two of them getting their own games in Banjo-Kazooie and Conker's Bad fur Day), and battle a quartet of mini bosses. Meanwhile you're unlocking trophies in order to gain the right to race against the evil space pig, Wizpig, for the fate of your friends and their island. New to the mechanics were different vehicles, including hovercrafts for racing over water and planes. Also new were the weapons, which take the standard missiles, boosters, and invulnerability and upscale them, turning a simple missile into a barrage of ten missiles or a simple oil slick into a momentum-killing bubble. What makes DKR a more well-rounded party game over other games such as Crash Team Racing, however, is its multiplayer mode. Not only did it take the battle mode from Mario Kart 64, but it also added variations of scavenger hunts. Where Crash Team Racing just copied DKR for the PlayStation 1, DKR took the gameplay of Mario Kart 64 and evolved it every step of the way. It's a game that is essential for not just any party but also for anyone who has a Nintendo 64.

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15. Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS): Released in 1999, THPS redefined its own genre. Up until that point, even in the heyday of the mid-90s extreme sports fad, you didn't have many games that brought that extreme sports feel to video games in a big way. Sure, you had the Cool Boarders series, but that was more a downhill racing title with very little (and from what I remember, clumsy) emphasis on tricks. THPS was one of the first modern titles (I say that because I do remember 720 and Skate or Die from the NES days) to put the emphasis on the tricks themselves. However, tricks would be nothing without good controls and good level design, and those hallmarks are what made THPS live on and dominate its field for as long as it did. It had a perfect arcade "pick up and play" feel to it. Within a few runs, you were grinding, flipping, and grabbing your way to gold, linking up combo after combo. Another memorable facet was the soundtrack: THPS was a franchise that could take pride in having one of the best-made soundtracks in all of gaming, and part 1 was no exception, having a well-rounded list of memorable 90s skate punk classics. Yet what I think really put the game over the top and was most unlike other games before it was that you actually got to play as the skate legends themselves. From Bob Burnquist to Bucky Lasek to the man himself, Mr. Tony Hawk, you got to actually play as them in game. You got to pull off the legendary 900 as the man himself! At the time, that was a big selling point. As the series went on there were many copycats from other companies such as THQ (MTV Sports Skateboarding) to Acclaim (Dave Mirra Pro BMX) and even Konami (Evolution Skateboarding), but none could keep up with the series until 2007's Skate. By then, however, the series had hit a wall, having evolving as much as it could with its previous incarnations before delving into unnecessary bloating (remember Ride?). The series then laid dormant until 2012 when Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD was released for the PlayStation Network/Xbox Live, which was not only a revisit to the past mechanics of the series but also garnered positive fanfare and criticism from the press. The future of the series might still be shaky at best, but no one can take away the impact that the first game had on video gaming in the late 1990s.

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14. Earthbound: I'm just gonna come out and say it: I am not the biggest fan of all role playing games (RPGs). Over the years I have tried to get into certain franchises, but usually the only ones that have stuck with me are more action-based RPGs such as Elder Scrolls, Champions of Norrath, and Diablo. The ones that I find hardest to get into are what you would consider the atypical Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy. This presents an issue, because a lot of people would consider the mid- to late 90s as a golden period for these games. In my research I gave many of them the chance to allure me, but out of all the main contenders, only one really stood out for me: 1995's Earthbound.

What is it about this cult gem, developed by HAL Labs and produced by Nintendo, that stands out to me over the likes of Chrono Trigger and the long-fabled Final Fantasy 7? What really stood out to me, besides being a pretty solid RPG in its own right, is the fact that it's so different. Your main protagonist is not some orphaned boy seeking revenge or some loner with a troubled past. He's a young boy with a loving family who is called upon by a mysterious young girl to save the world. The whole game has an offbeat sense of humor to it that sets it apart from the standard melodrama of RPGs of that time. Very rarely does the game get too heady in its themes, even toward the end (which if you know the back story, is pretty disturbing). Yet what really sets it apart are the in-jokes and references. There are countless nods to classic poetry, artists and their works, and even multiple references to the works of The Beatles. Heck, the game even breaks the fourth wall multiple times, most notably with having a talking dog who is actually inhabited by the spirit of the game's lead developer. It's this kind of offbeat mood that really sets Earthbound apart from the standard sword and sorcery RPGs like Chrono Trigger or cyberpunk outings such as Phantasy Star. The game is really hard to find, and expensive to boot, but if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend it.

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13. Shenmue: Released in 1999 at the launch of the Sega Dreamcast by Sega AM2, Shenmue is a game that many modern titles owe a lot to in terms of trailblazing. Before Grand Theft Auto started the frenzy of open world exploration, before Resident Evil opened up the idea of interactive quick time events, before games such as LA Noire and Heavy Rain opened up gamers to the idea of story-driven adventure games, Shenmue was doing all of those things and more. Shenmue was an interactive detective story set in 1986 in which you play Ryo Hazuki, a young man attempting to solve the mystery behind the death of his father. You do this by going around towns talking to patrons and collecting info along the way to help your discovery. This isn't the only thing you're able to do, as Shenmue also boasts a level of world interactivity that was years ahead of its time. You could go into arcade shops and play full-length Sega arcade titles, interact with prize machines and collect little knickknacks, or even play games like pool. There are fights in it as well, complemented by the fighting engine, which borrows heavily from AM2's previous franchise, Virtua Fighter. Also mentioned are quick timed events that play out during cut scenes and can affect how the story plays out. Shenmue was truly a groundbreaking game, and although its production cost was more than it could even make back (at a then record-breaking 40 million), it has amassed many accolades and has a rabid fan base that is clamoring for a conclusion to the cliffhanger ending left by the game developers with Shenmue 2. For being a title that could truly call itself a trailblazer, Shenmue gets on this list of the greatest games of the late 90s.

With that, we end the first part of the countdown. Next time we will see which games break into the top 10. A hint: The dead will rise, and the only two heroes who can stop them are a muscle-bound ass-kicker in sunglasses and the Prince of Darkness.

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