While for many young gamers, video games have been present their entire lives, video games are actually a rather recent form of media. The video game industry only really took off during the 70s and only fully entered the home in the early 80s. These early games are what truly defined and shaped the industry, allowing it to become as powerful as it is today. With the sudden spike in popularity of these older retro games, it is the perfect time to look at the early games and identify the iconic games of the past generation that helped shape the modern video game.
Pac-Man (Midway) – Just about no game is more iconic of the arcade game than this classic about a yellow ball eating pellets and ghosts. The game has waned in popularity over time, but it is almost entirely responsible for the rampant popularity of arcades during the 80s.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo) – Super Mario Bros. 3 is the quintessential action platform game. It expanded the genre in just about every way, while still maintaining the basic premise and appeal of the platform game. It is one of the best selling games of all time and is unquestionably still one of the best games of all time.
Tetris (Nintendo) – Long before the concept of casual games existed, Tetris was the iconic casual game. The GameBoy version of this game was extremely popular and it is one of the very few games well known outside the gaming industry. Simple game play and great music makes this classic still popular today.
Mega Man (Capcom) – Mega Man is iconic of a type of game that many would prefer forget existed. Mega Man epitomized the excruciatingly difficult games that were common during the early 80s. With no saving, limited lives, clunky controls, and potential instant kills, the game was brutally hard, yet oddly popular. Plenty of other games were similarly hard, but none were as popular.
Contra (Konami) – Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, (select), start. Known as the Konami Code, this was the most famous cheat code ever created and Contra is the iconic game known for using this code.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo) – The iconic action adventure game is the game that basically defined what 3D action adventure games would look like. Almost perfectly maintaining the game play of previous Zelda games, this game expanded the story, art, and game play in almost every way.
Diablo (Blizzard) – Diablo is the game that revealed the future of gaming: online game play. Permitting cooperative or competitive online play, the game was successful despite remarkably simple game play and an almost laughably trite story.
Doom (id Software) – The first person shooter wouldn’t exist today if not for the original Doom. The controversy about the violent content only increased the popularity of the game and the game play became the standard for every future first person shooter.
Metal Gear Solid (Konami) – The game that basically introduced the concept of the stealth game is also the iconic stealth game. Sequel to a NES game was barely a memory when it was released Metal Gear Solid had an impressive story, solid game play, and truly memorable challenges.
Mortal Kombat (Midway) – For years it seemed that Street Fighter was the unstoppable giant of the fighting genre. Then Mortal Kombat was released and there was no question what game was truly the iconic fighting game. Realistic graphics, simulated blood, outrageous characters, complicated combinations, and fatalities drove the popularity of the game. The fact that the game is partially responsible for the creation of the ESRB just cements its place in history.
Final Fantasy VII (Square) – Role playing games were basically a niche genre in the gaming market until Final Fantasy VII was released on the PlayStation. Originally, when Square broke with Nintendo, most thought it spelled the end for the company. Instead, the decision allowed Square to make a surprisingly popular game that resonated with mainstream gamers. All of the elements of the game, from spiky haired protagonists to techno-magical wonders have become standards in the industry, easily making this the clear iconic role playing game of the generation.
While many of these games were published on systems that are no longer produced, the popularity of retro games means that many are available as downloads on modern systems. In fact, with the exception of Doom and Pac-Man, just about all of the previous games are available for play in one way or another on modern systems. If you haven’t played these games, it is worth the small investment to do so. Not only are they iconic and historically significant, but they are great games that last the test of time.