Lately at n3rdabl3, we have been trying to figure out the best year in gaming. Personally, I’m partial to 1992, and not just because it was the year I was born.
A lot of franchises that continue to this day premiered this year, there were breakthroughs in technology, and, amazingly, a lot of these original titles stuck around through the decade and continued to hold up, even as the industry advanced and moved along. The games still remain fun and competent after 26 years. So, let’s have a look at some of those landmark titles from the year.
Kirby’s Dream Land
In April, we got Kirby’s Dream Land for the Gameboy. This was the very first Kirby game, and was designed by Masahiro Sakurai with the idea that anyone would be able to pick the game up and play. There were also unlockable hard modes and customization modes for lives and max HP for more experienced players. The first Kirby game gave Kirby more traditional power-up methods instead of his now-iconic copy ability, but Kirby is still a charmer nonetheless and it definitely fulfills Sakurai’s goals for the breakout game.
The only downside to this game is that it lacked a save function, which was, unfortunately, basically the norm at the time. So although I loved playing it as a kid and it did feel much more forgiving than similar side-scrollers available at the time, it was always a smidge frustrating for me.
Wolfenstein 3D came out for MS-DOS in 1992, a rethought 1981 arcade game to create the first big 3D first person shooter. It also marked the first time you could singlehandedly defeat Robot Hitler. To promote it, the first parts of the game were originally distributed as shareware, with the latter parts only available for purchase, which proved immensely successful. The trend led to copycats in Doom and Quake, spearheaded by John Romero, who had a hand in Wolfenstein too.
This is actually the only game on this list with which I have never had any first-hand experience. I wasn’t allowed to play it, but I was inexplicably allowed to watch others play it. And unlike the early Doom games, no one (so far as I know) has ported it to a digital camera or a smart fridge’s screen, so I’m content with not going back for now. It’s definitely impossible to deny this game’s initial success and lasting impact on the industry, as it is still remade and rereleased to this day, and has its own line of sequels that get wilder as time goes on. We all love making fun of John Romero, but he did give us a lot of good games before his mega flops, and he does seem to be in the midst of his own redemption arc.
As a die hard Diddy Kong Racing fan, it is somewhat painful to admit that Mario Kart is undoubtedly the more successful series and is, in fact, rather fun in its own right, and only getting better. The very first Super Mario Kart game hit the Super Nintendo in late August in Japan and early September in the US. It was a huge hit—the graphics impressed, the gameplay was fun and more complex than your average racing games thanks to the inclusion of special items, and it was the first real kart racing game, period. So even if you aren’t a big fan of the series, consider that in other companies’ mad rush to duplicate Nintendo’s success, we got kart racers with Crash Bandicoot, Diddy Kong, and more.
The game is also credited with proving that Mario could move beyond his traditional platformers on a huge scale, so if you’re into Mario Party, Mario Tennis, or any of the other spin-offs, this deserves, at the very least, your respect.
MORTAL KOMBAT! This was the fighting game of the nineties, sparking tons of controversy with its violence and gore. Outraged parents couldn’t keep the spine-extractions and heart-grabs down and it became a best-seller. The blood and guts were edited out of the home console releases—but codes could reveal all. Although the game looks a little cheesy today, the visual effects were groundbreaking at the time—and much of the game was made on the fly, impressively enough. It also featured challenging gameplay that could be tough to master, but it felt good when you started being able to beat your friends and family.
Years after the game’s initial release, computers and other game systems were still getting their own ports that sold well, even though sequels were rolling out on the regular. The series is still alive and well today, with the latest game in the franchise due later this year. It has fared better than some other fighting franchises of the time, and I think we can all agree to pretend the movies never happened, unless we’re, like, super drunk.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic 2 hit Sega Genesis worldwide on November 21. Sonic got to explore new worlds to a killer soundtrack just a speedily as he ever had before—the Sonic character roster also expanded. Tails was introduced and enabled multiplayer gaming. It wasn’t perfect: Tails wasn’t as fast as Sonic and could be left behind by player one. Still, it felt nice to feel like I was playing along, and my old brother and friends fed up with my lack of skill in the game could ditch me at will, with me none the wiser. I’m still not any good at the game, but I still have my Sega Genesis and play it often, and I love that it has been ported to so many modern systems, from the PlayStation 2 on.
The game also added pseudo-3D bonus stages which weren’t exactly unprecedented at the time, but still extremely unique for 1992 on the Sega Genesis. Sonic and Tails could run down tubes or across a spherical world that adjusted to the players’ movement. The game cemented Sonic’s popularity and cool dude attitude—we will never truly know if Sega truly could do what Nintendon’t, but it’s hard to deny that Sonic gave players something Mario didn’t.
Alone in the Dark
The original Alone in the Dark is pretty ugly and clunky by today’s standards. However, it was the very first 3D survival horror game, and, to be honest, a lot of 3D games looked and played like Alone in the Dark for some time after 1992. It was all we knew! The protagonist must explore a haunted mansion while avoiding or defeating inhuman enemies and solving puzzles to proceed. As with most survival horror games, there is a plot and a mystery to unravel if the player chooses to focus on collecting clues and piecing the story together. It also borrows heavily from Lovecraftian and Poe mythos—which of course was very new and fresh with this game!
The first Alone in the Dark is another game that sold well through the decade, even as more advanced games were starting to come out (including its own sequels), and it hopped from floppy discs to CD-roms to the 3DO with success. Its influence can clearly be felt on the earlier Silent Hill and Resident Evil games, though later games of the Alone in the Dark series started borrowing back from those and other survival horror series. As with Mortal Kombat, it’s best to pretend the movies didn’t happen.
Outside of specific games, Sega and Namco made big strides in 3D effects for arcade games and PAL regions got the Super NES. This year also saw the release of the SNES’s Super Scope, a light gun accessory, in Europe and North America.
Even the misses in 1992 were spectacular. These mostly came in the form of hardware, which gave us some of the nightmarish Sega Genesis add-ons like the Mega CD, and the TurboDuo game system, whose aggressive marketing helped drive away its target audience. But most infamous of all was the Philips CD-i console, which is probably what inspired Nintendo to be so careful about how their franchises are represented now. Well, at least we got the memes, right?
Still not sold on 1992 as the top year in gaming? Hey, it happens. You can check out other years to see how they stack up in the related articles below.
You can find more of our “Best Year in Gaming” articles right here.