What separates a video game from both arcade and computer games is that they’re blend of both. They’re easy to pick up and drop like arcade games, but offer a more complex composition of things similar to computer games. There are no new genres or such with consoles, but there are new amalgamations and ways the consumer interacted with their home television. That was what the first generation was all about, and despite Pong originating from the arcades, it is the quintessential video game, brining people together in front of the television screen. Computer games were for those who owned a computer and usually were for people who played them alone. Arcades required you to go out there and was a social event of sorts. A home console brought both of that together in a cohesive whole. Let’s start with a game that took the best of both worlds.
The Legend of Zelda
Modern day hardcore gamer doesn’t understand The Legend of Zelda. It’s not just a game that started a million dollar franchise that inspired Robin Williams to name her daughter Zelda, or a popular culture phenomena that got serials, a TV-cartoon, pens and everything you can imagine. It has roots in both isometric arcade action with computer RPG mechanics from Ultima, blending them in a way that inspired creators to make games near carbon copies. Some fared better, like The Story of Thor (Beyond Oasis for you Yanks) while other just failed miserably. Games like Adventure on Atari 2600 were precursors without a doubt, but even then they had to look back at the adventure games on PC.
The Legend of Zelda wasn’t just a big thing, it was the first game ever to be called an Action RPG and that’s what it is at its purest form. It’s an adventure inspired by childhood memories, swashbuckling in the garden and exploring the dungeons, finding new weapons to fend off your enemies.
It is this action that stands out in The Legend of Zelda, the sheer weight of it to contrast the non-numerical level building with Hearts and weaponry is immensely well-balanced. To venture on the overworld and find each of the dungeons and defeating them doesn’t require just good gameplay skills, but thinking too. By the time The Legend of Zelda made its debut, people had become tired of the constant inaction of RPGs of the time, and neither Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy could quench that thirst. The two aforementioned are, after all, simply adaptations of Ultima and Wizardry for consoles, and will only be mentioned in this particular passing on this list.
Link’s Adventure continued its predecessors steps, and despite what the bad tongue’s tell you with their revisionist history, it was a massive success and gained a warm, welcome greeting.
Pitfall!, Super Mario Bros. and Metroid
The two games that almost defined their respective consoles. While the side-scrolling platforming genre stems from the arcades, it found its best home on consoles. Pitfall! sold some four million copies and unsurprisingly was ported to all platforms under the sun with numerous sequels. However, it was Super Mario Bros. that broke the bank when it came to platforming, essentially being one of the games that defined the post-Atari crash game market. Pitfall! was great, but the way Super Mario Bros. controlled was completely out of this world and its screen scrolling demanded respect on its own. Computer crowds scoffed at the poor consoles, still do, and yet consoles are still popular and the best games make tons of money. The hardcore PC gamer wished and still does to have Super Mario Bros. on their computer, it’s that good.
And let’s not forget Metroid. While Metroid is not exactly the first of its kind, it’s role in console action adventure genre is without a peer. Taking the linear action of Pitfall! and Super Mario Bros. and applying a healthy dose of adventure made the genre slower, more methodical and atmospheric in a way. Another combination of computer game element and arcade’s shooting action, The Legend of Zelda is Metroid‘s sister series in this regard. Those who knew Metroid inside out found Super Metroid rather unsurprising, and much like with its sister series, the hardcore have a hard time with Metroid.
Much like Pong, Tetris did not originate from a console. It was originally designed by Alexey Pajitnov for Electronica 60 and released to Commodore 64 and IBM PCs. However, where it became a hit, and re-defined what handheld console gaming would become, was on the Game Boy. Tetris is, and this is no exaggeration, a perfect game. No element of its design adds or detracts from the whole, from controls to the shapes of the tetrominoes falling from the top of the screen. Tetris has a port of some sort on nearly every system you can find in your hands. There are books, documentaries and whole websites about Tetris, but at least take this from me; Tetris defined the core why Game Boy was successful and why Nintendo would stick with that core until Gunpei Yokoi’s passing.
I honestly feel that I could stop here. The games above are giants of gaming which of like we’ve never seen afterwards. Each of them not only defined a console, but also the way people approached games. Nobody bought a console game for its graphics or sound. They were bought because they were absolute marvels in gameplay. People didn’t get a NES because it was better than Atari 2600, they bought it because it had Super Mario Bros. A lot of games should be on this list, like Yar’s Revenge, Frogger, and so on. The very reason why this list is shorter than its predecessors is that the first and second generation created some classic games, but only handful are remembered worldwide. Most of them are either arcade or PC games in the end, but the third generation practically revolutionised how video games would work.
I’ve also made a conscious choice to use the name console games were originally given, video game. While that is generally used to describe all kinds of electronic games, computer games tend to be mentioned separately. That is the separations between platforms, and the cross-contamination between consoles and PC doesn’t help the matter. However, let’s finish this entry with one more game that defined what video (or console, if you prefer) games as we know them today.
This goes to all video game sports titles out there, really. Certain kind of sports games, especially Wii Sports, are examples how the hardcore or game industry doesn’t understand Nintendo’s past successes. Wii Sports was about putting the disc and playing it. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t require you to sit in front of the screen hours end deciphering some quest or punish you from being lacking quarters, it’s just great fun. Especially with friends.
Wii Sports has sold more than Super Mario Bros. or Grand Theft Auto V, and is only eclipsed by the titans Minecraft and Tetris. Is putting Wii Sports on the list cheating? Without a doubt. Yet, one thing about Wii Sports showed to everyone that gaming had lost at the time and that it still could regain it, if the developers chose so.
That one thing was the universal appeal of a video game, like Pong and Super Mario Bros. to the general audience that had abandoned games years before, and that games could legitimately stand next to films and music on its own legs as a media that didn’t require faux bullshit to be sold and admired as what they were. Wii Sports laughs in the face of whatever controversy video game industry goes through, be it accusations of portraying human body in some manner or pushing PC values. As a game it doesn’t give jack shit about that, because Wii Sports is fun and meant to be a momentarily break from the world we live in.
Next time in Monthly Three; either about themes of Godzilla or history of Iczer-1. Or something completely different.