It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week we Ask Kotaku: What was your best-ever year for gaming?
There is only one correct answer to this question, and then there are egregiously wrong ones. The correct answer is 1993. You might be about to inaccurately bluster, but you just wait a paragraph.
There, I win. But just in case…
Link’s Awakening. Ultima Underworld II. Gunstar Heroes. Lemmings 2. Day of the Tentacle. Master Of Orion. Mortal Kombat II. Mega Man X. Frontier: Elite II.
And you know what I just did there? I missed out all the games beginning with S.
Because the S section alone wins this for 1993.
Syndicate. SimCity 2000. Sam & Max Hit The Road. Star Fox. Secret of Mana. Star Wars: X-Wing. Shadowrun. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Super Mario Kart (here in the EU).
Sorry to everyone else even trying here. But come on. Certainly there are other years that might have released your personal favourite game. But no other year can touch ‘93 when it comes to the big picture. When I’m right, I’m right. (And yes, I know full well Myst came out in 1993. And no, I absolutely didn’t forget to mention that miserable PowerPoint presentation from hell.)
I’ve written about this before, but the best year in gaming is probably 2004. I mean, just in November alone of that year these games came out: Counter-Strike: Source, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Everquest II, Halo 2, Jak III, Need For Speed: Underground 2, and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. That’s not even all the good games which were released in November and not even all the great stuff that was released in the rest of 2004. This was also the year that saw the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Tony Hawk’s Underground 2.
I remember as a kid not being able to afford all of these games. So 2004 was a year that sort of spread across like two years as I played catch-up on all these wonders.
As much as it sucked in pretty much every other way imaginable, 2020 was a banner year for video games. That’s not an assessment of individual titles, though there was no shortage of all-timers. (C’mon. In one year: Hades, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Spiritfarer, Doom Eternal, the best Assassin’s Creed since Syndicate, the full release of Dreams, the shockingly not remake-feeling Final Fantasy VII Remake, Hades, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II, and once again, Hades.) It’s more an assessment of what gaming meant to so many during such a difficult time.
Heading from my freshman year into a sophomore slump at a college I hated, I wasn’t really playing many new games in 2007, slowly lumbering through the previous year’s Final Fantasy XII and Shadow of the Colossus on the remains of my PS2. If I had, I would have been blown away by the likes of games ranging from The Orange Box collection to Super Mario Galaxy. Mass Effect came out that year, as did The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Capcom delivered Resident Evil 4 and Activision upended shooters with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. BioShock helped encourage a generation of players to think more deeply about games than even the game itself was willing to.
Rock Band established its foothold in the waning hours of every party I would attend for the next three years. There were the big console first-party hits like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Halo 3, and Super Paper Mario, as well as smaller delights like The World Ends with You. Square Enix fixed Final Fantasy Tactics’ translation and ported it to PSP, while Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass graced the DS. And of course we got Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. The Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 were all humming along, with not one but two decent handhelds bringing up the rear. I didn’t appreciate this uncanny confluence at the time, and it’s taken me years to actually work my way through many of these games. I can only imagine how many “Help! There are too many good games!” takes we’d be plagued with if it had happened today.
I suspect many of the most common answers will be years in which the major platforms either had just had their first solid year showing off incredible new possibilities or in which they were now seeing a confluence of highly refined projects, firing on all cylinders as they prepared to fade. So: 1987, 1989 slash 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, etc. But my rule’s not precise; someone could make a case that for them, 1997 was just as spellbinding (Symphony of the Night! Fallout! Final Fantasy Tactics! Blood! GoldenEye 007! Quake II! Age of Empires! Final Fantasy VII! Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero?) as 1998, a year which was admittedly very impressive.
And a lot of this has to do with where we were in life during any given era of games. So I’m not particularly interested in going for an “objective” answer to a question which is ultimately extremely subjective.
As such, I’m going to go with 2000. It’s funny, Y2K (as media called it back then) wasn’t a particularly easy year for me, but the memories of the great times I had with friends and hobbies are now stronger than my memories of struggling to sort my shit out.
To wit: Sega’s wonderful Dreamcast was enjoying its brief day in the sun, SNK’s quirky Neo Geo Pocket inspired more devotion in me than any portable since, the old but vital PlayStation moved from strength to strength with Square at the peak of its creative powers, incredible Saturn imports were widely available for reasonable prices, and PC releases were ambitious (Deus Ex!) and exciting, with second- and third-gen 3D accelerators (remember that term?) and even wave-traced 3D audio pushing new technical and creative boundaries. Not to mention the once-futuristic, now-beloved Y2K aesthetic that permeated all things design.
Subjective as heck? Yep! And I sure had fun.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what year of games reigns supreme for you? Have your say! We’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!