Sunday, 22 March 2015

What A Year - 1994

Article written by Clint 'ThoRn' Thornton

I loved the 90's!  As the product of the early 80's I felt I was the perfect age to experience and enjoy everything the world of gaming had to offer me.  I can remember so much and I hope it stays with me for the rest of my life because no matter how blue I may be feeling, a single trip down memory lane back to my youth in the 90's is more than enough to take me to my 'Happy Place'. 

But one year sticks out the most for me and that year is 1994.  It was a year absolutely choc full of gaming goodies and I for one can't wait to revisit it.  Just for the record, this visit to 1994 will not be chronologically in order but I promise I will try to cover all the good stuff!

The battle rages on
Contra: Hard Corps was one epic Run and Gun
The 'Bit Wars' was still raging on heavy as ever even though it was coming to a close to make way for the fifth generation of consoles.  Both Sega and Nintendo still had a few tricks up their sleeve even though some of those tricks didn't fool the audience like others.  Early in the year the two Titans released their latest killer app and neither left the masses disappointed.  Sega unleashed Sonic 3 for the Genesis / Mega Drive and Nintendo made an offering to the community in the way of Super Metroid which was the largest SNES cartridge at the time with 24 megabits.  As the year progressed the competition didn't look like dying down at all with each company releasing a steady stream of games.  Sega released the 'lock-on' cart Sonic & Knuckles for the players to get even more out of their newly acquired Sonic 3 and not to mention the cart also breathing new life in to Sonic 2.  Konami had a great year on the Genesis with both Contra: Hard Corps / Probotector and Castlevania: Bloodlines / New Generation making their debut.  And let's not forget about Sega's AM2 department creating the SVP chip and releasing the impressive (for the time) polygon racer Virtua Racing.  Both consoles had their fair share of multi platform releases for the year too.  The Wacky Earthworm Jim was unveiled, the long
SNES - Gloriously bloody MKII
awaited sequel Mortal Kombat II hit the homes and this time Nintendo holding nothing back when it came to the blood and fatalities.  Super Street Fighter II also made its way to the homes to try and take away some of the glory that was Mortal Kombat II with the Genesis version going even further by having the game released on a massive 40 meg cart which allowed for extra voice samples and some added content.  And let's not forget about one of the best sports games ever to come out on a console, NBA Jam.

Nothing could compete to DKC

It wasn't until  Christmas when Nintendo really pulled out the big guns with their next commercial blockbuster exclusive.  Sure they had a solid year of exclusives with titles like Mega Man X and the beautiful Final Fantasy III (US) but nothing could compete with Donkey Kong Country.  In the eyes of the Developers it was a break through in tech, in the eyes of the consumer it was a masterpiece and kids, teenagers and adults alike all had to get their hands on it.  And in the end it definitely showed with over 9 million copies being sold worldwide and taking 2nd place in the best selling SNES games category behind Super Mario World (20.6 million).  It was definitely a year for the 16-Bit systems, after all Nintendo even stated that 1994 was "The year of the cartridge" so you know they were 100% dedicated to producing some top notch games.

Killer Instinct - Another great Pre Rendered game by RARE
One of the best things about gaming in 1994 was that arcades were still available everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  And it wasn't a bad thing either, the more arcades there were meant a plethora of gaming venues to hang out at and spend a few dollars.  Shopping Malls, Restaurants, Theme Parks, 7/11, movie theater foyers. Even buildings were constructed entirely for the purpose of being an arcade gallery.  So what games were we blessed to play in this fine year?  Gee, where do I start?

Windjammers - If you have not played it, PLAY IT!
The Neo Geo MVS 'Big Red' was starting to become very well known and hit the year running releasing the first in the King of Fighters Legacy, KOF 94.  Samurai Showdown / Spirits II, Windjammers and Puzzle Bobble also being released on to the MVS platform.  But it didn't stop there, no Sir!  Killer Instinct came out from RARE who taught us the art of ultra combos and also gave us  Battletoads.  Tekken and Primal Rage both came out and entered in to the 1-on-1 arcade fighter genre, Super Street Fighter II Turbo also entered the ring and was one of the heavy hitters.  Point Blank showed us that light gun games didn't always have to be about cops shooting the bad guys. Sega released Virtua Cop which then showed us how satisfying it is to be a cop shooting a bad guy but they didn't stop there.  Sega had an absolute stellar year in the arcades with titles such as Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 2 and the one and only Daytona USA.

2, 4 or 8 players, everyone loved being behind that wheel
Now before you go "Daytona was actually released in 1993" I have given Daytona a 1994 release due to it having only a limited release in 1993 and it was recognized internationally as being released in 1994.  But which ever way you look at it, everyone loves Daytona USA and would have some great memories racing against your friends in those big beautiful deluxe cabinets.  It really was a fantastic time in the arcades and if you were there and can't remember how much fun the arcade scene was then I suggest you check your pulse.

Let's not forget about the gaming hardware of '94 either.  It was the second dawn of the next gen era.  The 3DO and Jaguar were released in the previous year but neither doing very well gaining the attention of the gamers out there.  The Neo Geo AES was a well known name among the hardcore gamers but was owned by very few so to help make some more ground SNK released the Neo Geo CD.  It was a much cheaper option whilst still being able to play most of your favorite Neo Geo titles if you didn't mind the aging process whilst waiting for your game to load.  For most, the first of the big hardware releases for the year was the Sega (Mega) 32X.  It was certainly an impressive addition to your Genesis / Mega Drive but unfortunately fell between some very tough competition.  One of the competitors which happens to be Sega's own Saturn, was only around the corner for release in the US, Europe and Australia and was already available in Japan.  Not exactly the smartest move releasing the predecessor after the successor has already been released.  With that said, the Saturn and 32X live very close to each other in today's retro gaming world and most of those who own both would consider them to both be a necessity in any gaming collection.
The Saturn, loved more now than it was at launch
The third was in the form of the Sony PlayStation which only saw release in Japan in 1994 but was still enough to start the road the victory and leave all other consoles in its wake.  Something else happened in 1994 regarding hardware that got the attention of a lot of people but was not yet available, the Ultra 64.  Nintendo's 'Project Reality' had finally become something more than just tech specs and early design models.  In April of '94 the Ultra 64 became a physical console that could show off some very impressive things indeed.

One of the best launch games for the PlayStation, Ridge Racer
Unfortunately 1994 wasn't the best year for everyone in the industry.  Commodore, one of the founding fathers of computer based gaming and entertainment called it a day and closed their doors.  For many the Commodore range of computers lives on in today's world and still has a strong following from dedicated gamers and enthusiasts.

I think I have made it very clear that the 'old days' of gaming (for me) are held in very high regard and I consider myself very lucky that I have a wife that understands and allows me to leave reality behind every now and then so I can venture off in to the world of my past.  I have some great memories and I plan to take care of them for as long as I can as I truly believe there is no harm in enjoying our memories and forgetting about the problems of today when we need a bit of a break and I conclude this article to urge you all to do the same.  Live you life, Enjoy your life and cherish your loved memories.

Until next time...  Stay Retro!

1 comment:

  1. 1994 definitely was a great year in gaming! Just yesterday I was playing another title released in 1994 - the superb Amiga shmup Banshee on my Amiga CD32.

    Another great article Clint, I enjoyed following you on this trip down memory lane. And I learned something new as well. Since I was never a console gamer back in the day, mostly sticking to arcade and computer gaming, there are lots of little things I don't know. Like for example that Sonic & Knuckles had that "lock-on" cart - that sounds so cool that I'll have to put that on my wishlist of cartridges for my beloved Mega Drive.