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After I had a really enjoyable experience compiling Wednesday's blog, I decided to write another installment in this newly created blogging series. And where better to start than the generation that brought us in to the third dimension and started the trend of 3D gameplay in all its blocky glory? From the Sony PlayStation with memorable classics like Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid to the Nintendo 64 with iconic titles like Ocarina Of Time and Super Mario 64 and even the Sega Saturn with games like NiGHTS Into Dreams and Panzer Dragoon Saga, it was an exciting time to be a gamer. You were delving into uncharted territory, finally manipulating camera angles and getting into your heroes shoes in a way impossible before. Now, as I did before, I'll try to look over the past and find out who came out on top, but the answers aren't as clear cut as in my previous installment. But I must press forward. Here are my thoughts on the gaming generation of the mid-to-late nineties.
Sony's freshman outing was met with a bit of skepticism at first, as is always the case when a new competitor enters the market. Born from a deal made with Nintendo to produce a CD-ROM add-on that quickly soured on Nintendo's front, Sony ended up making it a stand-alone device. As Sega was bungling their strategy in the post-Genesis years, Sony actually managed to capture the niche formerly held by the Genesis, namely, the older fanbase. With games like Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, and Metal Gear Solid, Sony managed to inject a sort of attitude into the lineup, which reaped dividends. They also smartly went with the decision to use CDs instead of the horribly archaic and expensive cartridge, which allowed for a lot more data to be stored for far less. Sony also managed to woo several developers from Nintendo's camp who were fed up with their draconian means of controlling developers. The most infamous defection was Squaresoft, which brought their acclaimed Final Fantasy series from SNES directly into PlayStation. A huge boon for the new competitor.
Not to say all was sunshine and roses for the company, however. Controversy surrounded the more mature themes many of their games embraced. Problems plagued the PlayStation due to the substandard ventilation system, leaving many people to turn in their consoles or be forced to turn them upside down to play without overheating. And, as a new contender, they lacked any serious first party contenders to the throne. Sure, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon had their fans, but they never really had the fanbase to sustain the series for long, which left these series all but forgotten and supplanted with the rise of the PlayStation 2 and Naughty Dog's new series like Jak And Daxter. Plus, this is a problem that wasn't really a problem per se... but in the more recent years it's became painfully obvious that the years haven't been kind to this generation of consoles, and the PlayStation moreso than the others. The games kind of lack that timeless quality of the Nintendo first-party offerings, and end up bordering on unplayable for any of the games that were less than stellar.
So, would I say Sony won the console wars for this gen? Arguably, I'd say yes, but only due to sales. In a very slim margin for winning, when you factor in many of the games that Nintendo were releasing at the same time ended up enduring to this very day, managing sustained sales on the Virtual Console and package rereleases. No, what I think gives Sony the nod is the relationships and icons they cultivated in what many consider the golden years of being a PlayStation owner. Naughty Dog to this day churns out critically and commercially acclaimed games like they're popcorn, and are Sony's answer to Nintendo's own internal studios. Square TO THIS DAY still has a much stronger bond with Sony, which nets them tons of Square games on PSN and games like Kingdom Hearts home console release exclusives. So, I'd say they won, but only more as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. There were lots of great experiences to be had on both consoles, which makes this REALLY difficult to call.
The other main competitor in the 64 bit console wars, Nintendo was still very much the conservative Japanese developer they had been. But, unlike the years of the NES and SNES, the market was a lot less forgiving of many of their practices. Yet Nintendo forged on, and released one of their most iconic systems. With the rather generic name of Nintendo 64, it was nevertheless a system that captured consumers’ attentions and hearts. The main draw was, of course, the first party titles. Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, Kirby, the list reads off as most of the full gamut of classic Nintendo series, with the exception of Metroid. But also under their belt was the defining Nintendo developer of these years, Rare. From Donkey Kong 64 to Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 to Perfect Dark, Rare had hit after hit on the system. Goldeneye CREATED the console first-person shooter as we know it, and it was a formula that wasn't markedly improved on until Halo. Donkey Kong and Banjo were both immensely enjoyable platformers. Plus, even aside from the games, the hardware had some serious quality. I mean, you could drop a bucking TV on the thing and it would be unscathed. The expansion pack added a whole lot of horsepower to the machine. Overall, it was quite a great piece of gaming nirvana.
Now...for the bad stuff. And there's quite a bit. First off, games ran $70 FREAKING DOLLARS. I mentioned what a boneheaded move it was to go with the expensive cartridges, and nowhere was it more painful than in the Nintendo consumers’ wallet. I mean seriously, can you imagine buying Superman 64 for that price and then popping that crap in your 64? Other than the whole pricing issue, the third party was in decline, an ill omen for a problem that would plague Nintendo even today. People started jumping ship once they found out the PlayStation was easier and cheaper to work with. So aside from the first and second party gems, you'll find a strangely subdued third party catalog whilst looking back. And the controller, while fairly comfortable for the most part, was hideously ill-designed based on the simple fact that we humans have been cursed with the ability to only have two hands. It was the D-Pad or the Analog Stick, no using both for you.
So, the good, namely the first and second party titles, was REALLY GOOD. The bad, namely pricing and third party support, was REALLY BAD. But despite its many flaws, it made a great competitor and counterpoint to the Sony PlayStation, managing to cater to a younger audience while still managing to provide some amazingly high-quality timeless classics. Did it beat the PlayStation? Not really. Did it deliver some of the finest experiences of a gamer’s life? Yes, yes it did. While Nintendo's strategy may have marked this the beginning of their proverbial downfall, there's no denying Nintendo started heading down the spiral with an epic flourish and several great memories.
And now I present to you the clear-cut winner of this genera...I can't even finish that sentence with a straight face. After a plethora of Genesis add-ons each more garish than the next failed to impress, Sega moved on to a proper successor to the Genesis. With a library boasting two or three games that anyone who's not a Sega fanboy will be able to remember, as well as a more expensive entry price, Sega was doomed from the start. It probably didn't help that they abandoned the system even before the release of the Dreamcast. There was a ton of issues with the system and marketing, and it sent this into near-obscurity.
So was it really THAT bad? No...just not worth it when you had the other two competitors to go to. They still had the efforts of Sonic Team; no matter the fact the only proper Sonic release planned for it got scrapped. They had the Virtua series, which was fairly popular. And they had some releases such as Panzer Dragoon that are so sought after in today's market they can run a few hundred bucks. But, with the competitors utterly obliterating them, and a bigger and better system on the horizon, Sega played host to the clear-cut loser of this console generation.
Another generation down the drain. I know you all are disappointed I didn't do the CD- i, or the 3DO, but those aren't worth the bandwidth it would take to load the paragraphs. Hopefully I was fair, despite my experiences with this generation being far murkier than the previous generation I reviewed. With most of the games not holding up near as well today, it's a hard one to look back upon. Well, at any rate, I hope you enjoyed this installment, and will look forward to the SNES/Genesis one I'm going to do soon. Thank you for reading, GIO.
Note: I replied to all the comments on yesterday's blog at this time.