It seems like every year is the best one to be a fan of video games, but one of the landmark years for the industry was twenty years ago in 1998. In that year, there were genre-defining titles released on every system – including the Game Boy of all things – so it didn’t matter if you only owned just one console or played exclusively on a high-end PC, there was something revolutionary to play on whatever you preferred to consume video games on.
Technology and game design moves very fast in the interactive medium, and genres that dominate the market can come off as quaint relics in just a few short years. For all the high praise that was heaped upon the hits of 1998, how relevant are they in 2018? What became of these games and in some cases, series, in the span of two decades? Let’s look back at the software – and some hardware – from 1998 and see what has stuck around and remained relevant, and what was fallen by the wayside.
RESIDENT EVIL 2
Released in early 1998 – as in January of that year – for the Sony PlayStation, Resident Evil 2 arrived after a somewhat troubled development cycle where a near completed version of the game was scrapped, only for the project to be started over from scratch. What eventually made it to market was a game that many fans of the series consider to be one of the greatest in the entire Resident Evil series and a horror classic.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Capcom has done a lot to keep Resident Evil 2 in circulation. Almost two years after its release, an impressive port arrived for the Nintendo 64 that amazingly included close to all of the cinemas and voice work in a game that spanned two CD’s on one cartridge. The N64’s expansion pack also sharpened the character models and environments, so while the game may have sounded worse than it did on the PlayStation, at least in-game it looked much better.
Simple ports came to the Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, and the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network downloadable service. A full remake of the game will arrive a little over twenty-one years after the release of the original on the current generation of consoles as well as PC. The first footage of the trailer was released during E3 of this year to much excitement, and early impressions on the show floor and at other conventions have been very positive.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED?
The Resident Evil series has had its ups-and-downs, but it’s a franchise that has seen a regular release of new installments and spin-offs. A series of movies based on the series have come out in regular installments since 2002, and while none have been critical darlings, the combined box-office gross of the series has exceeded a billion dollars.
Originally set to release during the fall of 1997, Rare’s take on the collect-a-thon, 3-D platformer genre started by Nintendo’s own Super Mario 64 would eventually release during the summer of 1998. Rare was one of Nintendo’s secret weapons in that generation, producing hit-after-hit and Banjo-Kazooie was no exception. Upon its arrival, critics and players boldly claimed it was better than even Super Mario 64 and for better or for worse, its structure would dictate a lot of Rare’s output for the remainder of that generation.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Rare produced their last game for Nintendo in the 2002 release of Star Fox Adventures and the studio was bought by Microsoft. A port of Banjo-Kazooie was released for Microsoft’s second console, the Xbox 360, via the Xbox Live service and in many respects its better than the N64 original. The game looks and controls far better, and a feature that was teased but never implemented: the ability to interact with the sequel, Banjo-Tooie, via a method dubbed “stop-and-swap” was added. This port was also part of the Rare Replay collection that was released for Xbox One.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED?
The original Banjo-Kazooie has been an enduring classic, but the series as a whole has not fared as well. The only true sequel, Banjo-Tooie, would come to the Nintendo 64 in 2000. It received positive reviews and sold well, but it also got criticism for being a more bloated game than the original with too much stuff to collect. The next two games in the series were relegated to a pair of Game Boy Advance titles: an airplane racer titled Banjo-Pilot and a top-down viewed adventure called Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge
Banjo and Kazooie wouldn’t return to consoles until 2008 and not in a way that fans expected. 2008’s Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts would be the first new Banjo-Kazooie published by Microsoft and it traded in traditional platform action for a game designed around collecting parts and building vehicles. Nuts and Bolts wasn’t without its fans who loved how creative you could get with making your vehicles, but there was nothing uniquely Banjo-Kazooie about it, in fact, Kazooie didn’t really do much of anything. Microsoft has since released Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie on their own and in the Rare Replay collection, however no traditional, new Banjo titled has even been rumored.
Former Rare staff that worked on Banjo-Kazooie came together to kick start a spiritual successor to the Banjo series, titled Yooka-Laylee, which was release in 2017, but it failed to even capture the nostalgia that players had for Rare’s work in the late ‘90’-s. It received mixed reviews at best and has largely been forgotten in just over a year.
Nintendo’s Game Boy was well overdue for an upgrade in 1998 – it would even see one that year – but Nintendo would release a pair of games for it that year that proved that the aging system still had life in it yet. Originally released in Japan in 1996, the phenomenon that was Pokémon arrived in North America in 1998 where it took the western world by storm. The RPG-lite game tasked players with exploring a world to capture and train the title creatures and came in two flavors: a Blue and a Red version. Certain monsters were exclusive to each version, and it encouraged players to link up their Game Boy’s with friends to trade and catch em’all. Pokémon was a smash-hit to put it mildly thanks to a marketing blitz from Nintendo that saw the release of not only the first pair of games in the series, but also toys, an anime, a trading-card game, spin-offs on the Nintendo 64 and a feature film within the span of a year.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Pokémon Red and Blue were followed one year by a third version, Yellow, that more closely followed the anime: The creature sprites were redesigned to look like they did in the show, your starter monster was always Pikachu who followed you around and the bumbling villains Jesse and James from Team Rocket would periodically show up to challenge you. Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow would eventually be released on the Nintendo 3DS’s virtual console.
Nintendo also remade the original Pokémon adventure for the Game Boy Advance in 2004, now called FireRed and LeafGreen. There was no Blue version as the titles are a callback to the game’s original Japanese release: Pokémon debuted in Japan with green and red versions instead of red and blue. A second remake of sorts, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Let’s Go, Pikachu!, arrives in 2018 and uses the same map as the first Pokémon game, but with the mechanics of the Pokémon GO mobile game.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED?
Pokémon quickly became one of Nintendo’s most important franchises, and a year has rarely gone by where there hasn’t been a game released in it, whether a new entry of the traditional series or some sort of spin-off. On top of the popularity of the video games, Pokémon continues to be a multimedia juggernaut for Nintendo through the continuing sale of merchandise, as well as animated films and a still ongoing anime. The first ever Pokémon live-action film, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu starring Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds as the voice of the title character arrives in the summer of 2019.
Valve may be better known today as the curator of the Steam digital distribution problem, but once upon a time their primary business was making video games. The title that put Valve on the map was the 1998 “Doom Clone”: Half-Life. In it you play as Gordon Freeman, a scientist working at the Black Mesa research facility who becomes trapped there along with creatures who arrive through a portal to another dimension that is accidentally opened. Half-Life not only gained praise because of its graphics and how it used physics, but also for how it communicated its story. There were no traditional cut-scenes in Half-Life as events unfolded in-game and while the player was still in control. Half-Life showed just how effective the video game medium could be for story telling when it deviated from using techniques like cut-scenes that briefly took the player out of the experience and were generally either full-motion video or live-action which for the most part left a lot to be desired.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Half-Life saw several expansions on PC; both officially form Valve and unofficially from user created mods. A build of the game was set to come to the Sega Dreamcast that was complete to the point where some publications reviewed the game and featured ads for it. It was never officially released however, possibly because of the failure of the console. Gearbox Software, who worked on the Dreamcast port, would bring the game to the PlayStation 2 and this would mark the only time the game has came to a dedicated console.
Valve released an updated version of Half-Life, called Half-Life: Source, that is the same game but with some tweaks made possibly by the engine that would power Half-Life 2. A Valve sanctioned user created remake named Black Mesa is currently in early access on the Steam platform also.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED?
Half-Life would get a sequel, Half-Life 2, and like Half-Life before it, it would get expansions in the form of two, shorter downloadable episodes. The second episode concludes on a cliffhanger that has made fans beg Valve for either Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or a full-on Half-Life 3. This has become a joke on the internet as people look far into anything that Valve says for a hidden clue that they’re working on a conclusion to Half-Life.
Half-Life 2 was collected into a compilation called The Orange Box that brought together all of Half-Life 2, the multiplayer only Team Fortress 2 and the first-person puzzle game, Portal, which is set in the same universe as Half-Life. Like Half-Life, Portal saw a sequel, Portal 2, but that series too has largely gone silent, appearing as part of the toys-to-life game LEGO Dimensions and as a spin-off of the Bridge Constructor engineering simulator games.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME
While players were busy collecting the stars found in Princess Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64 during the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, they were also dreaming of a game that they saw a brief glimpse of in the pages of Nintendo Power: Zelda 64. After many delays, the game that would eventually be called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time would land on store shelves in 1998. Like Super Mario 64 before it, it would reimagine The Legend of Zelda franchise near perfectly in 3-D and would garner universal praise from critics and players alike. It would go on to win countless “Game of the Year” awards and is still considered even today as one of the greatest games of all time thanks to its wonderful pace, creative dungeons and the ability to play as both a young and old version of the series’ main character, Link, in two distinct versions of Hyrule.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Ocarina of Time has come to every subsequent Nintendo console after the Nintendo 64 whether in the form of a compilation on a disc or via a digital download on virtual console. The game was remade for the Nintendo 3DS and was essentially the same game with a graphical upgrade and a few minor gameplay tweaks that helped sand off its few rough edges. In particular the Water Temple, one of the more maligned parts of the game, was made easier to navigate due to helpful signs and the ability to quickly swap out items on the lower touch-screen.
Ocarina of Time was supposed to have a remix version, dubbed Ura Zelda in Japan and called Master Quest in the west, for the 64 DD add-on that attached to the bottom of the N64. Because of the poor attach rate of the device, it didn’t make it to the west and Master Quest wouldn’t see release until after the GameCube was released. Master Quest can be likened to the bonus quest that unlocks after you complete the original The Legend of Zelda on the NES in that it’s the same game, just with things moved around the difficulty increased. Master Quest was originally sold with Ocarina of Time as a pre-order bonus for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It’s since appeared on the Nintendo 3DS remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED? Like Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda still even today is one of Nintendo’s most important franchises. In something not seen since the NES, Ocarina of Time would see a sequel on the Nintendo 64 called Majora’s Mask that was one of the more innovative chapters in the long running series. Link still had to explore dungeons to solve puzzles, collect items and defeat larger than life bosses, but he was moved out of Hyrule into the world of Termina which is constantly reminded of its imminent destruction via a sinister moon hovering above that is slowly descending. To stop this catastrophe from happening, the player as Link must relive the same three days and make mental notes of when to be at certain places at specific times. Ocarina of Time’s tone darkened as you grew into an adult, however a somber feeling surrounded the entirety Majora’s Mask and even the classic Legend of Zelda playing couldn’t help ease that.
All Nintendo platforms would see at least one The Legend of Zelda title, with two: the Wii and Switch receiving entries as launch titles. Like Ocarina of Time, most have arrived to praise from the press and players, however until the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, most other games existed in the long shadow cast by Ocarina of Time and were seen as trying to emulate its formula. Titles like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess came with their own unique mechanics, art style and takes on the world of Hyrule, but structurally they had a lot in common with Ocarina of Time and despite being very well crafted games, didn’t do much to evolve the Zelda series.
Blizzard had humble beginnings developing cult favorites like The Lost Vikings and licensed titles like The Death and Return of Superman, but their steps into becoming the juggernaut they are in the industry today began when they released a fantasy themed real-time strategy game called Warcraft. Eventually Blizzard would merge what they learned with Warcraft with the science-fiction genre in the 1998 release, StarCraft. Similar to the war between the Orcs and Humans in Warcraft, StarCraft told the story of a war between three factions: Terrans, Zergs and Protoss, each of which would get their own section of the game that would make up StarCraft’s campaign. More so perhaps than its campaign though, StarCraft found immediate success due to its multiplayer where players could compete with opponents online via Blizzard’s proprietary Battle.Net service.
HAS IT ENDURED? Starcraft has had tremendously long legs post release due in large part to the burgeoning eSports scene, especially in countries like South Korea where athletes who play StarCraft are as well-known as major league athletes in the west. It would get an expansion, Brood Wars, within months of its release and a port to the Nintendo 64 in 2000 that was functional, but didn’t offer the same fidelity of control as the PC. A remastered version of StarCraft, called simply StarCraft: Remastered, arrived in 2017 that featured upgraded visuals and was tested by professional StarCraft players to ensure it was a one-to-one recreation of the original 1998 game.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED? Blizzard would attempt to expand the StarCraft universe in a console action title called StarCraft: Ghost. The game was to star a female protagonist named Nova who through the use of a cloaking device would use stealth to complete her missions. Ghost would change developers before ultimately becoming vaporware and never seeing release, however the story of Nova would be told in novels based in the StarCraft universe.
Nearly ten years after its release, a sequel, StarCraft II, was unveiled in 2007 and was released in 2010. Initially the game was to be structured similarly to the original game until it was divided into three separate chapters with each one focusing on the Terran, Zerg and Protoss races.
METAL GEAR SOLID
Metal Gear was introduced to North American audiences via a port of the Japanese PC title to the NES. It would get a sequel that would remain in Japan until the 2000’s, and by and large the series was dormant, even forgotten in North America. Whether seen as a return to the world of the NES game or an introduction to the series, Metal Gear Solid was easily one of the most important releases on the Sony PlayStation in 1998.
Taking on the role of legendary soldier Solid Snake, players were charged with infiltrating the Alaskan island, Shadow Moses, to stop a group of armed terrorists who had hi-jacked a next-generation nuclear weapon. Metal Gear Solid stood out thanks to its compelling story, told with cut-scenes that were directed like a Hollywood film with a level of professional voice acting far beyond that of most PlayStation software ; “master of unlocking” this wasn’t. Primarily a stealth action game, Metal Gear Solid also featured a superbly paced campaign full of varied boss battles and numerous set pieces. Through a combination of story and expertly paced design, Metal Gear Solid changed for many how they thought about the video game medium.
HAS THE GAME ENDURED?
Metal Gear Solid impressed for its time by telling its story completely within its in-game engine. This meant that there were no breaks to pre-rendered full-motion videos that changed the game’s art direction. Its character models look primitive by today’s standards, however this direction has also meant it has aged far better than its contemporaries. The original Metal Gear Solid can be downloaded and played on the PlayStation 3, PS Vita and PSP should you be able to transfer it to that device from elsewhere. It will also be featured as one of the twenty titles on the PlayStation Classic console that will see release in December.
In 2004, Metal Gear would return to a Nintendo console in a remake of Metal Gear Solid sub-titled The Twin Snakes. Developed jointly between Nintendo, the now defunct Silicon Knights and Konami, the game was largely the same but it did feature upgraded graphics, a fresh recording of its script with the original actors and new mechanics that were taken from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Snake could shoot in first-person and also hang off rails for example. These changes were criticized as the game’s map wasn’t changed to adapt to them and thus it made certain parts from the PlayStation original too easy. Critics also had some issues with the new direction of certain cut-scenes that made the game feel sillier for lack of a better word, in particular one cinematic that sees Solid Snake surfing on a missile.
HAS THE SERIES ENDURED?
After the success of Metal Gear Solid, it became one of Konami’s most important franchises and it made a star out of series creator, Hideo Kojima. Throughout the 2000’s, sequels and spin-offs were produced that expanded the series lore and took the series in new directions. A pair of PSP games called Metal Gear Ac!d adapted to the series to the deck building, card genre and the Platinum Games developed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance saw a character introduced in Metal Gear Solid 2, Raiden, take the spotlight in the franchise’s first character action game. Snake was also added to the roster of the third Super Smash Bros. game, Melee, for the Nintendo Wii.
A new direction for Konami has put the future of the once prominent Metal Gear series into question. The company has shifted focus to mobile games and pachinko gambling machines and rarely produces what players consider to be traditional video games like they used to make. Konami also had a very messy and public split with Hideo Kojima during the development of the last numbered entry in the series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. After its 2015 release, the only new game released bearing the Metal Gear title was a spin-off released this year titled Metal Gear Survive that impressed neither critics nor fans. Series star Solid Snake was added to the roster of Super Bomberman R which debuted on the Switch before getting ported to other devices and will once again return to the Smash Bros. series this year in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
GAME BOY COLOR
Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld crushed all who would come up against it despite its humble power that lacked any type of color display or back lighting, but in 1998 it was overdue for an upgrade and in that year, it finally got one. Late in the year, the world was introduced to the Game Boy Color, the first handheld from Nintendo to display its games in color. It played all original Game Boy games – even adding color to some – and games developed specifically for the hardware came in two types: black carts that could be played on all Game Boy’s and clear ones that could only be played on the Game Boy Color.
New versions of classic Game Boy games were recreated with Color, like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Nintendo and other companies experimented with recreating NES games for the hardware such as in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, a remake of sorts of the original Super Mario Bros.. Other franchises like Capcom’s Bionic Commando received their first new entry in years on the GBC and Konami even produced a respectable Metal Gear Solid game that captured the feeling of the PlayStation game using the systems limited capabilities.
HAS THE HARDWARE ENDURED?
The Game Boy Color would get its own pair of Pokemon games: Gold and Silver, but the system had a very short time on the market before it was replaced by the far more powerful Game Boy Advance in 2001. All of the software developed for the Game Boy Color would find new life on the Game Boy Advance as that system was fully backwards compatible, however this would cease with the advent of the Game Boy’s replacement, the Nintendo DS. Game Boy Color games would find new life on the Nintendo 3DS as a section of that device’s virtual console.
HAS THE BRAND ENDURED?
Nintendo released the dual-screen handheld the Nintendo DS in 2004, and initially it was positioned as a companion to the Game Boy brand. As the DS became more and more successful however, Nintendo abandoned the Game Boy line of handhelds altogether in favor of the DS which would see a follow-up, the Nintendo 3DS. It’s unclear whether Nintendo will create a new dedicated handheld device as their current console, the Nintendo Switch, can be taken on the go and plays console quality games.