Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Brothers 3, Castlevania, Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda…All of them are arguably some of the greatest video games in existence, and certainly era and genre-defining. But they’re not the only retro games played in days gone by that deserve to be talked about 20 or 30 years later.
Phantasmagoria – released in 1993
This point and click adventure horror game played on the PC is a bit of a controversial one to talk about; that’s probably why it’s not talked about as often as it rightfully should be. In a world that was beginning to erupt in mass hysteria over the ultra-violence on display in games like Mortal Kombat, Phantasmagoria may well have been the final nail in the coffin and as a result it was banned in Australia, and stores across the US refused to stock it.
Phantasmagoria was also a pioneer of its time, being not-quite a live action game and not-quite an animated one, either. Each of the characters in the game were portrayed by real life actors, and rendered with full-motion videos. The game world, however, was static, consisting of pre-rendered 3D backdrops. All in all it lent the game a very unique and creepy atmosphere, even though there were a few minor issues with the game mechanics.
But a game is not banned because of faulty mechanics! No, Phantasmagoria became a controversy because of its gruesome, and at some times shocking, death scenes. The plotline will read familiar to anyone who’s seen a haunted house chiller – young newlyweds move into a haunted mansion and the wife begins to discover the grisly details about one of its former inhabitants thanks to a (not-so) friendly neighbourhood demonic presence. However, the game takes things up a level by showing actual death and dismemberment scenes, which, of course, I can’t go into too much detail about here. Just take my word for it that if you’re a fan of the horror game genre, Phantasmagoria should be top of your list to re-discover.
Vegas Stakes – released in 1993
Poker-based console games certainly weren’t anything new by the time Vegas Stakes rolled around on the Super Nintendo. This little retro wonder did play a significant role in introducing casino based games into the wider world of video gaming, however, by upping the ante with a series of multiplayer options for games like craps, roulette and blackjack. Nowadays, of course, we have an entire industry devoted to virtual casino and poker gaming, with exciting takes on old classics like Texas Hold ‘em available to play online. But 25 years ago, Vegas Stakes was where it was at if you wanted a bit of fun, Sin City action!
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 – released in 2000
I’ll admit it, this one isn’t so much a forgotten gem as the others I’ve talked about, but it does get missed off quite a few “top ten retro game” articles. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is an absolutely iconic video game from the PlayStation 1 era, and a veritable piece of pop culture in its own right, so it’s a wonder it’s not talked about more. This second installment in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise came like a breath of fresh air in the new millenium, giving gamers the opportunity to take full advantage of all the improved interaction and possibilities that this new generation of home console offered.
Pro Skater 2, unlike many of its PS1 contemporaries, enabled players to interact directly with the environment in the game world. Way before titles like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Fallout came along, Pro Skater 2 featured huge open levels that players could explore. In addition to those two-minute bursts of adrenaline-filled skating challenges, Pro Skater 2 also contained an open world for players to wander around, interacting with and in some cases changing the environment as they did so. Does anyone remember those helicopter blades in The Hanger level? Or the view from the top of the school after skating your way up there?
As well as being one of the most exciting and interesting games to play back in the year 2000, Pro Skater 2 also perfectly captured and documented a real-world movement. Skateboarding has always made a significant contribution to popular culture, even as an underground movement, but this game provided a global platform for the industry to springboard from. It wasn’t long before Steve Cabellero, Elissa Steamer, Jamie Thomas and Tony Hawk himself became household names, and began to be seen in the same regard as other athletes of the same calibre in different disciplines. And did I mention the soundtrack?!