Five-games-from-the-1990s-that-are-ripe-for-revival Five games from the 1990s that are ripe for revival

   09/08/2011 at 08:39       Phil May       12 COMMENTS.
 - 90s gaming, Retro, Revival, Interstate 76, Battlezone

As you get older, it's astonishing how the passage of time seems to speed up, and events that you imagine as 'recent history' were actually 20 years or so ago.

The 90s was arguably one of the best decades for gamers to be alive in. Kicking off in grand style with console revivals, and ending on a high note with the emergence of powerful (for the time) GPUs in PCs, there truly was something for everyone.

It's insanely difficult to cherry pick the best games from an era so chock-full of classics (and one that doesn't feature nearly enough in those daft "top 100 videogames of all time" lists that seem to consist of games that aren't fit to lick the boots of some of the classics of the 90s) so forgive me if I've missed your favourites but here's a tiny, tiny selection of the stuff that I think is ripe for resurrecting for today's gaming generation. In no particular order then...

Interstate '76 (PC, 1997, Activision)

Long before Activision became solely obsessed with the Call of Duty franchise, they brought us many of the classics that defined the 1990s as a time of imagination and innovation in gaming. One such title, Interstate '76, fused 1970s cool with insanely violent vehicular combat.

Built around the already tried and tested Mechwarrior 2 engine, Interstate '76 brought all your favourite yank muscle cars together, strapped sodding huge weapons to them, and dropped them into an intricately woven plot of murder, intrigue and corporate criminality. Playing the uber-cool Groove Champion, and aided and abetted by your equally cool sidekick Taurus (and your less than cool mechanic Skeeter), you were tasked with tracking down the murderer of Groove's sister Jade Champion.

Despite the limitations of PCs at the time, graphics were fairly detailed (the cars were excellent even if the game world was fairly sparse). The animated cut scenes were stylised and low res, but set the tone of the game fantastically.

Subsequent sequels (Interstate '76 - Nitro Riders and Interstate '82) failed to live up to the original's superior mix of great gameplay, depth and satisfaction but it's a game that would be a delicious fit for modern consoles and PCs in both single player and multiplayer form.

Is there hope? Not so much as a whisper about this one coming back any time soon. Shame.

Grim Fandango (1998, Lucasarts, PC)

With other Lucasarts point and click adventures recently enjoying something of a revival, it seems astonishing that the most fondly remembered of the lot (and probably the only one I truly finished off in its entirety) still hasn't risen from the grave. Grim Fandango was one of the first fully-3D point and click adventures released by Lucasarts back when they were still a force to be reckoned with in gaming. Mixing the mexican "Day of the Dead" with the superb artistic style of 1930s art deco, Grim Fandango placed you in the stylish winklepickers of one Manny Calavera, in a world populated by the undead (forget zombies, no one gave a rat's ass about zombies back when this little beauty was released).

Taking its cues from film noir and the detective movies of the 30s and 40s, the game revolved around Manny's work as a "travel agent", arranging safe passage of dead souls to the underworld.

Put together by the legendary Tim Schafer and his team, Grim Fandango still looks stunning, has some of the best sound direction from this particular era or PC gaming (you love mariachi music right? You don't? GET OUT!) and truly felt cinematic in places. It might have aged a bit but it would be a superb fit for modern touch tablets.

Is there hope? Nah. Schafer's moved on to bigger and better things with Double Fine Productions. The jury's still out on his take on Sesame Street though but Stacking was a recent high point.

Theme Hospital (EA / Bullfrog, 1997, PC / PSX)

 

This one seems to get mentioned fairly regularly every time someone manages to pin Peter Molyneux down and get him talking about games sensibly, rather than spinning off into his little flights of fancy. Theme Hospital was the pinnacle of Bullfrog's 'Theme' series, placing the player in direct control of a series of hospitals, controlling everything from the layout of rooms and the installation of equipment, to juggling the budgets and of course curing patients by the bucketload.

Shot through with a distinctly british sense of humour, Theme Hospital's mix of crisp visuals, cute characters and fantastic illnesses (I swear I still get bloaty head syndrome from time to time) was an instant winner.

Converted to the original playstation, the game does still live on as a retro title on the PS3 and you can still spot it on those odd little game carousels that seem to crop up in garden centres (of all places). Deliciously, it does still seem to work perfectly on modern PCs so if you haven't played it, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Still beats the hell out of me that it hasn't made it to the iPad yet, and it still seems a shame that each and every knockoff or clone of the same type of idea has ended up being total pants. 

Is there hope? Nope, Molyneux gave up the rights to the game and EA are sitting on it which seems surprising considering how hard EA are hammering iOS gaming at the moment.

Kid Chameleon (Sega, Megadrive, 1992)

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Sega are still arse-reaming the foetid corpse of Sonic the Hedgehog but when you consider some of the golden nuggets they've got tucked away in their back catalogue, it seems a shame that they still pump so much effort into maintaining Sonic as some sort of videogame icon.

For my money, I always preferred this little beauty. Kid Chameleon was, let's face it, a bloody ugly little game that on the surface had very little appeal. But as soon as you started playing, and got a handle on how the weird 'hat swapping' stuff worked - it sunk its teeth into you and became ridiculously addictive. As the titular Kid Chameleon, you found yourself trapped inside a gigantic immersive videogame at the mercy of 'Heady Metal', an insane AI boss intent on capturing kids (oh...kay!) Using a variety of different headgear imbued with special abilities, you had to fight through side-scrolling platform levels to take on the boss himself.

Despite its lack of visual sophistication, Kid Chameleon's level design was rock solid, and the game had a hell of a lot of depth and replayability. Tough as nails in places, it felt more challenging and more structured than any of the early Sonic games.

Like many of Sega's classic IPs, Kid Chameleon seems to have been resigned to the scrap heap but would make a peachy little game ripe for reproduction on most modern formats, even iOS.

Is there hope? Not a chance. This is one of a bucketload of classic Sega IP that seemingly get ignored every time Sega dredges through its archives and comes to the conclusion that ropey Sonic games or Space Channel 5 are better fits for a modern gaming audience than the truly enjoyable stuff.

Battlezone (Activision, PC, 1998)

Reinventing a classic arcade game as a complex 3D strategy game might sound bonkers at first but Battlezone was stunning for the time. The first successfuly 3D real time strategy game of its kind, Battlezone pit two warring factions against each other using a variety of sophisticated weaponry.

What was delicious about the game was the fact that you could play it as a standard RTS, ordering your resource gatherers and units around like an insane megalomaniac. Or you could jump into the cockpit of many of the units and directly control them to affect the outcome of a battle.

Unit designs were robust and warlike. Each level map felt expansive and imaginative and the game even spawned a sequel, such was its success at the time - a pretty respectable feat for something most people had low expectations of.

Sadly the world seems to have fallen out of love with decent strategy titles but this would still work on a variety of gaming platforms, even modern consoles due to the neat way the control interfaces worked in the game.

Is there hope? Sadly no. Amazingly there are still rumblings of a new Command and Conquer game, and from time to time modern tablet PCs look like they'll provide a good 'fit' for games of this ilk, but no one has picked up the rights to produce anything else Battlezoney, not even Atari and they're not usually shy about milking their old IPs to death (Warlords, ffs! Ack!)

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