Transforming competitive racing into zany fruit-tossing fun, Super Mario Kart was much more than one of the smartest-looking games on the Super Nintendo. As the first in what would become a dynastic line of racers, this 1992 gem was full of kart-racing firsts: a circuit mode with varying degrees of difficulty, a split-screen versus mode so you could take on your friends and a battle mode to break up the monotony of straightforward sprints. And Super Mario Kart launched the series to a rocket start with memorable tracks like Rainbow Road, expert tactics like drifting and maddening equalizers like the lightning bolt.
You fail to mention how incredible Lordran is – a single continuous location that spirals from lava-flooded ruins to a glistening city of the gods. A place where new paths often lead back to familiar locations, so that exploring it for the first time feels like solving a puzzle. You overlook its precise, nuanced combat or the fact it has the most interesting and meaningful bosses of any game. And you certainly never get round to discussing its story, which revels in ambiguity and invites interpretation like no other.
Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It gathered the core elements of Mario’s best 2D, side-scrolling adventures and worked out how to translate them into a groundbreaking 3D world. It was still recognisably Mario – he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
I know you can hear them too – the plucky strings accompanied by pleasant woodwinds that greeted us every time we opened Buy Mode. The Sims is iconic for so many reasons, from its soundtrack that is undoubtedly burned into our brains to cheat code prompts that live in the memory space right next door. This unique simulation game made day to day life exciting. We could concoct drama and design our own stories, complete with the tools to build dream living spaces. The Sims gave us an incredible playground to be creators and destroyers, and though The Sims' newer iterations make Sims far more complex, the original stands as a classic. Plus, it allowed us to drown our Sims in pools, which is, as we all know, an essential Sims experience. The new Sims are too smart for that.
Mario's brick-breaking, Goomba-stomping antics were enough to mesmerize the world's gamers in Nintendo's idiosyncratic side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. games. But 1996's Super Mario 64 transported Nintendo fans into Mario's universe as no other game in the series had, simultaneously laying out a grammar for how to interact with 3D worlds (and in its case, divinely zany ones). At more than 11 million copies sold, it was one of the bestselling games for the Nintendo 64, but its real impact was arguably off-platform, where it tectonically shifted the design imperatives of an entire industry. As Rockstar co-founder and Grand Theft Auto V cowriter Dan Houser put it: "Anyone who makes 3-D games who says they’ve not borrowed something from Mario or Zelda [on Nintendo 64] is lying."
Counter-Strike is the game that’s been with me the longest, in one form or another, but for me, it all started here. Many of the things I value most in skill-based games, I value because of Counter-Strike: good level design, team-based dynamic, the dedication required to master it, a friendly sense of competition, and a solid sense of community. It taught me the joy of earning my victories in a game, but also the importance of learning from my failures. It’s the reason I love first-person shooters and the reason I stuck by PC gaming at a young age, and I owe it all to its earliest iterations.
This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.