By Nelson Schneider - 06/24/12 at 03:47 PM CT
As the 7th Generation of consoles draws to a close and the PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360 take their last, gasping breaths before shuffling-off into obscurity, it seems like a good time to take a retrospective look at the history of game consoles. This week and next week, I will stroll among the headstones, offering tribute to those great console heroes that have built the gaming hobby into a wonderful thing, while spitting upon the graves of those who would be better off forgotten, if not for the fact that remembering the great failings in history is the only way to avoid repeating them.
This week, I will look at the five greatest heroes of console gaming:
5. Nintendo Entertainment System
Looking back, the NES didnít exactly have a stellar library of games. The library of games was pretty big, but for the most part (though there are several exceptions), the only ones worth playing were by Capcom, Enix, ICOM, Konami, or Nintendo themselves. But what makes the NES a hero among game consoles is the very fact that it actually had any games worth playing. This simple fact allowed the NES to become the cornerstone upon which the entire videogame industry was built.
Many modern gamers hate the Wii and will think Iím insane for including it as a console hero. But those who are willing to look past the faÁade of casual games and Nintendoís errant ĎBlue Oceaní strategy will see that the Wii is a true heir to the NES. Instead of fooling around with courting multi-platform games that made its competitors look like conjoined twins, the Wii simply did its own thing. It was cheap where its competition was expensive, it had original games where its competition shared titles, it had variety where its competition had a sea of first-person shooters. Yes, the Wiiís massive library was plagued with dozens and dozens of horrible, awful games, but these (licensed kidsí show) games were obviously terrible. Itís pretty easy for an experienced gamer to skim off the dross and be left with the gold in the Wiiís library. Is that true of the competition? Are the modern gamers who hate the Wii and love first-person shooters even capable of telling the difference?
3. PlayStation 2
The best-selling game console of all time, the PS2 got off to a rough start, as do all Sony consoles, thanks to a terrible launch library. But instead of lying down and dying, the PS2 kept going, its horrible launch line-up reinforced by hundreds of PS1 games, thanks to the unprecedented addition of universal backward compatibility in every PS2 unit. Unlike Nintendo, Sony has never had strong first-party games, thus they continued doing what they did best: Courting third-parties and stealing exclusives. The PS2 ended up with an enormous library filled with diversity and excellenceÖ but like the Wii, also filled with huge amounts of easily-identifiable crap, plus the hidden danger of not-so-easily-identifiable crap. Any console that continued to outsell its successor for years after its official death canít be anything but heroic.
2. PlayStation 1
While initially destined to be a CD-based add-on for the SNES, the PS1 broke this betrothal and forged its own path independently. The result shook-up the status quo among third-party developers and dealt a blow to Nintendoís dominance that they still havenít recovered from. Thanks to the PS1ís adoption of cheap, expansive CD storage instead of small, expensive cartridges, third-party developers flocked to Sonyís first console endeavor in droves. Thanks to the huge number of third-party developers, it didnít matter that Sony didnít make much of anything of their own, game-wise, and the abysmal launch library soon blossomed into an untamable garden of genres, both old and new. And thanks to the broad capabilities of the PS1 hardware, both traditional 2D and new-fangled 3D games could be made with the same overall level of quality (whereas one of the PS1ís competitors could do nothing but 3D and the other struggled with anything but 2D). The PS1 was the console Sparticus, heroically breaking Nintendoís bondage and setting game development free.
1. Super Nintendo Entertainment System
This wise philosopher-king ruled over the Golden Age of gaming. Inheriting its rule from the NES, the SNES continued to rely on a small group of amazing developers (Capcom, Enix, Konami, Nintendo, Squaresoft) to produce enough high-quality games that the plebeian rabble was pushed into the background and largely ignored. The SNES gave us a cornucopia of superb 2D Platfomers, Action/Adventures, and RPGs, plus numerous new genres, like 2D Fighting and Kart Racing. This library of games blew away the competition, and the SNESí hardware produced more vibrant colors and more haunting sounds than any console before it. It was even the first console to provide TV compatibility for handheld games, with the Super Game Boy freeing those portable exclusives from the shackles of battery bricks and screen magnifiers, while at the same time bringing color to grayscale worlds.