There aren’t many video games that have had as many great years as 1996, which started many long-running series that still run today. 1996 was a very competitive year for video games, with the PC, Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64 all fighting for money and market power.
The old adage about intense competition producing excellent outcomes for consumers proved correct in 1996 as this high-pressure market created true legends of gameplay form and execution, some of which continue to be imitated and studied today.
This list is a cross-section of a lot of different types of games, from consoles to PCs. For this list to be longer, we had to make some hard decisions because 1996 had so many great games.
Here are the best video games of 1996:
Duke Nukem 3D, PC
At first glance, Duke Nukem 3D looks like DOOM, but it’s so much more. In many ways, Duke Nukem 3D is a time capsule of 1990s humour and aesthetics. It wasn’t the first game with the eponymous hero, but it was the first game that put him in the news. Duke Nukem 3D was a game on the PC that put the Duke in a world overrun with aliens and porn. The player had to navigate the seedy extraterrestrial-infested Earth and save the planet.
Doom, but with go-go dancers and Pig Cops. The humour can be a little over the top at times, but it’s still consistent. This is a big problem with the most recent game, Duke Nukem Forever, which critics thought was too much like 90s-style humour. Much of it has worked well as a game, and the few “offensive” parts that remain are only there because social norms have changed. I think Duke Nukem 3D, which came out in 1996, was one of the best first-person shooters. It showed developers how much they could do with the FPS format.
Tetris Attack, Super Famicom
Tetris Attack is a puzzle game made by Intelligent Systems for Nintendo’s Super Famicom in North America and Europe. In Japan, the game was called Panel de Pon and received a lot of praise. Unlike Tetris, this game has puzzle pieces that fall down and need to be matched and aligned in a straight line to clear lines.
This small change to the classic formula makes the game fun for hours, and the game’s format, which pits the player in different “levels” and “boss fights,” was a great idea at the time. Nintendo decided to swap out the Panel de Pon characters for its own, and the game is better for it. It did this only for the North American and European markets, though. I think it’s important to look good, but this isn’t going to change how the game works. Players who play Panel de Pon will get the same game. Even today, this game is still very fun.
Super Mario RPG, Super Famicom
A game made by Squaresoft and Nintendo, Super Mario RPG is a little bit of a unicorn in the world of video games. This game is like Chrono Trigger, but it’s made by a group of people who haven’t worked together before. There is a story that isn’t too adult, but it doesn’t deviate too far from the Mario world.
If you’ve always wanted to play a Super Famicom Squaresoft JRPG with the world of Super Mario Bros., then this game is for you. Another interesting thing about the game is the pre-rendered graphics, which are bright and colourful and push the Super Famicom’s colour palette to the limit, making the game even more interesting. The soundtrack is very Nintendo-like, and the dialogue also fits in well with that style. It’s a weird game now, but it was a real gem and a big deal in 1996 when it came to video games.
Resident Evil, PlayStation
Resident Evil, also known as Biohazard in Japan, was one of the coolest video games ever when it came out in March 1996. It would go on to become an endless series and spawn a whole new genre of games. In many ways, Resident Evil was the best example yet of the full-motion video games that the Sega CD and other early CD-based consoles tried to get people to play more of them. Combining a cinematic experience with some limited action made a game that was both exciting and unique.
Puzzle-solving and shooting enemies in a 3D space both made the game feel like a mix of FMV games from the past and console action games. It was really something new and it caused a stir, a fire that still burns bright today. What made the first Resident Evil game so great was not just the story or the characters, but the whole package. This is what the first Resident Evil is all about.
Metal Slug, Neo Geo
Metal Slug is an intense, side-scrolling action game that involves Contra-like gameplay in a bright, detailed world of pixel graphics that maintain amazing fidelity to this day. Impressive and fast, Metal Slug was the game the Super Famicom and Sega Genesis wished they could do. Explosions everywhere, arcade-loud sound and a booming soundtrack, Metal Slug takes a simple premise and spins it into endless fun.
Still beloved even now, Metal Slug existed to show what other consoles could not do and was a testament to both SNK’s prowess as a games developer and the Neo Geo’s power as a machine.
This was the next game from the team that made DOOM. Even though it wasn’t as amazing as the first game, Quake helped start the 3D revolution in PC gaming. As a multiplayer game, it was also very popular. It helped to improve many of the mechanics that first-person shooter games still use today. There are some games on this list that might need to be revived. Quake might be one of them.
Quake looks old-fashioned by today’s standards, but when you think about how important the game was in PC gaming history, it’s not surprising that the game’s simple polygons helped start a new era in PC graphics.
Pokemon Red and Green
For millions of people, Pocket Monsters: Red and Green was their first game. Astounding that it could get so many people to join in the game. When you play the first game, you get a sense of how simple it is and how charming it is. It also has a charm that few other games have ever been able to match, because it’s based on teamwork and friendship. Pokemon’s first game was very interesting, and it helped make 1996 the best year in video game history.
Super Mario 64
The whole world of gaming would be very different if Super Mario 64 hadn’t been around. When Nintendo released this game, it changed the way people play games. It took the precision of 2D platformers and spread it out across a stunningly evocative 3D world. There’s a reason that game developers still look back to this 1996 release for advice on how to make games today.