Alex Hajdasz lists a personal best video game for each year since 1994. The only rule is that he must have played an entry in the same year it was released.

Sonic & Knuckles …For 1994

Played on: Sega Mega Drive

Sonic & Knuckles Mega Drive PAL Box Art

Sonic & Knuckles

Elden Ring got me thinking recently about how easy choosing a ‘game of the year’ for 2022 will be. I’ve been keeping a mental list of my yearly favourites for roughly a decade now, but then I wondered about earlier years and came up with a little challenge.

So try this: list the best video game you played in each year of your gaming life. What year you start from is your choice because you can only list a game if you played it in the same year it was released.

I’m starting my list from 1994 because that was the first time I can remember playing something brand new. With money being tight back then, my games were almost always bought in used condition long after release, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were two exceptions I played between the Easter and Xmas periods of that year. I was eight at the time; too young to understand what “GOTY” even meant, but this only makes my retrospection a richer exercise, and let’s face it: I’ve got to start this thing from somewhere!

I found old family photographs to reveal the exact Xmas I received my Mega Drive. This was in the fall of 1993; pretty much right in the middle of Sega’s peak as a hardware company. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was a huge release for them going into 1994; part 1 of a double act concluding with Sonic & Knuckles later that year.

With its unique lock-on technology, the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge physically connects with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 to create one huge adventure across both games. The wonderful 2D platforming action remains intact, with the player’s progress being saved to the third game’s onboard memory. This was the first time I can remember playing a game which automatically saved your progress. It was also when I saw the greater storytelling potential this medium has.

I’ve already delved into Sonic & Knuckles on another list, but that point about story is still my biggest takeaway. Without any lines of dialogue or much pre-rendered material, Sonic undertakes an epic quest to recover the Master Emerald keeping Angel Island afloat. Knuckles is the Island’s sole guardian duped by Dr. Robotnik into thinking Sonic is the enemy. When Sonic and Knuckles finally clash in the Hidden Palace Zone, the gameplay is kept slight even as the story comes on strong. It’s here that Robotnik betrays Knuckles and leaves him for dead, which leads to the famous twist where Knuckles switches allegiance to aid Sonic’s cause. It’s great drama for a 16-bit game.

These beats became a huge influence on the series for many years. In fact, the rivalry between the two central characters is the basis for the recent Hollywood movie, which shows how timeless this material is on a narrative level.

 

Mortal Kombat 3 …For 1995

Played on: Sega Mega Drive

Mortal Kombat 3 PAL box art showing the MK3 logo

Mortal Kombat 3

Whilst I can’t be 100% certain I played this cartridge in the same year it came out, it remains a brutal fact that Mortal Kombat 3 was a neighbourhood sensation when I was growing up. It was certainly one of the most important games of my pre-teen years.

I’ve blogged about this topic before: Mortal Kombat was huge around this time and the third outing was still everyone’s favourite in spite of the liberties it took with the fighting game formula.

Ditching Scorpion from the roster and unmasking Sub-Zero were shocking decisions at the time. The likes of Rayden and Reptile were also kept out in favour of new fighters like Syndel and Nightwolf.

Mortal Kombat 3 also introduced a taxing combo system and increased the difficulty of the single-player mode to an insane degree. The techno soundtrack felt a bit incongruous considering the apocalyptic setting and also puzzling was the reduction in violence.

It’s true! Many of the fatalities — in this Mega Drive version at least — were not nearly as bloody as those seen before. The issue surrounding violence in video games had become heavily politicised in the years since Mortal Kombat debuted, so it’s understandable why some changes were considered in this area. Still, it gave the sense that Mortal Kombat 3 wasn’t living up to its promise of being the “biggest and baddest MK ever.”

I’ll admit though, a lot of that sentiment is uttered with the benefit of hindsight. As a nine-year-old I was still hopelessly enthralled by this game long before it was repackaged as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and later Mortal Kombat Trilogy. A major reason for this was my improving skill. I was finally able to do the fatalities on my own, with the commands for Sector’s trash compactor (LP, RN, RN, BLK) and Stryker’s taser gun (F, F, F, LK) burned into my brain ever since.

 

Twisted Metal: World Tour …For 1996

Played on: Sony PlayStation

Twisted Metal: World Tour PlayStation box art showing combat vehicles racing into battle

Twisted Metal: World Tour

Yikes, here’s another game I’ve already covered. What I said back then summed it up very nicely though, so here’s an edited recap of those same thoughts.

My hands-on introduction to the 32-bit era came when my childhood friend got a Sony PlayStation. His was the first such console in our neighbourhood and I remember being amazed by the games he showed me; games like Soul Blade, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and my personal favourite, Twisted Metal: World Tour.

Twisted Metal popularised the 3D car-combat subgenre. It combined high-octane thrills, mindless violence, and many imaginative vehicles. If you tried playing it today you’d need to stomach some incredibly aged visuals, but this whole deal looked awesome in 1996.

Twisted Metal: World Tour features interactive combat arenas with a significant amount of depth for the time. The split-screen 2-player mode was great too because you could play it cooperatively as well as competitively.

Twisted Metal has a cult following these days with many considering this second game to be the franchise’s best. To this day it remains the only Twisted Metal game I’ve ever played.

 

Blast Corps …For 1997

Played on: Nintendo 64

Blast Corps Nintendo 64 PAL box art showing vehicles crashing into buildings

Blast Corps

The final entry in this first volume moves us into the Nintendo 64 era and even better: it’s a game which I’ve not previously blogged about, although I really should do a proper retrospective on it soon.

I must confess that I couldn’t recall many eligible games for this year because of how far behind I was on the hardware curve. The market was moving fast back then, but I was getting so much mileage out of my 16-bit collection that I didn’t need an upgrade, even if I could afford one.

I had to revisit some old camcorder tapes stamped “Xmas 1997” to see the proof of me playing Blast Corps on my brother’s freshly unwrapped Nintendo 64.

I do remember being blown away by the incredible 3D graphics. Players must stop a runaway missile carrier from exploding and they’ll do this by ramming their own reinforced vehicles into obstructing buildings and scenery. The explosive action is great fun and the levels are extremely challenging when faced with the console’s horrible joypad.

Playing Blast Corps alongside Pilotwings 64 was a real treat that Xmas and things would only get better as 1998 rolled around.